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Title: Marcia Schuyler
Author: Lutz, Grace Livingston Hill
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 "Marcia Schuyler" ***

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Marcia Schuyler


by Grace Livingston Hill Lutz



Edition 1, (August 2007)



                             MARCIA SCHUYLER


                              SIXTH EDITION



                 [Illustration: Copyright by C. Klackner
     “OH, YOU NAUGHTY MAN!” SHE EXCLAIMED PRETTILY, “HOW DARE YOU!”]

                        Copyright by C. Klackner
      “OH, YOU NAUGHTY MAN!” SHE EXCLAIMED PRETTILY, “HOW DARE YOU!”



                             Marcia Schuyler


                                   by

                       Grace Livingston Hill Lutz
           Author of “The Story of a Whim,” “According to the
                  Pattern,” “An Unwilling Guest,” etc.


                           _Illustrations by_
                            E. L. HENRY, N.A.


                            GROSSET & DUNLAP
                          PUBLISHERS · NEW YORK



                             Copyright, 1908
                       By J. B. Lippincott Company


                        Published February, 1908


         _Electrotyped and printed by J. B. Lippincott Company_
          _The Washington Square Press, Philadelphia, U. S. A._



                                   TO
                           THE DEAR MEMORY OF
                                MY FATHER
                 The Rev. CHARLES MONTGOMERY LIVINGSTON
                  WHOSE COMPANIONSHIP AND ENCOURAGEMENT
                        HAVE BEEN MY HELP THROUGH
                                THE YEARS



                                 CONTENTS


CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
CHAPTER XIII
CHAPTER XIV
CHAPTER XV
CHAPTER XVI
CHAPTER XVII
CHAPTER XVIII
CHAPTER XIX
CHAPTER XX
CHAPTER XXI
CHAPTER XXII
CHAPTER XXIII
CHAPTER XXIV
CHAPTER XXV
CHAPTER XXVI
CHAPTER XXVII
CHAPTER XXVIII
CHAPTER XXIX
AD PAGES
ERRATA



                             Marcia Schuyler


                                CHAPTER I


The sun was already up and the grass blades were twinkling with sparkles
of dew, as Marcia stepped from the kitchen door.

She wore a chocolate calico with little sprigs of red and white scattered
over it, her hair was in smooth brown braids down her back, and there was
a flush on her round cheeks that might have been but the reflection of the
rosy light in the East. Her face was as untroubled as the summer morning,
in its freshness, and her eyes as dreamy as the soft clouds that hovered
upon the horizon uncertain where they were to be sent for the day.

Marcia walked lightly through the grass, and the way behind her sparkled
again like that of the girl in the fairy-tale who left jewels wherever she
passed.

A rail fence stopped her, which she mounted as though it had been a steed
to carry her onward, and sat a moment looking at the beauty of the
morning, her eyes taking on that far-away look that annoyed her stepmother
when she wanted her to hurry with the dishes, or finish a long seam before
it was time to get supper.

She loitered but a moment, for her mind was full of business, and she
wished to accomplish much before the day was done. Swinging easily down to
the other side of the fence she moved on through the meadow, over another
fence, and another meadow, skirting the edge of a cool little strip of
woods which lured her with its green mysterious shadows, its whispering
leaves, and twittering birds. One wistful glance she gave into the sweet
silence, seeing a clump of maiden-hair ferns rippling their feathery locks
in the breeze. Then resolutely turning away she sped on to the slope of
Blackberry Hill.

It was not a long climb to where the blackberries grew, and she was soon
at work, the great luscious berries dropping into her pail almost with a
touch. But while she worked the vision of the hills, the sheep meadow
below, the river winding between the neighboring farms, melted away, and
she did not even see the ripe fruit before her, because she was planning
the new frock she was to buy with these berries she had come to pick.

Pink and white it was to be; she had seen it in the store the last time
she went for sugar and spice. There were dainty sprigs of pink over the
white ground, and every berry that dropped into her bright pail was no
longer a berry but a sprig of pink chintz. While she worked she went over
her plans for the day.

There had been busy times at the old house during the past weeks. Kate,
her elder sister, was to be married. It was only a few days now to the
wedding.

There had been a whole year of preparation: spinning and weaving and fine
sewing. The smooth white linen lay ready, packed between rose leaves and
lavender. There had been yards and yards of tatting and embroidery made by
the two girls for the trousseau, and the village dressmaker had spent days
at the house, cutting, fitting, shirring, till now there was a goodly
array of gorgeous apparel piled high upon bed, and chairs, and hanging in
the closets of the great spare bedroom. The outfit was as fine as that
made for Patience Hartrandt six months before, and Mr. Hartrandt had given
his one daughter all she had asked for in the way of a “setting out.” Kate
had seen to it that her things were as fine as Patience’s,—but, they were
all for Kate!

Of course, that was right! Kate was to be married, not Marcia, and
everything must make way for that. Marcia was scarcely more than a child
as yet, barely seventeen. No one thought of anything new for her just
then, and she did not expect it. But into her heart there had stolen a
longing for a new frock herself amid all this finery for Kate. She had her
best one of course. That was good, and pretty, and quite nice enough to
wear to the wedding, and her stepmother had taken much relief in the
thought that Marcia would need nothing during the rush of getting Kate
ready.

But there were people coming to the house every day, especially in the
afternoons, friends of Kate, and of her stepmother, to be shown Kate’s
wardrobe, and to talk things over curiously. Marcia could not wear her
best dress all the time. And _he_ was coming! That was the way Marcia
always denominated the prospective bridegroom in her mind.

His name was David Spafford, and Kate often called him Dave, but Marcia,
even to herself, could never bring herself to breathe the name so
familiarly. She held him in great awe. He was so fine and strong and good,
with a face like a young saint in some old picture, she thought. She often
wondered how her wild, sparkling sister Kate dared to be so familiar with
him. She had ventured the thought once when she watched Kate dressing to
go out with some young people and preening herself like a bird of Paradise
before the glass. It all came over her, the vanity and frivolousness of
the life that Kate loved, and she spoke out with conviction:

“Kate, you’ll have to be very different when you’re married.” Kate had
faced about amusedly and asked why.

“Because _he_ is so good,” Marcia had replied, unable to explain further.

“Oh, is that all?” said the daring sister, wheeling back to the glass.
“Don’t you worry; I’ll soon take that out of him.”

But Kate’s indifference had never lessened her young sister’s awe of her
prospective brother-in-law. She had listened to his conversations with her
father during the brief visits he had made, and she had watched his face
at church while he and Kate sang together as the minister lined it out:
“Rock of Ages cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee,” a new song which
had just been written. And she had mused upon the charmed life Kate would
lead. It was wonderful to be a woman and be loved as Kate was loved,
thought Marcia.

So in all the hurry no one seemed to think much about Marcia, and she was
not satisfied with her brown delaine afternoon dress. Truth to tell, it
needed letting down, and there was no more left to let down. It made her
feel like last year to go about in it with her slender ankles so plainly
revealed. So she set her heart upon the new chintz.

Now, with Marcia, to decide was to do. She did not speak to her stepmother
about it, for she knew it would be useless; neither did she think it worth
while to go to her father, for she knew that both his wife and Kate would
find it out and charge her with useless expense just now when there were
so many other uses for money, and they were anxious to have it all flow
their way. She had an independent spirit, so she took the time that
belonged to herself, and went to the blackberry patch which belonged to
everybody.

Marcia’s fingers were nimble and accustomed, and the sun was not very high
in the heavens when she had finished her task and turned happily toward
the village. The pails would not hold another berry.

Her cheeks were glowing with the sun and exercise, and little wisps of
wavy curls had escaped about her brow, damp with perspiration. Her eyes
were shining with her purpose, half fulfilled, as she hastened down the
hill.

Crossing a field she met Hanford Weston with a rake over his shoulder and
a wide-brimmed straw hat like a small shed over him. He was on his way to
the South meadow. He blushed and greeted her as she passed shyly by. When
she had passed he paused and looked admiringly after her. They had been in
the same classes at school all winter, the girl at the head, the boy at
the foot. But Hanford Weston’s father owned the largest farm in all the
country round about, and he felt that did not so much matter. He would
rather see Marcia at the head anyway, though there never had been the
slightest danger that he would take her place. He felt a sudden desire now
to follow her. It would be a pleasure to carry those pails that she bore
as if they were mere featherweights.

He watched her long, elastic step for a moment, considered the sun in the
sky, and his father’s command about the South meadow, and then strode
after her.

It did not take long to reach her side, swiftly as she had gone.

As well as he could, with the sudden hotness in his face and the tremor in
his throat, he made out to ask if he might carry her burden for her.
Marcia stopped annoyed. She had forgotten all about him, though he was an
attractive fellow, sometimes called by the girls “handsome Hanford.”

She had been planning exactly how that pink sprigged chintz was to be
made, and which parts she would cut first in order to save time and
material. She did not wish to be interrupted. The importance of the matter
was too great to be marred by the appearance of just a schoolmate whom she
might meet every day, and whom she could so easily “spell down.” She
summoned her thoughts from the details of mutton-leg sleeves and looked
the boy over, to his great confusion. She did not want him along, and she
was considering how best to get rid of him.

“Weren’t you going somewhere else?” she asked sweetly. “Wasn’t there a
rake over your shoulder? What have you done with it?”

The culprit blushed deeper.

“Where were you going?” she demanded.

“To the South meadow,” he stammered out.

“Oh, well, then you must go back. I shall do quite well, thank you. Your
father will not be pleased to have you neglect your work for me, though
I’m much obliged I’m sure.”

Was there some foreshadowing of her womanhood in the decided way she
spoke, and the quaint, prim set of her head as she bowed him good morning
and went on her way once more? The boy did not understand. He only felt
abashed, and half angry that she had ordered him back to work; and, too,
in a tone that forbade him to take her memory with him as he went.
Nevertheless her image lingered by the way, and haunted the South meadow
all day long as he worked.

Marcia, unconscious of the admiration she had stirred in the boyish heart,
went her way on fleet feet, her spirit one with the sunny morning, her
body light with anticipation, for a new frock of her own choice was yet an
event in her life.

She had thought many times, as she spent long hours putting delicate
stitches into her sister’s wedding garments, how it would seem if they
were being made for her. She had whiled away many a dreary seam by
thinking out, in a sort of dream-story, how she would put on this or that
at will if it were her own, and go here or there, and have people love and
admire her as they did Kate. It would never come true, of course. She
never expected to be admired and loved like Kate. Kate was beautiful,
bright and gay. Everybody loved her, no matter how she treated them. It
was a matter of course for Kate to have everything she wanted. Marcia felt
that she never could attain to such heights. In the first place she
considered her own sweet serious face with its pure brown eyes as
exceedingly plain. She could not catch the lights that played at hide and
seek in her eyes when she talked with animation. Indeed few saw her at her
best, because she seldom talked freely. It was only with certain people
that she could forget herself.

She did not envy Kate. She was proud of her sister, and loved her, though
there was an element of anxiety in the love. But she never thought of her
many faults. She felt that they were excusable because Kate was Kate. It
was as if you should find fault with a wild rose because it carried a
thorn. Kate was set about with many a thorn, but amid them all she
bloomed, her fragrant pink self, as apparently unconscious of the many
pricks she gave, and as unconcerned, as the flower itself.

So Marcia never thought to be jealous that Kate had so many lovely things,
and was going out into the world to do just as she pleased, and lead a
charmed life with a man who was greater in the eyes of this girl than any
prince that ever walked in fairy-tale. But she saw no harm in playing a
delightful little dream-game of “pretend” now and then, and letting her
imagination make herself the beautiful, admired, elder sister instead of
the plain younger one.

But this morning on her way to the village store with her berries she
thought no more of her sister’s things, for her mind was upon her own
little frock which she would purchase with the price of the berries, and
then go home and make.

A whole long day she had to herself, for Kate and her stepmother were gone
up to the neighboring town on the packet to make a few last purchases.

She had told no one of her plans, and was awake betimes in the morning to
see the travellers off, eager to have them gone that she might begin to
carry out her plan.

Just at the edge of the village Marcia put down the pails of berries by a
large flat stone and sat down for a moment to tidy herself. The lacing of
one shoe had come untied, and her hair was rumpled by exercise. But she
could not sit long to rest, and taking up her burdens was soon upon the
way again.

Mary Ann Fothergill stepped from her own gate lingering till Marcia should
come up, and the two girls walked along side by side. Mary Ann had stiff,
straight, light hair, and high cheek bones. Her eyes were light and her
eyelashes almost white. They did not show up well beneath her checked
sunbonnet. Her complexion was dull and tanned. She was a contrast to
Marcia with her clear red and white skin. She was tall and awkward and
wore a linsey-woolsey frock as though it were a meal sack temporarily
appropriated. She had the air of always trying to hide her feet and hands.
Mary Ann had some fine qualities, but beauty was not one of them. Beside
her Marcia’s delicate features showed clear-cut like a cameo, and her
every movement spoke of patrician blood.

Mary Ann regarded Marcia’s smooth brown braids enviously. Her own sparse
hair barely reached to her shoulders, and straggled about her neck
helplessly and hopelessly, in spite of her constant efforts.

“It must be lots of fun at your house these days,” said Mary Ann
wistfully. “Are you most ready for the wedding?”

Marcia nodded. Her eyes were bright. She could see the sign of the village
store just ahead and knew the bolts of new chintz were displaying their
charms in the window.

“My, but your cheeks do look pretty,” admired Mary Ann impulsively. “Say,
how many of each has your sister got?”

“Two dozens,” said Marcia conscious of a little swelling of pride in her
breast. It was not every girl that had such a setting out as her sister.

“My!” sighed Mary Ann. “And outside things, too. I ’spose she’s got one of
every color. What are her frocks? Tell me about them. I’ve been up to
Dutchess county and just got back last night, but Ma wrote Aunt Tilly that
Mis’ Hotchkiss said her frocks was the prettiest Miss Hancock’s ever sewed
on.”

“We think they are pretty,” admitted Marcia modestly. “There’s a sprigged
chin—” here she caught herself, remembering, and laughed. “I mean
muslin-de-laine, and a blue delaine, and a blue silk——”

“My! silk!” breathed Mary Ann in an ecstasy of wonder. “And what’s she
going to be married in?”

“White,” answered Marcia, “white satin. And the veil was mother’s—our own
mother’s, you know.”

Marcia spoke it reverently, her eyes shining with something far away that
made Mary Ann think she looked like an angel.

“Oh, my! Don’t you just envy her?”

“No,” said Marcia slowly; “I think not. At least—I hope not. It wouldn’t
be right, you know. And then she’s my sister and I love her dearly, and
it’s nearly as nice to have one’s sister have nice things and a good time
as to have them one’s self.”

“You’re good,” said Mary Ann decidedly as if that were a foregone
conclusion. “But I should envy her, I just should. Mis’ Hotchkiss told Ma
there wa’nt many lots in life so all honey-and-dew-prepared like your
sister’s. All the money she wanted to spend on clo’es, and a nice set out,
and a man as handsome as you’ll find anywhere, and he’s well off too,
ain’t he? Ma said she heard he kept a horse and lived right in the village
too, not as how he needed to keep one to get anywhere, either. That’s what
I call luxury—a horse to ride around with. And then Mr. What’s-his-name? I
can’t remember. Oh, yes, Spafford. He’s good, and everybody says he won’t
make a bit of fuss if Kate does go around and have a good time. He’ll just
let her do as she pleases. Only old Grandma Doolittle says she doesn’t
believe it. She thinks every man, no matter how good he is, wants to
manage his wife, just for the name of it. She says your sister’ll have to
change her ways or else there’ll be trouble. But that’s Grandma! Everybody
knows her. She croaks! Ma says Kate’s got her nest feathered well if ever
a girl had. My! I only wish I had the same chance!”

Marcia held her head a trifle high when Mary Ann touched upon her sister’s
personal character, but they were nearing the store, and everybody knew
Mary Ann was blunt. Poor Mary Ann! She meant no harm. She was but
repeating the village gossip. Besides, Marcia must give her mind to
sprigged chintz. There was no time for discussions if she would accomplish
her purpose before the folks came home that night.

“Mary Ann,” she said in her sweet, prim way that always made the other
girl stand a little in awe of her, “you mustn’t listen to gossip. It isn’t
worth while. I’m sure my sister Kate will be very happy. I’m going in the
store now, are you?” And the conversation was suddenly concluded.

Mary Ann followed meekly watching with wonder and envy as Marcia made her
bargain with the kindly merchant, and selected her chintz. What a
delicious swish the scissors made as they went through the width of cloth,
and how delightfully the paper crackled as the bundle was being wrapped!
Mary Ann did not know whether Kate or Marcia was more to be envied.

“Did you say you were going to make it up yourself?” asked Mary Ann.

Marcia nodded.

“Oh, my! Ain’t you afraid? I would be. It’s the prettiest I ever saw.
Don’t you go and cut both sleeves for one arm. That’s what I did the only
time Ma ever let me try.” And Mary Ann touched the package under Marcia’s
arm with wistful fingers.

They had reached the turn of the road and Mary Ann hoped that Marcia would
ask her out to “help,” but Marcia had no such purpose.

“Well, good-bye! Will you wear it next Sunday?” she asked.

“Perhaps,” answered Marcia breathlessly, and sped on her homeward way, her
cheeks bright with excitement.

                 [Illustration: Copyright by C. Klackner
   KATE AND HER STEPMOTHER WERE GONE UP TO THE NEIGHBORING TOWN ON THE
                                 PACKET.]

                        Copyright by C. Klackner
   KATE AND HER STEPMOTHER WERE GONE UP TO THE NEIGHBORING TOWN ON THE
                                 PACKET.


In her own room she spread the chintz out upon the bed and with trembling
fingers set about her task. The bright shears clipped the edge and tore
off the lengths exultantly as if in league with the girl. The bees hummed
outside in the clover, and now and again buzzed between the muslin
curtains of the open window, looked in and grumbled out again. The birds
sang across the meadows and the sun mounted to the zenith and began its
downward march, but still the busy fingers worked on. Well for Marcia’s
scheme that the fashion of the day was simple, wherein were few puckers
and plaits and tucks, and little trimming required, else her task would
have been impossible.

Her heart beat high as she tried it on at last, the new chintz that she
had made. She went into the spare room and stood before the long mirror in
its wide gilt frame that rested on two gilt knobs standing out from the
wall like giant rosettes. She had dared to make the skirt a little longer
than that of her best frock. It was almost as long as Kate’s, and for a
moment she lingered, sweeping backward and forward before the glass and
admiring herself in the long graceful folds. She caught up her braids in
the fashion that Kate wore her hair and smiled at the reflection of
herself in the mirror. How funny it seemed to think she would soon be a
woman like Kate. When Kate was gone they would begin to call her “Miss”
sometimes. Somehow she did not care to look ahead. The present seemed
enough. She had so wrapped her thoughts in her sister’s new life that her
own seemed flat and stale in comparison.

The sound of a distant hay wagon on the road reminded her that the sun was
near to setting. The family carryall would soon be coming up the lane from
the evening packet. She must hurry and take off her frock and be dressed
before they arrived.

Marcia was so tired that night after supper that she was glad to slip away
to bed, without waiting to hear Kate’s voluble account of her day in town,
the beauties she had seen and the friends she had met.

She lay down and dreamed of the morrow, and of the next day, and the next.
In strange bewilderment she awoke in the night and found the moonlight
streaming full into her face. Then she laughed and rubbed her eyes and
tried to go to sleep again; but she could not, for she had dreamed that
she was the bride herself, and the words of Mary Ann kept going over and
over in her mind. “Oh, don’t you envy her?” _Did_ she envy her sister? But
that was wicked. It troubled her to think of it, and she tried to banish
the dream, but it would come again and again with a strange sweet
pleasure.

She lay wondering if such a time of joy would ever come to her as had come
to Kate, and whether the spare bed would ever be piled high with clothes
and fittings for her new life. What a wonderful thing it was anyway to be
a woman and be loved!

Then her dreams blended again with the soft perfume of the honeysuckle at
the window, and the hooting of a young owl.

The moon dropped lower, the bright stars paled, dawn stole up through the
edges of the woods far away and awakened a day that was to bring a strange
transformation over Marcia’s life.



                                CHAPTER II


As a natural consequence of her hard work and her midnight awakening,
Marcia overslept the next morning. Her stepmother called her sharply and
she dressed in haste, not even taking time to glance toward the new folds
of chintz that drew her thoughts closetward. She dared not say anything
about it yet. There was much to be done, and not even Kate had time for an
idle word with her. Marcia was called upon to run errands, to do odds and
ends of things, to fill in vacant places, to sew on lost buttons, to do
everything for which nobody else had time. The household had suddenly
become aware that there was now but one more intervening day between them
and the wedding.

It was not until late in the afternoon that Marcia ventured to put on her
frock. Even then she felt shy about appearing in it.

Madam Schuyler was busy in the parlor with callers, and Kate was locked in
her own room whither she had gone to rest. There was no one to notice if
Marcia should “dress up,” and it was not unlikely that she might escape
much notice even at the supper table, as everybody was so absorbed in
other things.

She lingered before her own little glass looking wistfully at herself. She
was pleased with the frock she had made and liked her appearance in it,
but yet there was something disappointing about it. It had none of the
style of her sister’s garments, newly come from the hand of the village
mantua-maker. It was girlish, and showed her slip of a form prettily in
the fashion of the day, but she felt too young. She wanted to look older.
She searched her drawer and found a bit of black velvet which she pinned
about her throat with a pin containing the miniature of her mother, then
with a second thought she drew the long braids up in loops and fastened
them about her head in older fashion. It suited her well, and the change
it made astonished her. She decided to wear them so and see if others
would notice. Surely, some day she would be a young woman, and perhaps
then she would be allowed to have a will of her own occasionally.

She drew a quick breath as she descended the stairs and found her
stepmother and the visitor just coming into the hall from the parlor.

They both involuntarily ceased their talk and looked at her in surprise.
Over Madam Schuyler’s face there came a look as if she had received a
revelation. Marcia was no longer a child, but had suddenly blossomed into
young womanhood. It was not the time she would have chosen for such an
event. There was enough going on, and Marcia was still in school. She had
no desire to steer another young soul through the various dangers and
follies that beset a pretty girl from the time she puts up her hair until
she is safely married to the right man—or the wrong one. She had just
begun to look forward with relief to having Kate well settled in life.
Kate had been a hard one to manage. She had too much will of her own and a
pretty way of always having it. She had no deep sense of reverence for
old, staid manners and customs. Many a long lecture had Madam Schuyler
delivered to Kate upon her unseemly ways. It did not please her to think
of having to go through it all so soon again, therefore upon her usually
complacent brow there came a look of dismay.

“Why!” exclaimed the visitor, “is this the bride? How tall she looks! No!
Bless me! it isn’t, is it? Yes,—Well! I’ll declare. It’s just Marsh! What
have you got on, child? How old you look!”

Marcia flushed. It was not pleasant to have her young womanhood
questioned, and in a tone so familiar and patronizing. She disliked the
name of “Marsh” exceedingly, especially upon the lips of this woman, a
sort of second cousin of her stepmother’s. She would rather have chosen
the new frock to pass under inspection of her stepmother without
witnesses, but it was too late to turn back now. She must face it.

Though Madam Schuyler’s equilibrium was a trifle disturbed, she was not
one to show it before a visitor. Instantly she recovered her balance, and
perhaps Marcia’s ordeal was less trying than if there had been no third
person present.

“That looks very well, child!” she said critically with a shade of
complacence in her voice. It is true that Marcia had gone beyond orders in
purchasing and making garments unknown to her, yet the neatness and fit
could but reflect well upon her training. It did no harm for cousin Maria
to see what a child of her training could do. It was, on the whole, a very
creditable piece of work, and Madam Schuyler grew more reconciled to it as
Marcia came down toward them.

“Make it herself?” asked cousin Maria. “Why, Marsh, you did real well. My
Matilda does all her own clothes now. It’s time you were learning. It’s a
trifle longish to what you’ve been wearing them, isn’t it? But you’ll grow
into it, I dare say. Got your hair a new way too. I thought you were Kate
when you first started down stairs. You’ll make a good-looking young lady
when you grow up; only don’t be in too much hurry. Take your girlhood
while you’ve got it, is what I always tell Matilda.”

Matilda was well on to thirty and showed no signs of taking anything else.

Madam Schuyler smoothed an imaginary pucker across the shoulders and again
pronounced the work good.

“I picked berries and got the cloth,” confessed Marcia.

Madam Schuyler smiled benevolently and patted Marcia’s cheek.

“You needn’t have done that, child. Why didn’t you come to me for money?
You needed something new, and that is a very good purchase, a little
light, perhaps, but very pretty. We’ve been so busy with Kate’s things you
have been neglected.”

Marcia smiled with pleasure and passed into the dining room wondering what
power the visitor had over her stepmother to make her pass over this
digression from her rules so sweetly,—nay, even with praise.

At supper they all rallied Marcia upon her changed appearance. Her father
jokingly said that when the bridegroom arrived he would hardly know which
sister to choose, and he looked from one comely daughter to the other with
fatherly pride. He praised Marcia for doing the work so neatly, and
inwardly admired the courage and independence that prompted her to get the
money by her own unaided efforts rather than to ask for it, and later, as
he passed through the room where she was helping to remove the dishes from
the table, he paused and handed her a crisp five-dollar note. It had
occurred to him that one daughter was getting all the good things and the
other was having nothing. There was a pleasant tenderness in his eyes, a
recognition of her rights as a young woman, that made Marcia’s heart
exceedingly light. There was something strange about the influence this
little new frock seemed to have upon people.

Even Kate had taken a new tone with her. Much of the time at supper she
had sat staring at her sister. Marcia wondered about it as she walked down
toward the gate after her work was done. Kate had never seemed so quiet.
Was she just beginning to realize that she was leaving home forever, and
was she thinking how the home would be after she had left it? How she,
Marcia, would take the place of elder sister, with only little Harriet and
the boys, their stepsister and brothers, left? Was Kate sad over the
thought of going so far away from them, or was she feeling suddenly the
responsibility of the new position she was to occupy and the duties that
would be hers? No, that could not be it, for surely that would bring a
softening of expression, a sweetness of anticipation, and Kate’s
expression had been wondering, perplexed, almost troubled. If she had not
been her own sister Marcia would have added, “hard,” but she stopped short
at that.

It was a lovely evening. The twilight was not yet over as she stepped from
the low piazza that ran the length of the house bearing another above it
on great white pillars. A drapery of wistaria in full bloom festooned
across one end and half over the front. Marcia stepped back across the
stone flagging and driveway to look up the purple clusters of graceful
fairy-like shape that embowered the house, and thought how beautiful it
would look when the wedding guests should arrive the day after the morrow.
Then she turned into the little gravel path, box-bordered, that led to the
gate. Here and there on either side luxuriant blooms of dahlias, peonies
and roses leaned over into the night and peered at her. The yard had never
looked so pretty. The flowers truly had done their best for the occasion,
and they seemed to be asking some word of commendation from her.

They nodded their dewy heads sleepily as she went on.

To-morrow the children would be coming back from Aunt Eliza’s, where they
had been sent safely out of the way for a few days, and the last things
would arrive,—and _he_ would come. Not later than three in the afternoon
he ought to arrive, Kate had said, though there was a possibility that he
might come in the morning, but Kate was not counting upon it. He was to
drive from his home to Schenectady and, leaving his own horse there to
rest, come on by coach. Then he and Kate would go back in fine style to
Schenectady in a coach and pair, with a colored coachman, and at
Schenectady take their own horse and drive on to their home, a long
beautiful ride, so thought Marcia half enviously. How beautiful it would
be! What endless delightful talks they might have about the trees and
birds and things they saw in passing only Kate did not love to talk about
such things. But then she would be with David, and he talked beautifully
about nature or anything else. Kate would learn to love it if she loved
him. Did Kate love David? Of course she must or why should she marry him?
Marcia resented the thought that Kate might have other objects in view,
such as Mary Ann Fothergill had suggested for instance. Of course Kate
would never marry any man unless she loved him. That would be a dreadful
thing to do. Love was the greatest thing in the world. Marcia looked up to
the stars, her young soul thrilling with awe and reverence for the great
mysteries of life. She wondered again if life would open sometime for her
in some such great way, and if she would ever know better than now what it
meant. Would some one come and love her? Some one whom she could love in
return with all the fervor of her nature?

She had dreamed such dreams before many times, as girls will, while lovers
and future are all in one dreamy, sweet blending of rosy tints and joyous
mystery, but never had they come to her with such vividness as that night.
Perhaps it was because the household had recognized the woman in her for
the first time that evening. Perhaps because the vision she had seen
reflected in her mirror before she left her room that afternoon had opened
the door of the future a little wider than it had ever opened before.

She stood by the gate where the syringa and lilac bushes leaned over and
arched the way, and the honeysuckle climbed about the fence in a wild
pretty way of its own and flung sweetness on the air in vivid, erratic
whiffs.

The sidewalk outside was brick, and whenever she heard footsteps coming
she stepped back into the shadow of the syringa and was hidden from view.
She was in no mood to talk with any one.

She could look out into the dusty road and see dimly the horses and
carryalls as they passed, and recognize an occasional laughing voice of
some village maiden out with her best young man for a ride. Others
strolled along the sidewalk, and fragments of talk floated back. Almost
every one had a word to say about the wedding as they neared the gate, and
if Marcia had been in another mood it would have been interesting and
gratifying to her pride. Every one had a good word for Kate, though many
disapproved of her in a general way for principle’s sake.

Hanford Weston passed, with long, slouching gait, hands in his trousers
pockets, and a frightened, hasty, sideways glance toward the lights of the
house beyond. He would have gone in boldly to call if he had dared, and
told Marcia that he had done her bidding and now wanted a reward, but John
Middleton had joined him at the corner and he dared not make the attempt.
John would have done it in a minute if he had wished. He was brazen by
nature, but Hanford knew that he would as readily laugh at another for
doing it. Hanford shrank from a laugh more than from the cannon’s mouth,
so he slouched on, not knowing that his goddess held her breath behind a
lilac bush not three feet away, her heart beating in annoyed taps to be
again interrupted by him in her pleasant thoughts.

Merry, laughing voices mingling with many footsteps came sounding down the
street and paused beside the gate. Marcia knew the voices and again slid
behind the shrubbery that bordered all the way to the house, and not even
a gleam of her light frock was visible. They trooped in, three or four
girl friends of Kate’s and a couple of young men.

Marcia watched them pass up the box-bordered path from her shadowy
retreat, and thought how they would miss Kate, and wondered if the young
men who had been coming there so constantly to see her had no pangs of
heart that their friend and leader was about to leave them. Then she
smiled at herself in the dark. She seemed to be doing the retrospect for
Kate, taking leave of all the old friends, home, and life, in Kate’s
place. It was not her life anyway, and why should she bother herself and
sigh and feel this sadness creeping over her for some one else? Was it
that she was going to lose her sister? No, for Kate had never been much of
a companion to her. She had always put her down as a little girl and made
distinct and clear the difference in their ages. Marcia had been the
little maid to fetch and carry, the errand girl, and unselfish, devoted
slave in Kate’s life. There had been nothing protective and elder-sisterly
in her manner toward Marcia. At times Marcia had felt this keenly, but no
expression of this lack had ever crossed her lips, and afterwards her
devotion to her sister had been the greater, to in a measure compensate
for this reproachful thought.

But Marcia could not shake the sadness off. She stole in further among the
trees to think about it till the callers should go away. She felt no
desire to meet any of them.

She began again to wonder how she would feel if day after to-morrow were
her wedding day, and she were going away from home and friends and all the
scenes with which she had been familiar since babyhood. Would she mind
very much leaving them all? Father? Yes, father had been good to her, and
loved her and was proud of her in a way. But one does not lose one’s
father no matter how far one goes. A father is a father always; and Mr.
Schuyler was not a demonstrative man. Marcia felt that her father would
not miss her deeply, and she was not sure she would miss him so very much.
She had read to him a great deal and talked politics with him whenever he
had no one better by, but aside from that her life had been lived much
apart from him. Her stepmother? Yes, she would miss her as one misses a
perfect mentor and guide. She had been used to looking to her for
direction. She was thoroughly conscious that she had a will of her own and
would like a chance to exercise it, still, she knew that in many cases
without her stepmother she would be like a rudderless ship, a guideless
traveller. And she loved her stepmother too, as a young girl can love a
good woman who has been her guide and helper, even though there never has
been great tenderness between them. Yes, she would miss her stepmother,
but she would not feel so very sad over it. Harriet and the little
brothers? Oh, yes, she would miss them, they were dear little things and
devoted to her.

Then there were the neighbors, and the schoolmates, and the people of the
village. She would miss the minister,—the dear old minister and his wife.
Many a time she had gone with her arms full of flowers to the parsonage
down the street, and spent the afternoon with the minister’s wife. Her
smooth white hair under its muslin cap, and her soft wrinkled cheek were
very dear to the young girl. She had talked to this friend more freely
about her innermost thoughts than she had ever spoken to any living being.
Oh, she would miss the minister’s wife very much if she were to go away.

The names of her schoolmates came to her. Harriet Woodgate, Eliza
Buchanan, Margaret Fletcher, three girls who were her intimates. She would
miss them, of course, but how much? She could scarcely tell. Margaret
Fletcher more than the other two. Mary Ann Fothergill? She almost laughed
at the thought of anybody missing Mary Ann. John Middleton? Hanford
Weston? There was not a boy in the school she would miss for an instant,
she told herself with conviction. Not one of them realized her ideal.
There was much pairing off of boy and girl in school, but Marcia, like the
heroine of “Comin’ thro’ the Rye,” was good friends with all the boys and
intimate with none. They all counted it an honor to wait upon her, and she
cared not a farthing for any. She felt herself too young, of course, to
think of such things, but when she dreamed her day dreams the lover and
prince who figured in them bore no familiar form or feature. He was a
prince and these were only schoolboys.

The merry chatter of the young people in the house floated through the
open windows, and Marcia could hear her sister’s voice above them all.
Chameleon-like she was all gaiety and laughter now, since her gravity at
supper.

They were coming out the front door and down the walk. Kate was with them.
Marcia could catch glimpses of the girls’ white frocks as they came
nearer. She saw that her sister was walking with Captain Leavenworth. He
was a handsome young man who made a fine appearance in his uniform. He and
Kate had been intimate for two years, and it might have been more than
friendship had not Kate’s father interfered between them. He did not think
so well of the handsome young captain as did either his daughter Kate or
the United States Navy who had given him his position. Squire Schuyler
required deep integrity and strength of moral character in the man who
aspired to be his son-in-law. The captain did not number much of either
among his virtues.

There had been a short, sharp contest which had ended in the departure of
young Leavenworth from the town some three years before, and the temporary
plunging of Kate Schuyler into a season of tears and pouting. But it had
not been long before her gay laughter was ringing again, and her father
thought she had forgotten. About that time David Spafford had appeared and
promptly fallen in love with the beautiful girl, and the Schuyler mind was
relieved. So it came about that, upon the reappearance of the handsome
young captain wearing the insignia of his first honors, the Squire
received him graciously. He even felt that he might be more lenient about
his moral character, and told himself that perhaps he was not so bad after
all, he must have something in him or the United States government would
not have seen fit to honor him. It was easier to think so, now Kate was
safe.

Marcia watched her sister and the captain go laughing down to the gate,
and out into the street. She wondered that Kate could care to go out
to-night when it was to be almost her last evening at home; wondered, too,
that Kate would walk with Captain Leavenworth when she belonged to David
now. She might have managed it to go with one of the girls. But that was
Kate’s way. Kate’s ways were not Marcia’s ways.

Marcia wondered if she would miss Kate, and was obliged to acknowledge to
herself that in many ways her sister’s absence would be a relief to her.
While she recognized the power of her sister’s beauty and will over her,
she felt oppressed sometimes by the strain she was under to please, and
wearied of the constant, half-fretful, half playful fault-finding.

The gay footsteps and voices died away down the village street, and Marcia
ventured forth from her retreat. The moon was just rising and came up a
glorious burnished disk, silhouetting her face as she stood a moment
listening to the stirring of a bird among the branches. It was her will
to-night to be alone and let her fancies wander where they would. The
beauty and the mystery of a wedding was upon her, touching all her deeper
feelings, and she wished to dream it out and wonder over it. Again it came
to her what if the day after the morrow were her wedding day and she stood
alone thinking about it. She would not have gone off down the street with
a lot of giggling girls nor walked with another young man. She would have
stood here, or down by the gate—and she moved on toward her favorite arch
of lilac and syringa—yes, down by the gate in the darkness looking out and
thinking how it would be when he should come. She felt sure if it had been
herself who expected David she would have begun to watch for him a week
before the time he had set for coming, heralding it again and again to her
heart in joyous thrills of happiness, for who knew but he might come
sooner and surprise her? She would have rejoiced that to-night she was
alone, and would have excused herself from everything else to come down
there in the stillness and watch for him, and think how it would be when
he would really get there. She would hear his step echoing down the street
and would recognize it as his. She would lean far over the gate to listen
and watch, and it would come nearer and nearer, and her heart would beat
faster and faster, and her breath come quicker, until he was at last by
her side, his beautiful surprise for her in his eyes. But now, if David
should really try to surprise Kate by coming that way to-night he would
not find her waiting nor thinking of him at all, but off with Captain
Leavenworth.

With a passing pity for David she went back to her own dream. With one
elbow on the gate and her cheek in her hand she thought it all over. The
delayed evening coach rumbled up to the tavern not far away and halted.
Real footsteps came up the street, but Marcia did not notice them only as
they made more vivid her thoughts.

Her dream went on and the steps drew nearer until suddenly they halted and
some one appeared out of the shadow. Her heart stood still, for form and
face in the darkness seemed unreal, and the dreams had been most vivid.
Then with tender masterfulness two strong arms were flung about her and
her face was drawn close to his across the vine-twined gate until her lips
touched his. One long clinging kiss of tenderness he gave her and held her
head close against his breast for just a moment while he murmured: “My
darling! My precious, precious Kate, I have you at last!”

The spell was broken! Marcia’s dream was shattered. Her mind awoke. With a
scream she sprang from him, horror and a wild but holy joy mingling with
her perplexity. She put her hand upon her heart, marvelling over the
sweetness that lingered upon her lips, trying to recover her senses as she
faced the eager lover who opened the little gate and came quickly toward
her, as yet unaware that it was not Kate to whom he had been talking.



                               CHAPTER III


Marcia stood quivering, trembling. She comprehended all in an instant.
David Spafford had come a day earlier than he had been expected, to
surprise Kate, and Kate was off having a good time with some one else. He
had mistaken her for Kate. Her long dress and her put-up hair had deceived
him in the moonlight. She tried to summon some womanly courage, and in her
earnestness to make things right she forgot her natural timidity.

“It is not Kate,” she said gently; “it is only Marcia. Kate did not know
you were coming to-night. She did not expect you till to-morrow. She had
to go out,—that is—she has gone with—” the truthful, youthful, troubled
sister paused. To her mind it was a calamity that Kate was not present to
meet her lover. She should at least have been in the house ready for a
surprise like this. Would David not feel the omission keenly? She must
keep it from him if she could about Captain Leavenworth. There was no
reason why he should feel badly about it, of course, and yet it might
annoy him. But he stepped back laughing at his mistake.

“Why! Marcia, is it you, child? How you have grown! I never should have
known you!” said the young man pleasantly. He had always a grave
tenderness for this little sister of his love. “Of course your sister did
not know I was coming,” he went on, “and doubtless she has many things to
attend to. I did not expect her to be out here watching for me, though for
a moment I did think she was at the gate. You say she is gone out? Then we
will go up to the house and I will be there to surprise her when she
comes.”

Marcia turned with relief. He had not asked where Kate was gone, nor with
whom.

The Squire and Madam Schuyler greeted the arrival with elaborate welcome.
The Squire like Marcia seemed much annoyed that Kate had gone out. He kept
fuming back and forth from the window to the door and asking: “What did
she go out for to-night? She ought to have stayed at home!”

But Madam Schuyler wore ample satisfaction upon her smooth brow. The
bridegroom had arrived. There could be no further hitch in the ceremonies.
He had arrived a day before the time, it is true; but he had not found
_her_ unprepared. So far as she was concerned, with a few extra touches
the wedding might proceed at once. She was always ready for everything in
time. No one could find a screw loose in the machinery of her household.

She bustled about, giving orders and laying a bountiful supper before the
young man, while the Squire sat and talked with him, and Marcia hovered
watchfully, waiting upon the table, noticing with admiring eyes the
beautiful wave of his abundant hair, tossed back from his forehead. She
took a kind of pride of possession in his handsome face,—the far-removed
possession of a sister-in-law. There was his sunny smile, that seemed as
though it could bring joy out of the gloom of a bleak December day, and
there were the two dimples—not real dimples, of course, men never had
dimples—but hints, suggestions of dimples, that caught themselves when he
smiled, here and there like hidden mischief well kept under control, but
still merrily ready to come to the surface. His hands were white and firm,
the fingers long and shapely, the hands of a brain worker. The vision of
Hanford Weston’s hands, red and bony, came up to her in contrast. She had
not known that she looked at them that day when he had stood awkwardly
asking if he might walk with her. Poor Hanford! He would ill compare with
this cultured scholarly man who was his senior by ten years, though it is
possible that with the ten years added he would have been quite worthy of
the admiration of any of the village girls.

The fruit cake and raspberry preserves and doughnuts and all the various
viands that Madam Schuyler had ordered set out for the delectation of her
guest had been partaken of, and David and the Squire sat talking of the
news of the day, touching on politics, with a bit of laughter from the
Squire at the man who thought he had invented a machine to draw carriages
by steam in place of horses.

“There’s a good deal in it, I believe,” said the younger man. “His theory
is all right if he can get some one to help him carry it out.”

“Well, maybe, maybe,” said the Squire shaking his head dubiously, “but it
seems to me a very fanciful scheme. Horses are good enough for me. I
shouldn’t like to trust myself to an unknown quantity like steam, but time
will tell.”

“Yes, and the world is progressing. Something of the sort is sure to come.
It has come in England. It would make a vast change in our country,
binding city to city and practically eradicating space.”

“Visionary schemes, David, visionary schemes, that’s what I call them. You
and I’ll never see them in our day, I’m sure of that. Remember this is a
new country and must go slow.” The Squire was half laughing, half in
earnest.

Amid the talk Marcia had quietly slipped out. It had occurred to her that
perhaps the captain might return with her sister.

She must watch for Kate and warn her. Like a shadow in the moonlight she
stepped softly down the gravel path once more and waited at the gate. Did
not that sacred kiss placed upon her lips all by mistake bind her to this
solemn duty? Had it not been given to her to see as in a revelation, by
that kiss, the love of one man for one woman, deep and tender and true?

In the fragrant darkness her soul stood still and wondered over Love, the
marvellous. With an insight such as few have who have not tasted years of
wedded joy, Marcia comprehended the possibility and joy of sacrifice that
made even sad things bright because of Love. She saw like a flash how Kate
could give up her gay life, her home, her friends, everything that life
had heretofore held dear for her, that she might be by the side of the man
who loved her so. But with this knowledge of David’s love for Kate came a
troubled doubt. Did Kate love David that way? If Kate had been the one who
received that kiss would she have returned it with the same tenderness and
warmth with which it was given? Marcia dared not try to answer this. It
was Kate’s question, not hers, and she must never let it enter her mind
again. Of course she must love him that way or she would never marry him.

The night crept slowly for the anxious little watcher at the gate. Had she
been sure where to look for her sister, and not afraid of the tongues of a
few interested neighbors who had watched everything at the house for days
that no item about the wedding should escape them, she would have started
on a search at once. She knew if she just ran into old Miss Pemberton’s,
whose house stood out upon the street with two straight-backed little,
high, white seats each side of the stoop, a most delightful post of
observation, she could discover at once in which direction Kate had gone,
and perhaps a good deal more of hints and suggestions besides. But Marcia
had no mind to make gossip. She must wait as patiently as she could for
Kate. Moreover Kate might be walking even now in some secluded, rose-lined
lane arm in arm with the captain, saying a pleasant farewell. It was
Kate’s way and no one might gainsay her.

Marcia’s dreams came back once more, the thoughts that had been hers as
she stood there an hour before. She thought how the kiss had fitted into
the dream. Then all at once conscience told her it was Kate’s lover, not
her own, whose arms had encircled her. And now there was a strange
unwillingness to go back to the dreams at all, a lingering longing for the
joys into whose glory she had been for a moment permitted to look. She
drew back from all thoughts and tried to close the door upon them. They
seemed too sacred to enter. Her maidenhood was but just begun and she had
much yet to learn of life. She was glad, glad for Kate that such
wonderfulness was coming to her. Kate would be sweeter, softer in her ways
now. She could not help it with a love like that enfolding her life.

At last there were footsteps! Hark! Two people—only two! Just what Marcia
had expected. The other girls and boys had dropped into other streets or
gone home. Kate and her former lover were coming home alone. And,
furthermore, Kate would not be glad to see her sister at the gate. This
last thought came with sudden conviction, but Marcia did not falter.

“Kate, David has come!” Marcia said it in low, almost accusing tones, at
least so it sounded to Kate, before the two had hardly reached the gate.
They had been loitering along talking in low tones, and the young
captain’s head was bent over his companion in an earnest, pleading
attitude. Marcia could not bear to look, and did not wish to see more, so
she had spoken.

Kate, startled, sprang away from her companion, a white angry look in her
face.

“How you scared me, Marsh!” she exclaimed pettishly. “What if he has come?
That’s nothing. I guess he can wait a few minutes. He had no business to
come to-night anyway. He knew we wouldn’t be ready for him till
to-morrow.”

Kate was recovering her self-possession in proportion as she realized the
situation. That she was vexed over her bridegroom’s arrival neither of the
two witnesses could doubt. It stung her sister with a deep pity for David.
He was not getting as much in Kate as he was giving. But there was no time
for such thoughts, besides Marcia was trembling from head to foot, partly
with her own daring, partly with wrath at her sister’s words.

“For shame, Kate!” she cried. “How can you talk so, even in fun! David
came to surprise you, and I think he had a right to expect to find you
here so near to the time of your marriage.”

There was a flash in the young eyes as she said it, and a delicate lifting
of her chin with the conviction of the truth she was speaking, that gave
her a new dignity even in the moonlight. Captain Leavenworth looked at her
in lazy admiration and said:

“Why, Marsh, you’re developing into quite a spitfire. What have you got on
to-night that makes you look so tall and handsome? Why didn’t you stay in
and talk to your fine gentleman? I’m sure he would have been just as well
satisfied with you as your sister.”

Marcia gave one withering glance at the young man and then turned her back
full upon him. He was not worth noticing. Besides he was to be pitied, for
he evidently cared still for Kate.

But Kate was fairly white with anger. Perhaps her own accusing conscience
helped it on. Her voice was imperious and cold. She drew herself up
haughtily and pointed toward the house.

“Marcia Schuyler,” she said coldly, facing her sister, “go into the house
and attend to your own affairs. You’ll find that you’ll get into serious
trouble if you attempt to meddle with mine. You’re nothing but a child yet
and ought to be punished for your impudence. Go! I tell you!” she stamped
her foot, “I will come in when I get ready.”

Marcia went. Not proudly as she might have gone the moment before, but
covered with confusion and shame, her head drooping like some crushed lily
on a bleeding stalk. Through her soul rushed indignation, mighty and
forceful; indignation and shame, for her sister, for David, for herself.
She did not stop to analyze her various feelings, nor did she stop to
speak further with those in the house. She fled to her own room, and
burying her face in the pillow she wept until she fell asleep.

The moon-shadows grew longer about the arbored gateway where the two she
had left stood talking in low tones, looking furtively now and then toward
the house, and withdrawing into the covert of the bushes by the walk. But
Kate dared not linger long. She could see her father’s profile by the
candle light in the dining room. She did not wish to receive further
rebuke, and so in a very few minutes the two parted and Kate ran up the
box-edged path, beginning to hum a sweet old love song in a gay light
voice, as she tripped by the dining-room windows, and thus announced her
arrival. She guessed that Marcia would have gone straight to her room and
told nothing. Kate intended to be fully surprised. She paused in the hall
to hang up the light shawl she had worn, calling good-night to her
stepmother and saying she was very tired and was going straight to bed to
be ready for to-morrow. Then she ran lightly across the hall to the
stairs.

She knew they would call her back, and that they would all come into the
hall with David to see the effect of his surprise upon her. She had
planned to a nicety just which stair she could reach before they got
there, and where she would pause and turn and poise, and what pose she
would take with her round white arm stretched to the handrail, the sleeve
turned carelessly back. She had ready her countenances, a sleepy
indifference, then a pleased surprise, and a climax of delight. She
carried it all out, this little bit of impromptu acting, as well as though
she had rehearsed it for a month.

They called her, and she turned deliberately, one dainty, slippered foot,
with its crossed black ribbons about the slender ankle, just leaving the
stair below, and showing the arch of the aristocratic instep. Her gown was
blue and she held it back just enough for the stiff white frill of her
petticoat to peep below. Well she read the admiration in the eyes below
her. Admiration was Kate’s life: she thrived upon it. She could not do
without it.

David stood still, his love in his eyes, looking upon the vision of his
bride, and his heart swelled within him that so great a treasure should be
his. Then straightway they all forgot to question where she had been or to
rebuke her that she had been at all. She had known they would. She ever
possessed the power to make others forget her wrong doings when it was
worth her while to try.

The next morning things were astir even earlier than usual. There was the
sound of the beating of eggs, the stirring of cakes, the clatter of pots
and pans from the wide, stone-flagged kitchen.

Marcia, fresh as a flower from its morning dew in spite of her cry the
night before, had arisen to new opportunities for service. She was glad
with the joyous forgetfulness of youth when she looked at David’s happy
face, and she thought no more of Kate’s treatment of herself.

David followed Kate with a true lover’s eyes and was never for more than a
few moments out of her sight, though it seemed to Marcia that Kate did not
try very hard to stay with him. When afternoon came she dismissed him for
what she called her “beauty nap.” Marcia was passing through the hall at
the time and she caught the tender look upon his face as he touched her
brow with reverent fingers and told her she had no need for that. Her eyes
met Kate’s as they were going up the stairs, and in spite of what Kate had
said the night before Marcia could not refrain from saying: “Oh, Kate! how
could you when he loves you so? You know you never take a nap in the
daytime!”

“You silly girl!” said Kate pleasantly enough, “don’t you know the less a
man sees of one the more he thinks of her?” With this remark she closed
and fastened her door after her.

Marcia pondered these words of wisdom for some time, wondering whether
Kate had really done it for that reason, or whether she did not care for
the company of her lover. And why should it be so that a man loved you
less because he saw you more? In her straightforward code the more you
loved persons the more you desired to be in their company.

Kate had issued from her “beauty nap” with a feverish restlessness in her
eyes, an averted face, and ink upon one finger. At supper she scarcely
spoke, and when she did she laughed excitedly over little things. Her
lover watched her with eyes of pride and ever increasing wonder over her
beauty, and Marcia, seeing the light in his face, watched for its answer
in her sister’s, and finding it not was troubled.

She watched them from her bedroom window as they walked down the path
where she had gone the evening before, decorously side by side, Kate
holding her light muslin frock back from the dew on the hedges. She
wondered if it was because Kate had more respect for David than for
Captain Leavenworth that she never seemed to treat him with as much
familiarity. She did not take possession of him in the same sweet
imperious way.

Marcia had not lighted her candle. The moon gave light enough and she was
very weary, so she undressed in the dim chamber and pondered upon the ways
of the great world. Out there in the moonlight were those two who
to-morrow would be one, and here was she, alone. The world seemed all
circling about that white chamber of hers, and echoing with her own
consciousness of self, and a loneliness she had never felt before. She
wondered what it might be. Was it all sadness at parting with Kate, or was
it the sadness over inevitable partings of all human relationships, and
the all-aloneness of every living spirit?

She stood for a moment, white-robed, beside her window, looking up into
the full round moon, and wondering if God knew the ache of loneliness in
His little human creatures’ souls that He had made, and whether He had
ready something wherewith to satisfy. Then her meek soul bowed before the
faith that was in her and she knelt for her shy but reverent evening
prayer.

She heard the two lovers come in early and go upstairs, and she heard her
father fastening up the doors and windows for the night. Then stillness
gradually settled down and she fell asleep. Later, in her dreams, there
echoed the sound of hastening hoofs far down the deserted street and over
the old covered bridge, but she took no note of any sound, and the weary
household slept on.



                                CHAPTER IV


The wedding was set for ten o’clock in the morning, after which there was
to be a wedding breakfast and the married couple were to start immediately
for their new home.

David had driven the day before with his own horse and chaise to a town
some twenty miles away, and there left his horse at a tavern to rest for
the return trip, for Kate would have it that they must leave the house in
high style. So the finest equipage the town afforded had been secured to
bear them on the first stage of their journey, with a portly negro driver
and everything according to the custom of the greatest of the land.
Nothing that Kate desired about the arrangements had been left undone.

The household was fully astir by half past four, for the family breakfast
was to be at six promptly, that all might be cleared away and in readiness
for the early arrival of the various aunts and uncles and cousins and
friends who would “drive over” from the country round about. It would have
been something Madam Schuyler would never have been able to get over if
aught had been awry when a single uncle or aunt appeared upon the scene,
or if there seemed to be the least evidence of fluster and nervousness.

The rosy sunlight in the east was mixing the morning with fresher air, and
new odors for the new day that was dawning, when Marcia awoke. The sharp
click of spoons and dishes, the voices of the maids, the sizzle, sputter,
odor of frying ham and eggs, mingled with the early chorus of the birds,
and calling to life of all living creatures, like an intrusion upon
nature. It seemed not right to steal the morning’s “quiet hour” thus
rudely. The thought flitted through the girl’s mind, and in an instant
more the whole panorama of the day’s excitement was before her, and she
sprang from her bed. As if it had been her own wedding day instead of her
sister’s, she performed her dainty toilet, for though there was need for
haste, she knew she would have no further time beyond a moment to slip on
her best gown and smooth her hair.

Marcia hurried downstairs just as the bell rang for breakfast, and David,
coming down smiling behind her, patted her cheek and greeted her with,
“Well, little sister, you look as rested as if you had not done a thing
all day yesterday.”

She smiled shyly back at him, and her heart filled with pleasure over his
new name for her. It sounded pleasantly from his happy lips. She was
conscious of a gladness that he was to be so nearly related to her. She
fancied how it would seem to say to Mary Ann: “My brother-in-law says so
and so.” It would be grand to call such a man “brother.”

They were all seated at the table but Kate, and Squire Schuyler waited
with pleasantly frowning brows to ask the blessing on the morning food.
Kate was often late. She was the only member of the family who dared to be
late to breakfast, and being the bride and the centre of the occasion more
leniency was granted her this morning than ever before. Madam Schuyler
waited until every one at the table was served to ham and eggs, coffee and
bread-and-butter, and steaming griddle cakes, before she said, looking
anxiously at the tall clock: “Marcia, perhaps you better go up and see if
your sister needs any help. She ought to be down by now. Uncle Joab and
Aunt Polly will be sure to be here by eight. She must have overslept, but
we made so much noise she is surely awake by this time.”

Marcia left her half-eaten breakfast and went slowly upstairs. She knew
her sister would not welcome her, for she had often been sent on like
errands before, and the brunt of Kate’s anger had fallen upon the hapless
messenger, wearing itself out there so that she might descend all smiles
to greet father and mother and smooth off the situation in a most
harmonious manner.

Marcia paused before the door to listen. Perhaps Kate was nearly ready and
her distasteful errand need not be performed. But though she held her
breath to listen, no sound came from the closed door. Very softly she
tried to lift the latch and peep in. Kate must still be asleep. It was not
the first time Marcia had found that to be the case when sent to bring her
sister.

But the latch would not lift. The catch was firmly down from the inside.
Marcia applied her eye to the keyhole, but could get no vision save a dim
outline of the window on the other side of the room. She tapped gently
once or twice and waited again, then called softly: “Kate, Kate! Wake up.
Breakfast is ready and everybody is eating. Aunt Polly and Uncle Joab will
soon be here.”

She repeated her tapping and calling, growing louder as she received no
answer. Kate would often keep still to tease her thus. Surely though she
would not do so upon her wedding morning!

She called and called and shook the door, not daring, however, to make
much of an uproar lest David should hear. She could not bear he should
know the shortcomings of his bride.

But at last she grew alarmed. Perhaps Kate was ill. At any rate, whatever
it was, it was time she was up. She worked for some minutes trying to
loosen the catch that held the latch, but all to no purpose. She was
forced to go down stairs and whisper to her stepmother the state of the
case.

Madam Schuyler, excusing herself from the table, went upstairs, purposeful
decision in every line of her substantial body, determination in every
sound of her footfall. Bride though she be, Kate would have meted out to
her just dues this time. Company and a lover and the nearness of the
wedding hour were things not to be trifled with even by a charming Kate.

But Madam Schuyler returned in a short space of time, puffing and panting,
somewhat short of breath, and color in her face. She looked troubled, and
she interrupted the Squire without waiting for him to finish his sentence
to David.

“I cannot understand what is the matter with Kate,” she said, looking at
her husband. “She does not seem to be awake, and I cannot get her door
open. She sleeps soundly, and I suppose the unusual excitement has made
her very tired. But I should think she ought to hear my voice. Perhaps you
better see if you can open the door.”

There was studied calm in her voice, but her face belied her words. She
was anxious lest Kate was playing one of her pranks. She knew Kate’s
careless, fun-loving ways. It was more to her that all things should move
decently and in order than that Kate should even be perfectly well. But
Marcia’s white face behind her stepmother’s ample shoulder showed a dread
of something worse than a mere indisposition. David Spafford took alarm at
once. He put down the silver syrup jug from which he had been pouring
golden maple syrup on his cakes, and pushed his chair back with a click.

“Perhaps she has fainted!” he said, and Marcia saw how deeply he was
concerned. Father and lover both started up stairs, the father angry, the
lover alarmed. The Squire grumbled all the way up that Kate should sleep
so late, but David said nothing. He waited anxiously behind while the
Squire worked with the door. Madam Schuyler and Marcia had followed them,
and halting curiously just behind came the two maids. They all loved Miss
Kate and were deeply interested in the day’s doings. They did not want
anything to interfere with the well-planned pageant.

The Squire fumbled nervously with the latch, all the time calling upon his
daughter to open the door; then wrathfully placed his solid shoulder and
knee in just the right place, and with a groan and wrench the latch gave
way, and the solid oak door swung open, precipitating the anxious group
somewhat suddenly into the room.

Almost immediately they all became aware that there was no one there.
David had stood with averted eyes at first, but that second sense which
makes us aware without sight when others are near or absent, brought with
it an unnamed anxiety. He looked wildly about.

The bed had not been slept in; that they all saw at once. The room was in
confusion, but perhaps not more than might have been expected when the
occupant was about to leave on the morrow. There were pieces of paper and
string upon the floor and one or two garments lying about as if carelessly
cast off in a hurry. David recognized the purple muslin frock Kate had
worn the night before, and put out his hand to touch it as it lay across
the foot of the bed, vainly reaching after her who was not there.

They stood in silence, father, mother, sister, and lover, and took in
every detail of the deserted room, then looked blankly into one another’s
white faces, and in the eyes of each a terrible question began to dawn.
Where was she?

Madam Schuyler recovered her senses first. With her sharp practical system
she endeavored to find out the exact situation.

“Who saw her last?” she asked sharply looking from one to the other. “Who
saw her last? Has she been down stairs this morning?” she looked straight
at Marcia this time, but the girl shook her head.

“I went to bed last night before they came in,” she said, looking
questioningly at David, but a sudden remembrance and fear seized her
heart. She turned away to the window to face it where they could not look
at her.

“We came in early,” said David, trying to keep the anxiety out of his
voice, as he remembered his well-beloved’s good-night. Surely, surely,
nothing very dreadful could have happened just over night, and in her
father’s own house. He looked about again to see the natural, every-day,
little things that would help him drive away the thoughts of possible
tragedy.

“Kate was tired. She said she was going to get up very early this morning
and wash her face in the dew on the grass.” He braved a smile and looked
about on the troubled group. “She must be out somewhere upon the place,”
he continued, gathering courage with the thought; “she told me it was an
old superstition. She has maybe wandered further than she intended, and
perhaps got into some trouble. I’d better go and search for her. Is there
any place near here where she would be likely to be?” He turned to Marcia
for help.

“But Kate would never delay so long I’m sure,” said the stepmother
severely. “She’s not such a fool as to go traipsing through the wet grass
before daylight for any nonsense. If it were Marcia now, you might expect
anything, but Kate would be satisfied with the dew on the grass by the
kitchen pump. I know Kate.”

Marcia’s face crimsoned at her stepmother’s words, but she turned her
troubled eyes to David and tried to answer him.

“There are plenty of places, but Kate has never cared to go to them. I
could go out and look everywhere.” She started to go down, but as she
passed the wide mahogany bureau she saw a bit of folded paper lying under
the corner of the pincushion. With a smothered exclamation she went over
and picked it up. It was addressed to David in Kate’s handwriting, fine
and even like copperplate. Without a word Marcia handed it to him, and
then stood back where the wide draperies of the window would shadow her.

Madam Schuyler, with sudden keen prescience, took alarm. Noticing the two
maids standing wide-mouthed in the hallway, she summoned her most
commandatory tone, stepped into the hall, half closing the door behind
her, and cowed the two handmaidens under her glance.

“It is all right!” she said calmly. “Miss Kate has left a note, and will
soon return. Go down and keep her breakfast warm, and not a word to a
soul! Dolly, Debby, do you understand? Not a word of this! Now hurry and
do all that I told you before breakfast.”

They went with downcast eyes and disappointed droops to their mouths, but
she knew that not a word would pass their lips. They knew that if they
disobeyed that command they need never hope for favor more from madam.
Madam’s word was law. She would be obeyed. Therefore with remarkable
discretion they masked their wondering looks and did as they were bidden.
So while the family stood in solemn conclave in Kate’s room the
preparations for the wedding moved steadily forward below stairs, and only
two solemn maids, of all the helpers that morning, knew that a tragedy was
hovering in the air and might burst about them.

David had grasped for the letter eagerly, and fumbled it open with
trembling hand, but as he read, the smile of expectation froze upon his
lips and his face grew ashen. He tottered and grasped for the mantel shelf
to steady himself as he read further, but he did not seem to take in the
meaning of what he read. The others waited breathless, a reasonable length
of time, Madam Schuyler impatiently patient. She felt that long delay
would be perilous to her arrangements. She ought to know the whole truth
at once and be put in command of the situation. Marcia with sorrowful face
and drooping eyelashes stood quiet behind the curtain, while over and over
the echo of a horse’s hoofs in a silent street and over a bridge sounded
in her brain. She did not need to be told, she knew intuitively what had
happened, and she dared not look at David.

“Well, what has she done with herself?” said the Squire impatiently. He
had not finished his plate of cakes, and now that there was word he wanted
to know it at once and go back to his breakfast. The sight of his
daughter’s handwriting relieved and reassured him. Some crazy thing she
had done of course, but then Kate had always done queer things, and
probably would to the end of time. She was a hussy to frighten them so,
and he meant to tell her so when she returned, if it was her wedding day.
But then, Kate would be Kate, and his breakfast was getting cold. He had
the horses to look after and orders to give to the hands before the early
guests arrived.

But David did not answer, and the sight of him was alarming. He stood as
one stricken dumb all in a moment. He raised his eyes to the
Squire’s—pleading, pitiful. His face had grown strained and haggard.

“Speak out, man, doesn’t the letter tell?” said the Squire imperiously.
“Where is the girl?”

And this time David managed to say brokenly: “She’s gone!” and then his
head dropped forward on his cold hand that rested on the mantel. Great
beads of perspiration stood out upon his white forehead, and the letter
fluttered gayly, coquettishly to the floor, a reminder of the uncertain
ways of its writer.

The Squire reached for it impatiently, and wiping his spectacles
laboriously put them on and drew near to the window to read, his heavy
brows lowering in a frown. But his wife did not need to read the letter,
for she, like Marcia, had divined its purport, and already her able
faculties were marshalled to face the predicament.

