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´╗┐Title: Miss Theodora - A West End Story
Author: Reed, Helen Leah, 1860-1926
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 "Miss Theodora - A West End Story" ***

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Miss Theodora

A West End Story

BY

Helen Leah Reed

[Illustration: Logo]

BOSTON
RICHARD G. BADGER & CO.
1898


[Illustration: Frontispiece]


Copyright, 1898, by
Richard G. Badger & Co.

_All Rights Reserved_


The frontispiece and chapter headings are from drawings by Florence
Pearl England, the latter being after photographs.



[Illustration]

I.


The tourist, with his day or two at a down town hotel, calls Boston a
city of narrow streets and ancient graveyards; the dweller in one of the
newer avenues is enthusiastic about the modern architecture and regular
streets of the Back Bay region. Yet neither of these knows the real
Boston, the old West End, with its quaint tree-lined streets sloping
from the top of Beacon Hill toward the river.

Near the close of any bright afternoon, walk from the State House down
the hill, pause half-way, and, glancing back, note the perfect Gothic
arch formed by the trees that line both sides of Mount Vernon Street.
Admire those old houses which have taken on the rich, deep tones that
age so kindly imparts to brick. Then look across the river to the sun
just setting behind the Brookline hills,--and admit that even in a
crowded city we may catch glimpses of the picturesque.

Half-way down one of the quiet, hilly West End streets is the house of
Miss Theodora--no, I will not tell you her true name. If I should, you
would recognize it at once as that of a great New England jurist. This
jurist was descended from a long line of scholars, whose devotion to
letters had not prevented their accumulating a fair amount of wealth.
Much of this wealth had fallen to the jurist, Miss Theodora's father,
with whom at first everything went well, and then everything badly.

It was not entirely the great man's extravagance that wrought the
mischief, although many stories were long told of his too liberal
hospitality and lavish expenditure. He came, however, of a generous
race; it was a cousin of his who divided a small fortune between Harvard
College and the Provident Association, and for more than a century back
the family name might be found on every list of contributions to a good
cause.

Yet it was not extravagance, but blind faith in the financial wisdom of
others, as well as an undue readiness to lend money to every man who
wished to borrow from him, which brought to Miss Theodora's father the
trouble that probably hastened him to his grave. When he died, it was
found that he had lost all but a fraction of a former fortune. His widow
survived him only a few years, and before her death the family had to
leave their roomy mansion on the hill, with its pleasant garden, for a
smaller house farther down the street.

Here Miss Theodora tried to make a pleasant home for John, her brother.
He had just begun to practise law, and, with his talents, would
undoubtedly do well, especially if he married as he should. Thus, with a
woman's worldliness in things matrimonial, reasoned Miss Theodora,
sometimes even going so far as to commend to John this girl or that
among the family connections. But one day John put an end to all her
innocent scheming by announcing his betrothal to the orphan daughter of
a Plymouth minister, "a girl barely pretty, and certainly poor." It was
only a half consolation to reflect that Dorothy had a pedigree going
back to John Alden and Priscilla.

Ernest, John's boy, was just a month old when Sumter surrendered; yet
John would go to the war, leaving Dorothy and the baby to the care of
his sister. Eagerly the two women followed his regiment through each
campaign, thankful for the bright and cheerful letters he sent them.
They bore bravely that awful silence after Antietam, until at length
they knew that John would never come home again.

It was simply of a broken heart that Dorothy died, said every one, for
little Ernest was scarcely three years old when he was left with no one
to care for him but Miss Theodora. How she saved and scrimped to give
him what he needed, I will not say; but gradually her attire took on a
quaintness that would have been thought impossible for her even to favor
in the days of her girlhood, when she had been a critic of dress. She
never bought a new gown now; every cent beyond what was required for
living expenses must be saved for Ernest.

Before the boy knew his letters, Miss Theodora was planning for his
career at Harvard. He should be graduated at the head of his class. With
such a father, with such a grandfather, Ernest certainly must be a
great man. The family glory would be renewed in him.

Little by little Miss Theodora withdrew from the world. She had not
cared for gayety in her younger days; she hardly missed it now; yet she
was not neglected by her relatives and old friends--even the most
fashionable called on her once a year. These distant cousins and formal
acquaintances had little personal interest in Miss Theodora. Their cards
were left from respect to the memory of the distinguished jurist rather
than from any desire to brighten the life of his daughter.

If Miss Theodora's invitations grew fewer and fewer, she herself was to
blame, for she seldom accepted an invitation, even to luncheon, nor
confided to any one that pride forbade her to accept hospitalities which
circumstances prevented her returning.



[Illustration]

II.


Although Miss Theodora disliked visiting, every summer she and Ernest
spent a month at Nahant with her cousin, Sarah Somerset. She herself
would have preferred the quiet independence of a New Hampshire country
farm, but she thought it her duty to give Ernest this yearly
opportunity of seeing his relatives in the intimacy possible only at
their summer homes. This was before the days of Beverly's popularity,
when almost every one at Nahant was cousin to every one else. Even the
people at the boarding houses belonged to the little group held to have
an almost inherent right to the rocky peninsula.

Both the little boy, therefore, and Miss Theodora were made much of by
their kinsfolk; and the child thought these summer days the happiest of
the year.

In other ways Miss Theodora was occasionally remembered by her
relatives. Once she was asked to spend a whole year in Europe as
chaperone to two or three girls, her distant cousins. Even if she could
have made up her mind to leave Ernest, I doubt whether she would have
accepted the invitation. She had almost determined never to go abroad
again, preferring to hold sacred the journey that she and her parents
and John had made two or three years before their troubles began.

For the most part, then, Miss Theodora repelled all attempts at intimacy
made by her relatives. Unreasonable though she knew herself to be, she
believed that she could never care so much for her cousins since they
had all in such curious fashion--like swallows in winter--begun to
migrate southward to the Back Bay. At first she felt as bitter as was
possible for a person of her amiable disposition, when she saw people
whom no necessity impelled leaving their spacious dwellings on the Hill
for the more contracted houses on the flat land beyond the Public
Garden.

Yet if Miss Theodora pitied her degenerate kin, how much more did they
pity her! "Poor Theodora," some of them would say. "I don't see how she
manages to get along at all. If she sold that house, with the interest
of the money she and Ernest could board comfortably somewhere. Even as
it is, she might let a room or two; but no--I suppose that would hardly
do. Well, she must be dreadfully pinched."

Notwithstanding these well meant fears, Miss Theodora got along very
well. The greatest sacrifice of pride that she had to make came when she
found that she must send Ernest to a public school. Yet even this
hardship might have been worse. "It isn't as if he were a girl, you
know," she said half apologetically to Sarah Somerset. "Although he may
make a few undesirable acquaintances, he will have nothing to do with
them when he goes to Harvard." For Miss Theodora's plans for Ernest
reached far into the future, even beyond his college days, and she must
save all that was possible out of her meagre income.

Public or private school was all the same to Ernest; or perhaps his
preference, if he had been asked to express it, would have been
decidedly for the big brick schoolhouse, with its hosts of boys. What
matter if many of these boys were rough and unkempt. Among them all he
could always find some suitable companions. His refined nature chose the
best; and if the best in this case did not mean rich boys or those of
well-known names, it meant boys of a refinement not so very unlike that
possessed by Ernest himself.

One day he came home from school later than usual, with his eye black
and blue, and one of the pockets of his little jacket hanging ripped and
torn.

"Why, what is the matter, Ernest?" cried his aunt; "have you been
fighting?"

"Well, not exactly fighting, but kind of fighting," he replied, and
"kind of fighting" became one of the joking phrases between aunt and
nephew whenever the latter professed uncertainty as to his attitude on
any particular question.

"You see, it was this way," and he began to explain the black eye and
the torn pocket.

"There were two big mickies--Irish you know--bothering two little
niggers--oh, excuse me! black boys--at the corner of our school; so I
just pitched in and gave it to them right and left. But they were bigger
than me, and maybe I'd have got whipped if it hadn't been for Ben Bruce.
He just ran down the school steps like a streak of lightning, and you
should have seen those bullies slink away. They muttered something about
doing Ben up some other day; but I guess they'll never dare touch him."

Now, Ben Bruce, two or three classes ahead of Ernest in school, was a
hero in the eyes of the younger boy. Ben was famous as an athlete, and
Ernest, in schoolboy fashion, could never have hoped for an intimacy
with one so greatly his superior in years and strength had not this
chance encounter thrown them together. Ben appreciated the younger boy's
manliness, and the two walked together down the hill, as a rearguard to
the little negroes. The latter, too much amazed at the whole encounter
even to speak, soon ran down a side street to their homes, and Ben and
Ernest, if they did not say a great deal to each other at that time,
felt that a real friendship had begun between them.

Miss Theodora heard Ernest's account of the affair with mixed feelings.
She was glad that her boy had shown himself true to the principles of an
Abolition family; yet she wished that circumstances had made a contact
with rough boys impossible for him. She was not altogether certain that
she approved the intimacy with Ben, whose family belonged to an outside
circle of West Enders with which she had hardly come into contact
herself.

An expression of her misgivings drew forth a remonstrance from Miss
Chatterwits: "Why, you know Ben Bruce's father's grandfather was on
General Washington's staff; they've got his sword and a painting in
their front parlor." As Miss Chatterwits was an authority as to the
biography of the meanest as well as the most important resident on the
Hill, her approbation of the Bruces may have inclined Miss Theodora
toward Ben. Yet, had he had no other recommendation, the boy's own good
manners would have gone far to impress Miss Theodora in his favor.

Ernest never knew just how meagre his aunt's income was. He thought it
chiefly lack of taste that led her to wear those queer, scant gowns.
Year after year she drew upon an apparently inexhaustible store of
changeable silks and queer plaided stuffs. Then she wore little tippets
and small, flat hats, and in summer long black lace mitts, "like nobody
else wears," sighed poor little Ernest one day, as he asked his aunt why
she never bought anything new.

Yet even Miss Theodora's limited purse might occasionally have afforded
her a new gown, had she not been well content with what she already had.
She could not wish more, she reasoned, than to have her old-fashioned
garments remodeled from year to year by good Miss Chatterwits.

Miss Chatterwits, who had sewed in the family from the days of Miss
Theodora's childhood, lived in one of those curious short lanes off
Revere street. It was a great comfort to Miss Theodora to have her come
for a day's sewing with her queer green workbag dangling from her arm,
with her funny little corkscrew curls bobbing at every motion of her
funny little head. While she sewed, Miss Chatterwits kept her nimble
tongue at work, lamenting the changes that had come to the old West End.
She knew the region well, and understood the difference between the old
residents and those newer people who were crowding in.

"It's shameful that the Somersets should think so little of themselves
as to move from Chestnut to Beacon Street; and their new house isn't
even opposite the Public Garden, but away up there beyond Berkeley
Street. How aping the names of those Back Bay streets are,--Berkeley and
Clarendon and Dartmouth,--as though American names wouldn't have done
better than those English imitations! Well, Miss Theodora, we have
Pinckney and Revere named after good American men, and Spruce and Cedar
for good American trees. I wouldn't live on one of those new-fangled
streets, not if they'd give it to me."

Then Miss Theodora, almost driven to apologize for her misguided
relatives, little as she sympathized with them herself, would reply in
words that she must have seen in some of the newspapers: "Well, I
suppose the growth of the city's population makes it necessary for--"

"Fudge!" Miss Chatterwits would interrupt, "the West End seems to have
room enough for lodging and boarding house keepers; and I guess it's big
enough for true Boston folks. It just makes me furious to see "Rooms to
Let," "Table Board, $3.50 per week," stuck up in every window on some
streets. Goodness knows, I hope the Somersets like their neighbors out
there on the Back Bay. I hear anybody with money enough can buy a house
there." And a tear seemed ready to fall from her eyes.



[Illustration]

III.


Ernest, himself, grew up without any social prejudices. His aunt often
wondered at this, yet, like many sensible people, she did not try to
impress him with her own views. As one by one the dwelling houses on
Charles Street were changed into shops, he only rejoiced that Miss
Theodora wouldn't have to send so far for her groceries and provisions.
But Miss Theodora drew the line here. She had always been able to go to
the market every day, and no thrifty housewife needs a provision shop
under her very nose, she said.

Her one exception in favor of neighborhood shopping was made for the
little thread and needle shop on the corner below her house. Even a
person who doesn't have many new gowns occasionally needs tapes and
needles, and may find it convenient to buy them near at hand.

This shop was a delight to Ernest, and in the days when his chin hardly
reached the level of the counter, he loved to stand and gaze at the rows
of jars filled with variegated sticks of candy, jaw-breakers and pickled
limes; for the two maiden ladies who kept the shop sold many things
besides needles and thread. In the little glass show-case, in addition
to mittens and scissors and an occasional beautiful fan, and heaps of
gay marbles, was a pile of highly-colored story books, "The Tale of
Goody Two Shoes" and others of that ilk, and mysterious looking sheets
of paper, which needed only the manipulation of skilful scissors to
change them into life-like paper dolls with elaborate wardrobes. Ernest,
of course, took little interest in the paper dolls,--he bought chiefly
marbles; but his cousin, Kate Digby, whenever she was permitted to spend
a day at the West End, was a devoted patron of the little shop, and
saved all her pennies to increase her household of dolls. Indeed, she
confided to Ernest that when she grew up she was going to have a shop
just like the one kept by the Misses Bascom. If Mrs. Stuart Digby had
heard her say this, she would have wondered where in the world her
daughter had acquired a taste for anything so ordinary as trade.

A block or two away from the thread and needle shop was a shop that Miss
Theodora abhorred. Within they sold every kind of thing calculated to
draw the stray pennies from the pockets of the school children who
passed it daily. Its windows, with their display of gaudy and vulgar
illustrated papers, gave her positive pain. A generation ago ladies had
not acquired the habit of rushing into print with every matter of
reform; otherwise Miss Theodora might have sent a letter to the
newspaper, signed "Prudentia," or something of that kind, deploring the
fact that a shop like this should be allowed to exist near a school,
drawing pennies from the pockets of the school children, at the same
time that it vitiated their artistic sense.

Ernest, as I have said, grew up without marked local or social
prejudices. Many of his spare pennies went into the money drawer of the
corner shop, and much of his spare time he spent with the workmen at the
cabinet-makers' near by. For little workshops were beginning to appear
in the neighborhood of lower Charles Street, and some of their
proprietors had cut away the front of an old house, in order to build a
window to display their wares.

Ernest loved to gaze in at the shining faucets in the plumber's window,
and horrified his aunt by announcing one day that when he was a man he
meant to be either a plumber or a cabinet-maker. Among them all he
preferred the cabinet-maker's. Everything going on there interested him,
and the workmen, glad to answer his questions, showed him ways of doing
things which he put into practice at home.

For Miss Theodora had given Ernest a basement room to work in,
stipulating only that he should not bring more than three boys at a time
into the house to share his labors. His joy was unbounded one Christmas
when his cousin, Richard Somerset, sent him a turning lathe. Almost the
first use to which he put it was to make a footstool, with delicately
tapering legs, for his aunt's birthday. He tied it up in brown paper
himself, and wound a great string about it with many knots.

"Law!" said Diantha, who stood by as Miss Theodora slowly untied the
bulky package, "what's them boys been up to now? I believe it's some
mischief."

"Now, old Di, you're mean," cried Ernest, dancing around in excitement
in the narrow hall-way outside the bedroom door.

But Miss Theodora, as she bent over the package, tugging at the strings,
caught sight of some sprawling letters that resolved themselves into "A
birthday Present from your LOVEING nephew;" so, shaking her head at
Diantha, she responded, loudly enough for Ernest to hear, and with no
comment on the bad spelling, "Oh, no, it's a beautiful present from
Ernest." And then Ernest ran in and undid the rest of the knots, and,
setting the footstool triumphantly on its four legs on the floor, said:
"Now, you'll always use it, won't you, Aunt Teddy?"

Of course Miss Theodora, as she kissed him, promised to use, and kept
her promise, in spite of the fact that the little footstool--less
comfortable than her well-worn carpet hassock--wasn't exactly steady on
its feet. But although she so thoroughly appreciated Ernest's
thoughtfulness, Miss Theodora did not regard the footstool with absolute
pleasure. She was by no means sure that she approved of Ernest's skill
in handicrafts. She wondered sometimes whether she ought to permit a
probable lawyer to spend so much energy in work which could hardly go
toward helping him in his profession. Yet, after all, she hadn't the
heart to interfere with Ernest's mechanical tastes, when she saw that
gratifying them gave him so much pleasure. She never forgot her fright
one day on the Nahant boat, when Ernest, barely seven years old, was
missing, and she found him only after a long search at the door of the
engine room.

"You'd ought to be an engineer when you're grown up," she heard a gruff
voice say, while Ernest meekly replied: "Well, I'd like to, but I've got
to be a lawyer."

She did not scold Ernest as she took his hand to lead him up stairs, and
she even lingered while he tried to put her in possession of all his own
knowledge.

"This gentleman," he said apologetically, "has been explaining his
engine to me," and the "gentleman," rubbing a light streak across his
sooty face, turned to her with a sincere, "That there boy of yours has a
big head, ma'am, for machinery, and, begging your pardon, if I was you
I'd put him out to a machinist when he's a little bigger."

The plainness of Miss Theodora's dress may have placed her in this man's
eye on the plane of those people who regularly sent their children to
learn trades. Although in her mind she resented the suggestion, she
listened attentively to Ernest as he tried, with glowing cheek and
rapid tongue, to explain the various parts of the engine. If Miss
Theodora never perhaps had more than a vague idea of the functions of
piston and valve and the wonders of the governor, over which Ernest grew
so eloquent, she was at least a sympathetic listener in this as in all
other things that he cared for.



[Illustration]

IV.


When it came to machinery, Ernest found his aunt much more sympathetic
than his usual confidante, Kate Digby. As years went on, the childish
companionship between the children deepened into friendship. They began
to confide to each other their dreams for the future. Kate modelled
herself somewhat on the accounts handed down of a certain ancestress of
hers whose portrait hung in the stairway of her father's house.

The portrait was a copy of one thinly painted and flat looking, done by
an obscure seventeenth century artist. It showed a very young girl
dressed in gray, with a white kerchief folded around her slim neck, and
with her thin little wrists meekly crossed in front. Whether her hair
was abundant or not no one could tell, for an old-womanish cap with
narrow ruffle so covered her head that only a faint blonde aureole could
be seen beneath it. Colorless though this portrait seemed at first
sight, longer study brought out a depth in the clear gray eye, a
firmness in the small pink mouth, which consorted well with the stories
told of this little Puritan's bravery.

One of the youngest of the children entering Massachusetts Bay on
Winthrop's fleet, the little Mercy had been the pet of a Puritan
household. Marrying early, she had gone from her father's comfortable
house in Boston to live in the country forty miles away, a region remote
and almost on the borders of civilization in those days. Not mere rumor
but veritable records have told the story of the fierce attack of the
savages on that secluded dwelling, of the murder of husband and man
servant, of the flight of the wife and little children, and of their
final rescue at the very moment when the Indians had overtaken them,--a
rescue, however, not accomplished until one of the children had been
killed by an arrow, while the mother pierced through the arm, was forced
to drop the gun with which she held off her assailants.

"Just think of her being so brave and shooting like that!" Kate would
say to Ernest. "I admire her more than any of my
great-great-great-grandmothers--whichever of the 'greats' she was. And
then she brought up all her children so beautifully, with almost
nothing to live on, so that every one of them became somebody. I'm
always delighted when people tell me I look like her."

"Well, you don't look like her," said Ernest, truthfully. "If you looked
as flat and fady as that you wouldn't look like much. Besides, I don't
like a woman's shooting and picking off the red-skins the way she did.
Of course," in response to Kate's look of surprise, "it was all right;
she had to save herself and the children; but some way it don't seem the
kind of thing for a woman to do! Now, I like her because she wouldn't
let her oldest son go back to England and have a title. You see, her
husband's father had cast him off for being a Puritan."

"Oh, yes, I know," responded Kate. "But I wish she had let him take the
title. I'd like to be related to a lord."

Kate and Ernest were no longer little children when this particular
conversation took place; but its substance had come up between them
many a time before. Yet Ernest always held to the more democratic
position; and as years went by his acquaintance with Ben Bruce
intensified his democratic feeling. No one recognized more clearly than
Miss Theodora this tendency of Ernest's, and she questioned long whether
she was doing what John would have approved in sending him to a school
where he must mingle with his social inferiors. In John's day public
schools had been different.

