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Title: The Builders
Author: Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson, 1873-1945
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    THE BUILDERS

   BY THE SAME AUTHOR

  ANCIENT LAW, THE
  THE BATTLE-GROUND, THE
  THE DELIVERANCE, THE
  THE FREEMAN AND OTHER POEMS, THE
  THE LIFE AND GABRIELLA
  MILLER OF OLD CHURCH, THE
  THE ROMANCE OF A PLAIN MAN, THE
  THE VIRGINIA
  VOICE OF THE PEOPLE, THE
  THE WHEEL OF LIFE



THE BUILDERS

BY
ELLEN GLASGOW

[Illustration: colophon]

GARDEN CITY NEW YORK

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

1919

COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY

DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF

TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES,

INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN



CONTENTS

BOOK FIRST

APPEARANCES


CHAPTER                                          PAGE

I. CAROLINE                                         3

II. THE TIME                                       20

III. BRIARLAY                                      25

IV. ANGELICA                                       44

V. THE FIRST NIGHT                                 59

VI. LETTY                                          70

VII. CAROLINE MAKES DISCOVERIES                    84

VIII. BLACKBURN                                   102

IX. ANGELICA'S CHARITY                            122

X. OTHER DISCOVERIES                              142

XI. THE SACRED CULT                               165

XII. THE WORLD'S VIEW OF AN UNFORTUNATE MARRIAGE  176

XIII. INDIRECT INFLUENCE                          194


BOOK SECOND

REALITIES

I. IN BLACKBURN'S LIBRARY                         219

II. READJUSTMENTS                                 231

III. MAN'S WOMAN                                  245

IV. THE MARTYR                                    257

V. THE CHOICE                                     268

VI. ANGELICA'S TRIUMPH                            281

VII. COURAGE                                      293

VIII. THE CEDARS                                  310

IX. THE YEARS AHEAD                               324

X. THE LIGHT ON THE ROAD                          339

XI. THE LETTER                                    348

XII. THE VISION                                   359



BOOK FIRST

APPEARANCES



THE BUILDERS



CHAPTER I

CAROLINE


The train was late that day, and when the old leather mail pouch was
brought in, dripping wet, by Jonas, the negro driver, Mrs. Meade put
down the muffler she was knitting, and received it reluctantly.

"At least there aren't any bills at this time of the month," she
observed, with the manner of one who has been designed by Providence to
repel disaster.

While she unbuckled the clammy straps, her full, round face, which was
still fresh and pretty in spite of her seventy years, shone like an
auspicious moon in the dusky glow of the fire. Since wood was scarce,
and this particular strip of southside Virginia grew poorer with each
year's harvest, the only fire at The Cedars was the one in "the
chamber," as Mrs. Meade's bedroom was called. It was a big, shabby room,
combining, as successfully as its owner, an aspect of gaiety with a
conspicuous absence of comforts. There were no curtains at the windows,
and the rugs, made from threadbare carpets, had faded to indeterminate
patterns; but the cracked mahogany belonged to a good period, and if the
colours had worn dim, they were harmonious and restful. The house,
though scarred, still held to its high standards. The spirit of the
place was the spirit of generous poverty, of cheerful fortitude.

The three girls on the hearthrug, knitting busily for the War Relief
Association, were so much alike in colouring, shape, and feature, that
it was difficult at a casual glance to distinguish Maud, who was almost,
if not quite, a beauty, from Margaret and Diana, who were merely pretty
and intelligent. They were all natural, kind-hearted girls, who had been
trained from infancy to make the best of things and to laugh when they
were hurt. From the days when they had played with ears of corn instead
of dolls, they had acquired ingenuity and philosophy. For Mrs. Meade,
who derived her scant income from a plantation cultivated "on shares" by
negro tenants, had brought up her girls to take life gaily, and to rely
on their own resourcefulness rather than on fortuitous events.

"Here is a nice fat letter for Caroline, and it looks as if it weren't
an advertisement." With one plump hand she held out the letter, while
she handed the dripping mail bag to Jonas. "Bring some wood for the
fire, Jonas, and be sure to shut the door after you."

"Dar ain' no mo' wood, ole Miss."

For an instant Mrs. Meade stopped to think. "Well, the garden fence is
falling down by the smoke-house. Split up some of the rails. Here is
your letter, Caroline."