The Squire with deepening frown was studying his elder daughter’s letter,
scarce able to believe the evidence of his senses that a girl of his could
be so heartless.


    “DEAR DAVID,” the letter ran,—written as though in a hurry, done
    at the last moment,—which indeed it was:—

    “I want you to forgive me for what I am doing. I know you will
    feel bad about it, but really I never was the right one for you.
    I’m sure you thought me all too good, and I never could have
    stayed in a strait-jacket, it would have killed me. I shall always
    consider you the best man in the world, and I like you better than
    anyone else except Captain Leavenworth. I can’t help it, you know,
    that I care more for him than anyone else, though I’ve tried. So I
    am going away to-night and when you read this we shall have been
    married. You are so very good that I know you will forgive me, and
    be glad I am happy. Don’t think hardly of me for I always did care
    a great deal for you.

                                                     “Your loving

                                                               “KATE.”


It was characteristic of Kate that she demanded the love and loyalty of
her betrayed lover to the bitter end, false and heartless though she had
been. The coquette in her played with him even now in the midst of the
bitter pain she must have known she was inflicting. No word of contrition
spoke she, but took her deed as one of her prerogatives, just as she had
always taken everything she chose. She did not even spare him the loving
salutation that had been her custom in her letters to him, but wrote
herself down as she would have done the day before when all was fair and
dear between them. She did not hint at any better day for David, or give
him permission to forget her, but held him for all time as her own, as she
had known she would by those words of hers, “I like you better than anyone
else except!—” Ah! That fatal “except!” Could any knife cut deeper and
more ways? They sank into the young man’s heart as he stood there those
first few minutes and faced his trouble, his head bowed upon the
mantel-piece.

Meantime Madam Schuyler’s keen vision had spied another folded paper
beside the pincushion. Smaller it was than the other, and evidently
intended to be placed further out of sight. It was addressed to Kate’s
father, and her stepmother opened it and read with hard pressure of her
thin lips, slanted down at the corners, and a steely look in her eyes. Was
it possible that the girl, even in the midst of her treachery, had enjoyed
with a sort of malicious glee the thought of her stepmother reading that
note and facing the horror of a wedding party with no bride? Knowing her
stepmother’s vast resources did she not think that at last she had brought
her to a situation to which she was unequal? There had always been this
unseen, unspoken struggle for supremacy between them; though it had been a
friendly one, a sort of testing on the girl’s part of the powers and
expedients of the woman, with a kind of vast admiration, mingled with
amusement, but no fear for the stepmother who had been uniformly kind and
loving toward her, and for whom she cared, perhaps as much as she could
have cared for her own mother. The other note read:


    “DEAR FATHER:—I am going away to-night to marry Captain
    Leavenworth. You wouldn’t let me have him in the right way, so I
    had to take this. I tried very hard to forget him and get
    interested in David, but it was no use. You couldn’t stop it. So
    now I hope you will see it the way we do and forgive us. We are
    going to Washington and you can write us there and say you forgive
    us, and then we will come home. I know you will forgive us, Daddy
    dear. You know you always loved your little Kate and you couldn’t
    really want me to be unhappy. Please send my trunks to Washington.
    I’ve tacked the card with the address on the ends.

                                        “Your loving little girl,

                                                               “KATE.”


There was a terrible stillness in the room, broken only by the crackling
of paper as the notes were turned in the hands of their readers. Marcia
felt as if centuries were passing. David’s soul was pierced by one awful
thought. He had no room for others. She was gone! Life was a blank for
him! stretching out into interminable years. Of her treachery and
false-heartedness in doing what she had done in the way she had done it,
he had no time to take account. That would come later. Now he was trying
to understand this one awful fact.

Madam Schuyler handed the second note to her husband, and with set lips
quickly skimmed through the other one. As she read, indignation rose
within her, and a great desire to outwit everybody. If it had been
possible to bring the erring girl back and make her face her disgraced
wedding alone, Madam Schuyler would have been glad to do it. She knew that
upon her would likely rest all the re-arrangements, and her ready brain
was already taking account of her servants and the number of messages that
would have to be sent out to stop the guests from arriving. She waited
impatiently for her husband to finish reading that she might consult with
him as to the best message to send, but she was scarcely prepared for the
burst of anger that came with the finish of the letters. The old man
crushed his daughter’s note in his hand and flung it from him. He had
great respect and love for David, and the sight of him broken in grief,
the deed of his daughter, roused in him a mighty indignation. His voice
shook, but there was a deep note of command in it that made Madam Schuyler
step aside and wait. The Squire had arisen to the situation, and she
recognized her lord and master.

“She must be brought back at once at all costs!” he exclaimed. “That
rascal shall not outwit us. Fool that I was to trust him in the house!
Tell the men to saddle the horses. They cannot have gone far yet, and
there are not so many roads to Washington. We may yet overtake them, and
married or unmarried the hussy shall be here for her wedding!”

But David raised his head from the mantel-shelf and steadied his voice:

“No, no, you must not do that—father—” the appellative came from his lips
almost tenderly, as if he had long considered the use of it with pleasure,
and now he spoke it as a tender bond meant to comfort.

The older man started and his face softened. A flash of understanding and
love passed between the two men.

“Remember, she has said she loves some one else. She could never be mine
now.”

There was terrible sadness in the words as David spoke them, and his voice
broke. Madam Schuyler turned away and took out her handkerchief, an
article of apparel for which she seldom had use except as it belonged to
every well ordered toilet.

The father stood looking hopelessly at David and taking in the thought.
Then he too bowed his head and groaned.

“And my daughter, _my little Kate_ has done it!” Marcia covered her face
with the curtains and her tears fell fast.

David went and stood beside the Squire and touched his arm.

“Don’t!” he said pleadingly. “You could not help it. It was not your
fault. Do not take it so to heart!”

“But it is my disgrace. I have brought up a child who could do it. I
cannot escape from that. It is the most dishonorable thing a woman can do.
And look how she has done it, brought shame upon us all! Here we have a
wedding on our hands, and little or no time to do anything! I have lived
in honor all my life, and now to be disgraced by my own daughter!”

Marcia shuddered at her father’s agony. She could not bear it longer. With
a soft cry she went to him, and nestled her head against his breast
unnoticed.

“Father, father, don’t!” she cried.

But her father went on without seeming to see her.

“To be disgraced and deserted and dishonored by my own child! Something
must be done. Send the servants! Let the wedding be stopped!”

He looked at Madam and she started toward the door to carry out his
bidding, but he recalled her immediately.

“No, stay!” he cried. “It is too late to stop them all. Let them come. Let
them be told! Let the disgrace rest upon the one to whom it belongs!”

Madam stopped in consternation! A wedding without a bride! Yet she knew it
was a serious thing to try to dispute with her husband in that mood. She
paused to consider.

“Oh, father!” exclaimed Marcia, “we couldn’t! Think of David.”

Her words seemed to touch the right chord, for he turned toward the young
man, intense, tender pity in his face.

“Yes, David! We are forgetting David! We must do all we can to make it
easier for you. You will be wanting to get away from us as quickly as
possible. How can we manage it for you? And where will you go? You will
not want to go home just yet?”

He paused, a new agony of the knowledge of David’s part coming to him.

“No, I cannot go home,” said David hopelessly, a look of keen pain darting
across his face, “for the house will be all ready for her, and the table
set. The friends will be coming in, and we are invited to dinner and tea
everywhere. They will all be coming to the house, my friends, to welcome
us. No, I cannot go home.” Then he passed his hand over his forehead
blindly, and added, in a stupefied tone, “and yet I must—sometime—I
must—go—home!”



                                CHAPTER V


The room was very still as he spoke. Madam Schuyler forgot the coming
guests and the preparations, in consternation over the thought of David
and his sorrow. Marcia sobbed softly upon her father’s breast, and her
father involuntarily placed his arm about her as he stood in painful
thought.

“It is terrible!” he murmured, “terrible! How could she bear to inflict
such sorrow! She might have saved us the scorn of all of our friends.
David, you must not go back alone. It must not be. You must not bear that.
There are lovely girls in plenty elsewhere. Find another one and marry
her. Take your bride home with you, and no one in your home need be the
wiser. Don’t sorrow for that cruel girl of mine. Give her not the
satisfaction of feeling that your life is broken. Take another. Any girl
might be proud to go with you for the asking. Had I a dozen other
daughters you should have your pick of them, and one should go with you,
if you would condescend to choose another from the home where you have
been so treacherously dealt with. But I have only this one little girl.
She is but a child as yet and cannot compare with what you thought you
had. I blame you not if you do not wish to wed another Schuyler, but if
you will she is yours. And she is a good girl. David, though she is but a
child. Speak up, child, and say if you will make amends for the wrong your
sister has done!”

The room was so still one could almost hear the heartbeats. David had
raised his head once more and was looking at Marcia. Sad and searching was
his gaze, as if he fain would find the features of Kate in her face, yet
it seemed to Marcia, as she raised wide tear-filled eyes from her father’s
breast where her head still lay, that he saw her not. He was looking
beyond her and facing the home-going alone, and the empty life that would
follow.

Her thoughts the last few days had matured her wonderfully. She understood
and pitied, and her woman-nature longed to give comfort, yet she shrunk
from going unasked. It was all terrible, this sudden situation thrust upon
her, yet she felt a willing sacrifice if she but felt sure it was his
wish.

But David did not seem to know that he must speak. He waited, looking
earnestly at her, through her, beyond her, to see if Heaven would grant
this small relief to his sufferings. At last Marcia summoned her voice:

“If David wishes I will go.”

She spoke the words solemnly, her eyes lifted slightly above him as if she
were speaking to Another One higher than he. It was like an answer to a
call from God. It had come to Marcia this way. It seemed to leave her no
room for drawing back, if indeed she had wished to do so. Other
considerations were not present. There was just the one great desire in
her heart to make amends in some measure for the wrong that had been done.
She felt almost responsible for it, a family responsibility. She seemed to
feel the shame and pain as her father was feeling it. She would step into
the empty place that Kate had left and fill it as far as she could. Her
only fear was that she was not acceptable, not worthy to fill so high a
place. She trembled over it, yet she could not hold back from the high
calling. It was so she stood in a kind of sorrowful exaltation waiting for
David. Her eyes lowered again, looking at him through the lashes and
pleading for recognition. She did not feel that she was pleading for
anything for herself, only for the chance to help him.

Her voice had broken the spell. David looked down upon her kindly, a
pleasant light of gratitude flashing through the sternness and sorrow in
his face. Here was comradeship in trouble, and his voice recognized it as
he said:

“Child, you are good to me, and I thank you. I will try to make you happy
if you will go with me, and I am sure your going will be a comfort in many
ways, but I would not have you go unwillingly.”

There was a dull ache in Marcia’s heart, its cause she could not
understand, but she was conscious of a gladness that she was not counted
unworthy to be accepted, young though she was, and child though he called
her. His tone had been kindness itself, the gentle kindliness that had won
her childish sisterly love when first he began to visit her sister. She
had that answer of his to remember for many a long day, and to live upon,
when questionings and loneliness came upon her. But she raised her face to
her father now, and said: “I will go, father!”

The Squire stooped and kissed his little girl for the last time. Perhaps
he realized that from this time forth she would be a little girl no
longer, and that he would never look into those child-eyes of hers again,
unclouded with the sorrows of life, and filled only with the
wonder-pictures of a rosy future. She seemed to him and to herself to be
renouncing her own life forever, and to be taking up one of sacrificial
penitence for her sister’s wrong doing.

The father then took Marcia’s hand and placed it in David’s, and the
betrothal was complete.

Madam Schuyler, whose reign for the time was set aside, stood silent, half
disapproving, yet not interfering. Her conscience told her that this
wholesale disposal of Marcia was against nature. The new arrangement was a
relief to her in many ways, and would make the solution of the day less
trying for every one. But she was a woman and knew a woman’s heart. Marcia
was not having her chance in life as her sister had had, as every woman
had a right to have. Then her face hardened. How had Kate used her
chances? Perhaps it was better for Marcia to be well placed in life before
she grew headstrong enough to make a fool of herself as Kate had done.
David would be good to her, that was certain. One could not look at the
strong, pleasant lines of his well cut mouth and chin and not be sure of
that. Perhaps it was all for the best. At least it was not her doing. And
it was only the night before that she had been looking at Marcia and
worrying because she was growing into a woman so fast. Now she would be
relieved of that care, and could take her ease and enjoy life until her
own children were grown up. But the voice of her husband aroused her to
the present.

“Let the wedding go on as planned, Sarah, and no one need know until the
ceremony is over except the minister. I myself will go and tell the
minister. There will need to be but a change of names.”

“But,” said the Madam, with housewifely alarm, as the suddenness of the
whole thing flashed over her, “Marcia is not ready. She has no suitable
clothes for her wedding.”

“Not ready! No clothes!” said the Squire, now thoroughly irritated over
this trivial objection, as a fly will sometimes ruffle the temper of a man
who has kept calm under fire of an enemy. “And where are all the clothes
that have been making these weeks and months past? What more preparation
does she need? Did the hussy take her wedding things with her? What’s in
this trunk?”

“But those are Kate’s things, father,” said Marcia in gentle explanation.
“Kate would be very angry if I took her things. They were made for her,
you know.”

“And what if they were made for her?” answered the father, very angry now
at Kate. “You are near of a size. What will do for one is good enough for
the other, and Kate may be angry and get over it, for not one rag of it
all will she get, nor a penny of my money will ever go to her again. She
is no daughter of mine from henceforth. That rascal has beaten me and
stolen my daughter, but he gets a dowerless lass. Not a penny will ever go
from the Schuyler estate into his pocket, and no trunk will ever travel
from here to Washington for that heartless girl. I forbid it. Let her feel
some of the sorrow she has inflicted upon others more innocent. I forbid
it, do you hear?” He brought his fist down upon the solid mahogany bureau
until the prisms on a candle-stand in front of the mirror jangled
discordantly.

“Oh, father!” gasped Marcia, and turned with terror to her stepmother. But
David stood with his back toward the rest looking out of the window. He
had forgotten them all.

Madam Schuyler was now in command again. For once the Squire had
anticipated his wife, and the next move had been planned without her help,
but it was as she would have it. Her face had lost its consternation and
beamed with satisfaction beneath its mask of grave perplexity. She could
not help it that she was glad to have the terrible ordeal of a wedding
without a bride changed into something less formidable.

At least the country round about could not pity, for who was to say but
that David was as well suited with one sister as with the other? And
Marcia was a good girl; doubtless she would grow into a good wife. Far
more suitable for so good and steady a man as David than pretty, imperious
Kate.

Madam Schuyler took her place of command once more and began to issue her
orders.

“Come, then, Marcia, we have no time to waste. It is all right, as your
father has said. Kate’s things will fit you nicely and you must go at once
and put everything in readiness. You will want all your time to dress, and
pack a few things, and get calm. Go to your room right away and pick up
anything you will want to take with you, and I’ll go down and see that
Phoebe takes your place and then come back.”

David and the Squire went out like two men who had suddenly grown old, and
had not the strength to walk rapidly. No one thought any more of
breakfast. It was half-past seven by the old tall clock that stood upon
the stair-landing. It would not be long before Aunt Polly and Uncle Joab
would be driving up to the door.

Straight ahead went the preparations, just as if nothing had happened, and
if Mistress Kate Leavenworth could have looked into her old room an hour
after the discovery of her flight she would have been astonished beyond
measure.

Up in her own room stood poor bewildered Marcia. She looked about upon her
little white bed, and thought she would never likely sleep in it again.
She looked out of the small-paned window with its view of distant hill and
river, and thought she was bidding it good-bye forever. She went toward
her closet and put out her hand to choose what she would take with her,
and her heart sank. There hung the faded old ginghams short and scant, and
scorned but yesterday, yet her heart wildly clung to them. Almost would
she have put one on and gone back to her happy care-free school life. The
thought of the new life frightened her. She must give up her girlhood all
at once. She might not keep a vestige of it, for that would betray David.
She must be Kate from morning to evening. Like a sword thrust came the
remembrance that she had envied Kate, and God had given her the punishment
of being Kate in very truth. Only there was this great difference. She was
not the chosen one, and Kate had been. She must bear about forever in her
heart the thought of Kate’s sin.

The voice of her stepmother drew nearer and warned her that her time alone
was almost over, and out on the lawn she could hear the voices of Uncle
Joab and Aunt Polly who had just arrived.

She dropped upon her knees for one brief moment and let her young soul
pour itself out in one great cry of distress to God, a cry without words
borne only on the breath of a sob. Then she arose, hastily dashed cold
water in her face, and dried away the traces of tears. There was no more
time to think. With hurried hand she began to gather a few trifles
together from closet and drawer.

One last lingering look she took about her room as she left it, her arms
filled with the things she had hastily culled from among her own. Then she
shut the door quickly and went down the hall to her sister’s room to enter
upon her new life. She was literally putting off herself and putting on a
new being as far as it was possible to do so outwardly.

There on the bed lay the bridal outfit. Madam Schuyler had just brought it
from the spare room that there might be no more going back and forth
through the halls to excite suspicion. She was determined that there
should be no excitement or demonstration or opportunity for gossip among
the guests at least until the ceremony was over. She had satisfied herself
that not a soul outside the family save the two maids suspected that aught
was the matter, and she felt sure of their silence.

Kate had taken very little with her, evidently fearing to excite
suspicion, and having no doubt that her father would relent and send all
her trousseau as she had requested in her letter. For once Mistress Kate
had forgotten her fineries and made good her escape with but two frocks
and a few other necessaries in a small hand-bag.

Madam Schuyler was relieved to the point of genuine cheerfulness, over
this, despite the cloud of tragedy that hung over the day. She began to
talk to Marcia as if she had been Kate, as she smoothed down this and that
article and laid them back in the trunk, telling how the blue gown would
be the best for church and the green silk for going out to very fine
places, to tea-drinkings and the like, and how she must always be sure to
wear the cream undersleeves with the Irish point lace with her silk gown
as they set it off to perfection. She recalled, too, how little experience
Marcia had had in the ways of the world, and all the while the girl was
being dressed in the dainty bridal garments she gave her careful
instructions in the art of being a success in society, until Marcia felt
that the green fields and the fences and trees to climb and the excursions
after blackberries, and all the joyful merry-makings of the boys and girls
were receding far from her. She could even welcome Hanford Weston as a
playfellow in her new future, if thereby a little fresh air and freedom of
her girlhood might be left. Nevertheless there gradually came over her an
elation of excitement. The feel of the dainty garments, the delicate
embroidery, the excitement lest the white slippers would not fit her, the
difficulty of making her hair stay up in just Kate’s style—for her
stepmother insisted that she must dress it exactly like Kate’s and make
herself look as nearly as possible as Kate would have looked,—all drove
sadness from her mind and she began to taste a little delight in the
pretty clothes, the great occasion, and her own importance. The vision in
the looking-glass, too, told her that her own face was winsome, and the
new array not unbecoming. Something of this she had seen the night before
when she put on her new chintz; now the change was complete, as she stood
in the white satin and lace with the string of seed pearls that had been
her mother’s tied about her soft white throat. She thought about the
tradition of the pearls that Kate’s girl friends had laughingly reminded
her of a few days before when they were looking at the bridal garments.
They had said that each pearl a bride wore meant a tear she would shed.
She wondered if Kate had escaped the tears with the pearls, and left them
for her.

She was ready at last, even to the veil that had been her mother’s, and
her mother’s mother’s before her. It fell in its rich folds, yellowed by
age, from her head to her feet, with its creamy frost-work of rarest
handiwork, transforming the girl into a woman and a bride.

Madam Schuyler arranged and rearranged the folds, and finally stood back
to look with half-closed eyes at the effect, deciding that very few would
notice that the bride was other than they had expected until the ceremony
was over and the veil thrown back. The sisters had never looked alike, yet
there was a general family resemblance that was now accentuated by the
dress; perhaps only those nearest would notice that it was Marcia instead
of Kate. At least the guests would have the good grace to keep their
wonderment to themselves until the ceremony was over.

Then Marcia was left to herself with trembling hands and wildly throbbing
heart. What would Mary Ann think! What would all the girls and boys think?
Some of them would be there, and others would be standing along the shady
streets to watch the progress of the carriage as it drove away. And they
would see her going away instead of Kate. Perhaps they would think it all
a great joke and that she had been going to be married all the time and
not Kate. But no; the truth would soon come out. People would not be
astonished at anything Kate did. They would only say it was just what they
had all along expected of her, and pity her father, and pity her perhaps.
But they would look at her and admire her and for once she would be the
centre of attraction. The pink of pride swelled up into her cheeks, and
then realizing what she was thinking she crushed the feeling down. How
could she think of such things when Kate had done such a dreadful thing,
and David was suffering so terribly? Here was she actually enjoying, and
delighting in the thought of being in Kate’s place. Oh, she was wicked,
wicked! She must not be happy for a moment in what was Kate’s shame and
David’s sorrow. Of her future with David she did not now think. It was of
the pageant of the day that her thoughts were full. If the days and weeks
and months that were to follow came into her mind at all between the other
things it was always that she was to care for David and to help him, and
that she would have to grow up quickly; and remember all the hard
housewifely things her stepmother had taught her; and try to order his
house well. But that troubled her not at all at present. She was more
concerned with the ceremony, and the many eyes that would be turned upon
her. It was a relief when a tap came on the door and the dear old minister
entered.



                                CHAPTER VI


He stood a moment by the door looking at her, half startled. Then he came
over beside her, put his hands upon her shoulders, looking down into her
upturned, veiled face.

“My child!” he said tenderly, “my little Marcia, is this you? I did not
know you in all this beautiful dress. You look as your own mother looked
when she was married. I remember perfectly as if it were but yesterday,
her face as she stood by your father’s side. I was but a young man then,
you know, and it was my first wedding in my new church, so you see I could
not forget it. Your mother was a beautiful woman, Marcia, and you are like
her both in face and life.”

The tears came into Marcia’s eyes and her lips trembled.

“Are you sure, child,” went on the gentle voice of the old man, “that you
understand what a solemn thing you are doing? It is not a light thing to
give yourself in marriage to any man. You are so young yet! Are you doing
this thing quite willingly, little girl? Are you sure? Your father is a
good man, and a dear old friend of mine, but I know what has happened has
been a terrible blow to him, and a great humiliation. It has perhaps
unnerved his judgment for the time. No one should have brought pressure to
bear upon a child like you to make you marry against your will. Are you
sure it is all right, dear?”

“Oh, yes, sir!” Marcia raised her tear-filled eyes. “I am doing it quite
of myself. No one has made me. I was glad I might. It was so dreadful for
David!”

“But child, do you love him?” the old minister said, searching her face
closely.

Marcia’s eyes shone out radiant and child-like through her tears.

“Oh, yes, sir! I love him of course. No one could help loving David.”

There was a tap at the door and the Squire entered. With a sigh the
minister turned away, but there was trouble in his heart. The love of the
girl had been all too frankly confessed. It was not as he would have had
things for a daughter of his, but it could not be helped of course, and he
had no right to interfere. He would like to speak to David, but David had
not come out of his room yet. When he did there was but a moment for them
alone and all he had opportunity to say was:

“Mr. Spafford, you will be good to the little girl, and remember she is
but a child. She has been dear to us all.”

David looked at him wonderingly, earnestly, in reply:

“I will do all in my power to make her happy,” he said.

The hour had come, and all things, just as Madam Schuyler had planned,
were ready. The minister took his place, and the impatient bridesmaids
were in a flutter, wondering why Kate did not call them in to see her.
Slowly, with measured step, as if she had practised many times, Marcia,
the maiden, walked down the hall on her father’s arm. He was bowed with
his trouble and his face bore marks of the sudden calamity that had
befallen his house, but the watching guests thought it was for sorrow at
giving up his lovely Kate, and they said one to another, “How much he
loved her!”

The girl’s face drooped with gentle gravity. She scarcely felt the
presence of the guests she had so much dreaded, for to her the ceremony
was holy. She was giving herself as a sacrifice for the sin of her sister.
She was too young and inexperienced to know all that would be thought and
said as soon as the company understood. She also felt secure behind that
film of lace. It seemed impossible that they could know her, so softly and
so mistily it shut her in from the world. It was like a kind of moving
house about her, a protection from all eyes. So sheltered she might go
through the ceremony with composure. As yet she had not begun to dread the
afterward. The hall was wide through which she passed, and the day was
bright, but the windows were so shadowed by the waiting bridesmaids that
the light did not fall in full glare upon her, and it was not strange they
did not know her at once. She heard their smothered exclamations of wonder
and admiration, and one, Kate’s dearest friend, whispered softly behind
her: “Oh, Kate, why did you keep us waiting, you sly girl! How lovely you
are! You look like an angel straight from heaven.”

There were other whispered words which Marcia heard sadly. They gave her
no pleasure. The words were for Kate, not her. What would they say when
they knew all?

There was David in the distance waiting for her. How fine he looked in his
wedding clothes! How proud Kate might have been of him! How pitiful was
his white face! He had summoned his courage and put on a mask of happiness
for the eyes of those who saw him, but it could not deceive the heart of
Marcia. Surely not since the days when Jacob served seven years for Rachel
and then lifted the bridal veil to look upon the face of her sister Leah,
walked there sadder bridegroom on this earth than David Spafford walked
that day.

Down the stairs and through the wide hall they came, Marcia not daring to
look up, yet seeing familiar glimpses as she passed. That green plaid silk
lap at one side of the parlor door, in which lay two nervous little hands
and a neatly folded pocket handkerchief, belonged to Sabrina Bates, she
knew; and the round lace collar a little farther on, fastened by the
brooch with a colored daguerreotype encircled by a braid of faded brown
hair under glass, must be about the neck of Aunt Polly. There was not
another brooch like that in New York state, Marcia felt sure. Beyond were
Uncle Joab’s small meek Sunday boots, toeing in, and next were little feet
covered by white stockings and slippers fastened with crossed black
ribbons, some child’s, not Harriet—Marcia dared not raise her eyes to
identify them now. She must fix her mind upon the great things before her.
She wondered at herself for noticing such trivial things when she was
walking up to the presence of the great God, and there before her stood
the minister with his open book!

Now, at last, with the most of the audience behind her, shut in by the
film of lace, she could raise her eyes to the minister’s familiar face,
take David’s arm without letting her hand tremble much, and listen to the
solemn words read out to her. For her alone they seemed to be read.
David’s heart she knew was crushed, and it was only a form for him. She
must take double vows upon her for the sake of the wrong done to him. So
she listened:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together”—how the words thrilled her!—“in
the sight of God and in the presence of this company to join together this
man and woman in the bonds of holy matrimony;”—a deathly stillness rested
upon the room and the painful throbbing of her heart was all the little
bride could hear. She was glad she might look straight into the dear face
of the old minister. Had her mother felt this way when she was being
married? Did her stepmother understand it? Yes, she must, in part at
least, for she had bent and kissed her most tenderly upon the brow just
before leaving her, a most unusually sentimental thing for her to do. It
touched Marcia deeply, though she was fond of her stepmother at all times.

She waited breathless with drooped eyes while the minister demanded, “If
any man can show just cause why they may not be lawfully joined together,
let him now declare it, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.” What if
some one should recognize her and, thinking she had usurped Kate’s place,
speak out and stop the marriage! How would David feel? And she? She would
sink to the floor. Oh, did they any of them know? How she wished she dared
raise her eyes to look about and see. But she must not. She must listen.
She must shake off these worldly thoughts. She was not hearing for idle
thinking. It was a solemn, holy vow she was taking upon herself for life.
She brought herself sharply back to the ceremony. It was to David the
minister was talking now:

“Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in
health, and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye
both shall live?”

It was hard to make David promise that when his heart belonged to Kate.
She wondered that his voice could be so steady when it said, “I will,” and
the white glove of Kate’s which was just a trifle large for her, trembled
on David’s arm as the minister next turned to her:

“Wilt thou, Marcia”—Ah! It was out now! and the sharp rustle of silk and
stiff linen showed that all the company were aware at last who was the
bride; but the minister went steadily on. He cared not what the listening
assembly thought. He was talking earnestly to his little friend,
Marcia,—“have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after
God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and
serve him, love, honor, and keep him, in sickness and in health”—the words
of the pledge went on. It was not hard. The girl felt she could do all
that. She was relieved to find it no more terrible, and to know that she
was no longer acting a lie. They all knew who she was now. She held up her
flower-like head and answered in her clear voice, that made her few
schoolmates present gasp with admiration:

“I will!”

And the dear old minister’s wife, sitting sweet and dove-like in her soft
grey poplin, fine white kerchief, and cap of book muslin, smiled to
herself at the music in Marcia’s voice and nodded approval. She felt that
all was well with her little friend.

They waited, those astonished people, till the ceremony was concluded and
the prayer over, and then they broke forth. There had been lifted brows
and looks passing from one to another, of question, of disclaiming any
knowledge in the matter, and just as soon as the minister turned and took
the bride’s hand to congratulate her the heads bent together behind fans
and the soft buzz of whispers began.

What does it mean? Where is Kate? She isn’t in the room! Did he change his
mind at the last minute? How old is Marcia? Mercy me! Nothing but a child!
Are you sure? Why, my Mary Ann is older than that by three months, and
she’s no more able to become mistress of a home than a nine-days-old
kitten. Are you sure it’s Marcia? Didn’t the minister make a mistake in
the name? It looked to me like Kate. Look again. She’s put her veil back.
No, it can’t be! Yes, it is! No, it looks like Kate! Her hair’s done the
same, but, no, Kate never had such a sweet innocent look as that. Why,
when she was a child her face always had a sharpness to it. Look at
Marcia’s eyes, poor lamb! I don’t see how her father could bear it, and
she so young. But Kate! Where can she be? What has happened? You don’t
say! Yes, I did see that captain about again last week or so. Do you
believe it? Surely she never would. Who told you? Was he sure? But Maria
and Janet are bridesmaids and they didn’t see any signs of anything. They
were over here yesterday. Yes, Kate showed them everything and planned how
they would all walk in. No, she didn’t do anything queer, for Janet would
have mentioned it. Janet always sees everything. Well, they say he’s a
good man and Marcia’ll be well provided for. Madam Schuyler’ll be relieved
about that. Marcia can’t ever lead her the dance Kate has among the young
men. How white he looks! Do you suppose he loves her? What on earth can it
all mean? Do you s’pose Kate feels bad? Where is she anyway? Wouldn’t she
come down? Well, if ’twas his choosing it serves her right. She’s too much
of a flirt for a good man and maybe he found her out. She’s probably got
just what she deserves, and _I_ think Marcia’ll make a good little wife.
She always was a quiet, grown-up child and Madam Schuyler has trained her
well! But what will Kate do now? Hush! They are coming this way. How do
you suppose we can find out? Go ask Cousin Janet, perhaps they’ve told
her, or Aunt Polly. Surely she knows.

But Aunt Polly sat with pursed lips of disapproval. She had not been told,
and it was her prerogative to know everything. She always made a point of
being on hand early at all funerals and weddings, especially in the family
circle, and learning the utmost details, which she dispensed at her
discretion to late comers in fine sepulchral whispers.

Now she sat silent, disgraced, unable to explain a thing. It was
unhandsome of Sarah Schuyler, she felt, though no more than she might have
expected of her, she told herself. She had never liked her. Well, wait
until her opportunity came. If they did not wish her to say the truth she
must say something. She could at least tell what she thought. And what
more natural than to let it be known that Sarah Schuyler had always held a
dislike for Marcia, and to suggest that it was likely she was glad to get
her off her hands. Aunt Polly meant to find a trail somewhere, no matter
how many times they threw her off the scent.

Meantime for Marcia the sun seemed to have shined out once more with
something of its old brightness. The terrible deed of self-renunciation
was over, and familiar faces actually were smiling upon her and wishing
her joy. She felt the flutter of her heart in her throat beneath the
string of pearls, and wondered if after all she might hope for a little
happiness of her own. She could climb no more fences nor wade in gurgling
brooks, but might there not be other happy things as good? A little touch
of the pride of life had settled upon her. The relatives were coming with
pleasant words and kisses. The blushes upon her cheeks were growing
deeper. She almost forgot David in the pretty excitement. A few of her
girl friends ventured shyly near, as one might look at a mate suddenly and
unexpectedly translated into eternal bliss. They put out cold fingers in
salute with distant, stiff phrases belonging to a grown-up world. Not one
of them save Mary Ann dared recognize their former bond of playmates. Mary
Ann leaned down and whispered with a giggle: “Say, you didn’t need to envy
Kate, did you? My! Ain’t you in clover! Say, Marsh,” wistfully, “do invite
me fer a visit sometime, won’t you?”

Now Mary Ann was not quite on a par with the Schuylers socially, and had
it not been for a distant mutual relative she would not have been asked to
the wedding. Marcia never liked her very much, but now, with the
uncertain, dim future it seemed pleasant and home-like to think of a visit
from Mary Ann and she nodded and said childishly: “Sometime, Mary Ann, if
I can.”

Mary Ann squeezed her hand, kissed her, blushed and giggled herself out of
the way of the next comer.

They went out to the dining room and sat around the long table. It was
Marcia’s timid hand that cut the bridecake, and all the room full watched
her. Seeing the pretty color come and go in her excited cheeks, they
wondered that they had never noticed before how beautiful Marcia was
growing. A handsome couple they would make! And they looked from Marcia to
David and back again, wondering and trying to fathom the mystery.

It was gradually stealing about the company, the truth about Kate and
Captain Leavenworth. The minister had told it in his sad and gentle way.
Just the facts. No gossip. Naturally every one was bristling with
questions, but not much could be got from the minister.

“I really do not know,” he would say in his courteous, old-worldly way,
and few dared ask further. Perhaps the minister, wise by reason of much
experience, had taken care to ask as few questions as possible himself,
and not to know too much before undertaking this task for his old friend
the Squire.

And so Kate’s marriage went into the annals of the village, at least so
far as that morning was concerned, quietly, and with little exclamation
before the family. The Squire and his wife controlled their faces
wonderfully. There was an austerity about the Squire as he talked with his
friends that was new to his pleasant face, but Madam conversed with her
usual placid self-poise, and never gave cause for conjecture as to her
true feelings.

There were some who dared to offer their surprised condolences. To such
the stepmother replied that of course the outcome of events had been a
sore trial to the Squire, and all of them, but they were delighted at the
happy arrangement that had been made. She glanced contentedly toward the
child-bride.

It was a revelation to the whole village that Marcia had grown up and was
so handsome.

Dismay filled the breasts of the village gossips. They had been defrauded.
Here was a fine scandal which they had failed to discover in time and
spread abroad in its due course.

Everybody was shy of speaking to the bride. She sat in her lovely finery
like some wild rose caught as a sacrifice. Yet every one admitted that she
might have done far worse. David was a good man, with prospects far beyond
most young men of his time. Moreover he was known to have a brilliant
mind, and the career he had chosen, that of journalism, in which he was
already making his mark, was one that promised to be lucrative as well as
influential.

It was all very hurried at the last. Madam Schuyler and Dolly the maid
helped her off with the satin and lace finery, and she was soon out of her
bridal attire and struggling with the intricacies of Kate’s travelling
costume.

Marcia was not Marcia any longer, but Mrs. David Spafford. She had been
made to feel the new name almost at once, and it gave her a sense of
masquerading pleasant enough for the time being, but with a dim foreboding
of nameless dread and emptiness for the future, like all masquerading
which must end sometime. And when the mask is taken off how sad if one is
not to find one’s real self again: or worse still if one may never remove
the mask, but must grow to it and be it from the soul.

All this Marcia felt but dimly of course, for she was young and light
hearted naturally, and the excitement and pretty things about her could
not but be pleasant.

To have Kate’s friends stand about her, half shyly trying to joke with her
as they might have done with Kate, to feel their admiring glances, and
half envious references to her handsome husband, almost intoxicated her
for the moment. Her cheeks grew rosier as she tied on Kate’s pretty poke
bonnet whose nodding blue flowers had been brought over from Paris by a
friend of Kate’s. It seemed a shame that Kate should not have her things
after all. The pleasure died out of Marcia’s eyes as she carefully looped
the soft blue ribbons under her round chin and drew on Kate’s long gloves.
There was no denying the fact that Kate’s outfit was becoming to Marcia,
for she had that complexion that looks well with any color under the sun,
though in blue she was not at her best.

When Marcia was ready she stood back from the little looking-glass, with a
frightened, half-childish gaze about the room.

Now that the last minute was come, there was no one to understand Marcia’s
feelings nor help her. Even the girls were merely standing there waiting
to say the last formal farewell that they might be free to burst into an
astonished chatter of exclamations over Kate’s romantic disappearance.
They were Kate’s friends, not Marcia’s, and they were bidding Kate’s
clothes good-bye for want of the original bride. Marcia’s friends were too
young and too shy to do more than stand back in awe and gaze at their mate
so suddenly promoted to a life which but yesterday had seemed years away
for any of them.

                 [Illustration: Copyright by C. Klackner
                 THE STEPMOTHER’S ARMS WERE AROUND HER.]

                        Copyright by C. Klackner
                  THE STEPMOTHER’S ARMS WERE AROUND HER.


So Marcia walked alone down the hall—yet, no, not all the way alone. A
little wrinkled hand was laid upon her gloved one, and a little old lady,
her true friend, the minister’s wife, walked down the stairs with the
bride arm in arm. Marcia’s heart fluttered back to warmth again and was
glad for her friend, yet all she had said was: “My dear!” but there was
that in her touch and the tone of her gentle voice that comforted Marcia.

She stood at the edge of the steps, with her white hair shining in the
morning, her kind-faced husband just behind her during all the farewell,
and Marcia felt happier because of her motherly presence.

The guests were all out on the piazza in the gorgeousness of the summer
morning. David stood on the flagging below the step beside the open coach
door, a carriage lap-robe over his arm and his hat on, ready. He was
talking with the Squire. Every one was looking at them, and they were
entirely conscious of the fact. They laughed and talked with studied
pleasantness, though there seemed to be an undertone of sadness that the
most obtuse guest could not fail to detect.

Harriet, as a small flower-girl, stood upon the broad low step ready to
fling posies before the bride as she stepped into the coach.

The little boys, to whom a wedding merely meant a delightful increase of
opportunities, stood behind a pillar munching cake, more of which
protruded from their bulging pockets.

Marcia, with a lump in her throat that threatened tears, slipped behind
the people, caught the two little step-brothers in her arms and smothered
them with kisses, amid their loud protestations and the laughter of those
who stood about. But the little skirmish had served to hide the tears, and
the bride came back most decorously to where her stepmother stood awaiting
her with a smile of complacent—almost completed—duty upon her face. She
wore the sense of having carried off a trying situation in a most
creditable manner, and she knew she had won the respect and awe of every
matron present thereby. That was a great deal to Madam Schuyler.

The stepmother’s arms were around her and Marcia remembered how kindly
they had felt when they first clasped her little body years ago, and she
had been kissed, and told to be a good little girl. She had always liked
her stepmother. And now, as she came to say good-bye to the only mother
she had ever known, who had been a true mother to her in many ways, her
young heart almost gave way, and she longed to hide in that ample bosom
and stay under the wing of one who had so ably led her thus far along the
path of life.

Perhaps Madam Schuyler felt the clinging of the girl’s arms about her, and
perchance her heart rebuked her that she had let so young and
inexperienced a girl go out to the cares of life all of a sudden in this
way. At least she stooped and kissed Marcia again and whispered: “You have
been a good girl, Marcia.”

Afterwards, Marcia cherished that sentence among memory’s dearest
treasures. It seemed as though it meant that she had fulfilled her
stepmother’s first command, given on the night when her father brought
home their new mother.

Then the flowers were thrown upon the pavement, to make it bright for the
bride. She was handed into the coach behind the white-haired negro
coachman, and by his side Kate’s fine new hair trunk. Ah! That was a
bitter touch! Kate’s trunk! Kate’s things! Kate’s husband! If it had only
been her own little moth-eaten trunk that had belonged to her mother, and
filled with her own things—and if he had only been her own husband! Yet
she wanted no other than David—only if he could have been _her_ David!

Then Madam Schuyler, her heart still troubled about Marcia, stepped down
and whispered:

“David, you will remember she is young. You will deal gently with her?”

Gravely David bent his head and answered:

“I will remember. She shall not be troubled. I will care for her as I
would care for my own sister.” And Madam Schuyler turned away half
satisfied. After all, was that what woman wanted? Would she have been
satisfied to have been cared for as a sister?

Then gravely, with his eyes half unseeing her, the father kissed his
daughter good-bye, David got into the coach, the door was slammed shut,
and the white horses arched their necks and stepped away, amid a shower of
rice and slippers.



                               CHAPTER VII


For some distance the way was lined with people they knew, servants and
negroes, standing about the driveway and outside the fence, people of the
village grouped along the sidewalk, everybody out upon their doorsteps to
watch the coach go by, and to all the face of the bride was a puzzle and a
surprise. They half expected to see another coach coming with the other
bride behind.

Marcia nodded brightly to those she knew, and threw flowers from the great
nosegay that had been put upon her lap by Harriet. She felt for a few
minutes like a girl in a fairy-tale riding in this fine coach in grand
attire. She stole a look at David. He certainly looked like a prince, but
gravity was already settling about his mouth. Would he always look so now,
she wondered, would he never laugh and joke again as he used to do? Could
she manage to make him happy sometimes for a little while and help him to
forget?

Down through the village they passed, in front of the store and
post-office where Marcia had bought her frock but three days before, and
they turned up the road she had come with Mary Ann. How long ago that
seemed! How light her heart was then, and how young! All life was before
her with its delightful possibilities. Now it seemed to have closed for
her and she was some one else. A great ache came upon her heart. For a
moment she longed to jump down and run away from the coach and David and
the new clothes that were not hers. Away from the new life that had been
planned for some one else which she must live now. She must always be a
woman, never a girl any more.

Out past Granny McVane’s they drove, the old lady sitting upon her front
porch knitting endless stockings. She stared mildly, unrecognizingly at
Marcia and paused in her rocking to crane her neck after the coach.

The tall corn rustled and waved green arms to them as they passed, and the
cows looked up munching from the pasture in mild surprise at the turnout.
The little coach dog stepped aside from the road to give them a bark as he
passed, and then pattered and pattered his tiny feet to catch up. The old
school house came in sight with its worn playground and dejected summer
air, and Marcia’s eyes searched out the window where she used to sit to
eat her lunch in winters, and the tree under which she used to sit in
summers, and the path by which she and Mary Ann used to wander down to the
brook, or go in search of butternuts, even the old door knob that her hand
would probably never grasp again. She searched them all out and bade them
good-bye with her eyes. Then once she turned a little to see if she could
catch a glimpse of the old blackboard through the window where she and
Susanna Brown and Miller Thompson used to do arithmetic examples. The dust
of the coach, or the bees in the sunshine, or something in her eyes
blurred her vision. She could only see a long slant ray of a sunbeam
crossing the wall where she knew it must be. Then the road wound around
through a maple grove and the school was lost to view.

They passed the South meadow belonging to the Westons, and Hanford was
plowing. Marcia could see him stop to wipe the perspiration from his brow,
and her heart warmed even to this boy admirer now that she was going from
him forever.

Hanford had caught sight of the coach and he turned to watch it thinking
to see Kate sitting in the bride’s place. He wondered if the bride would
notice him, and turned a deeper red under his heavy coat of tan.

And the bride did notice him. She smiled the sweetest smile the boy had
ever seen upon her face, the smile he had dreamed of as he thought of her,
at night standing under the stars all alone by his father’s gate post
whittling the cross bar of the gate. For a moment he forgot that it was
the bridal party passing, forgot the stern-faced bridegroom, and saw only
Marcia—his girl love. His heart stood still, and a bright light of
response filled his eyes. He took off his wide straw hat and bowed her
reverence. He would have called to her, and tried three times, but his dry
throat gave forth no utterance, and when he looked again the coach was
passed and only the flutter of a white handkerchief came back to him and
told him the beginning of the truth.

Then the poor boy’s face grew white, yes, white and stricken under the
tan, and he tottered to the roadside and sat down with his face in his
hands to try and comprehend what it might mean, while the old horse
dragged the plow whither he would in search of a bite of tender grass.

What could it mean? And why did Marcia occupy that place beside the
stranger, obviously the bridegroom? Was she going on a visit? He had heard
of no such plan. Where was her sister? Would there be another coach
presently, and was this man then not the bridegroom but merely a friend of
the family? Of course, that must be it. He got up and staggered to the
fence to look down the road, but no one came by save the jogging old gray
and carryall, with Aunt Polly grim and offended and Uncle Joab meek and
depressed beside her. Could he have missed the bridal carriage when he was
at the other end of the lot? Could they have gone another way? He had a
half a mind to call to Uncle Joab to enquire only he was a timid boy and
shrank back until it was too late.

But why had Marcia as she rode away wafted that strange farewell that had
in it the familiarity of the final? And why did he feel so strange and
weak in his knees?

Marcia was to help his mother next week at the quilting bee. She had not
gone away to stay, of course. He got up and tried to whistle and turn the
furrows evenly as before, but his heart was heavy, and, try as he would,
he could not understand the feeling that kept telling him Marcia was gone
out of his life forever.

At last his day’s work was done and he could hasten to the house. Without
waiting for his supper, he “slicked up,” as he called it, and went at once
to the village, where he learned the bitter truth.

It was Mary Ann who told him.

Mary Ann, the plain, the awkward, who secretly admired Hanford Weston as
she might have admired an angel, and who as little expected him to speak
to her as if he had been one. Mary Ann stood by her front gate in the dusk
of the summer evening, the halo of her unusual wedding finery upon her,
for she had taken advantage of being dressed up to make two or three
visits since the wedding, and so prolong the holiday. The light of the
sunset softened her plain features, and gave her a gentler look than was
her wont. Was it that, and an air of lonesomeness akin to his own, that
made Hanford stop and speak to her?

And then she told him. She could not keep it in long. It was the wonder of
her life, and it filled her so that her thought had no room for anything
else. To think of Marcia taken in a day, gone from their midst forever,
gone to be a grown-up woman in a new world! It was as strange as sudden
death, and almost as terrible and beautiful.

There were tears in her eyes, and in the eyes of the boy as they spoke
about the one who was gone, and the kind dusk hid the sight so that
neither knew, but each felt a subtle sympathy with the other, and before
Hanford started upon his desolate way home under the burden of his first
sorrow he took Mary Ann’s slim bony hand in his and said quite stiffly:
“Well, good night, Miss Mary Ann. I’m glad you told me,” and Mary Ann
responded, with a deep blush under her freckles in the dark, “Good night,
Mr. Weston, and—call again!”

Something of the sympathy lingered with the boy as he went on his way and
he was not without a certain sort of comfort, while Mary Ann climbed to
her little chamber in the loft with a new wonder to dream over.

Meanwhile the coach drove on, and Marcia passed from her childhood’s home
into the great world of men and women, changes, heartbreakings, sorrows
and joys.

David spoke to her kindly now and then; asked if she was comfortable; if
she would prefer to change seats with him; if the cushions were right; and
if she had forgotten anything. He seemed nervous, and anxious to have this
part of the journey over and asked the coachman frequent questions about
the horses and the speed they could make. Marcia thought she understood
that he was longing to get away from the painful reminder of what he had
expected to be a joyful trip, and her young heart pitied him, while yet it
felt an undertone of hurt for herself. She found so much unadulterated joy
in this charming ride with the beautiful horses, in this luxurious coach,
that she could not bear to have it spoiled by the thought that only
David’s sadness and pain had made it possible for her.

Constantly as the scene changed, and new sights came upon her view, she
had to restrain herself from crying out with happiness over the beauty and
calling David’s attention. Once she did point out a bird just leaving a
stalk of goldenrod, its light touch making the spray to bow and bend.
David had looked with unseeing eyes, and smiled with uncomprehending
assent. Marcia felt she might as well have been talking to herself. He was
not even the old friend and brother he used to be. She drew a gentle
little sigh and wished this might have been only a happy ride with the
ending at home, and a longer girlhood uncrossed by this wall of trouble
that Kate had put up in a night for them all.

The coach came at last to the town where they were to stop for dinner and
a change of horses.

Marcia looked about with interest at the houses, streets, and people.
There were two girls of about her own age with long hair braided down
their backs. They were walking with arms about each other as she and Mary
Ann had often done. She wondered if any such sudden changes might be
coming to them as had come into her life. They turned and looked at her
curiously, enviously it seemed, as the coach drew up to the tavern and she
was helped out with ceremony. Doubtless they thought of her as she had
thought of Kate but last week.

She was shown into the dim parlor of the tavern and seated in a stiff
hair-cloth chair. It was all new and strange and delightful.

Before a high gilt mirror set on great glass knobs like rosettes, she
smoothed her wind-blown hair, and looked back at the reflection of her
strange self with startled eyes. Even her face seemed changed. She knew
the bonnet and arrangement of hair were becoming, but she felt
unacquainted with them, and wished for her own modest braids and plain
bonnet. Even a sunbonnet would have been welcome and have made her feel
more like herself.

David did not see how pretty she looked when he came to take her to the
dining room ten minutes later. His eyes were looking into the hard future,
and he was steeling himself against the glances of others. He must be the
model bridegroom in the sight of all who knew him. His pride bore him out
in this. He had acquaintances all along the way home.

They were expecting the bridal party, for David had arranged that a fine
dinner should be ready for his bride. Fine it was, with the best cooking
and table service the mistress of the tavern could command, and with many
a little touch new and strange to Marcia, and therefore interesting. It
was all a lovely play till she looked at David.

David ate but little, and Marcia felt she must hurry through the meal for
his sake. Then when the carryall was ready he put her in and they drove
away.

Marcia’s keen intuition told her how many little things had been thought
of and planned for, for the comfort of the one who was to have taken this
journey with David. Gradually the thought of how terrible it was for him,
and how dreadful of Kate to have brought this sorrow upon him, overcame
all other thoughts.

Sitting thus quietly, with her hands folded tight in the faded bunch of
roses little Harriet had given her at parting, the last remaining of the
flowers she had carried with her, Marcia let the tears come. Silently they
flowed in gentle rain, and had not David been borne down with the thought
of his own sorrow he must have noticed long before he did the sadness of
the sweet young face beside him. But she turned away from him as much as
possible that he might not see, and so they must have driven for half an
hour through a dim sweet wood before he happened to catch a sight of the
tear-wet face, and knew suddenly that there were other troubles in the
world beside his own.

“Why, child, what is the matter?” he said, turning to her with grave
concern. “Are you so tired? I’m afraid I have been very dull company,”
with a sigh. “You must forgive me—child, to-day.”

“Oh, David, don’t,” said Marcia putting her face down into her hands and
crying now regardless of the roses. “I do not want you to think of me. It
is dreadful, dreadful for you. I am so sorry for you. I wish I could do
something.”

“Dear child!” he said, putting his hand upon hers. “Bless you for that.
But do not let your heart be troubled about me. Try to forget me and be
happy. It is not for you to bear, this trouble.”

“But I must bear it,” said Marcia, sitting up and trying to stop crying.
“She was my sister and she did an awful thing. I cannot forget it. How
could she, how _could_ she do it? How could she leave a man like you
that—” Marcia stopped, her brown eyes flashing fiercely as she thought of
Captain Leavenworth’s hateful look at her that night in the moonlight. She
shuddered and hid her face in her hands once more and cried with all the
fervor of her young and undisciplined soul.

David did not know what to do with a young woman in tears. Had it been
Kate his alarm would have vied with a delicious sense of his own power to
comfort, but even the thought of comforting any one but Kate was now a
bitter thing. Was it always going to be so? Would he always have to start
and shrink with sudden remembrance of his pain at every turn of his way?
He drew a deep sigh and looked helplessly at his companion. Then he did a
hard thing. He tried to justify Kate, just as he had been trying all the
morning to justify her to himself. The odd thing about it all was that the
very deepest sting of his sorrow was that Kate could have done this thing!
His peerless Kate!

“She cared for him,” he breathed the words as if they hurt him.

“She should have told you so before then. She should not have let you
think she cared for you—_ever!_” said Marcia fiercely. Strangely enough
the plain truth was bitter to the man to hear, although he had been
feeling it in his soul ever since they had discovered the flight of the
bride.

“Perhaps there was too much pressure brought to bear upon her,” he said
lamely. “Looking back I can see times when she did not second me with
regard to hurrying the marriage, so warmly as I could have wished. I laid
it to her shyness. Yet she seemed happy when we met. Did you—did she—have
you any idea she had been planning this for long, or was it sudden?”

The words were out now, the thing he longed to know. It had been writing
its fiery way through his soul. Had she meant to torture him this way all
along, or was it the yielding to a sudden impulse that perhaps she had
already repented? He looked at Marcia with piteous, almost pleading eyes,
and her tortured young soul would have given anything to have been able to
tell him what he wanted to know. Yet she could not help him. She knew no
more than he. She steadied her own nerves and tried to tell all she knew
or surmised, tried her best to reveal Kate in her true character before
him. Not that she wished to speak ill of her sister, only that she would
be true and give this lover a chance to escape some of the pain if
possible, by seeing the real Kate as she was at home without varnish or
furbelows. Yet she reflected that those who knew Kate’s shallowness well,
still loved her in spite of it, and always bowed to her wishes.

Gradually their talk subsided into deep silence once more, broken only by
the jog-trot of the horse or the stray note of some bird.

The road wound into the woods with its fragrant scents of hemlock, spruce
and wintergreen, and out into a broad, hot, sunny way.

The bees hummed in the flowers, and the grasshoppers sang hotly along the
side of the dusty road. Over the whole earth there seemed to be the sound
of a soft simmering, as if nature were boiling down her sweets, the better
to keep them during the winter.

The strain of the day’s excitement and hurry and the weariness of sorrow
were beginning to tell upon the two travellers. The road was heavy with
dust and the horse plodded monotonously through it. With the drone of the
insects and the glare of the afternoon sun, it was not strange that little
by little a great drowsiness came over Marcia and her head began to droop
like a poor wilted flower until she was fast asleep.

David noticed that she slept, and drew her head against his shoulder that
she might rest more comfortably. Then he settled back to his own pain, a
deeper pang coming as he thought how different it would have been if the
head resting against his shoulder had been golden instead of brown. Then
soon he too fell asleep, and the old horse, going slow, and yet more
slowly, finding no urging voice behind her and seeing no need to hurry
herself, came at last on the way to the shade of an apple tree, and
halted, finding it a pleasant place to remain and think until the heat of
the afternoon was passed. Awhile she ate the tender grass that grew
beneath the generous shade, and nipped daintily at an apple or two that
hung within tempting reach. Then she too drooped her white lashes, and
nodded and drooped, and took an afternoon nap.

A farmer, trundling by in his empty hay wagon, found them so, looked
curiously at them, then drew up his team and came and prodded David in the
chest with his long hickory stick.

“Wake up, there, stranger, and move on,” he called, as he jumped back into
his wagon and took up the reins. “We don’t want no tipsy folks around
these parts,” and with a loud clatter he rode on.

David, whose strong temperance principles had made him somewhat marked in
his own neighborhood, roused and flushed over the insinuation, and started
up the lazy horse, which flung out guiltily upon the way as if to make up
for lost time. The driver, however, was soon lost in his own troubles,
which returned upon him with redoubled sharpness as new sorrow always does
after brief sleep.

But Marcia slept on.



                               CHAPTER VIII


Owing to the horse’s nap by the roadside, it was quite late in the evening
when they reached the town and David saw the lights of his own
neighborhood gleaming in the distance. He was glad it was late, for now
there would be no one to meet them that night. His friends would think,
perhaps, that they had changed their plans and stopped over night on the
way, or met with some detention.

Marcia still slept.

David as he drew near the house began to feel that perhaps he had made a
mistake in carrying out his marriage just as if nothing had happened and
everything was all right. It would be too great a strain upon him to live
there in that house without Kate, and come home every night just as he had
planned it, and not to find her there to greet him as he had hoped. Oh, if
he might turn even now and flee from it, out into the wilderness somewhere
and hide himself from human kind, where no one would know, and no one ever
ask him about his wife!

He groaned in spirit as the horse drew up to the door, and the heavy head
of the sweet girl who was his wife reminded him that he could not go away,
but must stay and face the responsibilities of life which he had taken
upon himself, and bear the pain that was his. It was not the fault of the
girl he had married. She sorrowed for him truly, and he felt deeply
grateful for the great thing she had done to save his pride.

He leaned over and touched her shoulder gently to rouse her, but her sleep
was deep and healthy, the sleep of exhausted youth. She did not rouse nor
even open her eyes, but murmured half audibly; “David has come, Kate,
hurry!”

Half guessing what had passed the night he arrived, David stooped and
tenderly gathered her up in his arms. He felt a bond of kindliness far
deeper than brotherly love. It was a bond of common suffering, and by her
own choice she had made herself his comrade in his trouble. He would at
least save her what suffering he could.

She did not waken as he carried her into the house, nor when he took her
upstairs and laid her gently upon the white bed that had been prepared for
the bridal chamber.

The moonlight stole in at the small-paned windows and fell across the
floor, showing every object in the room plainly. David lighted a candle
and set it upon the high mahogany chest of drawers. The light flickered
and played over the sweet face and Marcia slept on.

David went downstairs and put up the horse, and then returned, but Marcia
had not stirred. He stood a moment looking at her helplessly. It did not
seem right to leave her this way, and yet it was a pity to disturb her
sleep, she seemed so weary. It had been a long ride and the day had been
filled with unwonted excitement. He felt it himself, and what must it be
for her? She was a woman.

David had the old-fashioned gallant idea of woman.

Clumsily he untied the gay blue ribbons and pulled the jaunty poke bonnet
out of her way. The luxuriant hair, unused to the confinement of combs,
fell rich about her sleep-flushed face. Contentedly she nestled down, the
bonnet out of her way, her red lips parted the least bit with a half
smile, the black lashes lying long upon her rosy cheek, one childish hand
upon which gleamed the new wedding ring—that was not hers,—lying relaxed
and appealing upon her breast, rising and falling with her breath. A
lovely bride!

David, stern, true, pained and appreciative, suddenly awakened to what a
dreadful thing he had done.

Here was this lovely woman, her womanhood not yet unfolded from the bud,
but lovely in promise even as her sister had been in truth, her charms,
her dreams, her woman’s ways, her love, her very life, taken by him as
ruthlessly and as thoughtlessly as though she had been but a wax doll, and
put into a home where she could not possibly be what she ought to be,
because the place belonged to another. Thrown away upon a man without a
heart! That was what she was! A sacrifice to his pride! There was no other
way to put it.

It fairly frightened him to think of the promises he had made. “Love,
honor, cherish,” yes, all those he had promised, and in a way he could
perform, but not in the sense that the wedding ceremony had meant, not in
the way in which he would have performed them had the bride been Kate, the
choice of his love. Oh, why, why had this awful thing come upon him!

And now his conscience told him he had done wrong to take this girl away
from the possibilities of joy in the life that might have been hers, and
sacrifice her for the sake of saving his own sufferings, and to keep his
friends from knowing that the girl he was to marry had jilted him.

As he stood before the lovely, defenceless girl her very beauty and
innocence arraigned him. He felt that God would hold him accountable for
the act he had so thoughtlessly committed that day, and a burden of
responsibility settled upon his weight of sorrow that made him groan
aloud. For a moment his soul cried out against it in rebellion. Why could
he not have loved this sweet self-sacrificing girl instead of her fickle
sister? Why? Why? She might perhaps have loved him in return, but now
nothing could ever be! Earth was filled with a black sorrow, and life
henceforth meant renunciation and one long struggle to hide his trouble
from the world.

But the girl whom he had selfishly drawn into the darkness of his sorrow
with him, she must not be made to suffer more than he could help. He must
try to make her happy, and keep her as much as possible from knowing what
she had missed by coming with him! His lips set in stern resolve, and a
purpose, half prayer, went up on record before God, that he would save her
as much as he knew how.

Lying helpless so, she appealed to him. Asking nothing she yet demanded
all from him in the name of true chivalry. How readily had she given up
all for him! How sweetly she had said she would fill the place left vacant
by her sister, just to save him pain and humiliation!

A desire to stoop and kiss the fair face came to him, not for affection’s
sake, but reverently, as if to render to her before God some fitting sign
that he knew and understood her act of self sacrifice, and would not
presume upon it.

Slowly, as though he were performing a religious ceremony, a sacred duty
laid upon him on high, David stooped over her, bringing his face to the
gentle sleeping one. Her sweet breath fanned his cheek like the almost
imperceptible fragrance of a bud not fully opened yet to give forth its
sweetness to the world. His soul, awake and keen through the thoughts that
had just come to him, gave homage to her sweetness, sadly, wistfully, half
wishing his spirit free to gather this sweetness for his own.

And so he brought his lips to hers, and kissed her, his bride, yet not his
bride. Kissed her for the second time. That thought came to him with the
touch of the warm lips and startled him. Had there been something
significant in the fact that he had met Marcia first and kissed her
instead of Kate by mistake?

It seemed as though the sleeping lips clung to his lingeringly, and half
responded to the kiss, as Marcia in her dreams lived over again the kiss
she had received by her father’s gate in the moonlight. Only the dream
lover was her own and not another’s. David, as he lifted up his head and
looked at her gravely, saw a half smile illuminating her lips as if the
sleeping soul within had felt the touch and answered to the call.

With a deep sigh he turned away, blew out the candle, and left her with
the moonbeams in her chamber. He walked sadly to a rear room of the house
and lay down upon the bed, his whole soul crying out in agony at his
miserable state.



Kate, the careless one, who had made all this heart-break and misery, had
quarreled with her husband already because he did not further some
expensive whim of hers. She had told him she was sorry she had not stayed
where she was and carried on her marriage with David as she had planned to
do. Now she sat sulkily in her room alone, too angry to sleep; while her
husband smoked sullenly in the barroom below, and drank frequent glasses
of brandy to fortify himself against Kate’s moods.

Kate was considering whether or not she had been a fool in marrying the
captain instead of David, though she called herself by a much milder word
than that. The romance was already worn away. She wished for her trunk and
her pretty furbelows. Her father’s word of reconciliation would doubtless
come in a few days, also the trunks.

After all there was intense satisfaction to Kate in having broken all
bounds and done as she pleased. Of course it would have been a bit more
comfortable if David had not been so absurdly in earnest, and believed in
her so thoroughly. But it was nice to have some one believe in you no
matter what you did, and David would always do that. It began to look
doubtful if the captain would. But David would never marry, she was sure,
and perhaps, by and by, when everything had been forgotten and forgiven,
she might establish a pleasant relationship with him again. It would be
charming to coquet with him. He made love so earnestly, and his great eyes
were so handsome when he looked at one with his whole soul in them. Yes,
she certainly must keep in with him, for it would be good to have a friend
like that when her husband was off at sea with his ship. Now that she was
a married woman she would be free from all such childish trammels as being
guarded at home and never going anywhere alone. She could go to New York,
and she would let David know where she was and he would come up on
business and perhaps take her to the theatre. To be sure, she had heard
David express views against theatre-going, and she knew he was as much of
a church man, almost, as her father, but she was sure she could coax him
to do anything for her, and she had always wanted to go to the theatre.
His scruples might be strong, but she knew his love for her, and thought
it was stronger. She had read in his eyes that it would never fail her.
Yes, she thought, she would begin at once to make a friend of David. She
would write him a letter asking forgiveness, and then she would keep him
under her influence. There was no telling what might happen with her
husband off at sea so much. It was well to be foresighted, besides, it
would be wholesome for the captain to know she had another friend. He
might be less stubborn. What a nuisance that the marriage vows had to be
taken for life! It would be much nicer if they could be put off as easily
as they were put on. Rather hard on some women perhaps, but she could keep
any man as long as she chose, and then—she snapped her pretty thumb and
finger in the air to express her utter disdain for the man whom she chose
to cast off.

It seemed that Kate, in running away from her father’s house and her
betrothed bridegroom, and breaking the laws of respectable society, had
with that act given over all attempt at any principle.

So she set herself down to write her letter, with a pout here and a dimple
there, and as much pretty gentleness as if she had been talking with her
own bewitching face and eyes quite near to his. She knew she could bewitch
him if she chose, and she was in the mood just now to choose very much,
for she was deeply angry with her husband.