An unguarded expression of these feelings of hers one evening at the
Digbys' led to an offer from Stuart Digby to share his son's tutor with
Ernest, that the two boys might prepare for Harvard together. Now, the
idea of a tutor was almost as unpleasant to Miss Theodora as the thought
of the undesirable acquaintances that Ernest might make at a public
school. In the choice between unrepublican aristocracy and simple
democracy she almost inclined to the latter; but Stuart Digby, her
second cousin, had been John's bosom friend, and she could not bring
herself to refuse the well-meant offer. It was Ernest who rebelled.

"I don't want to go to college at all. I hate Latin; I won't waste time
on Greek. I detest that namby-pamby Ralph. All he cares for is to walk
down Beacon Street with the girls. He don't know a force pump from a
steam engine!"

But Miss Theodora, though tearful--for she hated to oppose him--was
firm; and for three years the boy went down the Hill and across the
Garden to recite his lessons with Ralph. Out of school he saw as little
as he could of Ralph. His time was spent chiefly with Ben Bruce. Ben's
father kept a small retail shop somewhere down near Court Street, and
his family lived in a little house at the top of the hill,--a little
house that never had been meant for any but people of limited means.

Yet from the roof of the house there was a view such as no one at the
Back Bay ever dreamed of; for past the sloping streets near by one could
gaze on the river bounded like a lake by marshy low lands and the high
sea walls, which, with the distant hills, the nearer factory chimneys,
even the gray walls of the neighboring County Jail, on a dark day or
bright day, formed a beautiful scene.

There in that little room of Ben's Ernest often opened his heart to his
friend more freely than to his aunt. Ben, considerably Ernest's senior,
had entered the Institute of Technology--in boys' language, "Tech"--soon
after Ernest himself had begun to study with Ralph's tutor, and Ernest
frankly envied his friend's opportunity for studying science.



[Illustration]

V.


In his boyish way Ernest enjoyed life. The Somersets, the Digbys and the
rest made much of him, and at the Friday evening dancing class he was a
favorite. Had he been a few years older the mothers might have objected
to his popularity. A penniless boy attending the Friday evening dancing
class is not old enough to be regarded as a dangerous detrimental, and
he may receive the adoration, expressive though silent, of half a dozen
little maids in white frocks and pink sashes, without encountering
rebuffs from their mammas when he steps up to ask them to dance. In this
respect fifteen has a great advantage over twenty, emphasized, too, by
the fact that fifteen has not yet learned his own deficiency, while
twenty is apt to be all too conscious of it.

Children's parties had been within Ernest's reach even before the doors
of Papanti's opened to him. They were a friendly people on the Hill and
no birthday party was counted a success without the presence of Ernest.
Simple enough these affairs were, the entertainment, round games like
"Hunt the Button," and "Going to Jerusalem," and "London's Burning," the
refreshment, a light supper of bread and butter and home-made cakes,
with raspberry vinegar and lemonade as an extra treat.

Miss Theodora herself did not take part in the social festivities of the
neighborhood, although her silver spoons and even pieces of her best
china were occasionally lent to add to the splendor of some one's tea
table. Mrs. Fetchum was always anxious to make a good impression on the
neighbors whom she sometimes asked to tea. Especially desirous was she
to have her table glitter with silver and glass when Miss Chatterwits
was one of her guests. Since Miss Chatterwits knew only too well Mrs.
Fetchum's humble origin as the daughter of a petty West End shoe-seller,
the latter could never, like the little seamstress, talk of bygone
better days and loss of position. She could only aspire to get even with
her by offering her occasionally a plethoric hospitality, in which a
superabundance of food and a dazzling array of silver and china were
the chief elements. Miss Chatterwits had long suspected that much of
this silver was borrowed; but she had never dared hint her suspicions to
Mrs. Fetchum, and the latter held up her head with a pride that could
not have been surpassed had she been dowered with a modern bride's stock
of wedding presents. A day or two after a tea party at which she had
been unusually condescending to Miss Chatterwits, she ran across the
street to return the borrowed spoons to Miss Theodora. It was dusk as
she entered the little doorway, and she hastily thrust the package into
the hands of some one standing in the narrow hall, Miss Theodora as she
thought, whispering loudly as she did so: "Don't tell Miss Chatterwits I
borrowed the spoons." For she knew that the seamstress had been sewing
for Miss Theodora that day, and she wasn't quite sure that the latter
realized that the borrowing must be kept secret.

"It gave me quite a turn," she said as she told Mr. Fetchum about it.
"It gave me quite a turn when I found that it was Miss Chatterwits; but
I never let on I knew it was her, and I turned about as quick as I
could. Only the next time I set foot out of this house I'll be sure I
have my glasses."

It was hard to tell which of the two had the best of this chance
encounter. Mrs. Fetchum consoled herself for the carelessness by
reflecting on the presence of mind that had kept her from acknowledging
her humiliation; and Miss Chatterwits gloated over the fact that she had
caught Mrs. Fetchum in a peccadillo she had long suspected--borrowing
Miss Theodora's silver.

In his early years Ernest had been a neighborly little fellow, and,
alone or with his aunt, would lift his hat to a woman, old or young,
easily winning for himself the name of "little gentleman." He wore out
his shoes in astonishingly quick time playing hopscotch on the hilly
sidewalks with the boys and girls who lived near, while Kate, to whom
this sport was forbidden, sitting on the doorsteps, looked enviously on.
Willingly would she have exchanged her soft kid shoes for the coarse
copper-toed boots of Tommy Fetchum, had it only been permitted her to
hop across on one foot and kick the stone from one big square to another
chalked out so invitingly on the uneven bricks.

But Mrs. Stuart Digby, although willing enough to let Kate visit Miss
Theodora, made it a rule--and no one dared break a rule of hers--that
Kate was never to play on the street with the children of the
neighborhood. Yet as she sat sadly in her corner, Kate, often referred
to for her opinion on disputed points, at last came to have a forlorn
pride in her position as umpire.

At length there came a time when Ernest's interests in the street games
waned. His former playmates saw little of him. He neglected the boys and
girls with whom he had once played tag and hopscotch, and some of the
neighbors, especially Mrs. Fetchum, said that he was growing "stuck up."
Miss Theodora hardly knew her neighbors by sight; for it was one of the
evidences of the decadence of the region that the houses changed tenants
frequently, and furniture vans were often standing in front of some of
the houses near Miss Theodora's.

Mrs. Fetchum was a permanent neighbor. She had lived in the street
longer even than Miss Theodora. She always called on new comers, and
never failed to impress on them a sense of the greatness of the jurist's
daughter, with the result that Miss Theodora's comings and goings were
always a matter of general neighborhood interest. Sometimes Miss
Theodora invited the children hanging about her doorstep to come inside
the house, where she regaled them with gingerbread, or let them look
through the folio of engravings in the library.

In spite of the lady's kindness they all stood in awe of her, as the
daughter of a Great Man, whose orations were printed in their school
readers beside those of Webster and Clay. Miss Theodora, with her quiet
manner and high forehead, in a day when all other women wore more
elaborate coiffures, seemed to the children like a person in a book, and
their answers to her questions were always the merest monosyllables.

It was not worldliness altogether which took Ernest away from his former
playmates. After his mornings with Ralph and their tutor, he had to
study pretty hard in the afternoon. His evenings were generally devoted
to Miss Theodora; either he read aloud while she sewed, or they played
chess with that curious set of carved chessmen given her father by a
grateful Salem client years before.

In little ways, Miss Theodora, though not a sharp observer, sometimes
thought that she detected a growing worldliness in Ernest.

"Why don't we get some new carpets?" he asked one day. It was the very
spring before he entered college. "I never could tell, Aunt Teddy, what
those flowers were meant to be. When I was a little chap, I used to
wonder whether they were bunches of roses or dahlias; but now you'd
hardly know they were meant to be flowers at all."

This was true enough, for the carpet, with its huge pattern, designed
for the drawing room of their old house, had been trodden upon by so
many feet that now hardly the faint outline of its former roses
remained. The furniture, too, was growing shabby; the heavy green rep of
the easy chairs had faded in spots, the gilded picture frames were
tarnished, and the window draperies, with their imposing lambrequins,
were sadly out of fashion. Yet from Miss Theodora's evasive reply the
boy did not realize that poverty prevented her refurnishing the rooms in
modern fashion. He had everything he needed; but the circle of relatives
all continued to say, "It's wonderful that Theodora manages as well as
she does."



[Illustration]

VI.


"Come along! Hurry up!" called Ernest to Ben, one winter's day, kicking
his heels into the little hillocks of frozen snow on the sidewalk; and
even as he spoke Ben, with a "Here I am," rushed from the house with his
skates slung over his shoulder. Ernest carried in a green bag, on which
his aunt had worked his initials in shaded brown, a pair of the famous
"Climax" club skates, a present from his cousin, Richard Somerset.
Reaching the Common, after a brisk run, they began to put on their
skates.

The cold day had apparently kept many of the younger boys and girls
away, and although there was room enough for all the skaters, not a few
of them were objectionably rough and boisterous. Near the spot where
Ernest and Ben were, among a small group of well-dressed lads, swinging
stick or playing hockey, Ernest was sorry to recognize Ralph Digby.

"I wouldn't have come if I'd known Ralph would be here," he said
regretfully to Ben.

"No matter, we needn't have anything to do with him," said Ben
cheerfully. It was no secret to Ben that Ralph and Ernest, out of school
hours, had little to do with each other.

"Well, I hate to go near Ralph," responded Ernest. "He always tries to
make me feel small," and for the moment Ernest became uncomfortably
conscious that the sleeves of his overcoat were a trifle too short, and
that it had, on the whole, an outgrown look, for this was the second
winter he had worn it.

"Don't take any notice of him, except to speak to him as you pass," said
Ben.

"I know that's all I need do, but Ralph always seems to me to be saying
to himself, 'Oh, you're nothing but a poor relation.'"

"Well, any way, he's a poorer skater," laughed Ben, and the two boys
glided off, passing Ralph in his fur-trimmed coat, surrounded by half a
dozen lads of his own kind.

It was this very superiority of Ernest's in skating, in his studies, in
manners, that bred the ill-feeling in Ralph's heart towards him. Ralph
was indolent in his studies and heavy on his feet. He looked on
enviously as Ernest wheeled past him time and time again, and said to
his friends that he didn't care to skate any longer. "There was too much
riffraff on the pond." He was irritated, not only by Ernest's skill and
grace in skating, but by the fact that his poorer cousin wore the
famous "Climax" club skates. For a long time Ralph himself had been the
only boy in his little set who possessed skates of this kind. They were
a novelty and expensive, and the average boy wore the old-fashioned
strap skates. No one knew that he begrudged Ernest his glistening
skates. Regardless of the sneering words wafted to them as they skated
past Ralph and his friends, Ernest and Ben, with glowing cheeks and
tingling blood, wheeled and curvetted until they were well-nigh
breathless. At last, as the reddening western sky marked the end of the
brief afternoon, Ernest, unfastening his skates, laid them on the stony
margin of the pond, as he hastened to one of the Garden paths to help a
little girl who had fallen down.

"Where are my skates?" he shouted to Ben, who was still curvetting
about.

"I haven't seen them. Where did you leave them?" he called back, and in
a moment was at Ernest's side. The green bag hung limp on Ernest's arm;
he could hardly believe that the skates were not there.

"Well, at any rate we can ask about them," said Ben, and the two boys,
Ernest somewhat forlornly, went about among the few skaters still left
on the pond, asking if any one could help them find the skates. A few of
the boys answered pleasantly that they knew nothing about them, the
majority--and these the rougher--professed to be insulted at the
question, adding, "I'll knock you down if you think I took your skates,"
and even Ralph was disagreeable in his reply.

"Perhaps some of your friends could tell you something about them; you
always are chumming with such queer fellows--you never can expect much
from canaille." Ralph always had a French word ready. As he spoke he
looked at Ben in a way that made Ernest cry:

"For shame, Ralph!"

Ben's eye flashed. He lifted his arm, seized Ralph by the coat collar,
shook him with some violence, and then turned on his heel without a
word.

"That was right," said Ernest, approvingly. "I often wonder how you
stand so much from Ralph. He tries to make himself so disagreeable."

"He doesn't have to try very hard," answered Ben; "he's disagreeable
enough without trying," for Ralph never neglected to show that he
thought Ben infinitely beneath him. A curt nod when they happened to
meet was almost more irritating than a direct cut. Sorrowfully enough
Ernest went homewards. His skating for the season, he knew, was over
unless he should recover the skates. Generally, he did not look on the
dark side of things, but this day he was disconsolate. In spite of Ben's
assurance that the lost skates would be found, he was confident that
they were gone forever.

Two days later Ben came to him with more excitement in his manner than
was his wont.

"Would your aunt let you go over to the school with me this afternoon? I
think we've spotted them."

Ernest rushed for his cap and mittens.

"Of course she would! She's out now, but I can go without asking." No
explanation was needed to tell him that the "them" meant his missing
skates.

"You see, I had my suspicions from the first moment," said Ben, "but I
didn't dare say anything till I was sure. You know, there's one thing we
never agree about, but I won't say anything until you hear for
yourself."

Ernest was soon following Ben up the broad wooden stairs to the
Principal's room. The master himself looked up with some interest as the
boys came in.

"Yes, yes, I'll send for him at once," he said, after he had briefly
welcomed them, "or, no, I'll take you to the room where he is," and
before he realized where he was going Ernest found himself following Ben
and the Principal into the large schoolroom, where fifty pairs of
curious eyes were turned toward them.

"Brown, come here," called the master. An undersized boy, freckled, with
small eyes near together, shuffled forward.

"Did you tell Jim Grey that you had found a pair of skates the day
before yesterday?--answer--'yes' or 'no.'"

Not a word came from the boy, who held his head down sulkily.

"Answer--quickly--or home you go at once. Did you or did you not find a
pair of skates?"

"No, I didn't," at last came from the reluctant lips.

"That's enough, sir!" thundered the Principal. "Now, Bruce, tell your
story."

Then Ben, leaving the room for a moment, came back, accompanied by a man
who carried a package under his arm.

"Yes, sir, that's the boy, sir," said the man with the package,
pointing to Brown. "He came to my shop yesterday with these skates,
sir," and he held up before the astonished eyes of Ernest his beloved
skates. "He said as how they'd been given to him, and as he didn't have
no time for skating, would I buy them, which I did, sir, for a dollar."

"A dollar," said Ernest to himself, pitying the boy who knew so little
the value of a good thing as to let it go for next to nothing.

"What have you to say to this, Brown?"

"Yes, they were given to me," said the boy, doggedly.

"Who gave them to you?"

"A chap in a fur coat, I dunno his name. I was standing by the pond, and
says I, 'Wot beauties,' when I see them laying there, and says he, 'Take
them quick, they're mine, but I don't want to skate no more,' and he
poked them over to me with his stick, and says he, 'Hurry off, or I may
change my mind,' and they wouldn't fit me, sir, and so I sold them."

"A likely story," said the Principal. But two or three boys were found
to corroborate this statement of Brown, one of whom was above suspicion
as regarded truthfulness--the other two were somewhat doubtful.

"Are these your skates?" asked the Principal of Ernest, who, stepping
up, showed his name engraved on the sides.

"Go to my room, Brown," said the Principal. "I will settle with you--and
you, young gentleman," handing Ernest his property, "take better care of
your possessions in the future." Then turning to Ben, "Thank you, Bruce,
for looking into this matter. Brown has given me a great deal of trouble
in many ways, and now I guess the best thing is to suspend him." For,
although at the head of a Boston school, the Principal still clung to
the colloquial "guess."

Ben and Ernest withdrew from the room under the fire of as many
approving as disapproving eyes. There were, of course, not a few boys
who sympathized with Brown, some from a class feeling, and others
because they felt themselves to be kindred spirits of the culprit.

"How did you manage to find out about it at all, Ben? You're awfully
clever," said Ernest, and then the elder boy explained that he had
remembered seeing Brown just before Ernest left the ice talking
earnestly with Ralph, and that when he came across the skates in a shop
he made inquiries, which resulted in his suspecting collusion between
the two. Though Ernest did not speak to him about it, Ralph felt that
his cousin despised his meanness, and Ernest knew that Ralph disliked
him all the more for his knowledge.

While his regard for Ralph constantly diminished, Ernest's fondness for
Kate as constantly increased.

"She doesn't seem a bit like Ralph's sister," he would say
confidentially to Ben; and Ben would echo a hearty "Indeed she doesn't."

Kate was never happier than when she had permission to spend the day
with Miss Theodora. Paying little attention to the charges of Marie, her
French maid, to "Walk quietly like a little lady," she would hop and
skip along the Garden mall and up the hill to Miss Theodora's house.
What joy, when Marie had been dismissed and sent home, to sit beside
Miss Theodora and learn some fancy stitch in crochet, or perhaps go to
the kitchen to help Diantha make cookies.

"Our cook won't even let me go down the back stairs, and I've only been
in our kitchen once in my life; and I just love Diantha for giving me
that dear little rolling-pin, and showing me how to make cookies."

Kate was almost as fond of Miss Chatterwits as of Diantha. One of her
chief childish delights was the privilege sometimes accorded her of
spending an afternoon in the little suite of rooms occupied by the
seamstress and her sisters. Besides the old claw-foot bureau and
high-back chairs in her bedroom, the heavy fur tippet and faded cashmere
shawl--either of which she donned (according to the season) on
especially great occasions--Miss Chatterwits had a few treasures, relics
of a more opulent past. These she always showed to Kate and Ernest when
they visited her, as a reward for previous good behavior.

Ernest was usually less interested in these treasures than Kate. He
liked better to talk to the green parrot that blinked and swung in its
narrow cage in the room where lay the little seamstress's bedridden
sister. But for Kate, the top drawer of Miss Chatterwits' bureau
contained infinite wealth. The curious Scotch pebble pin, the silver
bracelets, the long, thin gold chain, the old hair brooches, and, best
of all, that curious spherical watch, without hands, without works,
seemed to Kate more beautiful and valuable than all the jewelry in the
velvet-lined receptacles of her mother's jewel casket. More attractive
still was a shelf in the closet off Miss Chatterwits' bedroom. On this
shelf was a row of pasteboard boxes, uniform in size, wherein were
stored scraps of velvet, silk and ribbon, gingham, cloth and
muslins--fragments, indeed, of all the dresses worn by Miss Chatterwits
since her sixteenth year. As materials had not been bought by Miss
Chatterwits since her father's death had left her penniless, a good
thirty years before Kate knew her, the pieces in the boxes were genuine
curiosities.

"Why didn't you ever get married, Miss Chatterwits?" asked Ernest one
day when he and Kate were paying her a visit.

"Oh, I don't know;" and the old lady simpered with the same
self-consciousness that prompts the girl of eighteen to blush when
pointed questions are put to her; and when Ernest, who always wanted a
definite answer to every question, persisted, she added with a sigh,
"Well, I suppose I was hard to suit." Then, as if in amplification of
this reply, she began to sing to herself the words of an old-fashioned
song, which the children had heard her sing before:--


     When I was a girl of eighteen years old,
     I was as handsome as handsome could be;
     I was taught to expect wit, wisdom and gold,
     And nothing else would do for me--for me.
     And nothing else would do for me.

     The first was a youth any girl might adore,
     And as ardent as lovers should be;
     But mamma having heard the young man was quite poor,
     Why, he wouldn't do for me--for me,
     Why, he wouldn't do for me.


None of the many verses describing the various lovers of the scornful
young lady made so deep an impression on the children as the opening
lines, in which she was said to be "as handsome as handsome could be;"
and Ernest, who was a literal little fellow, said to Kate, when they
were out of Miss Chatterwits' hearing:

"Now, do you think that homely people were ever handsome once upon a
time?"

Now, Kate could never be made to call Miss Chatterwits homely. Indeed,
one day, in a burst of gratitude, when the latter had lent the child her
watch to wear for an hour or two, the little girl exclaimed:

"Oh, Miss Chatterwits, you are very handsome!"

"Nobody ever told me that before, Kate," said the old woman.

Then, with the frankness that in later years often caused her to nullify
the good impression made by some pretty speech, the child added:

"I mean very handsome all but your face."

What could be a clearer case of "handsome is what handsome does."



[Illustration]

VII.


Mrs. Stuart Digby scarcely approved Kate's fondness for Miss Theodora
and her friends. Stuart Digby had married two or three years before
John, and was living in Paris when the Civil War broke out. His own
impulse was to return at once and fight; but as his wife would not
consent to this, they remained abroad until Ralph was ten years old and
Kate four years younger. Both children at this time spoke French better
than English, and Ralph for a long time disliked everything
American--like his mother, who, not Boston born, professed little
interest in things Bostonian. But in Kate Stuart Digby saw the
enthusiasm which had marked his own youth, and he encouraged her in
having ideals, only wishing that he had been true to his own.

"Perhaps if I hadn't married so early," he would think--then, with a
sigh, would wonder if, left to himself, he might possibly have amounted
to something. For Stuart Digby was not nearly as self-satisfied as the
chance observer supposed.