She had ever been utterly heartless when she pleased, knowing that it
needed but her returning smile, sweet as a May morning, to bring her much
abused subjects fondly to her feet once more. It did not strike her that
this time she had sinned not only against her friends, but against heaven,
and God-given love, and that a time of reckoning must come to her,—had
come, indeed.

She had never believed they would be angry with her, her father least of
all. She had no thought they would do anything desperate. She had expected
the wedding would be put off indefinitely, that the servants would be sent
out hither and yon in hot haste to unbid the guests, upon some pretext of
accident or illness, and that it would be left to rest until the village
had ceased to wonder and her real marriage with Captain Leavenworth could
be announced.

She had counted upon David to stand up for her. She had not understood how
her father’s righteous soul would be stirred to the depths of shame and
utter disgrace over her wanton action. Not that she would have been in the
least deterred from doing as she pleased had she understood, only that she
counted upon too great power with all of them.

When the letter was written it sounded quite pathetic and penitent,
putting all the blame of her action upon her husband, and making herself
out a poor, helpless, sweet thing, bewildered by so much love put upon
her, and suggesting, just in a hint, that perhaps after all she had made a
mistake not to have kept David’s love instead of the wilder, fiercer one.
She ended by begging David to be her friend forever, and leaving an
impression with him, though it was but slight, that already shadows had
crossed her path that made her feel his friendship might be needed some
day.

It was a letter calculated to drive such a lover as David had been, half
mad with anguish, even without the fact of his hasty marriage added to the
situation.

And in due time, by coach, the letter came to David.



                                CHAPTER IX


The morning sunbeams fell across the floor when Marcia awoke suddenly to a
sense of her new surroundings. For a moment she could not think where she
was nor how she came there. She looked about the unfamiliar walls, covered
with paper decorated in landscapes—a hill in the distance with a tall
castle among the trees, a blue lake in the foreground and two maidens
sitting pensively upon a green bank with their arms about one another.
Marcia liked it. She felt there was a story in it. She would like to
imagine about the lives of those two girls when she had more time.

There were no pictures in the room to mar those upon the paper, but the
walls did not look bare. Everything was new and stiff and needed a woman’s
hand to bring the little homey touches, but the newness was a delight to
the girl. It was as good as the time when she was a little girl and played
house with Mary Ann down on the old flat stone in the pasture, with acorns
for cups and saucers, and bits of broken china carefully treasured upon
the mossy shelves in among the roots of the old elm tree that arched over
the stone.

She was stiff from the long ride, but her sleep had wonderfully refreshed
her, and now she was ready to go to work. She wondered as she rose how she
got upon that bed, how the blue bonnet got untied and laid upon the chair
beside her. Surely she could not have done it herself and have no memory
of it. Had she walked upstairs herself, or did some one carry her? Did
David perhaps? Good kind David! A bird hopped upon the window seat and
trilled a song, perked his head knowingly at her and flitted away. Marcia
went to the window to look after him, and was held by the new sights that
met her gaze. She could catch glimpses of houses through bowers of vines,
and smoke rising from chimneys. She wondered who lived near, and if there
were girls who would prove pleasant companions. Then she suddenly
remembered that she was a girl no longer and must associate with married
women hereafter.

But suddenly the clock on the church steeple across the way warned her
that it was late, and with a sense of deserving reprimand she hurried
downstairs.

The fire was already lighted and David had brought in fresh water. So much
his intuition had told him was necessary. He had been brought up by three
maiden aunts who thought that a man in the kitchen was out of his sphere,
so the kitchen was an unknown quantity to him.

Marcia entered the room as if she were not quite certain of her welcome.
She was coming into a kingdom she only half understood.

“Good morning,” she said shyly, and a lovely color stole into her cheeks.
Once more David’s conscience smote him as her waking beauty intensified
the impression made the night before.

“Good morning,” he said gravely, studying her face as he might have
studied some poor waif whom he had unknowingly run over in the night and
picked up to resuscitate. “Are you rested? You were very tired last
night.”

“What a baby I was!” said Marcia deprecatingly, with a soft little gurgle
of a laugh like a merry brook. David was amazed to find she had two
dimples located about as Kate’s were, only deeper, and more gentle in
their expression.

“Did I sleep all the afternoon after we left the canal? And did you have
hard work to get me into the house and upstairs?”

“You slept most soundly,” said David, smiling in spite of his heavy heart.
“It seemed a pity to waken you, so I did the next best thing and put you
to bed as well as I knew how.”

“It was very good of you,” said Marcia, coming over to him with her hands
clasped earnestly, “and I don’t know how to thank you.”

There was something quaint and old-fashioned in her way of speaking, and
it struck David pitifully that she should be thanking her husband, the man
who had pledged himself to care for her all his life. It seemed that
everywhere he turned his conscience would be continually reproaching him.

It was a dainty breakfast to which they presently sat down. There was
plenty of bread and fresh butter just from the hands of the best
butter-maker in the county; the eggs had been laid the day before, and the
bacon was browned just right. Marcia well knew how to make coffee, there
was cream rich and yellow as ever came from the cows at home and there
were blackberries as large and fine every bit as those Marcia picked but a
few days before for the purchase of her pink sprigged chintz.

David watched her deft movements and all at once keen smiting conscience
came to remind him that Marcia was defrauded of all the loving interchange
of mirth that would have been if Kate had been here. Also, keener still
the thought that Kate had not wanted it: that she had preferred the love
of another man to his, and that these joys had not been held in dear
anticipation with her as they had with him. He had been a fool. All these
months of waiting for his marriage he had thought that he and Kate held
feelings in common, joys and hopes and tender thoughts of one another;
and, behold, he was having these feelings all to himself, fool and blind
that he was! A bitter sigh came to his lips, and Marcia, eager in the
excitement of getting her first breakfast upon her own responsibility,
heard and forgot to smile over the completed work. She could hardly eat
what she had prepared, her heart felt David’s sadness so keenly.

Shyly she poured the amber coffee and passed it to David. She was pleased
that he drank it eagerly and passed his cup back for more. He ate but
little, but seemed to approve of all she had done.

After breakfast David went down to the office. He had told Marcia that he
would step over and tell his aunts of their arrival, and they would
probably come over in the course of the day to greet her. He would be back
to dinner at twelve. He suggested that she spend her time in resting, as
she must be weary yet. Then hesitating, he went out and closed the door
behind him. He waited again on the door stone outside and opened the door
to ask:

“You won’t be lonesome, will you, child?” He had the feeling of troubled
responsibility upon him.

“Oh, no!” said Marcia brightly, smiling back. She thought it so kind of
him to take the trouble to think of her. She was quite anticipating a trip
of investigation over her new domain, and the pleasure of feeling that she
was mistress and might do as she pleased. Yet she stood by the window
after he was gone and watched his easy strides down the street with a
feeling of mingled pride and disappointment. It was a very nice play she
was going through, and David was handsome, and her young heart swelled
with pride to belong to him, but after all there was something left out. A
great lack, a great unknown longing unsatisfied. What was it? What made
it? Was it David’s sorrow?

She turned with a sigh as he disappeared around a curve in the sidewalk
and was lost to view. Then casting aside the troubles which were trying to
settle upon her, she gave herself up to a morning of pure delight.

She flew about the kitchen putting things to rights, washing the delicate
sprigged china with its lavendar sprays and buff bands, and putting it
tenderly upon the shelves behind the glass doors; shoving the table back
against the wall demurely with dropped leaves. It did not take long.

There was no need to worry about the dinner. There was a leg of lamb
beautifully cooked, half a dozen pies, their flaky crusts bearing witness
to the culinary skill of the aunts, a fruit cake, a pound cake, a jar of
delectable cookies and another of fat sugary doughnuts, three loaves of
bread, and a sheet of puffy rusks with their shining tops dusted with
sugar. Besides the preserve closet was rich in all kinds of preserves,
jellies and pickles. No, it would not take long to get dinner.

It was into the great parlor that Marcia peeped first. It had been toward
that room that her hopes and fears had turned while she washed the dishes.

The Schuylers were one of the few families in those days that possessed a
musical instrument, and it had been the delight of Marcia’s heart. She
seemed to have a natural talent for music, and many an hour she spent at
the old spinet drawing tender tones from the yellowed keys. The spinet had
been in the family for a number of years and very proud had the Schuyler
girls been of it. Kate could rattle off gay waltzes and merry, rollicking
tunes that fairly made the feet of the sedate village maidens flutter in
time to their melody, but Marcia’s music had always been more tender and
spiritual. Dear old hymns, she loved, and some of the old classics.
“Stupid old things without any tune,” Kate called them. But Marcia
persevered in playing them until she could bring out the beautiful
passages in a way that at least satisfied herself. Her one great desire
had been to take lessons of a real musician and be able to play the
wonderful things that the old masters had composed. It is true that very
few of these had come in her way. One somewhat mutilated copy of Handel’s
“Creation,” a copy of Haydn’s “Messiah,” and a few fragments of an old
book of Bach’s Fugues and Preludes. Many of these she could not play at
all, but others she had managed to pick out. A visit from a cousin who
lived in Boston and told of the concerts given there by the Handel and
Haydn Society had served to strengthen her deeper interest in music. The
one question that had been going over in her mind ever since she awoke had
been whether there was a musical instrument in the house. She felt that if
there was not she would miss the old spinet in her father’s house more
than any other thing about her childhood’s home.

So with fear and trepidation she entered the darkened room, where the
careful aunts had drawn the thick green shades. The furniture stood about
in shadowed corners, and every footfall seemed a fearsome thing.

Marcia’s bright eyes hurried furtively about, noting the great glass knobs
that held the lace curtains with heavy silk cords, the round mahogany
table, with its china vase of “everlastings,” the high, stiff-backed
chairs all decked in elaborate antimacassars of intricate pattern. Then,
in the furthest corner, shrouded in dark coverings she found what she was
searching for. With a cry she sprang to it, touched its polished wood with
gentle fingers, and lovingly felt for the keyboard. It was closed. Marcia
pushed up the shade to see better, and opened the instrument cautiously.

It was a pianoforte of the latest pattern, and with exclamations of
delight she sat down and began to strike chords, softly at first, as if
half afraid, then more boldly. The tone was sweeter than the old spinet,
or the harpsichord owned by Squire Hartrandt. Marcia marvelled at the
volume of sound. It filled the room and seemed to echo through the empty
halls.

She played soft little airs from memory, and her soul was filled with joy.
Now she knew she would never be lonely in the new life, for she would
always have this wonderful instrument to flee to when she felt homesick.

Across the hall were two square rooms, the front one furnished as a
library. Here were rows of books behind glass doors. Marcia looked at them
with awe. Might she read them all? She resolved to cultivate her mind that
she might be a fit companion for David. She knew he was wise beyond his
years for she had heard her father say so. She went nearer and scanned the
titles, and at once there looked out to her from the rows of bindings a
few familiar faces of books she had read and re-read. “Thaddeus of
Warsaw,” “The Scottish Chiefs,” “Mysteries of Udolpho,” “Romance of the
Forest,” “Baker’s Livy,” “Rollin’s History,” “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and a
whole row of Sir Walter Scott’s novels. She caught her breath with
delight. What pleasure was opening before her! All of Scott! And she had
read but one!

It was with difficulty she tore herself away from the tempting shelves and
went on to the rest of the house.

Back of David’s library was a sunny sitting room, or breakfast room,—or
“dining room” as it would be called at the present time. In Marcia’s time
the family ate most of their meals in one end of the large bright kitchen,
that end furnished with a comfortable lounge, a few bookshelves, a thick
ingrain carpet, and a blooming geranium in the wide window seat. But there
was always the other room for company, for “high days and holidays.”

Out of this morning room the pantry opened with its spicy odors of
preserves and fruit cake.

Marcia looked about her well pleased. The house itself was a part of
David’s inheritance, his mother’s family homestead. Things were all on a
grand scale for a bride. Most brides began in a very simple way and
climbed up year by year. How Kate would have liked it all! David must have
had in mind her fastidious tastes, and spent a great deal of money in
trying to please her. That piano must have been very expensive. Once more
Marcia felt how David had loved Kate and a pang went through her as she
wondered however he was to live without her. Her young soul had not yet
awakened to the question of how _she_ was to live _with_ him, while his
heart went continually mourning for one who was lost to him forever.

The rooms upstairs were all pleasant, spacious, and comfortably furnished.
There was no suggestion of bareness or anything left unfinished. Much of
the furniture was old, having belonged to David’s mother, and was in a
state of fine preservation, a possession of which to be justly proud.

There were four rooms besides the one in which Marcia had slept: a front
and back on the opposite side of the hall, a room just back of her own,
and one at the end of the hall over the large kitchen.

She entered them all and looked about. The three beside her own in the
front part of the house were all large and airy, furnished with high
four-posted bedsteads, and pretty chintz hangings. Each was immaculate in
its appointments. Cautiously she lifted the latch of the back room. David
had not slept in any of the others, for the bedcoverings and pillows were
plump and undisturbed. Ah! It was here in the back room that he had
carried his heavy heart, as far away from the rest of the house as
possible!

The bed was rumpled as if some one had thrown himself heavily down without
stopping to undress. There was water in the washbowl and a towel lay
carelessly across a chair as if it had been hastily used. There was a
newspaper on the bureau and a handkerchief on the floor. Marcia looked
sadly about at these signs of occupancy, her eyes dwelling upon each
detail. It was here that David had suffered, and her loving heart longed
to help him in his suffering.

But there was nothing in the room to keep her, and remembering the fire
she had left upon the hearth, which must be almost spent and need
replenishing by this time, she turned to go downstairs.

Just at the door something caught her eye under the edge of the chintz
valence round the bed. It was but the very tip of the corner of an old
daguerreotype, but for some reason Marcia was moved to stoop and draw it
from its concealment. Then she saw it was her sister’s saucy, pretty face
that laughed back at her in defiance from the picture.

As if she had touched something red hot Marcia dropped it, and pushed it
with her foot far back under the bed. Then shutting the door quickly she
went downstairs. Was it always to be thus? Would Kate ever blight all her
joy from this time forth?



                                CHAPTER X


Marcia’s cheeks were flushed when David came home to dinner, for at the
last she had to hurry.

As he stood in the doorway of the wide kitchen and caught the odor of the
steaming platter of green corn she was putting upon the table, David
suddenly realized that he had eaten scarcely anything for breakfast.

Also, he felt a certain comfort from the sweet steady look of wistful
sympathy in Marcia’s eyes. Did he fancy it, or was there a new look upon
her face, a more reserved bearing, less childish, more touched by sad
knowledge of life and its bitterness? It was mere fancy of course,
something he had just not noticed. He had seen so little of her before.

In the heart of the maiden there stirred a something which she did not
quite understand, something brought to life by the sight of her sister’s
daguerreotype lying at the edge of the valence, where it must have fallen
from David’s pocket without his knowledge as he lay asleep. It had seemed
to put into tangible form the solid wall of fact that hung between her and
any hope of future happiness as a wife, and for the first time she too
began to realize what she had sacrificed in thus impetuously throwing her
young life into the breach that it might be healed. But she was not
sorry,—not yet, anyway,—only frightened, and filled with dreary
forebodings.

The meal was a pleasant one, though constrained. David roused himself to
be cheerful for Marcia’s sake, as he would have done with any other
stranger, and the girl, suddenly grown sensitive, felt it, and appreciated
it, yet did not understand why it made her unhappy.

She was anxious to please him, and kept asking if the potatoes were
seasoned right and if his corn were tender, and if he wouldn’t have
another cup of coffee. Her cheeks were quite red with the effort at
matronly dignity when David was finally through his dinner and gone back
to the office, and two big tears came and sat in her eyes for a moment,
but were persuaded with a determined effort to sink back again into those
unfathomable wells that lie in the depths of a woman’s eyes. She longed to
get out of doors and run wild and free in the old south pasture for
relief. She did not know how different it all was from the first dinner of
the ordinary young married couple; so stiff and formal, with no gentle
touches, no words of love, no glances that told more than words. And yet,
child as she was, she felt it, a lack somewhere, she knew not what.

But training is a great thing. Marcia had been trained to be on the alert
for the next duty and to do it before she gave herself time for any of her
own thoughts. The dinner table was awaiting her attention, and there was
company coming.

She glanced at the tall clock in the hall and found she had scarcely an
hour before she might expect David’s aunts, for David had brought her word
that they would come and spend the afternoon and stay to tea.

She shrank from the ordeal and wished David had seen fit to stay and
introduce her. It would have been a relief to have had him for a shelter.
Somehow she knew that he would have stayed if it had been Kate, and that
thought pained her, with a quick sharpness like the sting of an insect.
She wondered if she were growing selfish, that it should hurt to find
herself of so little account. And, yet, it was to be expected, and she
must stop thinking about it. Of course, Kate was the one he had chosen and
Kate would always be the only one to him.

It did not take her long to reduce the dinner table to order and put all
things in readiness for tea time; and in doing her work Marcia’s thoughts
flew to pleasanter themes. She wondered what Dolly and Debby, the servants
at home, would say if they could see her pretty china and the nice
kitchen. They had always been fond of her, and naturally her new honors
made her wish to have her old friends see her. What would Mary Ann say?
What fun it would be to have Mary Ann there sometime. It would be almost
like the days when they had played house under the old elm on the big flat
stone, only this would be a real house with real sprigged china instead of
bits of broken things. Then she fell into a song, one they sang in school,

            “Sister, thou wast mild and lovely,
               Gentle as the summer breeze,
             Pleasant as the air of evening
               When it floats among the trees.”

But the first words set her to thinking of her own sister, and how little
the song applied to her, and she thought with a sigh how much better it
would have been, how much less bitter, if Kate had been that way and had
lain down to die and they could have laid her away in the little hilly
graveyard under the weeping willows, and felt about her as they did about
the girl for whom that song was written.

The work was done, and Marcia arrayed in one of the simplest of Kate’s
afternoon frocks, when the brass knocker sounded through the house,
startling her with its unfamiliar sound.

Breathlessly she hurried downstairs. The crucial moment had come when she
must stand to meet her new relatives alone. With her hand trembling she
opened the door, but there was only one person standing on the stoop, a
girl of about her own age, perhaps a few months younger. Her hair was red,
her face was freckled, and her blue eyes under the red lashes danced with
repressed mischief. Her dress was plain and she wore a calico sunbonnet of
chocolate color.

“Let me in quick before Grandma sees me,” she demanded unceremoniously,
entering at once before there was opportunity for invitation. “Grandma
thinks I’ve gone to the store, so she won’t expect me for a little while.
I was jest crazy to see how you looked. I’ve ben watchin’ out o’ the
window all the morning, but I couldn’t ketch a glimpse of you. When David
came out this morning I thought you’d sure be at the kitchen door to kiss
him good-bye, but you wasn’t, and I watched every chance I could get, but
I couldn’t see you till you run out in the garden fer corn. Then I saw you
good, fer I was out hangin’ up dish towels. You didn’t have a sunbonnet
on, so I could see real well. And when I saw how young you was I made up
my mind I’d get acquainted in spite of Grandma. You don’t mind my comin’
over this way without bein’ dressed up, do you? There wouldn’t be any way
to get here without Grandma seeing me, you know, if I put on my Sunday
clo’es.”

“I’m glad you came!” said Marcia impulsively, feeling a rush of something
like tears in her throat at the relief of delay from the aunts. “Come in
and sit down. Who are you, and why wouldn’t your Grandmother like you to
come?”

The strange girl laughed a mirthless laugh.

“Me? Oh, I’m Mirandy. Nobody ever calls me anything but Mirandy. My pa
left ma when I was a baby an’ never come back, an’ ma died, and I live
with Grandma Heath. An’ Grandma’s mad ’cause David didn’t marry Hannah
Heath. She wanted him to an’ she did everything she could to make him pay
’tention to Hannah, give her fine silk frocks, two of ’em, and a real pink
parasol, but David he never seemed to know the parasol was pink at all,
fer he’d never offer to hold it over Hannah even when Grandma made him
walk with her home from church ahead of us. So when it come out that David
was really going to marry, and wouldn’t take Hannah, Grandma got as mad as
could be and said we never any of us should step over his door sill. But
I’ve stepped, I have, and Grandma can’t help herself.”

“And who is Hannah Heath?” questioned the dazed young bride. It appeared
there was more than a sister to be taken into account.

“Hannah? Oh, Hannah is my cousin, Uncle Jim’s oldest daughter, and she’s
getting on toward thirty somewhere. She has whitey-yellow hair and light
blue eyes and is tall and real pretty. She held her head high fer a good
many years waitin’ fer David, and I guess she feels she made a mistake
now. I noticed she bowed real sweet to Hermon Worcester last Sunday and
let him hold her parasol all the way to Grandma’s gate. Hannah was mad as
hops when she heard that you had gold hair and blue eyes, for it did seem
hard to be beaten by a girl of the same kind? but you haven’t, have you?
Your hair is almost black and your eyes are brownie-brown. You’re years
younger than Hannah, too. My! Won’t she be astonished when she sees you!
But I don’t understand how it got around about your having gold hair. It
was a man that stopped at your father’s house once told it——”

“It was my sister!” said Marcia, and then blushed crimson to think how
near she had come to revealing the truth which must not be known.

“Your sister? Have you got a sister with gold hair?”

“Yes, he must have seen her,” said Marcia confusedly. She was not used to
evasion.

“How funny!” said Miranda. “Well, I’m glad he did, for it made Hannah so
jealous it was funny. But I guess she’ll get a set-back when she sees how
young you are. You’re not as pretty as I thought you would be, but I
believe I like you better.”

Miranda’s frank speech reminded Marcia of Mary Ann and made her feel quite
at home with her curious visitor. She did not mind being told she was not
up to the mark of beauty. From her point of view she was not nearly so
pretty as Kate, and her only fear was that her lack of beauty might reveal
the secret and bring confusion to David. But she need not have feared: no
one watching the two girls, as they sat in the large sunny room and faced
each other, but would have smiled to think the homely crude girl could
suggest that the other calm, cool bud of womanhood was not as near
perfection of beauty as a bud could be expected to come. There was always
something child-like about Marcia’s face, especially her profile,
something deep and other-world-like in her eyes, that gave her an
appearance so distinguished from other girls that the word “pretty” did
not apply, and surface observers might have passed her by when searching
for prettiness, but not so those who saw soul beauties.

But Miranda’s time was limited, and she wanted to make as much of it as
possible.

“Say, I heard you making music this morning. Won’t you do it for me? I’d
just love to hear you.”

Marcia’s face lit up with responsive enthusiasm, and she led the way to
the darkened parlor and folded back the covers of the precious piano. She
played some tender little airs she loved as she would have played them for
Mary Ann, and the two young things stood there together, children in
thought and feeling, half a generation apart in position, and neither
recognized the difference.

“My land!” said the visitor, “’f I could play like that I wouldn’t care ef
I had freckles and no father and red hair,” and looking up Marcia saw
tears in the light blue eyes, and knew she had a kindred feeling in her
heart for Miranda.

They had been talking a minute or two when the knocker suddenly sounded
through the long hall again making both girls start. Miranda boldly
tiptoed over to the front window and peeped between the green slats of the
Venetian blind to see who was at the door, while Marcia started guiltily
and quickly closed the instrument.

“It’s David’s aunts,” announced Miranda in a stage whisper hurriedly. “I
might ’a’ known they would come this afternoon. Well, I had first try at
you anyway, and I like you real well. May I come again and hear you play?
You go quick to the door, and I’ll slip into the kitchen till they get in,
and then I’ll go out the kitchen door and round the house out the little
gate so Grandma won’t see me. I must hurry for I ought to have been back
ten minutes ago.”

“But you haven’t been to the store,” said Marcia in a dismayed whisper.

“Oh, well, that don’t matter! I’ll tell her they didn’t have what she sent
me for. Good-bye. You better hurry.” So saying, she disappeared into the
kitchen; and Marcia, startled by such easy morality, stood dazed until the
knocker sounded forth again, this time a little more peremptorily, as the
elder aunt took her turn at it.

And so at last Marcia was face to face with the Misses Spafford.

They came in, each with her knitting in a black silk bag on her slim arm,
and greeted the flushed, perturbed Marcia with gentle, righteous, rigid
inspection. She felt with the first glance that she was being tried in the
fire, and that it was to be no easy ordeal through which she was to pass.
They had come determined to sift her to the depths and know at once the
worst of what their beloved nephew had brought upon himself. If they found
aught wrong with her they meant to be kindly and loving with her, but they
meant to take it out of her. This had been the unspoken understanding
between them as they wended their dignified, determined way to David’s
house that afternoon, and this was what Marcia faced as she opened the
door for them.

She gasped a little, as any girl overwhelmed thus might have done. She did
not tilt her chin in defiance as Kate would have done. The thought of
David came to support her, and she grasped for her own little part and
tried to play it creditably. She did not know whether the aunts knew of
her true identity or not, but she was not left long in doubt.

“My dear, we have long desired to know you, of whom we have heard so
much,” recited Miss Amelia, with slightly agitated mien, as she bestowed a
cool kiss of duty upon Marcia’s warm cheek. It chilled the girl, like the
breath from a funeral flower.

“Yes, it is indeed a pleasure to us to at last look upon our dear nephew’s
wife,” said Miss Hortense quite precisely, and laid the sister kiss upon
the other cheek. In spite of her there flitted through Marcia’s brain the
verse, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the
other also.” Then she was shocked at her own irreverence and tried to put
away a hysterical desire to laugh.

The aunts, too, were somewhat taken aback. They had not looked for so
girlish a wife. She was not at all what they had pictured. David had tried
to describe Kate to them once, and this young, sweet, disarming thing did
not in the least fit their preconceived ideas of her. What should they do?
How could they carry on a campaign planned against a certain kind of
enemy, when lo, as they came upon the field of action the supposed enemy
had taken another and more bewildering form than the one for whom they had
prepared. They were for the moment silent, gathering their thoughts, and
trying to fit their intended tactics to the present situation.

During this operation Marcia helped them to remove their bonnets and silk
capes and to lay them neatly on the parlor sofa. She gave them chairs,
suggested palm-leaf fans, and looked about, for the moment forgetting that
this was not her old home plentifully supplied with those gracious breeze
wafters.

They watched her graceful movements, those two angular old ladies, and
marvelled over her roundness and suppleness. They saw with appalled hearts
what a power youth and beauty might have over a man. Perhaps she might be
even worse than they had feared, though if you could have heard them talk
about their nephew’s coming bride to their neighbors for months
beforehand, you would have supposed they knew her to be a model in every
required direction. But their stately pride required that of them, an
outward loyalty at least. Now that loyalty was to be tried, and Marcia had
two old, narrow and well-fortified hearts to conquer ere her way would be
entirely smooth.

Well might Madam Schuyler have been proud of her pupil as alone and
unaided she faced the trying situation and mastered it in a sweet and
unassuming way.

They began their inquisition at once, so soon as they were seated, and the
preliminary sentences uttered. The gleaming knitting needles seemed to
Marcia like so many swarming, vindictive bees, menacing her peace of mind.

“You look young, child, to have the care of so large a house as this,”
said Aunt Amelia, looking at Marcia over her spectacles as if she were
expected to take the first bite out of her. “It’s a great responsibility!”
she shut her thin lips tightly and shook her head, as if she had said:
“It’s a great _impossibility_.”

“Have you ever had the care of a house?” asked Miss Hortense, going in a
little deeper. “David likes everything nice, you know, he has always been
used to it.”

There was something in the tone, and in the set of the bow on Aunt
Hortense’s purple-trimmed cap that roused the spirit in Marcia.

“I think I rather enjoy housework,” she responded coolly. This unexpected
statement somewhat mollified the aunts. They had heard to the contrary
from some one who had lived in the same town with the Schuylers. Kate’s
reputation was widely known, as that of a spoiled beauty, who did not care
to work, and would do whatever she pleased. The aunts had entertained many
forebodings from the few stray hints an old neighbor of Kate’s had dared
to utter in their hearing.

The talk drifted at once into household matters, as though that were the
first division of the examination the young bride was expected to undergo.
Marcia took early opportunity to still further mollify her visitors by her
warmest praise of the good things with which the pantry and store-closet
had been filled. The expression that came upon the two old faces was that
of receiving but what is due. If the praise had not been forthcoming they
would have marked it down against her, but it counted for very little with
them, warm as it was.

“Can you make good bread?”

The question was flung out by Aunt Hortense like a challenge, and the very
set of her nostrils gave Marcia warning. But it was in a relieved voice
that ended almost in a ripple of laugh that she answered quite assuredly:
“Oh, yes, indeed. I can make beautiful bread. I just love to make it,
too!”

“But how do you make it?” quickly questioned Aunt Amelia, like a repeating
rifle. If the first shot had not struck home, the second was likely to.
“Do you use hop yeast? Potatoes? I thought so. Don’t know how to make
salt-rising, do you? It’s just what might have been expected.”

“David has always been used to salt-rising bread,” said Aunt Hortense with
a grim set of her lips as though she were delivering a judgment. “He was
raised on it.”

“If David does not like my bread,” said Marcia with a rising color and a
nervous little laugh, “then I shall try to make some that he does like.”

There was an assurance about the “if” that did not please the oracle.

“David was raised on salt-rising bread,” said Aunt Hortense again as if
that settled it. “We can send you down a loaf or two every time we bake
until you learn how.”

“I’m sure it’s very kind of you,” said Marcia, not at all pleased, “but I
do not think that will be necessary. David has always seemed to like our
bread when he visited at home. Indeed he often praised it.”

“David would not be impolite,” said Aunt Amelia, after a suitable pause in
which Marcia felt disapprobation in the air. “It would be best for us to
send it. David’s health might suffer if he was not suitably nourished.”

Marcia’s cheeks grew redder. Bread had been one of her stepmother’s strong
points, well infused into her young pupil. Madam Schuyler had never been
able to say enough to sufficiently express her scorn of people who made
salt-rising bread.

“My stepmother made beautiful bread,” she said quite childishly; “she did
not think salt-rising was so healthy as that made from hop yeast. She
disliked the odor in the house from salt-rising bread.”

Now indeed the aunts exchanged glances of “On to the combat.” Four red
spots flamed giddily out in their four sallow cheeks, and eight shining
knitting needles suddenly became idle. The moment was too momentous to
work. It was as they feared, even the worst. For, be it known, salt-rising
bread was one of their most tender points, and for it they would fight to
the bitter end. They looked at her with four cold, forbidding, steely,
spectacled eyes, and Marcia felt that their looks said volumes: “And she
so young too! To be so out of the way!” was what they might have expressed
to one another. Marcia felt she had been unwise in uttering her honest,
indignant sentiments concerning salt-rising bread.

The pause was long and impressive, and the bride felt like a naughty
little four-year-old.

At last Aunt Hortense took up her knitting again with the air that all was
over and an unrevokable verdict was passed upon the culprit.

“People have never seemed to stay away from our house on that account,”
she said dryly. “I’m sure I hope it will not be so disagreeable that it
will affect your coming to see us sometimes with David.”

There was an iciness in her manner that seemed to suggest a long line of
offended family portraits of ancestors frowning down upon her.

Marcia’s cheeks flamed crimson and her heart fairly stopped beating.

“I beg your pardon,” she said quickly, “I did not mean to say anything
disagreeable. I am sure I shall be glad to come as often as you will let
me.” As she said it Marcia wondered if that were quite true. Would she
ever be glad to go to the home of those two severe-looking aunts? There
were three of them. Perhaps the other one would be even more withered and
severe than these two. A slight shudder passed over Marcia, and a sudden
realization of a side of married life that had never come into her
thoughts before. For a moment she longed with all the intensity of a child
for her father’s house and the shelter of his loving protection, amply
supported by her stepmother’s capable, self-sufficient, comforting
countenance. Her heart sank with the fear that she would never be able to
do justice to the position of David’s wife, and David would be
disappointed in her and sorry he had accepted her sacrifice. She roused
herself to do better, and bit her tongue to remind it that it must make no
more blunders. She praised the garden, the house and the furnishings, in
voluble, eager, girlish language until the thin lines of lips relaxed and
the drawn muscles of the aunts’ cheeks took on a less severe aspect. They
liked to be appreciated, and they certainly had taken a great deal of
pains with the house—for David’s sake—not for hers. They did not care to
have her deluded by the idea that they had done it for her sake. David was
to them a young god, and with this one supreme idea of his supremacy they
wished to impress his young wife. It was a foregone conclusion in their
minds that no mere pretty young girl was capable of appreciating David, as
could they, who had watched him from babyhood, and pampered and petted and
been severe with him by turns, until if he had not had the temper of an
angel he would surely have been spoiled.

“We did our best to make the house just as David would have wished to have
it,” said Aunt Amelia at last, a self-satisfied shadow of what answered
for a smile with her, passing over her face for a moment.

“We did not at all approve of this big house, nor indeed of David’s
setting up in a separate establishment for himself,” said Aunt Hortense,
taking up her knitting again. “We thought it utterly unnecessary and
uneconomical, when he might have brought his wife home to us, but he
seemed to think you would want a house to yourself, so we did the best we
could.”

There was a martyr-like air in Aunt Hortense’s words that made Marcia feel
herself again a criminal, albeit she knew she was suffering vicariously.
But in her heart she felt a sudden thankfulness that she was spared the
trial of living daily under the scrutiny of these two, and she blest David
for his thoughtfulness, even though it had not been meant for her. She
went into pleased ecstasies once more over the house, and its furnishings,
and ended by her pleasure over the piano.

There was grim stillness when she touched upon that subject. The aunts did
not approve of that musical instrument, that was plain. Marcia wondered if
they always paused so long before speaking when they disapproved, in order
to show their displeasure. In fact, did they always disapprove of
everything?

“You will want to be very careful of it,” said Aunt Amelia, looking at the
disputed article over her glasses, “it cost a good deal of money. It was
the most foolish thing I ever knew David to do, buying that.”

“Yes,” said Aunt Hortense, “you will not want to use it much, it might get
scratched. It has a fine polish. I’d keep it closed up only when I had
company. You ought to be very proud to have a husband who could buy a
thing like that. There’s not many has them. When I was a girl my
grandfather had a spinet, the only one for miles around, and it was taken
great care of. The case hadn’t a scratch on it.”

Marcia had started toward the piano intending to open it and play for her
new relatives, but she halted midway in the room and came back to her seat
after that speech, feeling that she must just sit and hold her hands until
it was time to get supper, while these dreadful aunts picked her to
pieces, body, soul and spirit.

It was with great relief at last that she heard David’s step and knew she
might leave the room and put the tea things upon the table.



                                CHAPTER XI


They got through the supper without any trouble, and the aunts went home
in the early twilight, each with her bonnet strings tied precisely, her
lace mitts drawn smoothly over her bony hands, and her little knitting bag
over her right arm. They walked decorously up the shaded, elm-domed
street, each mindful of her aristocratic instep, and trying to walk erect
as in the days when they were gazed upon with admiration, knowing that
still an air of former greatness hovered about them wherever they went.

They had brightened considerably at the supper table, under the genial
influence of David’s presence. They came as near to worshiping David as
one can possibly come to worshiping a human being. David, desirous above
all things of blinding their keen, sure-to-say-“I-told-you-so” old eyes,
roused to be his former gay self with them, and pleased them so that they
did not notice how little lover-like reference he made to his bride, who
was decidedly in the background for the time, the aunts, perhaps
purposely, desiring to show her a wife’s true place,—at least the true
place of a wife of a David.

They had allowed her to bring their things and help them on with capes and
bonnets, and, when they were ready to leave, Aunt Amelia put out a
lifeless hand, that felt in its silk mitt like a dead fish in a net, and
said to Marcia:

“Our sister Clarinda is desirous of seeing David’s wife. She wished us
most particularly to give you her love and say to you that she wishes you
to come to her at the earliest possible moment. You know she is lame and
cannot easily get about.”

“Young folks should always be ready to wait upon their elders,” said Aunt
Hortense, grimly. “Come as soon as you can,—that is, if you think you can
stand the smell of salt-rising.”

Marcia’s face flushed painfully, and she glanced quickly at David to see
if he had noticed what his aunt had said, but David was already
anticipating the moment when he would be free to lay aside his mask and
bury his face in his hands and his thoughts in sadness.

Marcia’s heart sank as she went about clearing off the supper things. Was
life always to be thus? Would she be forever under the espionage of those
two grim spectres of women, who seemed, to her girlish imagination, to
have nothing about them warm or loving or woman-like?

She seemed to herself to be standing outside of a married life and looking
on at it as one might gaze on a panorama. It was all new and painful, and
she was one of the central figures expected to act on through all the
pictures, taking another’s place, yet doing it as if it were her own. She
glanced over at David’s pale, grave face, set in its sadness, and a sharp
pain went through her heart. Would he ever get over it? Would life never
be more cheerful than it now was?

He spoke to her occasionally, in a pleasant abstracted way, as to one who
understood him and was kind not to trouble his sadness, and he lighted a
candle for her when the work was done and said he hoped she would rest
well, that she must still be weary from the long journey. And so she went
up to her room again.

She did not go to bed at once, but sat down by the window looking out on
the moonlit street. There had been some sort of a meeting at the church
across the way, and the people were filing out and taking their various
ways home, calling pleasant good nights, and speaking cheerily of the
morrow. The moon, though beginning to wane, was bright and cast sharp
shadows. Marcia longed to get out into the night. If she could have got
downstairs without being heard she would have slipped out into the garden.
But downstairs she could hear David pacing back and forth like some hurt,
caged thing. Steadily, dully, he walked from the front hall back into the
kitchen and back again. There was no possibility of escaping his notice.
Marcia felt as if she might breathe freer in the open air, so she leaned
far out of her window and looked up and down the street, and thought.
Finally,—her heart swelled to bursting, as young hearts with their first
little troubles will do,—she leaned down her dark head upon the window
seat and wept and wept, alone.

It was the next morning at breakfast that David told her of the
festivities that were planned in honor of their home coming. He spoke as
if they were a great trial through which they both must pass in order to
have any peace, and expressed his gratitude once more that she had been
willing to come here with him and pass through it. Marcia had the
impression, after he was done speaking and had gone away to the office,
that he felt that she had come here merely for these few days of ceremony
and after they were passed she was dismissed, her duty done, and she might
go home. A great lump arose in her throat and she suddenly wished very
much indeed that it were so. For if it were, how much, how very much she
would enjoy queening it for a few days—except for David’s sadness. But
already, there had begun to be an element to her in that sadness which in
spite of herself she resented. It was a heavy burden which she began dimly
to see would be harder and harder to bear as the days went by. She had not
yet begun to think of the time before her in years.

They were to go to the aunts’ to tea that evening, and after tea a company
of David’s old friends—or rather the old friends of David’s aunts—were
coming in to meet them. This the aunts had planned: but it seemed they had
not counted her worthy to be told of the plans, and had only divulged them
to David. Marcia had not thought that a little thing could annoy her so
much, but she found it vexed her more and more as she thought upon it
going about her work.

There was not so much to be done in the house that morning after the
breakfast things were cleared away. Dinners and suppers would not be much
of a problem for some days to come, for the house was well stocked with
good things.

The beds done and the rooms left in dainty order with the sweet summer
breeze blowing the green tassels on the window shades, Marcia went softly
down like some half guilty creature to the piano. She opened it and was
forthwith lost in delight of the sounds her own fingers brought forth.

She had been playing perhaps half an hour when she became conscious of
another presence in the room. She looked up with a start, feeling that
some one had been there for some time, she could not tell just how long.
Peering into the shadowy room lighted only from the window behind her, she
made out a head looking in at the door, the face almost hidden by a
capacious sunbonnet. She was not long in recognizing her visitor of the
day before. It was like a sudden dropping from a lofty mountain height
down into a valley of annoyance to hear Miranda’s sharp metallic voice:

“Morning!” she courtesied, coming in as soon as she perceived that she was
seen. “At it again? I ben listening sometime. It’s as pretty as Silas
Drew’s harmonicker when he comes home evenings behind the cows.”

Marcia drew her hands sharply from the keys as if she had been struck.
Somehow Miranda and music were inharmonious. She scarcely knew what to
say. She felt as if her morning were spoiled. But Miranda was too full of
her own errand to notice the clouded face and cool welcome. “Say, you
can’t guess how I got over here. I’ll tell you. You’re going over to the
Spafford house to-night, ain’t you? and there’s going to be a lot of folks
there. Of course we all know all about it. It’s been planned for months.
And my cousin Hannah Heath has an invite. You can’t think how fond Miss
Amelia and Miss Hortense are of her. They tried their level best to make
David pay attention to her, but it didn’t work. Well, she was talking
about what she’d wear. She’s had three new frocks made last week, all
frilled and fancy. You see she don’t want to let folks think she is down
in the mouth the least bit about David. She’ll likely make up to you, to
your face, a whole lot, and pretend she’s the best friend you’ve got in
the world. But I’ve just got this to say, don’t you be too sure of her
friendship. She’s smooth as butter, but she can give you a slap in the
face if you don’t serve her purpose. I don’t mind telling you for she’s
given me many a one,” and the pale eyes snapped in unison with the color
of her hair. “Well, you see I heard her talking to Grandma, and she said
she’d give anything to know what you were going to wear to-night.”

“How curious!” said Marcia surprised. “I’m sure I do not see why she
should care!” There was the coolness born of utter indifference in her
reply which filled the younger girl with admiration. Perhaps too there was
the least mite of haughtiness in her manner, born of the knowledge that
she belonged to an old and honored family, and that she had in her
possession a trunk full of clothes that could vie with any that Hannah
Heath could display. Miranda wished silently that she could convey that
cool manner and that wide-eyed indifference to the sight of her cousin
Hannah.

“H’m!” giggled Miranda. “Well, she does! If you were going to wear blue
you’d see she’d put on her green. She’s got one that’ll kill any blue
that’s in the same room with it, no matter if it’s on the other side. Its
just sick’ning to see them together. And she looks real well in it too. So
when she said she wanted to know so bad, Grandma said she’d send me over
to know if you’d accept a jar of her fresh pickle-lily, and mebbe I could
find out about your clothes. The pickle-lily’s on the kitchen table. I
left it when I came through. It’s good, but there ain’t any love in it.”
And Miranda laughed a hard mirthless laugh, and then settled down to her
subject again.

“Now, you needn’t be a mite afraid to tell me about it. I won’t tell it
straight, you know. I’d just like to see what you are going to wear so I
could keep her out of her tricks for once. Is your frock blue?”

Now it is true that the trunk upstairs contained a goodly amount of the
color blue, for Kate Schuyler had been her bonniest in blue, and the
particular frock which had been made with reference to this very first
significant gathering was blue. Marcia had accepted the fact as
unalterable. The garment was made for a purpose, and its mission must be
fulfilled however much she might wish to wear something else, but suddenly
as Miranda spoke there came to her mind the thought of rebellion. Why
should she be bound down to do exactly as Kate would do in her place? If
she had accepted the sacrifice of living Kate’s life for her, she might at
least have the privilege of living it in the pleasantest possible way, and
surely the matter of dress was one she might be allowed to settle for
herself if she was old enough at all to be trusted away from home. Among
the pretty things that Kate had made was a sweet rose-pink silk tissue.
Madam Schuyler had frowned upon it as frivolous, and besides she did not
think it becoming to Kate. She had a fixed theory that people with blue
eyes and gold hair should never wear pink or red, but Kate as usual had
her own way, and with her wild rose complexion had succeeded in looking
like the wild rose itself in spite of blue eyes and golden hair. Marcia
knew in her heart, in fact she had known from the minute the lovely pink
thing had come into the house, that it was the very thing to set her off.
Her dark eyes and hair made a charming contrast with the rose, and her
complexion was even fresher than Kate’s. Her heart grew suddenly eager to
don this dainty, frilley thing and outshine Hannah Heath beyond any chance
of further trying. There were other frocks, too, in the trunk. Why should
she be confined to the stately blue one that had been marked out for this
occasion? Marcia, with sudden inspiration, answered calmly, just as though
all these tumultuous possibilities of clothes had not been whirling
through her brain in that half second’s hesitation:

“I have not quite decided what I shall wear. It is not an important
matter, I’m sure. Let us go and see the piccalilli. I’m very much obliged
to your grandmother, I’m sure. It was kind of her.”

Somewhat awed, Miranda followed her hostess into the kitchen. She could
not reconcile this girl’s face with the stately little airs that she wore,
but she liked her and forthwith she told her so.

“I like you,” she said fervently. “You remind me of one of Grandma’s
sturtions, bright and independent and lively, with a spice and a color to
’em, and Hannah makes you think of one of them tall spikes of gladiolus
all fixed up without any smell.”

Marcia tried to smile over the doubtful compliment. Somehow there was
something about Miranda that reminded her of Mary Ann. Poor Mary Ann!
_Dear_ Mary Ann! For suddenly she realized that everything that reminded
her of the precious life of her childhood, left behind forever, was dear.
If she could see Mary Ann at this moment she would throw her arms about
her neck and call her “Dear Mary Ann,” and say, “I love you,” to her.
Perhaps this feeling made her more gentle with the annoying Miranda than
she might have been.

When Miranda was gone the precious play hour was gone too. Marcia had only
time to steal hurriedly into the parlor, close the instrument, and then
fly about getting her dinner ready. But as she worked she had other
thoughts to occupy her mind. She was becoming adjusted to her new
environment and she found many unexpected things to make it hard. Here,
for instance, was Hannah Heath. Why did there have to be a Hannah Heath?
And what was Hannah Heath to her? Kate might feel jealous, indeed, but not
she, not the unloved, unreal, wife of David. She should rather pity Hannah
that David had not loved her instead of Kate, or pity David that he had
not. But somehow she did not, somehow she could not. Somehow Hannah Heath
had become a living, breathing enemy to be met and conquered. Marcia felt
her fighting blood rising, felt the Schuyler in her coming to the front.
However little there was in her wifehood, its name at least was hers. The
tale that Miranda had told was enough, if it were true, to put any woman,
however young she might be, into battle array. Marcia was puzzling her
mind over the question that has been more or less of a weary burden to
every woman since the fatal day that Eve made her great mistake.

David was silent and abstracted at the dinner table, and Marcia absorbed
in her own problems did not feel cut by it. She was trying to determine
whether to blossom out in pink, or to be crushed and set aside into
insignificance in blue, or to choose a happy medium and wear neither. She
ventured a timid little question before David went away again: Did he,
would he,—that is, was there any thing,—any word he would like to say to
her? Would she have to do anything to-night?

David looked at her in surprise. Why, no! He knew of nothing. Just go and
speak pleasantly to every one. He was sure she knew what to do. He had
always thought her very well behaved. She had manners like any woman. She
need not feel shy. No one knew of her peculiar position, and he felt
reasonably sure that the story would not soon get around. Her position
would be thoroughly established before it did, at least. She need not feel
uncomfortable. He looked down at her thinking he had said all that could
be expected of him, but somehow he felt the trouble in the girl’s eyes and
asked her gently if there was anything more.

“No,” she said slowly, “unless, perhaps—I don’t suppose you know what it
would be proper for me to wear.”

“Oh, that does not matter in the least,” he replied promptly. “Anything.
You always look nice. Why, I’ll tell you, wear the frock you had on the
night I came.” Then he suddenly remembered the reason why that was a
pleasant memory to him, and that it was not for her sake at all, but for
the sake of one who was lost to him forever. His face contracted with
sudden pain, and Marcia, cut to the heart, read the meaning, and felt sick
and sore too.

“Oh, I could not wear that,” she said sadly, “it is only chintz. It would
not be nice enough, but thank you. I shall be all right. Don’t trouble
about me,” and she forced a weak smile to light him from the house, and
shut from his pained eyes the knowledge of how he had hurt her, for with
those words of his had come the vision of herself that happy night as she
stood at the gate in the stillness and moonlight looking from the portal
of her maidenhood into the vista of her womanhood, which had seemed then
so far away and bright, and was now upon her in sad reality. Oh, if she
could but have caught that sentence of his about her little chintz frock
to her heart with the joy of possession, and known that he said it because
he too had a happy memory about her in it, as she had always felt the
coming, misty, dream-expected lover would do!

She spread the available frocks out upon the bed after the other things
were put neatly away in closet and drawer, and sat down to decide the
matter. David’s suggestion while impossible had given her an idea, and she
proceeded to carry it out. There was a soft sheer white muslin, whereon
Kate had expended her daintiest embroidering, edged with the finest of
little lace frills. It was quaint and simple and girlish, the sweetest,
most simple affair in all of Kate’s elaborate wardrobe, and yet, perhaps,
from an artistic point of view, the most elegant. Marcia soon made up her
mind.

She dressed herself early, for David had said he would be home by four
o’clock and they would start as soon after as he could get ready. His
aunts wished to show her the old garden before dark.

When she came to the arrangement of her hair she paused. Somehow her soul
rebelled at the style of Kate. It did not suit her face. It did not accord
with her feeling. It made her seem unlike herself, or unlike the self she
would ever wish to be. It suited Kate well, but not her. With sudden
determination she pulled it all down again from the top of her head and
loosened its rich waves about her face, then loosely twisted it behind,
low on her neck, falling over her delicate ears, until her head looked
like that of an old Greek statue. It was not fashion, it was pure instinct
the child was following out, and there was enough conformity to one of the
fashionable modes of the day to keep her from looking odd. It was lovely.
Marcia could not help seeing herself that it was much more becoming than
the way she had arranged it for her marriage, though then she had had the
wedding veil to soften the tightly drawn outlines of her head. She put on
the sheer white embroidered frock then, and as a last touch pinned the bit
of black velvet about her throat with a single pearl that had been her
mother’s. It was the bit of black velvet she had worn the night David
came. It gave her pleasure to think that in so far she was conforming to
his suggestion.

She had just completed her toilet when she heard David’s step coming up
the walk.

David, coming in out of the sunshine and beholding this beautiful girl in
the coolness and shadow of the hall awaiting him shyly, almost started
back as he rubbed his eyes and looked at her again. She was beautiful. He
had to admit it to himself, even in the midst of his sadness, and he
smiled at her, and felt another pang of condemnation that he had taken
this beauty from some other man’s lot perhaps, and appropriated it to
shield himself from the world’s exclamation about his own lonely life.

“You have done it admirably. I do not see that there is anything left to
be desired,” he said in his pleasant voice that used to make her
girl-heart flutter with pride that her new brother-to-be was pleased with
her. It fluttered now, but there was a wider sweep to its wings, and a
longer flight ahead of the thought.

Quite demurely the young wife accepted her compliment, and then she meekly
folded her little white muslin cape with its dainty frills about her
pretty shoulders, drew on the new lace mitts, and tied beneath her chin
the white strings of a shirred gauze bonnet with tiny rosebuds nestling in
the ruching of tulle about the face.

Once more the bride walked down the world the observed of all observers,
the gazed at of the town, only this time it was brick pavement not oaken
stairs she trod, and most of the eyes that looked upon her were sheltered
behind green jalousies. None the less, however, was she conscious of them
as she made her way to the house of solemn feasting with David by her
side. Her eyes rested upon the ground, or glanced quietly at things in the
distance, when they were not lifted for a moment in wifely humility to her
husband’s face at some word of his. Just as she imagined a hundred times
in her girlish thoughts that her sister Kate would do, so did she, and
after what seemed to her an interminable walk, though in reality it was
but four village blocks, they arrived at the house of Spafford.



                               CHAPTER XII


“This is your Aunt Clarinda!”

There was challenge in the severely spoken pronoun Aunt Hortense used. It
seemed to Marcia that she wished to remind her that all her old life and
relations were passed away, and she had nothing now but David’s,
especially David’s relatives. She shrank from lifting her eyes, expecting
to find the third aunt, who was older, as much sourer and sharper in
proportion to the other two, but she controlled herself and lifted her
flower face to meet a gentle, meek, old face set in soft white frills of a
cap, with white ribbons flying, and though the old lady leaned upon a
crutch she managed to give the impression that she had fairly flown in her
gladness to welcome her new niece. There was the lighting of a repressed
nature let free in her kind old face as she looked with true pleasure upon
the lovely young one, and Marcia felt herself folded in truly loving arms
in an embrace which her own passionate, much repressed, loving nature
returned with heartiness. At last she had found a friend!

She felt it every time she spoke, more and more. They walked out into the
garden almost immediately, and Aunt Clarinda insisted upon hobbling along
by Marcia’s side, though her sisters both protested that it would be too
hard for her that warm afternoon. Every time that Marcia spoke she felt
the kind old eyes upon her, and she knew that at least one of the aunts
was satisfied with her as a wife for David, for her eyes would travel from
David to Marcia and back again to David, and when they met Marcia’s there
was not a shade of disparagement in them.

It was rather a tiresome walk through a tiresome old garden, laid out in
the ways of the past generation, and bordered with much funereal box. The
sisters, Amelia and Hortense, took the new member of the family,
conscientiously, through every path, and faithfully told how each spot was
associated with some happening in the family history. Occasionally there
was a solemn pause for the purpose of properly impressing the new member
of the house, and Amelia wiped her eyes with her carefully folded
handkerchief. Marcia felt extremely like laughing. She was sure that if
Kate had been obliged to pass through this ordeal she would have giggled
out at once and said some shockingly funny thing that would have horrified
the aunts beyond forgiveness. The thought of this nerved her to keep a
sober face. She wondered what David thought of it all, but when she looked
at him she wondered no longer, for David stood as one waiting for a
certain ceremony to be over, a ceremony which he knew to be inevitable,
but which was wholly and familiarly uninteresting. He did not even see how
it must strike the girl who was going through it all for him, for David’s
thoughts were out on the flood-tide of sorrow, drifting against the rocks
of the might-have-been.

They went in to tea presently, just when the garden was growing loveliest
with a tinge of the setting sun, and Marcia longed to run up and down the
little paths like a child and call to them all to catch her if they could.
The house was dark and stately and gloomy.

“You are coming up to my room for a few minutes after supper,” whispered
Aunt Clarinda encouragingly as they passed into the dark hall. The supper
table was alight with a fine old silver candelabra whose many wavering
lights cast a solemn, grotesque shadow on the different faces.

Beside her plate the young bride saw an ostentatious plate of puffy soda
biscuits, and involuntarily her eyes searched the table for the bread
plate.

Aunt Clarinda almost immediately pounced upon the bread plate and passed
it with a smile to Marcia, and as Marcia with an answering smile took a
generous slice she heard the other two aunts exclaim in chorus, “Oh, don’t
pass her the bread, Clarinda; take it away sister, quick! She does not
like salt-rising! It is unpleasant to her!”

Then with blazing cheeks the girl protested that she wished to keep the
bread, that they were mistaken, she had not said it was obnoxious to her,
but had merely given them her stepmother’s opinion when they asked. They
must excuse her for her seeming rudeness, for she had not intended to hurt
them. She presumed salt-rising bread was very nice; it looked beautiful.
This was a long speech for shy Marcia to make before so many strangers,
but David’s wondering, troubled eyes were upon her, questioning what it
all might mean, and she felt she could do anything to save David from more
suffering or annoyance of any kind.

David said little. He seemed to perceive that there had been an unpleasant
prelude to this, and perhaps knew from former experience that the best way
to do was to change the subject. He launched into a detailed account of
their wedding journey. Marcia on her part was grateful to him, for when
she took the first brave bite into the very puffy, very white slice of
bread she had taken, she perceived that it was much worse than that which
had been baked for their homecoming, and not only justified all her
stepmother’s execrations, but in addition it was sour. For an instant,
perceiving down the horoscope of time whole calendars full of such suppers
with the aunts, and this bread, her soul shuddered and shrank. Could she
ever learn to like it? Impossible! Could she ever tolerate it? Could she?
She doubted. Then she swallowed bravely and perceived that the impossible
had been accomplished once. It could be again, but she must go slowly else
she might have to eat two slices instead of one. David was kind. He had
roused himself to help his helper. Perhaps something in her girlish beauty
and helplessness, helpless here for his sake, appealed to him. At least
his eyes sought hers often with a tender interest to see if she were
comfortable, and once, when Aunt Amelia asked if they stopped nowhere for
rest on their journey, his eyes sought Marcia’s with a twinkling reminder
of their roadside nap, and he answered, “Once, Aunt Amelia. No, it was not
a regular inn. It was quieter than that. Not many people stopping there.”

Marcia’s merry laugh almost bubbled forth, but she suppressed it just in
time, horrified to think what Aunt Hortense would say, but somehow after
David had said that her heart felt a trifle lighter and she took a big
bite from the salt-rising and smiled as she swallowed it. There were worse
things in the world, after all, than salt-rising, and, when one could
smother it in Aunt Amelia’s peach preserves, it was quite bearable.

Aunt Clarinda slipped her off to her own room after supper, and left the
other two sisters with their beloved idol, David. In their stately parlor
lighted with many candles in honor of the occasion, they sat and talked in
low tones with him, their voices suggesting condolence with his misfortune
of having married out of the family, and disapproval with the married
state in general. Poor souls! How their hard, loving hearts would have
been wrung could they but have known the true state of the case! And,
strange anomaly, how much deeper would have been their antagonism toward
poor, self-sacrificing, loving Marcia! Just because she had dared to think
herself fit for David, belonging as she did to her renegade sister Kate.
But they did not know, and for this fact David was profoundly thankful.
Those were not the days of rapid transit, of telegraph and telephone, nor
even of much letter writing, else the story would probably have reached
the aunts even before the bride and bridegroom arrived at home. As it was,
David had some hope of keeping the tragedy of his life from the ears of
his aunts forever. Patiently he answered their questions concerning the
wedding, questions that were intended to bring out facts showing whether
David had received his due amount of respect, and whether the family he
had so greatly honored felt the burden of that honor sufficiently.

Upstairs in a quaint old-fashioned room Aunt Clarinda was taking Marcia’s
face in her two wrinkled hands and looking lovingly into her eyes; then
she kissed her on each rosy cheek and said:

“Dear child! You look just as I did when I was young. You wouldn’t think
it from me now, would you? But it’s true. I might not have grown to be
such a dried-up old thing if I had had somebody like David. I’m so glad
you’ve got David. He’ll take good care of you. He’s a dear boy. He’s
always been good to me. But you mustn’t let the others crush those roses
out of your cheeks. They crushed mine out. They wouldn’t let me have my
life the way I wanted it, and the pink in my cheeks all went back into my
heart and burst it a good many years ago. But they can’t spoil your life,
for you’ve got David and that’s worth everything.”

Then she kissed her on the lips and cheeks and eyes and let her go. But
that one moment had given Marcia a glimpse into another life-story and put
her in touch forever with Aunt Clarinda, setting athrob the chord of
loving sympathy.

When they came into the parlor the other two aunts looked up with a quick,
suspicious glance from one to the other and then fastened disapproving
eyes upon Marcia. They rather resented it that she was so pretty. Hannah
had been their favorite, and Hannah was beautiful in their eyes. They
wanted no other to outshine her. Albeit they would be proud enough before
their neighbors to have it said that their nephew’s wife was beautiful.

After a chilling pause in which David was wondering anew at Marcia’s
beauty, Aunt Hortense asked, as though it were an omission from the former
examination, “Did you ever make a shirt?”

“Oh, plenty of them!” said Marcia, with a merry laugh, so relieved that
she fairly bubbled. “I think I could make a shirt with my eyes shut.”

Aunt Clarinda beamed on her with delight. A shirt was something she had
never succeeded in making right. It was one of the things which her
sisters had against her that she could not make good shirts. Any one who
could not make a shirt was deficient. Clarinda was deficient. She could
not make a shirt. Meekly had she tried year after year. Humbly had she
ripped out gusset and seam and band, having put them on upside down or
inside out. Never could she learn the ins and outs of a shirt. But her old
heart trembled with delight that the new girl, who was going to take the
place in her heart of her old dead self and live out all the beautiful
things which had been lost to her, had mastered this one great
accomplishment in which she had failed so supremely.

But Aunt Hortense was not pleased. True, it was one of the seven virtues
in her mind which a young wife should possess, and she had carefully
instructed Hannah Heath for a number of years back, while Hannah bungled
out a couple for her father occasionally, but Aunt Hortense had been sure
that if Hannah ever became David’s wife she might still have the honor of
making most of David’s shirts. That had been her happy task ever since
David had worn a shirt, and she hoped to hold the position of shirt-maker
to David until she left this mortal clay. Therefore Aunt Hortense was not
pleased, even though David’s wife was not lacking, and, too, even though
she foreheard herself telling her neighbors next day how many shirts
David’s wife had made.

“Well, David will not need any for some time,” she said grimly. “I made
him a dozen just before he was married.”

Marcia reflected that it seemed to be impossible to make any headway into
the good graces of either Aunt Hortense or Aunt Amelia. Aunt Amelia then
took her turn at a question.

“Hortense,” said she, and there was an ominous inflection in the word as
if the question were portentous, “have you asked our new niece by what
name she desires us to call her?”

“I have not,” said Miss Hortense solemnly, “but I intend to do so
immediately,” and then both pairs of steely eyes were leveled at the girl.
Marcia suddenly was face to face with a question she had not considered,
and David started upright from his position on the hair-cloth sofa. But if
a thunderbolt had fallen from heaven and rendered him utterly unconscious
David would not have been more helpless than he was for the time being.
Marcia saw the mingled pain and perplexity in David’s face, and her own
courage gathered itself to brave it out in some way. The color flew to her
cheeks, and rose slowly in David’s, through heavy veins that swelled in
his neck till he could feel their pulsation against his stock, but his
smooth shaven lips were white. He felt that a moment had come which he
could not bear to face.

Then with a hesitation that was but pardonable, and with a shy sweet look,
Marcia answered; and though her voice trembled just the least bit, her
true, dear eyes looked into the battalion of steel ones bravely.

“I would like you to call me Marcia, if you please.”

“Marcia!” Miss Hortense snipped the word out as if with scissors of
surprise.

But there was a distinct relaxation about Miss Amelia’s mouth. She heaved
a relieved sigh. Marcia was so much better than Kate, so much more
classical, so much more to be compared with Hannah, for instance.

“Well, I’m glad!” she allowed herself to remark. “David has been calling
you ‘Kate’ till it made me sick, such a frivolous name and no sense in it
either. Marcia sounds quite sensible. I suppose Katharine is your middle
name. Do you spell it with a K or a C?”

But the knocker sounded on the street door and Marcia was spared the
torture of a reply. She dared not look at David’s face, for she knew there
must be pain and mortification mingling there, and she hoped that the
trying subject would not come up again for discussion.

The guests began to arrive. Old Mrs. Heath and her daughter-in-law and
grand-daughter came first.

Hannah’s features were handsome and she knew exactly how to manage her
shapely hands with their long white fingers. The soft delicate
undersleeves fell away from arms white and well moulded, and she carried
her height gracefully. Her hair was elaborately stowed upon the top of her
head in many puffs, ending in little ringlets carelessly and coquettishly
straying over temple, or ears, or gracefully curved neck. She wore a frock
of green, and its color sent a pang through the bride’s heart to realize
that perhaps it had been worn with an unkindly purpose. Nevertheless
Hannah Heath was beautiful and fascinated Marcia. She resolved to try to
think the best of her, and to make her a friend if possible. Why, after
all, should she be to blame for wanting David? Was he not a man to be
admired and desired? It was unwomanly, of course, that she had let it be
known, but perhaps her relatives were more to blame than herself. At least
Marcia made up her mind to try and like her.

Hannah’s frock was of silk, not a common material in those days, soft and
shimmery and green enough to take away the heart from anything blue that
was ever made, but Hannah was stately and her skin as white as the lily
she resembled, in her bright leaf green.

Hannah chose to be effusive and condescending to the bride, giving the
impression that she and David had been like brother and sister all their
lives and that she might have been his choice if she had chosen, but as
she had not chosen, she was glad that David had found some one wherewith
to console himself. She did not say all this in so many words, but Marcia
found that impression left after the evening was over.

With sweet dignity Marcia received her introductions, given in Miss
Amelia’s most commanding tone, “Our niece, Marcia!”

“Marshy! Marshy!” the bride heard old Mrs. Heath murmur to Miss Spafford.
“Why, I thought ’twas to be Kate!”

“Her name is Marcia,” said Miss Amelia in a most satisfied tone; “you must
have misunderstood.”

Marcia caught a look in Miss Heath’s eyes, alert, keen, questioning, which
flashed all over her like something searching and bright but not friendly.

She felt a painful shyness stealing over her and wished that David were by
her side. She looked across the room at him. His face had recovered its
usual calmness, though he looked pale. He was talking on his favorite
theme with old Mr. Heath: the newly invented steam engine and its
possibilities. He had forgotten everything else for the time, and his face
lighted with animation as he tried to answer William Heath’s arguments
against it.

“Have you read what the Boston _Courier_ said, David? ’Long in June it was
I think,” Marcia heard Mr. Heath ask. Indeed his voice was so large that
it filled the room, and for the moment Marcia had been left to herself
while some new people were being ushered in. “It says, David, that ‘the
project of a railroad from Bawston to Albany is impracticable as everybody
knows who knows the simplest rule of arithmetic, and the expense would be
little less than the market value of the whole territory of Massachusetts;
and which, if practicable, every person of common sense knows would be as
useless as a railroad from Bawston to the moon.’ There, David, what do ye
think o’ that?” and William Heath slapped David on the knee with his
broad, fat fist and laughed heartily, as though he had him in a tight
corner.

Marcia would have given a good deal to slip in beside David on the sofa
and listen to the discussion. She wanted with all her heart to know how he
would answer this man who could be so insufferably wise, but there was
other work for her, and her attention was brought back to her own
uncomfortable part by Hannah Heath’s voice:

“Come right ovah heah, Mistah Skinnah, if you want to meet the bride. You
must speak verra nice to me or I sha’n’t introduce you at all.”

A tall lanky man with stiff sandy hair and a rubicund complexion was
making his way around the room. He had a small mouth puckered a little as
if he might be going to whistle, and his chin had the look of having been
pushed back out of the way, a stiff fuzz of sandy whiskers made a hedge
down either cheek, and but for that he was clean shaven. The skin over his
high cheek bones was stretched smooth and tight as if it were a trifle too
close a fit for the genial cushion beneath. He did not look brilliant, and
he certainly was not handsome, but there was an inoffensive desire to
please about him. He was introduced as Mr. Lemuel Skinner. He bowed low
over Marcia’s hand, said a few embarrassed, stiff sentences and turned to
Hannah Heath with relief. It was evident that Hannah was in his eyes a
great and shining light, to which he fluttered as naturally as does the
moth to the candle. But Hannah did not scruple to singe his wings whenever
she chose. Perhaps she knew, no matter how badly he was burned he would
only flutter back again whenever she scintillated. She had turned her back
upon him now, and left him to Marcia’s tender mercies. Hannah was engaged
in talking to a younger man. “Harry Temple, from New York,” Lemuel
explained to Marcia.

The young man, Harry Temple, had large lazy eyes and heavy dark hair.
There was a discontented look in his face, and a looseness about the set
of his lips that Marcia did not like, although she had to admit that he
was handsome. Something about him reminded her of Captain Leavenworth, and
she instinctively shrank from him. But Harry Temple had no mind to talk to
any one but Marcia that evening, and he presently so managed it that he
and she were ensconced in a corner of the room away from others. Marcia
felt perturbed. She did not feel flattered by the man’s attentions, and
she wanted to be at the other end of the room listening to the
conversation.

She listened as intently as she might between sentences, and her keen ears
could catch a word or two of what David was saying. After all, it was not
so much the new railroad project that she cared about, though that was
strange and interesting enough, but she wanted to watch and listen to
David.

Harry Temple said a great many pretty things to Marcia. She did not half
hear some of them at first, but after a time she began to realize that she
must have made a good impression, and the pretty flush in her cheeks grew
deeper. She did little talking. Mr. Temple did it all. He told her of New
York. He asked if she were not dreadfully bored with this little town and
its doings, and bewailed her lot when he learned that she had not had much
experience there. Then he asked if she had ever been to New York and began
to tell of some of its attractions. Among other things he mentioned some
concerts, and immediately Marcia was all attention. Her dark eyes glowed
and her speaking face gave eager response to his words. Seeing he had
interested her at last, he kept on, for he was possessor of a glib tongue,
and what he did not know he could fabricate without the slightest
compunction. He had been about the world and gathered up superficial
knowledge enough to help him do this admirably, therefore he was able to
use a few musical terms, and to bring before Marcia’s vivid imagination
the scene of the performance of Handel’s great “Creation” given in Boston,
and of certain musical events that were to be attempted soon in New York.
He admitted that he could play a little upon the harpsichord, and, when he
learned that Marcia could play also and that she was the possessor of a
piano, one of the latest improved makes, he managed to invite himself to
play upon it. Marcia found to her dismay that she actually seemed to have
invited him to come some afternoon when her husband was away. She had only
said politely that she would like to hear him play sometime, and expressed
her great delight in music, and he had done the rest, but in her
inexperience somehow it had happened and she did not know what to do.

It troubled her a good deal, and she turned again toward the other end of
the room, where the attention of most of the company was riveted upon the
group who were discussing the railroad, its pros and cons. David was the
centre of that group.

“Let us go over and hear what they are saying,” she said, turning to her
companion eagerly.

“Oh, it is all stupid politics and arguments about that ridiculous
fairy-tale of a railroad scheme. You would not enjoy it,” answered the
young man disappointedly. He saw in Marcia a beautiful young soul, the
only one who had really attracted him since he had left New York, and he
wished to become intimate enough with her to enjoy himself.

It mattered not to him that she was married to another man. He felt secure
in his own attractions. He had ever been able to while away the time with
whom he chose, why should a simple village maiden resist him? And this was
an unusual one, the contour of her head was like a Greek statue.

Nevertheless he was obliged to stroll after her. Once she had spoken. She
had suddenly become aware that they had been in their corner together a
long time, and that Aunt Amelia’s cold eyes were fastened upon her in
disapproval.

“The farmers would be ruined, man alive!” Mr. Heath was saying. “Why, all
the horses would have to be killed, because they would be wholly useless
if this new fandango came in, and then where would be a market for the
wheat and oats?”

“Yes, an’ I’ve heard some say the hens wouldn’t lay, on account of the
noise,” ventured Lemuel Skinner in his high voice. “And think of the fires
from the sparks of the engine. I tell you it would be dangerous.” He
looked over at Hannah triumphantly, but Hannah was endeavoring to signal
Harry Temple to her side and did not see nor hear.

“I tell you,” put in Mr. Heath’s heavy voice again, “I tell you, Dave, it
can’t be done. It’s impractical. Why, no car could advance against the
wind.”

“They told Columbus he couldn’t sail around the earth, but he did it!”

There was sudden stillness in the room, for it was Marcia’s clear, grave
voice that had answered Mr. Heath’s excited tones, and she had not known
she was going to speak aloud. It came before she realized it. She had been
used to speak her mind sometimes with her father, but seldom when there
were others by, and now she was covered with confusion to think what she
had done. The aunts, Amelia and Hortense, were shocked. It was so
unladylike. A woman should not speak on such subjects. She should be
silent and leave such topics to her husband.

“Deah me, she’s strong minded, isn’t she?” giggled Hannah Heath to Lemuel,
who had taken the signals to himself and come to her side.

“Quite so, quite so!” murmured Lemuel, his lips looking puffier and more
cherry-fied than ever and his chin flattened itself back till he looked
like a frustrated old hen who did not understand the perplexities of life
and was clucking to find out, after having been startled half out of its
senses.

But Marcia was not wholly without consolation, for David had flashed a
look of approval at her and had made room for her to sit down by his side
on the sofa. It was almost like belonging to him for a minute or two.
Marcia felt her heart glow with something new and pleasant.

Mr. William Heath drew his heavy grey brows together and looked at her
grimly over his spectacles, poking his bristly under-lip out in
astonishment, bewildered that he should have been answered by a gentle,
pretty woman, all frills and sparkle like his own daughter. He had been
wont to look upon a woman as something like a kitten,—that is, a young
woman,—and suddenly the kitten had lifted a velvet paw and struck him
squarely in the face. He had felt there were claws in the blow, too, for
there had been a truth behind her words that set the room a mocking him.

“Well, Dave, you’ve got your wife well trained already!” he laughed,
concluding it was best to put a smiling front upon the defeat. “She knows
just when to come in and help when your side’s getting weak!”

They served cake and raspberry vinegar then, and a little while after
everybody went home. It was later than the hours usually kept in the
village, and the lights in most of the houses were out, or burning dimly
in upper stories. The voices of the guests sounded subdued in the misty
waning moonlight air. Marcia could hear Hannah Heath’s voice ahead
giggling affectedly to Harry Temple and Lemuel Skinner, as they walked one
on either side of her, while her father and mother and grandmother came
more slowly.

David drew Marcia’s hand within his arm and walked with her quietly down
the street, making their steps hushed instinctively that they might so
seem more removed from the others. They were both tired with the unusual
excitement and the strain they had been through, and each was glad of the
silence of the other.

But when they reached their own doorstep David said: “You spoke well,
child. You must have thought about these things.”

Marcia felt a sob rising in a tide of joy into her throat. Then he was not
angry with her, and he did not disapprove as the two aunts had done. Aunt
Clarinda had kissed her good-night and murmured, “You are a bright little
girl, Marcia, and you will make a good wife for David. You will come soon
to see me, won’t you?” and that had made her glad, but these words of
David’s were so good and so unexpected that Marcia could hardly hide her
happy tears.

“I was afraid I had been forward,” murmured Marcia in the shadow of the
front stoop.

“Not at all, child, I like to hear a woman speak her mind,—that is,
allowing she has any mind to speak. That can’t be said of all women.
There’s Hannah Heath, for instance. I don’t believe she would know a
railroad project from an essay on ancient art.”

After that the house seemed a pleasant place aglow as they entered it, and
Marcia went up to her rest with a lighter heart.

But the child knew not that she had made a great impression that night
upon all who saw her as being beautiful and wise.

The aunts would not express it even to each other,—for they felt in duty
bound to discountenance her boldness in speaking out before the men and
making herself so prominent, joining in their discussions,—but each in
spite of her convictions felt a deep satisfaction that their neighbors had
seen what a beautiful and bright wife David had selected. They even felt
triumphant over their favorite Hannah, and thought secretly that Marcia
compared well with her in every way, but they would not have told this
even to themselves, no, not for worlds.

So the kindly gossipy town slept, and the young bride became a part of its
daily life.



                               CHAPTER XIII


Life began to take on a more familiar and interesting aspect to Marcia
after that. She had her daily round of pleasant household duties and she
enjoyed them.

There were many other gatherings in honor of the bride and groom,
tea-drinkings and evening calls, and a few called in to a neighbor’s house
to meet them. It was very pleasant to Marcia as she became better
acquainted with the people and grew to like some of them, only there was
the constant drawback of feeling that it was all a pain and weariness to
David.

But Marcia was young, and it was only natural that she should enjoy her
sudden promotion to the privileges of a matron, and the marked attention
that was paid her. It was a mercy that her head was not turned, living as
she did to herself, and with no one in whom she could confide. For David
had shrunk within himself to such an extent that she did not like to
trouble him with anything.

It was only two days after the evening at the old Spafford house that
David came home to tea with ashen face, haggard eyes and white lips. He
scarcely tasted his supper and said he would go and lie down, that his
head ached. Marcia heard him sigh deeply as he went upstairs. It was that
afternoon that the post had brought him Kate’s letter.

Sadly Marcia put away the tea things, for she could not eat anything
either, though it was an unusually inviting meal she had prepared. Slowly
she went up to her room and sat looking out into the quiet, darkening
summer night, wondering what additional sorrow had come to David.

David’s face looked like death the next morning when he came down. He
drank a cup of coffee feverishly, then took his hat as if he would go to
the office, but paused at the door and came back saying he would not go if
Marcia would not mind taking a message for him. His head felt badly. She
need only tell the man to go on with things as they had planned and say he
was detained. Marcia was ready at once to do his bidding with quiet
sympathy in her manner.

She delivered her message with the frank straightforward look of a school
girl, mingled with a touch of matronly dignity she was trying to assume,
which added to her charm; and she smiled her open smile of comradeship,
such as she would have dispensed about the old red school house at home,
upon boys and girls alike, leaving the clerk and type-setters in a most
subjected state, and ready to do anything in the service of their master’s
wife. It is to be feared that they almost envied David. They watched her
as she moved gracefully down the street, and their eyes had a reverent
look as they turned away from the window to their work, as though they had
been looking upon something sacred.

Harry Temple watched her come out of the office.

She impressed him again as something fresh and different from the common
run of maidens in the village. He lazily stepped from the store where he
had been lounging and walked down the street to intercept her as she
crossed and turned the corner.

“Good morning, Mrs. Spafford,” he said, with a courtly grace that was
certainly captivating, “are you going to your home? Then our ways lie
together. May I walk beside you?”

Marcia smiled and tried to seem gracious, though she would rather have
been alone just then, for she wanted to enjoy the day and not be bothered
with talking.

Harry Temple mentioned having a letter from a friend in Boston who had
lately heard a great chorus rendered. He could not be quite sure of the
name of the composer because he had read the letter hurriedly and his
friend was a blind-writer, but that made no difference to Harry. He could
fill in facts enough about the grandeur of the music from his own
imagination to make up for the lack of a little matter like the name of a
composer. He was keen enough to see that Marcia was more interested in
music than in anything he said, therefore he racked his brains for all the
music talk he had ever heard, and made up what he did not know, which was
not hard to do, for Marcia was very ignorant on the subject.

At the door they paused. Marcia was eager to get in. She began to wonder
how David felt, and she longed to do something for him. Harry Temple
looked at her admiringly, noted the dainty set of chin, the clear curve of
cheek, the lovely sweep of eyelashes, and resolved to get better
acquainted with this woman, so young and so lovely.

“I have not forgotten my promise to play for you,” he said lightly,
watching to see if the flush of rose would steal into her cheek, and that
deep light into her expressive eyes. “How about this afternoon? Shall you
be at home and disengaged?”

But welcome did not flash into Marcia’s face as he had hoped. Instead a
troubled look came into her eyes.

“I am afraid it will not be possible this afternoon,” said Marcia, the
trouble in her eyes creeping into her voice. “That is—I expect to be at
home, but—I am not sure of being disengaged.”

“Ah! I see!” he raised his eyebrows archly, looking her meanwhile straight
in the eyes; “some one else more fortunate than I. Some one else coming?”

Although Marcia did not in the least understand his insinuation, the color
flowed into her cheeks in a hurry now, for she instinctively felt that
there was something unpleasant in his tone, something below her standard
of morals or culture, she did not quite know what. But she felt she must
protect herself at any cost. She drew up a little mantle of dignity.

“Oh, no,” she said quickly, “I’m not expecting any one at all, but Mr.
Spafford had a severe headache this morning, and I am not sure but the
sound of the piano would make it worse. I think it would be better for you
to come another time, although he may be better by that time.”

“Oh, I see! Your husband’s at home!” said the young man with relief. His
manner implied that he had a perfect understanding of something that
Marcia did not mean nor comprehend.

“I understand perfectly,” he said, with another meaning smile as though he
and she had a secret together; “I’ll come some other time,” and he took
himself very quickly away, much to Marcia’s relief. But the trouble did
not go out of her eyes as she saw him turn the corner. Instead she went in
and stood at the dining room window a long time looking out on the Heaths’
hollyhocks beaming in the sun behind the picket fence, and wondered what
he could have meant, and why he smiled in that hateful way. She decided
she did not like him, and she hoped he would never come. She did not think
she would care to hear him play. There was something about him that
reminded her of Captain Leavenworth, and now that she saw it in him she
would dislike to have him about.

With a sigh she turned to the getting of a dinner which she feared would
not be eaten. Nevertheless, she put more dainty thought in it than usual,
and when it was done and steaming upon the table she went gently up and
tapped on David’s door. A voice hoarse with emotion and weariness
answered. Marcia scarcely heard the first time.

“Dinner is ready. Isn’t your head any better,—David?” There was caressing
in his name. It wrung David’s heart. Oh, if it were but Kate, his Kate,
his little bride that were calling him, how his heart would leap with joy!
How his headache would disappear and he would be with her in an instant.

For Kate’s letter had had its desired effect. All her wrongdoings, her
crowning outrage of his noble intentions, had been forgotten in the one
little plaintive appeal she had managed to breathe in a minor wail
throughout that treacherous letter, treacherous alike to her husband and
to her lover. Just as Kate had always been able to do with every one about
her, she had blinded him to her faults, and managed to put herself in the
light of an abused, troubled maiden, who was in a predicament through no
fault of her own, and sat in sorrow and a baby-innocence that was
bewilderingly sweet.

There had been times when David’s anger had been hot enough to waft away
this filmy mist of fancies that Kate had woven about herself and let him
see the true Kate as she really was. At such times David would confess
that she must be wholly heartless. That bright as she was it was
impossible for her to have been so easily persuaded into running away with
a man she did not love. He had never found it so easy to persuade her
against her will. Did she love him? Had she truly loved him, and was she
suffering now? His very soul writhed in agony to think of his bride the
wife of another against her will. If he might but go and rescue her. If he
might but kill that other man! Then his soul would be confronted with the
thought of murder. Never before had he felt hate, such hate, for a human
being. Then again his heart would soften toward him as he felt how the
other must have loved her, Kate, his little wild rose! and there was a
fellow feeling between them too, for had she not let him see that she did
not half care aright for that other one? Then his mind would stop in a
whirl of mingled feeling and he would pause, and pray for steadiness to
think and know what was right.

Around and around through this maze of arguing he had gone through the
long hours of the morning, always coming sharp against the thought that
there was nothing he could possibly do in the matter but bear it, and that
Kate, after all, the Kate he loved with his whole soul, had done it and
must therefore be to blame. Then he would read her letter over, burning
every word of it upon his brain, until the piteous minor appeal would
torture him once more and he would begin again to try to get hold of some
thread of thought that would unravel this snarl and bring peace.

Like a sound from another world came Marcia’s sweet voice, its very
sweetness reminding him of that other lost voice, whose tantalizing music
floated about his imagination like a string of phantom silver bells that
all but sounded and then vanished into silence.

And while all this was going on, this spiritual torture, his living,
suffering, physical self was able to summon its thoughts, to answer gently
that he did not want any dinner; that his head was no better; that he
thanked her for her thought of him; and that he would take the tea she
offered if it was not too much trouble.

Gladly, with hurried breath and fingers that almost trembled, Marcia
hastened to the kitchen once more and prepared a dainty tray, not even
glancing at the dinner table all so fine and ready for its guest, and back
again she went to his door, an eager light in her eyes, as if she had
obtained audience to a king.

He opened the door this time and took the tray from her with a smile. It
was a smile of ashen hue, and fell like a pall upon Marcia’s soul. It was
as if she had been permitted for a moment to gaze upon a martyred soul
upon the rack. Marcia fled from it and went to her own room, where she
flung herself on her knees beside her bed and buried her face in the
pillows. There she knelt, unmindful of the dinner waiting downstairs,
unmindful of the bright day that was droning on its hours. Whether she
prayed she knew not, whether she was weeping she could not have told. Her
heart was crying out in one great longing to have this cloud of sorrow
that had settled upon David lifted.

She might have knelt there until night had there not come the sound of a
knock upon the front door. It startled her to her feet in an instant, and
she hastily smoothed her rumpled hair, dashed some water on her eyes, and
ran down.

It was the clerk from the office with a letter for her. The post chaise
had brought it that afternoon, and he had thought perhaps she would like
to have it at once as it was postmarked from her home. Would she tell Mr.
Spafford when he returned—he seemed to take it for granted that David was
out of town for the day—that everything had been going on all right at the
office during his absence and the paper was ready to send to press. He
took his departure with a series of bows and smiles, and Marcia flew up to
her room to read her letter. It was in the round unformed hand of Mary
Ann. Marcia tore it open eagerly. Never had Mary Ann’s handwriting looked
so pleasant as at that moment. A letter in those days was a rarity at all
times, and this one to Marcia in her distress of mind seemed little short
of a miracle. It began in Mary Ann’s abrupt way, and opened up to her the
world of home since she had left it. But a few short days had passed,
scarcely yet numbering into weeks, since she left, yet it seemed half a
lifetime to the girl promoted so suddenly into womanhood without the
accompanying joy of love and close companionship that usually makes
desolation impossible.


    “DEAR MARSH,”—the letter ran:—

    “I expect you think queer of me to write you so soon. I ain’t much
    on writing you know, but something happened right after you
    leaving and has kept right on happening that made me feel I kinder
    like to tell you. Don’t you mind the mistakes I make. I’m thankful
    to goodness you ain’t the school teacher or I’d never write ‘slong
    s’ I’m living, but ennyhow I’m going to tell you all about it.

    “The night you went away I was standing down by the gate under the
    old elm. I had on my best things yet from the wedding, and I hated
    to go in and have the day over and have to begin putting on my old
    calico to-morrow morning again, and washing dishes just the same.
    Seemed as if I couldn’t bear to have the world just the same now
    you was gone away. Well, I heard someone coming down the street,
    and who do you think it was? Why, Hanford Weston. He came right up
    to the gate and stopped. I don’t know’s he ever spoke two words to
    me in my life except that time he stopped the big boys from
    snow-balling me and told me to run along quick and git in the
    school-house while he fit ’em. Well, he stopped and spoke, and he
    looked so sad, seemed like I knew just what he was feeling sad
    about, and I told him all about you getting married instead of
    your sister. He looked at me like he couldn’t move for a while and
    his face was as white as that marble man in the cemetery over
    Squire Hancock’s grave. He grabbed the gate real hard and I
    thought he was going to fall. He couldn’t even move his lips for a
    while. I felt just awful sorry for him. Something came in my
    throat like a big stone and my eyes got all blurred with the
    moonlight. He looked real handsome. I just couldn’t help thinking
    you ought to see him. Bimeby he got his voice back again, and we
    talked a lot about you. He told me how he used to watch you when
    you was a little girl wearing pantalettes. You used to sit in the
    church pew across from his father’s and he could just see your big
    eyes over the top of the door. He says he always thought to
    himself he would marry you when he grew up. Then when you began to
    go to school and was so bright he tried hard to study and keep up
    just to have you think him good enough for you. He owned up he was
    a bad speller and he’d tried his level best to do better but it
    didn’t seem to come natural, and he thought maybe ef he was a good
    farmer you wouldn’t mind about the spelling. He hired out to his
    father for the summer and he was trying with all his might to get
    to be the kind of man t’would suit you, and then when he was
    plowing and planning all what kind of a house with big columns to
    the front he would build here comes the coach driving by and _you_
    in it! He said he thought the sky and fields was all mixed up and
    his heart was going out of him. He couldn’t work any more and he
    started out after supper to see what it all meant.

    “That wasn’t just the exact way he told it, Marsh, it was more
    like poetry, that kind in our reader about “Lord Ullin’s
    daughter”—you know. We used to recite it on examination
    exhibition. I didn’t know Hanford could talk like that. His words
    were real pretty, kind of sorrowful you know. And it all come over
    me that you ought to know about it. You’re married of course, and
    can’t help it now, but ’taint every girl that has a boy care for
    her like that from the time she’s a baby with a red hood on, and
    you ought to know ’bout it, fer it wasn’t Hanford’s fault he
    didn’t have time to tell you. He’s just been living fer you fer a
    number of years, and its kind of hard on him. ’Course you may not
    care, being you’re married and have a fine house and lots of
    clo’es of your own and a good time, but it does seem hard for him.
    It seems as if somebody ought to comfort him. I’d like to try if
    you don’t mind. He does seem to like to talk about you to me, and
    I feel so sorry for him I guess I could comfort him a little, for
    it seems as if it would be the nicest thing in the world to have
    some one like you that way for years, just as they do in books,
    only every time I think about being a comfort to him I think he
    belongs to you and it ain’t right. So Marsh, you just speak out
    and say if your willing I should try to comfort him a little and
    make up to him fer what he lost in you, being as you’re married
    and fixed so nice yourself.

    “Of course I know I aint pretty like you, nor can’t hold my head
    proud and step high as you always did, even when you was little,
    but I can feel, and perhaps that’s something. Anyhow Hanford’s
    been down three times to talk about you to me, and ef you don’t
    mind I’m going to let him come some more. But if you mind the
    leastest little bit I want you should say so, for things are mixed
    in this world and I don’t want to get to trampling on any other
    person’s feelings, much less you who have always been my best
    friend and always will be as long as I live I guess. ’Member how
    we used to play house on the old flat stone in the orchard, and
    you give me all the prettiest pieces of china with sprigs on ’em?
    I aint forgot that, and never will. I shall always say you made
    the prettiest bride I ever saw, no matter how many more I see, and
    I hope you won’t forget me. It’s lonesome here without you. If it
    wasn’t for comforting Hanford I shouldn’t care much for anything.
    I can’t think of you a grown up woman. Do you feel any different?
    I spose you wouldn’t climb a fence nor run through the pasture lot
    for anything now. Have you got a lot of new friends? I wish I
    could see you. And now Marsh, I want you to write right off and
    tell me what to do about comforting Hanford, and if you’ve any
    message to send to him I think it would be real nice. I hope
    you’ve got a good husband and are happy.

                       “From your devoted and loving school mate,

                                                “MARY ANN FOTHERGILL.”


Marcia laid down the letter and buried her face in her hands. To her too
had come a thrust which must search her life and change it. So while David
wrestled with his sorrow Marcia entered upon the knowledge of her own
heart.

There was something in this revelation by Mary Ann of Hanford Weston’s
feelings toward her that touched her immeasurably. Had it all happened
before she left home, had Hanford come to her and told her of his love,
she would have turned from him in dismay, almost disgust, and have told
him that they were both but children, how could they talk of love. She
could never have loved him. She would have felt it instantly, and her
mocking laugh might have done a good deal toward saving him from sorrow.
But now, with miles between them, with the wall of the solemn marriage
vows to separate them forever, with her own youth locked up as she
supposed until the day of eternity should perhaps set it free, with no
hope of any bright dream of life such as girls have, could she turn from
even a school boy’s love without a passing tenderness, such as she would
never have felt if she had not come away from it all? Told in Mary Ann’s
blunt way, with her crude attempts at pathos, it reached her as it could
not otherwise. With her own new view of life she could sympathize better
with another’s disappointments. Perhaps her own loneliness gave her pity
for another. Whatever it was, Marcia’s heart suddenly turned toward
Hanford Weston with a great throb of gratitude. She felt that she had been
loved, even though it had been impossible for that love to be returned,
and that whatever happened she would not go unloved down to the end of her
days. Suddenly, out of the midst of the perplexity of her thoughts, there
formed a distinct knowledge of what was lacking in her life, a lack she
had never felt before, and probably would not have felt now had she not
thus suddenly stepped into a place much beyond her years. It seemed to the
girl as she sat in the great chintz chair and read and re-read that
letter, as if she lived years that afternoon, and all her life was to be
changed henceforth. It was not that she was sorry that she could not go
back, and live out her girlhood and have it crowned with Hanford Weston’s
love. Not at all. She knew, as well now as she ever had known, that he
could never be anything to her, but she knew also, or thought she knew,
that he could have given her something, in his clumsy way, that now she
could never have from any man, seeing she was David’s and David could not
love her that way, of course.

Having come to this conclusion, she arose and wrote a letter giving and
bequeathing to Mary Ann Fothergill all right, title, and claim to the
affections of Hanford Weston, past, present, and future—sending him a
message calculated to smooth his ruffled feelings, with her pretty thanks
for his youthful adoration; comfort his sorrow with the thought that it
must have been a hallucination, that some day he would find his true ideal
which he had only thought he had found in her; and send him on his way
rejoicing with her blessings and good wishes for a happy life. As for Mary
Ann, for once she received her meed of Marcia’s love, for homesick Marcia
felt more tenderness for her than she had ever been able to feel before;
and Marcia’s loving messages set Mary Ann in a flutter of delight, as she
laid her plans for comforting Hanford Weston.



                               CHAPTER XIV


David slowly recovered his poise. Faced by that terrible, impenetrable
wall of impossibility he stood helpless, his misery eating in upon his
soul, but there still remained the fact that there was nothing, absolutely
nothing, which he could possibly do. At times the truth rose to the
surface, the wretched truth, that Kate was at fault, that having done the
deed she should abide by it, and not try to keep a hold upon him, but it
was not often he was able to think in this way. Most of the time he
mourned over and for the lovely girl he had lost.

As for Marcia, she came and went unobtrusively, making quiet comfort for
David which he scarcely noticed. At times he roused himself to be polite
to her, and made a labored effort to do something to amuse her, just as if
she had been visiting him as a favor and he felt in duty bound to make the
time pass pleasantly, but she troubled him so little with herself, that
nearly always he forgot her. Whenever there was any public function to
which they were bidden he always told her apologetically, as though it
must be as much of a bore to her as to him, and he regretted that it was
necessary to go in order to carry out their mutual agreement. Marcia,
hailing with delight every chance to go out in search of something which
would keep her from thinking the new thoughts which had come to her,
demurely covered her pleasure and dressed herself dutifully in the robes
made for her sister, hating them secretly the while, and was always ready
when he came for her. David had nothing to complain of in his wife, so far
as outward duty was concerned, but he was too busy with his own heart’s
bitterness to even recognize it.

One afternoon, of a day when David had gone out of town not expecting to
return until late in the evening, there came a knock at the door.

There was something womanish in the knock, Marcia thought, as she hastened
to answer it, and she wondered, hurriedly smoothing her shining hair, if
it could be the aunts come to make their fortnightly-afternoon penance
visit. She gave a hasty glance into the parlor hoping all was right, and
was relieved to make sure she had closed the piano. The aunts would
consider it a great breach of housewifely decorum to allow a moment’s dust
to settle upon its sacred keys.

But it was not the aunts who stood upon the stoop, smiling and bowing with
a handsome assurance of his own welcome. It was Harry Temple.

Marcia was not glad to see him. A sudden feeling of unreasoning alarm took
possession of her.

“You’re all alone this time, sweet lady, aren’t you?” he asked with easy
nonchalance, as he lounged into the hall without waiting her bidding.

“Sir!” said Marcia, half frightened, half wondering.

But he smiled reassuringly down upon her and took the door knob in his own
hands to close the door.

“Your good man is out this time, isn’t he?” he smiled again most
delightfully. His face was very handsome when he smiled. He knew this fact
well.

Marcia did not smile. Why did he speak as if he knew where David was, and
seemed to be pleased that he was away?

“My husband is not in at present,” she said guardedly, her innocent eyes
searching his face, “did you wish to see him?”

She was beautiful as she stood there in the wide hall, with only the light
from the high transom over the door, shedding an afternoon glow through
its pleated Swiss oval. She looked more sweet and little-girlish than
ever, and he felt a strong desire to take her in his arms and tell her so,
only he feared, from something he saw in those wide, sweet eyes, that she
might take alarm and run away too soon, so he only smiled and said that
his business with her husband could wait until another time, and meantime
he had called to fulfil his promise to play for her.

She took him into the darkened parlor, gave him the stiffest and
stateliest hair-cloth chair; but he walked straight over to the
instrument, and with not at all the reverence she liked to treat it, flung
back the coverings, threw the lid open, and sat down.

He had white fingers, and he ran them over the keys with an air of being
at home among them, light little airs dripping from his touch like dew
from a glistening grass blade. Marcia felt there were butterflies in the
air, and buzzing bees, and fairy flowers dancing on the slightest of
stems, with a sky so blue it seemed to be filled with the sound of lily
bells. The music he played was of the nature of what would be styled
to-day “popular,” for this man was master of nothing but having a good
time. Quick music with a jingle he played, that to the puritanic-bred girl
suggested nothing but a heart bubbling over with gladness, but he meant it
should make her heart flutter and her foot beat time to the tripping
measure. In his world feet were attuned to gay music. But Marcia stood
with quiet dignity a little away from the instrument, her lips parted, her
eyes bright with the pleasure of the melody, her hands clasped, and her
breath coming quickly. She was all absorbed with the music. All
unknowingly Marcia had placed herself where the light from the window fell
full across her face, and every flitting expression as she followed the
undulant sounds was visible. The young man gazed, almost as much pleased
with the lovely face as Marcia was with the music.

At last he drew a chair quite near his own seat.

“Come and sit down,” he said, “and I will sing to you. You did not know I
could sing, too, did you? Oh, I can. But you must sit down for I couldn’t
sing right when you are standing.”

He ended with his fascinating smile, and Marcia shyly sat down, though she
drew the chair a bit back from where he had placed it and sat up quite
straight and stiff with her shoulders erect and her head up. She had
forgotten her distrust of the man in what seemed to her his wonderful
music. It was all new and strange to her, and she could not know how
little there really was to it. She had decided as he played that she liked
the kind best that made her think of the birds and the sunny sky, rather
than the wild whirlly kind that seemed all a mad scramble. She meant to
ask him to play over again what he played at the beginning, but he struck
into a Scotch love ballad. The melody intoxicated her fancy, and her face
shone with pleasure. She had not noticed the words particularly, save that
they were of love, and she thought with pain of David and Kate, and how
the pleading tenderness might have been his heart calling to hers not to
forget his love for her. But Harry Temple mistook her expression for one
of interest in himself. With his eyes still upon hers, as a cat might
mesmerize a bird, he changed into a minor wail of heart-broken love, whose
sadness brought great tears to Marcia’s eyes, and deep color to her
already burning cheeks, while the music throbbed out her own half-realized
loneliness and sorrow. It was as if the sounds painted for her a picture
of what she had missed out of love, and set her sorrow flowing tangibly.

The last note died away in an impressive diminuendo, and the young man
turned toward her. His eyes were languishing, his voice gentle,
persuasive, as though it had but been the song come a little nearer.

“And that is the way I feel toward you, dear,” he said, and reached out
his white hands to where hers lay forgotten in her lap.

But his hands had scarcely touched hers, before Marcia sprang back, in her
haste knocking over the chair.

Erect, her hands snatched behind her, frightened, alert, she stood a
moment bewildered, all her fears to the front.

Ah! but he was used to shy maidens. He was not to be baffled thus. A
little coaxing, a little gentle persuasion, a little boldness—that was all
he needed. He had conquered hearts before, why should he not this
unsophisticated one?

“Don’t be afraid, dear; there is no one about. And surely there is no harm
in telling you I love you, and letting you comfort my poor broken heart to
think that I have found you too late—”

He had arisen and with a passionate gesture put his arms about Marcia and
before she could know what was coming had pressed a kiss upon her lips.

But she was aroused now. Every angry force within her was fully awake.
Every sense of right and justice inherited and taught came flocking
forward. Horror unspeakable filled her, and wrath, that such a dreadful
thing should come to her. There was no time to think. She brought her two
strong supple hands up and beat him in the face, mouth, cheeks, and eyes,
with all her might, until he turned blinded; and then she struggled away
crying, “You are a wicked man!” and fled from the room.

Out through the hall she sped to the kitchen, and flinging wide the door
before her, the nearest one at hand, she fairly flew down the garden walk,
past the nodding dahlias, past the basking pumpkins, past the whispering
corn, down through the berry bushes, at the lower end of the lot, and
behind the currant bushes. She crouched a moment looking back to see if
she were pursued. Then imagining she heard a noise from the open door, she
scrambled over the low back fence, the high comb with which her hair was
fastened falling out unheeded behind her, and all her dark waves of hair
coming about her shoulders in wild disarray.

She was in a field of wheat now, and the tall shocks were like waves all
about her, thick and close, kissing her as she passed with their bended
stalks. Ahead of her it looked like an endless sea to cross before she
could reach another fence, and a bare field, and then another fence and
the woods. She knew not that in her wake she left a track as clear as if
she had set up signals all along the way. She felt that the kind wheat
would flow back like real waves and hide the way she had passed over. She
only sped on, to the woods. In all the wide world there seemed no refuge
but the woods. The woods were home to her. She loved the tall shadows, the
whispering music in the upper branches, the quiet places underneath, the
hushed silence like a city of refuge with cool wings whereunder to hide.
And to it, as her only friend, she was hastening. She went to the woods as
she would have flown to the minister’s wife at home, if she only had been
near, and buried her face in her lap and sobbed out her horror and shame.
Breathless she sped, without looking once behind her, now over the next
fence and still another. They were nothing to her. She forgot that she was
wearing Kate’s special sprigged muslin, and that it might tear on the
rough fences. She forgot that she was a matron and must not run wild
through strange fields. She forgot that some one might be watching her.
She forgot everything save that she must get away and hide her poor shamed
face.

At last she reached the shelter of the woods, and, with one wild furtive
look behind her to assure herself that she was not pursued, she flung
herself into the lap of mother earth, and buried her face in the soft moss
at the foot of a tree. There she sobbed out her horror and sorrow and
loneliness, sobbed until it seemed to her that her heart had gone out with
great shudders. Sobbed and sobbed and sobbed! For a time she could not
even think clearly. Her brain was confused with the magnitude of what had
come to her. She tried to go over the whole happening that afternoon and
see if she might have prevented anything. She blamed herself most
unmercifully for listening to the foolish music and, too, after her own
suspicions had been aroused, though how could she dream any man in his
senses would do a thing like that! Not even Captain Leavenworth would
stoop to that, she thought. Poor child! She knew so little of the world,
and her world had been kept so sweet and pure and free from contamination.
She turned cold at the thought of her father’s anger if he should hear
about this strange young man. She felt sure he would blame her for
allowing it. He had tried to teach his girls that they must exercise
judgment and discretion, and surely, surely, she must have failed in both
or this would not have happened. Oh, why had not the aunts come that
afternoon! Why had they not arrived before this man came! And yet, oh,
horror! if they had come after he was there! How disgusting he seemed to
her with his smirky smile, and slim white fingers! How utterly unfit
beside David did he seem to breathe the same air even. David, her
David—no, Kate’s David! Oh, pity! What a pain the world was!

There was nowhere to turn that she might find a trace of comfort. For what
would David say, and how could she ever tell him? Would he find it out if
she did not? What would he think of her? Would he blame her? Oh, the agony
of it all! What would the aunts think of her! Ah! that was worse than all,
for even now she could see the tilt of Aunt Hortense’s head, and the purse
of Aunt Amelia’s lips. How dreadful if they should have to know of it.
They would not believe her, unless perhaps Aunt Clarinda might. She did
not look wise, but she seemed kind and loving. If it had not been for the
other two she might have fled to Aunt Clarinda. Oh, if she might but flee
home to her father’s house! How could she ever go back to David’s house!
How could she ever play on that dreadful piano again? She would always see
that hateful, smiling face sitting there and think how he had looked at
her. Then she shuddered and sobbed harder than ever. And mother earth,
true to all her children, received the poor child with open arms. There
she lay upon the resinous pine needles, at the foot of the tall trees, and
the trees looked down tenderly upon her and consulted in whispers with
their heads bent together. The winds blew sweetness from the buckwheat
fields in the valley about her, murmuring delicious music in the air above
her, and even the birds hushed their loud voices and peeped curiously at
the tired, sorrowful creature of another kind that had come among them.

Marcia’s overwrought nerves were having their revenge. Tears had their way
until she was worn out, and then the angel of sleep came down upon her.
There upon the pine-needle bed, with tear-wet cheeks she lay, and slept
like a tired child come home to its mother from the tumult of the world.

Harry Temple, recovering from his rebuff, and left alone in the parlor,
looked about him with surprise. Never before in all his short and
brilliant career as a heart breaker had he met with the like, and this
from a mere child! He could not believe his senses! She must have been in
play. He would sit still and presently she would come back with eyes full
of mischief and beg his pardon. But even as he sat down to wait her
coming, something told him he was mistaken and that she would not come.
There had been something beside mischief in the smart raps whose tingle
even now his cheeks and lips felt. The house, too, had grown strangely
hushed as though no one else besides himself were in it. She must have
gone out. Perhaps she had been really frightened and would tell somebody!
How awkward if she should presently return with one of those grim aunts,
or that solemn puritan-like husband of hers. Perhaps he had better decamp
while the coast was still clear. She did not seem to be returning and
there was no telling what the little fool might do.

With a deliberation which suddenly became feverish in his haste to be
away, he compelled himself to walk slowly, nonchalantly out through the
hall. Still as a thief he opened and closed the front door and got himself
down the front steps, but not so still but that a quick ear caught the
sound of the latch as it flew back into place, and the scrape of a boot on
the path; and not so invisibly nor so quickly but that a pair of keen eyes
saw him.

When Harry Temple had made his way toward the Spafford house that
afternoon, with his dauntless front and conceited smile, Miranda had been
sent out to pick raspberries along the fence that separated the Heath
garden from the Spafford garden.

Harry Temple was too new in the town not to excite comment among the young
girls wherever he might go, and Miranda was always having her eye out for
anything new. Not for herself! Bless you! no! Miranda never expected
anything from a young man for herself, but she was keenly interested in
what befell other girls.

So Miranda, crouched behind the berry bushes, watched Harry Temple saunter
down the street and saw with surprise that he stopped at the house of her
new admiration. Now, although Marcia was a married woman, Miranda felt
pleased that she should have the attention of others, and a feeling of
pride in her idol, and of triumph over her cousin Hannah that he had not
stopped to see her, swelled in her brown calico breast.

She managed to bring her picking as near to the region of the Spafford
parlor windows as possible, and much did her ravished ear delight itself
in the music that tinkled through the green shaded window, for Miranda had
tastes that were greatly appealed to by the gay dance music. She fancied
that her idol was the player. But then she heard a man’s voice, and her
picking stopped short insomuch that her grandmother’s strident tones
mingled with the liquid tenor of Mr. Temple, calling to Miranda to “be
spry there or the sun’ll catch you ’fore you get a quart.” All at once the
music ceased, and then in a minute or two Miranda heard the Spafford
kitchen door thrown violently open and saw Marcia rush forth.

She gazed in astonishment, too surprised to call out to her, or to
remember to keep on picking for a moment. She watched her as she fairly
flew down between the rows of currant bushes, saw the comb fly from her
hair, saw the glow of excitement on her cheek, and the fire in her eye,
saw her mount the first fence. Then suddenly a feeling of protection arose
within her, and, with a hasty glance toward her grandmother’s window to
satisfy herself that no one else saw the flying figure, she fell to
picking with all her might, but what went into her pail, whether
raspberries or green leaves or briars, she did not know. Her eyes were on
the flying figure through the wheat, and she progressed in her picking
very fast toward the lower end of the lot where nothing but runty old sour
berries ever grew, if any at all. Once hidden behind the tall corn that
grew between her and her grandmother’s vigilant gaze, she hastened to the
end of the lot and watched Marcia; watched her as she climbed the fences,
held her breath at the daring leaps from the top rails, expecting to see
the delicate muslin catch on the rough fence and send the flying figure to
the ground senseless perhaps. It was like a theatre to Miranda, this
watching the beautiful girl in her flight, the long dark hair in the wind,
the graceful untrammeled bounds. Miranda watched with unveiled admiration
until the dark of the green-blue wood had swallowed her up, then slowly
her eyes traveled back over the path which Marcia had taken, back through
the meadow and the wheat, to the kitchen door left standing wide. Slowly,
painfully, Miranda set herself to understand it. Something had happened!
That was flight with fear behind it, fear that left everything else
forgotten. What had happened?

Miranda was wiser in her generation than Marcia. She began to put two and
two together. Her brows darkened, and a look of cunning came into her
honest blue eyes. Stealthily she crept with cat-like quickness along the
fence near to the front, and there she stood like a red-haired Nemesis in
a sunbonnet, with irate red face, confronting the unsuspecting man as he
sauntered forth from the unwelcoming roof where he had whiled away a
mistaken hour.

“What you ben sayin’ to her?”

It was as if a serpent had stung him, so unexpected, so direct. He jumped
aside and turned deadly pale. She knew her chance arrow had struck the
truth. But he recovered himself almost immediately when he saw what a
harmless looking creature had attacked him.

“Why, my dear girl,” he said patronizingly, “you quite startled me! I’m
sure you must have made some mistake!”

“I ain’t your girl, thank goodness!” snapped Miranda, “and I guess by your
looks there ain’t anybody ‘dear’ to you but yourself. But I ain’t made a
mistake. It’s you I was asking. _What you bin in there for?_” There was a
blaze of defiance in Miranda’s eyes, and her stubby forefinger pointed at
him like a shotgun. Before her the bold black eyes quailed for an instant.
The young man’s hand sought his pocket, brought out a piece of money and
extended it.

“Look here, my friend,” he said trying another line, “you take this and
say nothing more about it. That’s a good girl. No harm’s been done.”

Miranda looked him in the face with noble scorn, and with a sudden motion
of her brown hand sent the coin flying on the stone pavement.

“I tell you I’m not your friend, and I don’t want your money. I wouldn’t
trust its goodness any more than your face. As fer keepin’ still I’ll do
as I see fit about it. I intend to know what this means, and if you’ve
made _her_ any trouble you’d better leave this town, for I’ll make it too
unpleasant fer you to stay here!”

With a stealthy glance about him, cautious, concerned, the young man
suddenly hurried down the street. He wanted no more parley with this
loud-voiced avenging maiden. His fear came back upon him in double force,
and he was seen to glance at his watch and quicken his pace almost to a
run as though a forgotten engagement had suddenly come to mind. Miranda,
scowling, stood and watched him disappear around the corner, then she
turned back and began to pick raspberries with a diligence that would have
astonished her grandmother had she not been for the last hour engaged with
a calling neighbor in the room at the other side of the house, where they
were overhauling the character of a fellow church member.

Miranda picked on, and thought on, and could not make up her mind what she
ought to do. From time to time she glanced anxiously toward the woods, and
then at the lowering sun in the West, and half meditated going after
Marcia, but a wholesome fear of her grandmother held her hesitating.

At length she heard a firm step coming down the street. Could it be? Yes,
it was David Spafford. How was it he happened to come home so soon?
Miranda had heard in a round-about-way, as neighbors hear and know these
things, that David had taken the stage that morning, presumably on
business to New York, and was hardly expected to return for several days.
She had wondered if Marcia would stay all night alone in the house or if
she would go to the aunts. But now here was David!

Miranda looked again over the wheat, half expecting to see the flying
figure returning in haste, but the parted wheat waved on and sang its song
of the harvest, unmindful and alone, with only a fluttering butterfly to
give life to the landscape. A little rusty-throated cricket piped a
doleful sentence now and then between the silences.

David Spafford let himself in at his own door, and went in search of
Marcia.

He wanted to find Marcia for a purpose. The business which had taken him
away in the morning, and which he had hardly expected to accomplish before
late that night, had been partly transacted at a little tavern where the
coach horses had been changed that morning, and where he had met most
unexpectedly the two men whom he had been going to see, who were coming
straight to his town. So he turned him back with them and came home, and
they were at this minute attending to some other business in the town,
while he had come home to announce to Marcia that they would take supper
with him and perhaps spend the night.

Marcia was nowhere to be found. He went upstairs and timidly knocked at
her door, but no answer came. Then he thought she might be asleep and
knocked louder, but only the humming-bird in the honeysuckle outside her
window sent back a little humming answer through the latch-hole. Finally
he ventured to open the door and peep in, but he saw that quiet loneliness
reigned there.

He went downstairs again and searched in the pantry and kitchen and then
stood still. The back door was stretched open as though it had been thrown
back in haste. He followed its suggestion and went out, looking down the
little brick path that led to the garden. Ah! what was that? Something
gleamed in the sun with a spot of blue behind it. The bit of blue ribbon
she had worn at her throat, with a tiny gold brooch unclasped sticking in.

Miranda caught sight of him coming, and crouched behind the currants.

David came on searching the path on every side. A bit of a branch had been
torn from a succulent, tender plant that leaned over the path and was
lying in the way. It seemed another blaze along the trail. Further down
where the bushes almost met a single fragment of a thread waved on a thorn
as though it had snatched for more in the passing and had caught only
this. David hardly knew whether he was following these little things or
not, but at any rate they were apparently not leading him anywhere for he
stopped abruptly in front of the fence and looked both ways behind the
bushes that grew along in front of it. Then he turned to go back again.
Miranda held her breath. Something touched David’s foot in turning, and,
looking down, he saw Marcia’s large shell comb lying there in the grass.
Curiously he picked it up and examined it. It was like finding fragments
of a wreck along the sand.

All at once Miranda arose from her hiding place and confronted him
timidly. She was not the same Miranda who came down upon Harry Temple,
however.

“She ain’t in the house,” she said hoarsely. “She’s gone over there!”

David Spafford turned surprised.

“Is that you, Miranda? Oh, thank you! Where do you say she has gone?
Where?”

“Through there, don’t you see?” and again the stubby forefinger pointed to
the rift in the wheat.

David gazed stupidly at the path in the wheat, but gradually it began to
dawn upon him that there was a distinct line through it where some one
must have gone.

“Yes, I see,” he said thinking aloud, “but why should she have gone there?
There is nothing over there.”

“She went on further, she went to the woods,” said Miranda, looking
fearfully around lest even now her grandmother might be upon her, “and she
was scared, I guess. She looked it. Her hair all come tumblin’ down when
she clum the fence, an’ she just went flyin’ over like some bird, didn’t
care a feather if she did fall, an’ she never oncet looked behind her till
she come to the woods.”

David’s bewilderment was growing uncomfortable. There was a shade of alarm
in his face and of the embarrassment one feels when a neighbor divulges
news about a member of one’s own household.

“Why, surely, Miranda, you must be mistaken. Maybe it was some one else
you saw. I do not think Mrs. Spafford would be likely to run over there
that way, and what in the world would she have to be frightened at?”

“No, I ain’t mistaken,” said Miranda half sullenly, nettled at his
unbelief. “It was her all right. She came flyin’ out the kitchen door when
I was picking raspberries, and down that path to the fence, and never
stopped fer fence ner wheat, ner medder lot, but went into them woods
there, right up to the left of them tall pines, and she,—she looked plum
scared to death ’s if a whole circus menagerie was after her, lions and
’nelefunts an’ all. An’ I guess she had plenty to be scared at ef I ain’t
mistaken. That dandy Temple feller went there to call on her, an’ I heard
him tinklin’ that music box, and its my opinion he needs a wallupin’! You
better go after her! It’s gettin’ late and you’ll have hard times finding
her in the dark. Just you foller her path in the wheat, and then make fer
them pines. I’d a gone after her myself only grandma’d make sech a fuss,
and hev to know it all. You needn’t be afraid o’ me. I’ll keep still.”

By this time David was thoroughly alive to the situation and much alarmed.
He mounted the fence with alacrity, gave one glance with “thank you” at
Miranda, and disappeared through the wheat, Miranda watched him till she
was sure he was making for the right spot, then with a sigh of relief she
hastened into the house with her now brimming pail of berries.



                                CHAPTER XV


As David made his way with rapid strides through the rippling wheat, he
experienced a series of sensations. For the first time since his wedding
day he was aroused to entirely forget himself and his pain. What did it
mean? Marcia frightened! What at? Harry Temple at their house! What did he
know of Harry Temple? Nothing beyond the mere fact that Hannah Heath had
introduced him and that he was doing business in the town. But why had Mr.
Temple visited the house? He could have no possible business with himself,
David was sure; moreover he now remembered having seen the young man
standing near the stable that morning when he took his seat in the coach,
and knew that he must have heard his remark that he would not return till
the late coach that night, or possibly not till the next day. He
remembered as he said it that he had unconsciously studied Mr. Temple’s
face and noted its weak points. Did the young man then have a purpose in
coming to the house during his absence? A great anger rose within him at
the thought.

There was one strange thing about David’s thoughts. For the first time he
looked at himself in the light of Marcia’s natural protector—her husband.
He suddenly saw a duty from himself to her, aside from the mere feeding
and clothing her. He felt a personal responsibility, and an actual
interest in her. Out of the whole world, now, he was the only one she
could look to for help.

It gave him a feeling of possession that was new, and almost seemed
pleasant. He forgot entirely the errand that had made him come to search
for Marcia in the first place, and the two men who were probably at that
moment preparing to go to his house according to their invitation. He
forgot everything but Marcia, and strode into the purply-blue shadows of
the wood and stopped to listen.

The hush there seemed intense. There were no echoes lingering of flying
feet down that pine-padded pathway of the aisle of the woods. It was long
since he had had time to wander in the woods, and he wondered at their
silence. So much whispering above, the sky so far away, the breeze so
quiet, the bird notes so subdued, it seemed almost uncanny. He had not
remembered that it was thus in the woods. It struck him in passing that
here would be a good place to bring his pain some day when he had time to
face it again, and wished to be alone with it.

He took his hat in his hand and stepped firmly into the vast solemnity as
if he had entered a great church when the service was going on, on an
errand of life and death that gave excuse for profaning the holy silence.
He went a few paces and stopped again, listening. Was that a long-drawn
sighing breath he heard, or only the wind soughing through the waving
tassels overhead? He summoned his voice to call. It seemed a great effort,
and sounded weak and feeble under the grandeur of the vaulted green dome.
“Marcia!” he called,—and “Marcia!” realizing as he did so that it was the
first time he had called her by her name, or sought after her in any way.
He had always said “you” to her, or “child,” or spoken of her in company
as “Mrs. Spafford,” a strange and far-off mythical person whose very
intangibility had separated her from himself immeasurably.

He went further into the forest, called again, and yet again, and stood to
listen. All was still about him, but in the far distance he heard the
faint report of a gun. With a new thought of danger coming to mind he
hurried further into the shadows. The gun sounded again more clearly. He
shuddered involuntarily and looked about in all directions, hoping to see
the gleam of her gown. It was not likely there were any wild beasts about
these parts, so near the town and yet, they had been seen occasionally,—a
stray fox, or even a bear,—and the sun was certainly very low. He glanced
back, and the low line of the horizon gleamed the gold of intensified
shining that is the sun’s farewell for the night. The gun again! Stray
shots had been known to kill people wandering in the forest. He was
growing nervous as a woman now, and went this way and that calling, but
still no answer came. He began to think he was not near the clump of pines
of which Miranda spoke, and went a little to the right and then turned to
look back to where he had entered the wood, and there, almost at his feet,
she lay!

She slept as soundly as if she had been lying on a couch of velvet, one
round white arm under her cheek. Her face was flushed with weeping, and
her lashes still wet. Her tender, sensitive mouth still quivered slightly
as she gave a long-drawn breath with a catch in it that seemed like a sob,
and all her lovely dark hair floated about her as if it were spread upon a
wave that upheld her. She was beautiful indeed as she lay there sleeping,
and the man, thus suddenly come upon her, anxious and troubled and every
nerve quivering, stopped, awed with the beauty of her as if she had been
some heavenly being suddenly confronting him. He stepped softly to her
side and bending down observed her, first anxiously, to make sure she was
alive and safe, then searchingly, as though he would know every detail of
the picture there before him because it was his, and he not only had a
right but a duty to possess it, and to care for it.

She might have been a statue or a painting as he looked upon her and noted
the lovely curve of her flushed cheek, but when his eyes reached the firm
little brown hand and the slender finger on which gleamed the wedding ring
that was not really hers, something pathetic in the tear-wet lashes, and
the whole sorrowful, beautiful figure, touched him with a great
tenderness, and he stooped down gently and put his arm about her.

“Marcia,—child!” he said in a low, almost crooning voice, as one might
wake a baby from its sleep, “Marcia, open your eyes, child, and tell me if
you are all right.”

At first she only stirred uneasily and slept on, the sleep of utter
exhaustion; but he raised her, and, sitting down beside her, put her head
upon his shoulder, speaking gently. Then Marcia opened her eyes
bewildered, and with a start, sprang back and looked at David, as though
she would be sure it was he and not that other dreadful man from whom she
had fled.

“Why, child! What’s the matter?” said David, brushing her hair back from
her face. Bewildered still, Marcia scarcely knew him, his voice was so
strangely sweet and sympathetic. The tears were coming back, but she could
not stop them. She made one effort to control herself and speak, but her
lips quivered a moment, and then the flood-gates opened again, and she
covered her face with her hands and shook with sobs. How could she tell
David what a dreadful thing had happened, now, when he was kinder to her
than he had ever thought of being before! He would grow grave and stern
when she had told him, and she could not bear that. He would likely blame
her too, and how could she endure more?

But he drew her to him again and laid her head against his coat, trying to
smooth her hair with unaccustomed passes of his hand. By and by the tears
subsided and she could control herself again. She hushed her sobs and drew
back a little from the comforting rough coat where she had lain.

“Indeed, indeed, I could not help it, David,”—she faltered, trying to
smile like a bit of rainbow through the rain.

“I know you couldn’t, child.” His answer was wonderfully kind and his eyes
smiled at her as they had never done before. Her heart gave a leap of
astonishment and fluttered with gladness over it. It was so good to have
David care. She had not known how much she wanted him to speak to her as
if he saw her and thought a little about her.

“And now what was it? Remember I do not know. Tell me quick, for it is
growing late and damp, and you will take cold out here in the woods with
that thin frock on. You are chilly already.”

“I better go at once,” she said reservedly, willing to put off the telling
as long as possible, peradventure to avoid it altogether.

“No, child,” he said firmly drawing her back again beside him, “you must
rest a minute yet before taking that long walk. You are weary and excited,
and besides it will do you good to tell me. What made you run off up here?
Are you homesick?”

He scanned her face anxiously. He began to fear with sudden compunction
that the sacrifice he had accepted so easily had been too much for the
victim, and it suddenly began to be a great comfort to him to have Marcia
with him, to help him hide his sorrow from the world. He did not know
before that he cared.

“I was frightened,” she said, with drooping lashes. She was trying to keep
her lips and fingers from trembling, for she feared greatly to tell him
all. But though the woods were growing dusky he saw the fluttering little
fingers and gathered them firmly in his own.

“Now, child,” he said in that tone that even his aunts obeyed, “tell me
all. What frightened you, and why did you come up here away from everybody
instead of calling for help?”

Brought to bay she lifted her beautiful eyes to his face and told him
briefly the story, beginning with the night when she had first met Harry
Temple. She said as little about music as possible, because she feared
that the mention of the piano might be painful to David, but she made the
whole matter quite plain in a few words, so that David could readily fill
in between the lines.

“Scoundrel!” he murmured clenching his fists, “he ought to be strung up!”
Then quite gently again, “Poor child! How frightened you must have been!
You did right to run away, but it was a dangerous thing to run out here!
Why, he might have followed you!”

“Oh!” said Marcia, turning pale, “I never thought of that. I only wanted
to get away from everybody. It seemed so dreadful I did not want anybody
to know. I did not want you to know. I wanted to run away and hide, and
never come back!” She covered her face with her hands and shuddered. David
thought the tears were coming back again.

“Child, child!” he said gently, “you must not talk that way. What would I
do if you did that?” and he laid his hand softly upon the bowed head.

It was the first time that anything like a personal talk had passed
between them, and Marcia felt a thrill of delight at his words. It was
like heavenly comfort to her wounded spirit.

She stole a shy look at him under her lashes, and wished she dared say
something, but no words came. They sat for a moment in silence, each
feeling a sort of comforting sense of the other’s presence, and each
clasping the hand of the other with clinging pressure, yet neither fully
aware of the fact.

The last rays of the sun which had been lying for a while at their feet
upon the pine needles suddenly slipped away unperceived, and behold! the
world was in gloom, and the place where the two sat was almost utterly
dark. David became aware of it first, and with sudden remembrance of his
expected guests he started in dismay.

“Child!” said he,—but he did not let go of her hand, nor forget to put the
tenderness in his voice, “the sun has gone down, and here have I been
forgetting what I came to tell you in the astonishment over what you had
to tell me. We must hurry and get back. We have guests to-night to supper,
two gentlemen, very distinguished in their lines of work. We have business
together, and I must make haste. I doubt not they are at the house
already, and what they think of me I cannot tell; let us hurry as fast as
possible.”

“Oh, David!” she said in dismay. “And you had to come out here after me,
and have stayed so long! What a foolish girl I have been and what a mess I
have made! They will perhaps be angry and go away, and I will be to blame.
I am afraid you can never forgive me.”

“Don’t worry, child,” he said pleasantly. “It couldn’t be helped, you
know, and is in no wise your fault. I am only sorry that these two
gentlemen will delay me in the pleasure of hunting up that scoundrel of a
Temple and suggesting that he leave town by the early morning stage. I
should like to give him what Miranda suggested, a good ‘wallupin’,’ but
perhaps that would be undignified.”

He laughed as he said it, a hearty laugh with a ring to it like his old
self. Marcia felt happy at the sound. How wonderful it would be if he
would be like that to her all the time! Her heart swelled with the great
thought of it.

He helped her to her feet and taking her hand led her out to the open
field where they could walk faster. As he walked he told her about Miranda
waiting for him behind the currant bushes. They laughed together and made
the way seem short.

It was quite dark now, with the faded moon trembling feebly in the West as
though it meant to retire early, and wished they would hurry home while
she held her light for them. David had drawn Marcia’s arm within his, and
then, noticing that her dress was thin, he pulled off his coat and put it
firmly about her despite her protest that she did not need it, and so,
warmed, comforted, and cheered Marcia’s feet hurried back over the path
she had taken in such sorrow and fright a few hours before.

When they could see the lights of the village twinkling close below them
David began to tell her about the two men who were to be their guests, if
they were still waiting, and so interesting was his brief story of each
that Marcia hardly knew they were at home before David was helping her
over their own back fence.

“Oh, David! There seems to be a light in the kitchen! Do you suppose they
have gone in and are getting their own supper? What shall I do with my
hair? I cannot go in with it this way. How did that light get there?”

“Here!” said David, fumbling in his pocket, “will this help you?” and he
brought out the shell comb he had picked up in the garden.

By the light of the feeble old moon David watched her coil the long wavy
hair and stood to pass his criticism upon the effect before they should go
in. They were just back of the tall sunflowers, and talked in whispers. It
was all so cheery, and comradey, and merry, that Marcia hated to go in and
have it over, for she could not feel that this sweet evening hour could
last. Then they took hold of hands and swiftly, cautiously, stole up to
the kitchen window and looked in. The door still stood open as both had
left it that afternoon, and there seemed to be no one in the kitchen. A
candle was burning on the high little shelf over the table, and the tea
kettle was singing on the crane by the hearth, but the room was without
occupant. Cautiously, looking questioningly at one another, they stole
into the kitchen, each dreading lest the aunts had come by chance and
discovered their lapse. There was a light in the front part of the house
and they could hear voices, two men were earnestly discussing politics.
They listened longer, but no other presence was revealed.

David in pantomime outlined the course of action, and Marcia,
understanding perfectly flew up the back stairs as noiselessly as a mouse,
to make her toilet after her nap in the woods, while David with much show
and to-do of opening and shutting the wide-open kitchen door walked
obviously into the kitchen and hurried through to greet his guests
wondering,—not suspecting in the least,—what good angel had been there to
let them in.

Good fortune had favored Miranda. The neighbor had stayed longer than
usual, perhaps in hopes of an invitation to stay to tea and share in the
gingerbread she could smell being taken from the oven by Hannah, who
occasionally varied her occupations by a turn at the culinary art. Hannah
could make delicious gingerbread. Her grandmother had taught her when she
was but a child.

Miranda stole into the kitchen when Hannah’s back was turned and picked
over her berries so fast that when Hannah came into the pantry to set her
gingerbread to cool Miranda had nearly all her berries in the big yellow
bowl ready to wash, and Hannah might conjecture if she pleased that
Miranda had been some time picking them over. It is not stated just how
thoroughly those berries were picked over. But Miranda cared little for
that. Her mind was upon other things. The pantry window overlooked the
hills and the woods. She could see if David and Marcia were coming back
soon. She wanted to watch her play till the close, and had no fancy for
having the curtain fall in the middle of the most exciting act, the rescue
of the princess. But the talk in the sitting room went on and on. By and
by Hannah Heath washed her hands, untied her apron, and taking her
sunbonnet slipped over to Ann Bertram’s for a pattern of her new sleeve.
Miranda took the opportunity to be off again.

Swiftly down behind the currants she ran, and standing on the fence behind
the corn she looked off across the wheat, but no sign of anybody yet
coming out of the woods was granted her. She stood so a long time. It was
growing dusk. She wondered if Harry Temple had shut the front door when he
went out. But then David went in that way, and he would have closed it, of
course. Still, he went away in a hurry, maybe it would be as well to go
and look. She did not wish to be caught by her grandmother, so she stole
along like a cat close to the dark berry bushes, and the gathering dusk
hid her well. She thought she could see from the front of the fence
whether the door looked as if it were closed. But there were people coming
up the street. She would wait till they had passed before she looked over
the fence.