When he and John were at school he had intended to study medicine, for
his scientific tastes were as decided as John's bent for the law. But he
had yielded all too weakly to his love for the prettiest girl in his
set, and an heiress, too. By the death of his father and mother he had
already come into possession of his own large fortune. When these two
independent and rich young people were married, therefore, a month after
he was graduated from Harvard, it was hardly strange that Stuart put
aside his medical course until he should have made the tour of Europe.
Then, when once domiciled in their own hotel in Paris, what wonder that
they let all thoughts of Boston disappear in the background? Just before
the war what could the United States offer pleasure-seekers comparable
with the delights of Paris under the Second Empire? They stayed in
Europe until the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war, and managed to
leave Paris just before the siege.

Not only the upsetting of things in France, but a crisis in Stuart
Digby's business affairs, hastened him home at last. Besides, he felt a
little remorse about his children. He did not wish them to grow up
thorough Parisians; already, young as they were, they began to show
symptoms of regarding France as their country rather than America.
Disregarding, therefore, his wife's remonstrances, he broke up their
Paris establishment, despatched his foreign furniture and bric-a-brac to
Boston, and, following soon afterward with his family, bought a house in
the new part of Beacon Street, a region which, when he went to Europe,
had been submerged in water.

Though some people fancied that Stuart Digby could afford whatever he
wished, he himself thought otherwise. After his return to Boston he
found that there had been a shrinkage both in his own and his wife's
income. There was little danger that they or their children should ever
want, and yet the fact that they had a few thousands a year less than
they had expected bred in them an unwonted spirit of economy. This
spirit of economy showed itself chiefly in their dealings with other
people. Stuart, for example, had always intended to settle a sum of
money on Miss Theodora and Ernest, but now he decided to wait. He would
help the boy somewhat in his education, and he would remember him in his
will.

Faultless though he was in his address, elegant though he was in his
personal appearance, Stuart Digby was by no means satisfied with the
reflection that his mirror showed him. He had never expected at
forty-five to find himself so portly, so rubicund. Idleness, easy
living, and a steady, if moderate, indulgence in ruddy drinks will
increase the girth and deepen the complexion of any man, no matter
toward how lofty a goal the thoughts of his youth may have tended. In
youth he had professed scorn for his own prospective wealth. He, as well
as John, should carve out a career for himself. His money he would use
in certain philanthropic schemes. But falling in love had been fatal to
this single-mindedness,--and now, at forty-five, what wonder that he was
dissatisfied.

To saunter down Beacon Street to the club, to play a game of whist with
a trio as idle as himself, to drive, never in those days to ride, to sit
near uncongenial people at a tedious, if fashionable, dinner, to dance
attendance on his wife or some other woman in the brilliant crushes
imposed on all who would be thought on intimate terms with
society--this, he knew, was not the life he had once planned. To be
sure, his footsteps sometimes carried him beyond the club to a little
downtown office where he was supposed to have business--business so
slight that it only irritated him to pretend to follow it. To sign
papers, to approve plans which his lawyer and his agent had already
carefully thought out, this, he reasoned, was almost beneath his notice;
and so after a time he gave up even going to the office, and papers
were sent to his house instead for his signature.

He might, of course, have rid himself, at least partially, of his ennui,
by engaging in some definite philanthropic schemes; but philanthropy as
a profession by itself wasn't the vogue among rich men in Boston two
decades ago. Even had it been the fashion, Stuart Digby could with
difficulty have adjusted himself to the condition which this work
imposed. His long residence abroad made it impossible for him to regard
impartially his American fellow-citizens, whether looked at as an object
of political or philanthropic interest.

Yet if Stuart Digby fell far short of his own ideal, there was at least
one person in the world who believed him to be perfect; not his wife,
not his son, but his daughter Kate, who was never so happy as when,
clinging to his hand, she could coax him to take a long walk with her
over the Mill-dam toward the Brookline boundary.

Moreover, it may be said without sarcasm that his many years' residence
in Europe had made Stuart Digby of much more value to his friends in
general than he himself perhaps realized. He had what might be called a
refined and thorough geographical taste; this is to say, he was a
connoisseur of places. He could tell intending travellers just what
climate, what cuisine, even what company they would be likely to find at
Nice, at Gastein, at Torquay, at certain seasons. He had many a
picturesque and hitherto unheard of nook to recommend, and when the
great capitals, especially Paris, were under discussion, he could
pronounce discriminatingly upon the hotels and shops most worthy the
patronage of a man of culture.



[Illustration]

VIII.


"Yes, it was a pleasant funeral," said Miss Chatterwits, as she sat
sewing one morning at Miss Theodora's. Kate, who was present, laughed at
the speech, although she understood Miss Chatterwits' idiosyncracies in
the matter of funerals. To the latter, funerals were sources of real
delight, and few at the West End were ungraced by her presence. In her
best gown of shining black silk, with its rows and rows of bias ruffles,
she seemed as necessary to the proper conduct of the ceremony as the
undertaker himself. With her wide acquaintance among the people of the
neighborhood, she could decide exactly the proper place for each
mourner; she knew just who belonged in the back and who in the front
parlor, and the grave demeanor with which she assigned each one his seat
hardly hid her air of bustling satisfaction.

Miss Theodora and Kate were therefore not shocked when she repeated,
"Yes, it was a pleasant funeral," continuing: "I declare, I don't think
there was a soul there I didn't know. I was able to be real useful
showing them where to sit. You should have seen the flowers. It took us
the best part of a day to fix them. The family, of course, felt too bad
to take much notice of the flowers, but I guess they enjoyed the choir
singing. Mary Timpkins herself would have been pleased to see how well
everything went off, for she always was so fussy about things."

Then, as no one interrupted her, she continued: "It's just a shame,
Miss Theodora, that you did not go yourself. Mr. Blunt made the most
edifying remarks you ever heard. Why, I almost cried, though you know
I've had a great deal of experience in such occasions; and if you'd
heard him I'm sure you'd have been miserable for the rest of the day."

Kate smiled at the thought of the pleasure her cousin had missed in
escaping this misery, but Miss Theodora, not noticing Miss Chatterwits'
humor, responded merely:

"Ah! the death of so young a person is always sad."

"Especially under such painful circumstances," added Miss Chatterwits.

"What circumstances?" asked Kate, now interested.

"Love!" answered Miss Chatterwits, solemnly. "She died of love."

"Love!" echoed Kate. "Shakespeare says nobody ever died of love." Then,
with an afterthought: "Perhaps he was thinking only of men. But why do
you think Miss Timpkins died of love? She didn't look as foolish as
that."

"Well,"--and Miss Chatterwits shook her head in joyful significance, for
it always pleased her to have news of this kind to tell,--"I guess if
Hiram Bradstreet hadn't gone and left her she'd be alive to-day."

"What nonsense!" said Kate.

"Oh, you can smile, but I've sewed at her house by the week running, and
he'd come sometimes two afternoons together to ask her to go to walk
somewhere; and even if she was in the middle of trying on she'd drop
everything and run, looking as pleased as could be."

"Any one would look pleased to escape a trying on."

"Oh, you can make light of it. But once when I said I guessed I'd be
fitting a wedding dress soon, she colored right up, and said she, 'Oh,
we're only friends.'"

"That's nothing."

"Perhaps it was nothing when Mary Timpkins began to fade the very
minute she heard Hiram Bradstreet was engaged to a girl he met on the
steamer last summer. Why did he go to Europe anyway?"

"Probably because Mary Timpkins wouldn't marry him; for truly, Miss
Chatterwits, I'm going to agree with Dr. Jones that she died of typhoid
fever."

"Maybe,--after she'd run herself down worrying about Hiram Bradstreet."

"Oh, no. Hiram Bradstreet, worrying about her, fled to Europe in
despair, and let his heart be caught in the rebound by that girl on the
steamer."

This sensible conclusion, though at the time uttered half in fun, was
characteristic of Kate. She was loath to believe that a well balanced
girl could die of love. Love in the abstract troubled her as little as
love in the concrete. She seldom indulged in sentimental thoughts, much
less in sentimental conversation.

In their distaste for sentimentality, Ernest and Kate met on common
ground; and even Mrs. Digby, though at one time disposed to
discountenance their intimacy, at length decided there was no danger of
her somewhat self-willed daughter's falling in love with her penniless
cousin. In time, however, as Ernest boy-like, found his pleasure more
and more in things outside the house, Miss Theodora and Kate drew nearer
together.

The elder woman had always had a certain pleasure in acting as friend
and helper to a little circle of poor people, of whom there were so many
on the narrow streets descending toward the north. These were not the
poor whites to whom Miss Theodora's mother had been a Lady Bountiful,
but "darkies," as Diantha called them, of mysterious origin and of still
more mysterious habits. They were crowded together in queer-smelling
houses, in narrow lanes and alleys, or in the upper stories over shops
in the squalid main thoroughfares of the district which some people
still call "Nigger Hill."

"It doesn't seem a bit like Boston," Kate would say, clinging to Miss
Theodora's arm while they went in and out of the rickety dwellings,
where stout black women, with heads swathed in bandannas, or shoeless
children in ragged clothes saluted them respectfully. Although Miss
Theodora knew nothing of modern scientific charities, she tried to make
reform and reward go hand in hand.

"I feel," she said occasionally, "as if I oughtn't to help Beverly
Brown's family when I know the man is drinking; but I can't bear to see
those children without shoes, or let Araminta suffer for food with that
baby to care for."

"Of course you can't," Kate would answer, emphatically: "and Moses and
Aaron Brown are the very cunningest twins any one could imagine, even
if they are bow-legged." And then Kate, opening her little silk bag,
would display within a collection of oranges, sticks of candy, and even
painted wooden toys which she had bought on her way through Charles
Street. "Come, Cousin Theodora," she would cry, "put on your hat and
coat, and let us go down and see the twins, and let me carry this
basket."

Or again: "There isn't any harm in my just getting some of this bright
calico for aprons for Araminta, and you don't care if I buy mittens for
the twins," she would say entreatingly; for Miss Theodora, always
careful of money herself, often had to restrain her young cousin's
expenditures, at least in the matter of clothes. As regarded food, it
was different.

When Kate, stopping in front of one of the little provision shops, with
their fly-specked windows, through which was dimly seen an array of
wilted vegetables and doubtful-looking meats, decided to order a dinner
for this one or that of her proteges, Miss Theodora had not the heart to
hinder. But I will do her the credit to say that she never encouraged
the giving of dinners to those whose need was caused by vice. In the
future of the dark-skinned boys and girls Miss Theodora took a great
interest. She realized that in the public schools they had their
opportunity; and she saw with regret that not all who were educated made
the best use of their education. Restless, unwilling to take the kind of
work which alone was likely to fall to their lot, some of the young
girls, educated or uneducated, drifted into ways which the older women
of their race spoke of with the strongest disapprobation.

"They's a wuthless lot, the hull of them, and I wouldn't try to do
nothing for them if I was you," Diantha often exclaimed, when Miss
Theodora admitted how sorely the problem of these dusky people pressed
upon her. Yet Diantha herself was almost certain to call her mistress'
attention to the next case of need on which she herself stumbled in her
wanderings among her people. Or, as likely as not, when Miss Theodora
was sought out by some poor creature in real or pretended misery, the
present emergency would overthrow all theories.

In one of the hill streets there was a home for colored old women,
holding not a large number of inmates, but still holding, as Kate
expressed it, "a very contented crowd"--much more contented, indeed,
than many of the dwellers in the "Old Ladies' Home," the refuge for
white women who had seen better days.

"I went to see old Mrs. Smith," said Kate one day, speaking of an inmate
of the latter institution. "She was sitting with her blind drawn,
looking as glum as could be. 'Why don't you raise the curtain?' I
asked. 'You have such a beautiful view of the river.' 'Oh, yes,' she
said, 'beautiful for anybody who likes rivers.' Do you know she'd rather
sit moping in a corner all day than try to get some pleasure out of the
lovely view across the river from her window! She enjoys being miserable
now, just because she has seen 'better days.'"

"There are a great many people like her in the world," smiled Miss
Theodora.

"Well, I prefer old Auntie Jane up in the colored women's home. She says
that she never was as well off as she has been since she came to the
home. She has a little window box with a small geranium and some white
elysium in blossom; and she says that it reminds her of the old
plantation where she grew up. She can see nothing from her window but
houses across the narrow street; but she is a great deal happier than
Mrs. Smith with all her view."



[Illustration]

IX.


When Kate accompanied her on her round of visits, Miss Theodora did not
penetrate far into the little lanes that zigzagged off from Phillips
Street. She kept more to the main road, and seldom took the young girl
upstairs, or down into the dingy basements. For in her mind's eye a
large place was occupied by Mrs. Stuart Digby, who at any time might end
Kate's visiting among the poor. Kate, therefore, had to content herself
with restricted vistas of fascinating alleys with wooden houses sloping
toward each other at a curious angle, with little balconies of strangely
southern appearance; and she sighed that she could not wander within
them. She looked longingly, too, at the little church whenever they
passed it; for Ben, who, rather for entertainment than edification, went
there occasionally to the evening prayer meetings, had repeated many
amusing speeches made by the colored brothers.

Still, if she could not do all that she wished to, she made the most of
what came in her way. She loved to notice the difference between the
kinds of things sold in Phillips Street shops and in those of the more
pretentious thoroughfare to the north, through which the horse-cars ran
to Cambridge. In the former case, eatables of all kinds were
conspicuous,--not only meat and vegetables, and especially sausages, but
corn for popping and molasses candy and spruce gum, all heterogeneously
displayed in the small window of one little shop. On Cambridge Street,
oyster saloons and bar-rooms and pawn-shops, before which hung a great
variety of old garments on hooks, jostled against each other, strangely
contrasting with numerous cake-shops, which offered to the passer-by a
great variety of unwholesome comestibles. From the little windows of the
dwelling rooms above the shops, frowsy and unkempt women looked down on
the street below, and Miss Theodora usually drew Kate quickly along, as
occasionally they traversed it for a short distance on their way to the
hospital.

In the same neighborhood was a short street of unsavory reputation,
partly on account of a murder committed within its limits many years
before, and partly because it held the city morgue. Hardly realizing
where she was, Miss Theodora one day was picking her way along the
slippery sidewalk, with Kate closely following, when something dark
crossed their path. They stopped to make way for it. It was a grim,
indefinite something, which two men had lifted from a wagon to carry
into a neighboring building--a something whose resemblance to a human
body was not concealed by the dark green cloth covering it. Then they
knew that they were near the morgue; and while the elder woman was
regretting that she had brought Kate with her, she heard a voice speak
her name, and, turning, saw Ben Bruce but a few steps behind.

"Isn't it late for you ladies to be in this part of the city?" he
exclaimed as he overtook them, and they realized that it was almost
dusk.

"We are not timid," smiled Miss Theodora; "but we shall be glad of your
company, Ben. We stayed longer than we meant to stay at the hospital,
and I know that I ought not to have kept Kate so late."

"I wasn't thinking so much of the time as the place," said Ben. "Some
way I do not like to have you and Miss Kate wandering about in these
dirty streets--at least alone."

"I suppose you think that we would be better off with any slip of a boy.
But truly we do not need a protector, although we shall be very glad of
your company home."

"I do not mean safety exactly," answered Ben; "but it does not seem to
me--well, appropriate for you and Miss Kate to go around into all kinds
of dirty houses," and he glanced at Kate's pretty gown and fur-trimmed
coat.

"Oh, it does not hurt my clothes at all," Kate answered, as he glanced
at her dress. "I have only my oldest clothes on to-day, and I've been in
a very clean place, too. I'm sure nothing could be cleaner than the
hospital."

"Well, you can turn it into fun, but you know what I mean," said Ben.
For like many another young man, he felt that tenderly bred women
should be kept ignorant of the unsightly parts of a city. Thus as they
went up the hill Ben and Kate kept up their merry banter, until they
reached Miss Theodora's door.

"Come in to tea with us. Ernest will be glad to see you," said the elder
woman. But Ben shook his head.

"Thank you very much, but they expect me home."

Nevertheless, he went inside for a little while, and sat before the open
fire in the little sitting-room,--Miss Theodora allowed herself this one
extravagance,--and heard Kate humorously relate the adventures of the
afternoon.

"I have brought," she said, "a bottle of old Mrs. Slawson's bitters. I
feel guilty in not having any of the many diseases they are warranted to
cure, but I shall give the bottle to our cook, who is always
complaining, and keeps a dozen bottles sitting on the kitchen
mantelpiece. You know about Mrs. Slawson, don't you, Ben?"

"Oh, she's the old person who made so much money out of a patent
medicine."

"Yes, and then married a 'light-skinned darky,' as she called him, who
ran away with it all. It is great fun to hear her tell of the large
number of people she has cured. Why, the greatest ladies in Boston, she
says, used to drive up in their carriages to patronize her."

"Why doesn't she keep up her business now?"

"Well, she is too old to continue it herself, and she does not wish any
one else to have her formulas. She has just enough money to live on, and
once in a while she has a few bottles put up to give away to her
friends. My visits to her are purely social, not charitable, and this is
my reward"--and Kate displayed a clumsy package in yellow wrappings.

Then Ernest came in--now a tall lad looking younger than Kate, though a
year older--and welcomed Ben, and begged him to spend the evening. But
Ben, resolute, though reluctant to leave the pleasant group clustered
around Miss Theodora's fire, hurried off just as the clock struck six.



[Illustration]

X.


His father opened the door for him when he reached home,--his father in
his shirt sleeves, encircled with an odor of tobacco. With an eye keener
than usual, the boy noted particularly, as if seen for the first time,
things to which he had been accustomed all his life--the well-worn
oil-cloth on the hall, the kerosene lamp flaring dismally in its
bracket. How different it all was from the refinement of Miss Theodora's
home,--for although Miss Theodora's carpets were worn and even
threadbare, and, except in the hall, she was as sparing of gas as Mr.
Bruce himself, the odor of cooking never escaped from Diantha's domain.
The indefinable between comfort and discomfort made the Bruce's economy
very unlike that practised by Miss Theodora.

"You are late," said Mrs. Bruce querulously as Ben entered the
dining-room.

"Am I? I met Miss Theodora and walked home with them."

"Yes, and went into the house with them, I dare say!" interrupted Mr.
Bruce.

"Why not?" asked Ben.

"You always seem taken up with those people. I don't see how you can be,
all so patronizing as they are."

"Patronizing!" repeated Ben to himself. "Miss Theodora patronizing!" How
far from the truth this seemed!

"You do not mean Miss Theodora?"

"Why not Miss Theodora? She walks along the street, never looking to
the right or left, as if she were quite too good to speak to ordinary
people."

"But she is terribly near-sighted. She does not see people unless they
are right in front of her."

"I guess she could see well enough if she tried. I've noticed her cross
the street almost on a run to speak to some little black boy. She's
ready enough to take up with people like that; and she's able to see
you. Ben,--but--"

Ben flushed a little. He did not like being put on a level with Miss
Theodora's black proteges. Nor was this all. Mr. Bruce, taking up his
wife's words, continued:

"Yes, it's just as your mother says; all those people think themselves a
great way above the rest of us that are just as good as they are. I
don't blame Miss Theodora so much, for her father really was a great
man. But those Digbys! Who are they? Why, Mrs. Stuart Digby's
grandfather, they say, was a tailor in New York when my grandfather was
one of General Washington's staff officers. We didn't have to buy that
sword in our parlor second-hand in a Cornhill shop, where some people
get their family relics."

"Not the Digbys or Miss Theodora."

"About the Digbys I'm not so sure. Miss Theodora ought to have some good
things, if they didn't sell off everything when they went into that
little house." As a matter of fact, the kin of Mr. Bruce were so few
that Ben could not understand how he could generalize about them. Yet,
"my family" could not have figured more largely in his conversation, had
he been chieftain of a Scottish clan.

So rapid was Mr. Bruce's flow of language, that Ben and his mother
usually kept quiet when he was well launched on any subject. Often,
indeed, Ben let his thoughts wander far away until recalled to himself
by some direct question.

It was Kate, Kate alone, whom his father's words touched. For the
moment he felt that he might be perfectly happy could he see with the
bodily eye as small a gulf between the Digby family and his own as his
father presented to his mental vision. Seated before Miss Theodora's
hospitable fire, watching the color deepen on Kate's sensitive cheeks as
the light flickered across them, he forgot everything but her. In
Ralph's presence, however, he realized that his world and the Digbys'
were very far apart, and that his own awkwardness and roughness must be
felt all too strongly by Kate. Then for weeks he would avoid Miss
Theodora's house when Kate was there, or would run in for only a moment
with Ernest to inspect some wonderful invention by the latter then in
process of development in the basement workroom. Mr. and Mrs. Stuart
Digby he seldom thought of. But how to bridge the gulf between himself
and Kate!