They were two men coming, slowly, and in earnest conversation upon some
deeply interesting theme. Each carried a heavy carpet-bag, and they walked
wearily, as if their business were nearly over for the day and they were
coming to a place of rest.

“This must be the house, I think,” said one. “He said it was exactly
opposite the Seceder church. That’s the church, I believe. I was here once
before.”

“There doesn’t seem to be a light in the house,” said the other, looking
up to the windows over the street. “Are you sure? Brother Spafford said he
was coming directly home to let his wife know of our arrival.”

“A little strange there’s no light yet, for it is quite dark now, but I’m
sure this must be the house. Maybe they are all in the kitchen and not
expecting us quite so soon. Let’s try anyhow,” said the other, setting
down his carpet-bag on the stoop and lifting the big brass knocker.

Miranda stood still debating but a moment. The situation was made plain to
her in an instant. Not for nothing had she stood at Grandma Heath’s elbow
for years watching the movements of her neighbors and interpreting exactly
what they meant. Miranda’s wits were sharpened for situations of all
kinds. Miranda was ready and loyal to those she adored. Without further
ado she hastened to a sheltered spot she knew and climbed the picket fence
which separated the Heath garden from the Spafford side yard. Before the
brass knocker had sounded through the empty house the second time Miranda
had crossed the side porch, thrown her sunbonnet upon a chair in the dark
kitchen, and was hastening with noisy, encouraging steps to the front
door.

She flung it wide open, saying in a breezy voice, “Just wait till I get a
light, won’t you, the wind blew the candle out.”

There wasn’t a particle of wind about that soft September night, but that
made little difference to Miranda. She was part of a play and she was
acting her best. If her impromptu part was a little irregular, it was at
least well meant, boldly and bravely presented.

Miranda found a candle on the shelf and, stooping to the smouldering fire
upon the hearth, blew and coaxed it into flame enough to light it.

“This is Mr. Spafford’s home, is it not?” questioned the old gentleman
whom Miranda had heard speak first on the sidewalk.

“Oh, yes, indeed,” said the girl glibly. “Jest come in and set down. Here,
let me take your hats. Jest put your bags right there on the floor.”

“You are— Are you—Mrs. Spafford?” hesitated the courtly old gentleman.

“Oh, landy sakes, no, I ain’t her,” laughed Miranda well pleased. “Mis’
Spafford had jest stepped out a bit when her husband come home, an’ he’s
gone after her. You see she didn’t expect her husband home till late
to-night. But you set down. They’ll be home real soon now. They’d oughter
ben here before this. I ’spose she’d gone on further’n she thought she’d
go when she stepped out.”

“It’s all right,” said the other gentleman, “no harm done, I’m sure. I
hope we shan’t inconvenience Mrs. Spafford any coming so unexpectedly.”

“No, indeedy!” said quick-witted Miranda. “You can’t ketch Mis’ Spafford
unprepared if you come in the middle o’ the night. She’s allus ready fer
comp’ny.” Miranda’s eyes shone. She felt she was getting on finely doing
the honors.

“Well, that’s very nice. I’m sure it makes one feel at home. I wonder now
if she would mind if we were to go right up to our room and wash our
hands. I feel so travel-stained. I’d like to be more presentable before we
meet her,” said the first gentleman, who looked very weary.

But Miranda was not dashed.

“Why, that’s all right. ’Course you ken go right up. Jest you set in the
keepin’ room a minnit while I run up’n be sure the water pitcher’s filled.
I ain’t quite sure ’bout it. I won’t be long.”

Miranda seated them in the parlor with great gusto and hastened up the
back stairs to investigate. She was not at all sure which room would be
called the guest room and whether the two strangers would have a room
apiece or occupy the same together. At least it would be safe to show them
one till the mistress of the house returned. She peeped into Marcia’s
room, and knew it instinctively before she caught sight of a cameo brooch
on the pin cushion, and a rose colored ribbon neatly folded lying on the
foot of the bed where it had been forgotten. That question settled, she
thought any other room would do, and chose the large front room across the
hall with its high four-poster and the little ball fringe on the valance
and canopy. Having lighted the candle which stood in a tall glass
candlestick on the high chest of drawers, she hurried down to bid her
guests come up.

Then she hastened back into the kitchen and went to work with swift
skilful fingers. Her breath came quickly and her cheeks grew red with the
excitement of it all. It was like playing fairy. She would get supper for
them and have everything all ready when the mistress came, so that there
would be no bad breaks. She raked the fire and filled the tea kettle,
swinging it from the crane. Then she searched where she thought such
things should be and found a table cloth and set the table. Her hands
trembled as she put out the sprigged china that was kept in the corner
cupboard. Perhaps this was wrong, and she would be blamed for it, but at
least it was what she would have done, she thought, if she were mistress
of this house and had two nice gentlemen come to stay to tea. It was not
often that Grandmother Heath allowed her to handle her sprigged china, to
be sure, so Miranda felt the joy and daring of it all the more. Once a
delicate cup slipped and rolled over on the table and almost reached the
edge. A little more and it would have rolled off to the floor and been
shivered into a dozen fragments, but Miranda spread her apron in front and
caught it fairly as it started and then hugged it in fear and delight for
a moment as she might have done a baby that had been in danger. It was a
great pleasure to her to set that table. In the first place she was not
doing it to order but because she wanted to please and surprise some one
whom she adored, and in the second place it was an adventure. Miranda had
longed for an adventure all her life and now she thought it had come to
her.

When the table was set it looked very pretty. She slipped into the pantry
and searched out the stores. It was not hard to find all that was needed;
cold ham, cheese, pickles, seed cakes, gingerbread, fruit cake, preserves
and jelly, bread and raised biscuit, then she went down cellar and found
the milk and cream and butter. She had just finished the table and set out
the tea pot and caddy of tea when she heard the two gentlemen coming down
the stairs. They went into the parlor and sat down, remarking that their
friend had a pleasant home, and then Miranda heard them plunge into a
political discussion again and she felt that they were safe for a while.
She stole out into the dewy dark to see if there were yet signs of the
home-comers. A screech owl hooted across the night. She stood a while by
the back fence looking out across the dark sea of whispering wheat. By and
by she thought she heard subdued voices above the soft swish of the
parting wheat, and by the light of the stars she saw them coming. Quick as
a wink she slid over the fence into the Heath back-yard and crouched in
her old place behind the currant bushes. So she saw them come up together,
saw David help Marcia over the fence and watched them till they had passed
up the walk to the light of the kitchen door. Then swiftly she turned and
glided to her own home, well knowing the reckoning that would be in store
for her for this daring bit of recreation. There was about her, however,
an air of triumphant joy as she entered.

“Where have you ben to, Miranda Griscom, and what on airth you ben up to
now?” was the greeting she received as she lifted the latch of the old
green kitchen door of her grandmother’s house.

Miranda knew that the worst was to come now, for her grandmother never
mentioned the name of Griscom unless she meant business. It was a hated
name to her because of the man who had broken the heart of her daughter.
Grandma Heath always felt that Miranda was an out and out Griscom with not
a streak of Heath about her. The Griscoms all had red hair. But Miranda
lifted her chin high and felt like a princess in disguise.

“Ben huntin’ hen’s eggs down in the grass,” she said, taking the first
excuse that came into her head. “Is it time to get supper?”

“Hen’s eggs! This time o’ night an’ dark as pitch. Miranda Griscom, you
ken go up to your room an’ not come down tell I call you!”

It was a dire punishment, or would have been if Miranda had not had her
head full of other things, for the neighbor had been asked to tea and
there would have been much to hear at the table. Besides, it was apparent
that her disgrace was to be made public. However, Miranda did not care.
She hastened to her little attic window, which looked down, as good
fortune would have it, upon the dining-room windows of the Spafford house.
With joy Miranda observed that no one had thought to draw down the shades
and she might sit and watch the supper served over the way,—the supper she
had prepared,—and might think how delectable the doughnuts were, and let
her mouth water over the currant jelly and the quince preserves and
pretend she was a guest, and forget the supper downstairs she was missing.



                               CHAPTER XVI


David made what apology he could for his absence on the arrival of his
guests, and pondered in his heart who it could have been that they
referred to as “the maid,” until he suddenly remembered Miranda, and
inwardly blessed her for her kindliness. It was more than he would have
expected from any member of the Heath household. Miranda’s honest face
among the currant bushes when she had said, “You needn’t be afraid of me,
I’ll keep still,” came to mind. Miranda had evidently scented out the true
state of the case and filled in the breach, taking care not to divulge a
word. He blest her kindly heart and resolved to show his gratitude to her
in some way. Could poor Miranda, sitting supperless in the dark, have but
known his thought, her lonely heart would have fluttered happily. But she
did not, and virtue had to bring its own reward in a sense of duty done.
Then, too, there was a spice of adventure to Miranda’s monotonous life in
what she had done, and she was not altogether sad as she sat and let her
imagination revel in what the Spaffords had said and thought, when they
found the house lighted and supper ready. It was better than playing house
down behind the barn when she was a little girl.

Marcia was the most astonished when she slipped down from her hurried
toilet and found the table decked out in all the house afforded, fairly
groaning under its weight of pickles, preserves, doughnuts, and pie. In
fact, everything that Miranda had found she had put upon that table, and
it is safe to say that the result was not quite as it would have been had
the preparation of the supper been left to Marcia.

She stood before it and looked, and could not keep from laughing softly to
herself at the array of little dishes of things. Marcia thought at first
that one of the aunts must be here, in the parlor, probably entertaining
the guests, and that the supper was a reproof to her for being away when
she should have been at home attending to her duties, but still she was
puzzled. It scarcely seemed like the aunts to set a table in such a
peculiar manner. The best china was set out, it is true, but so many
little bits of things were in separate dishes. There was half a mould of
currant jelly in a large china plate, there was a fresh mould of quince
jelly quivering on a common dish. All over the table in every available
inch there was something. It would not do to call the guests out to a
table like that. What would David say? And yet, if one of the aunts had
set it and was going to stay to tea, would she be hurt? She tiptoed to the
door and listened, but heard no sound save of men’s voices. If an aunt had
been here she was surely gone now and would be none the wiser if a few
dishes were removed.

With swift fingers Marcia weeded out the things, and set straight those
that were to remain, and then made the tea. She was so quick about it
David had scarcely time to begin to worry because supper was not announced
before she stood in the parlor door, shy and sweet, with a brilliant color
in her cheeks. His little comrade, David felt her to be, and again it
struck him that she was beautiful as he arose to introduce her to the
guests. He saw their open admiration as they greeted her, and he found
himself wondering what they would have thought of Kate, wild-rose Kate
with her graceful witching ways. A tinge of sadness came into his face,
but something suggested to him the thought that Marcia was even more
beautiful than Kate, more like a half-blown bud of a thing. He wondered
that he had never noticed before how her eyes shone. He gave her a
pleasant smile as they passed into the hall, which set the color flaming
in her cheeks again. David seemed different somehow, and that lonely,
set-apart feeling that she had had ever since she came here to live was
gone. David was there and he understood, at least a little bit, and they
had something,—just something, even though it was but a few minutes in a
lonely woods and some gentle words of his,—to call their very own
together. At least that experience did not belong to Kate, never had been
hers, and could not have been borrowed from her. Marcia sighed a happy
sigh as she took her seat at the table.

The talk ran upon Andrew Jackson, and some utterances of his in his last
message to Congress. The elder of the two gentlemen expressed grave fears
that a mistake had been made in policy and that the country would suffer.

Governor Clinton was mentioned and his policy discussed. But all this talk
was familiar to Marcia. Her father had been interested in public affairs
always, and she had been brought up to listen to discussions deep and
long, and to think about such things for herself. When she was quite a
little girl her father had made her read the paper aloud to him, from one
end to the other, as he lay back in his big chair with his eyes closed and
his shaggy brows drawn thoughtfully into a frown. Sometimes as she read he
would burst forth with a tirade against this or that man or set of men who
were in opposition to his own pronounced views, and he would pour out a
lengthy reply to little Marcia as she sat patient, waiting for a chance to
go on with her reading. As she grew older she became proud of the
distinction of being her father’s _confidante_ politically, and she was
able to talk on such matters as intelligently and as well if not better
than most of the men who came to the house. It was a position which no one
disputed with her. Kate had been much too full of her own plans and Madam
Schuyler too busy with household affairs to bother with politics and
newspapers, so Marcia had always been the one called upon to read when her
father’s eyes were tired. As a consequence she was far beyond other girls
of her age in knowledge on public affairs. Well she knew what Andrew
Jackson thought about the tariff, and about the system of canals, and
about improvements in general. She knew which men in Congress were opposed
to and which in favor of certain bills. All through the struggle for
improvements in New York state she had been an eager observer. The
minutest detail of the Erie canal project had interested her, and she was
never without her own little private opinion in the matter, which,
however, seldom found voice except in her eager eyes, whose listening
lights would have been an inspiration to the most eloquent speaker.

Therefore, Marcia as she sat behind her sprigged china teacups and
demurely poured tea, was taking in all that had been said, and she drew
her breath quickly in a way she had when she was deeply excited, as at
last the conversation neared the one great subject of interest which to
her seemed of most importance in the country at the present day, the
project of a railroad run by steam.

Nothing was too great for Marcia to believe. Her father had been inclined
to be conservative in great improvements. He had favored the Erie canal,
though had feared it would be impossible to carry so great a project
through, and Marcia in her girlish mind had rejoiced with a joy that to
her was unspeakable when it had been completed and news had come that many
packets were travelling day and night upon the wonderful new water way.
There had been a kind of triumph in her heart to think that men who could
study out these big schemes and plan it all, had been able against so
great odds to carry out their project and prove to all unbelievers that it
was not only possible but practicable.

Marcia’s brain was throbbing with the desire for progress. If she were a
man with money and influence she felt she would so much like to go out
into the world and make stupid people do the things for the country that
ought to be done. Progress had been the keynote of her upbringing, and she
was teeming with energy which she had no hope could ever be used to help
along that for which she felt her ambitions rising. She wanted to see the
world alive, and busy, the great cities connected with one another. She
longed to have free access to cities, to great libraries, to pictures, to
wonderful music. She longed to meet great men and women, the men and women
who were making the history of the world, writing, speaking, and doing
things that were moulding public opinion. Reforms of all sorts were what
helped along and made possible her desires. Why did not the people want a
steam railroad? Why were they so ready to say it could never succeed, that
it would be an impossibility; that the roads could not be made strong
enough to bear so great weights and so constant wear and tear? Why did
they interpose objections to every suggestion made by inventors and
thinking men? Why did even her dear father who was so far in advance of
his times in many ways, why did even he too shake his head and say that he
feared it would never be in this country, at least not in his day, that it
was impracticable?

The talk was very interesting to Marcia. She ate bits of her biscuit
without knowing, and she left her tea untasted till it was cold. The
younger of the two guests was talking. His name was Jervis. Marcia thought
she had heard the name somewhere, but had not yet placed him in her mind:

“Yes,” said he, with an eager look on his face, “it is coming, it is
coming sooner than they think. Oliver Evans said, you know, that good
roads were all we could expect one generation to do. The next must make
canals, the next might build a railroad which should run by horse power,
and perhaps the next would run a railroad by steam. But we shall not have
to wait so long. We shall have steam moving railway carriages before
another year.”

“What!” said David, “you don’t mean it! Have you really any foundation for
such a statement?” He leaned forward, his eyes shining and his whole
attitude one of deep interest. Marcia watched him, and a great pride began
to glow within her that she belonged to him. She looked at the other men.
Their eyes were fixed upon David with heightening pleasure and pride.

The older man watched the little tableau a moment and then he explained:

“The Mohawk and Hudson Company have just made an engagement with Mr.
Jervis as chief engineer of their road. He expects to run that road by
steam!”

He finished his fruit cake and preserves under the spell of astonishment
he had cast upon his host and hostess.

David and Marcia turned simultaneously toward Mr. Jervis for a
confirmation of this statement. Mr. Jervis smiled in affirmation.

“But will it not be like all the rest, no funds?” asked David a trifle
sadly. “It may be years even yet before it is really started.”

But Mr. Jervis’ face was reassuring.

“The contract is let for the grading. In fact work has already begun. I
expect to begin laying the track by next Spring, perhaps sooner. As soon
as the track is laid we shall show them.”

David’s eyes shone and he reached out and grasped the hand of the man who
had the will and apparently the means of accomplishing this great thing
for the country.

“It will make a wonderful change in the whole land,” said David musingly.
He had forgotten to eat. His face was aglow and a side of his nature which
Marcia did not know was uppermost. Marcia saw the man, the thinker, the
writer, the former of public opinion, the idealist. Heretofore David had
been to her in the light of her sister’s lover, a young man of promise,
but that was all. Now she saw something more earnest, and at once it was
revealed to her what a man he was, a man like her father. David’s eyes
were suddenly drawn to meet hers. He looked on Marcia and seemed to be
sharing his thought with her, and smiled a smile of comradeship. He felt
all at once that she could and would understand his feelings about this
great new enterprise, and would be glad too. It pleased him to feel this.
It took a little of his loneliness away. Kate would never have been
interested in these things. He had never expected such sympathy from her.
She had been something beautiful and apart from his world, and as such he
had adored her. But it was pleasant to have some one who could understand
and feel as he did. Just then he was not thinking of his lost Kate. So he
smiled and Marcia felt the glow of warmth from his look and returned it,
and the two visitors knew that they were among friends who understood and
sympathized.

“Yes, it will make a change,” said the older man. “I hope I may live to
see at least a part of it.”

“If you succeed there will be many others to follow. The land will soon be
a network of railroads,” went on David, still musing.

“We shall succeed!” said Mr. Jervis, closing his lips firmly in a way that
made one sure he knew whereof he spoke.

“And now tell me about it,” said David, with his most engaging smile, as a
child will ask to have a story. David could be most fascinating when he
felt he was in a sympathetic company. At other times he was wont to be
grave, almost to severity. But those who knew him best and had seen him
thus melted into child-like enthusiasm, felt his lovableness as the others
never dreamed.

The table talk launched into a description of the proposed road, the road
bed, the manner of laying the rails, their thickness and width, and the
way of bolting them down to the heavy timbers that lay underneath. It was
all intensely fascinating to Marcia. Mr. Jervis took knives and forks to
illustrate and then showed by plates and spoons how they were fastened
down.

David asked a question now and then, took out his note book and wrote down
some things. The two guests were eager and plain in their answers. They
wanted David to write it up. They wanted the information to be accurate
and full.

“The other day I saw a question in a Baltimore paper, sent in by a
subscriber, ‘What is a railroad?’” said the old gentleman, “and the
editor’s reply was, ‘Can any of our readers answer this question and tell
us what is a railroad?’”

There was a hearty laugh over the unenlightened unbelievers who seemed to
be only too willing to remain in ignorance of the march of improvement.

David finally laid down his note book, feeling that he had gained all the
information he needed at present. “I have much faith in you and your
skill, but I do not quite see how you are going to overcome all the
obstacles. How, for instance, are you going to overcome the inequalities
in the road? Our country is not a flat even one like those abroad where
the railroad has been tried. There are sharp grades, and many curves will
be necessary,” said he.

Mr. Jervis had shoved his chair back from the table, but now he drew it up
again sharply and began to move the dishes back from his place, a look of
eagerness gleaming in his face.

Once again the dishes and cups were brought into requisition as the
engineer showed a crude model, in china and cutlery, of an engine he
proposed to have constructed, illustrating his own idea about a truck for
the forward wheels which should move separately from the back wheels and
enable the engine to conform to curves more readily.

Marcia sat with glowing cheeks watching the outline of history that was to
be, not knowing that the little model before her, made from her own
teacups and saucers, was to be the model for all the coming engines of the
many railroads of the future.

Finally the chairs were pushed back, and yet the talk went on. Marcia
slipped silently about conveying the dishes away. And still the guests sat
talking. She could hear all they said even when she was in the kitchen
washing the china, for she did it very softly and never a clink hid a
word. They talked of Governor Clinton again and of his attitude toward the
railroad. They spoke of Thurlow Weed and a number of others whose names
were familiar to Marcia in the papers she had read to her father. They
told how lately on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad Peter Cooper had
experimented with a little locomotive, and had beaten a gray horse
attached to another car.

Marcia smiled brightly as she listened, and laid the delicate china teapot
down with care lest she should lose a word. But ever with her interest in
the march of civilization, there were other thoughts mingling. Thoughts of
David and of how he would be connected with it all. He would write it up
and be identified with it. He was brave enough to face any new movement.

David’s paper was a temperance paper. There were not many temperance
papers in those days. David was brave. He had already faced a number of
unpleasant circumstances in consequence. He was not afraid of sneers or
sarcasms, nor of being called a fanatic. He had taken such a stand that
even those who were opposed had to respect him. Marcia felt the joy of a
great pride in David to-night.

She sang a happy little song at the bottom of her heart as she worked. The
new railroad was an assured thing, and David was her comrade, that was the
song, and the refrain was, “David, David, David!”

Later, after the guests had talked themselves out and taken their candles
to their rooms, David with another comrade’s smile, and a look in his eyes
that saw visions of the country’s future, and for this one night at least
promised not to dream of the past, bade her good night.

She went up to her white chamber and lay down upon the pillow, whose case
was fragrant of lavendar blossoms, dreaming with a smile of to-morrow. She
thought she was riding in a strange new railroad train with David’s arm
about her and Harry Temple running along at his very best pace to try to
catch them, but he could not.

Miranda, at her supperless window, watched the evening hours and thought
many thoughts. She wondered why they stayed in the dining room so late,
and why they did not go into the parlor and make Marcia play the “music
box” as she called it; and why there was a light so long in that back
chamber over the kitchen. Could it be they had put one of the guests
there? Surely not. Perhaps that was David’s study. Perhaps he was writing.
Ah! She had guessed aright. David was sitting up to write while the
inspiration was upon him.

But Miranda slept and ceased to wonder long before David’s light was
extinguished, and when he finally lay down it was with a body healthily
weary, and a mind for the time free from any intruding thought of himself
and his troubles.

He had written a most captivating article that would appear in his paper
in a few days, and which must convince many doubters that a railroad was
at last an established fact among them.

There were one or two points which he must ask the skilled engineer in the
morning, but as he reviewed what he had written he felt a sense of deep
satisfaction, and a true delight in his work. His soul thrilled with the
power of his gift. He loved it, exulted in it. It was pleasant to feel
that delight in his work once more. He had thought since his marriage that
it was gone forever, but perhaps by and by it would return to console him,
and he would be able to do greater things in the world because of his
suffering.

Just as he dropped to sleep there came a thought of Marcia, pleasantly, as
one remembers a flower. He felt that there was a comfort about Marcia, a
something helpful in her smile. There was more to her than he had
supposed. She was not merely a child. How her face had glowed as the men
talked of the projected railroad, and almost she seemed to understand as
they described the proposed engine with its movable trucks. She would be a
companion who would be interested in his pursuits. He had hoped to teach
Kate to understand his life work and perhaps help him some, but Kate was
by nature a butterfly, a bird of gay colors, always on the wing. He would
not have wanted her to be troubled with deep thoughts. Marcia seemed to
enjoy such things. What if he should take pains to teach her, read with
her, help cultivate her mind? It would at least be an occupation for
leisure hours, something to interest him and keep away the awful pall of
sadness.

How sweet she had looked as she lay asleep in the woods with the tears on
her cheek like the dew-drops upon a rose petal! She was a dear little girl
and he must take care of her and protect her. That scoundrel Temple! What
were such men made for? He must settle him to-morrow.

And so he fell asleep.



                               CHAPTER XVII


Harry Temple sat in his office the next morning with his feet upon the
table and his wooden armed chair tilted back against the wall.

He had letters to write, a number of them, that should go out with the
afternoon coach, to reach the night packet. There were at least three men
he ought to go and see at once if he would do the best for his employers,
and the office he sat in was by no means in the best of order. But his
feet were elevated comfortably on the table and he was deep in the pages
of a story of the French Court, its loves and hates and intrigues.

It was therefore with annoyance that he looked up at the opening of the
office door.

But the frown changed to apprehension, as he saw who was his visitor. He
brought the chair legs suddenly to the floor and his own legs followed
them swiftly. David Spafford was not a man before whom another would sit
with his feet on a table, even to transact business.

There was a look of startled enquiry on Harry Temple’s face. For an
instant his self-complacency was shaken. He hesitated, wondering what tack
to take. Perhaps after all his alarm was unnecessary. Marcia likely had
been too frightened to tell of what had occurred. He noticed the broad
shoulder, the lean, active body, the keen eye, and the grave poise of his
visitor, and thought he would hardly care to fight a duel with that man.
It was natural for him to think at once of a duel on account of the French
court life from which his mind had just emerged. A flash of wonder passed
through his mind whether it would be swords or pistols, and then he set
himself to face the other man.

David Spafford stood for a full minute and looked into the face of the man
he had come to shame. He looked at him with a calm eye and brow, but with
a growing contempt that did not need words to express it. Harry Temple
felt the color rise in his cheek, and his soul quaked for an instant. Then
his habitual conceit arose and he tried to parry with his eye that keen
piercing gaze of the other. It must have lasted a full minute, though it
seemed to Mr. Temple it was five at the least. He made an attempt to offer
his visitor a chair, but it was not noticed. David Spafford looked his man
through and through, and knew him for exactly what he was. At last he
spoke, quietly, in a tone that was too courteous to be contemptuous, but
it humiliated the listener more even than contempt:

“It would be well for you to leave town at once.”

That was all. The listener felt that it was a command. His wrath arose
hotly, and beat itself against the calm exterior of his visitor’s gaze in
a look that was brazen enough to have faced a whole town of accusers.
Harry Temple could look innocent and handsome when he chose.

“I do not understand you, sir!” he said. “That is a most extraordinary
statement!”

“It would be well for you to leave town at once.”

This time the command was imperative. Harry’s eyes blazed.

“Why?” He asked it with that impertinent tilt to his chin which usually
angered his opponent in any argument. Once he could break that steady,
iron, self-control he felt he would have the best of things. He could
easily persuade David Spafford that everything was all right if he could
get him off his guard and make him angry. An angry man could do little but
bluster.

“You understand very well,” replied David, his voice still, steady and his
gaze not swerving.

“Indeed! Well, this is most extraordinary,” said Harry, losing control of
himself again. “Of what do you accuse me, may I enquire?”

“Of nothing that your own heart does not accuse you,” said David. And
somehow there was more than human indignation in the gaze now: there was
pity, a sense of shame for another soul who could lower himself to do
unseemly things. Before that look the blood crept into Harry’s cheek
again. An uncomfortable sensation entirely new was stealing over him. A
sense of sin—no, not that exactly,—a sense that he had made a mistake,
perhaps. He never was very hard upon himself even when the evidence was
clear against him. It angered him to feel humiliated. What a fuss to make
about a little thing! What a tiresome old cad to care about a little
flirtation with his wife! He wished he had let the pretty baby alone
entirely. She was of no finer stuff than many another who had accepted his
advances with pleasure. He stiffened his neck and replied with much
haughtiness:

“My heart accuses me of nothing, sir. I assure you I consider your words
an insult! I demand satisfaction for your insulting language, sir!” Harry
Temple had never fought a duel, and had never been present when others
fought, but that was the language in which a challenge was usually
delivered in French novels.

“It is not a matter for discussion!” said David Spafford, utterly ignoring
the other’s blustering words. “I am fully informed as to all that occurred
yesterday afternoon, and I tell you once more, it would be well for you to
leave town at once. I have nothing further to say.”

David turned and walked toward the door, and Harry stood, ignored, angry,
crestfallen, and watched him until he reached the door.

“You would better ask your informant further of her part in the matter!”
he hissed, suddenly, an open sneer in his voice and a covert implication
of deep meaning.

David turned, his face flashing with righteous indignation. The man who
was withered by the scorn of that glance wished heartily that he had not
uttered the false sentence. He felt the smallness of his own soul, during
the instant of silence in which his visitor stood looking at him.

Then David spoke deliberately:

“I knew you were a knave,” said he, “but I did not suppose you were also a
coward. A man who is not a coward will not try to put the blame upon a
woman, especially upon an innocent one. You, sir, will leave town this
evening. Any business further than you can settle between this and that I
will see properly attended to. I warn you, sir, it will be unwise for you
to remain longer than till the evening coach.”

Perfectly courteous were David’s tones, keen command was in his eye and
determination in every line of his face. Harry could not recover himself
to reply, could not master his frenzy of anger and humiliation to face the
righteous look of his accuser. Before he realized it, David was gone.

He stood by the window and watched him go down the street with rapid, firm
tread and upright bearing. Every line in that erect form spoke of
determination. The conviction grew within him that the last words of his
visitor were true, and that it would be wise for him to leave town. He
rebelled at the idea. He did not wish to leave, for business matters were
in such shape, or rather in such chaos, that it would be extremely awkward
for him to meet his employers and explain his desertion at that time.
Moreover there were several homes in the town open to him whenever he
chose, where were many attractions. It was a lazy pleasant life he had
been leading here, fully trusted, and wholly disloyal to the trust,
troubled by no uneasy overseers, not even his own conscience, dined and
smiled upon with lovely languishing eyes. He did not care to go, even
though he had decried the town as dull and monotonous.

But, on the other hand, things had occurred—not the unfortunate little
mistake of yesterday, of course, but others, more serious things—that he
would hardly care to have brought to the light of day, especially through
the keen sarcastic columns of David Spafford’s paper. He had seen other
sinners brought to a bloodless retribution in those columns by dauntless
weapons of sarcasm and wit which in David Spafford’s hands could be made
to do valiant work. He did not care to be humiliated in that way. He could
not brazen it out. He was convinced that the man meant what he said, and
from what he knew of his influence he felt that he would leave no stone
unturned till he had made the place too hot to hold him. Only Harry Temple
himself knew how easy that would be to do, for no one else knew how many
“mistakes” (?) Harry had made, and he, unfortunately for himself, did not
know how many of them were not known, by any who could harm him.

He stood a long time clinking some sixpences and shillings together in his
pocket, and scowling down the street after David had disappeared from
sight.

“Blame that little pink-cheeked, baby-eyed fool!” he said at last, turning
on his heel with a sigh. “I might have known she was too goody-goody. Such
people ought to die young before they grow up to make fools of other
people. Bah! Think of a wife like that with no spirit of her own. A baby!
Merely a baby!”

Nevertheless, in his secret heart, he knew he honored Marcia and felt a
true shame that she had looked into his tarnished soul.

Then he looked round about upon his papers that represented a whole week’s
hard work and maybe more before they were cleared away, and reflected how
much easier after all it would be to get up a good excuse and go away,
leaving all this to some poor drudge who should be sent here in his place.
He looked around again and his eyes lighted upon his book. He remembered
the exciting crisis in which he had left the heroine and down he sat to
his story again. At least there was nothing demanding attention this
moment. He need not decide what he would do. If he went there were few
preparations to make. He would toss some things into his carpet-bag and
pretend to have been summoned to see a sick and dying relative, a
long-lost brother or something. It would be easy to invent one when the
time came. Then he could leave directions for the rest of his things to be
packed if he did not return, and get rid of the trouble of it all. As for
the letters, if he was going what use to bother with them? Let them wait
till his successor should come. It mattered little to him whether his
employers suffered for his negligence or not so long as he finished his
story. Besides, it would not do to let that cad think he had frightened
him. He would pretend he was not going, at least during his hours of
grace. So he picked up his book and went on reading.

At noon he sauntered back to his boarding house as usual for his dinner,
having professed an unusually busy morning to those who came in to the
office on business and made appointments with them for the next day. This
had brought him much satisfaction as the morning wore away and he was left
free to his book, and so before dinner he had come to within a very few
pages of the end.

After a leisurely dinner he sauntered back to the office again, rejoicing
in the fact that circumstances had so arranged themselves that he had
passed David Spafford in front of the newspaper office and given him a
most elaborate and friendly bow in the presence of four or five
bystanders. David’s look in return had meant volumes, and decided Harry
Temple to do as he had been ordered, not, of course, because he had been
ordered to do so, but because it would be an easier thing to do. In fact
he made up his mind that he was weary of this part of the country. He went
back to his book.

About the middle of the afternoon he finished the last pages. He rose up
with alacrity then and began to think what he should do. He glanced around
the room, sought out a few papers, took some daguerreotypes of girls from
a drawer of his desk, gave a farewell glance around the dismal little room
that had seen so much shirking for the past few months, and then went out
and locked the door.

He paused at the corner. Which way should he go? He did not care to go
back to the office, for his book was done, and he scarcely needed to go to
his room at his boarding place yet either, for the afternoon was but half
over and he wished his departure to appear to be entirely unpremeditated.
A daring thought came into his head. He would walk past David Spafford’s
house. He would let Marcia see him if possible. He would show them that he
was not afraid in the least. He even meditated going in and explaining to
Marcia that she had made a great mistake, that he had been merely admiring
her, and that there was no harm in anything he had said or done yesterday,
that he was exceedingly grieved and mortified that she should have
mistaken his meaning for an insult, and so on and so on. He knew well how
to make such honeyed talk when he chose, but the audacity of the thing was
a trifle too much for even his bold nature, so he satisfied himself by
strolling in a leisurely manner by the house.

When he was directly opposite to it he raised his eyes casually and bowed
and smiled with his most graceful air. True, he did not see any one, for
Marcia had caught sight of him as she was coming out upon the stoop and
had fled into her own room with the door buttoned, she was watching unseen
from behind the folds of her curtain, but he made the bow as complete as
though a whole family had been greeting him from the windows. Marcia, poor
child, thought he must see her, and she felt frozen to the spot, and
stared wildly through the little fold of her curtain with trembling hands
and weak knees till he was passed. Well pleased at himself the young man
walked on, knowing that at least three prominent citizens had seen him bow
and smile, and that they would be witnesses, against anything David might
say to the contrary, that he was on friendly terms with Mrs. Spafford.

Hannah Heath was sitting on the front stoop with her knitting. She often
sat there dressed daintily of an afternoon. Her hands were white and
looked well against the blue yarn she was knitting. Besides there was
something domestic and sentimental in a stocking. It gave a cosy, homey,
air to a woman, Hannah considered. So she sat and knitted and smiled at
whomsoever passed by, luring many in to sit and talk with her, so that the
stockings never grew rapidly, but always kept at about the same stage. If
it had been Miranda, Grandmother Heath would have made some sharp remarks
about the length of time it took to finish that blue stocking, but as it
was Hannah it was all right.

Hannah sat upon the stoop and knitted as Harry Temple came by. Now, Hannah
was not so great a favorite with Harry as Harry was with Hannah. She was
of the kind who was conquered too easily, and he did not consider it worth
his while to waste time upon her simperings usually. But this afternoon
was different. He had nowhere to go for a little while, and Hannah’s
appearance on the stoop was opportune and gave him an idea. He would
lounge there with her. Perchance fortune would favor him again and David
Spafford would pass by and see him. There would be one more opportunity to
stare insolently at him and defy him, before he bent his neck to obey.
David had given him the day in which to do what he would, and he would
make no move until the time was over and the coach he had named departed,
but he knew that then he would bring down retribution. In just what form
that retribution would come he was not quite certain, but he knew it would
be severe.

So when Hannah smiled upon him, Harry Temple stepped daintily across the
mud in the road, and came and sat down beside her. He toyed with her
knitting, caught one of her plump white hands, the one on the side away
from the street, and held it, while Hannah pretended not to notice, and
drooped her long eyelashes in a telling way. Hannah knew how. She had been
at it a good many years.

So he sat, toward five o’clock, when David came by, and bowed gravely to
Hannah, but seemed not to see Harry. Harry let his eyes follow the tall
figure in an insolent stare.

“What a dough-faced cad that man is!” he said lazily, “no wonder his
little pink-cheeked wife seeks other society. Handsome baby, though, isn’t
she?”

Hannah pricked up her ears. Her loss of David was too recent not to cause
her extreme jealousy of his pretty young wife. Already she fairly hated
her. Her upbringing in the atmosphere of Grandmother Heath’s sarcastic,
ill-natured gossip had prepared her to be quick to see meaning in any
insinuation.

She looked at him keenly, archly for a moment, then replied with drooping
gaze and coquettish manner:

“You should not blame any one for enjoying your company.”

Hannah stole sly glances to see how he took this, but Harry was an old
hand and proof against such scrutiny. He only shrugged his shoulder
carelessly, as though he dropped all blame like a garment that he had no
need for.

“And what’s the matter with David?” asked Hannah, watching David as he
mounted his own steps, and thinking how often she had watched that tall
form go down the street, and thought of him as destined to belong to her.
The mortification that he had chosen some one else was not yet forgotten.
It amounted almost to a desire for revenge.

Harry lingered longer than he intended. Hannah begged him to remain to
supper, but he declined, and when she pressed him to do so he looked
troubled and said he was expecting a letter and must hurry back to see if
it came in the afternoon coach. He told her that a dear friend, a beloved
cousin, was lying very ill, and he might be summoned at any moment to his
bedside, and Hannah said some comforting little things in a caressing
voice, and hoped he would find the letter saying the cousin was better.
Then he hurried away.

It was easy at his boarding house to say he had been called away, and he
rushed up to his room and threw some necessaries into his carpet-bag,
scattering things around the room and helping out the impression that he
was called away in a great hurry. When he was ready he looked at his
watch. It was growing late. The evening coach left in half an hour. He
knew its route well. It started at the village inn, and went down the old
turnpike, stopping here and there to pick up passengers. There was always
a convocation when it started. Perhaps David Spafford would be there and
witness his obedience to the command given him. He set his lips and made
up his mind to escape that at least. He would cheat his adversary of that
satisfaction.

It would involve a sacrifice. He would have to go without his supper, and
he could smell the frying bacon coming up the stairs. But it would help
the illusion and he could perhaps get something on the way when the coach
stopped to change horses.

He rushed downstairs and told his landlady that he must start at once, as
he must see a man before the coach went, and she, poor lady, had no chance
to suggest that he leave her a little deposit on the sum of his board
which he already owed her. There was perhaps some method in his hurry for
that reason also. It always bothered him to pay his bills, he had so many
other ways of spending his money.

So he hurried away and caught a ride in a farm wagon going toward the
Cross Roads. When it turned off he walked a little way until another wagon
came along; finally crossed several fields at a breathless pace and caught
the coach just as it was leaving the Cross Roads, which was the last
stopping place anywhere near the village. He climbed up beside the driver,
still in a breathless condition, and detailed to him how he had received
word, just before the coach started, by a messenger who came
across-country on horseback, that his cousin was dying.

After he had answered the driver’s minutest questions, he sat back and
reflected upon his course with satisfaction. He was off, and he had not
been seen nor questioned by a single citizen, and by to-morrow night his
story as he had told it to the driver would be fully known and circulated
through the place he had just left. The stage driver was one of the best
means of advertisement. It was well to give him full particulars.

The driver after he had satisfied his curiosity about the young man by his
side, and his reasons for leaving town so hastily, began to wax eloquent
upon the one theme which now occupied his spare moments and his fluent
tongue, the subject of a projected railroad. Whether some of the
sentiments he uttered were his own, or whether he had but borrowed from
others, they were at least uttered with force and apparent conviction, and
many a traveller sat and listened as they were retailed and viewed the
subject from the standpoint of the loud-mouthed coachman.

A little later Tony Weller, called by some one “the best beloved of all
coachmen,” uttered much the same sentiments in the following words:

“I consider that the railroad is unconstitutional and an invader o’
privileges. As to the comfort, as an old coachman I may say it,—vere’s the
comfort o’ sittin’ in a harm-chair a lookin’ at brick walls, and heaps o’
mud, never comin’ to a public ’ouse, never seein’ a glass o’ ale, never
goin’ through a pike, never meetin’ a change o’ no kind (hosses or
otherwise), but always comin’ to a place, ven you comes to vun at all, the
werry picter o’ the last.

“As to the honor an’ dignity o’ travellin’ vere can that be without a
coachman, and vat’s the rail, to sich coachmen as is sometimes forced to
go by it, but an outrage and an hinsult? As to the ingen, a nasty,
wheezin’, gaspin’, puffin’, bustin’ monster always out o’ breath, with a
shiny green and gold back like an onpleasant beetle; as to the ingen as is
always a pourin’ out red ’ot coals at night an’ black smoke in the day,
the sensiblest thing it does, in my opinion, is ven there’s somethin’ in
the vay, it sets up that ’ere frightful scream vich seems to say, ‘Now
’ere’s two ’undred an’ forty passengers in the werry greatest extremity o’
danger, an’ ’ere’s their two ’undred an’ forty screams in vun!’”

But such sentiments as these troubled Harry Temple not one whit. He cared
not whether the present century had a railroad or whether it travelled by
foot. He would not lift a white finger to help it along or hinder. As the
talk went on he was considering how and where he might get his supper.



                              CHAPTER XVIII


The weather turned suddenly cold and raw that Fall, and almost in one day,
the trees that had been green, or yellowing in the sunshine, put on their
autumn garments of defeat, flaunted them for a brief hour, and dropped
them early in despair. The pleasant woods, to which Marcia had fled in her
dismay, became a mass of finely penciled branches against a wintry sky,
save for the one group of tall pines that hung out heavy above the rest,
and seemed to defy even snowy blasts.

Marcia could see those pines from her kitchen window, and sometimes as she
worked, if her heart was heavy, she would look out and away to them, and
think of the day she laid her head down beneath them to sob out her
trouble, and awoke to find comfort. Somehow the memory of that little talk
that she and David had then grew into vast proportions in her mind, and
she loved to cherish it.

There had come letters from home. Her stepmother had written, a stiff, not
unloving letter, full of injunctions to be sure to remember this, and not
do that, and on no account to let any relative or neighbor persuade her
out of the ways in which she had been brought up. She was attempting to do
as many mothers do, when they see the faults in the child they have
brought up, try to bring them up over again. At some of the sentences a
wild homesickness took possession of her. Some little homely phrase about
one of the servants, or the mention of a pet hen or cow, would bring the
longing tears to her eyes, and she would feel that she must throw away
this new life and run back to the old one.

School was begun at home. Mary Ann and Hanford would be taking the long
walk back and forth together twice a day to the old school-house. She half
envied them their happy, care-free life. She liked to think of the shy
courting that she had often seen between scholars in the upper classes.
Her imagination pleased itself sometimes when she was going to sleep,
trying to picture out the school goings and home comings, and their sober
talk. Not that she ever looked back to Hanford Weston with regret, not
she. She knew always that he was not for her, and perhaps, even so early
as that in her new life, if the choice had been given her whether she
would go back to her girlhood again and be as she was before Kate had run
away, or whether she would choose to stay here in the new life with David,
it is likely she would have chosen to stay.

There were occasional letters from Squire Schuyler. He wrote of politics,
and sent many messages to his son-in-law which Marcia handed over to David
at the tea table to read, and which always seemed to soften David and
bring a sweet sadness into his eyes. He loved and respected his
father-in-law. It was as if he were bound to him by the love of some one
who had died. Marcia thought of that every time she handed David a letter,
and sat and watched him read it.

Sometimes little Harriet or the boys printed out a few words about the
family cat, or the neighbors’ children, and Marcia laughed and cried over
the poor little attempts at letters and longed to have the eager childish
faces of the writers to kiss.

But in all of them there was never a mention of the bright, beautiful,
selfish girl around whom the old home life used to centre and who seemed
now, judging from the home letters, to be worse than dead to them all. But
since the afternoon upon the hill a new and pleasant intercourse had
sprung up between David and Marcia. True it was confined mainly to
discussions of the new railroad, the possibilities of its success, and the
construction of engines, tracks, etc. David was constantly writing up the
subject for his paper, and he fell into the habit of reading his articles
aloud to Marcia when they were finished. She would listen with breathless
admiration, sometimes combating a point ably, with the old vim she had
used in her discussion over the newspaper with her father, but mainly
agreeing with every word he wrote, and always eager to understand it down
to the minutest detail.

He always seemed pleased at her praise, and wrote on while she put away
the tea-things with a contented expression as though he had passed a high
critic, and need not fear any other. Once he looked up with a quizzical
expression and made a jocose remark about “our article,” taking her into a
sort of partnership with him in it, which set her heart to beating
happily, until it seemed as if she were really in some part at least
growing into his life.

But after all their companionship was a shy, distant one, more like that
of a brother and sister who had been separated all their lives and were
just beginning to get acquainted, and ever there was a settled sadness
about the lines of David’s mouth and eyes. They sat around one table now,
the evenings when they were at home, for there were still occasional
tea-drinkings at their friends’ houses; and there was one night a week
held religiously for a formal supper with the aunts, which David kindly
acquiesced in—more for the sake of his Aunt Clarinda than the
others,—whenever he was not detained by actual business. Then, too, there
was the weekly prayer meeting held at “early candle light” in the dim old
shadowed church. They always walked down the twilighted streets together,
and it seemed to Marcia there was a sweet solemnity about that walk. They
never said much to each other on the way. David seemed preoccupied with
holy thoughts, and Marcia walked softly beside him as if he had been the
minister, looking at him proudly and reverently now and then. David was
often called upon to pray in meeting and Marcia loved to listen to his
words. He seemed to be more intimate with God than the others, who were
mostly old men and prayed with long, rolling, solemn sentences that put
the whole community down into the dust and ashes before their Creator.

Marcia rather enjoyed the hour spent in the sombreness of the church, with
the flickering candle light making grotesque forms of shadows on the wall
and among the tall pews. The old minister reminded her of the one she had
left at home, though he was more learned and scholarly, and when he had
read the Scripture passages he would take his spectacles off and lay them
across the great Bible where the candle light played at glances with the
steel bows, and say: “Let us pray!” Then would come that soft stir and
hush as the people took the attitude of prayer. Marcia sometimes joined in
the prayer in her heart, uttering shy little petitions that were vague and
indefinite, and had to do mostly with the days when she was troubled and
homesick, and felt that David belonged wholly to Kate. Always her clear
voice joined in the slow hymns that quavered out now and again, lined out
to the worshippers.

Marcia and David went out from that meeting down the street to their home
with the hush upon them that must have been upon the Israelites of old
after they had been to the solemn congregation.

But once David had come in earlier than usual and had caught Marcia
reading the Scottish Chiefs, and while she started guiltily to be found
thus employed he smiled indulgently. After supper he said: “Get your book,
child, and sit down. I have some writing to do, and after it is done I
will read it to you.” So after that, more and more often, it was a book
that Marcia held in her hands in the long evenings when they sat together,
instead of some useful employment, and so her education progressed. Thus
she read Epictetus, Rasselas, The Deserted Village, The Vicar of
Wakefield, Paradise Lost, the Mysteries of the Human Heart, Marshall’s
Life of Columbus, The Spy, The Pioneers, and The Last of the Mohicans.

She had been asked to sing in the village choir. David sang a sweet high
tenor there, and Marcia’s voice was clear and strong as a blackbird’s,
with the plaintive sweetness of the wood-robin’s.

Hannah Heath was in the choir also, and jealously watched her every move,
but of this Marcia was unaware until informed of it by Miranda. With her
inherited sweetness of nature she scarcely credited it, until one Sunday,
a few weeks after the departure of Harry Temple, Hannah leaned forward
from her seat among the altos and whispered quite distinctly, so that
those around could hear—it was just before the service—“I’ve just had a
letter from your friend Mr. Temple. I thought you might like to know that
his cousin got well and he has gone back to New York. He won’t be
returning here this year. On some accounts he thought it was better not.”

It was all said pointedly, with double emphasis upon the “your friend,”
and “some accounts.” Marcia felt her cheeks glow, much to her vexation,
and tried to control her whisper to seem kindly as she answered
indifferently enough.

“Oh, indeed! But you must have made a mistake. Mr. Temple is a very slight
acquaintance of mine. I have met him only a few times, and I know nothing
about his cousin. I was not aware even that he had gone away.”

Hannah raised her speaking eyebrows and replied, quite loud now, for the
choir leader had stood up already with his tuning-fork in hand, and one
could hear it faintly twang:

“Indeed!”—using Marcia’s own word—and quite coldly, “I should have thought
differently from what Harry himself told me,” and there was that in her
tone which deepened the color in Marcia’s cheeks and caused it to stay
there during the entire morning service as she sat puzzling over what
Hannah could have meant. It rankled in her mind during the whole day. She
longed to ask David about it, but could not get up the courage.

She could not bear to revive the memory of what seemed to be her shame. It
was at the minister’s donation party that Hannah planted another thorn in
her heart,—Hannah, in a green plaid silk with delicate undersleeves of
lace, and a tiny black velvet jacket.

She selected a time when Lemuel was near, and when Aunt Amelia and Aunt
Hortense, who believed that all the young men in town were hovering about
David’s wife, sat one on either side of Marcia, as if to guard her for
their beloved nephew—who was discussing politics with Mr. Heath—and who
never seemed to notice, so blind he was in his trust of her.

So Hannah paused and posed before the three ladies, and with Lemuel
smiling just at her elbow, began in her affected way:

“I’ve had another letter from New York, from your friend Mr. Temple,” she
said it with the slightest possible glance over her shoulder to get the
effect of her words upon the faithful Lemuel, “and he tells me he has met
a sister of yours. By the way, she told him that David used to be very
fond of her before she was married. I suppose she’ll be coming to visit
you now she’s so near as New York.”

Two pairs of suspicious steely eyes flew like stinging insects to gaze
upon her, one on either side, and Marcia’s heart stood still for just one
instant, but she felt that here was her trying time, and if she would help
David and do the work for which she had become his wife, she must protect
him now from any suspicions or disagreeable tongues. By very force of will
she controlled the trembling of her lips.

“My sister will not likely visit us this winter, I think,” she replied as
coolly as if she had had a letter to that effect that morning, and then
she deliberately looked at Lemuel Skinner and asked if he had heard of the
offer of prizes of four thousand dollars in cash that the Baltimore and
Ohio railroad had just made for the most approved engine delivered for
trial before June first, 1831, not to exceed three and a half tons in
weight and capable of drawing, day by day, fifteen tons inclusive of
weight of wagons, fifteen miles per hour. Lemuel looked at her blankly and
said he had not heard of it. He was engaged in thinking over what Hannah
had said about a letter from Harry Temple. He cared nothing about
railroads.

“The second prize is thirty-five hundred dollars,” stated Marcia eagerly,
as though it were of the utmost importance to her.

“Are you thinking of trying for one of the prizes?” sneered Hannah,
piercing her with her eyes, and now indeed the ready color flowed into
Marcia’s face. Her ruse had been detected.

“If I were a man and understood machinery I believe I would. What a grand
thing it would be to be able to invent a thing like an engine that would
be of so much use to the world,” she answered bravely.

“They are most dangerous machines,” said Aunt Amelia disapprovingly. “No
right-minded Christian who wishes to live out the life his Creator has
given him would ever ride behind one. I have heard that boilers always
explode.”

“They are most unnecessary!” said Aunt Hortense severely, as if that
settled the question for all time and all railroad corporations.

But Marcia was glad for once of their disapproval and entered most
heartily into a discussion of the pros and cons of engines and steam,
quoting largely from David’s last article for the paper on the subject,
until Hannah and Lemuel moved slowly away. The discussion served to keep
the aunts from inquiring further that evening about the sister in New
York.

Marcia begged them to go with her into the kitchen and see the store of
good things that had been brought to the minister’s house by his loving
parishioners. Bags of flour and meal, pumpkins, corn in the ear, eggs, and
nice little pats of butter. A great wooden tub of doughnuts, baskets of
apples and quinces, pounds of sugar and tea, barrels of potatoes, whole
hams, a side of pork, a quarter of beef, hanks of yarn, and strings of
onions. It was a goodly array. Marcia felt that the minister must be
beloved by his people. She watched him and his wife as they greeted their
people, and wished she knew them better, and might come and see them
sometimes, and perhaps eventually feel as much at home with them as with
her own dear minister.

She avoided Hannah during the remainder of the evening. When the evening
was over and she went upstairs to get her wraps from the high four-poster
bedstead, she had almost forgotten Hannah and her ill-natured, prying
remarks. But Hannah had not forgotten her. She came forth from behind the
bed curtains where she had been searching for a lost glove, and remarked
that she should think Marcia would be lonely this first winter away from
home and want her sister with her a while.

But the presence of Hannah always seemed a mental stimulus to the spirit
of Marcia.

“Oh, I’m not in the least lonely,” she laughed merrily. “I have a great
many interesting things to do, and I love music and books.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot you are very fond of music. Harry Temple told me about
it,” said Hannah. Again there was that disagreeable hint of something more
behind her words, that aggravated Marcia almost beyond control. For an
instant a cutting reply was upon her lips and her eyes flashed fire; then
it came to her how futile it would be, and she caught the words in time
and walked swiftly down the stairs. David watching her come down saw the
admiring glances of all who stood in the hall below, and took her under
his protection with a measure of pride in her youth and beauty that he did
not himself at all realize. All the way home he talked with her about the
new theory of railroad construction, quite contented in her companionship,
while she, poor child, much perturbed in spirit, wondered how he would
feel if he knew what Hannah had said.

David fell into a deep study with a book and his papers about him, after
they had reached home. Marcia went up to her quiet, lonely chamber, put
her face in the pillow and thought and wept and prayed. When at last she
lay down to rest she did not know anything she could do but just to go on
living day by day and helping David all she could. At most there was
nothing to fear for herself, save a kind of shame that she had not been
the first sister chosen, and she found to her surprise that that was
growing to be deeper than she had supposed.

She wished as she fell asleep that her girl-dreams might have been left to
develop and bloom like other girls’, and that she might have had a real
lover,—like David in every way, yet of course not David because he was
Kate’s. But a real lover who would meet her as David had done that night
when he thought she was Kate, and speak to her tenderly.

One afternoon David, being wearied with an unusual round of taxing cares,
came home to rest and study up some question in his library.

Finding the front door fastened, and remembering that he had left his key
in his other pocket, he came around to the back door, and much preoccupied
with thought went through the kitchen and nearly to the hall before the
unusual sounds of melody penetrated to his ears. He stopped for an instant
amazed, forgetting the piano, then comprehending he wondered who was
playing. Perhaps some visitor was in the parlor. He would listen and find
out. He was weary and dusty with the soil of the office upon his hands and
clothes. He did not care to meet a visitor, so under cover of the music he
slipped into the door of his library across the hall from the parlor and
dropped into his great arm-chair.

Softly and tenderly stole the music through the open door, all about him,
like the gentle dropping of some tender psalms or comforting chapter in
the Bible to an aching heart. It touched his brow like a soft soothing
hand, and seemed to know and recognize all the agonies his heart had been
passing through, and all the weariness his body felt.

He put his head back and let it float over him and rest him. Tinkling
brooks and gentle zephyrs, waving of forest trees, and twitterings of
birds, calm lazy clouds floating by, a sweetness in the atmosphere, bells
far away, lowing herds, music of the angels high in heaven, the soothing
strain from each extracted and brought to heal his broken heart. It fell
like dew upon his spirit. Then, like a fresh breeze with zest and life
borne on, came a new strain, grand and fine and high, calling him to
better things. He did not know it was a strain of Handel’s music grown
immortal, but his spirit recognized the higher call, commanding him to
follow, and straightway he felt strengthened to go onward in the course he
had been pursuing. Old troubles seemed to grow less, anguish fell away
from him. He took new lease of life. Nothing seemed impossible.

Then she played by ear one or two of the old tunes they sang in church,
touching the notes tenderly and almost making them speak the words. It
seemed a benediction. Suddenly the playing ceased and Marcia remembered it
was nearly supper time.

He met her in the doorway with a new look in his eyes, a look of high
purpose and exultation. He smiled upon her and said: “That was good,
child. I did not know you could do it. You must give it to us often.”
Marcia felt a glow of pleasure in his kindliness, albeit she felt that the
look in his eyes set him apart and above her, and made her feel the child
she was. She hurried out to get the supper between pleasure and a nameless
unrest. She was glad of this much, but she wanted more, a something to
meet her soul and satisfy.



                               CHAPTER XIX


The world had not gone well with Mistress Kate Leavenworth, and she was
ill-pleased. She had not succeeded in turning her father’s heart toward
herself as she had confidently expected to do when she ran away with her
sea captain. She had written a gay letter home, taking for granted, in a
pretty way, the forgiveness she did not think it necessary to ask, but
there had come in return a brief harsh statement from her father that she
was no longer his daughter and must cease from further communication with
the family in any way; that she should never enter his house again and not
a penny of his money should ever pass to her. He also informed her plainly
that the trousseau made for her had been given to her sister who was now
the wife of the man she had not seen fit to marry.

Over this letter Mistress Kate at first stormed, then wept, and finally
sat down to frame epistle after epistle in petulant, penitent language.
These epistles following each other by daily mail coaches still brought
nothing further from her irate parent, and my lady was at last forced to
face the fact that she must bear the penalty of her own misdeeds; a lesson
she should have learned much earlier in life.

The young captain, who had always made it appear that he had plenty of
money, had spent his salary, and most of his mother’s fortune, which had
been left in his keeping as administrator of his father’s estate; so he
had really very little to offer the spoiled and petted beauty, who simply
would not settle down to the inevitable and accept the fate she had
brought upon herself and others. Day after day she fretted and blamed her
husband until he heartily wished her back from whence he had taken her;
wished her back with her straitlaced lover from whom he had stolen her;
wished her anywhere save where she was. Her brightness and beauty seemed
all gone: she was a sulky child insisting upon the moon or nothing. She
waited to go to New York and be established in a fine house with plenty of
servants and a carriage and horses, and the young captain had not the
wherewithal to furnish these accessories to an elegant and luxurious life.

He had loved her so far as his shallow nature could love, and perhaps she
had returned it in the beginning. He wanted to spend his furlough in quiet
places where he might have a honeymoon of his ideal, bantering Kate’s
sparkling sentences, looking into her beautiful eyes, touching her rosy
lips with his own as often as he chose. But Mistress Kate had lost her
sparkle. She would not be kissed until she had gained her point, her
lovely eyes were full of disfiguring tears and angry flashes, and her
speech scintillated with cutting sarcasms, which were none the less hard
to bear that they pressed home some disagreeable truths to the easy,
careless spendthrift. The rose had lost its dew and was making its thorns
felt.

And so they quarreled through their honeymoon, and Captain Leavenworth was
not sorry when a hasty and unexpected end came to his furlough and he was
ordered off with his ship for an indefinite length of time.

Even then Kate thought to get her will before he left, and held on her
sullen ways and her angry, blameful talk until the last minute, so that he
hurried away without even one good-bye kiss, and with her angry sentences
sounding in his ears.

True, he repented somewhat on board the ship and sent her back more money
than she could reasonably have expected under the circumstances, but he
sent it without one word of gentleness, and Kate’s heart was hard toward
her husband.

Then with bitterness and anguish,—that was new and fairly astonishing that
it had come to her who had always had her way,—she sat down to think of
the man she had jilted. He would have been kind to her. He would have
given her all she asked and more. He would even have moved his business to
New York to please her, she felt sure. Why had she been so foolish! And
then, like many another sinner who is made at last to see the error of his
ways, she cast hard thoughts at a Fate which had allowed her to make so
great a mistake, and pitied her poor little self out of all recognition of
the character she had formed.

But she took her money and went to New York, for she felt that there only
could she be at all happy, and have some little taste of the delights of
true living.

She took up her abode with an ancient relative of her own mother’s, who
lived in a quiet respectable part of the city, and who was glad to piece
out her small annuity with the modest sum that Kate agreed to pay for her
board.

It was not long before Mistress Kate, with her beautiful face, and the
pretty clothes which she took care to provide at once for herself,
spending lavishly out of the diminishing sum her husband had sent her, and
thinking not of the morrow, nor the day when the board bills would be due,
became well known. The musty little parlor of the ancient relative was
daily filled with visitors, and every evening Kate held court, with the
old aunt nodding in her chair by the fireside.

Neither did the poor old lady have a very easy time of it, in spite of the
promise of weekly pay. Kate laughed at the old furniture and the old ways.
She demanded new things, and got them, too, until the old lady saw little
hope of any help from the board money when Kate was constantly saying: “I
saw this in a shop down town, auntie, and as I knew you needed it I just
bought it. My board this week will just pay for it.” As always, Kate
ruled. The little parlor took on an air of brightness, and Kate became
popular. A few women of fashion took her up, and Kate launched herself
upon a gay life, her one object to have as good a time as possible,
regardless of what her husband or any one else might think.

When Kate had been in New York about two months it happened one day that
she went out to drive with one of her new acquaintances, a young married
woman of about her own age, who had been given all in a worldly way that
had been denied to Kate.

They made some calls in Brooklyn, and returned on the ferry-boat, carriage
and all, just as the sun was setting.

The view was marvellous. The water a flood of pink and green and gold; the
sails of the vessels along the shore lit up resplendently; the buildings
of the city beyond sent back occasional flashes of reflected light from
window glass or church spire. It was a picture worth looking upon, and
Kate’s companion was absorbed in it.

Not so Kate. She loved display above all things. She sat up statelily,
aware that she looked well in her new frock with the fine lace collar she
had extravagantly purchased the day before, and her leghorn bonnet with
its real ostrich feather, which was becoming in the extreme. She enjoyed
sitting back of the colored coachman, her elegant friend by her side, and
being admired by the two ladies and the little girl who sat in the ladies’
cabin and occasionally peeped curiously at her from the window. She drew
herself up haughtily and let her soul “delight itself in fatness”—borrowed
fatness, perhaps, but still, the long desired. She told herself she had a
right to it, for was she not a Schuyler? That name was respected
everywhere.

She bore a grudge at a man and woman who stood by the railing absorbed in
watching the sunset haze that lay over the river showing the white sails
in gleams like flashes of white birds here and there.

A young man well set up, and fashionably attired, sauntered up to the
carriage. He spoke to Kate’s friend, and was introduced. Kate felt in her
heart it was because of her presence there he came. His bold black eyes
told her as much and she was flattered.

They fell to talking.

“You say you spent the summer near Albany, Mr. Temple,” said Kate
presently, “I wonder if you happen to know any of my friends. Did you meet
a Mr. Spafford? David Spafford?”

“Of course I did, knew him well,” said the young man with guarded tone.
But a quick flash of dislike, and perhaps fear had crossed his face at the
name. Kate was keen. She analyzed that look. She parted her charming red
lips and showed her sharp little teeth like the treacherous pearls in a
white kitten’s pink mouth.

“He was once a lover of mine,” said Kate carelessly, wrinkling her piquant
little nose as if the idea were comical, and laughing out a sweet ripple
of mirth that would have cut David to the heart.

“Indeed!” said the ever ready Harry, “and I do not wonder. Is not every
one that at once they see you, Madam Leavenworth? How kind of your husband
to stay away at sea for so long a time and give us other poor fellows a
chance to say pleasant things.”

Then Kate pouted her pretty lips in a way she had and tapped the delighted
Harry with her carriage parasol across the fingers of his hand that had
taken familiar hold of the carriage beside her arm.

“Oh, you naughty man!” she exclaimed prettily. “How dare you! Yes, David
Spafford and I were quite good friends. I almost gave in at one time and
became Mrs. Spafford, but he was too good for me!”

She uttered this truth in a mocking tone, and Harry saw her lead and
hastened to follow. Here was a possible chance for revenge. He was ready
for any. He studied the lady before him keenly. Of what did that face
remind him? Had he ever seen her before?

“I should judge him a little straitlaced for your merry ways,” he
responded gallantly, “but he’s like all the rest, fickle, you know. He’s
married. Have you heard?”

Kate’s face darkened with something hard and cruel, but her voice was soft
as a cat’s purr:

“Yes,” she sighed, “I know. He married my sister. Poor child! I am sorry
for her. I think he did it out of revenge, and she was too young to know
her own mind. But they, poor things, will have to bear the consequences of
what they have done. Isn’t it a pity that that has to be, Mr. Temple? It
is dreadful to have the innocent suffer. I have been greatly anxious about
my sister.” She lifted her large eyes swimming in tears, and he did not
perceive the insincerity in her purring voice just then. He was thanking
his lucky stars that he had been saved from any remarks about young Mrs.
Spafford, whom her sister seemed to love so deeply. It had been on the tip
of his tongue to suggest that she might be able to lead her husband a gay
little dance if she chose. How lucky he had not spoken! He tried to say
some pleasant comforting nothings, and found it delightful to see her face
clear into smiles and her blue eyes look into his so confidingly. By the
time the boat touched the New York side the two felt well acquainted, and
Harry Temple had promised to call soon, which promise he lost no time in
keeping.

Kate’s heart had grown bitter against the young sister who had dared to
take her place, and against the lover who had so easily solaced himself.
She could not understand it.

She resolved to learn all that Mr. Temple knew about David, and to find
out if possible whether he were happy. It was Kate’s nature not to be able
to give up anything even though she did not want it. She desired the
life-long devotion of every man who came near her, and have it she would
or punish him.

Harry Temple, meanwhile, was reflecting upon his chance meeting that
afternoon and wondering if in some way he might not yet have revenge upon
the man who had humbled him. Possibly this woman could help him.

After some thought he sat down and penned a letter to Hannah Heath,
begemming it here and there with devoted sentences which caused that young
woman’s eyes to sparkle and a smile of anticipation to wreathe her lips.
When she heard of the handsome sister in New York, and of her former
relations with David Spafford, her eyes narrowed speculatively, and her
fair brow drew into puzzled frowns. Harry Temple had drawn a word picture
of Mrs. Leavenworth. Harry should have been a novelist. If he had not been
too lazy he would have been a success. Gold hair! Ah! Hannah had heard of
gold hair before, and in connection with David’s promised wife. Here was a
mystery and Hannah resolved to look into it. It would at least be
interesting to note the effect of her knowledge upon the young bride next
door. She would try it.

Meantime, the acquaintance of Harry Temple and Kate Leavenworth had
progressed rapidly. The second sight of the lady proved more interesting
than the first, for now her beautiful gold hair added to the charm of her
handsome face. Harry ever delighted in beauty of whatever type, and a
blonde was more fascinating to him than a brunette. Kate had dressed
herself bewitchingly, and her manner was charming. She knew how to assume
pretty child-like airs, but she was not afraid to look him boldly in the
eyes, and the light in her own seemed to challenge him. Here was a
delightful new study. A woman fresh from the country, having all the charm
of innocence, almost as child-like as her sister, yet with none of her
prudishness. Kate’s eyes held latent wickedness in them, or he was much
mistaken. She did not droop her lids and blush when he looked boldly and
admiringly into her face, but stared him back, smilingly, merrily,
daringly, as though she would go quite as far as he would. Moreover, with
her he was sure he need feel none of the compunctions he might have felt
with her younger sister who was so obviously innocent, for whether Kate’s
boldness was from lack of knowledge, or from lack of innocence, she was
quite able to protect herself, that was plain.

So Harry settled into his chair with a smile of pleasant anticipation upon
his face. He not only had the prospect before him of a possible ally in
revenge against David Spafford, but he had the promise of a most unusually
delightful flirtation with a woman who was worthy of his best efforts in
that line.

Almost at once it began, with pleasant banter, adorned with personal
compliments.

“Lovelier than I thought, my lady,” said Harry, bowing low over the hand
she gave him, in a courtly manner he had acquired, perhaps from the
old-world novels he had read, and he brushed her pink finger tips with his
lips in a way that signified he was her abject slave.

Kate blushed and smiled, greatly pleased, for though she had held her own
little court in the village where she was brought up, and queened it over
the young men who had flocked about her willingly, she had not been used
to the fulsome flattery that breathed from Harry Temple in every word and
glance.

He looked at her keenly as he stood back a moment, to see if she were in
any wise offended with his salutation, and saw as he expected that she was
pleased and flattered. Her cheeks had grown rosier, and her eyes sparkled
with pleasure as she responded with a pretty, gracious speech.

Then they sat down and faced one another. A good woman would have called
his look impudent—insulting. Kate returned it with a look that did not
shrink, nor waver, but fearlessly, recklessly accepted the challenge.
Playing with fire, were these two, and with no care for the fearful
results which might follow. Both knew it was dangerous, and liked it the
better for that. There was a long silence. The game was opening on a wider
scale than either had ever played before.

“Do you believe in affinities?” asked the devil, through the man’s voice.

The woman colored and showed she understood his deeper meaning. Her eyes
drooped for just the shade of an instant, and then she looked up and faced
him saucily, provokingly:

“Why?”

He admired her with his gaze, and waited, lazily watching the color play
in her cheeks.

“Do you need to ask why?” he said at last, looking at her significantly.
“I knew that you were my affinity the moment I laid my eyes upon you, and
I hoped you felt the same. But perhaps I was mistaken.” He searched her
face.

She kept her eyes upon his, returning their full gaze, as if to hold it
from going too deep into her soul.

“I did not say you were mistaken, did I?” said the rosy lips coquettishly,
and Kate drooped her long lashes till they fell in becoming sweeps over
her burning cheeks.

Something in the curve of cheek and chin, and sweep of dark lash over
velvet skin, reminded him of her sister. It was so she had sat, though
utterly unconscious, while he had been singing, when there had come over
him that overwhelming desire to kiss her. If he should kiss this fair lady
would she slap him in the face and run into the garden? He thought not.
Still, she was brought up by the same father and mother in all likelihood,
and it was well to go slow. He reached forward, drawing his chair a little
nearer to her, and then boldly took one of her small unresisting hands,
gently, that he might not frighten her, and smoothed it thoughtfully
between his own. He held it in a close grasp and looked into her face
again, she meanwhile watching her hand amusedly, as though it were
something apart from herself, a sort of distant possession, for which she
was in no wise responsible.

“I feel that you belong to me,” he said boldly looking into her eyes with
a languishing gaze. “I have known it from the first moment.”

Kate let her hand lie in his as if she liked it, but she said:

“And what makes you think that, most audacious sir? Did you not know that
I am married?” Then she swept her gaze up provokingly at him again and
smiled, showing her dainty, treacherous, little teeth. She was so
bewitchingly pretty and tempting then that he had a mind to kiss her on
the spot, but a thought came to him that he would rather lead her further
first. He was succeeding well. She had no mind to be afraid. She did her
part admirably.

“That makes no difference,” said he smiling. “That another man has secured
you first, and has the right to provide for you, and be near you, is my
misfortune of course, but it makes no difference, you are mine? By all the
power of love you are mine. Can any other man keep my soul from yours, can
he keep my eyes from looking into yours, or my thoughts from hovering over
you, or—” he hesitated and looked at her keenly, while she furtively
watched him, holding her breath and half inviting him—“or my lips from
drinking life from yours?” He stooped quickly and pressed his lips upon
hers.

Kate gave a quick little gasp like a sob and drew back. The aunt nodding
over her Bible in the next room had not heard,—she was very deaf,—but for
an instant the young woman felt that all the shades of her worthy
patriarchal ancestors were hurrying around and away from her in horror.
She had come of too good Puritan stock not to know that she was treading
in the path of unrighteousness. Nevertheless it was a broad path, and
easy. It tempted her. It was exciting. It lured her with promise of
satisfying some of her untamed longings and impulses.

She did not look offended. She only drew back to get breath and consider.
The wild beating of her heart, the tumult of her cheeks and eyes were all
a part of a new emotion. Her vanity was excited, and she thrilled with a
wild pleasure. As a duck will take to swimming so she took to the new
game, with wonderful facility.

“But I didn’t say you might,” she cried with a bewildering smile.

“I beg your pardon, fair lady, may I have another?”

His bold, bad face was near her own, so that she did not see the evil
triumph that lurked there. She had come to the turning of another way in
her life, and just here she might have drawn back if she would. Half she
knew this, yet she toyed with the opportunity, and it was gone. The new
way seemed so alluring.

“You will first have to prove your right!” she said decidedly, with that
pretty commanding air that had conquered so many times.

And in like manner on they went through the evening, frittering the time
away at playing with edged tools.

A friendship so begun—if so unworthy an intimacy may be called by that
sweet name—boded no good to either of the two, and that evening marked a
decided turn for the worse in Kate Leavenworth’s career.



                                CHAPTER XX


David had found it necessary to take a journey which might keep him away
for several weeks.

He told Marcia in the evening when he came home from the office. He told
her as he would have told his clerk. It meant nothing to him but an
annoyance that he had to start out in the early winter, leave his business
in other’s hands for an indefinite period, and go among strangers. He did
not see the whitening of Marcia’s lips, nor the quick little movement of
her hand to her heart. Even Marcia herself did not realize all that it
meant to her. She felt as if a sudden shock had almost knocked her off her
feet. This quiet life in the big house, with only David at intervals to
watch and speak to occasionally, and no one to open her true heart to, had
been lonely; and many a time when she was alone at night she had wept
bitter tears upon her pillow,—why she did not quite know. But now when she
knew that it was to cease, and David was going away from her for a long
time, perhaps weeks, her heart suddenly tightened and she knew how sweet
it had been growing. Almost the tears came to her eyes, but she made a
quick errand to the hearth for the teapot, busying herself there till they
were under control again. When she returned to her place at the table she
was able to ask David some commonplace question about the journey which
kept her true feeling quite hidden from him.

He was to start the next evening if possible. It appeared that there was
something important about railroading coming up in Congress. It was
necessary that he should be present to hear the debate, and also that he
should see and interview influential men. It meant much to the success of
the great new enterprises that were just in their infancy that he should
go and find out all about them and write them up as only he whose heart
was in it could do. He was pleased to have been selected for this; he was
lifted for the time above himself and his life troubles, and given to feel
that he had a work in the world that was worth while, a high calling, a
chance to give a push to the unrolling of the secret possibilities of the
universe and help them on their way.

Marcia understood it all, and was proud and glad for him, but her own
heart which beat in such perfect sympathy with the work felt lonely and
left out. If only she could have helped too!

There was no time for David to take Marcia to her home to stay during his
absence. He spoke of it regretfully just as he was about to leave, and
asked if she would like him to get some one to escort her by coach to her
father’s house until he could come for her; but she held back the tears by
main force and shook her head. She had canvassed that question in the
still hours of the night. She had met in imagination the home village with
its kindly and unkindly curiosity, she had seen their hands lifted in
suspicion; heard their covert whispers as to why her husband did not come
with her; why he had left her so soon after the honeymoon; why—a hundred
things. She had even thought of Aunt Polly and her acrid tongue and made
up her mind that whatever happened she did not want to go home to stay.

The only other alternative was to go to the aunts. David expected it, and
the aunts spoke of it as if nothing else were possible. Marcia would have
preferred to remain alone in her own house, with her beloved piano, but
David would not consent, and the aunts were scandalized at the suggestion.
So to the aunts went Marcia, and they took her in with a hope in their
hearts that she might get the same good from the visit that the sluggard
in the Bible is bidden to find.

“We must do our duty by her for David’s sake,” said Aunt Hortense, with
pursed lips and capable, folded hands that seemed fairly to ache to get at
the work of reconstructing the new niece.

“Yes, it is our opportunity,” said Aunt Amelia with a snap as though she
thoroughly enjoyed the prospect. “Poor David!” and so they sat and laid
out their plans for their sweet young victim, who all unknowingly was
coming to one of those tests in her life whereby we are tried for greater
things and made perfect in patience and sweetness.

It began with the first breakfast—the night before she had been company,
at supper—but when the morning came they felt she must be counted one of
the family. They examined her thoroughly on what she had been taught with
regard to housekeeping. They made her tell her recipes for pickling and
preserving. They put her through a catechism of culinary lore, and always
after her most animated account of the careful way in which she had been
trained in this or that housewifely art she looked up with wistful eyes
that longed to please, only to be met by the hard set lips and steely
glances of the two mentors who regretted that she should not have been
taught their way which was so much better.

Aunt Hortense even went so far once as to suggest that Marcia write to her
stepmother and tell her how much better it was to salt the water in which
potatoes were to be boiled before putting them in, and was much offended
by the clear girlish laugh that bubbled up involuntarily at the thought of
teaching her stepmother anything about cooking.

“Excuse me,” she said, instantly sobering as she saw the grim look of the
aunt, and felt frightened at what she had done. “I did not mean to laugh,
indeed I did not; but it seemed so funny to think of my telling mother how
to do anything.”

“People are never too old to learn,” remarked Aunt Hortense with offended
mien, “and one ought never to be too proud when there is a better way.”

“But mother thinks there is no better way I am sure. She says that it
makes potatoes soggy to boil them in salt. All that grows below the ground
should be salted after it is cooked and all that grows above the ground
should be cooked in salted water, is her rule.”

“I am surprised that your stepmother should uphold any such superstitious
ideas,” said Aunt Amelia with a self-satisfied expression.

“One should never be too proud to learn something better,” Aunt Hortense
said grimly, and Marcia retreated in dire consternation at the thought of
what might follow if these three notable housekeeping gentlewomen should
come together. Somehow she felt a wicked little triumph in the thought
that it would be hard to down her stepmother.

Marcia was given a few light duties ostensibly to “make her feel at home,”
but in reality, she knew, because the aunts felt she needed their
instruction. She was asked if she would like to wash the china and glass;
and regularly after each meal a small wooden tub and a mop were brought in
with hot water and soap, and she was expected to handle the costly
heirlooms under the careful scrutiny of their worshipping owners, who
evidently watched each process with strained nerves lest any bit of
treasured pottery should be cracked or broken. It was a trying ordeal.

The girl would have been no girl if she had not chafed under this
treatment. To hold her temper steady and sweet under it was almost more
than she could bear.

There were long afternoons when it was decreed that they should knit.

Marcia had been used to take long walks at home, over the smooth crust of
the snow, going to her beloved woods, where she delighted to wander among
the bare and creaking trees; fancying them whispering sadly to one another
of the summer that was gone and the leaves they had borne now dead. But it
would be a dreadful thing in the aunts’ opinion for a woman, and
especially a young one, to take a long walk in the woods alone, in winter
too, and with no object whatever in view but a walk! What a waste of time!

There were two places of refuge for Marcia during the weeks that followed.
There was home. How sweet that word sounded to her! How she longed to go
back there, with David coming home to his quiet meals three times a day,
and with her own time to herself to do as she pleased. With housewifely
zeal that was commendable in the eyes of the aunts, Marcia insisted upon
going down to her own house every morning to see that all was right,
guiltily knowing that in her heart she meant to hurry to her beloved books
and piano. To be sure it was cold and cheerless in the empty house. She
dared not make up fires and leave them, and she dared not stay too long
lest the aunts would feel hurt at her absence, but she longed with an
inexpressible longing to be back there by herself, away from that terrible
supervision and able to live her own glad little life and think her own
thoughts untrammeled by primness.

Sometimes she would curl up in David’s big arm-chair and have a good cry,
after which she would take a book and read until the creeping chills down
her spine warned her she must stop. Even then she would run up and down
the hall or take a broom and sweep vigorously to warm herself and then go
to the cold keys and play a sad little tune. All her tunes seemed sad like
a wail while David was gone.

The other place of refuge was Aunt Clarinda’s room. Thither she would
betake herself after supper, to the delight of the old lady. Then the
other two occupants of the house were left to themselves and might unbend
from their rigid surveillance for a little while. Marcia often wondered if
they ever did unbend.

There was a large padded rocking chair in Aunt Clarinda’s room and Marcia
would laughingly take the little old lady in her arms and place her
comfortably in it, after a pleasant struggle on Miss Clarinda’s part to
put her guest into it. They had this same little play every evening, and
it seemed to please the old lady mightily. Then when she was conquered she
always sat meekly laughing, a fine pink color in her soft peachy cheek,
the candle light from the high shelf making flickering sparkles in her old
eyes that always seemed young; and she would say: “That’s just as David
used to do.”

Then Marcia drew up the little mahogany stool covered with the worsted dog
which Aunt Clarinda had worked when she was ten years old, and snuggling
down at the old lady’s feet exclaimed delightedly: “Tell me about it!” and
they settled down to solid comfort.

There came a letter from David after he had been gone a little over a
week. Marcia had not expected to hear from him. He had said nothing about
writing, and their relations were scarcely such as to make it necessary.
Letters were an expensive luxury in those days. But when the letter was
handed to her, Marcia’s heart went pounding against her breast, the color
flew into her cheeks, and she sped away home on feet swift as the wings of
a bird. The postmaster’s daughter looked after her, and remarked to her
father: “My, but don’t she think a lot of him!”

Straight to the cold, lonely house she flew, and sitting down in his big
chair read it.

It was a pleasant letter, beginning formally: “My dear Marcia,” and asking
after her health. It brought back a little of the unacquaintedness she had
felt when he was at home, and which had been swept away in part by her
knowledge of his childhood. But it went on quite happily telling all about
his journey and describing minutely the places he had passed through and
the people he had met on the way; detailing every little incident as only
a born writer and observer could do, until she felt as if he were talking
to her. He told her of the men whom he had met who were interested in the
new project. He told of new plans and described minutely his visit to the
foundry at West Point and the machinery he had seen. Marcia read it all
breathlessly, in search of something, she knew not what, that was not
there. When she had finished and found it not, there was a sense of
aloofness, a sad little disappointment which welled up in her throat. She
sat back to think about it. He was having a good time, and he was not
lonely. He had no longing to be back in the house and everything running
as before he had gone. He was out in the big glorious world having to do
with progress, and coming in contact with men who were making history. Of
course he did not dream how lonely she was here, and how she longed, if
for nothing else, just to be back here alone and do as she pleased, and
not to be watched over. If only she might steal Aunt Clarinda and bring
her back to live here with her while David was away! But that was not to
be thought of, of course. By and by she mustered courage to be glad of her
letter, and to read it over once more.

That night she read the letter to Aunt Clarinda and together they
discussed the great inventions, and the changes that were coming to pass
in the land. Aunt Clarinda was just a little beyond her depth in such a
conversation, but Marcia did most of the talking, and the dear old lady
made an excellent listener, with a pat here, and a “Dearie me! Now you
don’t say so!” there, and a “Bless the boy! What great things he does
expect. And I hope he won’t be disappointed.”

That letter lasted them for many a day until another came, this time from
Washington, with many descriptions of public men and public doings, and a
word picture of the place which made it appear much like any other place
after all if it was the capitol of the country. And once there was a
sentence which Marcia treasured. It was, “I wish you could be here and see
everything. You would enjoy it I know.”

There came another letter later beginning, “My dear little girl.” There
was nothing else in it to make Marcia’s heart throb, it was all about his
work, but Marcia carried it many days in her bosom. It gave her a thrill
of delight to think of those words at the beginning. Of course it meant no
more than that he thought of her as a girl, his little sister that was to
have been, but there was a kind of ownership in the words that was sweet
to Marcia’s lonely heart. It had come to her that she was always looking
for something that would make her feel that she belonged to David.



                               CHAPTER XXI


When David had been in New York about three weeks, he happened one day to
pass the house where Kate Leavenworth was living.

Kate was standing listlessly by the window looking into the street. She
was cross and felt a great depression settling over her. The flirtation
with Harry Temple had begun to pall upon her. She wanted new worlds to
conquer. She was restless and feverish. There was not excitement enough in
the life she was living. She would like to meet more people, senators and
statesmen—and to have plenty of money to dress as became her beauty, and
be admired publicly. She half wished for the return of her husband, and
meditated making up with him for the sake of going to Washington to have a
good time in society there. What was the use of running away with a naval
officer if one could not have the benefit of it? She had been a fool. Here
she was almost to the last penny, and so many things she wanted. No word
had come from her husband since he sent her the money at sailing. She felt
a bitter resentment toward him for urging her to marry him. If she had
only gone on and married David she would be living a life of ease
now—plenty of money—nothing to do but what she pleased and no anxiety
whatever, for David would have done just what she wanted.

Then suddenly she looked up and David passed before her!

He was walking with a tall splendid-looking man, with whom he was engaged
in most earnest conversation, and his look was grave and deeply absorbed.
He did not know of Kate’s presence in New York, and passed the house in
utter unconsciousness of the eyes watching him.

Kate’s lips grew white, and her limbs seemed suddenly weak, but she
strained her face against the window to watch the retreating figure of the
man who had almost been her husband. How well she knew the familiar
outline. How fine and handsome he appeared now! Why had she not thought so
before? Were her eyes blind, or had she been under some strange
enchantment? Why had she not known that her happiness lay in the way that
had been marked out for her? Well, at least she knew it now.

She sat all day by that window and watched. She professed to have no
appetite when pressed to come to the table, though she permitted herself
to languidly consume the bountiful tray of good things that was brought
her, but her eyes were on the street. She was watching to see if David
would pass that way again. But though she watched until the sun went down
and dusk sifted through the streets, she saw no sign nor heard the sound
of his footsteps. Then she hastened up to her room, which faced upon the
street also, and there, wrapped in blankets she sat in the cold frosty
air, waiting and listening. And while she watched she was thinking bitter
feverish thoughts. She heard Harry Temple knock and knew that he was told
that she was not feeling well and had retired early. She watched him pause
on the stoop thoughtfully as if considering what to do with the time thus
unexpectedly thrown upon his hands, then saw him saunter up the street
unconcernedly, and she wondered idly where he would go, and what he would
do.

It grew late, even for New York. One by one the lights in the houses along
the street went out, and all was quiet. She drew back from the window at
last, weary with excitement and thinking, and lay down on the bed, but she
could not sleep. The window was open and her ears were on the alert, and
by and by there came the distant echo of feet ringing on the pavement.
Some one was coming. She sprang up. She felt sure he was coming. Yes,
there were two men. They were coming back together. She could hear their
voices. She fancied she heard David’s long before it was possible to
distinguish any words. She leaned far out of her upper window till she
could discern dim forms under the starlight, and then just as they were
under the window she distinctly heard David say:

“There is no doubt but we shall win. The right is on our side, and it is
the march of progress. Some of the best men in Congress are with us, and
now that we are to have your influence I do not feel afraid of the issue.”

They had passed by rapidly, like men who had been on a long day’s jaunt of
some kind and were hastening home to rest. There was little in the
sentence that Kate could understand. She had no more idea whether the
subject of their discourse was railroads or the last hay crop. The
sentence meant to her but one thing. It showed that David companioned with
the great men of the land, and his position would have given her a
standing that would have been above the one she now occupied. Tears of
defeat ran down her cheeks. She had made a bad mistake and she saw no way
to rectify it. If her husband should die,—and it might be, for the sea was
often treacherous—of course there were all sorts of possibilities,—but
even then there was Marcia! She set her sharp little teeth into her red
lips till the blood came. She could not get over her anger at Marcia. It
would not have been so bad if David had remained her lone lorn lover,
ready to fly to her if others failed. Her self-love was wounded sorely,
and she, poor silly soul, mistook it for love of David. She began to fancy
that after all she had loved him, and that Fate had somehow played her a
mad trick and tied her to a husband she had not wanted.

Then out of the watchings of the day and the fancies of the night, there
grew a thought—and the thought widened into a plan. She thought of her
intimacy with Harry and her new found power. Might she perhaps exercise it
over others as well as Harry Temple? Might she possibly lead back this man
who had once been her lover, to bow at her feet again and worship her? If
that might be she could bear all the rest. She began to long with intense
craving to see David grovel at her feet, to hear him plead for a kiss from
her, and tell her once more how beautiful she was, and how she fulfilled
all his soul’s ideals. She sat by the open window yet with the icy air of
the night blowing upon her, but her cheeks burned red in the darkness, and
her eyes glowed like coals of fire from the tawny framing of her fallen
hair. The blankets slipped away from her throat and still she heeded not
the cold, but sat with hot clenched hands planning with the devil’s own
strategy her shameless scheme.

By and by she lighted a candle and drew her writing materials toward her
to write, but it was long she sat and thought before she finally wrote the
hastily scrawled note, signed and sealed it, and blowing out her candle
lay down to sleep.

The letter was addressed to David, and it ran thus:


    “DEAR DAVID:”

    “I have just heard that you are in New York. I am in great
    distress and do not know where to turn for help. For the sake of
    what we have been to each other in the past will you come to me?

                                          “Hastily, your loving KATE.”


She did not know where David was but she felt reasonably sure she could
find out his address in the morning. There was a small boy living next
door who was capable of ferreting out almost anything for money. Kate had
employed him more than once as an amateur detective in cases of minor
importance. So, with a bit of silver and her letter she made her way to
his familiar haunts and explained most carefully that the letter was to be
delivered to no one but the man to whom it was addressed, naming several
stopping places where he might be likely to be found, and hinting that
there was more silver to be forthcoming when he should bring her an answer
to the note. With a minute description of David the keen-eyed urchin set
out, while Kate betook herself to her room to dress for David’s coming.
She felt sure he would be found, and confident that he would come at once.

The icy wind of the night before blowing on her exposed throat and chest
had given her a severe cold, but she paid no heed to that. Her eyes and
cheeks were shining with fever. She knew she was entering upon a dangerous
and unholy way. The excitement of it stimulated her. She felt she did not
care for anything, right or wrong, sin or sorrow, only to win. She wanted
to see David at her feet again. It was the only thing that would satisfy
this insatiable longing in her, this wounded pride of self.

When she was dressed she stood before the mirror and surveyed herself. She
knew she was beautiful, and she defied the glass to tell her anything
else. She raised her chin in haughty challenge to the unseen David to
resist her charms. She would bring him low before her. She would make him
forget Marcia, and his home and his staid Puritan notions, and all else he
held dear but herself. He should bend and kiss her hand as Harry had done,
only more warmly, for instinctively she felt that his had been the purer
life and therefore his surrender would mean more. He should do whatever
she chose. And her eyes glowed with an unhallowed light.

She had chosen to array herself regally, in velvet, but in black, without
a touch of color or of white. From her rich frock her slender throat rose
daintily, like a stem upon which nodded the tempting flower of her face.
No enameled complexion could have been more striking in its vivid reds and
whites, and her mass of gold hair made her seem more lovely than she
really was, for in her face was love of self, alluring, but heartless and
cruel.

The boy found David, as Kate had thought he would, in one of the quieter
hostelries where men of letters were wont to stop when in New York, and
David read the letter and came at once. She had known that he would do
that, too. His heart beat wildly, to the exclusion of all other thoughts
save that she was in trouble, his love, his dear one. He forgot Marcia,
and the young naval officer, and everything but her trouble, and before he
had reached her house the sorrow had grown in his imagination into some
great danger to protect her from which he was hastening.

She received him alone in the room where Harry Temple had first called,
and a moment later Harry himself came to knock and enquire for the health
of Mistress Leavenworth, and was told she was very much engaged at present
with a gentleman and could not see any one, whereupon Harry scowled, and
set himself at a suitable distance from the house to watch who should come
out.

David’s face was white as death as he entered, his eyes shining like dark
jewels blazing at her as if he would absorb the vision for the lonely
future. She stood and posed,—not by any means the picture of broken sorrow
he had expected to find from her note,—and let the sense of her beauty
reach him. There she stood with the look on her face he had pictured to
himself many a time when he had thought of her as his wife. It was a look
of love unutterable, bewildering, alluring, compelling. It was so he had
thought she would meet him when he came home to her from his daily
business cares. And now she was there, looking that way, and he stood
here, so near her, and yet a great gulf fixed! It was heaven and hell met
together, and he had no power to change either.

He did not come over to her and bow low to kiss the white hand as Harry
had done,—as she had thought she could compel him to do. He only stood and
looked at her with the pain of an anguish beyond her comprehension, until
the look would have burned through to her heart—if she had had a heart.

“You are in trouble,” he spoke hoarsely, as if murmuring an excuse for
having come.

She melted at once into the loveliest sorrow, her mobile features taking
on a wan cast only enlivened by the glow of her cheeks.

“Sit down,” she said, “you were so good to come to me, and so soon—” and
her voice was like lily-bells in a quiet church-yard among the
head-stones. She placed him a chair.

“Yes, I am in trouble. But that is a slight thing compared to my
unhappiness. I think I am the most miserable creature that breathes upon
this earth.”

And with that she dropped into a low chair and hid her glowing face in a
dainty, lace bordered kerchief that suppressed a well-timed sob.

Kate had wisely calculated how she could reach David’s heart. If she had
looked up then and seen his white, drawn look, and the tense grasp of his
hands that only the greatest self-control kept quiet on his knee, perhaps
even her mercilessness would have been softened. But she did not look, and
she felt her part was well taken. She sobbed quietly, and waited, and his
hoarse voice asked once more, as gently as a woman’s through his pain:

“Will you tell me what it is and how I can help you?” He longed to take
her in his arms like a little child and comfort her, but he might not. She
was another’s. And perhaps that other had been cruel to her! His clenched
fists showed how terrible was the thought. But still the bowed figure in
its piteous black sobbed and did not reply anything except, “Oh, I am so
unhappy! I cannot bear it any longer.”

“Is—your—your—husband unkind to you?” The words tore themselves from his
tense lips as though they were beyond his control.

“Oh, no,—not exactly unkind—that is—he was not very nice before he went
away,” wailed out a sad voice from behind the linen cambric and lace, “and
he went away without a kind word, and left me hardly any money—and he
hasn’t sent me any word since—and fa-father won’t have anything to do with
me any more—but—but—it’s not that I mind, David. I don’t think about those
things at all. I’m so unhappy about you. I feel you do not forgive me, and
I cannot stand it any longer. I have made a fearful mistake, and you are
angry with me—I think about it at night”—the voice was growing lower now,
and the sentences broken by sobs that told better than words what distress
the sufferer would convey.

“I have been so wicked—and you were so good and kind—and now you will
never forgive me—I think it will kill me to keep on thinking about it—”
her voice trailed off in tears again.

David white with anguish sprang to his feet.

“Oh, Kate,” he cried, “my darling! Don’t talk that way. You know I forgive
you. Look up and tell me you know I forgive you.”

Almost she smiled her triumph beneath her sobs in the little lace border,
but she looked up with real tears on her face. Even her tears obeyed her
will. She was a good actress, also she knew her power over David.

“Oh, David,” she cried, standing up and clasping her hands beseechingly,
“can it be true? Do you really forgive me? Tell me again.”

She came and stood temptingly near to the stern, suffering man wild with
the tumult that raged within him. Her golden head was near his shoulder
where it had rested more than once in time gone by. He looked down at her
from his suffering height his arms folded tightly and said, as though
taking oath before a court of justice:

“I do.”

She looked up with her pleading blue eyes, like two jewels of light now,
questioning whether she might yet go one step further. Her breath came
quick and soft, he fancied it touched his cheek, though she was not tall
enough for that. She lifted her tear-wet face like a flower after a storm,
and pleaded with her eyes once more, saying in a whisper very soft and
sweet:

“If you really forgive me, then kiss me, just once, so I may remember it
always.”

It was more than he could bear. He caught her to himself and pressed his
lips upon hers in one frenzied kiss of torture. It was as if wrung from
him against his will. Then suddenly it came upon him what he had done, as
he held her in his arms, and he put her from him gently, as a mother might
put away the precious child she was sacrificing tenderly, agonizingly, but
finally. He put her from him thus and stood a moment looking at her, while
she almost sparkled her pleasure at him through the tears. She felt that
she had won.

But gradually the silence grew ominous. She perceived he was not smiling.
His mien was like one who looks into an open grave, and gazes for the last
time at all that remains of one who is dear. He did not seem like one who
had yielded a moral point and was ready now to serve her as she would. She
grew uneasy under his gaze. She moved forward and put out her hands
inviting, yielding, as only such a woman could do, and the spell which
bound him seemed to be broken. He fumbled for a moment in his waistcoat
pocket and brought out a large roll of bills which he laid upon the table,
and taking up his hat turned toward the door. A cold wave of weakness
seemed to pass over her, stung here and there by mortal pride that was in
fear of being wounded beyond recovery.

“Where are you going?” she asked weakly, and her voice sounded to her from
miles away, and strange.

He turned and looked at her again and she knew the look meant farewell. He
did not speak. Her whole being rose for one more mighty effort.

“You are not going to leave me—now?” There was angelic sweetness in the
voice, pleading, reproachful, piteous.

“I must!” he said, and his voice sounded harsh. “I have just done that for
which, were I your husband, I would feel like killing any other man. I
must protect you against yourself,—against myself. You must be kept pure
before God if it kills us both. I would gladly die if that could help you,
but I am not even free to do that, for I belong to another.”

Then he turned and was gone.

Kate’s hands fell to her sides, and seemed stiff and lifeless. The bright
color faded from her cheeks, and a cold frenzy of horror took possession
of her. “Pure before God!” She shuddered at the name, and crimson shame
rolled over forehead and cheek. She sank in a little heap on the floor
with her face buried in the chair beside which she had been standing, and
the waters of humiliation rolled wave on wave above her. She had failed,
and for one brief moment she was seeing her own sinful heart as it was.

But the devil was there also. He whispered to her now the last sentence
that David had spoken: “I belong to another!”

Up to that moment Marcia had been a very negative factor in the affair to
Kate’s mind. She had been annoyed and angry at her as one whose ignorance
and impertinence had brought her into an affair where she did not belong,
but now she suddenly faced the fact that Marcia must be reckoned with.
Marcia the child, who had for years been her slave and done her bidding,
had arisen in her way, and she hated her with a sudden vindictive hate
that would have killed without flinching if the opportunity had presented
at that moment. Kate had no idea how utterly uncontrolled was her whole
nature. She was at the mercy of any passing passion. Hate and revenge took
possession of her now. With flashing eyes she rose to her feet, brushing
her tumbled hair back and wiping away angry tears. She was too much
agitated to notice that some one had knocked at the front door and been
admitted, and when Harry Temple walked into the room he found her standing
so with hands clenched together, and tears flowing down her cheeks
unchecked.

Now a woman in tears, when the tears were not caused by his own actions,
was Harry’s opportunity. He had ways of comforting which were as
unscrupulous as they generally proved effective, and so with affectionate
tenderness he took Kate’s hand and held it impressively, calling her
“dear.” He spoke soothing words, smoothed her hair, and kissed her flushed
cheeks and eyes. It was all very pleasant to Kate’s hurt pride. She let
Harry comfort her, and pet her a while, and at last he said:

“Now tell me all about it, dear. I saw Lord Spafford trail dejectedly away
from here looking like death, and I come here and find my lady in a fine
fury. What has happened? If I mistake not the insufferable cad has got
badly hurt, but it seems to have ruffled the lady also.”

This helped. It was something to feel that David was suffering. She wanted
him to suffer. He had brought shame and humiliation upon her. She never
realized that the thing that shamed her was that he thought her better
than she was.

“He is offensively good. I _hate_ him!” she remarked as a kitten might who
had got hurt at playing with a mouse in a trap.

The man’s face grew bland with satisfaction.

“Not so good, my lady, but that he has been making love to you, if I
mistake not, and he with a wife at home.” The words were said quietly, but
there was more of a question in them than the tone conveyed. The man
wished to have evidence against his enemy.

Kate colored uneasily and drooped her lashes.

Harry studied her face keenly, and then went on cautiously:

“If his wife were not your sister I should say that one might punish him
well through her.”

Kate cast him a hard, scrutinizing look.

“You have some score against him yourself,” she said with conviction.

“Perhaps I have, my lady. Perhaps I too hate him. He is offensively good,
you know.”

There was silence in the room for a full minute while the devil worked in
both hearts.

“What did you mean by saying one might punish him through his wife? He
does not love his wife.”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite sure.”

“Perhaps he loves some one else, my lady.”

“He does.” She said it proudly.

“Perhaps he loves you, my lady.” He said it softly like the suggestion
from another world. The lady was silent, but he needed no other answer.

“Then indeed, the way would be even clearer,—were not his wife your
sister.”

Kate looked at him, a half knowledge of his meaning beginning to dawn in
her eyes.

“How?” she asked laconically.

“In case his wife should leave him do you think my lord would hold his
head so high?”

Kate still looked puzzled.

“If some one else should win her affection, and should persuade her to
leave a husband who did not love her, and who was bestowing his heart”—he
hesitated an instant and his eye traveled significantly to the roll of
bills still lying where David had left them—“and his gifts,” he hazarded,
“upon another woman——”

Kate grasped the thought at once and an evil glint of eagerness showed in
her eyes. She could see what an advantage it would be to herself to have
Marcia removed from the situation. It would break one more cord of honor
that bound David to a code which was hateful to her now, because its
existence shamed her. Nevertheless, unscrupulous as she was she could not
see how this was a possibility.

“But she is offensively good too,” she said as if answering her own
thoughts.

“All goodness has its weak spot,” sneered the man. “If I mistake not you
have found my lord’s. It is possible I might find his wife’s.”

The two pairs of eyes met then, filled with evil light. It was as if for
an instant they were permitted to look into the pit, and see the
possibilities of wickedness, and exult in it. The lurid glare of their
thoughts played in their faces. All the passion of hate and revenge rushed
upon Kate in a frenzy. With all her heart she wished this might be. She
looked her co-operation in the plan even before her hard voice answered:

“You need not stop because she is my sister.”

He felt he had her permission, and he permitted himself a glance of
admiration for the depths to which she could go without being daunted.
Here was evil courage worthy of his teaching. She seemed to him beautiful
enough and daring enough for Satan himself to admire.

“And may I have the pleasure of knowing that I would by so doing serve my
lady in some wise?”

She drooped her shameless eyes and murmured guardedly, “Perhaps.” Then she
swept him a coquettish glance that meant they understood one another.

“Then I shall feel well rewarded,” he said gallantly, and bowing with more
than his ordinary flattery of look bade her good day and went out.



                               CHAPTER XXII


David stumbled blindly out the door and down the street. His one thought
was to get to his room at the tavern and shut the door. He had an
important appointment that morning, but it passed completely from his
mind. He met one or two men whom he knew, but he did not see them, and
passed them swiftly without a glance of recognition. They said one to
another, “How absorbed he is in the great themes of the world!” but David
passed on in his pain and misery and humiliation and never knew they were
near him.

He went to the room that had been his since he had reached New York, and
fastening the door against all intrusion fell upon his knees beside the
bed, and let the flood-tide of his sorrow roll over him. Not even when
Kate had played him false on his wedding morning had he felt the pain that
now cut into his very soul. For now there was mingled with it the agony of
consciousness of sin. He had sinned against heaven, against honor and
love, and all that was pure and good. He was just like any bad man. He had
yielded to sudden temptation and taken another man’s wife in his arms and
kissed her! That the woman had been his by first right, and that he loved
her: that she had invited the kiss, indeed pleaded for it, his sensitive
conscience told him in no wise lessened the offense. He had also caused
her whom he loved to sin. He was a man and knew the world. He should have
shielded her against herself. And yet as he went over and over the whole
painful scene through which he had just passed his soul cried out in agony
and he felt his weakness more and more. He had failed, failed most
miserably. Acted like any coward!

The humiliation of it was unspeakable. Could any sorrow be like unto his?
Like a knife flashing through the gloom of his own shame would come the
echo of her words as she pleaded with him to kiss her. It was a kiss of
forgiveness she had wanted, and she had put her heart into her eyes and
begged as for her very life. How could he have refused? Then he would
parley with himself for a long time trying to prove to himself that the
kiss and the embrace were justified, that he had done no wrong in God’s
sight. And ever after this round of confused arguing he would end with the
terrible conviction that he had sinned.

Sometimes Marcia’s sweet face and troubled eyes would appear to him as he
wrestled all alone, and seemed to be longing to help him, and again would
come the piercing thought that he had harmed this gentle girl also. He had
tangled her into his own spoiled web of life, and been disloyal to her.
She was pure and true and good. She had given up every thing to help him
and he had utterly forgotten her. He had promised to love, cherish, and
protect her! That was another sin. He could not love and cherish her when
his whole heart was another’s. Then he thought of Kate’s husband, that
treacherous man who had stolen his bride and now gone away and left her
sorrowing—left her without money, penniless in a strange city. Why had he
not been more calm and questioned her before he came away. Perhaps she was
in great need. It comforted him to think he had left her all the money he
had with him. There was enough to keep her from want for a while. And yet,
perhaps he had been wrong to give it to her. He had no right to give it!

He groaned aloud at the thought of his helplessness to help her
helplessness. Was there not some way he could find out and help her
without doing wrong?

Over and over he went through the whole dreadful day, until his brain was
weary and his heart failed him. The heavens seemed brass and no answer
came to his cry,—the appeal of a broken soul. It seemed that he could not
get up from his knees, could not go out into the world again and face
life. He had been tried and had failed, and yet though he knew his sin he
felt an intolerable longing to commit it over again. He was frightened at
his own weakness, and with renewed vigor he began to pray for help. It was
like the prayer of Jacob of old, the crying out of a soul that would not
be denied. All day long the struggle continued, and far into the night. At
last a great peace began to settle upon David’s soul. Things that had been
confused by his passionate longings grew clear as day. Self dropped away,
and sin, conquered, slunk out of sight. Right and Wrong were once more
clearly defined in his mind. However wrong it might or might not be he was
here in this situation. He had married Marcia and promised to be true to
her. He was doubly cut off from Kate by her own act and by his. That was
his punishment,—and hers. He must not seek to lessen it even for her, for
it was God-sent. Henceforth his path and hers must be apart. If she were
to be helped in any way from whatsoever trouble was hers, it was not
permitted him to be the instrument. He had shown his unfitness for it in
his interview that morning, even if in the eyes of the world it could have
been at all. It was his duty to cut himself off from her forever. He must
not even think of her any more. He must be as true and good to Marcia as
was possible. He must do no more wrong. He must grow strong and suffer.

The peace that came with conviction brought sleep to his weary mind and
body.

When he awoke it was almost noon. He remembered the missed appointment of
the day before, and the journey to Washington which he had planned for
that day. With a start of horror he looked at his watch and found he had
but a few hours in which to try to make up for the remissness of yesterday
before the evening coach left for Philadelphia. It was as if some guardian
angel had met his first waking thoughts with business that could not be
delayed and so kept him from going over the painful events of the day
before. He arose and hastened out into the world once more.

Late in the afternoon he found the man he was to have met the day before,
and succeeded in convincing him that he ought to help the new enterprise.
He was standing on the corner saying the last few words as the two
separated, when Kate drove by in a friend’s carriage, surrounded by
parcels. She had been on a shopping tour spending the money that David had
given her, for silks and laces and jewelry, and now she was returning in
high glee with her booty. The carriage passed quite near to David who
stood with his back to the street, and she could see his animated face as
he smiled at the other man, a fine looking man who looked as if he might
be some one of note. The momentary glance did not show the haggard look of
David’s face nor the lines that his vigil of the night before had traced
under his eyes, and Kate was angered to see him so unconcerned and
forgetful of his pain of yesterday. Her face darkened with spite, and she
resolved to make him suffer yet, and to the utmost, for the sin of
forgetting her.

But David was in the way of duty, and he did not see her, for his guardian
angel was hovering close at hand.



As the Fall wore on and the winter set in Harry’s letters became less
frequent and less intimate. Hannah was troubled, and after consultation
with her grandmother, to which Miranda listened at the latch hole, duly
reporting quotations to her adored Mrs. Spafford, Hannah decided upon an
immediate trip to the metropolis.

“Hannah’s gone to New York to find out what’s become of that nimshi Harry
Temple. She thought she had him fast, an’ she’s been holdin’ him over poor
Lemuel Skinner’s head like thet there sword hangin’ by a hair I heard the
minister tell about last Sunday, till Lemuel, he don’t know but every
minute’s gone’ll be his last. You mark my words, she’ll hev to take poor
Lem after all, an’ be glad she’s got him, too,—and she’s none too good for
him neither. He’s ben faithful to her ever since she wore pantalets, an’
she’s ben keepin’ him off’n on an’ hopin’ an’ tryin’ fer somebody bigger.
It would jes’ serve her right ef she’d get that fool of a Harry Temple,
but she won’t. He’s too sharp for that ef he _is_ a fool. He don’t want to
tie himself up to no woman’s aprun strings. He rather dandle about after
’em all an’ say pretty things, an’ keep his earnin’s fer himself.”

Hannah reached New York the week after David left for Washington. She
wrote beforehand to Harry to let him know she was coming, and made plain
that she expected his attentions exclusively while there, and he smiled
blandly as he read the letter and read her intentions between the lines.
He told Kate a good deal about her that evening when he went to call, told
her how he had heard she was an old flame of David’s, and Kate’s jealousy
was immediately aroused. She wished to meet Hannah Heath. There was a sort
of triumph in the thought that she had scorned and flung aside the man
whom this woman had “set her cap” for, even though another woman was now
in the place that neither had. Hannah went to visit a cousin in New York
who lived in a quiet part of the city and did not go out much, but for
reasons best known to themselves, both Kate Leavenworth and Harry Temple
elected to see a good deal of her while she was in the city. Harry was
pleasant and attentive, but not more to one woman than to the other.
Hannah, watching him jealously, decided that at least Kate was not her
rival in his affections, and so Hannah and Kate became quite friendly.
Kate had a way of making much of her women friends when she chose, and she
happened to choose in this case, for it occurred to her it would be well
to have a friend in the town where lived her sister and her former lover.
There might be reasons why, sometime. She opened her heart of hearts to
Hannah, and Hannah, quite discreetly, and without wasting much of her
scanty store of love, entered, and the friendship was sealed. They had not
known each other many days before Kate had confided to Hannah the story of
her own marriage and her sister’s, embellished of course as she chose.
Hannah, astonished, puzzled, wondering, curious, at the tragedy that had
been enacted at her very home door, became more friendly than ever and
hated more cordially than ever the young and innocent wife who had stepped
into the vacant place and so made her own hopes and ambitions impossible.
She felt that she would like to put down the pert young thing for daring
to be there, and to be pretty, and now she felt she had the secret which
would help her to do so.

As the visit went on and it became apparent to Hannah Heath that she was
not the one woman in all the world to Harry Temple, she hinted to Kate
that it was likely she would be married soon. She even went so far as to
say that she had come away from home to decide the matter, and that she
had but to say the word and the ceremony would come off. Kate questioned
eagerly, and seeing her opportunity asked if she might come to the
wedding. Hannah, flattered, and seeing a grand opportunity for a wholesale
triumph and revenge, assented with pleasure. Afterward as Hannah had hoped
and intended, Kate carried the news of the impending decision and probable
wedding to the ears of Harry Temple.

But Hannah’s hint had no further effect upon the redoubtable Harry. Two
days later he appeared, smiling, congratulatory, deploring the fact that
she would be lost in a certain sense to his friendship, although he hoped
always to be looked upon as a little more than a friend.

Hannah covered her mortification under a calm and condescending exterior.
She blushed appropriately, said some sentimental things about hoping their
friendship would not be affected by the change, told him how much she had
enjoyed their correspondence, but gave him to understand that it had been
mere friendship of course from her point of view, and Harry indulgently
allowed her to think that he had hoped for more and was grieved but
consolable over the outcome.

They waxed a trifle sentimental at the parting, but when Harry was gone,
Hannah wrote a most touching letter to Lemuel Skinner which raised him to
the seventh heaven of delight, causing him to feel that he was treading
upon air as he walked the prosaic streets of his native town where he had
been going about during Hannah’s absence like a lost spirit without a
guiding star.


    “DEAR LEMUEL:” she wrote:—

    “I am coming home. I wonder if you will be glad?


(Artful Hannah, as if she did not know!)


    “It is very delightful in New York and I have been having a gay
    time since I came, and everybody has been most pleasant, but—

      “’Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
      Still, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
      A charm from the skies seems to hallow it there,
      Which, go through the world, you’ll not meet with elsewhere.
                          Home, home, sweet home!
                        There’s no place like home.

    “That is a new song, Lemuel, that everybody here is singing. It is
    written by a young American named John Howard Payne who is in
    London now acting in a great playhouse. Everybody is wild over
    this song. I’ll sing it for you when I come home.

    “I shall be at home in time for singing school next week, Lemuel.
    I wonder if you’ll come to see me at once and welcome me. You
    cannot think how glad I shall be to get home again. It seems as
    though I had been gone a year at least. Hoping to see you soon, I
    remain

                                     “Always your sincere friend,

                                                       “HANNAH HEATH.”


And thus did Hannah make smooth her path before her, and very soon after
inditing this epistle she bade good-bye to New York and took her way home
resolved to waste no further time in chasing will-o-the-wisps.

When Lemuel received that letter he took a good look at himself in the
glass. More than seven years had he served for Hannah, and little hope had
he had of a final reward. He was older by ten years than she, and already
his face began to show it. He examined himself critically, and was pleased
to find with that light of hope in his eyes he was not so bad looking as
he feared. He betook himself to the village tailor forthwith and ordered a
new suit of clothes, though his Sunday best was by no means shiny yet. He
realized that if he did not win now he never would, and he resolved to do
his best.

On the way home, during all the joltings of the coach over rough roads
Hannah Heath was planning two campaigns, one of love with Lemuel, and one
of hate with Marcia Spafford. She was possessed of knowledge which she
felt would help her in the latter, and often she smiled vindictively as
she laid her neat plans for the destruction of the bride’s complacency.

That night the fire in the Heath parlor burned high and glowed, and the
candles in their silver holders flickered across fair Hannah’s face as she
dimpled and smiled and coquetted with poor Lemuel. But Lemuel needed no
pity. He was not afraid of Hannah. Not for nothing had he served his seven
years, and he understood every fancy and foible of her shallow nature. He
knew his time had come at last, and he was getting what he had wanted
long, for Lemuel had admired and loved Hannah in spite of the dance she
had led him, and in spite of the other lovers she had allowed to come
between them.

Hannah had not been at home many days before she called upon Marcia.

Marcia had just seated herself at the piano when Hannah appeared to her
from the hall, coming in unannounced through the kitchen door according to
old neighborly fashion.

Marcia was vexed. She arose from the instrument and led the way to the
little morning room which was sunny and cosy, and bare of music or books.
She did not like to visit with Hannah in the parlor. Somehow her presence
reminded her of the evil face of Harry Temple as he had stooped to kiss
her.

“You know how to play, too, don’t you?” said Hannah as they sat down.
“Your sister plays beautifully. Do you know the new song, ‘Home, Sweet
Home?’ She plays it with so much feeling and sings it so that one would
think her heart was breaking for her home. You must have been a united
family.” Hannah said it with sharp scrutiny in voice and eyes.

“Sit down, Miss Heath,” said Marcia coolly, lowering the yellow shades
that her visitor’s eyes might not be troubled by a broad sunbeam. “Did you
have a pleasant time in New York?”

Hannah could not be sure whether or not the question was an evasion. The
utterly child-like manner of Marcia disarmed suspicion.

“Oh, delightful, of course. Could any one have anything else in New York?”

Hannah laughed disagreeably. She realized the limitations of life in a
town.

“I suppose,” said Marcia, her eyes shining with the thought, “that you saw
all the wonderful things of the city. I should enjoy being in New York a
little while. I have heard of so many new things. Were there any ships in
the harbor? I have always wanted to go over a great ship. Did you have
opportunity of seeing one?”

“Oh, dear me. No!” said Hannah. “I shouldn’t have cared in the least for
that. I’m sure I don’t know whether there were any ships in or not. I
suppose there were. I saw a lot of sails on the water, but I did not ask
about them. I’m not interested in dirty boats. I liked visiting the shops
best. Your sister took me about everywhere. She is a most charming
creature. You must miss her greatly. You were a sly little thing to cut
her out.”

Marcia’s face flamed crimson with anger and amazement. Hannah’s dart had
hit the mark, and she was watching keenly to see her victim quiver.

“I do not understand you,” said Marcia with girlish dignity.

“Oh, now don’t pretend to misunderstand. I’ve heard all about it from
headquarters,” she said it archly, laughing. “But then I don’t blame you.
David was worth it.” Hannah ended with a sigh. If she had ever cared for
any one besides herself that one was David Spafford.

“I do not understand you,” said Marcia again, drawing herself up with all
the Schuyler haughtiness she could master, till she quite resembled her
father.

“Now, Mrs. Spafford,” said the visitor, looking straight into her face and
watching every expression as a cat would watch a mouse, “you don’t mean to
tell me your sister was not at one time very intimate with your husband.”

“Mr. Spafford has been intimate in our family for a number of years,” said
Marcia proudly, her fighting fire up, “but as for my having ‘cut my sister
out’ as you call it, you have certainly been misinformed. Excuse me, I
think I will close the kitchen door. It seems to blow in here and make a
draft.”

Marcia left the room with her head up and her fine color well under
control, and when she came back her head was still up and a distant
expression was in her face. Somehow Hannah felt she had not gained much
after all. But Marcia, after Hannah’s departure, went up to her cold room
and wept bitter tears on her pillow alone.

                 [Illustration: Copyright by C. Klackner
       MARCIA PASSED FROM THE OLD STONE CHURCH WITH THE TWO AUNTS.]

                        Copyright by C. Klackner
       MARCIA PASSED FROM THE OLD STONE CHURCH WITH THE TWO AUNTS.


After that first visit Hannah never found the kitchen door unlocked when
she came to make a morning call, but she improved every little opportunity
to torment her gentle victim. She had had a letter from Kate and had
Marcia heard? How often did Kate write her? Did Marcia know how fond Harry
Temple was of Kate? And where was Kate’s husband? Would he likely be
ordered home soon? These little annoyances were almost unbearable
sometimes and Marcia had much ado to keep her sweetness of outward
demeanor.

People looked upon Lemuel with new respect. He had finally won where they
had considered him a fool for years for hanging on. The added respect
brought added self-respect. He took on new manliness. Grandmother Heath
felt that he really was not so bad after all, and perhaps Hannah might as
well have taken him at first. Altogether the Heath family were well
pleased, and preparations began at once for a wedding in the near future.

And still David lingered, held here and there by a call from first one man
and then another, and by important doings in Congress. He seemed to be
rarely fitted for the work.

Once he was called back to New York for a day or two, and Harry Temple
happened to see him as he arrived. That night he wrote to Hannah a
friendly letter—Harry was by no means through with Hannah yet—and casually
remarked that he saw David Spafford was in New York again. He supposed now
that Mrs. Leavenworth’s evenings would be fully occupied and society would
see little of her while he remained.

The day after Hannah received that letter was Sunday.

The weeks had gone by rapidly since David left his home, and now the
spring was coming on. The grass was already green as summer and the willow
tree by the graveyard gate was tender and green like a spring-plume. All
the foliage was out and fluttering its new leaves in the sunshine as
Marcia passed from the old stone church with the two aunts and opened her
little green sunshade. Her motion made David’s last letter rustle in her
bosom. It thrilled her with pleasure that not even the presence of Hannah
Heath behind her could cloud.

However prim and fault-finding the two aunts might be in the seclusion of
their own home, in public no two could have appeared more adoring than
Amelia and Hortense Spafford. They hovered near Marcia and delighted to
show how very close and intimate was the relationship between themselves
and their new and beautiful niece, of whom in their secret hearts they
were prouder than they would have cared to tell. In their best black silks
and their fine lace shawls they walked beside her and talked almost
eagerly, if those two stately beings could have anything to do with a
quality so frivolous as eagerness. They wished it understood that David’s
wife was worthy of appreciation and they were more conscious than she of
the many glances of admiration in her direction.

Hannah Heath encountered some of those admiring glances and saw jealously
for whom they were meant. She hastened to lean forward and greet Marcia,
her spiteful tongue all ready for a stab.

“Good morning, Mrs. Spafford. Is that husband of yours not home yet?
Really! Why, he’s quite deserted you. I call that hard for the first year,
and your honeymoon scarcely over yet.”

“He’s been called back to New York again,” said Marcia annoyed over the
spiteful little sentences. “He says he may be at home soon, but he cannot
be sure. His business is rather uncertain.”

“New York!” said Hannah, and her voice was annoyingly loud. “What! Not
again! There must be some great attraction there,” and then with a meaning
glance, “I suppose your sister is still there!”

Marcia felt her face crimsoning, and the tears starting from angry eyes.
She felt a sudden impulse to slap Hannah. What if she should! What would
the aunts say? The thought of the tumult she might make roused her sense
of humor and a laugh bubbled up instead of the tears, and Hannah,
watching, cat-like, could only see eyes dancing with fun though the cheeks
were charmingly red. By Hannah’s expression Marcia knew she was baffled,
but Marcia could not get away from the disagreeable suggestion that had
been made.

Yes, David was in New York, and Kate was there. Not for an instant did she
doubt her husband’s nobleness. She knew David would be good and true. She
knew little of the world’s wickedness, and never thought of any blame, as
other women might, in such a suggestion. But a great jealousy sprang into
being that she never dreamed existed. Kate was there, and he would perhaps
see her, and all his old love and disappointment would be brought to mind
again. Had she, Marcia, been hoping he would forget it? Had she been
claiming something of him in her heart for herself? She could not tell.
She did not know what all this tumult of feeling meant. She longed to get
away and think it over, but the solemn Sunday must be observed. She must
fold away her church things, put on another frock and come down to the
oppressive Sunday dinner, hear Deacon Brown’s rheumatism discussed, or
listen to a long comparison of the morning’s sermon with one preached
twenty years ago by the minister, now long dead upon the same text. It was
all very hard to keep her mind upon, with these other thoughts rushing
pell-mell through her brain; and when Aunt Amelia asked her to pass the
butter, she handed the sugar-bowl instead. Miss Amelia looked as shocked
as if she had broken the great-grandmother’s china teapot.

Aunt Clarinda claimed her after dinner and carried her off to her room to
talk about David, so that Marcia had no chance to think even then. Miss
Clarinda looked into the sweet shadowed eyes and wondered why the girl
looked so sad. She thought it was because David stayed away so long, and
so she kept her with her all the rest of the day.

When Marcia went to her room that night she threw herself on her knees
beside the bed and tried to pray. She felt more lonely and heartsick than
she ever felt before in her life. She did not know what the great hunger
in her heart meant. It was terrible to think David had loved Kate. Kate
never loved him in return in the right way. Marcia felt very sure of that.
She wished she might have had the chance in Kate’s place, and then all of
a sudden the revelation came to her. She loved David herself with a great
overwhelming love. Not just a love that could come and keep house for him
and save him from the criticisms and comments of others; but with a love
that demanded to be loved in return; a love that was mindful of every dear
lineament of his countenance. The knowledge thrilled through her with a
great sweetness. She did not seem to care for anything else just now, only
to know that she loved David. David could never love her of course, not in
that way, but she would love him. She would try to shut out the thought of
Kate from him forever.

And so, dreaming, hovering on the edge of all that was bitter and all that
was sweet, she fell asleep with David’s letter clasped close over her
heart.



                              CHAPTER XXIII


Marcia had gone down to her own house the next morning very early. She had
hoped for a letter but none had come. Her soul was in torment between her
attempt to keep out of her mind the hateful things Hannah Heath had said,
and reproaching herself for what seemed to her her unseemly feeling toward
David, who loved another and could never love her. It was not a part of
her life-dream to love one who belonged to another. Yet her heart was his
and she was beginning to know that everything belonging to him was dear to
her. She went and sat in his place at the table, she touched with
tenderness the books upon his desk that he had used before he went away,
she went up to his room and laid her lips for one precious daring instant
upon his pillow, and then drew back with wildly beating heart ashamed of
her emotion. She knelt beside his bed and prayed: “Oh, God, I love him, I
love him! I cannot help it!” as if she would apologize for herself, and
then she hugged the thought of her love to herself, feeling its sweet pain
drift through her like some delicious agony. Her love had come through
sorrow to her, and was not as she would have had it could she have chosen.
It brought no ray of happy hope for the future, save just the happiness of
loving in secret, and of doing for the object loved, with no thought of a
returned affection.

Then she went slowly down the stairs, trying to think how it would seem
when David came back. He had been so long gone that it seemed as if
perhaps he might never return. She felt that it had been no part of the
spirit of her contract with David that she should render to him this wild
sweet love that he had expected Kate to give. He had not wanted it. He had
only wanted a wife in name.

Then the color would sweep over her face in a crimson drift and leave it
painfully white, and she would glide to the piano like a ghost of her
former self and play some sad sweet strain, and sometimes sing.

She had no heart for her dear old woods in these days. She had tried it
one day in spring; slipped over the back fence and away through the
ploughed field where the sea of silver oats had surged, and up to the
hillside and the woods; but she was so reminded of David that it only
brought heart aches and tears. She wondered if it was because she was
getting old that the hillside did not seem so joyous now, and she did not
care to look up into the sky just for the pure joy of sky and air and
clouds, nor to listen to the branches whisper to the robins nesting. She
stooped and picked a great handful of spring beauties, but they did not
seem to give her pleasure, and by and by she dropped them from listless
fingers and walked sedately down to the house once more.

On this morning she did not even care to play. She went into the parlor
and touched a few notes, but her heart was heavy and sad. Life was growing
too complex.

Last week there had come a letter from Harry Temple. It had startled her
when it arrived. She feared it was some ill-news about David, coming as it
did from New York and being written in a strange hand.

It had been a plea for forgiveness, representing that the writer had
experienced nothing but deep repentance and sorrow since the time he had
seen her last. He set forth his case in a masterly way, with little
touching facts of his childhood, and lonely upbringing, with no mother to
guide. He told her that her noble action toward him had but made him
revere her the more, and that, in short, she had made a new creature of
him by refusing to return his kiss that day, and leaving him alone with so
severe a rebuke. He felt that if all women were so good and true men would
be a different race, and now he looked up to her as one might look up to
an angel, and he felt he could never be happy again on this earth until he
had her written word of forgiveness. With that he felt he could live a new
life, and she must rest assured that he would never offer other than
reverence to any woman again. He further added that his action had not
intended any insult to her, that he was merely expressing his natural
admiration for a spirit so good and true, and that his soul was innocent
of any intention of evil. With sophistry in the use of which he was an
adept, he closed his epistle, fully clearing himself, and assuring her
that he could have made her understand it that day if she had not left so
suddenly, and he had not been almost immediately called away to the dying
bed of his dear cousin. This contradictory letter had troubled Marcia
greatly. She was keen enough to see that his logic was at fault, and that
the two pages of his letter did not hang together, but one thing was
plain, that he wished her forgiveness. The Bible said that one must
forgive, and surely it was right to let him know that she did, though when
she thought of the fright he had given her it was hard to do. Still, it
was right, and if he was so unhappy, perhaps she had better let him know.
She would rather have waited until David returned to consult him in the
matter, but the letter seemed so insistent that she had finally written a
stiff little note, in formal language, “Mrs. Spafford sends herewith her
full and free forgiveness to Mr. Harry Temple, and promises to think no
more of the matter.”

She would have liked to consult some one. She almost thought of taking
Aunt Clarinda into her confidence, but decided that she might not
understand. So she finally sent off the brief missive, and let her
troubled thoughts wander after it more than once.

She was standing by the window looking out into the yard perplexing
herself over this again when there came a loud knocking at the front door.
She started, half frightened, for the knock sounded through the empty
house so insistently. It seemed like trouble coming. She felt nervous as
she went down the hall.

It was only a little urchin, barefoot, and tow-headed. He had ridden an
old mare to the door, and left her nosing at the dusty grass. He brought
her a letter. Again her heart fluttered excitedly. Who could be writing to
her? It was not David. Why did the handwriting look familiar? It could not
be from any one at home. Father? Mother? No, it was no one she knew. She
tore it open, and the boy jumped on his horse and was off down the street
before she realized that he was gone.


    “DEAR MADAM:” the letter read,

    “I bring you news of your husband, and having met with an accident
    I am unable to come further. You will find me at the Green Tavern
    two miles out on the corduroy road. As the business is private,
    please come alone.

                                                        “A MESSENGER.”


Marcia trembled so that she sat down on the stairs. A sudden weakness went
over her like a wave, and the hall grew dark around her as though she were
going to faint. But she did not. She was strong and well and had never
fainted in her life. She rallied in a moment and tried to think. Something
had happened to David. Something dreadful, perhaps, and she must go at
once and find out. Still it must be something mysterious, for the man had
said it was private. Of course that meant David would not want it known.
David had intended that the man would come to her and tell her by herself.
She must go. There was nothing else to be done. She must go at once and
get rid of this awful suspense. It was a good day for the message to have
come, for she had brought her lunch expecting to do some spring cleaning.
David had been expected home soon, and she liked to make a bustle of
preparation as if he might come in any day, for it kept up her good cheer.

Having resolved to go she got up at once, closed the doors and windows,
put on her bonnet and went out down the street toward the old corduroy
road. It frightened her to think what might be at the end of her journey.
Possibly David himself, hurt or dying, and he had sent for her in this way
that she might break the news gently to his aunts. As she walked along she
conjured various forms of trouble that might have come to him. Now and
then she would try to take a cheerful view, saying to herself that David
might have needed more important papers, papers which he would not like
everyone to know about, and had sent by special messenger to her to get
them. Then her face would brighten and her step grow more brisk. But
always would come the dull thud of possibility of something more serious.
Her heart beat so fast sometimes that she was forced to lessen her speed
to get her breath, for though she was going through town, and must
necessarily walk somewhat soberly lest she call attention to herself, she
found that her nerves and imagination were fairly running ahead, and
waiting impatiently for her feet to catch up at every turning place.