The story of his own good ancestry began to have new interest for him.
He looked more closely at his little sisters. They had the delicacy of
feature which their mother still retained. They had the wax-like color
which she had long ago lost. He glanced around the shabby room and felt
rebellious. Should they be restricted to the same narrow life as their
mother's? Was poverty to keep them down as it kept down so many of their
neighbors? No, no! he would devote himself to building up a fortune, and
then--even here Kate began to be curiously mixed up with his musings,
and then he was called back to earth by his mother's voice.

The claim of his ancestors had never made a very strong impression on
Ben. He had classed them with certain other harmless pretences of his
mother's, like making a rug in the parlor cover an unmendable hole in
the carpet, or putting lace curtains in the front windows of an upper
room which in other respects was meagerly furnished. But now his point
of view had begun to change, and he could even imagine himself in time
bowing to the fetich of family.

"What's the matter, Polly?" he said one afternoon to his youngest
sister, whom he found sitting on the doorstep by herself with the traces
of tears on her face.

"Oh, Ada Green says that my new winter dress is only an old one because
it's made out of an old one of mother's; and," incoherently, "she had
ice-cream for dinner--and why can't we?"

"Who, mother?" laughed Ben.

"No, you know who I mean, Ada--they have ice-cream every Saturday, and
she always comes out and tells me, and asks me what day we have
ice-cream, and I have to say 'Never.'"

Ben, though he saw the ludicrous side of the little girl's grief, kissed
her as he had many a time before when she had been disturbed by similar
things.

"Cheer up," he said; "it won't be so very long before I can give you
ice-cream every day, and new dresses not made out of mother's old ones.
Then you can walk up and down the sidewalk and tell Ada Green; or you
can offer her some of your ice-cream,--heap coals of ice on her head."

He added more of this nonsense until the child's face brightened as she
entered the house, clinging to his arm, and mounted the attic stairs to
sit near him while he studied.

Ben's plans for the future were definite, and his hopes were not the
mere self-confidence of youth. Fortunate in securing one of the state
scholarships at the Institute, he had been told by his teachers that a
high place in his profession, that of civil engineer, might be his
ultimately. But "ultimately" meant a long time yet, and his sister was
perhaps right in sighing that before he could give her ice-cream and
similar delights, she would be too "grown up" to enjoy them.

When, therefore, he looked at his little sisters and thought of the
probable narrowness of their lives unless he should interpose, he put
aside any idle balancing of merits of his family as compared with that
of Stuart Digby.



[Illustration]

XI.


Ernest stood leaning against the mantelpiece in his aunt's bedroom.
Never enthusiastic about college, he was growing even less so under the
shadow of the impending examinations, now but a month away. His
preliminaries had given him a hint that only by hard work could he enter
college without conditions. Greek was the great stumbling-block, and he
dreaded the final test more than he cared to admit.

"Do change your mind, Aunt Teddy," he began imploringly.

His aunt, in a low, straight-backed chair, looked up from her sewing.

"Change my mind about what?"

"Oh, you know--going to Harvard. Why must I go?"

Miss Theodora sighed. Had she waited and saved, pleased by the hope of a
distinguished college career for Ernest, only to find college with him a
question not of "will" but of "must"? Ernest caught her look of
disappointment.

"Of course I am perfectly willing to go to Harvard to please you, but--I
wish I could study the things Ben studies."

Miss Theodora's voice had an unwonted note of sternness in it.

"You are going to Harvard, Ernest, not because I wish it, but because
your father wished it; because your father, your grandfather, your
great-grandfather, five generations, all were graduates. You will be the
sixth of our family in direct line to graduate with honor."

"Perhaps it won't be with honor in my case, Aunt Teddy. Remember my
Greek."

Miss Theodora smiled. "I have tried to forget it." Then as Ernest leaned
down to kiss her, "No, no. I can't be coaxed into saying what I don't
think. Of course you will go to Harvard and be an honor to your family."

He loved his aunt; he wished to please her; but, oh, if he could only
beg off from college! If he could only follow Ben to his scientific
school! Ben, no one could deny it, would be a great man, and Ben had not
gone to Harvard. Ben and Ralph in contrast presented themselves to
Ernest's mind as his aunt spoke of the "honor of the family." Changing
his lounging position, he stood in an attitude of direct interrogation
before Miss Theodora.

"Now, Aunt Teddy, which is going to be a great man, Ben or Ralph?"

"I am no prophet, Ernest."

"Oh, well, you know what I mean. Would you rather have me grow up like
Ben or like Ralph?"

"I am fond of Ben."

"Yes, and you don't like Ralph a bit better than I do. He can write
Greek exercises that are nearly perfect,--and Ben don't know Alpha from
Omega."

"You seem to believe that Ben's good qualities result from his ignorance
of Greek, and Ralph's from his knowledge of the classics."

"I am not so silly as that, Aunt Teddy. But Ralph won't be a great honor
to the family even if he should go through Harvard twenty times, and I
wouldn't be a disgrace to you even if I didn't know Greek, or law, or
any of those things."

As Ernest seldom spoke so bitterly on this subject, Miss Theodora wisely
avoided further discussion by turning to her writing-table.

"I have a letter to finish now, Ernest; why do you not go down to your
workroom? Kate is anxious for the table you promised her."

Ernest went off to his work, while Miss Theodora, still sitting before
the fire thinking lovingly of the boy, pictured him in the not remote
future a worthy wearer of the legal honor of the family. When Miss
Theodora said "family," she thought most often of a long line of
Massachusetts ancestors of dignified demeanor and studious expression,
all resembling in general features the portrait of her grandfather
hanging on the library wall. This portrait her own father had had
enlarged from a poorly executed miniature. Perhaps it was the painter's
fault that the nose had an air of intellectuality--even more exaggerated
than that of the high forehead. Ernest as a little boy was so frightened
by this portrait that he did not like to be left alone in the room with
it.

As he grew older, it over-awed him like the rows of sheepskin-covered
volumes in the bookcases under the painting. Miss Theodora, loving the
books as she loved the portrait, occasionally would unlock the glass
door with its faded red silk curtains to show Ernest the volumes that
his grandfather and his great-great-grandfather had studied. As he grew
older, she solemnly intrusted the key to his care, hoping that he would
find the books as pleasant reading as she had found them in her
girlhood. But the clumsy type and the old-fashioned style were so
forbidding to the boy, that his aunt saw with sorrow that he made no
effort to acquire a love for eighteenth-century literature. He managed,
to be sure, to read the few "Spectator" and "Tatler" essays which she
selected, and he discovered for himself the amusing qualities of
Addison's "Rosamond." His "Robinson Crusoe" in modern dress counted of
course as a book of to-day rather than as a work of the Age of Anne. Had
it been among its sheepskin covered contemporaries, more than half its
charm would have vanished. The Coke, the Blackstone, the Kent, which
had been part of his grandfather's professional library, the boy
regarded with even less interest than the other books. Miss Theodora had
told Ernest that many would be as useful to him as they had been to his
grandfather, not realizing that the mere thought of mastering their
musty contents increased his distaste for the law.

Strangely enough, too, Ernest found little glamour in the name
"Harvard." As a child he had been curious about the meaning of Class
Day, when he heard caterers' carts rumbling through Charles Street on
their way to Cambridge, or saw gayly dressed girls with deferential
escorts walking toward the horse-cars or driving over the bridge. When
he grew older the name of Harvard was associated with boat races and
ball games, and it pleased him to think that he might some time count
himself among the wearers of the victorious crimson. But the dreaded
examinations and a truer knowledge of what the study of law meant had at
last made the name of Harvard a bugbear.

While Miss Theodora, therefore, mused before the fire, Ernest in his
basement workshop let his thoughts wander far afield from Harvard and
the musty law. He wondered if he could make a dynamo according to the
directions laid down in a new book of physics he had lately read. He
wondered if he should ever have a chance to go West to the silver
mines--for this was about the time when all eyes were turned toward the
splendors of Leadville. He wondered if he should ever invent anything
like that marvellous telephone of which the world was beginning to talk
so much. He knew a fellow whose uncle had been present at a private
exhibition of the new invention, and the uncle had been sure that in a
short time people a mile apart would be able to exchange actual words
over the wire.

As to the dynamo, Ernest felt pretty sure that he would make one; as to
the mines of the West he was equally confident that he would see them
some day; hadn't he always promised when he was a man to take his aunt
on a long journey? But as to rivalling the inventor of the telephone,
ah, no! what chance would he have to invent anything, when four years,
four long years, must be spent at college, and at least two years more
in preparing for the bar?

"Alas, Harvard!" sighed Ernest in the basement, while "fair Harvard"
formed the burden of Miss Theodora's thoughts as she sat by the fire
upstairs.



[Illustration]

XII.


After all, Ernest entered Harvard creditably. To work off two or three
conditions would be a very small matter,--so he thought optimistically
at the beginning of the year. On the whole, college had an unexpected
charm for him, and he showed a temper in November quite different from
that of the spring. Perhaps the summer's tour in Europe, which he had
made with Ralph and Ralph's tutor, had changed his point of view. Miss
Theodora could not feel grateful enough to Stuart Digby for sending
Ernest to Europe. Though she had herself set aside a little sum for this
purpose, she was only too glad to accept her cousin's offer.

When the boys came home, their friends noted a change in Ernest. Mrs.
Fetchum thought that it was largely in the matter of clothes.

"You couldn't expect but what such stylish clothes would make a
difference, at least in appearance; not but what Ernest himself is just
the same as he used to be."

Justice drove Mrs. Fetchum to this admission; for when Ernest, walking
up the hill a few days after his home coming, caught sight of her as
she stood within her half-open door, not only had he stopped to speak to
her, but he had run up the steps to shake hands; this, too--for it was
Sunday--in sight of several neighbors who were passing, and under the
very eyes of certain inquisitive faces looking from windows near by,--a
most gratifying remembrance to Mrs. Fetchum.

"Ernest looks some different," said Mrs. Fetchum, describing the
interview to Mr. Fetchum, "but his heart's in the right place. He said
he ain't seen a place he liked better than Boston in all the course of
his travels."

Miss Chatterwits, who never agreed with any opinion of her neighbors,
declared that Ernest was changed.

"But it isn't his clothes. If I do make dresses, I don't think that
clothes is everything. It's his manners. You can see it, Miss
Theodora,--just a little more polish. It's perfectly natural, you know,
since he's come in contact, so to speak, with foreign courts. Didn't he
say that he saw the royal family riding in a procession in London, and
didn't he and Ralph go to dinner at the American minister's at The
Hague? Those things of course count."

Miss Chatterwits, like many others who take pride in their
republicanism, dearly loved to hear about royalty. Ernest, therefore,
when he found that she was somewhat disappointed that he could not tell
her more about kings and queens, gave her elaborate accounts of the
palaces he had visited. Thus did he half solace her for the fact that he
had had no personal interviews with princes and other potentates.

Yet, although Miss Chatterwits would not ascribe any change in Ernest to
his clothes, she by no means overlooked the extent and variety of the
wardrobe which he had brought back with him from the other side. In this
respect Stuart Digby had been as generous as in everything else
connected with Ernest's foreign journey. His orders that Ernest should
have an outfit of London clothes in no way inferior to Ralph's had been
literally carried out. The result was startling, not only in the matter
of coats, waistcoats and other necessities, but in the matter of walking
sticks, umbrellas, and similar luxuries.

For almost a week Ernest kept the neighborhood astir counting his
various new suits. Boy-like, he mischievously wore them one by one on
successive days for the mere sake of giving Mrs. Fetchum and the others
something to talk about. To Miss Chatterwits he gladly lent his cloth
travelling cap, when she expressed her wish to take a pattern of it, and
he let her carefully inspect a certain overcoat.

"It's quite at your service, Miss Chatterwits, although I more than half
believe you are going to cut one just like it for little Tommie
Grigsby. Just think of it, the latest London fashions for a six-year
old."

Nor did Miss Chatterwits deny the implication. For in those days, when
you could not buy ready-made clothes in every shop, the costume of many
a little West End boy was cut over from his father's garments by the
hands of the old seamstress.

Miss Theodora did not find Ernest changed. "Improved, perhaps, but not
changed by his summer abroad," she said to herself, seeing in this no
real contradiction. He was still the same Ernest--respectful, kind,
yielding to her will, even in the many details connected with the
furnishing of his rooms at Cambridge--the same Ernest who years ago had
clung to her hand dark evenings as they walked home from Stuart Digby's.
All the interested relatives--"all," yet few--wondered that Miss
Theodora could afford to fit up Ernest's college rooms so handsomely.
But was it not for this that she had saved ever since John's death?

So Ernest, in Hollis, had the counterpart of John's old room; and his
aunt, looking from the broad window-seat across the leafy quadrangle,
unchanged in aspect through a quarter of a century, felt herself carried
back to those early days. Until John's death she had not realized that
all her hopes were centred in him. Now she knew only too well that life
without Ernest would mean little enough to her.

Ernest, appreciating his aunt's devotion, tried to repay it by thorough
work--tried, yet failed. For, after all, study is not the only absorbing
interest at Cambridge. Sports in the field, practice on the river, these
stir the blood and take a young man's time. A good-looking lad with a
well-known name, connected with various families of reputed wealth and
high position, has every chance for popularity at Harvard. But a
popular man with limited means has to pay a price for popularity. Ernest
spent his fairly liberal allowance to the last cent. He had to
entertain, had to do things that were, though he knew it not, a great
strain on his aunt's purse. Though he had entered college without the
social advantages of a preparation at one of the private schools, he
soon had many friends. Miss Theodora was pleased with her nephew's
success. John had been popular, and it would have been strange indeed
had the son not followed in the father's footsteps. She could not
conceal from herself, however, a definite uneasiness that Ernest, unlike
his father, showed little interest in his studies. He grumbled not a
little at the course laid out for him, complained that he would have
hardly a wider choice of studies in his sophomore year, and ascribed all
his shortcomings in examinations to the fact that he was rigorously held
down to uncongenial work. Nor was he altogether wrong, for many a
Harvard student in those days longed for freedom from the fetters of
prescribed studies.



[Illustration]

XIII.


One Sunday afternoon in the early May of his freshman year, after the
service at Trinity, Ernest took his way toward the Digbys' house. Since
midwinter many things had tended to make him regard life less hopefully
than before. Just as his own shortcomings at college were growing so
evident that he could not conceal them either from himself or his aunt,
the death of Stuart Digby cast a cloud over him which made other
shadows dwindle. For he had been very fond of his cousin, and he
sympathized to the full with Kate in her grief.

"Cut off in his prime!" said all the friends of Stuart Digby. "So much
to live for!" "His life hardly half finished!" But, after all, death is
as inscrutable a mystery as life itself. Stuart Digby had had his
chance. He knew long before he died that his life, even if rounded out
to the full three score and ten, could never be full and complete. He
knew, as nobody else could, how far short he fell of the standard which
he had once set for himself. He knew, with a knowledge that cut him to
the quick, that, poor slave of habit that he had become, no length of
life would place him again in the ranks of those whose faces ever look
upward. He had had his chance. Why had he let it slip away from him? His
life, so far as life means progress, was finished long before. He had
not even accomplished the few definite tasks which he had set for
himself. Among these was the making of some provision for Ernest. He had
meant to give the boy a few thousands to smooth his path after
graduating, or to leave him something by will. But death came so
suddenly that this, like many other good intentions, was unfulfilled.
Ernest, knowing nothing of these unfulfilled intentions, felt only a
deep sense of personal loss in the death of his cousin.

A decorator had lately done over in the latest French style the room
where Kate received Ernest. The high white wainscoting, the satiny sheen
of the large-patterned yellow paper, the slender-legged gilded chairs,
with here and there a lounging chair covered in pale green brocade,
harmonized well with the sunshine that streamed in. Kate, in her black
gown, seated at the old-fashioned inlaid desk in the bay window, but for
her fair hair and glowing color, would have been the one discordant note
in the room. The solemn man-servant had hardly announced Ernest when
Kate rushed forward to meet him.

"Why, Ernest, I am delighted to see you. We were speaking of you to-day.
Mamma was saying that it seemed a long time since you had been here. She
is out now, and will be sorry to miss you."

"Well, it is longer than I meant to be; but you know that I've really
been very busy, especially since the mid-year. I've been trying to
decide several difficult questions."

"Oh, yes, I know. How times have changed, Ernest, since you used to play
hop-scotch with the Fetchum children, while I sat, a mournful umpire, at
Cousin Theodora's door! You used to say that I was the best possible
judge; and I thought that you were always going to let me help you
decide difficult questions."

"It's just the same now, Kate. I'd be only too glad to have you help me
out of a good many things, if----"

"If what?"

Now, however, Ernest dropped his serious tone. "If we were younger. Tell
me, Kate, can you remember how you felt when you first realized that you
weren't a child any more? I was thinking about myself the other day, and
wondering why I feel so much older now than I did a year or two ago."

"Oh, it's going into college that is chiefly to answer for it. But I do
think it's strange sometimes all in an instant we realize that we are
older or different from what we were before. I really can't account for
it."

"Yes,--I understand what you mean. You know those stone buildings that
we pass on our way to the Nahant boat. Well, they used to seem to me
mountain high, not only when I looked up at them, but when I thought
about them. But one summer, years ago, I looked up and saw that they
were not very high, nor very imposing. They were small buildings,
compared with a good many up town; and then I felt that I must have
changed."

Kate smiled. "Yes, I've been through just such things myself." And the
conversation of the two cousins drifted on for a time, with
reminiscences of the past.

"Ernest," at length said Kate somewhat abruptly to the young man, "after
all you are more or less of a disappointment to me."

So far as appearances went, it was hard to see wherein Ernest fell short
of the ideal of even so rigid a critic as Kate. Yet this well-formed,
muscular youth, with his clear gray eye, seemed at this particular
moment a little restless and uneasy as he fingered an ivory paper-knife.

"How do I disappoint you, Kate?" he asked.

"Oh, in many ways. I used to think that you would be an inventor,
or--something. But now--"

"I am nothing but a Harvard freshman," he broke in laughing.

"Yes, that is just it. You don't seem to be ambitious; you aren't trying
to work off your entrance conditions; and you didn't do well at the
mid-years. You spend very little time with Cousin Theodora. I'm sure I
ought to feel complimented that you've come here to-day." As Ernest did
not reply, she continued: "Your aunt has always made such sacrifices for
you that you ought to try to do your best. Cousin Richard says--"

There she stopped.

"Well, what does Cousin Richard say?" asked Ernest impatiently. But
Kate, remembering that Richard Somerset might object to being quoted,
was silent.

"Go to him yourself," she said at length. "He will tell you." Then their
conversation passed to less personal things, until it was time for
Ernest to go.

Ernest, taking what Kate had said in good part, pondered over it as he
walked homeward. The afternoon was drawing to a close. Long afterward he
recalled that walk among the flower-beds, glowing with tulips and
hyacinths, with the last rays of the sun reflected from the little
fountain, while the chimes from the church on the corner above rang out
"Old Hundred." As he left the Garden and entered Charles Street all this
cheerfulness was at an end. The houses cast shadows so heavy in the
narrow street that he felt as if in another world. Somewhat depressed,
he went up the hill to his aunt's house. From the parlor came the
unwonted sound of music. Some one was playing on the old piano. There
sat Miss Theodora. He saw her through a half-opened door, playing with a
fervor that he could not have believed possible had he not seen it for
himself. For a moment he watched her, and although he was not a learned
young man, he thought at once of St. Cecilia. There was, indeed, more
than a mere suggestion of saintliness in Miss Theodora, with her pale
face, with her black hair smoothly brushed away and gathered in a coil
behind, and her patient expression.

"Why, Aunt Teddy," at length exclaimed Ernest, entering the room, "I
didn't know that you were such a performer. I knew you could play, but I
didn't know you could play like that."

"Thank you, Ernest," replied his aunt. "I don't play well now, but when
your grandfather was living I had the very best instruction; but my
style is so old-fashioned that I never play to any one now."

In truth, Miss Theodora had played well in her day, and it was one of
the sorrows of her later life that she could not profit by the fine
teachers and the concerts of music-loving Boston. Diantha, whose thirty
years' devotion to the family gave her privileges, would sometimes come
to her as she sat alone by the front window, in the twilight, and say:

"Why don't you never play no music now, Miss Theodora? I ain't forgot
how you used to practice all the time; and Mr. John and Mr. William
would come into the parlor in the evenings and listen to you, and you
used to look so pretty sitting at that very piano that you won't never
touch now."

Yet Ernest, although he had often heard Diantha thus remonstrate with
his aunt, now first realized perhaps that there was undue self-denial in
his aunt's life. What Kate had said about "sacrifices" became
significant to him. With as little delay as possible he would talk with
Richard Somerset.



[Illustration]

XIV.


"Now, Ernest, I don't know what Theodora would do if she knew that I had
told you, but since you insist I will say that your father left you
nothing, absolutely nothing. He invested his small share of your
grandfather's property badly, and when we came to settle things there
wasn't a cent for you." So said Richard Somerset in the interview which
Ernest soon sought.

"So all that I have is just that much less for Aunt Teddy?"

"Yes,--if you put it that way. But she has told me many a time that
whatever she has is yours. Just you do your best at college, and become
a clever lawyer like your father and your grandfather, and she'll be
satisfied. You see, you are all she has in the world. Of course, if she
had married,--" but here the good man grew silent, and Ernest never
heard from him the story of Miss Theodora's one love affair.

It was just as well that he stopped where he did, for, with an
indiscretion worthy a younger man, he had already gone far beyond Miss
Theodora's instructions. He knew that it was her one desire that Ernest
should not learn that he had no money of his own. When Ernest had heard
the truth, much that previously he had not quite understood in his
aunt's management of affairs was explained.

"It's all very well to talk about being a lawyer," he cried. "It's all
very well to talk; but I have found out that I cannot possibly be one.
It's been worrying me lately. Of course, I might go through college in a
sort of way; but after what you tell me I can't see the sense in wasting
time or money."

Richard Somerset looked aghast. Was this the effect of his words? What
would Miss Theodora say?

"Why--why, you wouldn't disappoint your aunt like that, would you? What
in the world would you do if you left college?"

"Well, I don't know exactly, but I'm pretty sure that I'd take a course
like Ben Bruce has had at the Technology. Then I'd go West and make some
money. One thing I've found out since I went to College,--and that is
that I don't want to be poor the rest of my life."

"Everybody who goes West doesn't make money."

"Maybe not, but I met a man crossing on the Altruria this summer, who
told me that mining engineers have the best possible chance now. He's a
large stockholder in the 'Wampum and Etna,' and he said if only my
profession were something in his line he could do a lot for me."

"Rather presuming for a stranger," said Richard Somerset, with the true
Boston manner.

"He didn't seem like a stranger. He used to know my father, I believe.
But he said it wasn't worth while to mention him to Aunt Theodora, as
she probably wouldn't remember him."

"What was his name?"

"Easton--William Easton. I have his card and address somewhere. He used
to be an army officer, captain of engineers, then he resigned and went
into mining. He worked like everything until he made a lucky find. He
was his own engineer for a time, but now he's given up active work. He
and his wife go abroad every summer."

"No, it wasn't worth while to mention him to your aunt," said Richard
Somerset, as Ernest left him. The older man gazed abstractedly after the
boy, while his heart went out in sympathy with Miss Theodora.

Between Miss Theodora and William Easton there had once been an
engagement, known only to their most intimate friends. John's classmate
and comrade in the war, he had never concealed his admiration for John's
sister. It was just after Dorothy's death, when Ernest demanded all Miss
Theodora's time, that William Easton was ordered to the western
frontier. With the reorganization of the army he had gone into the
Engineers, and now there was no chance, had he wished, to evade the duty
to which he was assigned. He might stay at his new post four or five
years, he said, and Theodora must marry him and go too. Always
imperative, he tried hard enough to carry his point. But for Ernest's
claims Miss Theodora would have yielded.

"Ernest will come, too, of course," he said,--and failed, obstinately
perhaps, to see the weight of Miss Theodora's objections. The locality
to which he was bound was notoriously unhealthy. The surroundings would
be in other respects unfavorable to the little boy,--and what chance
would he have for an education in that remote and half-civilized region?
Nor would Miss Theodora leave the child behind, even had there been any
one with whom she could leave him. Surely she and William could wait.
But William Easton, always impatient, went off to his distant post angry
that Theodora should prefer a little child to him. Both were heart-sore
at first, but time works wonders, and years after this parting, when
Miss Theodora heard that he had married the daughter of a Colorado
rancher, she hoped, yes, she really hoped, that he was happy.

Ernest did not recognize as William Easton, his steamboat acquaintance,
the young officer who stood beside his father in the little faded
photograph on his aunt's dressing table. "What queer, loose-fitting
uniforms they had! We'd smile if men wore their hair so long as that
now." This was all the boy had thought, as he looked at the picture. But
for Miss Theodora these two faded figures symbolized her heart's whole
history.

To keep Ernest from thinking much about money matters, Miss Theodora had
discouraged intimacies with her richer distant relatives--excepting only
the Digbys. This one exception in the case of the Digbys needed no
justification in her mind. Had not Stuart been John's best friend? Thus
Ernest, growing up in the simple West End neighborhood, had little
opportunity to make uncomfortable contrasts between his aunt's way of
living and that of richer people. Had Ralph and Ernest been more
congenial, Ernest might have been drawn into Ralph's set, made up of the
boys of his own age with the largest claims on the so-called society of
Boston. As it had been, Ralph and his friends formed a little world
apart from Ernest and his interests. With Ben as full confidant and
adviser, Ernest was naturally well content with his own lot. For Ben,
with so much less than Ernest had of the things that money gives, was
always happy--apparently happy and absorbed in his studies. Ernest knew
of course that he himself must be economical,--his aunt had often said
so; but sometimes he thought that this economy was only one of her
fancies,--she was so unlike other people in many ways. Especially
probable did this seem when she gave him a liberal allowance for
Harvard. He did not know, until Richard Somerset told him, that a bank
failure a few years before had taken five thousand dollars of Miss
Theodora's small capital, and that a mortgage of almost the same amount
had been put on the house to enable her to carry out her plans for
Ernest.

But Ernest's happy ignorance was now at an end. If his summer in Europe,
his year in college, had done nothing else for him, these things had
given him a desire for a larger life than he had had. Unless they take
form in action desires of this kind may end in mere discontent, to eat
into the heart of their possessor. Rightly directed, they will carry him
along a path at the end of which, even if unsuccessful, he will at least
have pleasure in remembering that he tried to reach a definite goal.

Thus Ernest, disturbed by the fact that his college course was less
satisfactory to him than he had expected it to be, confronted by the
knowledge that money, or lack of money, plays a large part in every-day
affairs, overwhelmed by his discovery of the meagreness of his aunt's
possessions, still hesitated a little as to his own duty.



[Illustration]

XV.


Ernest's final decision was closely interwoven with a ride from
Cambridge in an open horse-car one warm spring evening. Though his mind
during this ride was constantly going over the subject that now lay near
his heart, it afterward seemed to him as if he could recall every step
of the way, so curiously sometimes does the external world weave itself
into our mental processes. Long afterward he remembered that at first
in the dim light he had noticed people, young and old, children or girls
in light dresses, sitting on the piazzas or moving about the wide lawns
of the houses near the Square. Next he saw the business blocks with
their shops, in front of which groups of young men were lounging.
Over-dressed girls and other young men promenaded the sidewalks in front
of the shops, and he caught the occasional note of a loud laugh or a
flippant remark. Farther on, rows of unpretentious dwellings, ending at
last in unmistakable tenement houses, stamped themselves on his mind,
with half-tidy women, men in their shirt sleeves, and little children
crowding the doorways. Across the muddy flats and the broad river they
might see, as he saw, the pretty hilly country beyond. Were they
gossiping and scolding, much as they would gossip and scold in their
narrow room? Perhaps for the time, like Ernest himself, they knew the
peaceful influence of the perfect evening.

The indescribable May softness had, he felt sure, more than a little to
do with his own exultation. His way opened perfectly clear before him.
The arguments that he should use with his aunt stood out plainly
defined. Go on longer as he had been doing!--he shivered at the thought.

Finding Miss Theodora alone in the twilight, he realized as never before
the pathos of her lonely life. In saying what he was going to say he
knew that he must shatter one of her cherished idols.

"In time, of course, she'll know that I have been right," he said to
himself. Yet it required more than a little courage to speak, to argue
with her against things that he knew she held so dear.

Though he hardly knew how it came about, the discussion ended, to
Ernest's own surprise, with the advantage on his side. His skilful
fashion of handling statistics told strongly in his favor, perhaps; for
he proved to his aunt's satisfaction that it would be many, many years
before he could probably support himself on a lawyer's income. He had
figures and facts to show what he was certain to earn as soon as he
began to practise engineering.

"But, Ernest," said Miss Theodora, "if you do not want to be a lawyer
after you are graduated, there are many other things you might do
without sacrificing your position in life." For although Miss Theodora
knew well enough that mining engineers were not the same as the
engineers whom she had seen on locomotives and steamboats, yet she felt
that engineers in general, by reason of grimy hands and faces, were
forever cut off from good society.

"What else can I find to do?" he insisted, "that would be as interesting
and pay as well?"

"Well, I think that you could get into the treasurer's office of the
Nashawapag Mills. Richard Somerset has great influence there."

"Now, Aunt Teddy, you wouldn't want me to be a book-keeper the rest of
my life,--for that is all I'd be; and as for salary, unless I stayed
there thirty or forty years, until those at the top died, I suppose that
I could make a little more than a bare living, but it wouldn't be much
more."

Then Miss Theodora, who could think of very few occupations outside of
the learned professions in which a young man of good family might
properly engage, at last surrendered to Ernest's arguments.

"We have so very little money," said Ernest, after he had let her know
that Richard Somerset had told him how slight their resources were; "we
are so poor, that in a few years I know that I would have to beg or
borrow, and I'm sure you would not wish me to do one any more than the
other."

"No, indeed," exclaimed his aunt.

"You see," he went on, "I am acquiring very extravagant tastes at
Cambridge. There's no place like it for making you want money, if you
once begin to contrast yourself with fellows who have plenty."

"But I thought you were independent," sighed poor Miss Theodora.

"Oh, I should be if I were really interested in my work," replied
Ernest; "but, you see, I can't throw myself into my studies as I ought
to."

It is to be feared that Ernest was worse than a little artful in thus
painting himself as black as he could. He did not tell his aunt, what
really was the truth, that it was harder for him to give up Harvard now
than it would have been six months before. He had begun to have his own
group of special friends; he had begun to enjoy many phases of college
life. Despite certain distasteful studies, he might have gone through
college without special discredit. He might have taken his degree, as
many of his classmates would, with considerable culture and very little
practical knowledge clinging to him. He trembled when he saw that he
could take so kindly to dawdling ways. But his Puritan conscience
interposed. When he knew how really poor they were, his love for his
aunt and his pride all imparted to him a firmness at which he himself
marvelled.



[Illustration]

XVI.


Miss Theodora gave in, partly because she herself had begun to see that
she might wrong Ernest by insisting on his carrying out her ideas. His
poor rank in the classics showed a mind unlike that of his father or his
grandfather. When she saw his brow darken at mention of the work he must
do to get off his condition in Greek, she remembered how cheerful he had
once been whistling over his work in his basement room. She longed to
see him again engaged in congenial work or studies. Therefore, without
vigorous defence, the castle in Spain which she had founded on Ernest's
professional career fell under Ernest's direct assault. But she was
disappointed, and although she did not go out of her way to look for
sympathy, she accepted all that Miss Chatterwits and Diantha offered
her. The former really believed that Harvard was the only institution in
the United States in which a young man could get the higher education.

"I don't know," she said, "as I ever heard of a great man--that is, a
scholar, for I don't forget some of the Presidents--that hadn't
graduated at Harvard. Not but what a man might be great, I suppose, that
wasn't what you would call a scholar; but I did think that Ernest would
follow right after his grandfather, not to speak of his father. And all
the books you've saved for him, too, Miss Theodora!--it does seem too
bad."

"Oh, I still expect Ernest to be a great man," said Miss Theodora, a
trifle dubiously. "I am sure that he has shown considerable talent
already for inventing things."

"Ye-es," was Miss Chatterwits' doubtful response. "Ye-es,--but it seems
as if most of the things has been invented that's at all likely to give
a man a great reputation,--the telegraphs and steamboats and steam
engines, not to mention sewing machines, which I must say has made a
great difference in my work."

"Oh, well, sometimes men benefit the world by inventing some little
thing, or making an improvement--well, in steam engines or something of
that kind."

"I dare say,--I haven't any doubt but Ernest'll be smarter than any boy
in the school where he's going. But it always did seem to me that
studies of that kind were well enough for Ben Bruce--and such; but
Ernest,--he seems to belong out at Harvard."

This was unkind--for Miss Chatterwits really liked Ben Bruce very much.
But lately she had had one or two rather wordy encounters with Mrs.
Bruce when they had met by chance at a neighbor's house. The little
dressmaker was fond of "drawing the line," as she said, and relegating
people, in conversation, at least, to their proper places. Mrs. Bruce
had similar proclivities; but with less accurate data on which to base
her classification of her neighbors, she sometimes made mistakes on
which Miss Chatterwits was bound to frown.

"If I went about sewing from house to house," said Mrs. Bruce, "I
suppose I might know more about people than I do; but being in private
life, it isn't to be supposed I know much but what has been handed down
to me in my own family."

"Well, if you went about sewing from house to house," said Miss
Chatterwits, "you'd be more use to your family than you are now." With
which last word Miss Chatterwits had flounced away, and for a time spoke
somewhat depreciatingly of the Bruces, although in her heart she envied
them their Revolutionary ancestor.

Miss Theodora had no petty pride. She liked Ben; she knew that he was a
good friend for Ernest, and the one thing that reconciled her to the
change in Ernest's career was the fact that, for a year at least, he
would be able to have much help and advice from Ben. After the latter
should get his scientific degree, he would probably leave Boston; but
for the present she knew that his friendship would mean much to Ernest.

Ernest spent six weeks of the summer after his decision about college at
a quiet seashore village with Ben. Ben tutored Ernest in various
branches in which he was deficient, and proved an even better friend to
him than Miss Theodora had hoped. Sometimes, as they sat in a little
cove at the edge of the water, letting their books fall from their
hands, gazing at the crescent-shaped Plymouth shore, they would talk of
many things outside of their work. Ben was an enthusiast about the early
history of New England. He loved to theorize over the country's
possibilities, and to trace its present greatness from the principles
planted by the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. Once as they sat
there talking, Ernest exclaimed: "Those men were workers, Ben! Sometimes
I think that we are all wrong today,--we attach so much importance to
books. Now, I believe that I should have been much better off now and
happier if I could have gone at once to work two or three years ago,
instead of undertaking--"

But Ben interrupted him. "Oh, no! you are wrong. You do not realize your
privileges. Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that I envied you your
chance of going to Harvard. It would have been my choice to go there if
I could. But the Institute was more practical, and I dare say was the
best for me. Only--don't make too little account of your advantages,
Ernest."

What Ben said was true enough. His own mind was essentially that of the
scholar. He could have gone on forever acquiring knowledge. He had no
desire to put it at once to the practical use to which necessity
compelled him. Yet, understanding Ernest's temperament, he had not
discouraged him from leaving college, and he stood ready to help him to
the utmost in his scientific work.

Many a time, however, with no envious mind, he had wished that it had
been his to change places with Ernest. What delightful hours, he
thought, he could have passed within the gray walls of the college
library! He would have been no more inclined than Ernest, perhaps, to
follow Miss Theodora's plans for a lawyer's career. No; he would have
aimed rather to be a Harvard professor. Had fortune favored him, he
would have spent a long time in post-graduate study, not only at
Cambridge, but at some foreign university. "What folly!" he would then
suddenly cry; "life is practical." But while doing the duty that lay
nearest, he knew well enough that Harvard would have meant infinitely
more to him than his chosen course.

During two years only of Ernest's Technology course were he and Ben
together. When the latter was graduated he went West at once to begin
his contest for the honors and the wealth which were to work that
wonderful change in the affairs of his family. But Ernest had started
well, and even without his friend's guidance he kept on in the path he
had marked out. To give an account of the four years of his work would
be to tell a rather monotonous story. This was not because he allowed
his life to be a mere routine--far from this. While he worked
energetically during the winter, he managed to find time for recreation.
Society, so-called, did not interest him. But he had a group of friends,
of fixed purpose like his own, who were still sufficiently boyish to
enjoy life. With them he took long walks in search of geological
specimens, inviting them home on winter evenings to share Miss
Theodora's simple tea.

From some of these Western friends of Ernest's, with a point of view so
unlike her own, Miss Theodora gained an entirely different outlook on
life. Ernest had impressed on her the fact that the West was to be his
home, at least, until he had made a lot of money. She began, therefore,
to take an interest, not only in these Westerners, with their broad
pronunciation, but in the Western country itself. She re-read "The
Oregon Trail"; she read one or two other books of Western travel. She
studied the topography of Colorado and Nevada in her old atlas, and she
always noted in the newspapers chance scraps of information about that
distant region.

Nahant knew Ernest no more in summer. His long vacation was always spent
elsewhere in practical field work. He almost dropped out of the lives
of those who had known him so well as a little boy. At the same time, he
had enough social diversion. In the new set of which he now formed one
there was always more or less going on. The sisters of some of his
friends invited him to their dances. He seemed so heartily to enjoy his
new popularity that Kate realized, with a certain pain, that he was
drawing away from her; that he was departing far from that pleasant old
West End life. There was an irony of fate in remembering that by using
her influence in the direction of the new work which Ernest had
undertaken, she had helped to send him farther away.



[Illustration]

XVII.


When the die was finally cast, Miss Theodora wisely kept to herself her
disappointment at Ernest's change of plan. Her life thus far had
accustomed her to disappointments. What a pang she had felt, for
example, some years after leaving it, when she heard that the old family
house on the hill had become a boarding house! How disturbed she had
been, walking up Beacon Street one day, to see workmen tearing down one
of the most dignified of the old purple-windowed houses, once the home
of intimate friends of hers, to make way for an uglier if more ornate
structure! What an intrusion she felt the car tracks to be which run
through Charles Street across Beacon Street, connecting the South and
the West Ends of the city! Miss Theodora's Boston was not so large but
that it could be traversed by any healthy person on foot; and she agreed
with Miss Chatterwits when she exclaimed, "What in the world has the
West End to do with Roxbury Neck?"

Real trials, like Ernest's change of plan, Miss Theodora was able to
bear with surprising equanimity. She had not even quailed when she made
that discovery, hardest of all even for a sensible woman, that she was
growing old. The first rude shock had come one day in a horse-car, when
she heard an over-dressed young mother say to her little son in a loud
whisper: "Give the old lady a seat." Before this Miss Theodora had
certainly not thought of herself as old; but looking in the glass on her
return home, she saw that the youth had vanished from her face. For
though the over-dressed young mother might have said "oldish" more truly
than "old," yet Miss Theodora realized that the change had come.

What it was she could scarcely define, save that there were now long
lines on her cheek where once there had been curves, that her eyes were
perhaps less bright, that gray hairs had begun to appear, and that
certainly she had less color than formerly. All these changes had not
come in a day, and yet in a day, in an hour, Miss Theodora realized
them. As she looked in the mirror and saw that her gray hairs were still
few enough to count, she glanced below the glass to the little faded
photograph on the table. John had passed into the land of perpetual
youth, and William, that other, had he begun to show the marks of age?

Thus she wondered as she gazed at the young man with the longish, thick
hair, at which Ernest had sometimes laughed. But she seldom let her mind
wander in this direction, and she turned it now toward other friends of
her girlhood, of whom some occasionally flitted across her vision. The
most of those who had been her contemporaries the winter she came out
were now married. Of these, she could not recall one who had not
"married well," as the phrase is. Were they growing old more gracefully
than she? Would she change places with any one of those portly matrons,
absorbed now in family or social interests? The sphere of the unmarried
few was unattractive to her. The causes, whether literary or
philanthropic, into which the majority threw themselves had certainly no
charm for her. She could not have worked for the Indians after the
manner of her cousin Sarah Somerset. To her the Indian race seemed too
cruel for the enthusiasm lavished on it by a certain group of Boston
women.

When her father had verged toward Transcendentalism she had lagged
behind, and more modern "isms" were even farther out of her reach. She
listened dubiously to rhapsodies by one of her cousins on the immense
spiritual value of the Vedas. Woman suffrage! Well, she had only one
friend who waxed eloquent over this, and Miss Theodora, although on the
whole liberal-minded, was repelled from a study of the question by the
peculiarities of dress and manner affected by some of its devotees. Even
Culture itself, with a capital letter, and all that this implies could
never have been a fad of hers. The books people talked about now were so
different from those that she had been accustomed to; she knew nothing
about modern French literature, and her friends cared nothing for Miss
Ferrier or Crabbe. After all, Miss Theodora would not have changed
places with one of these friends of her youth, married or unmarried,
with their tablets covered with social engagements or note-books crammed
with appointments for meetings or lectures. She found her own life
sufficiently full.