At last she came to the corduroy road—a long stretch of winding way
overlaid with logs which made an unpleasant path. Most of the way was
swampy, and bordered in some places by thick, dark woods. Marcia sped on
from log to log, with a nervous feeling that she must step on each one or
her errand would not be successful. She was not afraid of the loneliness,
only of what might be coming at the end of her journey.

But suddenly, in the densest part of the wood, she became conscious of
footsteps echoing hers, and a chill laid hold upon her. She turned her
head and there, wildly gesticulating and running after her, was Miranda!

Annoyed, and impatient to be on her way, and wondering what to do with
Miranda, or what she could possibly want, Marcia stopped to wait for her.

“I thought—as you was goin’ ’long my way”—puffed Miranda, “I’d jes’ step
along beside you. You don’t mind, do you?”

Marcia looked troubled. If she should say she did then Miranda would think
it queer and perhaps suspect something.

She tried to smile and ask how far Miranda was going.

“Oh, I’m goin’ to hunt fer wild strawberries,” said the girl nonchalantly
clattering a big tin pail.

“Isn’t it early yet for strawberries?” questioned Marcia.

“Well, mebbe, an’ then ag’in mebbe ’tain’t. I know a place I’m goin’ to
look anyway. Are you goin’ ’s fur ’s the Green Tavern?”

Miranda’s bright eyes looked her through and through, and Marcia’s
truthful ones could not evade. Suddenly as she looked into the girl’s
homely face, filled with a kind of blind adoration, her heart yearned for
counsel in this trying situation. She was reminded of Miranda’s
helpfulness the time she ran away to the woods, and the care with which
she had guarded the whole matter so that no one ever heard of it. An
impulse came to her to confide in Miranda. She was a girl of sharp common
sense, and would perhaps be able to help with her advice. At least she
could get comfort from merely telling her trouble and anxiety.

“Miranda,” she said, “can you keep a secret?”

The girl nodded.

“Well, I’m going to tell you something, just because I am so troubled and
I feel as if it would do me good to tell it.” She smiled and Miranda
answered the smile with much satisfaction and no surprise. Miranda had
come for this, though she did not expect her way to be so easy.

“I’ll be mum as an oyster,” said Miranda. “You jest tell me anything you
please. You needn’t be afraid Hannah Heath’ll know a grain about it.
She’n’ I are two people. I know when to shut up.”

“Well, Miranda, I’m in great perplexity and anxiety. I’ve just had a note
from a messenger my husband has sent asking me to come out to that Green
Tavern you were talking about. He was sent to me with some message and has
had an accident so he couldn’t come. It kind of frightened me to think
what might be the matter. I’m glad you are going this way because it keeps
me from thinking about it. Are we nearly there? I never went out this road
so far before.”

“It ain’t fur,” said Miranda as if that were a minor matter. “I’ll go
right along in with you, then you needn’t feel lonely. I guess likely it’s
business. Don’t you worry.” The tone was reassuring, but Marcia’s face
looked troubled.

“No, I guess that won’t do, Miranda, for the note says it is a private
matter and I must come alone. You know Mr. Spafford has matters to write
about that are very important, railroads, and such things, and sometimes
he doesn’t care to have any one get hold of his ideas before they appear
in the paper. His enemies might use them to stop the plans of the great
improvements he is writing about.”

“Let me see that note!” demanded Miranda. “Got it with you?” Marcia
hesitated. Perhaps she ought not to show it, and yet there was nothing in
the note but what she had already told the girl, and she felt sure she
would not breathe a word to a living soul after her promise. She handed
Miranda the letter, and they stopped a moment while she slowly spelled it
out. Miranda was no scholar. Marcia watched her face eagerly, as if to
gather a ray of hope from it, but she was puzzled by Miranda’s look. A
kind of satisfaction had overspread her homely countenance.

“Should you think from that that David was hurt—or ill—or—or—killed—or
anything?” She asked the question as if Miranda were a wizard, and hung
anxiously upon her answer.

“Naw, I don’t reckon so!” said Miranda. “Don’t you worry. David’s all
right somehow. I’ll take care o’ you. You go ’long up and see what’s the
business, an’ I’ll wait here out o’ sight o’ the tavern. Likely’s not he
might take a notion not to tell you ef he see me come along with you. You
jest go ahead, and I’ll be on hand when you get through. If you need me
fer anything you jest holler out ‘Randy!’ good and loud an’ I’ll hear you.
Guess I’ll set on this log. The tavern’s jest round that bend in the road.
Naw, you needn’t thank me. This is a real pretty mornin’ to set an’ rest.
Good-bye.”

Marcia hurried on, glancing back happily at her protector in a calico
sunbonnet seated stolidly on a log with her tin pail beside her.

Poor stupid Miranda! Of course she could not understand what a comfort it
was to have confided her trouble. Marcia went up to the tavern with almost
a smile on her face, though her heart began to beat wildly as a slatternly
girl led her into a big room at the right of the hall.

As Marcia disappeared behind the bend in the road, Miranda stealthily
stole along the edge of the woods, till she stood hidden behind a clump of
alders where she could peer out and watch Marcia until she reached the
tavern and passed safely by the row of lounging, smoking men, and on into
the doorway. Then Miranda waited just an instant to look in all
directions, and sped across the road, mounting the fence and on through
two meadows, and the barnyard to the kitchen door of the tavern.

“Mornin’! Mis’ Green,” she said to the slovenly looking woman who sat by
the table peeling potatoes. “Mind givin’ me a drink o’ water? I’m terrible
thirsty, and seemed like I couldn’t find the spring. Didn’t thare used to
be a spring ’tween here’n town?”

“Goodness sakes! Randy! Where’d you come from? Water! Jes’ help yourself.
There’s the bucket jes’ from the spring five minutes since, an’ there’s
the gourd hanging up on the wall. I can’t get up, I’m that busy. Twelve to
dinner to-day, an’ only me to do the cookin’. ’Melia she’s got to be
upstairs helpin’ at the bar.”

“Who all you got here?” questioned Miranda as she took a draught from the
old gourd.

“Well, got a gentleman from New York fur one. He’s real pretty. Quite a
beau. His clo’es are that nice you’d think he was goin’ to court. He’s
that particular ’bout his eatin’ I feel flustered. Nothin’ would do but he
hed to hev a downstairs room. He said he didn’t like goin’ upstairs. He
don’t look sickly, neither.”

“Mebbe he’s had a accident an’ lamed himself,” suggested Miranda
cunningly. “Heard o’ any accidents? How’d he come? Coach or horseback?”

“Coach,” said Mrs. Green. “Why do you ask? Got any friends in New York?”

“Not many,” responded Miranda importantly, “but my cousin Hannah Heath
has. You know she’s ben up there for a spell visitin’ an’ they say there
was lots of gentlemen in love with her. There’s one in particular used to
come round a good deal. It might be him come round to see ef it’s true
Hannah’s goin’ to get married to Lem Skinner. Know what this fellow’s name
is?”

“You don’t say! Well now it might be. No, I don’t rightly remember his
name. Seems though it was something like Church er Chapel. ’Melia could
tell ye, but she’s busy.”

“Where’s he at? Mebbe I could get a glimpse o’ him. I’d jest like to know
ef he was comin’ to bother our Hannah.”

“Well now. Mebbe you could get a sight o’ him. There’s a cupboard between
his room an’ the room back. It has a door both sides. Mebbe ef you was to
slip in there you might see him through the latch hole. I ain’t usin’ that
back room fer anythin’ but a store-room this spring, so look out you don’t
stumble over nothin’ when you go in fer it’s dark as a pocket. You go
right ’long in. I reckon you’ll find the way. Yes, it’s on the right hand
side o’ the hall. I’ve got to set here an’ finish these potatoes er
dinner’ll be late. I’d like to know real well ef he’s one o’ Hannah
Heath’s beaux.”

Miranda needed no second bidding. She slipped through the hall and store
room, and in a moment stood before the door of the closet. Softly she
opened it, and stepped in, lifting her feet cautiously, for the closet
floor seemed full of old boots and shoes.

It was dark in there, very dark, and only one slat of light stabbed the
blackness coming through the irregular shape of the latch hole. She could
hear voices in low tones speaking on the other side of the door. Gradually
her eyes grew accustomed to the light and one by one objects came out of
the shadows and looked at her. A white pitcher with a broken nose, a row
of bottles, a bunch of seed corn with the husks braided together and hung
on a nail, an old coat on another nail.

Down on her knees beside the crack of light went Miranda. First her eye
and then her ear were applied to the small aperture. She could see nothing
but a table directly in front of the door about a foot away on which were
quills, paper, and a large horn inkstand filled with ink. Some one
evidently had been writing, for a page was half done, and the pen was laid
down beside a word.

The limits of the latch hole made it impossible for Miranda to make out
any more. She applied her ear and could hear a man’s voice talking in low
insinuating tones, but she could make little of what was said. It drove
her fairly frantic to think that she was losing time. Miranda had no mind
to be balked in her purpose. She meant to find out who was in that room
and what was going on. She felt a righteous interest in it.

Her eyes could see quite plainly now in the dark closet. There was a big
button on the door. She no sooner discovered it than she put up her hand
and tried to turn it. It was tight and made a slight squeak in turning.
She stopped but the noise seemed to have no effect upon the evenly
modulated tones inside. Cautiously she moved the button again, holding the
latch firmly in her other hand lest the door should suddenly fly open. It
was an exciting moment when at last the button was turned entirely away
from the door frame and the lifted latch swung free in Miranda’s hand. The
door opened outward. If it were allowed to go it would probably strike
against the table. Miranda only allowed it to open a crack. She could hear
words now, and the voice reminded her of something unpleasant. The least
little bit more she dared open the door, and she could see, as she had
expected, Marcia’s bonnet and shoulder cape as she sat at the other side
of the room. This then was the room of the messenger who had sent for Mrs.
Spafford so peremptorily. The next thing was to discover the identity of
the messenger. Miranda had suspicions.

The night before she had seen a man lurking near the Spafford house when
she went out in the garden to feed the chickens. She had watched him from
behind the lilac bush, and when he had finally gone away she had followed
him some distance until he turned into the old corduroy road and was lost
in the gathering dusk. The man she had seen before, and had reason to
suspect. It was not for nothing that she had braved her grandmother and
gone hunting wild strawberries out of season.

With the caution of a creature of the forest Miranda opened the door an
inch further, and applied her eye to the latch hole again. The man’s head
was in full range of her eye then, and her suspicion proved true.

When Marcia entered the big room and the heavy oak door closed behind her
her heart seemed almost choking her, but she tried with all her might to
be calm. She was to know the worst now.

On the other side of the room in a large arm-chair, with his feet extended
on another and covered by a travelling shawl, reclined a man. Marcia went
toward him eagerly, and then stopped:

“Mr. Temple!” There was horror, fear, reproach in the way she spoke it.

“I know you are astonished, Mrs. Spafford, that the messenger should be
one so unworthy, and let me say at the beginning that I am more thankful
than I can express that your letter of forgiveness reached me before I was
obliged to start on my sorrowful commission. I beg you will sit down and
be as comfortable as you can while I explain further. Pardon my not
rising. I have met with a bad sprain caused by falling from my horse on
the way, and was barely able to reach this stopping place. My ankle is
swollen so badly that I cannot step upon my foot.”

Marcia, with white face, moved to the chair he indicated near him, and sat
down. The one thought his speech had conveyed to her had come through
those words “my sorrowful commission.” She felt the need of sitting down,
for her limbs would no longer bear her up, and she felt she must
immediately know what was the matter.

“Mrs. Spafford, may I ask you once more to speak your forgiveness? Before
I begin to tell you what I have come for, I long to hear you say the words
‘I forgive you.’ Will you give me your hand and say them?”

“Mr. Temple, I beg you will tell me what is the matter. Do not think any
further about that other matter. I meant what I said in the note. Tell me
quick! Is my husband—has anything happened to Mr. Spafford? Is he ill? Is
he hurt?”

“My poor child! How can I bear to tell you? It seems terrible to put your
love and trust upon another human being and then suddenly find—— But wait.
Let me tell the story in my own way. No, your husband is not hurt,
physically. Illness, and death even, are not the worst things that can
happen to a mortal soul. It seems to me cruel, as I see you sit there so
young and tender and beautiful, that I should have to hurt you by what I
have to say. I come from the purest of motives to tell you a sad truth
about one who should be nearest and dearest to you of all the earth. I beg
you will look upon me kindly and believe that it hurts me to have to tell
you these things. Before I begin I pray you will tell me that you forgive
me for all I have to say. Put your hand in mine and say so.”

Marcia had listened to this torrent of words unable to stop them, a
choking sensation in her throat, fear gripping her heart. Some terrible
thing had happened. Her senses refused to name the possibility. Would he
never tell? What ailed the man that he wanted her hand in forgiveness? Of
course she forgave him. She could not speak, and he kept urging.

“I cannot talk until I have your hand as a pledge that you will forgive me
and think not unkindly of me for what I am about to tell you.”

He must have seen how powerfully he wrought upon her, for he continued
until wild with frantic fear she stumbled toward him and laid her hand in
his. He grasped it and thanked her profusely. He looked at the little cold
hand in his own, and his lying tongue went on:

“Mrs. Spafford, you are good and true. You have saved me from a life of
uselessness, and your example and high noble character have given me new
inspiration. It seems a poor gratitude that would turn and stab you to the
heart. Ah! I cannot do it, and yet I must.”

This was torture indeed! Marcia drew her hand sharply away and held it to
her heart. She felt her brain reeling with the strain. Harry Temple saw he
must go on at once or he would lose what he had gained. He had meant to
keep that little hand and touch it gently with a comforting pressure as
his story went on, but it would not do to frighten her or she might take
sudden alarm.

“Sit down,” he begged, reaching out and drawing a chair near to his own,
but she stepped back and dropped into the one which she had first taken.

“You know your husband has been in New York?” he began. She nodded. She
could not speak.

“Did you never suspect why he is there and why he stays so long?” A cold
vise gripped Marcia’s heart, but though she turned white she said nothing,
only looked steadily into the false eyes that glowed and burned at her
like two hateful coals of fire that would scorch her soul and David’s to a
horrid death.

“Poor child, you cannot answer. You have trusted perfectly. You thought he
was there on business connected with his writing, but did it never occur
to you what a very long time he has been away and that—that there might be
some other reason also which he has not told? But you must know it now, my
child. I am sorry to say it, but he has been keeping it from you, and
those who love you think you ought to know. Let me explain. Very soon
after he reached New York he met a lady whom he used to know and admire.
She is a very beautiful woman, and though she is married is still much
sought after. Your husband, like the rest of her admirers, soon lost his
heart completely, and his head. Strange that he could so easily forget the
pearl of women he had left behind! He went to see her. He showed his
affection for her in every possible way. He gave her large sums of money.
In fact, to make a long story short, he is lingering in New York just to
be near her. I hesitate to speak the whole truth, but he has surely done
that which you cannot forgive. You with your lofty ideas—Mrs. Spafford—he
has cut himself off from any right to your respect or love.

“And now I am here to-day to offer to do all in my power to help you. From
what I know of your husband’s movements, he is likely to return to you
soon. You cannot meet him knowing that the lips that will salute you have
been pressed upon the lips of another woman, and that woman _your own
sister_, dear Mrs. Spafford!

“Ah! Now you understand, poor child. Your lips quiver! You have reason to
understand. I know, I know you cannot think what to do. Let me think for
you.” His eyes were glowing and his face animated. He was using all his
persuasive power, and her gaze was fixed upon him as though he had
mesmerized her. She could not resist the flood-tide of his eloquence. She
could only look on and seem to be gradually turning to stone—frozen with
horror.

He felt he had almost won, and with demoniacal skill he phrased his
sentences.

“I am here for that purpose. I am here to help you and for no other
reason. In the stable are horses harnessed and a comfortable carriage. My
advice to you is to fly from here as fast as these fleet horses can carry
you. Where you go is for you to say. I should advise going to your
father’s house. That I am sure is what will please him best. He is your
natural refuge at such a time as this. If, however, you shrink from
appearing before the eyes of the village gossips in your native town, I
will take you to the home of a dear old friend of mine, hidden among the
quiet hills, where you will be cared for most royally and tenderly for my
sake, and where you can work out your life problem in the way that seems
best to you. It is there that I am planning to take you to-night. We can
easily reach there before evening if we start at once.”

Marcia started to her feet in horror.

“What do you mean?” she stammered in a choking voice. “I could never go
anywhere with you Mr. Temple. You are a bad man! You have been telling me
lies! I do not believe one word of what you have said. My husband is noble
and good. If he did any of those things you say he did he had a reason for
it. I shall never distrust him.”

Marcia’s head was up grandly now and her voice had come back. She looked
the man in the eye until he quailed, but still he sought to hold his power
over her.

“You poor child!” and his voice was gentleness and forbearance itself. “I
do not wonder in your first horror and surprise that you feel as you do. I
anticipated this. Sit down and calm yourself and let me tell you more
about it. I can prove everything that I have said. I have letters here——”
and he swept his hand toward a pile of letters lying on the table; Miranda
in the closet marked well the position of those letters. “All that I have
said is only too true, I am sorry to say, and you must listen to me——”

Marcia interrupted him, her eyes blazing, her face excited: “Mr. Temple, I
shall not listen to another word you say. You are a wicked man and I was
wrong to come here at all. You deceived me or I should not have come. I
must go home at once.” With that she started toward the door.

Harry Temple flung aside the shawl that covered his sometime sprained
ankle and arose quickly, placing himself before her, forgetful of his
invalid rôle:

“Not so fast, my pretty lady,” he said, grasping her wrists fiercely in
both his hands. “You need not think to escape so easily. You shall not
leave this room except in my company. Do you not know that you are in my
power? You have spent nearly an hour alone in my bedchamber, and what will
your precious husband have to do with you after this is known?”



                               CHAPTER XXIV


Miranda’s time had come. She had seen it coming and was prepared.

With a movement like a flash she pushed open the closet door, seized the
pot of ink from the table, and before the two excited occupants of the
room had time to even hear her or realize that she was near, she hurled
the ink pot full into the insolent face of Harry Temple. The inkstand
itself was a light affair of horn and inflicted only a slight wound, but
the ink came into his eyes in a deluge blinding him completely, as Miranda
had meant it should do. She had seen no other weapon of defense at hand.

Harry Temple dropped Marcia’s wrists and groaned in pain, staggering back
against the wall and sinking to the floor. But Miranda would not stay to
see the effect of her punishment. She seized the frightened Marcia,
dragged her toward the cupboard door, sweeping as she passed the pile of
letters, finished and unfinished, into her apron, and closed the cupboard
doors carefully behind her. Then she guided Marcia through the dark mazes
of the store room to the hall, and pushing her toward the front door,
whispered: “Go quick ’fore he gets his eyes open. I’ve got to go this way.
Run down the road fast as you can an’ I’ll be at the meetin’ place first.
Hurry, quick!”

Marcia went with feet that shook so that every step seemed like to slip,
but with beating heart she finally traversed the length of the piazza with
a show of dignity, passed the loungers, and was out in the road. Then
indeed she took courage and fairly flew.

Miranda, breathless, but triumphant, went back into the kitchen: “I guess
’tain’t him after all,” she said to the interested woman who was putting
on the potatoes to boil. “He’s real interesting to look at though. I’d
like to stop and watch him longer but I must be goin’. I come out to hunt
fer”—Miranda hesitated for a suitable object before this country-bred
woman who well knew that strawberries were not ripe yet—“wintergreens fer
Grandma,” she added cheerfully, not quite sure whether they grew around
these parts, “and I must be in a hurry. Good-bye! Thank you fer the
drink.”

Miranda whizzed out of the door breezily, calling a good morning to one of
the hostlers as she passed the barnyard, and was off through the meadows
and over the fence like a bird, the package of letters rustling loud in
her bosom where she had tucked them before she entered the kitchen.

Neither of the two girls spoke for some minutes after they met, but
continued their rapid gait, until the end of the corduroy road was in
sight and they felt comparatively safe.

“Wal, that feller certainly ought to be strung up an’ walluped, now, fer
sure,” remarked Miranda, “an I’d like to help at the wallupin’.”

Marcia’s overstrung nerves suddenly dissolved into hysterical laughter.
The contrast from the tragic to the ridiculous was too much for her. She
laughed until the tears rolled down her cheeks, and then she cried in
earnest. Miranda stopped and put her arms about her as gently as a mother
might have done, and smoothed her hair back from the hot cheek, speaking
tenderly:

“There now, you poor pretty little flower. Jest you cry ’s hard ’s you
want to. I know how good it makes you feel to cry. I’ve done it many a
time up garret where nobody couldn’t hear me. That old Satan, he won’t
trouble you fer a good long spell again. When he gets his evil eyes open,
if he ever does, he’ll be glad to get out o’ these parts or I miss my
guess. Now don’t you worry no more. He can’t hurt you one mite. An’ don’t
you think a thing about what he said. He’s a great big liar, that’s what
he is.”

“Miranda, you saved me. Yes, you did. I never can thank you enough. If you
hadn’t come and helped me something awful might have happened!” Marcia
shuddered and began to sob convulsively again.

“Nonsense!” said Miranda, pleased. “I didn’t do a thing worth mentioning.
Now you jest wipe your eyes and chirk up. We’ve got to go through town an’
you don’t want folks to wonder what’s up.”

Miranda led Marcia up to the spring whose location had been known to her
all the time of course, and Marcia bathed her eyes and was soon looking
more like herself, though there was a nervous tremor to her lips now and
then. But her companion talked gaily, and tried to keep her mind from
going over the events of the morning.

When they reached the village Miranda suggested they go home by the back
street, slipping through a field of spring wheat and climbing the garden
fence. She had a mind to keep out of her grandmother’s sight for a while
longer.

“I might’s well be hung for a sheep’s a lamb,” she remarked, as she slid
in at Marcia’s kitchen door in the shadow of the morning-glory vines. “I’m
goin’ to stay here a spell an’ get you some dinner while you go upstairs
an’ lie down. You don’t need to go back to your aunt’s till near night,
an’ you can wait till dusk an’ I’ll go with you. Then you needn’t be out
alone at all. I know how you feel, but I don’t believe you need worry.
He’ll be done with you now forever, er I’ll miss my guess. Now you go lie
down till I make a cup o’ tea.”

Marcia was glad to be alone, and soon fell asleep, worn out with the
excitement, her brain too weary to go over the awful occurrences of the
morning. That would come later. Now her body demanded rest.

Miranda, coming upstairs with the tea, tiptoed in and looked at her,—one
round arm thrown over her head, and her smooth peachy cheek resting
against it. Miranda, homely, and with no hope of ever attaining any of the
beautiful things of life, loved unselfishly this girl who had what she had
not, and longed with all her heart to comfort and protect the sweet young
thing who seemed so ill-prepared to protect herself. She stooped over the
sleeper for one yearning moment, and touched her hair lightly with her
lips. She felt a great desire to kiss the soft round cheek, but was afraid
of wakening her. Then she took the cup of tea and tiptoed out again, her
eyes shining with satisfaction. She had a self-imposed task before her,
and was well pleased that Marcia slept, for it gave her plenty of
opportunity to carry out her plans.

She went quickly to David’s library, opened drawers and doors in the desk
until she found writing materials, and sat down to work. She had a letter
to write, and a letter, to Miranda, was the achievement of a lifetime. She
did not much expect to ever have to write another. She plunged into her
subject at once.


    “DEAR MR. DAVID:” (she was afraid that sounded a little stiff, but
    she felt it was almost too familiar to say “David” as he was
    always called.)

    “I ain’t much on letters, but this one has got to be writ.
    Something happened and somebody’s got to tell you about it. I’m
    most sure she wont, and nobody else knows cept me.

    “Last night ’bout dark I went out to feed the chickens, an’ I see
    that nimshi Harry Temple skulkin round your house. It was all dark
    there, an he walked in the side gate and tried to peek in the
    winders, only the shades was down an he couldn’t see a thing. I
    thought he was up to some mischief so I followed him down the
    street a piece till he turned down the old corduroy road. It was
    dark by then an I come home, but I was on the watchout this
    morning, and after Mis’ Spafford come down to the house I heard a
    horse gallopin by an I looked out an saw a boy get off an take a
    letter to the door an ride away, an pretty soon all in a hurry
    your wife come out tyin her bonnet and hurryin along lookin
    scared. I grabbed my sunbonnet an clipped after her, but she went
    so fast I didn’t get up to her till she got on the old corduroy
    road. She was awful scared lookin an she didn’t want me much I
    see, but pretty soon she up an told me she had a note sayin there
    was a messenger with news from you out to the old Green Tavern. He
    had a accident an couldn’t come no further. He wanted her to come
    alone cause the business was private, so I stayed down by the turn
    of the road till she got in an then I went cross lots an round to
    the kitchen an called on Mis’ Green a spell. She was tellin me
    about her boarders an I told her I thought mebbe one of em was a
    friend o’ Hannah Heath’s so she said I might peek through the key
    hole of the cubberd an see. She was busy so I went alone.

    “Well sir, I jest wish you’d been there. That lying nimshi was
    jest goin on the sweetest, as respectful an nice a thankin your
    wife fer comin, an excusin himself fer sendin fer her, and sayin
    he couldn’t bear to tell her what he’d come fer, an pretty soon
    when she was scared ’s death he up an told her a awful fib bout
    you an a woman called Kate, whoever she is, an he jest poured the
    words out fast so she couldn’t speak, an he said things about you
    he shouldn’t uv, an you could see he was makin it up as he went
    along, an he said he had proof. So he pointed at a pile of letters
    on the table an I eyed em good through the hole in the door.
    Pretty soon he ups and perposes that he carry her off in a
    carriage he has all ready, and takes her to a friend of his, so
    she wont be here when you come home, cause you’re so bad, and she
    gets up looking like she wanted to scream only she didn’t dare,
    and she says he dont tell the truth, it wasn’t so any of it, and
    if it was it was all right anyway, that you had some reason, an
    she wouldn’t go a step with him anywhere. An then he forgets all
    about the lame ankle he had kept covered up on a chair pertendin
    it was hurt fallin off his horse when the coach brought him all
    the way fer I asked Mis’ Green—and he ketches her by the wrists,
    and he says she can’t go without him, and she needn’t be in such a
    hurry fer you wouldn’t have no more to do with her anyway after
    her being shut up there with him so long, an then she looked jest
    like she was going to faint, an I bust out through the door an
    ketched up the ink pot, it want heavy enough to kill him, an I
    slung it at him, an the ink went square in his eyes, an we slipped
    through the closet an got away quick fore anybody knew a thing.

    “I brought all the letters along so here they be. I havn’t read a
    one, cause I thought mebbe you’d ruther not. She aint seen em
    neither. She dont know I’ve got em. I hid em in my dress. She’s
    all wore out with cryin and hurryin, and being scared, so she’s
    upstairs now asleep, an she dont know I’m writing. I’m goin to
    send this off fore she knows, fer I think she wouldn’t tell you
    fear of worryin you. I’ll look after her es well’s I can till you
    get back, but I think that feller ought to be strung up. But
    you’ll know what to do, so no more at present from your obedient
    servent,

                                                    “MIRANDA GRISCOM.”


Having at last succeeded in sealing her packet to her satisfaction and the
diminishing of the stick of sealing wax she had found in the drawer,
Miranda slid out the front door, and by a detour went to David Spafford’s
office.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Clark,” she said to the clerk importantly. “Grandma
sends her respecks and wants to know ef you’d be so kind as to back this
letter fer her to Mr. David Spafford. She’s writin’ to him on business an’
she don’t rightly know his street an’ number in New York.”

Mr. Clark willingly wrote the address, and Miranda took it to the post
office, and sped back to Marcia, happy in the accomplishment of her
purpose.



In the same mail bag that brought Miranda’s package came a letter from
Aunt Clarinda. David’s face lit up with a pleased smile. Her letters were
so infrequent that they were a rare pleasure. He put aside the thick
package written in his clerk’s hand. It was doubtless some business papers
and could wait.

Aunt Clarinda wrote in a fine old script that in spite of her eighty years
was clear and legible. She told about the beauty of the weather, and how
Amelia and Hortense were almost done with the house cleaning, and how
Marcia had been going to their house every day putting it in order. Then
she added a paragraph which David, knowing the old lady well, understood
to be the _raison d’être_ of the whole letter:

“I think your wife misses you very much, Davie, she looks sort of peeked
and sad. It is hard on her being separated from you so long this first
year. Men don’t think of those things, but it is lonely for a young thing
like her here with three old women, and you know Hortense and Amelia never
try to make it lively for anybody. I have been watching her, and I think
if I were you I would let the business finish itself up as soon as
possible and hurry back to put a bit of cheer into that child. She’s
whiter than she ought to be.”

David read it over three times in astonishment with growing, mingled
feelings which he could not quite analyze.

Poor Aunt Clarinda! Of course she did not understand the situation, and
equally of course she was mistaken. Marcia was not sighing for him, though
it might be dull for her at the old house. He ought to have thought of
that; and a great burden suddenly settled down upon him. He was not doing
right by Marcia. It could not be himself of course that Marcia was
missing, if indeed Aunt Clarinda was right and she was worried about
anything. Perhaps something had occurred to trouble her. Could that snake
of a Temple have turned up again? No, he felt reasonably sure he would
have heard of that, besides he saw him not long ago on the street at a
distance. Could it be some boy-lover at home whose memory came to trouble
her? Or had she discovered what a sacrifice she had made of her young
life? Whatever it was, it was careless and cruel in him to have left her
alone with his aunts all this time. He was a selfish man, he told himself,
to have accepted her quiet little sacrifice of all for him. He read the
letter over again, and suddenly there came to him a wish that Marcia _was_
missing him. It seemed a pleasant thought to have her care. He had been
trying to train himself to the fact that no one would ever care for him
again, but now it seemed dear and desirable that his sweet young companion
should like to have him back. He had a vision of home as it had been, so
pleasant and restful, always the food that he liked, always the thought
for his wishes, and he felt condemned. He had not noticed or cared. Had
she thought him ungrateful?

He read the letter over again, noting every mention of his wife in the
account of the daily living at home. He was searching for some clue that
would give him more information about her. And when he reached the last
paragraph about missing him, a little tingle of pleasure shot through him
at the thought. He did not understand it. After all she was his, and if it
was possible he must help to make up to her for what she had lost in
giving herself to him. If the thought of doing so brought a sense of
satisfaction to him that was unexpected, he was not to blame in any wise.

Since his interview with Kate, and the terrible night of agony through
which he had passed, David had plunged into his business with all his
might. Whenever a thought of Kate came he banished it if possible, and if
it would not go he got out his writing materials and went to work at an
article, to absorb his mind. He had several times arisen in the night to
write because he could not sleep, and must think.

When he was obliged to be in New York he had steadily kept away from the
house where Kate lived, and never walked through the streets without
occupying his mind as fully as possible so that he should not chance to
see her. In this way his sorrow was growing old without having been worn
out, and he was really regaining a large amount of his former happiness
and interest in life. Not so often now did the vision of Kate come to
trouble him. He thought she was still his one ideal of womanly beauty and
grace and perfection of course, and always would be, but she was not for
him to think upon any more. A strong true man he was growing, out of his
sorrow. And now when the thought of Marcia came to him with a certain
sweetness he could be glad that it was so, and not resent it. Of course no
one could ever take the place of Kate, that was impossible.

So reflecting, with a pleasant smile upon his face, he opened Miranda’s
epistle.

Puzzled and surprised he began to read the strange chirography, and as he
read his face darkened and he drew his brows in a heavy frown. “The
scoundrel!” he muttered as he turned the sheet. Then as he went on his
look grew anxious. He scanned the page quickly as if he would gather the
meaning from the crooked ill-spelled words without taking them one by one.
But he had to go slowly, for Miranda had not written with as much
plainness as haste. He fairly held his breath when he thought of the
gentle girl in the hands of the unscrupulous man of the world. A terrible
fear gripped his heart, Marcia, little Marcia, so sweet and pure and good.
A vision of her face as she lay asleep in the woods came between him and
the paper. Why had he left her unprotected all these months? Fool that he
was! She was worth more than all the railroads put together. As if his own
life was in the balance, he read on, growing sick with horror. Poor child!
what had she thought? And how had his own sin and weakness been found out,
or was it merely Harry Temple’s wicked heart that had evolved these
stories? The letter smote him with terrible accusation, and all at once it
was fearful to him to think that Marcia had heard such things about him.
When he came to her trust in him he groaned aloud and buried his face in
the letter, and then raised it quickly to read to the end.

When he had finished he rose with sudden determination to pack his
carpet-bag and go home at once. Marcia needed him, and he felt a strong
desire to be near her, to see her and know she was safe. It was
overwhelming. He had not known he could ever feel strongly again. He must
confess his own weakness of course, and he would. She should know all and
know that she might trust his after all.

But the motion of rising had sent the other papers to the floor, and in
falling the bundle of letters that Miranda had enclosed, scattered about
him. He stooped to pick them up and saw his own name written in Kate’s
handwriting. Old association held him, and wondering, fearful, not wholly
glad to see it, he picked up the letter. It was an epistle of Kate’s,
written in intimate style to Harry Temple and speaking of himself in terms
of the utmost contempt. She even stooped to detail to Harry an account of
her own triumph on that miserable morning when he had taken her in his
arms and kissed her. There were expressions in the letter that showed her
own wicked heart, as nothing else could ever have done, to David. As he
read, his soul growing sick within him,—read one letter after another, and
saw how she had plotted with this bad man to wreck the life of her young
sister for her own triumph and revenge,—the beautiful woman whom he had
loved, and whom he had thought beautiful within as well as without,
crumbled into dust before him. When he looked up at last with white face
and firmly set lips, he found that his soul was free forever from the
fetters that had bound him to her.

He went to the fireplace and laid the pile of letters among the embers,
blowing them into a blaze, and watched them until they were eaten up by
the fire and nothing remained but dead grey ashes. The thought came to him
that that was like his old love. It was burnt out. There had not been the
right kind of fuel to feed it. Kate was worthless, but his own self was
alive, and please God he would yet see better days. He would go home at
once to the child wife who needed him, and whom now he might love as she
should be loved. The thought became wondrously sweet to him as he rapidly
threw the things into his travelling bag and went about arrangements for
his trip home. He determined that if he ever came to New York again Marcia
should come with him.



                               CHAPTER XXV


Marcia hurried down to her own house early one morning. The phantoms of
her experiences in the old Green Tavern were pursuing her.

Once there she could do nothing but go over and over the dreadful things
that Harry Temple had said. In vain did she try to work. She went into the
library and took up a book, but her mind would wander to David.

She sat down at the piano and played a few tender chords and sang an old
Italian song which somebody had left at their house several years before:

                “Dearest, believe,
                   When e’er we part:
                 Lonely I grieve,
                   In my sad heart:—”

With a sob her head dropped upon her hands in one sad little crash of
wailing tones, while the sound died away in reverberation after
reverberation of the strings till Marcia felt as if a sea of sound were
about her in soft ebbing, flowing waves.

The sound covered the lifting of the side door latch and the quiet step of
a foot. Marcia was absorbed in her own thoughts. Her smothered sobs were
mingling with the dying sounds of the music, still audible to her fine
ear.

David had come by instinct to his own home first. He felt that Marcia
would be there, and now that he was come and the morning sun flooded
everything and made home look so good he felt that he must find her first
of all before his relationship with home had been re-established. He
passed through kitchen, dining room and hall, and by the closed parlor
door. He never thought of her being in there with the door closed. He
glanced into the library and saw the book lying in his chair as she had
left it, and it gave a touch of her presence which pleased him. He went
softly toward the stairs thinking to find her. He had stopped at a shop
the last thing and bought a beautiful creamy shawl of China crêpe heavily
embroidered, and finished with long silken fringe. He had taken it from
his carpet-bag and was carrying it in its rice paper wrappings lest it
should be crushed. He was pleased as a child at the present he had brought
her, and felt strangely shy about giving it to her.

Just then there came a sound from the parlor, sweet and tender and
plaintive. Marcia had conquered her sobs and was singing again with her
whole soul, singing as if she were singing to David. The words drew him
strangely, wonderingly toward the parlor door, yet so softly that he heard
every syllable.

                “Dearest, believe,
                   When e’er we part:
                 Lonely I grieve,
                   In my sad heart:—
                 Thy faithful slave,
                   Languishing sighs,
                 Haste then and save—”

Here the words trailed away again into a half sob, and the melody
continued in broken, halting chords that flickered out and faded into the
shadows of the room.

David’s heart was pierced with a belief that Aunt Clarinda was right and
something was the matter with Marcia. A great trouble and tenderness, and
almost jealousy, leaped up in his heart which were incomprehensible to
him. Who was Marcia singing this song for? That it was a true cry from a
lonely soul he could but believe. Was she feeling her prison-bars here in
the lonely old house with only a forlorn man whose life and love had been
thrown away upon another? Poor child! Poor child! If he might but save her
from suffering, cover her with his own tenderness and make her content
with that. Would it be possible if he devoted himself to it to make her
forget the one for whom she was sighing; to bring peace and a certain sort
of sweet forgetfulness and interest in other things into her life? He
wanted to make a new life for her, his little girl whom he had so
unthinkingly torn from the home nest and her future, and compelled to take
up his barren way with him. He would make it up to her if such a thing
were possible. Then he opened the door.

In the soft green light of the noonday coming through the shades Marcia’s
color did not show as it flew into her cheeks. Her hands grew weak and
dropped upon the keys with a soft little tinkle of surprise and joy. She
sprang up and came a step toward him, then clasped her hands against her
breast and stopped shyly. David coming into the room, questioning,
wondering, anxious, stopped midway too, and for an instant they looked
upon one another. David saw a new look in the girl’s face. She seemed
older, much older than when he had left her. The sweet round cheeks were
thinner, her mouth drooped sadly, pathetically. For an instant he longed
to take her in his arms and kiss her. The longing startled him. So many
months he had thought of only Kate in that way, and then had tried to
teach himself never to think of Kate or any woman as one to be caressed by
him, that it shocked him. He felt that he had been disloyal to himself, to
honor,—to Kate—no—not to Kate, he had no call to be loyal to her. She had
not been loyal to him ever. Perhaps rather he would have put it loyalty to
Love for Love’s sake, love that is worthy to be crowned by a woman’s love.

With all these mingling feelings David was embarrassed. He came toward her
slowly, trying to be natural, trying to get back his former way with her.
He put out his hand stiffly to shake hands as he had done when he left,
and timidly she put hers into it, yet as their fingers closed there leaped
from one to the other a thrill of sweetness, that neither guessed the
other knew and each put by in memory for closer inspection as to what it
could mean. Their hands clung together longer than either had meant, and
there was something pleasant to each in the fact that they were together
again. David thought it was just because it was home, rest, and peace, and
a relief from his anxiety about Marcia now that he saw she was all right.
Marcia knew it was better to have David standing there with his strong
fingers about her trembling ones, than to have anything else in the world.
But she would not have told him so.

“That was a sweet song you were singing,” said David. “I hope you were
singing it for me, and that it was true! I am glad I am come home, and you
must sing it again for me soon.”

It was not in the least what he intended to say, and the words tumbled
themselves out so tumultuously that he was almost ashamed and wondered if
Marcia would think he had lost his mind in New York. Marcia, dear child,
treasured them every word and hugged them to her heart, and carried them
in her prayers.

They went out together and got dinner as if they had been two children,
with a wild excited kind of glee; and they tried to get back their natural
ways of doing and saying things, but they could not.

Instead they were forever blundering and halting in what they said; coming
face to face and almost running over one another as they tried to help
each other; laughing and blushing and blundering again.

When they each tried to reach for the tea kettle to fill the coffee pot
and their fingers touched, each drew back and pretended not to notice, but
yet had felt the contact sweet.

They were lingering over the dinner when Hannah Heath came to the door.
David had been telling of some of his adventures in detail and was
enjoying the play of expression on Marcia’s face as she listened eagerly
to every word. They had pushed their chairs back a little and were sitting
there talking,—or rather David was talking, Marcia listening. Hannah stood
for one jealous instant and saw it all. This was what she had dreamed for
her own long years back, she and David. She had questioned much just what
feeling there might be between him and Marcia, and now more than ever she
desired to bring him face to face with Kate and read for herself what the
truth had been. She hated Marcia for that look of intense delight and
sympathy upon her face; hated her that she had the right to sit there and
hear what David had to say—some stupid stuff about railroads. She did not
see that she herself would have made an ill companion for a man like
David.

As yet neither Marcia nor David had touched upon the subjects which had
troubled them. They did not realize it, but they were so suddenly happy in
each other’s company they had forgotten for the moment. The pleasant
converse was broken up at once. Marcia’s face hardened into something like
alarm as she saw who stood in the doorway.

“Why, David, have you got home at last?” said Hannah. “I did not know it.”
That was an untruth. She had watched him from behind Grandmother Heath’s
rose bush. “Where did you come from last? New York? Oh, then you saw Mrs.
Leavenworth. How is she? I fell in love with her when I was there.”

Now David had never fully taken in Kate’s married name. He knew it of
course, but in his present state of happiness at getting home, and his
absorption in the work he had been doing, the name “Mrs. Leavenworth”
conveyed nothing whatever to David’s mind. He looked blankly at Hannah and
replied indifferently enough with a cool air. “No, Miss Hannah, I had no
time for social life. I was busy every minute I was away.”

David never expected Hannah to say anything worth listening to, and he was
so full of his subject that he had not noticed that she made no reply.

Hannah watched him curiously as he talked, his remarks after all were
directed more to Marcia than to her, and when he paused she said with a
contemptuous sneer in her voice, “I never could understand, David, how you
who seem to have so much sense in other things will take up with such
fanciful, impractical dreams as this railroad. Lemuel says it’ll never
run.”

Hannah quoted her lover with a proud bridling of her head as if the matter
were settled once and for all. It was the first time she had allowed the
world to see that she acknowledged her relation to Lemuel. She was not
averse to having David understand that she felt there were other men in
the world besides himself. But David turned merry eyes on her.

“Lemuel says?” he repeated, and he made a sudden movement with his arm
which sent a knife and spoon from the table in a clatter upon the floor.

“And how much does Lemuel know about the matter?”

“Lemuel has good practical common sense,” said Hannah, vexed, “and he
knows what is possible and what is not. He does not need to travel all
over the country on a wild goose chase to learn that.”

Now that she had accepted him Hannah did not intend to allow Lemuel to be
discounted.

“He has not long to wait to be convinced,” said David thoughtfully and
unaware of her tart tone. “Before the year is out it will be a settled
fact that every one can see.”

“Well, it’s beyond comprehension what you care, anyway,” said Hannah
contemptuously. “Did you really spend all your time in New York on such
things? It seems incredible. There certainly must have been other
attractions?”

There was insinuation in Hannah’s voice though it was smooth as butter,
but David had had long years of experience in hearing Hannah Heath’s sharp
tongue. He minded it no more than he would have minded the buzzing of a
fly. Marcia’s color rose, however. She made a hasty errand to the pantry
to put away the bread, and her eyes flashed at Hannah through the close
drawn pantry door. But Hannah did not give up so easily.

“It is strange you did not stay with Mrs. Leavenworth,” she said. “She
told me you were one of her dearest friends, and you used to be quite fond
of one another.”

Then it suddenly dawned upon David who Mrs. Leavenworth was, and a
sternness overspread his face.

“Mrs. Leavenworth, did you say? Ah! I did not understand. I saw her but
once and that for only a few minutes soon after I first arrived. I did not
see her again.” His voice was cool and steady. Marcia coming from the
pantry with set face, ready for defence if there was any she could give,
marvelled at his coolness. Her heart was gripped with fear, and yet
leaping with joy at David’s words. He had not seen Kate but once. He had
known she was there and yet had kept away. Hannah’s insinuations were
false. Mr. Temple’s words were untrue. She had known it all the time, yet
what sorrow they had given her!

“By the way, Marcia,” said David, turning toward her with a smile that
seemed to erase the sternness in his voice but a moment before. “Did you
not write me some news? Miss Hannah, you are to be congratulated I
believe. Lemuel is a good man. I wish you much happiness.”

And thus did David, with a pleasant speech, turn aside Hannah Heath’s
dart. Yet while she went from the house with a smile and a sound of
pleasant wishes in her ears, she carried with her a bitter heart and a
revengeful one.

David was suddenly brought face to face with the thing he had to tell
Marcia. He sat watching her as she went back and forth from pantry to
kitchen, and at last he came and stood beside her and took her hands in
his looking down earnestly into her face. It seemed terrible to him to
tell this thing to the innocent girl, now, just when he was growing
anxious to win her confidence, but it must be told, and better now than
later lest he might be tempted not to tell it at all.

“Marcia!” He said the name tenderly, with an inflection he had never used
before. It was not lover-like, nor passionate, but it reached her heart
and drew her eyes to his and the color to her cheeks. She thought how
different his clasp was from Harry Temple’s hateful touch. She looked up
at him trustingly, and waited.

“You heard what I said to Hannah Heath just now, about—your——” He paused,
dissatisfied—“about Mrs. Leavenworth”—it was as if he would set the
subject of his words far from them. Marcia’s heart beat wildly,
remembering all that she had been told, yet she looked bravely, trustingly
into his eyes.

“It was true what I told her. I met Mrs. Leavenworth but once while I was
away. It was in her own home and she sent for me saying she was in
trouble. She told me that she was in terrible anxiety lest I would not
forgive her. She begged me to say that I forgave her, and when I told her
I did she asked me to kiss her once to prove it. I was utterly overcome
and did so, but the moment my lips touched hers I knew that I was doing
wrong and I put her from me. She begged me to remain, and I now know that
she was utterly false from the first. It was but a part she was playing
when she touched my heart until I yielded and sinned. I have only learned
that recently, within a few days, and from words written by her own hand
to another. I will tell you about it all sometime. But I want to confess
to you this wrong I have done, and to let you know that I went away from
her that day and have never seen her since. She had said she was without
money, and I left her all I had with me. I know now that that too was
unwise,—perhaps wrong. I feel that all this was a sin against you. I would
like you to forgive me if you can, and I want you to know that this other
woman who was the cause of our coming together, and yet has separated us
ever since we have been together, is no longer anything to me. Even if she
and I were both free as we were when we first met, we could never be
anything but strangers. Can you forgive me now, Marcia, and can you ever
trust me after what I have told you?”

Marcia looked into his eyes, and loved him but the more for his
confession. She felt she could forgive him anything, and her whole soul in
her countenance answered with her voice, as she said: “I can.” It made
David think of their wedding day, and suddenly it came over him with a
thrill that this sweet womanly woman belonged to him. He marvelled at her
sweet forgiveness. The joy of it surprised him beyond measure.

“You have had some sad experiences yourself. Will you tell me now all
about it?” He asked the question wistfully still holding her hands in a
firm close grasp, and she let them lie nestling there feeling safe as
birds in the nest.

“Why, how did you know?” questioned Marcia, her whole face flooded with
rosy light for joy at his kind ways and relief that she did not have to
open the story.

“Oh, a little bird, or a guardian angel whispered the tale,” he said
pleasantly. “Come into the room where we can be sure no Hannah Heaths will
trouble us,” and he drew her into the library and seated her beside him on
the sofa.

“But, indeed, Marcia,” and his face sobered, “it is no light matter to me,
what has happened to you. I have been in an agony all the way home lest I
might not find you safe and well after having escaped so terrible a
danger.”

He drew the whole story from her bit by bit, tenderly questioning her, his
face blazing with righteous wrath, and darkening with his wider knowledge
as she told on to the end, and showed him plainly the black heart of the
villain who had dared so diabolical a conspiracy; and the inhumanity of
the woman who had helped in the intrigue against her own sister,—nay even
instigated it. His feelings were too deep for utterance. He was shaken to
the depths. His new comprehension of Kate’s character was confirmed at the
worst. Marcia could only guess his deep feelings from his shaken
countenance and the earnest way in which he folded his hands over hers and
said in low tones filled with emotion: “We should be deeply thankful to
God for saving you, and I must be very careful of you after this. That
villain shall be searched out and punished if it takes a lifetime, and
Miranda,—what shall we do for Miranda? Perhaps we can induce her
grandmother to let us have her sometime to help take care of us. We seem
to be unable to get on without her. We’ll see what we can do sometime in
return for the great service she has rendered.”

But the old clock striking in the hall suddenly reminded David that he
should go at once to the office, so he hurried away and Marcia set about
her work with energy, a happy song of praise in her heart.

There was much to be done. David had said he would scarcely have time to
go over to his aunts that night, so she had decided to invite them to tea.
She would far rather have had David to herself this first evening, but it
would please them to come, especially Aunt Clarinda. There was not much
time to prepare supper to be sure, but she would stir up a gingerbread,
make some puffy cream biscuits, and there was lovely white honey and fresh
eggs and peach preserves.

So she ran to Deacon Appleby’s to get some cream for her biscuits and to
ask Tommy Appleby to harness David’s horse and drive over for Aunt
Clarinda. Then she hurried down to the aunts to give her invitation.

Aunt Clarinda sat down in her calico-covered rocking chair, wiped her dear
old eyes and her glasses, and said, over and over again: “Dear child!
Bless her! Bless her!”

It was a happy gathering that evening. David was as pleased as they could
have desired, and looked about upon the group in the dining-room with
genuine boyish pleasure. It did his heart good to see Aunt Clarinda there.
It had never occurred to him before that she could come. He turned to
Marcia with a light in his eyes that fully repaid her for the little
trouble she had had in carrying out her plan. He began to feel that home
meant something even though he had lost the home of his long dreams and
ideals.

He talked a great deal about his trip, and in between the sentences, he
caught himself watching Marcia, noting the curve of her round chin, the
dimple in her left cheek when she smiled, the way her hair waved off from
her forehead, the pink curves of her well-shaped ears. He found a distinct
pleasure in noting these things and he wondered at himself. It was as if
he had suddenly been placed before some great painting and become
possessed of the knowledge wherewith to appreciate art to its fullest. It
was as if he had heard a marvellous piece of music and had the eyes and
ears of his understanding opened to take in the gracious melodies and
majestic harmonies.

Aunt Clarinda watched his eyes, and Aunt Clarinda was satisfied. Aunt
Hortense watched his eyes, jealously and sighed. Aunt Amelia watched his
eyes and set her lips and feared to herself. “He will spoil her if he does
like that. She will think she can walk right over him.” But Aunt Clarinda
knew better. She recognized the eternal right of love.

They took the three old ladies home in the rising of an early moon, Marcia
walking demurely on the sidewalk with Aunt Amelia, while David drove the
chaise with Aunt Clarinda and Aunt Hortense.

As he gently lifted Aunt Clarinda down and helped her to her room David
felt her old hands tremble and press his arm, and when he had reached her
door he stooped and kissed her.

“Davie,” she said in the voice that used to comfort his little childish
troubles, or tell him of some nice surprise she had for him, “Davie, she’s
a dear child! She’s just as good as gold. She’s the princess I used to put
in all your fairy-tales. David, she’s just the right one for you!” and
David answered earnestly, solemnly, as if he were discovering a truth
which surprised him but yet was not unwelcome. “I believe she is, Aunt
Clarinda.”

They drove to the barn and Marcia sat in the chaise in the sweet
hay-scented darkness while David put up the horse by the cobwebby light of
the lantern; then they walked quietly back to the house. David had drawn
Marcia’s hand through his arm and it rested softly on his coat sleeve. She
was silently happy, she knew not why, afraid to think of it lest to-morrow
would show her there was nothing out of the ordinary monotony to be happy
about.

David was silent, wondering at himself. What was this that had come to
him? A new pleasure in life. A little trembling rill of joy bubbling up in
his heart; a rift in the dark clouds of fate; a show of sunshine where he
had expected never to see the light again. Why was it so pleasant to have
that little hand resting upon his arm? Was it really pleasant or was it
only a part of the restfulness of getting home again away from strange
faces and uncomfortable beds, and poor tables?

They let themselves into the house as if they were walking into a new
world together and both were glad to be there again. When she got up to
her room Marcia went and stood before the glass and looked at herself by
the flickering flame of the candle. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks
burned red in the centre like two soft deep roses. She felt she hardly
knew herself. She tried to be critical. Was this person she was examining
a pretty person? Would she be called so in comparison with Kate and Hannah
Heath? Would a man,—would David,—if his heart were not filled,—think so?
She decided not. She felt she was too immature. There was too much shyness
in her glance, too much babyishness about her mouth. No, David could never
have thought her beautiful, even if he had seen her before he knew Kate.
But perhaps, if Kate had been married first and away and then he had come
to their home, perhaps if he knew no one else well enough to love,—could
he have cared for her?

Oh, it was a dreadful, beautiful thought. It thrilled through and through
her till she hid her face from her own gaze. She suddenly kissed the hand
that had rested on his sleeve, and then reproached herself for it. She
loved him, but was it right to do so?

As for David, he was sitting on the side of his bed with his chin in his
hands examining himself.

He had supposed that with the reading of those letters which had come to
him but two short days before all possibility of love and happiness had
died, but lo! he found himself thrilling with pleasure over the look in a
girl’s soft eyes, and the touch of her hand. And that girl was his wife.
It was enough to keep him awake to try to understand himself.



                               CHAPTER XXVI


Hannah Heath’s wedding day dawned bright enough for a less calculating
bride.

David did not get home until half past three. He had been obliged to drive
out to the starting place of the new railroad, near Albany, where it was
important that he get a few points correctly. On the morrow was to be the
initial trip, by the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, of the first train drawn
by a steam engine in the state of New York.

His article about it, bargained for by a New York paper, must be on its
way by special post as soon after the starting of the train as possible.
He must have all items accurate; technicalities of preparation;
description of engine and coaches; details of arrangements, etc.; before
he added the final paragraphs describing the actual start of the train.
His article was practically done now, save for these few items. He had
started early that morning on his long drive, and, being detained longer
than he had expected, arrived at home with barely time to put himself into
wedding garments, and hasten in at the last moment with Marcia who stood
quietly waiting for him in the front hall. They were the last guests to
arrive. It was time for the ceremony, but the bride, true to her nature to
the last, still kept Lemuel waiting; and Lemuel, true to the end, stood
smiling and patient awaiting her pleasure.

David and Marcia entered the wide parlor and shook hands here and there
with those assembled, though for the most part a hushed air pervaded the
room, as it always does when something is about to happen.

Soon after their arrival some one in purple silk came down the stairs and
seated herself in a vacant chair close to where the bride was to stand.
She had gold hair and eyes like forget-me-nots. She was directly opposite
to David and Marcia. David was engrossed in a whispered conversation with
Mr. Brentwood about the events of the morrow, and did not notice her
entrance, though she paused in the doorway and searched him directly from
amongst the company before she took her seat. Marcia, who was talking with
Rose Brentwood, caught the vision of purple and gold and turned to face
for one brief instant the scornful, half-merry glance of her sister. The
blood in her face fled back to her heart and left it white.

Then Marcia summoned all her courage and braced herself to face what was
to come. She forced herself to smile in answer to Rose Brentwood’s
question. But all the while she was trying to understand what it was in
her sister’s look that had hurt her so. It was not the anger,—for that she
was prepared. It was not the scorn, for she had often faced that. Was it
the almost merriment? Yes, there was the sting. She had felt it so keenly
when as a little girl Kate had taken to making fun of some whim of hers.
She could not see why Kate should find cause for fun just now. It was as
if she by her look ignored Marcia’s relation to David in scornful laugh
and appropriated him herself. Marcia’s inmost soul rebelled. The color
came back as if by force of her will. She would show Kate,—or she would
show David at least,—that she could bear all things for him. She would
play well her part of wife this day. The happy two months that had passed
since David came back from New York had made her almost feel as if she was
really his and he hers. For this hour she would forget that it was
otherwise. She would look at him and speak to him as if he had been her
husband for years, as if there were the truest understanding between
them,—as indeed, of a certain wistful, pleasant sort there was. She would
not let the dreadful thought of Kate cloud her face for others to see.
Bravely she faced the company, but her heart under Kate’s blue frock sent
up a swift and pleading prayer demanding of a higher Power something she
knew she had not in herself, and must therefore find in Him who had
created her. It was the most trustful, and needy prayer that Marcia ever
uttered and yet there were no words, not even the closing of an eyelid.
Only her heart took the attitude of prayer.

The door upstairs opened in a business-like way, and Hannah’s composed
voice was heard giving a direction. Hannah’s silken tread began to be
audible. Miranda told Marcia afterward that she kept her standing at the
window for an hour beforehand to see when David arrived, and when they
started over to the house. Hannah kept herself posted on what was going on
in the room below as well as if she were down there. She knew where David
and Marcia stood, and told Kate exactly where to go. It was like Hannah
that in the moment of her sacrifice of the long cherished hopes of her
life she should have planned a dramatic revenge to help carry her through.

The bride’s rustle became at last so audible that even David and Mr.
Brentwood heard and turned from their absorbing conversation to the
business in hand.

Hannah was in the doorway when David looked up, very cold and beautiful in
her bridal array despite the years she had waited, and almost at once
David saw the vision in purple and gold like a saucy pansy, standing near
her.

Kate’s eyes were fixed upon him with their most bewitching, dancing smile
of recognition, like a naughty little child who had been in hiding for a
time and now peeps out laughing over the discomfiture of its elders. So
Kate encountered the steadfast gaze of David’s astonished eyes.

But there was no light of love in those eyes as she had expected to see.
Instead there grew in his face such a blaze of righteous indignation as
the lord of the wedding feast might have turned upon the person who came
in without a wedding garment. In spite of herself Kate was disconcerted.
She was astonished. She felt that David was challenging her presence
there. It seemed to her he was looking through her, searching her, judging
her, sentencing her, and casting her out, and presently his eyes wandered
beyond her through the open hall door and out into God’s green world; and
when they came back and next rested upon her his look had frozen into the
glance of a stranger.

Angry, ashamed, baffled, she bit her lips in vexation, but tried to keep
the merry smile. In her heart she hated him, and vowed to make him bow
before her smiles once more.

David did not see the bride at all to notice her, but the bride, unlike
the one of the psalmist’s vision whose eyes were upon “her dear
bridegroom’s face,” was looking straight across the room with evident
intent to observe David.

The ceremony proceeded, and Hannah went through her part correctly and
calmly, aware that she was giving herself to Lemuel Skinner irrevocably,
yet perfectly aware also of the discomfiture of the sweet-faced girl-wife
who sat across the room bravely watching the ceremony with white cheeks
and eyes that shone like righteous lights.

Marcia did not look at David. She was with him in heart, suffering with
him, feeling for him, quivering in every nerve for what he might be
enduring. She had no need to look. Her part was to ignore, and help to
cover.

They went through it all well. Not once did Aunt Amelia or Aunt Hortense
notice anything strange in the demeanor of their nephew or his wife. Aunt
Clarinda was not there. She was not fond of Hannah.

As soon as the service was over and the relatives had broken the solemn
hush by kissing the bride, David turned and spoke to Rose Brentwood,
making some smiling remark about the occasion. Rose Brentwood was looking
her very prettiest in a rose-sprigged delaine and her wavy dark hair in a
beaded net tied round with a rose-colored lute-string ribbon.

Kate flushed angrily at this. If it had been Marcia to whom he had spoken
she would have judged he did it out of pique, but a pretty stranger coming
upon the scene at this critical moment was trying. And then, too, David’s
manner was so indifferent, so utterly natural. He did not seem in the
least troubled by the sight of herself.

David and Marcia did not go up to speak to the bride at once. David
stepped back into the deep window seat to talk with Mr. Brentwood, and
seemed to be in no hurry to follow the procession who were filing past the
calm bride to congratulate her. Marcia remained quietly talking to Rose
Brentwood.

At last David turned toward his wife with a smile as though he had known
she was there all the time, and had felt her sympathy. Her heart leaped up
with new strength at that look, and her husband’s firm touch as he drew
her hand within his arm to lead her over to the bride gave her courage.
She felt that she could face the battle, and with a bright smile that lit
up her whole lovely face she marched bravely to the front to do or to die.

“I had about given up expecting any congratulations from you,” said Hannah
sharply as they came near. It was quite evident she had been watching for
them.

“I wish you much joy, Mrs. Skinner,” said David mechanically, scarcely
feeling that she would have it for he knew her unhappy, dissatisfied
nature.

“Yes,” said Marcia, “I wish you may be happy,—as happy as I am!”

It was an impetuous, childish thing to say, and Marcia scarcely realized
what words she meant to speak until they were out, and then she blushed
rosy red. Was she happy? Why was she happy? Yes, even in the present
trying circumstances she suddenly felt a great deep happiness bubbling up
in her heart. Was it David’s look and his strong arm under her hand?

Hannah darted a look at her. She was stung by the words. But did the
girl-bride before her mean to flaunt her own triumphs in her face? Did she
fully understand? Or was she trying to act a part and make them believe
she was happy? Hannah was baffled once more as she had been before with
Marcia.

Kate turned upon Marcia for one piercing instant again, that look of
understanding, mocking merriment, which cut through the soul of her
sister.

But did Marcia imagine it, or was it true that at her words to Hannah,
David’s arm had pressed hers closer as they stood there in the crowd? The
thought thrilled through her and gave her greater strength.

Hannah turned toward Kate.

“David,” she said, as she had always called him, and it is possible that
she enjoyed the triumph of this touch of intimacy before her guest, “you
knew my friend Mrs. Leavenworth!”

David bowed gravely, but did not attempt to put out his hand to take the
one which Kate offered in greeting. Instead he laid it over Marcia’s
little trembling one on his arm as if to steady it.

“We have met before,” said David briefly in an impenetrable tone, and
turning passed out of the room to make way for the Brentwoods who were
behind him.

Hannah scarcely treated the Brentwoods with decency, so vexed was she with
the way things were turning out. To think that David should so completely
baffle her. She turned an annoyed look at Kate, who flashed her blue eyes
contemptuously as if to blame Hannah.

Soon the whole little gathering were in the dining-room and wide hall
being served with Grandmother Heath’s fried chicken and currant jelly,
delicate soda biscuits, and fruit cake baked months before and left to
ripen.

The ordeal through which they were passing made David and Marcia feel, as
they sat down, that they would not be able to swallow a mouthful, but
strangely enough they found themselves eating with relish, each to
encourage the other perhaps, but almost enjoying it, and feeling that they
had not yet met more than they would be able to withstand.

Kate was seated on the other side of the dining-room, by Hannah, and she
watched the two incessantly with that half merry contemptuous look, toying
with her own food, and apparently waiting for their acting to cease and
David to put on his true character. She never doubted for an instant that
they were acting.

The wedding supper was over at last. The guests crowded out to the front
stoop to bid good-bye to the happy bridegroom and cross-looking bride, who
seemed as if she left the gala scene reluctantly.

Marcia, for the instant, was separated from David, who stepped down upon
the grass and stood to one side to let the bridal party pass. The minister
was at the other side. Marcia had slipped into the shelter of Aunt
Amelia’s black silk presence and wished she might run out the back door
and away home.

Suddenly a shimmer of gold with the sunlight through it caught her gaze,
and a glimpse of sheeny purple. There, close behind David, standing upon
the top step, quite unseen by him, stood her sister Kate.

Marcia’s heart gave a quick thump and seemed to stop, then went painfully
laboring on. She stood quite still watching for the moment to come when
David would turn around and see Kate that she might look into his face and
read there what was written.

Hannah had been put carefully into the carriage by the adoring Lemuel,
with many a pat, and a shaking of cushions, and an adjustment of curtains
to suit her whim. It pleased Hannah, now in her last lingering moment of
freedom, to be exacting and show others what a slave her husband was.

They all stood for an instant looking after the carriage, but Marcia
watched David. Then, just as the carriage wound around the curve in the
road and was lost from view, she saw him turn, and at once knew she must
not see his face as he looked at Kate. Closing her eyes like a flash she
turned and fled upstairs to get her shawl and bonnet. There she took
refuge behind the great white curtains, and hid her face for several
minutes, praying wildly, she hardly knew what, thankful she had been kept
from the sight which yet she had longed to behold.