That she was growing old brought her little worry, coming as it did at
the same time with the change in Ernest's plans. Although she would have
been very slow to admit it, Kate's thorough approval of Ernest's new
career modified Miss Theodora's own view of it. Unconsciously she had
begun to dream of a united fortune for Kate and Ernest; for in her eyes
the two were perfectly adapted to each other.

"There's a prospect of your amounting to something now," she heard Kate
say to Ernest one day. "You haven't been at all like yourself this
winter, and I just believe that college would have ruined you," she
continued frankly.

It was Kate who pointed out to Miss Theodora the perils that surrounded
a young man who was not very much interested in his work at Cambridge.

"Well, of course you ought to know, for you have a brother in college."

"Oh, dear me, Ernest and Ralph aren't a bit alike. Ernest would always
be different from Ralph, I should hope." For Kate and Ralph, since their
childhood, had gone on very different paths.

"No, I'm not afraid of Ernest's growing like Ralph; but I know that
Ernest is more easily influenced than you think, and it's a good thing
that he's going to have studies that will interest him." All of which
seemed to Miss Theodora to augur well for the plans which she had formed
for these two young people.

To Ernest Kate spoke even more frankly than to his aunt. "I knew that
you'd do it," she said, "and I feel almost sure that you'll make a great
man, and really you will be able to help your aunt much sooner than if
you began to study law. As soon as possible I want Cousin Theodora to
have lots of money. She won't accept anything from me, and you have no
idea how many things there are that she needs money for."

So Ernest, encouraged by the good opinion of the young woman he cared
most for, made less than he might have made of the older woman's
disappointment. He made less of it, perhaps, because, with the
confidence of youth, he believed the time near when she would admit that
he had done the very best thing for them both.



[Illustration]

XVIII.


Mrs. Fetchum pressed her face close to the window pane to watch Miss
Theodora enter her door.

"It seems to me Miss Theodora ain't quite as firm on her feet as she
used to be. Don't you think she stoops some?" she said to her husband.

"Miss Theodora's getting along," was the answer. "She's not as young as
she was."

"She isn't older than Mrs. Stuart Digby, but she's had a sight more
care. Well, speaking of angels, there she is now,"--and the good
woman's voice trembled with excitement as Mrs. Digby's victoria drew up
before Miss Theodora's door.

From time to time Mrs. Digby's horses scornfully pawed the pavement in
front of Miss Theodora's house, while the owner waited for her cousin to
get ready for the drive. Miss Theodora never greatly enjoyed these
drives, for a certain condescension in Mrs. Digby's manner always
disturbed her. She knew, too, that she was seldom invited unless the
latter had some object of her own to serve. On the present occasion they
were hardly seated in the carriage before the special purpose of this
drive was revealed.

"Kate is a great trial to me, Theodora. Would you believe, I can't get
her to take the least interest in society? Why, I couldn't make her go
to the cotillions this winter. With her bright manner she would be very
popular; and it's too provoking to think, after all the advantages
she's had, she fairly throws herself away on old ladies and colored
children,--and I do wish that you'd help me."

Miss Theodora trembled as if guilty herself of some misdeed. "What can I
do?" she asked faintly, knowing well enough that it was she who had
interested Kate in the Old Ladies' Home and the colored children.

Mrs. Digby seemed to read her thoughts. "Of course, I don't want her to
give up her reading to the old ladies altogether. But I do wish you
could make her realize her obligations to society. I can't myself. Why,
she refuses all invitations, and hardly ever goes even to her sewing
circle. The next thing she'll be taking vows at St. Margaret's or doing
something equally absurd."

Miss Theodora, though aware of the hopelessness of so doing, promised to
use her influence with Kate.

Mrs. Digby herself was born for society, and it was a trial even
greater than she had represented to Miss Theodora that her daughter
should be so indifferent to the great world.

"Kate has style," she said to her cousin, "and manner, and if she only
would exert herself to please my friends to the extent that she exerts
herself to please nobodies, I should have little to complain of. Poor
Stuart's death was very unfortunate, happening just the winter Kate was
ready to come out. It put an end, of course, to all the plans I had made
for her among the younger set. She didn't mind missing balls and parties
herself, for she never cared for that kind of thing; but I do think, now
that she is out of mourning, that she might take a little interest in
society, and at least accept some of the dinner invitations she has."

"But she does go out a good deal, doesn't she?" began Miss Theodora,
remembering some of Kate's humorous accounts of amusing episodes
connected with various little dinner parties she had attended.

"Oh, yes; I often insist on her going with me; and once in a while there
is some invitation she really wishes to accept. But it is the duty of a
girl of her age to be seen more in society; and I do wish that she could
be made to understand that she owes something to her position and to her
family."

"Well, I will speak to her," said Miss Theodora, "but I doubt if I can
influence her to any great extent."

"Indeed you can," responded Mrs. Digby. "You know how I feel, I am sure.
I don't want Kate to be an old maid, and she's older now than I was when
I married. Thus far, she has not had the slightest interest in any young
man, although she has plenty of admirers. Perhaps I ought to be thankful
for this, for it would be just in line with her general perversity for
her to fall in love with some thoroughly unsuitable person."

Possibly Miss Theodora, with Ernest ever in mind, was unusually
sensitive in detecting undue emphasis in Mrs. Digby's pronunciation of
"any" when she said that Kate had not the "slightest interest in any
young man." Or perhaps Mrs. Digby, too, had Ernest in mind when she made
this sweeping statement.

Two people could hardly be more unlike than Kate and her mother. Mrs.
Digby was of dark complexion, of commanding figure, though not over
tall, and she lived for society. Kate was blond, with a half-timid,
though straightforward air, and she was as anxious to keep far from the
whirl of things as her mother was to be active in her little set. Mrs.
Digby had worn heavy mourning for her husband the exact length of time
demanded by strict propriety. But just as soon as she could, she laid
aside her veil and, indeed, crepe in every form, and gave outer shape to
her grief by clothing herself in becoming black relieved by abundant
trimmings of dull jet.

"I could wish Mrs. Digby no worse punishment," said one of her intimate
enemies, "than to be condemned to attend a round of dinners in a
high-necked gown." From which it might truly be inferred that Mrs. Digby
herself was thought to have no mean opinion of Mrs. Digby arrayed in
conventional dinner attire. Yet her most becoming low-necked gown Mrs.
Digby could have given up almost more readily than the dinners which she
had to sacrifice in her year of mourning. She had been fond of her
husband, no one could deny that. But, after all, she missed him less
than the outside world thought she missed him. He and she had led
decidedly separate lives for many years before his death, and, indeed,
in the early years the stress of feeling had been more on his side than
on hers. She was not long, therefore, in returning to a round of gayety,
somewhat subdued, to be sure, but still "something to take me away from
myself and my grief," she occasionally said half-apologetically to those
who, like Miss Theodora, she knew must be surprised at her return to the
world. On this particular occasion, after making her request for Miss
Theodora's influence with Kate, she continued:

"If it were not for Ralph I do not know what I should do. He goes
everywhere with me, and is perfectly devoted to society. Now, in his
case, I almost hope he won't marry. I should hate to give him up to any
one else. But he is so fastidious that I know it will be some time
before he settles upon any one,--although I must say that he is a great
favorite."

This was the early autumn after Ralph's graduation. He had gone through
Harvard very creditably, and had even had honorable mention in history
and modern languages. Mrs. Digby, however, with all her pride in her
son, felt that the large income which he drew went for other than
legitimate college expenses. As a woman of the world, she said that
Ralph could not be so very unlike the men who were his associates, and
she knew that certain rumors about them and their doings could not be
wholly false. Nevertheless, she seldom reproved her son, and she even
took pride in his self-possessed and ultra-worldly manner. Surely that
kind of thing was infinitely better form than Kate's self-consciousness
and Puritan frankness.

Mrs. Digby graced a victoria even more truly than she graced a
low-necked gown. Indeed, to the many who, never having had the good
fortune to see her in a drawing-room, knew her only by name and sight
as she rolled through the streets, she and the victoria seemed
inseparable, a kind of modernized centaur. It was impossible for such
people to think of her in any other attitude than that of haughty
semi-erectness on the ample cushions of her carriage.

On this particular day, as Mrs. Digby drove down Beacon Street, and
thence by the river over the Milldam, she met many friends and bowed to
them.

"Who in the world has Mrs. Digby got with her today?" some of them would
ask their companions, in the easy colloquialism of every-day life.

"I haven't the faintest idea, but she's a rather out-of-date-looking old
person," was the usual reply, although occasionally some one would
identify Miss Theodora, usually adding: "I knew her when she was a girl,
but she's certainly very much changed. Well, that's what comes of living
out of the world."

These drives with Mrs. Digby always made Miss Theodora feel her own
loneliness. In this city--this Boston--which had always been her own
home and the home of her family, she had few friends. She could hardly
have known fewer people if living in a foreign city. It was therefore
with a start of relief that she heard Mrs. Digby exclaim:

"Why, there's Ernest, isn't it?"

Miss Theodora glanced ahead. Nearsighted though she was, she had no
trouble in recognizing her nephew's broad shoulders and swinging gait.
But the young man was not alone. He was walking rather slowly, and
bending toward a girl in a close-fitting tailor-made suit. It was the
end of October, too early for furs, yet the girl was anticipating the
winter fashions. One end of a long fuzzy boa flaunted itself over her
shoulder, stirred, like the heavy ostrich plumes in her hat, by the
afternoon breeze.

"It isn't Kate, is it?" said Miss Theodora, dubiously, as the carriage
drew near the pair.

"No, indeed, not Kate," quickly answered Mrs. Digby.

"I wonder who it can be," continued Miss Theodora, for she could not
help observing Ernest's tender air toward the girl.

"Oh, I'm sure I can't say, Theodora. It's certainly no one I know; but
Kate--or perhaps it was Ralph--has been saying something about a
flirtation of Ernest's with some girl he met somewhere last year." Then
seeing that Miss Theodora looked downcast: "Oh, it isn't likely it's
anything serious, Theodora; it's only what you must expect at his age,
and of course his interests are all so different now from what you had
expected, that it isn't surprising to find him flirting or falling in
love with girls whom you and I know nothing about."

By this time the carriage had passed the two young people, and Ernest
was so absorbed in his companion that he did not even see it rolling by.



[Illustration]

XIX.


Poor Miss Theodora! One walk on a public thoroughfare with a girl
heretofore unknown to one's relatives need not imply the surrender of a
young man's affections; but Ernest, so his aunt thought, was not like
other young men. He would be sincere in a matter of this kind. If his
interest in any girl had been so marked as to be a subject of comment
for Ralph and Kate, it must be known to many other people. Yet why had
Kate not spoken to her, as well as to her mother; or why had not Ernest
himself suggested the direction in which his fancy was wandering? Many
questions like these crowded Miss Theodora's mind, for which she had no
satisfactory answer. Strangest of all,--and she could hardly account for
her own reticence,--she said not a word to Kate nor to Ernest of all
this that lay so near her heart. If Ben had been at home, she might have
talked freely to him. He could have told whether or not Mrs. Digby's
surmises were correct. But Ben had been in the West for a year and a
half. If he had been at home, she thought, perhaps this would never have
happened. Yet, after all, what was the "this" which so disturbed Miss
Theodora's usually calm mind? What were the signs by which she
recognized that Ernest had secrets which he did not confide to her?

The signs, though few, to her were positive. Ernest had begun to take
more interest in society. While studying diligently, he also found time
for more or less gayety. In the left-hand corner of his top bureau
drawer there was a heap of dance programmes and progressive euchre
tally-cards. Kate had seen them one day when helping Miss Theodora put
Ernest's room in order. She had given a scornful "No" when the former
asked her if she had been at a dance whose date was indicated on a
certain programme.

"Of course, I know you seldom go to dances, but still I thought
perhaps--"

"Oh, Cousin Theodora, I haven't been at a dance this winter; and as to
these parties that Ernest has been going to--there was a set of them,
wasn't there? I really don't recognize the names of any of the
managers."

Now this reply was not reassuring to Miss Theodora, who had a vague hope
that Kate and Ernest met occasionally in society. Then Kate continued:

"Ernest is really growing very giddy. Just look at that heap of
neckties. I should say some of them had not been worn twice, and then he
has flung them down as if he didn't intend to wear them again."

Now in the midst of her railing, Kate stopped. In the back of the
drawer, behind the neckties, she had caught sight of a photograph,--it
was the face of a girl she had seen before,--and she closed the drawer
with a snap that made Miss Theodora look up quickly from her task of
dusting the books on Ernest's study table. Just then Diantha passed the
door.

"I've been telling Miss Theodora," she cried, with the familiarity of an
old servant, "I've been telling Miss Theodora that I believe Mast'
Ernest's in love. He don't spend much time with us now, and I reckon
'tain't study that takes him out every evening. I shouldn't wonder if
you knows more about it than we do,"--and Diantha rolled her large eyes
significantly at Kate.

But Kate was silent, and Miss Theodora was silent, and Diantha, with a
toss of the head and arms akimbo, passed on to her little attic room.
Nor when she was gone did the two ladies speak to each other of the
thing which lay so near their hearts.

Now, Miss Theodora, until driven thereto by Mrs. Digby, had never
contemplated the possibility of Ernest's taking a tender interest in any
one not approved by her. She had never resented Sarah Fetchum's
addressing him by his first name, even after he had entered college and
Sarah herself was almost through the Normal School. She could invite
Sarah and her intimate friend, Estelle Tibbits, to take tea with her
without any fear that Ernest would fall in love with either of them.

Unaware, apparently, of his aunt's solicitude, Ernest continued to mix a
little play with the hard work of his last year of study. Miss
Theodora, at least, had no reason to complain of neglect from him. He
went with her to the Old West Church on Sunday morning as willingly as
ever he had gone in the days of his childhood. Indeed, as a little boy
she had often had to urge him unduly to go with her, and sometimes he
would try to beg off with the well-worn plea that he "hated sermons."
Later, as they sat in the high-backed pew which they shared with the
Somersets, Miss Theodora would notice the boy's fair head moving
restlessly from side to side.

As years passed on Ernest grew as fond as his aunt of the old church,
with its plain white ceiling and gallery, supported by simple columns,
and its tablets in honor of men of a bygone age. If sometimes on Sunday
afternoons he went to Trinity Church, contented to stand for an hour in
the crowded aisle to hear the uplifting words of the great preacher, he
never made this later service an excuse for neglecting his aunt's
church. In this, as in almost all other matters in which she had marked
preferences, Ernest gave Miss Theodora little ground for complaint.

Toward the end of his Technology course Ernest made all his other
interests bend to study. No longer had he any evening engagements to
worry his aunt. He read late into the night. His thesis occupied most of
his day, for it involved an immense amount of practical work in a
factory out of town. As Miss Theodora observed his zeal, as she heard
reports of his good standing in his class, she could but contrast this
state of affairs with his unsatisfactory year at Harvard.



[Illustration]

XX.


"Isn't it perfectly splendid?" cried Kate, who, in spite of a general
precision of speech, was not above using an occasional superlative. Miss
Theodora had been less than human had she contradicted her young cousin,
whose words referred to Ernest's thesis. For, although it bristled with
scientific terms which they understood hardly as well as the majority of
his auditors, Miss Theodora and Kate listened eagerly to every word. "Of
course, you're proud of him; now you can't say you're not;"--and the
young girl gave her cousin's hand a squeeze which the elder woman
returned with interest. That his relatives were not partial was proved
by the newspapers the next morning, for they made especial mention of
Ernest, and said that he seemed likely to add new honors to the
distinguished name he bore. Though Miss Theodora would have preferred to
see Ernest in flowing gown on the Sanders Theatre platform, with the
Governor and his staff and distinguished professors and noted alumni in
the background, she did not express her regrets to Kate. A Harvard
Commencement is unlike any other, and Kate, who realized this as
strongly almost as Miss Theodora did, whispered, "Please don't think
you're sorry that it isn't a Harvard A. B."

How could any one who loved him be otherwise than happy to see Ernest in
so cheerful a mood, smiling at his aunt and Kate, bowing to Miss
Chatterwits, who had a good seat near the front? If only he had not
rushed up in one of the intermissions to speak to that piquant-looking
girl in the large white hat, whom Kate from a distance regarded with an
air of interest mixed with disdain.

After the excitement of this last day, Ernest, contrary to his usual
habit, was moody and restless. Miss Theodora watched him narrowly. She
had hoped when the pressure of work was removed that he would settle
down into calm ways, and put off as long as possible the inevitable
decision about his future career. Must he, she wondered, must he really
go to that great indefinite West, which years before had seemed the
grave of a large share of her happiness?

Ernest himself soon put an end to her wondering.

"Come, Aunt Teddy," he said one morning, drawing her beside him on the
massive sofa that faced the bookcase, with its rows of neglected law
books; "let us talk over my future. How soon can I go? I am lounging
about here too long."

"Go?" she queried. "Go where?"--though in her heart she knew very well.

"Now don't equivocate; it isn't natural for you, Aunt Theodora; you are
generally so straightforward. Don't you remember that I told you that I
might have a good offer to go to Colorado? Well, it has come."

Whereupon Ernest proceeded to read a letter offering him a definite
position and a stated salary with a certain mining company, and the
letter was signed "William Easton."

"Isn't it fine to have such a chance?" said the young man, looking up,
and noting a surprising change in his aunt's face. She had grown
extremely pale, and he saw that she was trembling.

"William Easton," she said, without answering his question; "how
strange!"

Then there flashed across Ernest's mind his cousin Richard's warning
against mentioning Mr. Easton to his aunt. Of course, the time for
silence on this point had now passed,--and he continued:

"Yes; perhaps I may not have mentioned Mr. Easton's name before; but I
didn't know that you would recall it. You've heard me speak of him, of
course, the president of the Wampum and Etna, whom I met on the
Altruria. He's as good as his word, and though I haven't heard from him
for two years, here's this letter offering me the very chance he said he
would give me--all on account of my father, I suppose. They must have
been greater friends than I thought,"--looking questioningly toward
Miss Theodora.

"Yes, they were great friends," answered she, "and I knew him very well
too, but I would almost rather not have you accept his offer."

"Just because I shall have to go so far away, I suppose. Now, what else
would you have me do?"

"Surely there are other chances in Boston. You can find something to do
here."

"If I could, I wouldn't," replied the young man. "Now, what would be the
sense in staying here? Of course, I could get something to do, there's
no doubt of that; but it would be wicked to refuse an offer like this."

"Why not begin here and gradually work up? We don't need so very much
money, Ernest--"

"Oh, Aunt Teddy, I do. What would you say if I told you I thought of
getting married?"

"You--you--get married!" and Miss Theodora actually blushed. Then
recollecting herself, "I am delighted," she said. "Kate is a dear girl.
Not a bit like her mother."

"Kate! It isn't Kate," stammered the young man; and Miss Theodora, with
a sudden revulsion of feeling, recalled many things that she had almost
forgotten. Much that she had not understood was now explained. There was
somebody, after all, whom Ernest cared for--and it wasn't Kate.

"Who is the young lady?" she asked with some dignity.

"Why, Eugenie. Haven't you heard me speak of Eugenie Kurtz?"

Miss Theodora shook her head.

"Of course," he said, "it isn't an engagement, or I would have told you
all about it or asked your advice, but it's all so uncertain. Her
father--"

"Who is her father?" asked Miss Theodora. "The name sounds familiar."

"Of course--you've seen it on his wagons, and I daresay you've been in
his shop, too. He's really the chief man in the firm, for, although his
partner's name stands first, Mr. Kurtz has really bought Brown out, all
but a small share."

Then Miss Theodora remembered one of the best known retail shops in the
city, whose growth from small beginnings was often quoted as a striking
example of American energy. She remembered, too, that one
partner--perhaps both--had been referred to as of humble origin. This
remembrance came to her in a flash, and she took up Ernest's last words:

"Her father--"

"Yes, her father," repeated the young man, "won't consent to an
engagement at present. I've got to show what I can do in the world, and
so I must go West, where I can have room enough to move around." And
then Ernest digressed into praise of Eugenie, her charms of person and
manner, her taste in dress, her ability in housekeeping, in which she
had had much experience since her mother's death. "You will call on her,
won't you?" he pleaded.

But Miss Theodora would say neither yes nor no, as he named the street
where Eugenie lived. She knew this street very well. She had passed
through it several times in the evenings with Ernest. She had never
liked it, this long, new street, with its blocks of handsome
bay-windowed houses. How seldom were the curtains in these bay-windows
drawn close! She could not think well of people who left their rooms
thus immodestly exposed to the gaze of passers-by. Brought up as she had
been to regard lamp-light as a signal for the closing of blinds and
curtains, she always turned her head away from the windows revealing
beyond the daintily shaded lamp a glimpse of rooms furnished much more
gorgeously than any to which she was accustomed. These unshaded windows
had always seemed to her typical of the lives, of the minds, of the
dwellers in the bay-windowed houses--no retirement, no privacy, all
show.

To think that Ernest's interests should have begun to mingle with those
of people whom she could never, never care to know! Miss Theodora
sighed. Perhaps it was the best thing after all for Ernest to go West.
Absence might make him forget Eugenie. "At his age," thought Miss
Theodora, "it is ridiculous for him to imagine himself in love."

Yet Ernest, though Miss Theodora knew it not, had been deeply in love
more than once before. There was that beautiful creature with the
reddish-brown hair--several years older than he, to be sure--whom he had
met on his passage back from Europe. What a joy it had been to walk the
deck with her, while she confided all her past and present sorrows to
him! He did not tell her his feelings then--she might have laughed at
him. Later, how his heart had palpitated as he crossed the little
square, past the diminutive statues of Columbus and Aristides, to call
on her at the home of the sisterhood where she thought of taking vows!
How well she looked in the severe garb of the order! so saintly, indeed,
did she appear as she swept into the bare room, that he made only a
short call, recrossing the square more in love than ever, though in a
sombre mood.

A few months after, when he heard of the would-be devotee's marriage to
old Abram Tinker, that crabbed millionaire, he was surprised to find
himself so little disturbed. His happy disposition gave cynicism no
place even for a foothold, and soon he barely remembered this little
episode in his life. Eugenie, indeed, seemed to him the only woman he
had ever cared for. He longed to talk about her to Kate, but something
prevented his opening his heart to the latter. Nor was his aunt ready to
listen to him. He was amazed to find her so unsympathetic. Her
opposition to his going to the West had, however, disappeared. She even
hastened his preparations, and bade him good-bye at the last with
unexpected cheerfulness.



[Illustration]

XXI.


Ernest, travelling West, had plenty of time to wonder if, after all, the
present satisfied him. His answer on the whole was "yes." He had little
to regret in the past; he was hopeful, he was positive about the future.
A classmate travelled with him as far as Chicago, and this part of the
journey, broken by a few hours' stay at Niagara, seemed short enough.
Chicago itself, with its general air of business bustle and activity,
opened a new world to him. At the head office of the Wampum and Etna,
where letters awaited him from Mr. Easton, he found himself at once a
man of consequence--no longer the student, little more than schoolboy,
that he had been so lately in the eyes of most persons. Here the clerks
in the office bowed deferentially; the agent consulted him; evidently
Mr. Easton intended to give him much responsibility.

In his day or two in the great city he drove or walked in the parks,
through the boulevards, and along the lake front. He grasped, as well as
he could in so short a time, the city's vastness, measured not alone by
extent of territory, by height of buildings, but by resources, the
amount of which he gathered from the fragments of talk that came to him
in his hurried interviews with various business men. Boston, looked at
with their eyes, through the large end of the telescope, was almost
lost in a dwindling perspective. The West End,--how trivial all its
interests! Miss Theodora, Kate, Miss Chatterwits, Diantha,--well, these
loomed up a little larger than the city itself; and Eugenie--ah! she
filled the field of the telescope, until Ernest could see little else.

After he had crossed the fertile fields of Illinois, and had watched the
green farms of Nebraska fade away into the dull brown, uncultivated
plains, he grew lonely, realizing how far he was from all that was
dearest to him. Would not Miss Theodora's heart have ached with a pain
deeper than that caused by this separation, could she have known that
all her years of devotion were obscured by the glamor of that one bright
year in which Ernest had felt sure of Eugenie's love.

As he looked from the car window across the wide stretch of open
country, where the only objects between his eye and the distant horizon
were a canvas-covered wagon or a solitary horseman, Ernest had more than
enough time for reflection. Would Eugenie be true to him? Of course;
surely that was not a doubt tugging at his heart-strings. Would her
father be more reasonable? His brow darkened a little as he thought of
his last interview with Mr. Kurtz.

"No," the latter had said decidedly; "it is not worth while to talk of
an engagement. Time enough for that when you have shown what you can do.
As I understand it, you have no special prospects at present. At least,
it's to be proved whether you'll succeed in the West. I've known a good
many people to fail out there. I can't have Eugenie bound by an
indefinite engagement. I've worked hard for her, and she's used to
everything. What could you give her? If Eugenie married tomorrow, she'd
want just as much as she has to-day. She isn't the kind of a girl to
live on nothing but love. I've talked with her, and know how she
feels."

This last sentence had made Ernest shiver, and now, as it recurred to
him, he again wondered if, after all, Eugenie was less in earnest than
he.

He recalled the dignity with which Mr. Kurtz had drawn himself up as he
said:

"Besides, I'm not going to have Eugenie go into a family likely to look
down on her." Then, paying no attention to Ernest's protests, "Oh, yes,
I know what I'm talking about. I haven't done business in Boston for
nothing these forty years without knowing what they call the difference
between people. It isn't much more than skin deep, but they feel it, all
your people. I'm a self-made man, and I'm not ashamed of it. I don't ask
any favors of any one, and I don't want any--and I'm not anxious to have
my daughter go among people who will look down on her."

"But my people are so few," poor Ernest had said. "My aunt--"

"Oh, your aunt--yes--people respect her, and she's very good to the
poor; but she was born in Boston, and she don't believe in marrying out
of her set any more than if she was a Hindoo--unless she's made
different from most Boston men and women. I know that I'm made of the
same flesh and blood as the rest of them. But then I wasn't born in
Boston, and perhaps my eyesight is clearer on that account. At any rate,
I'm going to do my duty by Eugenie."

Then Ernest, reflecting on this conversation, from which he had gleaned
so little comfort, fell asleep, and when he awoke in the morning they
were not so very far from Denver. Far, far ahead, across the great
plateau, an irregular dark line showed clear against the morning sky.
"The Rockies," some one cried, and then he felt half like crying, half
like turning back. His new life had almost begun, and he was hardly
ready for it.

Could Ernest have known Mr. Kurtz's true state of mind, he would have
had less reason for downheartedness. Eugenie's father saw in the young
man more promise than he cared to express. He liked Ernest's frankness
in speaking of his prospects; and he knew that he was no fortune hunter.

By her friends Eugenie was called the most "stylish" girl of her set.
Always sure to be the leader's partner at the numerous Germans which
were then so in vogue, she was certainly popular. With no wish
ungratified by her father, she might have been more selfish than she
was. It is true that she always had her own way, but then, as she said,
when her father complained of this, "My own way is just as apt to
benefit other people as myself." Without planning any beneficences, she
did many little kindnesses to her friends. She had to have a companion
when she went to Europe, and so, although a chaperone had been already
provided, Mr. Kurtz cheerfully paid the expenses of a girl friend of
hers, who otherwise would have been unable to go; and many other similar
things added to her popularity.

After a year at a finishing school in New York, she had returned home,
to find out that popularity in a small set is not everything. Some
persons said that a desire to climb had led her to single out Ernest for
especial favor. His name would be an open sesame to a great many Boston
doors.

The little circles of rich, self-made men, self-satisfied women in which
she moved did not touch that one in which she knew Ernest rightfully
belonged. When, innocently enough, Ernest would speak of some invitation
he had received, or would mention familiarly some one whose name for her
had a kind of sacredness, all this was like a drop from Tantalus' cup
for poor Eugenie.

But Ernest, measuring himself by his lack rather than by his
possessions, never associated worldliness with Eugenie. He was
captivated by her beauty, by her vivacity, by her brilliancy in
repartee--Miss Theodora would have called the last "pertness." She spoke
to him of his aunt, whom she knew by sight, wished that she might know
her, and asked more about Kate Digby, who, Ernest said, was just like a
sister to him.

"I should like to meet her," said Eugenie; and Ernest, before he left
the city, had asked Kate to call on her.

A curious expression, which he could not quite read, came over Kate's
face as she replied, "Really, I don't believe I can, Ernest; I haven't
time enough now to call on half the girls I know. There are a dozen
sewing circle calls that I've owed for a year, and it wouldn't be worth
while to begin with any new people."

Nor, with all his attempts at persuasion, could Ernest get Miss
Theodora to take the least interest in Eugenie.

"You know what I think about the whole matter," she said. "I won't dwell
on my disappointment, but it will be time enough for me to know her when
you are really engaged."

What wonder that Ernest, nearing Denver, felt disheartened, oppressed by
his aunt's opposition, and the indefiniteness of his relations with
Eugenie.



[Illustration]

XXII.


Miss Theodora watered the morning-glories in the little yard behind the
house with sighs, if not with tears. It was a poor little garden, this
spot of greenery in the desert of back yards on which her windows
looked. The flowers which she cultivated were neither many nor rare.
Nasturtiums, sweet peas and morning-glories were dexterously trained to
hide the ugliness of the bare brown fence. She had a number of hardy
geraniums and a few low-growing things between the geraniums and the
border of mignonette which edged the long, narrow garden bed. In one
corner of the yard there was the dead trunk of a pear tree, whose
crookedness Miss Theodora had tried to hide by trying to make a
quick-growing vine climb over it. Curiously enough, all these attempts
had been unsuccessful, and Ernest, commenting thereon, had said,
laughingly:

"Why, yes, Aunt Theodora, that stump is so ugly that not even the kitten
will climb over it."

Nevertheless, there had been a time when the tree was full of leaves,
and Miss Theodora, glancing at it now, a month after her nephew's
departure, sighed, as she recalled how Ernest and Kate had loved to sit
in its shade. Sometimes they had played shop there, when Ernest was
always the clerk and Kate the buyer; but more often they had sat quietly
on warm spring afternoons, while Ernest read and Kate cut out paper
dolls from the fashion plates of an old magazine. Indeed, there were few
things in the house or out of it that did not remind Miss Theodora of
these two young people. How could she bear it, then, that their paths
were to lie entirely apart?

Did Kate feel aggrieved at Ernest's attachment to "that girl," as Miss
Theodora always characterized Eugenie? She wondered if she herself had
been too stern in her attitude toward Ernest's love affair. She had not
been severe with Ernest,--she deserved credit for that, she said to
herself,--yet she recalled with a pang his expression of dismay when she
had said, "Really, Ernest, you cannot expect me to call on Miss--Miss
Kurtz; at least, not at present."

She had excused herself by reflecting that he was not old enough to
decide in a matter of this kind. It was very different from letting him
choose his own profession,--though she was beginning to think that even
in this matter she had made a mistake. If he had stayed at Cambridge he
might never have met Eugenie Kurtz.

She had yielded to Ernest in the former case largely from a belief,
founded on many years' observation, that half the unhappiness of middle
life comes from the wrong choice of a career. She had seen men of the
student temperament ground down to business, and regretting the early
days when they might have started on a different path. She had noticed
lawyers and clergymen who were better fitted to sell goods over a
counter, and she had begun to think that medicine was the only
profession which put the right man in the right place. This had
influenced her in letting Ernest choose his own career.

But now, surely the time had come for her to be firm. Marriage--other
mistakes might be rectified, but you could never undo the mischief
caused by an ill-considered marriage. Oh, how happy she might have
been, if only Ernest and Kate were to be married. Well, it was not too
late yet, and it seemed more than probable that her own stern attitude
might help to bring about the desired result--a breaking off of his
attachment to "that girl."

The more she thought about Ernest and Kate the more confused grew poor
Miss Theodora. She trained up some wandering tendrils of morning-glory,
and with relief heard Diantha saying, respectfully:

"Mr. Somerset's in the house, ma'am. He's been waiting some time."

She set her watering-pot down hastily on the ground beside her. Here was
some one whose advice she could safely ask. She had not seen Richard
Somerset since Ernest went away in June,--not, indeed, since he had made
the important announcement.

"I think myself," said her cousin, after they had talked for some time
about Ernest's professional prospects, and had begun to touch on the
other matter, "I think myself that you make a mistake in not calling on
the girl--no matter how the affair turns out. It would please Ernest,
and it couldn't do much harm. I've come to think that the more you fall
in with a young man's ideas at such a time, the more likely he is to
come around in the end to your way of thinking. For all Ernest is so
gentle, he's pretty determined--just like John. You know he never could
be made to give up a thing when once he'd set his mind on it."

"Yes, I know," responded Miss Theodora mildly.

"Well," continued her cousin, "I'm not sure but that you are making a
mistake in this case. Now, really, I don't believe that the girl or her
people are half bad. It's surprising occasionally to find some of these
people one don't know not so very different from those we have been
brought up with. I remember when I was on one of those committees for
saving the Old South, a man on the committee who lived up there at the
South End invited us to meet at his house. Now, he gave us a supper that
couldn't have been surpassed anywhere. The silver and china were of the
best, and everything in the house was in perfectly good form,--fine
library, good pictures, and all,--and positively the most of us had
never heard of the fellow until we met him on that committee. Well, I
dare say it's a good deal the same way with this Kurtz."

Almost unconsciously Miss Theodora raised her hand in deprecation.

"Yes," he went on, "naturally you don't want to think about it at
present; but he's made a lot of money, and the East India trade that set
up some of our grandfathers wasn't so very different from his business.
Besides, Mr. Kurtz has some standing. I see he's treasurer for the Home
for Elderly and Indigent Invalids,--and that means something. Think it
over, Theodora, and don't let any girl come between you and Ernest."

Much more to the same purpose said Richard Somerset, thereby astonishing
his cousin. To her he had always seemed conservatism embodied. But he
had not lived in the midst of a rapidly growing city without feeling the
pulse of the time. While his own life was not likely to be affected by
the new ideas which he had begun to absorb, he was not afraid to give
occasional expression to them. Richard Somerset was several years older
than Miss Theodora. In early life he had had the prospect of inheriting
great wealth. With no desire for a profession, he let his taste turn in
the direction of literary work. He had large intentions, which he was in
no haste to carry out. With letters to several eminent men in England,
France and Germany, he, as soon as he was graduated, started on a
European tour. He studied in a desultory way at one or two great
universities, enjoyed foreign social life of the quiet and professional
kind, and acquired colloquial ease in two or three modern languages.
Then his tour, which had lasted nearly three years, was cut short by his
father's death. For several years afterward, with large business
interests to look after, he had scant time for literary work. He
managed, however, to bring out one historical monograph--a study of
certain phases of Puritan life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Thereafter, no other book came from his pen, though he contributed
occasional brief articles to a well-known historical magazine, and over
the signature of "Idem" sent many communications of local interest to a
certain evening paper of exclusive circulation.

Finally Richard Somerset found himself so immersed in business that he
ceased even to aspire to literary renown. But he continued to read
voraciously, and at length, when the great fire swept away the two large
buildings which he and his sister owned, he was less disturbed than he
ought to have been.

His sister, however, took this loss to heart. She had married when not
very young a man with no money, and had found herself not so very long
afterwards a widow with two daughters to educate according to the
station--as she said--in which Providence had placed them.

To make up, to an extent at least, for her loss, her brother surrendered
a good share of the income remaining to him. He did this with a secret
satisfaction not entirely due to the fact that he was helping his
sister. He felt that he was paying a kind of premium for the freedom
from care which the burning up of his property had brought him. He paid
the premium cheerfully, betook himself to a sunny room in a house not
far from the Athenaeum, and thereafter devoted himself to his books. His
day was regularly divided; a certain amount of time to eating, sleeping,
exercise, and to society, including the Club, for he was no hater of his
fellow men and women--and a certain amount of time to the Athenaeum. At
first he had intended to resume his historical research. But the
periodical room of the Athenaeum at length claimed the most of his time.
He read English newspapers, French reviews and American magazines, and
this in itself was an occupation. Yet sometimes as he sat near one of
the windowed alcoves, and looked out over the old graveyard, his
conscience smote him.

When he saw the sunshine filtering through the overhanging boughs of the
old trees upon the gray gravestones, his thoughts were often carried
back to that historic past, in which he had once had so much interest.
Then, as he glanced past the pyramidal Franklin monument, noting the
busy rush of life in the great thoroughfare on the other side of the
high iron fence, he would ponder a little over the contrasts between the
Boston of today and the Boston of the past. His reflections if put on
paper would have been valuable.

As it was, he did no more than give occasional expression to his views
when among his intimate friends. He realized, nevertheless, that from
them he received but scant sympathy. Like most persons with original
ideas, he was thought to be just a little peculiar.

"Queer, you know; never sees things just as we do; but still awfully
sensible," some of the club men would say, without observing the
contradiction implied in this speech.

Yet in spite of an occasional criticism of this kind Richard Somerset
was admittedly a popular man, constantly consulted in matters where
real judgment was the chief requisite. In emergencies, when special
committees were formed to attend to things philanthropic or literary, he
was always the first man thought of as a suitable member.

Miss Theodora often wondered what she should have done without him; but
reflecting long over this his latest advice about her attitude toward
Eugenie, she felt not wholly satisfied.



[Illustration]

XXIII.


Ben was again in Boston. A position on the staff of a great railroad had
been offered him, and Boston for some time would be his headquarters. He
was not sorry to be at home. His mother and father seemed to him to be
growing less capable. His sisters needed him, and his salary was large
enough to enable him to do for them the many little things that add so
much to young girls' pleasure.

To Miss Theodora his return was almost as great a boon as to his own
family. At least once a day he called to see what he could do for her,
and usually he went within the house to have a little chat with her. It
was not strange that they talked chiefly of Ernest. Ben's nature was
strongly sympathetic, and he knew what subject lay nearest Miss
Theodora's heart. Yet he disturbed her by telling her plainly that he
really thought that she ought to take some notice of Eugenie.

"But they're not engaged," apologized Miss Theodora, who discerned in
Ben a feeling that she was unjust to Ernest.

"I know they're not," he replied; "but it's much the same thing as if
they were. Ernest won't change, and her father will soon give his
consent."

Yet Miss Theodora could not get herself into a relenting mood, though
Ben, like Richard Somerset, added to her confusion.

Sometimes when Ben called at Miss Theodora's he found Kate there. In her
presence little was said about Ernest, and nothing about Eugenie.

He had thought himself almost disloyal to Kate when he had asked Miss
Theodora to recognize Eugenie. His only defence was his friendship for
Ernest, and he was pleased enough that Ernest had never sought his
advice in this love affair of his. How could he have counselled Ernest
to be more appreciative of Kate without disclosing his view of her
feelings, and how could he have encouraged Ernest in his love for
Eugenie without being disloyal to Kate?

But what was Ernest made of, he queried, to pass Kate by for a girl like
Eugenie, well enough in her way, perhaps, but oh! so different from
Kate? Then, as he glanced at the latter, he could but wonder if certain
changes which he noticed in her--a quietness of expression, an unwonted
slowness of response, so unlike her former habit of repartee--were
induced by regret at this new turn in Ernest's affairs. It was a matter
about which he himself could say nothing. His own feeling for her was
now too strong. He wondered if any one would even suspect how much he
had cared for Kate. Kate of course must never know. He would not run the
risk of destroying their friendship by rash expressions of a regard
warmer than she had dreamed of. Surely he was not presumptuous in
believing that Kate valued this friendship. Certainly there was no one
else to whom he could open his own heart as freely as to her; and he
flattered himself that she confided not a little in him. This autumn she
had come to town in advance of her mother, and was spending a month
with Miss Theodora. He saw her often, therefore, sometimes when he
called at Miss Theodora's, sometimes in one of the neighboring side
streets, on her way, as he usually thought, to visit some of her colored
beneficiaries.

Ben knew that Kate, since she had come of age, had spent no small share
of her income in furthering schemes for the improvement of various poor
people. Some of these schemes he fully approved; others seemed to him of
doubtful value. Yet his disapproval, though he might not have admitted
it to himself, was based on no firmer ground than his wish that Kate, as
far as possible, should be spared the sight and knowledge of
disagreeable things.

Meeting her one day, "It seems to me that you are always running away
from Miss Theodora's," he had said in a tone of mock reproof.

"Oh, well, only when I go to my cooking class. You see, it's such
fascinating work, and the new teacher doesn't get on with those children
half as well as I do. She's a good teacher, but it's the human nature,
the black human nature, that she does not exactly understand. When
things are running smoothly I don't expect to see her more than once or
twice a week."

"Once or twice a week," echoed Ben, "about twice as often as you ought
to inhale the odors of Phillips Street."

"Oh, nonsense, you should see our room, as clean and bright as fresh
paint and paper can make it, with its perfectly ideal arrangements in
the shape of stove and dishes."

Ben smiled, though not exactly in approval. Yet more and more he
realized her power in the neighborhood.

"See that new machine," said Miss Chatterwits, when he called on her one
day, and she pointed proudly to a new combination of polished wood and
shining metal. "Well, Kate bought me that. She gives me a good deal of
fine sewing to do, and thought this machine would be handier than my old
one, which I'd had--well, I won't say how long, but almost ever since
they were first made. It had grown kind of rickety, and hadn't any
modern improvements."