As David turned to go up the steps and search for Marcia he was confronted
by Kate’s beautiful, smiling face, radiant as it used to be when it had
first charmed him. He exulted, as he looked into it, that it did not any
longer charm.

“David, you don’t seem a bit glad to see me,” blamed Kate sweetly in her
pretty, childish tones, looking into his face with those blue eyes so like
to liquid skies. Almost there was a hint of tears in them. He had been
wont to kiss them when she looked like that. Now he felt only disgust as
some of the flippant sentences in her letters to Harry Temple came to his
mind.

His face was stern and unrecognizing.

“David, you are angry with me yet! You said you would forgive!” The gentle
reproach minimized the crime, and enlarged the punishment. It was Kate’s
way. The pretty pout on the rosy lips was the same as it used to be when
she chided him for some trifling forgetfulness of her wishes.

The other guests had all gone into the house now. David made no response,
but, nothing daunted, Kate spoke again.

“I have something very important to consult you about. I came here on
purpose. Can you give me some time to-morrow morning?”

She wrinkled her pretty face into a thousand dimples and looked her most
bewitching like a naughty child who knew she was loved in spite of
anything, and coquettishly putting her head on one side, added, in the
tone she used of old to cajole him:

“You know you never could refuse me anything, David.”

David did not smile. He did not answer the look. With a voice that
recognized her only as a stranger he said gravely:

“I have an important engagement to-morrow morning.”

“But you will put off the engagement.” She said it confidently.

“It is impossible!” said David decidedly. “I am starting quite early to
drive over to Albany. I am under obligation to be present at the starting
of the new steam railroad.”

“Oh, how nice!” said Kate, clapping her hands childishly, “I have wanted
to be there, and now you will take me. Then I—we—can talk on the way. How
like old times that will be!” She flashed him a smile of molten sunshine,
alluring and transforming.

“That, too, is impossible, Mrs. Leavenworth. My wife accompanies me!” he
answered her promptly and clearly and with a curt bow left her and went
into the house.

Kate Leavenworth was angry, and for Kate to be angry, meant to visit it
upon some one, the offender if possible, if not the nearest to the
offender. She had failed utterly in her attempt to win back the friendship
of her former lover. She had hoped to enjoy his attention to a certain
extent and bathe her sad (?) heart in the wistful glances of the man she
had jilted; and incidentally perhaps be invited to spend a little time in
his house, by which she would contrive to have a good many of her own
ways. A rich brother-in-law who adored one was not a bad thing to have,
especially when his wife was one’s own little sister whom one had always
dominated. She was tired of New York and at this season of the year the
country was much preferable. She could thus contrive to hoard her small
income, and save for the next winter, as well as secure a possible
entrance finally into her father’s good graces again through the
forgiveness of David and Marcia. But she had failed. Could it be that he
cared for Marcia! That child! Scout the idea! She would discover at once.

Hurriedly she searched through the rooms downstairs and then went
stealthily upstairs. Instinctively she went to the room where Marcia had
hidden herself.

Marcia, with that strong upward breath of prayer had grown steady again.
She was standing with her back to the door looking out of the window
toward her own home when Kate entered the room. Without turning about she
felt Kate’s presence and knew that it was she. The moment had come. She
turned around, her face calm and sweet, with two red spots upon her
cheeks, and her bonnet,—Kate’s bonnet and shawl, Kate’s fine lace shawl
sent from Paris—grasped in her hands.

They faced each other, the sisters, and much was understood between them
in a flash without a word spoken. Marcia suddenly saw herself standing
there in Kate’s rightful place, Kate’s things in her hands, Kate’s
garments upon her body, Kate’s husband held by her. It was as if Kate
charged her with all these things, as she looked her through and over,
from her slipper tips to the ruffle around the neck. And oh, the scorn
that flamed from Kate’s eyes playing over her, and scorching her cheeks
into crimson, and burning her lips dry and stiff! And yet when Kate’s eyes
reached her face and charged her with the supreme offense of taking David
from her, Marcia’s eyes looked bravely back, and were not burned by the
fire, and she felt that her soul was not even scorched by it. Something
about the thought of David like an angelic presence seemed to save her.

The silence between them was so intense that nothing else could be heard
by the two. The voices below were drowned by it, the footstep on the stair
was as if it were not.

At last Kate spoke, angered still more by her sister’s soft eyes which
gazed steadily back and did not droop before her own flashing onslaught.
Her voice was cold and cruel. There was nothing sisterly in it, nothing to
remind either that the other had ever been beloved.

“Fool!” hissed Kate. “Silly fool! Did you think you could steal a husband
as you stole your clothes? Did you suppose marrying David would make him
yours, as putting on my clothes seemed to make them yours? Well I can tell
you he will never be a husband to you. He doesn’t love you and he never
can. He will always love me. He’s as much mine as if I had married him, in
spite of all your attempts to take him. Oh, you needn’t put up your baby
mouth and pucker it as if you were going to cry. Cry away. It won’t do any
good. You can’t make a man yours, any more than you can make somebody’s
clothes yours. They don’t fit you any more than he does. You look horrid
in blue, and you know it, in spite of all your prinking around and
pretending. I’d be ashamed to be tricked out that way and know that every
dud I had was made for somebody else. As for going around and pretending
you have a husband—it’s a lie. You know he’s nothing to you. You know he
never told you he cared for you. I tell you he’s mine, and he always will
be.”

“Kate, you’re married!” cried Marcia in shocked tones. “How can you talk
like that?”

“Married! Nonsense! What difference does that make? It’s hearts that
count, not marriages. Has your marriage made you a wife? Answer me that!
Has it? Does David love you? Does he ever kiss you? Yet he came to see me
in New York this winter, and took me in his arms and kissed me. He gave me
money too. See this brooch?”—she exhibited a jeweled pin—“that was bought
with his money. You see he loves me still. I could bring him to my feet
with a word to-day. He would kiss me if I asked him. He is weak as water
in my hands.”

Marcia’s cheeks burned with shame and anger. Almost she felt at the limit
of her strength. For the first time in her life she felt like
striking,—striking her own sister. Horrified over her feelings, and the
rage which was tearing her soul, she looked up, and there stood David in
the doorway, like some tall avenging angel!

Kate had her back that way and did not see at once, but Marcia’s eyes
rested on him hungrily, pleadingly, and his answered hers. From her sudden
calmness Kate saw there was some one near, and turning, looked at David.
But he did not glance her way. How much or how little he had heard of
Kate’s tirade, which in her passion had been keyed in a high voice, he
never let them know and neither dared to ask him, lest perhaps he had not
heard anything. There was a light of steel in his eyes toward everything
but Marcia, and his tone had in it kindness and a recognition of mutual
understanding as he said:

“If you are ready we had better go now, dear, had we not?”

Oh how gladly Marcia followed her husband down the stairs and out the
door! She scarcely knew how she went through the formalities of getting
away. It seemed as she looked back upon them that David had sheltered her
from it all, and said everything needful for her, and all she had done was
to smile an assent. He talked calmly to her all the way home; told her Mr.
Brentwood’s opinion about the change in the commerce of the country the
new railroad was going to make; told her though he must have known she
could not listen. Perhaps both were conscious of the bedroom window over
the way and a pair of blue eyes that might be watching them as they passed
into the house. David took hold of her arm and helped her up the steps of
their own home as if she had been some great lady. Marcia wondered if Kate
saw that. In her heart she blessed David for this outward sign of their
relationship. It gave her shame a little cover at least. She glanced up
toward the next house as she passed in and felt sure she saw a glimmer of
purple move away from the window. Then David shut the door behind them and
led her gently in.



                              CHAPTER XXVII


He made her go into the parlor and sit down and she was all unnerved by
his gentle ways. The tears would come in spite of her. He took his own
fine wedding handkerchief and wiped them softly off her hot cheeks. He
untied the bonnet that was not hers, and flung it far into a corner in the
room. Marcia thought he put force into the fling. Then he unfolded the
shawl from her shoulders and threw that into another corner. Kate’s
beautiful thread lace shawl. Marcia felt a hysterical desire to laugh, but
David’s voice was steady and quiet when he spoke as one might speak to a
little child in trouble.

“There now, dear,” he said. He had never called her dear before. “There,
that was an ordeal, and I’m glad, it’s over. It will never trouble us that
way again. Let us put it aside and never think about it any more. We have
our own lives to live. I want you to go with me to-morrow morning to see
the train start if you feel able. We must start early and you must take a
good rest. Would you like to go?”

Marcia’s face like a radiant rainbow answered for her as she smiled behind
her tears, and all the while he talked David’s hand, as tender as a
woman’s, was passing back and forth on Marcia’s hot forehead and smoothing
the hair. He talked on quietly to soothe her, and give her a chance to
regain her composure, speaking of a few necessary arrangements for the
morning’s ride. Then he said, still in his quiet voice: “Now dear, I want
you to go to bed, for we must start rather early, but first do you think
you could sing me that little song you were singing the day I came home?
Don’t if you feel too tired, you know.”

Then Marcia, an eager light in her eyes, sprang up and went to the piano,
and began to play softly and sing the tender words she had sung once
before when he was listening and she knew it not.

                “Dearest, believe,
                   When e’er we part:
                 Lonely I grieve,
                   In my sad heart:—”

Kate, standing within the chintz curtains across the yard shedding angry
tears upon her purple silk, heard presently the sweet tones of the piano,
which might have been hers; heard her sister’s voice singing, and began to
understand that she must bear the punishment of her own rash deeds.

The room had grown from a purple dusk into quiet darkness while Marcia was
singing, for the sun was almost down when they walked home. When the song
was finished David stood half wistfully looking at Marcia for a moment.
Her eyes shone to his through the dusk like two bright stars. He hesitated
as though he wanted to say something more, and then thought better of it.
At last he stooped and lifted her hand from the keys and led her toward
the door.

“You must go to sleep at once,” he said gently. “You’ll need all the rest
you can get.” He lighted a candle for her and said good-night with his
eyes as well as his lips. Marcia felt that she was moving up the stairs
under a spell of some gentle loving power that surrounded her and would
always guard her.

And it was about this time that Miranda, having been sent over to take a
forgotten piece of bride’s cake to Marcia, and having heard the piano, and
stolen discreetly to the parlor window for a moment, returned and detailed
for the delectation of that most unhappy guest Mrs. Leavenworth why she
could not get in and would have to take it over in the morning:

“The window was open in the parlor and they were in there, them two, but
they was so plum took up with their two selves, as they always are, that
there wasn’t no use knockin’ fer they’d never hev heard.”

Miranda enjoyed making those remarks to the guest. Some keen instinct
always told her where best to strike her blows.

When Marcia had reached the top stair she looked down and there was David
smiling up to her.

“Marcia,” said he in a tone that seemed half ashamed and half amused,
“have you, any—that is—things—that you had before—all your own I mean?”
With quick intuition Marcia understood and her own sweet shame about her
clothes that were not her own came back upon her with double force. She
suddenly saw herself again standing before the censure of her sister. She
wondered if David had heard. If not, how then did he know? Oh, the shame
of it!

She sat down weakly upon the stair.

“Yes,” said she, trying to think. “Some old things, and one frock.”

“Wear it then to-morrow, dear,” said David, in a compelling voice and with
the sweet smile that took the hurt out of his most severe words.

Marcia smiled. “It is very plain,” she said, “only chintz, pink and white.
I made it myself.”

“Charming!” said David. “Wear it, dear. Marcia, one thing more. Don’t wear
any more things that don’t belong to you. Not a Dud. Promise me? Can you
get along without it?”

“Why, I guess so,” said Marcia laughing joyfully. “I’ll try to manage. But
I haven’t any bonnet. Nothing but a pink sunbonnet.”

“All right, wear that,” said David.

“It will look a little queer, won’t it?” said Marcia doubtfully, and yet
as if the idea expressed a certain freedom which was grateful to her.

“Never mind,” said David. “Wear it. Don’t wear any more of those other
things. Pack them all up and send them where they belong, just as quick as
we get home.”

There was something masterful and delightful in David’s voice, and Marcia
with a happy laugh took her candle and got up saying, with a ring of joy
in her voice: “All right!” She went to her room with David’s second
good-night ringing in her ears and her heart so light she wanted to sing.

Not at once did Marcia go to her bed. She set her candle upon the bureau
and began to search wildly in a little old hair-cloth trunk, her own
special old trunk that had contained her treasures and which had been sent
her after she left home. She had scarcely looked into it since she came to
the new home. It seemed as if her girlhood were shut up in it. Now she
pulled it out from the closet.

What a flood of memories rushed over her as she opened it! There were
relics of her school days, and of her little childhood. But she had no
time for them now. She was in search of something. She touched them
tenderly, but laid them all out one after another upon the floor until
down in the lower corner she found a roll of soft white cloth. It
contained a number of white garments, half a dozen perhaps in all,
finished, and several others cut out barely begun. They were her own work,
every stitch, the first begun when she was quite a little girl, and her
stepmother started to teach her to sew. What pride she had taken in them!
How pleased she had been when allowed to put real tucks in some of them!
She had thought as she sewed upon them at different times that they were
to be a part of her own wedding trousseau. And then her wedding had come
upon her unawares, with the trousseau ready-made, and everything belonged
to some one else. She had folded her own poor little garments away and
thought never to take them out again, for they seemed to belong to her
dead self.

But now that dead self had suddenly come to life again. These hated things
that she had worn for a year that were not hers were to be put away, and,
pretty as they were, many of them, she regretted not a thread of them.

She laid the white garments out upon a chair and decided that she would
put on what she needed of them on the morrow, even though they were
rumpled with long lying away. She even searched out an old pair of her own
stockings and laid them on a chair with the other things. They were neatly
darned as all things had always been under her stepmother’s supervision.
Further search brought a pair of partly worn prunella slippers to light,
with narrow ankle ribbons.

Then Marcia took down the pink sprigged chintz that she had made a year
ago and laid it near the other things, with a bit of black velvet and the
quaint old brooch. She felt a little dubious about appearing on such a
great occasion, almost in Albany, in a chintz dress and with no wrap.
Stay! There was the white crêpe shawl, all her own, that David had brought
her. She had not felt like wearing it to Hannah Heath’s wedding, it seemed
too precious to take near an unloving person like Hannah. Before that she
had never felt an occasion great enough. Now she drew it forth
breathlessly. A white crêpe shawl and a pink calico sunbonnet! Marcia
laughed softly. But then, what matter! David had said wear it.

All things were ready for the morrow now. There were even her white lace
mitts that Aunt Polly in an unusual fit of benevolence had given her.

Then, as if to make the change complete, she searched out an old night
robe, plain but smooth and clean and arrayed herself in it, and so,
thankful, happy, she lay down as she had been bidden and fell asleep.

David in the room below pondered, strange to say, the subject of dress.
There was some pride beneath it all, of course; there always is behind the
great problem of dress. It was the rejected bonnet lying in the corner
with its blue ribbons limp and its blue flowers crushed that made that
subject paramount among so many others he might have chosen for his
night’s meditation.

He was going over to close the parlor window, when he saw the thing lying
innocent and discarded in the corner. Though it bore an injured look, it
yet held enough of its original aristocratic style to cause him to stop
and think.

It was all well enough to suggest that Marcia wear a pink sunbonnet. It
sounded deliciously picturesque. She looked lovely in pink and a sunbonnet
was pretty and sensible on any one; but the morrow was a great day. David
would be seen of many and his wife would come under strict scrutiny.
Moreover it was possible that Kate might be upon the scene to jeer at her
sister in a sunbonnet. In fact, when he considered it he would not like to
take his wife to Albany in a sunbonnet. It behoved him to consider. The
outrageous words which he had heard Mistress Leavenworth speak to his wife
still burned in his brain like needles of torture: revelation of the true
character of the woman he had once longed to call his own.

But that bonnet! He stood and examined it. What was a bonnet like? The
proper kind of a bonnet for a woman in his wife’s position to wear. He had
never noticed a woman’s bonnet before except as he had absent-mindedly
observed them in front of him in meeting. Now he brought his mind to bear
upon that bonnet. It seemed to be made up of three component parts—a
foundation: a girdle apparently to bind together and tie on the head; and
a decoration. Straw, silk and some kind of unreal flowers. Was that all?
He stooped down and picked the thing up with the tips of his fingers, held
it at arms length as though it were contaminating, and examined the
inside. Ah! There was another element in its construction, a sort of frill
of something thin,—hardly lace,—more like the foam of a cloud. He touched
the tulle clumsily with his thumb and finger and then he dropped the
bonnet back into the corner again. He thought he understood well enough to
know one again. He stood pondering a moment, and looked at his watch.

Yes, it was still early enough to try at least, though of course the shop
would be closed. But the village milliner lived behind her little store.
It would be easy enough to rouse her, and he had known her all his life.
He took his hat as eagerly as he had done when as a boy Aunt Clarinda had
given him a penny to buy a top and permission to go to the corner and buy
it before Aunt Amelia woke up from her nap. He went quietly out of the
door, fastening it behind him and walked rapidly down the street.

Yes, the milliner’s shop was closed, but a light in the side windows
shining through the veiling hop-vines guided him, and he was presently
tapping at Miss Mitchell’s side door. She opened the door cautiously and
peeped over her glasses at him, and then a bright smile overspread her
face. Who in the whole village did not welcome David whenever he chanced
to come? Miss Mitchell was resting from her labors and reading the village
paper. She had finished the column of gossip and was quite ready for a
visitor.

“Come right in, David,” she said heartily, for she had known him all the
years, “it does a body good to see you though your visits are as few and
far between as angels’ visits. I’m right glad to see you! Sit down.” But
David was too eager about his business.

“I haven’t any time to sit down to-night, Miss Susan,” he said eagerly,
“I’ve come to buy a bonnet. Have you got one? I hope it isn’t too late
because I want it very early in the morning.”

“A bonnet! Bless me! For yourself?” said Miss Mitchell from mere force of
commercial habit. But neither of them saw the joke, so intent upon
business were they. “For my wife, Miss Mitchell. You see she is going with
me over to Albany to-morrow morning and we start quite early. We are going
to see the new railroad train start, you know, and she seems to think she
hasn’t a bonnet that’s suitable.”

“Going to see a steam engine start, are you! Well, take care, David, you
don’t get too near. They do say they’re terrible dangerous things, and fer
my part I can’t see what good they’ll be, fer nobody’ll ever be willin’ to
ride behind ’em, but I’d like to see it start well enough. And that sweet
little wife of yours thinks she ain’t got a good enough bonnet. Land
sakes! What is the matter with her Dunstable straw, and what’s become of
that one trimmed with blue lutestrings, and where’s the shirred silk one
she wore last Sunday? They’re every one fine bonnets and ought to last her
a good many years yet if she cares fer ’em. The mice haven’t got into the
house and et them, hev they?”

“No, Miss Susan, those bonnets are all whole yet I believe, but they don’t
seem to be just the suitable thing. In fact, I don’t think they’re
over-becoming to her, do you? You see they’re mostly blue——”

“That’s so!” said Miss Mitchell. “I think myself she’d look better in
pink. How’d you like white? I’ve got a pretty thing that I made fer Hannah
Heath an’ when it was done Hannah thought it was too plain and wouldn’t
have it. I sent for the flowers to New York and they cost a high price.
Wait! I will show it to you.”

She took a candle and he followed her to the dark front room ghostly with
bonnets in various stages of perfection.

It was a pretty thing. Its foundation was of fine Milan braid, creamy
white and smooth and even. He knew at a glance it belonged to the higher
order of things, and was superior to most of the bonnets produced in the
village.

It was trimmed with plain white taffeta ribbon, soft and silky. That was
all on the outside. Around the face was a soft ruching of tulle, and
clambering among it a vine of delicate green leaves that looked as if they
were just plucked from a wild rose bank. David was delighted. Somehow the
bonnet looked like Marcia. He paid the price at once, declining to look at
anything else. It was enough that he liked it and that Hannah Heath had
not. He had never admired Hannah’s taste. He carried it home in triumph,
letting himself softly into the house, lighted three candles, took the
bonnet out and hung it upon a chair. Then he walked around it surveying it
critically, first from this side, then from that. It pleased him
exceedingly. He half wished Marcia would hear him and come down. He wanted
to see it on her, but concluded that he was growing boyish and had better
get himself under control.

The bonnet approved, he walked back and forth through the kitchen and
dining-room thinking. He compelled himself to go over the events of the
afternoon and analyze most carefully his own innermost feelings. In fact,
after doing that he began further back and tried to find out how he felt
toward Marcia. What was this something that had been growing in him
unaware through the months; that had made his homecoming so sweet, and had
brightened every succeeding day; and had made this meeting with Kate a
mere commonplace? What was this precious thing that nestled in his heart?
Might he, had he a right to call it love? Surely! Now all at once his
pulses thrilled with gladness. He loved her! It was good to love her! She
was the most precious being on earth to him. What was Kate in comparison
with her? Kate who had shown herself cold and cruel and unloving in every
way?

His anger flamed anew as he thought of those cutting sentences he had
overheard, taunting her own sister about the clothes she wore. Boasting
that he still belonged to her! She, a married woman! A woman who had of
her own free will left him at the last moment and gone away with another!
His whole nature recoiled against her. She had sinned against her
womanhood, and might no longer demand from man the homage that a true
woman had a right to claim.

Poor little bruised flower! His heart went out to Marcia. He could not
bear to think of her having to stand and listen to that heartless tirade.
And he had been the cause of all this. He had allowed her to take a
position which threw her open to Kate’s vile taunts.

Up and down he paced till the torrent of his anger spent itself, and he
was able to think more calmly. Then he went back in his thoughts to the
time when he had first met Kate and she had bewitched him. He could see
now the heartlessness of her. He had met her first at the house of a
friend where he was visiting, partly on pleasure, partly on business. She
had devoted herself to him during the time of her stay in a most charming
way, though now he recalled that she had also been equally devoted to the
son of the house whom he was visiting. When she went home she had asked
him to come and call, for her home was but seven miles away. He had been
so charmed with her that he had accepted the invitation, and, rashly he
now saw, had engaged himself to her, after having known her in all face to
face but a few days. To be sure he had known of her father for years, and
he took a good deal for granted on account of her fine family. They had
corresponded after their engagement which had lasted for nearly a year,
and in that time David had seen her but twice, for a day or two at a time,
and each time he had thought her grown more lovely. Her letters had been
marvels of modesty, and shy admiration. It was easy for Kate to maintain
her character upon paper, though she had had little trouble in making
people love her under any circumstances. Now as he looked back he could
recall many instances when she had shown a cruel, heartless nature.

Then, all at once, with a throb of joy, it came to him to be thankful to
God for the experience through which he had passed. After all it had not
been taken from him to love with a love enduring, for though Kate had been
snatched from him just at the moment of his possession, Marcia had been
given him. Fool that he was! He had been blind to his own salvation.
Suppose he had been allowed to go on and marry Kate! Suppose he had had
her character revealed to him suddenly as those letters of hers to Harry
Temple had revealed it—as it surely would have been revealed in time, for
such things cannot be hid,—and she had been his _wife!_ He shuddered. How
he would have loathed her! How he loathed her now!

Strangely enough the realization of that fact gave him joy. He sprang up
and waved his hands about in silent delight. He felt as if he must shout
for gladness. Then he gravely knelt beside his chair and uttered an
audible thanksgiving for his escape and the joy he had been given. Nothing
else seemed fitting expression of his feelings.

There was one other question to consider—Marcia’s feelings. She had always
been kind and gentle and loving to him, just as a sister might have been.
She was exceedingly young yet. Did she know, could she understand what it
meant to be loved the way he was sure he could love a woman? And would she
ever be able to love him in that way? She was so silent and shy he hardly
knew whether she cared for him or not. But there was one thought that gave
him unbounded joy and that was that she was his wife. At least no one else
could take her from him. He had felt condemned that he had married her
when his heart was heavy lest she would lose the joy of life, but all that
was changed now. Unless she loved some one else surely such love as his
could compel hers and finally make her as happy as a woman could be made.

A twinge of misgiving crossed his mind as he admitted the possibility that
Marcia might love some one else. True, he knew of no one, and she was so
young it was scarcely likely she had left any one back in her girlhood to
whom her heart had turned when she was out of his sight. Still there were
instances of strong union of hearts of those who had loved from early
childhood. It might be that Marcia’s sometime-sadness was over a companion
of her girlhood.

A great longing took possession of him to rush up and waken her and find
out if she could ever care for him. He scarcely knew himself. This was not
his dignified contained self that he had lived with for twenty-seven
years.

It was very late before he finally went upstairs. He walked softly lest he
disturb Marcia. He paused before her door listening to see if she was
asleep, but there was only the sound of the katydids in the branches
outside her window, and the distant tree-toads singing a fugue in an
orchard not far away. He tiptoed to his room but he did not light his
candle, therefore there was no light in the back room of the Spafford
house that night for any watching eyes to ponder over. He threw himself
upon the bed. He was weary in body yet his soul seemed buoyant as a bird
in the morning air. The moon was casting long bars of silver across the
rag carpet and white counterpane. It was almost full moon. Yes, to-morrow
it would be entirely full. It was full moon the night he had met Marcia
down by the gate, and kissed her. It was the first time he had thought of
that kiss with anything but pain. It used to hurt him that he had made the
mistake and taken her for Kate. It had seemed like an ill-omen of what was
to come. But now, it thrilled him with a great new joy. After all he had
given the kiss to the right one. It was Marcia to whom his soul bowed in
the homage that a man may give to a woman. Did his good angel guide him to
her that night? And how was it he had not seen the sweetness of Marcia
sooner? How had he lived with her nearly a year, and watched her dainty
ways, and loving ministry and not known that his heart was hers? How was
it he had grieved so long over Kate, and now since he had seen her once
more, not a regret was in his heart that she was not his; but a beautiful
revelation of his own love to Marcia had been wrought in him? How came it?

And the importunate little songsters in the night answered him a thousand
times: “Kate-did-it! Kate-she-did it! Yes she did! I say she did. Kate did
it!”

Had angel voices reached him through his dreams, and suddenly given him
the revelation which the little insects had voiced in their ridiculous
colloquy? It was Kate herself who had shown him how he loved Marcia.



                              CHAPTER XXVIII


Slowly the moon rode over the house, and down toward its way in the West,
and after its vanishing chariot the night stretched wistful arms. Softly
the grey in the East tinged into violet and glowed into rose and gold. The
birds woke up and told one another that the first of August was come and
life was good.

The breath that came in the early dawn savored of new-mown hay, and the
bird songs thrilled Marcia as if it were the day of her dreams.

She forgot all her troubles; forgot even her wayward sister next door; and
rose with the song of the birds in her heart. This was to be a great day.
No matter what happened she had now this day to date from. David had asked
her to go somewhere just because he wanted her to. She knew it from the
look in his eyes when he told her, and she knew it because he might have
asked a dozen men to go with him. There was no reason why he need have
taken her to-day, for it was distinctly an affair for men, this great
wonder of machinery. It was a privilege for a woman to go. She felt it.
She understood the honor.

With fingers trembling from joy she dressed. Not the sight of her pink
calico sunbonnet lying on the chair, nor the thought of wearing it upon so
grand an occasion, could spoil the pleasure of the day. Among so large a
company her bonnet would hardly be noticed. If David was satisfied why
what difference did it make? She was glad it would be early when they
drove by the aunts, else they might be scandalized. But never mind! Trill!
She hummed a merry little tune which melted into the melody of the song
she had sung last night.

Then she smiled at herself in the glass. She was fastening the brooch in
the bit of velvet round her neck, and she thought of the day a year ago
when she had fastened that brooch. She had wondered then how she would
feel if the next day was to be her own wedding day. Now as she smiled back
at herself in the glass all at once she thought it seemed as if this was
her wedding day. Somehow last night had seemed to realize her dreams. A
wonderful joy had descended upon her heart. Maybe she was foolish, but was
she not going to ride with David? She did not long for the green fields
and a chance to run wild through the wood now. This was better than those
childish pleasures. This was real happiness. And to think it should have
come through David!

She hurried with the arrangement of her hair until her fingers trembled
with excitement. She wanted to get downstairs and see if it were all
really true or if she were dreaming it. Would David look at her as he had
done last night? Would he speak that precious word “dear” to her again
to-day? Would he take her by the hand and lead her sometimes, or was that
a special gentleness because he knew she had suffered from her sister’s
words? She clasped her hands with a quick, convulsive gesture over her
heart and looking back to the sweet face in the glass, said softly, “Oh, I
love him, love him! And it cannot be wrong, for Kate is married.”

But though she was up early David had been down before her. The fire was
ready lighted and the kettle singing over it on the crane. He had even
pulled out the table and put up the leaf, and made some attempt to put the
dishes upon it for breakfast. He was sitting by the hearth impatient for
her coming, with a bandbox by his side.

It was like another sunrise to watch their eyes light up as they saw one
another. Their glances rushed together as though they had been a long time
withholden from each other, and a rosy glow came over Marcia’s face that
made her long to hide it for a moment from view. Then she knew in her
heart that her dream was not all a dream. David was the same. It had
lasted, whatever this wonderful thing was that bound them together. She
stood still in her happy bewilderment, looking at him, and he, enjoying
the radiant morning vision of her, stood too.

David found that longing to take her in his arms overcoming him again. He
had made strict account with himself and was resolved to be careful and
not frighten her. He must be sure it would not be unpleasant to her before
he let her know his great deep love. He must be careful. He must not take
advantage of the fact that she was his and could not run away from him. If
she dreaded his attentions, neither could she any more say no.

And so their two looks met, and longed to come closer, but were held back,
and a lovely shyness crept over Marcia’s sweet face. Then David bethought
himself of his bandbox.

He took up the box and untied it with unaccustomed fingers, fumbling among
the tissue paper for the handle end of the thing. Where did they take hold
of bonnets anyway? He had no trouble with it the night before, but then he
was not thinking about it. Now he was half afraid she might not like it.
He remembered that Hannah Heath had pronounced against it. It suddenly
seemed impossible that he should have bought a bonnet that a pretty woman
had said was not right. There must be something wrong with it after all.

Marcia stood wondering.

“I thought maybe this would do instead of the sunbonnet,” he said at last,
getting out the bonnet by one string and holding it dangling before him.

Marcia caught it with deft careful hands and an exclamation of delight. He
watched her anxiously. It had all the requisite number of materials,—one,
two, three, four,—like the despised bonnet he threw on the floor—straw,
silk, lace and flowers. Would she like it? Her face showed that she did.
Her cheeks flushed with pleasure, and her eyes danced with joy. Marcia’s
face always showed it when she liked anything. There was nothing half-way
about her.

“Oh, it is beautiful!” she said delightedly. “It is so sweet and white and
cool with that green vine. Oh, I am glad, glad, glad! I shall never wear
that old blue bonnet again.” She went over to the glass and put it on. The
soft ruching settled about her brown hair, and made a lovely setting for
her face. The green vine twined and peeped in and out under the round brim
and the ribbon sat in a prim bow beneath her pretty chin.

She gave one comprehensive glance at herself in the glass and then turned
to David. In that glance was revealed to her just how much she had dreaded
wearing her pink sunbonnet, and just how relieved she was to have a
substitute.

Her look was shy and sweet as she said with eyes that dared and then
drooped timidly:

“You—are—very—good to me!”

Almost he forgot his vow of carefulness at that, but remembered when he
had got half across the room toward her, and answered earnestly:

“Dear, _you_ have been very good to _me_.”

Marcia’s eyes suddenly sobered and half the glow faded from her face. Was
it then only gratitude? She took off the bonnet and touched the bows with
wistful tenderness as she laid it by till after breakfast. He watched her
and misinterpreted the look. Was she then disappointed in the bonnet? Was
it not right after all? Had Hannah known better than he? He hesitated and
then asked her:

“Is there—— Is it—— That is—perhaps you would rather take it back and and
choose another. You know how to choose one better than I. There were
others I think. In fact, I forgot to look at any but this because I liked
it, but I’m only a man——” he finished helplessly.

“No! No! No!” said Marcia, her eyes sparkling emphatically again. “There
couldn’t be a better one. This is just exactly what I like. I do not want
anything else. And I—like it all the better because you selected it,” she
added daringly, suddenly lifting her face to his with a spice of her own
childish freedom.

His eyes admired her.

“She told me Hannah Heath thought it too plain,” he added honestly.

“Then I’m sure I like it all the better for that,” said Marcia so
emphatically that they both laughed.

It all at once became necessary to hurry, for the old clock in the hall
clanged out the hour and David became aware that haste was imperative.

Early as Marcia had come down, David had been up long before her, his
heart too light to sleep. In a dream, or perchance on the borders of the
morning, an idea had come to him. He told Marcia that he must go out now
to see about the horse, but he also made a hurried visit to the home of
his office clerk and another to the aunts, and when he returned with the
horse he had left things in such train that if he did not return that
evening he would not be greatly missed. But he said nothing to Marcia
about it. He laughed to himself as he thought of the sleepy look on his
clerk’s face, and the offended dignity expressed in the ruffle of Aunt
Hortense’s night cap all awry as she had peered over the balusters to
receive his unprecedentedly early visit. The aunts were early risers. They
prided themselves upon it. It hurt their dignity and their pride to have
anything short of sudden serious illness, or death, or a fire cause others
to arise before them. Therefore they did not receive the message that
David was meditating another trip away from the village for a few days
with good grace. Aunt Hortense asked Aunt Amelia if she had ever feared
that Marcia would have a bad effect upon David by making him frivolous.
Perhaps he would lose interest in his business with all his careering
around the country. Aunt Amelia agreed that Marcia must be to blame in
some way, and then discovering they had a whole hour before their usual
rising time, the two good ladies settled themselves with indignant
composure to their interrupted repose.

Breakfast was ready when David returned. Marcia supposed he had only been
to harness the horse. She glanced out happily through the window to where
the horse stood tied to the post in front of the house. She felt like
waving her hand to him, and he turned and seemed to see her; rolling the
whites of his eyes around, and tossing his head as if in greeting.

Marcia would scarcely have eaten anything in her excitement if David had
not urged her to do so. She hurried with her clearing away, and then flew
upstairs to arrange her bonnet before the glass and don the lovely folds
of the creamy crêpe shawl, folding it demurely around her shoulders and
knotting it in front. She put on her mitts, took her handkerchief folded
primly, and came down ready.

But David no longer seemed in such haste. He made a great fuss fastening
up everything. She wondered at his unusual care, for she thought
everything quite safe for the day.

She raised one shade toward the Heath house. It was the first time she had
permitted herself this morning to think of Kate. Was she there yet?
Probably, for no coach had left since last night, and unless she had gone
by private conveyance there would have been no way to go. She looked up to
the front corner guest room where the windows were open and the white
muslin curtains swayed in the morning breeze. No one seemed to be moving
about in the room. Perhaps Kate was not awake. Just then she caught the
flutter of a blue muslin down on the front stoop. Kate was up, early as it
was, and was coming out. A sudden misgiving seized Marcia’s heart, as when
a little child, she had seen her sister coming to eat up the piece of cake
or sweetmeat that had been given to her. Many a time had that happened.
Now, she felt that in some mysterious way Kate would contrive to take from
her her new-found joy.

She could not resist her,—David could not resist her,—no one could ever
resist Kate. Her face turned white and her hand began to tremble so that
she dropped the curtain she had been holding up.

Just then came David’s clear voice, louder than would have been necessary,
and pitched as if he were calling to some one upstairs, though he knew she
was just inside the parlor where she had gone to make sure of the window
fastening.

“Come, dear! Aren’t you ready? It is more than time we started.”

There was a glad ring in David’s voice that somehow belied the somewhat
exacting words he had spoken, and Marcia’s heart leaped up to meet him.

“Yes, I’m all ready, dear!” she called back with a hysterical little
laugh. Of course Kate could not hear so far, but it gave her satisfaction
to say it. The final word was unpremeditated. It bubbled up out of the
depths of her heart and made the red rush back into her cheeks when she
realized what she had said. It was the first time she had ever used a term
of endearment toward David. She wondered if he noticed it and if he would
think her very—bold,—queer,—immodest, to use it. She looked shyly up at
him, enquiring with her eyes, as she came out to him on the front stoop,
and he looked down with such a smile she felt as if it were a caress. And
yet neither was quite conscious of this little real by-play they were
enacting for the benefit of the audience of one in blue muslin over the
way. How much she heard, or how little they could not tell, but it gave
satisfaction to go through with it inasmuch as it was real, and not acting
at all.

David fastened the door and then helped Marcia into the carriage. They
were both laughing happily like two children starting upon a picnic.
Marcia was serenely conscious of her new bonnet, and it was pleasant to
have David tuck the linen lap robe over her chintz frock so carefully. She
was certain Kate could not identify it now at that distance, thanks to the
lap robe and her crêpe shawl. At least Kate could not see any of her own
trousseau on her sister now.

Kate was sitting on the little white seat in the shelter of the
honeysuckle vine facing them on the stoop of the Heath house. It was
impossible for them to know whether she was watching them or not. They did
not look up to see. She was talking with Mr. Heath who, in his milking
garb, was putting to rights some shrubs and plants near the walk that had
been trampled upon during the wedding festivities. But Kate must have seen
a good deal that went on.

David took up the reins, settled himself with a smile at Marcia, touched
the horse with the tip of the whip, which caused him to spring forward in
astonishment—that from David! No horse in town would have expected it of
him. They had known him from babyhood, most of them, and he was gentleness
itself. It must have been a mistake. But the impression lasted long enough
to carry them a rod or two past the Heath house at a swift pace, with only
time for a lifting of David’s hat, prolonged politely,—which might or
might not have included Kate, and they were out upon their way together.

Marcia could scarcely believe her senses that she was really here beside
David, riding with him swiftly through the village and leaving Kate
behind. She felt a passing pity for Kate. Then she looked shyly up at
David. Would his gaiety pass when they were away, and would he grow grave
and sad again so soon as he was out of Kate’s sight? She had learned
enough of David’s principles to know that he would not think it right to
let his thoughts stray to Kate now, but did his heart still turn that way
in spite of him?

Through the town they sped, glad with every roll of the wheels that took
them further away from Kate. Each was conscious, as they rolled along, of
that day one year ago when they rode together thus, out through the fields
into the country. It was a day much as that other one, just as bright,
just as warm, yet oh, so much more radiant to both! Then they were sad and
fearful of the future. All their life seemed in the past. Now the darkness
had been led through, and they had reached the brightness again. In fact,
all the future stretched out before them that fair morning and looked
bright as the day.

They were conscious of the blueness of the sky, of the soft clouds that
hovered in haziness on the rim of the horizon, as holding off far enough
to spoil no moment of that perfect day. They were conscious of the waving
grains and of the perfume of the buckwheat drifting like snow in the
fields beyond the wheat; conscious of the meadow-lark and the wood-robin’s
note; of the whirr of a locust; and the thud of a frog in the cool green
of a pool deep with brown shadows; conscious of the circling of mated
butterflies in the simmering gold air; of the wild roses lifting fair pink
petals from the brambly banks beside the road; conscious of the whispering
pine needles in a wood they passed; the fluttering chatter of leaves and
silver flash of the lining of poplar leaves, where tall trees stood like
sentinels, apart and sad; conscious of a little brook that tinkled under a
log bridge they crossed, then hurried on its way unmindful of their happy
crossing; conscious of the dusty daisy beside the road, closing with a
bumbling bee who wanted honey below the market price; conscious of all
these things; but most conscious of each other, close, side by side.

It was all so dear, that ride, and over so soon. Marcia was just trying to
get used to looking up into the dazzling light of David’s eyes. She had to
droop her own almost immediately for the truth she read in his was
overpowering. Could it be? A fluttering thought came timidly to her heart
and would not be denied.

“Can it be, can it be that he cares for me? He loves me. He loves me!” It
sang its way in with thrill after thrill of joy and more and more David’s
eyes told the story which his lips dared not risk yet. But eyes and hearts
are not held by the conventions that bind lips. They rushed into their
inheritance of each other and had that day ahead, a day so rare and sweet
that it would do to set among the jewels of fair days for all time and for
any one.

All too soon they began to turn into roads where were other vehicles, many
of them, and all going in the same direction. Men and women in gala day
attire all laughing and talking expectantly and looking at one another as
the carriages passed with a degree of familiar curiosity which betokens a
common errand. Family coaches, farm wagons, with kitchen chairs for
accommodation of the family; old one-horse chaises, carryalls, and even a
stage coach or two wheeled into the old turnpike. David and Marcia settled
into subdued quiet, their joy not expressing itself in the ripples of
laughter that had rung out earlier in the morning when they were alone.
They sought each other’s eyes often and often, and in one of these
excursions that David’s eyes made to Marcia’s face he noticed how
extremely becoming the new bonnet was. After thinking it over he decided
to risk letting her know. He was not shy about it now.

“Do you know, dear,” he said,—there had been a good many “dear’s” slipping
back and forth all unannounced during that ride, and not openly
acknowledged either. “Do you know how becoming your new bonnet is to you?
You look prettier than I ever saw you look but once before.” He kept his
eyes upon her face and watched the sweet color steal up to her drooping
eyelashes.

“When was that?” she asked coyly, to hide her embarrassment, and sweeping
him one laughing glance.

“Why, that night, dear, at the gate, in the moonlight. Don’t you
remember?”

“Oh-h-h-h!” Marcia caught her breath and a thrill of joy passed through
her that made her close her eyes lest the glad tears should come. Then the
little bird in her heart set up the song in earnest to the tune of Wonder:
“He loves me, He loves me, He loves me!”

He leaned a little closer to her.

“If there were not so many people looking I think I should have to kiss
you now.”

“Oh-h-h-h!” said Marcia drawing in her breath and looking around
frightened on the number of people that were driving all about them, for
they were come almost to the railroad now, and could see the black smoke
of the engine a little beyond as it stood puffing and snorting upon its
track like some sulky animal that had been caught and chained and
harnessed and was longing to leap forward and upset its load.

But though Marcia looked about in her happy fright, and sat a trifle
straighter in the chaise, she did not move her hand away that lay next
David’s, underneath the linen lap robe, and he put his own hand over it
and covered it close in his firm hold. Marcia trembled and was so happy
she was almost faint with joy. She wondered if she were very foolish
indeed to feel so, and if all love had this terrible element of solemn joy
in it that made it seem too great to be real.

They had to stop a number of times to speak to people. Everybody knew
David, it appeared. This man and that had a word to speak with him, some
bit of news that he must not omit to notice in his article, some new
development about the attitude of a man of influence that was important;
the change of two or three of those who were to go in the coaches on this
trial trip.

To all of them David introduced his wife, with a ring of pride in his
voice as he said the words “My wife,” and all of them stopped whatever
business they had in hand and stepped back to bow most deferentially to
the beautiful woman who sat smiling by his side. They wondered why they
had not heard of her before, and they looked curiously, enviously at
David, and back in admiration at Marcia. It was quite a little court she
held sitting there in the chaise by David’s side.

Men who have since won a mention in the pages of history were there that
day, and nearly all of them had a word for David Spafford and his lovely
wife. Many of them stood for some time and talked with her. Mr. Thurlow
Weed was the last one to leave them before the train was actually ready
for starting, and he laid an urging hand upon David’s arm as he went.
“Then you think you cannot go with us? Better come. Mrs. Spafford will let
you I am sure. You’re not afraid are you, Mrs. Spafford? I am sure you are
a brave woman. Better come, Spafford.”

But David laughingly thanked him again as he had thanked others, and said
that he would not be able to go, as he and his wife had other plans, and
he must go on to Albany as soon as the train had started.

Marcia looked up at him half worshipfully as he said this, wondering what
it was, instinctively knowing that it was for her sake he was giving up
this honor which they all wished to put upon him. It would naturally have
been an interesting thing to him to have taken this first ride behind the
new engine “Dewitt Clinton.”

Then, suddenly, like a chill wind from a thunder cloud that has stolen up
unannounced and clutched the little wild flowers before they have time to
bind up their windy locks and duck their heads under cover, there happened
a thing that clutched Marcia’s heart and froze all the joy in her veins.



                               CHAPTER XXIX


A coach was approaching filled with people, some of them Marcia knew; they
were friends and neighbors from their own village, and behind it plodding
along came a horse with a strangely familiar gait drawing four people. The
driver was old Mr. Heath looking unbelievingly at the scene before him. He
did not believe that an engine would be able to haul a train any
appreciable distance whatever, and he believed that he had come out here
to witness this entire company of fanatics circumvented by the ill-natured
iron steed who stood on the track ahead surrounded by gaping boys and a
flock of quacking ganders, living symbol of the people who had come to see
the thing start; so thought Mr. Heath. He told himself he was as much of a
goose as any of them to have let this chit of a woman fool him into coming
off out here when he ought to have been in the hay field to-day.

By his side in all the glory of shimmering blue with a wide white lace
bertha and a bonnet with a steeple crown wreathed about heavily with roses
sat Kate, a blue silk parasol shading her eyes from the sun, those eyes
that looked to conquer, and seemed to pierce beyond and through her sister
and ignore her. Old Mrs. Heath and Miranda were along, but they did not
count, except to themselves. Miranda was all eyes, under an ugly bonnet.
She desired above all things to see that wonderful engine in which David
was so interested.

Marcia shrunk and seemed to wither where she sat. All her bright bloom
faded in an instant and a kind of frenzy seized her. She had a wild desire
to get down out of the carriage and run with all her might away from this
hateful scene. The sky seemed to have suddenly clouded over and the hum
and buzz of voices about seemed a babel that would never cease.

David felt the arm beside his cringe, and shrink back, and looking down
saw the look upon her sweet frightened face; following her glance his own
face hardened into what might have been termed righteous wrath. But not a
word did he say, and neither did he apparently notice the oncoming
carriage. He busied himself at once talking with a man who happened to
pass the carriage, and when Mr. Heath drove by to get a better view of the
engine he was so absorbed in his conversation that he did not notice them,
which seemed but natural.

But Kate was not to be thus easily foiled. She had much at stake and she
must win if possible. She worked it about that Squire Heath should drive
around to the end of the line of coaches, quite out of sight of the engine
and where there was little chance of seeing the train and its
passengers,—the only thing Squire Heath cared about. But there was an
excellent view of David’s carriage and Kate would be within hailing
distance if it should transpire that she had no further opportunity of
speaking with David. It seemed strange to Squire Heath, as he sat there
behind the last coach patiently, that he had done what she asked. She did
not look like a woman who was timid about horses, yet she had professed a
terrible fear that the screech of the engine would frighten the staid old
Heath horse. Miranda, at that, had insisted upon changing seats, thereby
getting herself nearer the horse, and the scene of action. Miranda did not
like to miss seeing the engine start.

At last word to start was given. A man ran along by the train and mounted
into his high seat with his horn in his hand ready to blow. The fireman
ceased his raking of the glowing fire and every traveller sprang into his
seat and looked toward the crowd of spectators importantly. This was a
great moment for all interested. The little ones whose fathers were in the
train began to call good-bye and wave their hands, and one old lady whose
only son was going as one of the train assistants began to sob aloud.

A horse in the crowd began to act badly. Every snort of the engine as the
steam was let off made him start and rear. He was directly behind Marcia,
and she turned her head and looked straight into his fiery frightened
eyes, red with fear and frenzy, and felt his hot breath upon her cheek. A
man was trying most ineffectually to hold him, but it seemed as if in
another minute he would come plunging into the seat with them. Marcia
uttered a frightened cry and clutched at David’s arm. He turned, and
seeing instantly what was the matter, placed his arm protectingly about
her and at once guided his own horse out of the crowd, and around nearer
to the engine. Somehow that protecting arm gave Marcia a steadiness once
more and she was able to watch the wonderful wheels begin to turn and the
whole train slowly move and start on its way. Her lips parted, her breath
came quick, and for the instant she forgot her trouble. David’s arm was
still about her, and there was a reassuring pressure in it. He seemed to
have forgotten that the crowd might see him—if the crowd had not been too
busy watching something more wonderful. It is probable that only one
person in that whole company saw David sitting with his arm about his
wife—for he soon remembered and put it quietly on the back of the seat,
where it would call no one’s attention—and that person was Kate. She had
not come to this hot dusty place to watch an engine creak along a track,
she had come to watch David, and she was vexed and angry at what she saw.
Here was Marcia flaunting her power over David directly in her face.
Spiteful thing! She would pay her back yet and let her know that she could
not touch the things that she, Kate, had put her own sign and seal upon.
For this reason it was that at the last minute Kate allowed poor Squire
Heath to drive around near the front of the train, saying that as David
Spafford seemed to find it safe she supposed she ought not to hold them
back for her fears. It needed but the word to send the vexed and curious
Squire around through the crowd to a spot directly behind David’s
carriage, and there Miranda could see quite well, and Kate could sit and
watch David and frame her plans for immediate action so soon as the
curtain should fall upon this ridiculous engine play over which everybody
was wild.

And so, amid shouts and cheers, and squawking of the geese that attempted
to precede the engine like a white frightened body-guard down the track;
amid the waving of handkerchiefs, the shouts of excited little boys, and
the neighing of frightened horses, the first steam engine that ever drew a
train in New York state started upon its initial trip.

Then there came a great hush upon the spectators assembled. The wheels
were rolling, the carriages were moving, the train was actually going by
them, and what had been so long talked about was an assured fact. They
were seeing it with their own eyes, and might be witnesses of it to all
their acquaintances. It was true. They dared not speak nor breathe lest
something should happen and the great miracle should stop. They hushed
simultaneously as though at the passing of some great soul. They watched
in silence until the train went on between the meadows, grew smaller in
the distance, slipped into the shadow of the wood, flashed out into the
sunlight beyond again, and then was lost behind a hill. A low murmur
growing rapidly into a shout of cheer arose as the crowd turned and faced
one another and the fact of what they had seen.

“By gum! She kin do it!” ejaculated Squire Heath, who had watched the
melting of his skeptical opinions in speechless amazement.

The words were the first intimation the Spaffords had of the proximity of
Kate. They made David smile, but Marcia turned white with sudden fear
again. Not for nothing had she lived with her sister so many years. She
knew that cruel nature and dreaded it.

David looked at Marcia for sympathy in his smile at the old Squire, but
when he saw her face he turned frowning toward those behind him.

Kate saw her opportunity. She leaned forward with honeyed smile, and wily
as the serpent addressed her words to Marcia, loud and clear enough for
all those about them to hear.

“Oh, Mrs. Spafford! I am going to ask a great favor of you. I am sure you
will grant it when you know I have so little time. I am extremely anxious
to get a word of advice from your husband upon business matters that are
very pressing. Would you kindly change places with me during the ride
home, and give me a chance to talk with him about it? I would not ask it
but that I must leave for New York on the evening coach and shall have no
other opportunity to see him.”

Kate’s smile was roses and cream touched with frosty sunshine, and to
onlookers nothing could have been sweeter. But her eyes were coldly cruel
as sharpened steel, and they said to her sister as plainly as words could
have spoken: “Do you obey my wish, my lady, or I will freeze the heart out
of you.”

Marcia turned white and sick. She felt as if her lips had suddenly
stiffened and refused to obey her when they ought to have smiled. What
would all these people think of her, and how was she behaving? For David’s
sake she ought to do something, say something, look something, but
what—what should she do?

While she was thinking this, with the freezing in her heart creeping up
into her throat, the great tears beating at the portals of her eyes, and
time standing suddenly still waiting for her leaden tongue to speak, David
answered:

All gracefully ’twas done, with not so much as a second’s
hesitation,—though it had seemed so long to Marcia,—nor the shadow of a
sign that he was angry:

“Mrs. Leavenworth,” he said in his masterful voice, “I am sure my wife
would not wish to seem ungracious, or unwilling to comply with your
request, but as it happens it is impossible. We are not returning home for
several days. My wife has some shopping to do in Albany, and in fact we
are expecting to take a little trip. A sort of second honeymoon, you
know,”—he added, smiling toward Mrs. Heath and Miranda; “it is the first
time I have had leisure to plan for it since we were married. I am sorry I
have to hurry away, but I am sure that my friend Squire Heath can give as
much help in a business way as I could, and furthermore, Squire Schuyler
is now in New York for a few days as I learned in a letter from him which
arrived last evening. I am sure he can give you more and better advice
than any I could give. I wish you good morning. Good morning, Mrs. Heath.
Good morning, Miss Miranda!”

Lifting his hat David drove away from them and straight over to the little
wayside hostelry where he was to finish his article to send by the
messenger who was even then ready mounted for the purpose.

“My! Don’t he think a lot of her though!” said Miranda, rolling the words
as a sweet morsel under her tongue. “It must be nice to have a man so fond
of you.” This was one of the occasions when Miranda wished she had eyes in
the back of her head. She was sharp and she had seen a thing or two, also
she had heard scraps of her cousin Hannah’s talk. But she sat demurely in
the recesses of her deep, ugly bonnet and tried to imagine how the guest
behind her looked.

All trembling sat Marcia in the rusty parlor of the little hostelry, while
David at the table wrote with hurried hand, glancing up at her to smile
now and then, and passing over the sheets as he finished them for her
criticism. She thought she had seen the Heath wagon drive away in the home
direction, but she was not sure. She half expected to see the door open
and Kate walk in. Her heart was thumping so she could scarcely sit still
and the brightness of the world outside seemed to make her dizzy. She was
glad to have the sheets to look over, for it took her thoughts away from
herself and her nameless fears. She was not quite sure what it was she
feared, only that in some way Kate would have power over David to take him
away from her. As he wrote she studied the dear lines of his face and
knew, as well as human heart may ever know, how dear another soul had
grown to hers.

David had not much to write and it was soon signed, approved, and sealed.
He sent his messenger on the way and then coming back closed the door and
went and stood before Marcia.

As though she felt some critical moment had come she arose, trembling, and
looked into his eyes questioningly.

“Marcia,” he said, and his tone was grave and earnest, putting her upon an
equality with him, not as if she were a child any more. “Marcia, I have
come to ask your forgiveness for the terrible thing I did to you in
allowing you, who scarcely knew what you were doing then, to give your
life away to a man who loved another woman.”

Marcia’s heart stood still with horror. It had come then, the dreadful
thing she had feared. The blow was going to fall. He did not love her!
What a fool she had been!

But the steady voice went on, though the blood in her neck and temples
throbbed in such loud waves that she could scarcely hear the words to
understand them.

“It was a crime, Marcia, and I have come to realize it more and more
during all the days of this year that you have so uncomplainingly spent
yourself for me. I know now, as I did not think then in my careless,
selfish sorrow, that I was as cruel to you, with your sweet young life, as
your sister was cruel to me. You might already have given your heart to
some one else; I never stopped to inquire. You might have had plans and
hopes for your own future; I never even thought of it. I was a brute. Can
you forgive me? Sometimes the thought of the responsibility I took upon
myself has been so terrible to me that I felt I could not stand it. You
did not realize what it was then that you were giving, perhaps, but
somehow I think you have begun to realize now. Will you forgive me?” He
stopped and looked at her anxiously. She was drooped and white as if a
blast had suddenly struck her and faded her sweet bloom. Her throat was
hot and dry and she had to try three times before she could frame the
words, “Yes, I forgive.”

There was no hope, no joy in the words, and a sudden fear descended upon
David’s heart. Had he then done more damage than he knew? Was the child’s
heart broken by him, and did she just realize it? What could he do? Must
he conceal his love from her? Perhaps this was no time to tell it. But he
must. He could not bear the burden of having done her harm and not also
tell her how he loved her. He would be very careful, very considerate, he
would not press his love as a claim, but he must tell her.

“And Marcia, I must tell you the rest,” he went on, his own words seeming
to stay upon his lips, and then tumble over one another; “I have learned
to love you as I never loved your sister. I love you more and better than
I ever could have loved her. I can see how God has led me away from her
and brought me to you. I can look back to that night when I came to her
and found you there waiting for me, and kissed you,—darling. Do you
remember?” He took her cold little trembling hands and held them firmly as
he talked, his whole soul in his face, as if his life depended upon the
next few moments. “I was troubled at the time, dear, for having kissed
you, and given you the greeting that I thought belonged to her. I have
rebuked myself for thinking since how lovely you looked as you stood there
in the moonlight. But afterward I knew that it was you after all that my
love belonged to, and to you rightfully the kiss should have gone. I am
glad it was so, glad that God overruled my foolish choosing. Lately I have
been looking back to that night I met you at the gate, and feeling jealous
that that meeting was not all ours; that it should be shadowed for us by
the heartlessness of another. It gives me much joy now to think how I took
you in my arms and kissed you. I cannot bear to think it was a mistake.
Yet glad as I am that God sent you down to that gate to meet me, and much
as I love you, I would rather have died than feel that I have brought
sorrow into your life, and bound you to one whom you cannot love. Marcia,
tell me truly, never mind my feelings, tell me! Can you ever love me?”

Then did Marcia lift her flower-like face, all bright with tears of joy
and a flood of rosy smiles, the light of seven stars in her eyes. But she
could not speak, she could only look, and after a little whisper, “Oh,
David, I think I have always loved you! I think I was waiting for you that
night, though I did not know it. And look!”—with sudden thought——

She drew from the folds of her dress a little old-fashioned locket hung by
a chain about her neck out of sight. She opened it and showed him a soft
gold curl which she touched gently with her lips, as though it were
something very sacred.

“What is it, darling?” asked David perplexed, half happy, half afraid as
he took the locket and touched the curl more thrilled with the thought
that she had carried it next her heart than with the sight of it.

“It is yours,” she said, disappointed that he did not understand. “Aunt
Clarinda gave it to me while you were away. I’ve worn it ever since. And
she gave me other things, and told me all about you. I know it all, about
the tops and marbles, and the spelling book, and I’ve cried with you over
your punishments, and—I—love it all!”

He had fastened the door before he began to talk, but he caught her in his
arms now, regardless of the fact that the shades were not drawn down, and
that they swayed in the summer breeze.

“Oh, my darling! My wife!” he cried, and kissed her lips for the third
time.

The world was changed then for those two. They belonged to each other they
believed, as no two that ever walked through Eden had ever belonged. When
they thought of the precious bond that bound them together their hearts
throbbed with a happiness that well-nigh overwhelmed them.

A dinner of stewed chickens and little white soda biscuits was served
them, fit for a wedding breakfast, for the barmaid whispered to the cook
that she was sure there was a bride and groom in the parlor they looked so
happy and seemed to forget anybody else was by. But it might have been ham
and eggs for all they knew what it was they ate, these two who were so
happy they could but look into each other’s eyes.

When the dinner was over and they started on their way again, with Albany
shimmering in the hot sun in the distance, and David’s arm sliding from
the top of the seat to circle Marcia’s waist, David whispered:

“This is our real wedding journey, dearest, and this is our bridal day.
We’ll go to Albany and buy you a trousseau, and then we will go wherever
you wish. I can stay a whole week if you wish. Would you like to go home
for a visit?”

Marcia, with shining eyes and glowing cheeks, looked her love into his
face and answered: “Yes, _now_ I would like to go home,—just for a few
days—and then back to our home.”

And David looking into her eyes understood why she had not wanted to go
before. She was taking her husband, _her_ husband, not Kate’s, with her
now, and might be proud of his love. She could go among her old comrades
and be happy, for he loved her. He looked a moment, comprehended,
sympathized, and then pressing her hand close—for he might not kiss her,
as there was a load of hay coming their way—he said: “Darling!” But their
eyes said more.



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                                  ERRATA


      CHAPTER I
      Changed: girl in the *fairy tale* who left jewels
      To: girl in the *fairy-tale* who left jewels

      CHAPTER I
      Changed: ever walked in *fairy tale*. But she saw
      To: ever walked in *fairy-tale*. But she saw

      CHAPTER III
      Changed: before, but covered *wth* confusion and shame,
      To: before, but covered *with* confusion and shame,

      CHAPTER III
      Changed: and she turned *delberately*, one dainty, slippered
      To: and she turned *deliberately*, one dainty, slippered

      CHAPTER V
      Changed: her that this *wholsale* disposal of Marcia
      To: her that this *wholesale* disposal of Marcia

      CHAPTER V
      Changed: Phoebe takes your place and then come back.* *
      To: Phoebe takes your place and then come back.*”*

      CHAPTER V
      Changed: fine places, to *tea drinkings* and the like,
      To: fine places, to *tea-drinkings* and the like,

      CHAPTER VI
      Changed: out radiant and *childlike* through her tears.
      To: out radiant and *child-like* through her tears.

      CHAPTER X
      Changed: was always something *childlike* about Marcia’s
      To: was always something *child-like* about Marcia’s

      CHAPTER X
      Changed: her old home *plentfully* supplied with those
      To: her old home *plentifully* supplied with those

      CHAPTER XII
      Changed: got David that’s worth everything.* *
      To: got David that’s worth everything.*”*

      CHAPTER XII
      Changed: position on the *haircloth* sofa. But if
      To: position on the *hair-cloth* sofa. But if

      CHAPTER XIII
      Changed: had Mary Ann’s *hand-writing* looked so pleasant
      To: had Mary Ann’s *handwriting* looked so pleasant

      CHAPTER XIII
      Changed: seemed half a *life-time* to the girl
      To: seemed half a *lifetime* to the girl

      CHAPTER XIII
      Changed: my old calico *tomorrow* morning again, and
      To: my old calico *to-morrow* morning again, and

      CHAPTER XIII
      Changed: house with big *collums* to the front
      To: house with big *columns* to the front

      CHAPTER XV
      Changed: table, and the *tea-kettle* was singing on
      To: table, and the *tea kettle* was singing on

      CHAPTER XV
      Changed: The neighbor had *staid* longer than usual,
      To: The neighbor had *stayed* longer than usual,

      CHAPTER XVI
      Changed: thus melted into *childlike* enthusiasm, felt his
      To: thus melted into *child-like* enthusiasm, felt his

      CHAPTER XVIII
      Changed: with the flickering *candle-light* making grotesque
      To: with the flickering *candle light* making grotesque

      CHAPTER XVIII
      Changed: Bible where the *candle-light* played at glances
      To: Bible where the *candle light* played at glances

      CHAPTER XXI
      Changed: if he would *absord* the vision for
      To: if he would *absorb* the vision for

      CHAPTER XXII
      Changed: and let the *floodtide* of his sorrow
      To: and let the *flood-tide* of his sorrow

      CHAPTER XXII
      Changed: an’ hopin’ an’ *tryin* fer somebody bigger.
      To: an’ hopin’ an’ *tryin’* fer somebody bigger.

      CHAPTER XXII
      Changed: There’s no place like home.*’*
      To: There’s no place like home.* *

      CHAPTER XXIV
      Changed: * *MIRANDA GRISCOM.”
      To: *“*MIRANDA GRISCOM.”

      CHAPTER XXVI
      Changed: all items accurate* * technicalities of preparation;
      To: all items accurate*;* technicalities of preparation;

      CHAPTER XXVII
      Changed: need all the rest you can get.* *
      To: need all the rest you can get.*”*

      CHAPTER XXVII
      Changed: had before—all your own I mean?* *
      To: had before—all your own I mean?*”*

      CHAPTER XXVII
      Changed: any bonnet. Nothing but a pink sunbonnet.* *
      To: any bonnet. Nothing but a pink sunbonnet.*”*

      CHAPTER XXVII
      Changed: a little old *haircloth* trunk, her own
      To: a little old *hair-cloth* trunk, her own

      CHAPTER XXVII
      Changed: had done when* *a boy Aunt Clarinda
      To: had done when* as *a boy Aunt Clarinda

      CHAPTER XXVII
      Changed: Kate a mere *common-place*? What was this
      To: Kate a mere *commonplace*? What was this

      CHAPTER XXIX
      Changed: Marcia lift her *flowerlike* face, all bright
      To: Marcia lift her *flower-like* face, all bright

      AD PAGES
      Changed: love story well told.”—_Boston Transcript_*,*
      To: love story well told.”—_Boston Transcript_*.*

      AD PAGES
      Changed: by Frank Haviland. *Medalion* in color on
      To: by Frank Haviland. *Medallion* in color on

      AD PAGES
      Changed: *Suberb* color portraits of many familiar flowers
      To: *Superb* color portraits of many familiar flowers

      AD PAGES
      Changed: her magnificent *personalty*, her transcendent
      To: her magnificent *personality*, her transcendent





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