"This one looks as if it could do almost everything," said Ben, glancing
at it a second time.

"Well, I do get a sight of comfort with it. Kate, or p'r'aps I ought to
say Miss Digby, allows me so much a week, and expects to have all my
time. She has me do white stitching for her,--which I always do by
hand,--and make garments of various kinds for her poor people, which I
do on the machine." Miss Chatterwits said "poor people" in a very
dignified tone. She was never quite sure that she enjoyed sewing for
these dependents.

"You must be kept pretty busy, then," responded Ben.

"Well, not so busy as I might be," she answered. "Some weeks there's
very little for me to do. But I get my money just the same," she added
quickly. "To tell you the truth, I guess Kate wanted to keep me out of
the Old Ladies' Home, where I certainly should be living this very
minute if she hadn't planned things out for me. Of course you wouldn't
mention this to any one else;"--and she looked at Ben earnestly, for she
suddenly remembered that the outside world did not know of this little
arrangement.

"Of course I won't mention it," said the young man; "but it's just like
Kate, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is; you see, she found out just how I was situated after my
sisters died. There wasn't a cent of our savings left, and people began
to get so dressy that they thought they had to have their things made
out of the house, or employ young women. Not that I couldn't have done
as well as anybody, with the help of paper patterns, but people didn't
think so, and I was at my wits' end. What to do I didn't know--"

"There was Miss Theodora," began Ben.

"Yes, she was ready enough, and she kept me along with the little work
she had. But Kate herself kind of interfered with that. She said Miss
Theodora had worn old clothes long enough, and she some way persuaded
her to get that dress for Ernest's graduating exercises made down town.
Well, it seems a pity, when Miss Theodora's got almost a whole trunk of
things to be cut over, that she shouldn't use them up. However, just
when I was at my wits' end, Kate came along, and says she: 'How much
ought you to earn every week to live comfortably? I'll add a third to
that if you'll save all your time for me; I see that I'll have to have
lots of sewing done the next year or two;'--and though I knew it was me
she was thinking of more than herself, I was glad enough to say 'yes' to
her offer."

After this Miss Chatterwits wondered how she had happened to open her
heart so to Ben. A third person would have accounted for it by the fact
that Ben and Miss Chatterwits were both deeply interested in the same
object.



[Illustration]

XXIV.


Henceforth, after his conversation with Miss Chatterwits, Ben was more
attentive to her than he had ever been before. When he met her he always
accompanied her to the door, and if she had been at the grocer's or the
baker's, he insisted on carrying her parcels.

"I used to think it was very shiftless to buy bakers' bread," she said
one day, apologizing for the large loaf which Ben had transferred under
his own arm. "But it ain't shiftless when you're only one. It wouldn't
pay me to have a regular baking. The bread would get stale before I
could eat it all,"--to which Ben assented.

"Ben always was a good boy," she confided to a neighbor, "which it isn't
to be wondered at when you remember who his great-grandfather was. It
isn't every young man, especially with as good a position as he's got,
would walk up the street with an old woman like me." She appreciated his
kindness the more because the rising generation of the neighborhood paid
very little attention to her. They beheld only a little old woman,
somewhat bent in the back, with sparse, gray curls, queer clothes, and
an affected walk, instead of the dignified person, as she pictured
herself to be, whose acquaintance with better days gave her an elegance
of aspect which the boys ought at least to respect.

Ben, therefore, realizing that the little woman was always glad to see
him, made her frequent, if brief, calls. Sometimes he carried her a
book, or some fruit, or at least a breath of news from the outside
world--which she liked to hear about, even while professing to despise
it. Perhaps Ben was not altogether single-minded in this matter--who of
us is absolutely single-minded about anything? Perhaps he visited Miss
Chatterwits as much to hear her talk about Kate as to give pleasure to
the old lady herself.

Perhaps Miss Chatterwits, reading his mind better than he did himself,
often talked purposely of the subject that lay so very near his heart.
It was certainly no accident when she turned nervously to Ben one day
with the words:

"There's something I feel's if I ought to tell you;"--and the young man
rose from the little wooden rocker in which he had vainly tried to look
comfortable, saying cheerfully:

"Is there? Well, do tell me."

Then Miss Chatterwits bridled a little, and blushed, and said: "Well,
of course, there's some people that think an old maid hasn't any real
knowledge of matters relating to the affections"--she did not exactly
like to come out broadly with "love affairs"--"but, so far as I'm
concerned myself, I know pretty well what's going on around me and how
people feel about most things--though I don't always tell what I know."

Then Ben felt himself growing a little uncomfortable, while the blood
rushed to his face. It was leap year, but surely Miss Chatterwits was
not going to wax sentimental toward him. She did not leave him long in
doubt.

"As I tell Kate," she continued, "people don't always know the exact
state of their own feelings. She thinks she'll be an old maid, but she's
making a mistake if she thinks she'd be happier,--not that I haven't got
along well enough myself. But Kate isn't calculated to live alone.
Someway she and her mother ain't very congenial, and I guess Ralph's
rather domineering. I know he's tried to stop some of her cooking
classes--and--"

Here Miss Chatterwits stopped--and then began to talk again.

"Ben, you know that photograph that you and Ernest had taken in a
group--Ernest on his bicycle, and you standing alongside?"

"Oh, a little tintype."

"Yes, so it was. I guess it's six or seven years since it was taken."

"Yes, it must be."

"Well, one day I'd been fitting on something for Kate, and she left her
watch behind. There was a little locket hanging to the end of it, and I
went to pick the watch up; it caught on the handle of a drawer, and as I
pulled it it accidentally jerked open, and there, inside that locket,
was that picture."

"Oh, my dear Miss Chatterwits, it was too large to go inside any
locket."

"Oh, I don't mean the whole picture, but the head--your head--it had
been cut clear off. There was your head in Kate's locket."

Ben looked annoyed. He felt that something had been told him which he
had no right to hear. He did not know what to say.

"I'm losing my own head," he murmured; but to Miss Chatterwits--putting
on a bold face--he said: "Oh, you must have seen Ernest's picture; you
know we look alike;"--and he laughed, for no two faces could be more
unlike.

But Miss Chatterwits shook her head. "Oh, no; I'm not blind. There's
many other things I could tell you, too; but I speak for your own good,
for I'm most as fond of you as I am of Kate."

With these mysterious words, she opened the door for Ben, who seemed in
haste to go, to ponder perhaps what she had said, or to put it out of
his mind,--which, Miss Chatterwits wondered as he left her.

In suggesting to Ben what she believed to be Kate's feeling toward him,
Miss Chatterwits was governed by various motives. Chief, probably, was
her belief that her interference was really for Kate's good. "I wish
that somebody had ever interfered for me," she said to herself, thinking
of the one young man who had ever interested her, who she really
believed had been prevented only by bashfulness from reciprocating her
feelings. "I believe it's the duty of older people to try to bring
things about," she thought. "At any rate, I don't believe Kate could be
offended at what I said. I know when people are just fitted for each
other. Miss Theodora don't understand about those things. She's all
wrong about it's being Ernest and Kate. She isn't observing. Mrs. Stuart
Digby would a sight rather it had been Ernest than Ben, little as she
cared for Ernest; and I'd be glad enough to help on things, just for
the sake of bothering Mrs. Digby. She never looks my way when she meets
me, and I did hear that she told Kate she wished she wouldn't come to
see me so much. Well, it's easier to look behind you than ahead, and
I'll not say another word to Ben or Kate, but I'll wait and see."

Ben tried to attach no importance to what Miss Chatterwits had said.

"Suppose Kate does wear my picture in her locket--we're very old
friends, and that does not signify anything."

The next day he chanced to meet Kate at the crowded Winter Street
crossing, after she had been shopping. Even as he piloted her across the
street, threading his way under the very feet of the car and carriage
horses, his eye fell on the old-fashioned locket dangling from her fob.

"Whose picture have you in that locket? Whose picture have you in that
locket?" echoed itself in a dangerous refrain in his mind, until he
feared that he should utter the words aloud.

It was a clear, crisp afternoon; the few autumn leaves that had fallen
cracked under their feet; the afternoon sun shone on the State House
dome until it looked itself like a second sun.

"Did you ever know so delightful a day?" said Kate.

"Never," said Ben positively. They took the longest way home, skirting
the edge of the Frog Pond; and then--what would Mrs. Digby have
said?--they sat down on a settee.

Except for some small boys on the opposite shore sailing a refractory
toy boat, they were almost alone, though in the very heart of the city.
Kate gazed abstractedly at the clear reflection of the tall trees in the
mirror before them. She dared not look at Ben, for she felt his eyes
upon her, and this knowledge made her heart beat uncomfortably.

She fingered nervously the little package that she had brought from
down town, and tried to think of something to say to break the spell.
Ben saw that she avoided his eyes, and after waiting vainly for a glance
from her, he could bear the strain no longer. Speak he must, and would.
For what reason could Kate have for treasuring that memento of himself,
if it were not that?--

"Kate," he cried, leaning toward her, while the refrain in his brain
found vent at last in words, "whose picture have you in that locket?"

Kate started violently, grasping the locket, as if detected in some
crime.

"Why do you ask?" she said, facing him resolutely, her cheeks crimson,
her eyes bright. But her voice trembled, and Ben, with a lover's
perception, taking courage from these signs, laid his hand gently on
hers and drew the tell-tale locket from her unresisting grasp.

"Shall I open it, Kate?" he said slowly. "Remember, it will be my
answer." She looked into his eyes at last, and--well--what the answer
was he read there you or I need not inquire. It is enough to know that
half an hour later Ben and Kate walked homeward, apparently unconscious
of everything but each other's existence. They even passed by one or two
acquaintances without bowing, although without great effort they really
could have seen them perfectly well.

When they reached Miss Theodora's door they stood for a minute looking
down the hill.

"How blue the water is!" said Kate, gazing at the river, "and what an
exquisite tint in the sky! Did you ever see anything so lovely?"

"Yes, I see something far lovelier now," said Ben, regarding Kate
herself intently. Her face seemed to reflect the ruddy tint she admired.

"I meant the sunset," she said firmly.

"I should call it sunrise," smiled Ben,--and thus they entered the
house.



[Illustration]

XXV.


Poor Miss Theodora! She could never have imagined herself so indifferent
to anything that concerned Kate as she was at first to the news of her
engagement. But at length, after she had several times seen Kate and Ben
together, she wondered that she had not long before realized their
fitness for each other. Perhaps, after all, she had made a mistake in
believing that Kate and Ernest could have been happy together.
Certainly, she had been very blind in her estimate of Kate's feelings.

She never knew, for pride forbade the young girl to dwell on the rather
painful subject, how difficult it was for Kate and Ben to gain Mrs.
Digby's consent to their engagement. It could hardly be said, indeed,
that she gave her consent. She simply submitted to the inevitable. Kate
was of age, and had her own money, an independence, if not a fortune;
and Mrs. Digby, after using every argument, decided to make the best of
what she could not help. Ralph, at least, would commit no social folly
like this of his sister's--Ralph, that model of discretion and mirror of
good form. She did not even, as Miss Theodora had dreaded, reprove her
cousin for allowing this love affair to develop unchecked by her.
Whatever she may have thought of Miss Theodora's blindness, she decided
to make Kate's engagement a family affair--an affair of her own small
family, in which, apparently, she intended not to include her cousin.

Then Miss Theodora, feeling her heart soften as she watched Kate and
Ben, wondered if she had not been too hard with Ernest. Ought she not to
show some interest in Eugenie? Though this query never shaped itself in
words spoken to Kate or any one else, it pressed itself upon her
constantly. A sentence from Ernest's last letter haunted her: "I cannot
be perfectly happy until I know that you and Eugenie have met. She has
not written to me for some time, and I am almost sure this is because
she is so much hurt at the coldness of my relatives. I did expect
something different from you and Kate."

This letter touched Miss Theodora more than a little; but Kate made no
response when her cousin read it to her. Though she could not tell
exactly why, Kate's silence annoyed her. She even began to wonder what
she should wear when she made the first call, and she recalled all
Ernest had said about Eugenie's critical taste in dress. She was glad
that Kate had insisted on her having an autumn street gown made at a
fairly fashionable dressmaker's.

Miss Chatterwits happened to be sewing at Miss Theodora's on the day
when the latter made her decision about Eugenie.

In spite of the new dressmaker, Miss Theodora still had some work for
the old seamstress. Her method of working always afforded Kate great
amusement.

For, as she talked, the points of a dozen pins projected from between
her teeth, where she held them for convenience. She still wore close to
her side the self-same little brown velvet cushion, or it looked like
the same one, which had always astonished Ernest by its capacity. Though
it was hardly an inch thick, Miss Chatterwits had a habit of running
into its smooth surface long darning needles and shawl pins, as well as
fine needles and pins. What became of them was always a matter of deep
conjecture to Ernest, for they were sometimes embedded until neither
head nor eyes could be seen. It seemed as if they must have pierced Miss
Chatterwits' bony waist. Could she possibly be so thin as not to have
any flesh to feel the pricks? Bones, of course, have no feeling, used to
think Ernest, watching with a kind of fascination each motion of Miss
Chatterwits' hand, as she thrust half a dozen long pins into the
unresisting cushion.

On this important day when Miss Theodora began to feel a change of heart
toward Eugenie, she sat down to help Miss Chatterwits with her work.

"There's a morning paper," said the seamstress. "Tom Fetchum handed it
to me on his way down town; said he had read it all but the deaths and
marriages, which he knew I'd like to see. I ain't had time to look at it
yet, so you might read them to me, Miss Theodora."

Miss Theodora, putting on her glasses, turned to the appointed place.

"Not a soul I know among those deaths! I'm disappointed," said Miss
Chatterwits, after Miss Theodora had read the list. "Why, what is it?"
she added; for Ernest's aunt was looking up with a curiously dazed
expression, as she handed the paper to Miss Chatterwits, and pointed to
a brief notice:

"KURTZ--DIGBY.--At Troy, N. Y., on the 24th inst., by Rev. John Brown,
Eugenie, daughter of Simon Kurtz of Boston, to Ralph, son of the late
Stuart Digby of the same city."

"Well, I never!" said Miss Chatterwits. "An elopement, I do believe! I'm
glad I'm most through this skirt, so's I can run over to Mrs. Fetchum's
and tell her. I guess she didn't read the paper very carefully this
morning. If she'd seen it she'd 'a' been over here to find out how we
took it. It's always safe to read the papers.

"Well, how do you feel, Miss Theodora?" she asked at last.

But Miss Theodora never told any one exactly how she felt when she heard
of the strange ending of Ernest's love affair. To Ernest, of course, she
gave a full measure of sympathy; and she was almost sorry that, as
things had turned out, he would never know that she had made up her mind
to make Eugenie's acquaintance. Since she had, though for only a brief
time, almost changed her point of view, she felt herself to be
hypocritical in receiving his praise for her acumen: "You knew better
than I what she was like."

Kate was indignant at her brother's treachery.

"I shall never forgive him for deceiving Ernest so. But I can't say that
I'm surprised. I knew that she and Ralph had had a great flirtation even
before she met Ernest. It was that which made me so unwilling to call
on her. But I never thought that Ralph would marry her. Mamma, I
believe, is going to receive her as if everything had been perfectly
above board. But I know it's only pride that leads her to take this
stand. She really feels the whole thing very keenly."

Ben, when he heard of the elopement, could not help recalling the
episode of the stolen skates, and he wondered if Ralph had made love to
Eugenie from the mischievous motives by which he had so often in their
boyhood allowed himself to be influenced against Ernest. If so, he was
likely to be the meter out of his own punishment. For a bride stolen
merely to annoy another person is likely to make more trouble than any
other stolen possession.

Strangely enough, Ernest himself recovered most quickly from the
mortification of the whole affair. There was at first the shock to his
pride, mingled with contempt for the deceit practised on him by Ralph
and Eugenie. But he was so young as to recover quickly, and the element
of contempt helped him to brush the whole matter aside.

You, perhaps, may think less well of Ernest for finding consolation so
readily, but you must remember that he never was a sentimentalist.
Moreover, neither you nor I may know exactly what the workings of his
mind may have been. Doubtless there was many a sleepless night, and many
a bitter tear, before he was ready to show a stern front to the world.
In Boston it might have been a much harder thing for him to bear the
blow which fate had leveled at him. After all, Massachusetts and
Colorado are far apart; and if propinquity is fate bearing, distance and
separation are more destructive of sentimental illusions than the
average sentimentalist admits. In Ernest's case, hard work was
absorbing, and even Grace Easton, William Easton's pretty young
daughter, was a long time in winning the place which she afterward held
in his heart.



[Illustration]

XXVI.


You who look at the simple events which I have been relating (from the
outside and at a distance) may have other criticisms to make of Ernest.
You may think it impossible that a youth so well placed, as he was at
Harvard, should have turned his back upon its paths of pleasantness for
the narrower way that meant so much hard work. Yet Ernest had not
allowed himself to be led or governed by an illusion. In the whole world
the serious student, the man who has his own way to make, can find no
better opportunity than at Harvard. No one could realize this better
than Ernest himself, in that time of storm and stress when he had felt
that the chart of his life must be mapped out by his own hand. But his,
he saw, was a special case, and the surest way to free himself from all
entanglements and to place himself at the command of duty, was, he
thought, to start out on an entirely new course. It was his Puritan
inheritance, this devotion to duty when once duty had shown clearly her
kindly but resolute visage.

Yet my story has been ill told if it has seemed to be more the story of
Ernest than of Miss Theodora. For very few of us does life hold any
marked surprises, any startling events. A whole life is often merely the
summary of many very commonplace happenings. Its real events are more
likely to be those moral crises when the soul must put itself in harmony
with all those external happenings which it has no power to control. Nor
is it one of the least of life's lessons that it would be indeed a
fatal gift, if it were ours--this longed for power to turn the tide of
events.

Take, for example, the case of Miss Theodora; what a feeble figure she
had been in her efforts to turn the current of affairs that made up her
life. How helpless her will to accomplish her desires!

If John had not married Dorothy--if Ernest had been willing to take his
grandfather's profession--if he had never met Eugenie--if he and Kate
had never cared for each other,--with all these "ifs" turned into
verities, how different, Miss Theodora thought, had been her outlook on
life. But we, who regard these things from the point of view of the
impartial onlooker, know that the fulfilling of her desires would not
have made her happiness, nor for the happiness of her nephew.

If in trying to show you this I have seemed to dwell too long on the
ordinary happenings in a simple life, remember that these, after all,
were not the things which I count of chief importance.

To me the great events in Miss Theodora's life were those three
occasions when she had to summon her strength to great decisions. These
soul crises counted for more than any other happenings in her life.
First, there was that struggle when she had to choose between her lover
and her nephew; then, almost as severe, though different in kind, the
battle in which at last she had given in to Ernest in his choice of a
profession; and last, although it had had no outward result, her merging
of her own prejudice against Eugenie in a readiness to do what would
probably make Ernest happier.

Hardly less bitter than these three struggles was the one which Miss
Theodora waged to decide whether or not it was her duty to join Ernest
in the West. At last she yielded in this more quickly though with
greater pain than in the two cases when she had given in to Ernest about
Harvard and about Eugenie.

She left Boston with the less reluctance, perhaps, because of certain
changes--some persons called them "improvements"--that had begun to
appear in her well-loved West End. The tall apartment houses which had
begun to creep in even before she left the city, the electric cars now
dashing through Charles street, were innovations that cut her to the
heart.

The breaking up of her modest little home soon followed.

"You will spend half of every year with us," said Kate, now pleasantly
situated in a house whose western windows overlooked the river. She had
already begun to make life pleasant for Ben's sisters, one of whom was
always staying with her.

"That will depend upon Ernest," Miss Theodora had answered, smiling. As
a matter of fact, she did not return to Boston, even for a visit, until
after Ernest's marriage; and so with her removal to Colorado, her
story--as a West End story--may be said to end.

But if I should tell you more about Miss Theodora, I would describe the
delightful New England home which, with Diantha's help, she made for
Ernest in Denver. Nor would I be able to omit telling of the romance
which came into her own life.

At first she tried to avoid meeting William Easton, now a widower; but
efforts of this kind, of course, were useless. They met calmly enough;
and as they talked together, the years that had passed seemed as
nothing.

"So you have come West, after all, Theodora--and for Ernest's sake, too,
though it was for his sake you refused to come so long ago."

"Yes," she said, "for Ernest's sake it seems, though when I see how much
he owes to you, I realize that you are more than kind--almost cruelly
kind--"

Then William Easton, smiling somewhat sadly, said nothing in reply,
though indeed there was no need of words. We all know how a story of
this kind ends in books; and even in real life old lovers sometimes
renew the pledges of youth.


(The End.)





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