A woman's figure, outlined against the rocking branches of an old cedar
beyond the window, turned slowly toward the group on the hearthrug. In
Caroline's movements, while she lingered there for a moment, there was
something gallant and free and spirited, which was a part of the world
outside and the swaying boughs. Though she was older than the three
girls by the fire, she was young with an illusive and indestructible
grace of the soul. At thirty-two, in spite of the stern sweetness about
her thin red lips, and the defiant courage which flashed now and then
from the shadowy pallor of her face, one felt that the flame and ardour
of her glance flowed not from inward peace, but from an unconquerable
and adventurous spirit. Against the grey rain her face seemed the face
of some swiftly changing idea, so expressive of an intangible beauty was
the delicate curve of the cheek and the broad, clear forehead beneath
the dark hair, which grew low in a "widow's peak" above the arched
eyebrows and the vivid blue of the eyes. If there was austerity in the
lines of her mouth, her eyes showed gaiety, humour, and tenderness. Long
ago, before the wreck of her happiness, her father, who had a taste for
the striking in comparisons, had said that Caroline's eyes were like
bluebirds flying.

The letter could wait. She was not interested in letters now, rarely as
they came to her. It was, she knew, only the call to a patient, and
after nearly eight years of nursing, she had learned that nothing varied
the monotonous personalities of patients. They were all alike, united in
their dreadful pathos by the condition of illness--and as a mere matter
of excitement there was little to choose between diphtheria and
pneumonia. Yet if it were a call, of course she would go, and her brief
vacation would be over. Turning away from the firelight, she deferred as
long as possible the descent from her thoughts to the inevitable bondage
of the actuality.

Beyond the window, veiled in rain, she could see the pale quivering
leaves of the aspens on the lawn, and the bend in the cedar avenue,
which led to the big white gate and the private road that ran through
the farm until it joined the turnpike at the crossroads. Ever since she
was born, it seemed to her, for almost thirty-two years, she had watched
like this for something that might come up that long empty road. Even in
the years that she had spent away, she had felt that her soul waited
there, tense and expectant, overlooking the bend in the avenue and the
white gate, and then the road over which "the something different," if
it came at all, must come at last to The Cedars. Nothing, not change,
not work, not travel, could detach the invisible tendrils of her life
from the eager, brooding spirit of the girl who had once watched there
at the window. She had been watching--watching--she remembered, when the
letter that broke her heart had come in the old mail pouch, up the road
beyond, and through the gate, and on into the shadows and stillness of
the avenue. That was how the blow had come to her, without warning,
while she waited full of hope and expectancy and the ardent sweetness of
dreams.

"My poor child, your heart is broken!" her mother had cried through her
tears, and the girl, with the letter still in her hands, had faced her
defiantly.

"Yes, but my head and my hands are whole," she had replied with a laugh.

Then, while the ruins of her happiness lay at her feet, she began
rebuilding her house of life with her head and her hands. She would
accept failure on its own terms, completely, exultantly, and by the very
audacity of her acceptance, she would change defeat into victory. She
would make something out of nothing; she would wring peace, not from
joy, but from the heart of an incredible cruelty; she would build with
courage, not with gladness, but she would build her house toward the
stars.

"There must be something one can live on besides love," she thought, "or
half the world would go famished."

"Come and read your letter, Caroline," called Maud, as she reached the
end of a row. "There isn't anything for the rest of us."

"I am so afraid it is a call, dear," said Mrs. Meade; and then, as
Caroline left the window and passed into the firelight, the old lady
found herself thinking a little vaguely, "Poor child, the hard work is
beginning to show in her face--but she has never been the same since
that unfortunate experience. I sometimes wonder why a just Providence
lets such things happen." Aloud she added, while her beaming face
clouded slightly, "I hope and pray that it isn't anything catching."

As Caroline bent over the letter, the three younger girls put down their
knitting and drew closer, while their charming faces, brown, flushed,
and sparkling, appeared to catch and hold the glow of the flames. They
were so unlike Caroline, that she might have been mistaken, by a
stranger, for a woman of a different race. While she bent there in the
firelight, her slender figure, in its cambric blouse and skirt of faded
blue serge, flowed in a single lovely curve from her drooping dark head
to her narrow feet in their worn russet shoes.

"It is from an old friend of yours, mother," she said presently, "Mrs.
Colfax."

"Lucy Colfax! Why, what on earth is she writing to you about? I hope
there isn't anything wrong with her."

"Read it aloud, Caroline," said Diana. "Mother, this fire will go out
before Jonas can fix it."

"He has to split the wood, dear. Look out on the back porch and see if
you can find some chips. They'll be nice and dry." Mrs. Meade spoke with
authority, for beneath her cheerful smile there was the heart of a
fighter, and like all good fighters, she fought best when she was driven
against the wall. "Now, Caroline, I am listening."

"She wants me to take a case. It sounds queer, but I'll read you what
she says. 'Dear Caroline'--she calls me 'Caroline.'"

"That's natural, dear. We were like sisters, and perhaps she took a
fancy to you the time she met you in Richmond. It would be just like her
to want to do something for you." The sprightly old lady, who was
constitutionally incapable of seeing any prospect in subdued colours,
was already weaving a brilliant tapestry of Caroline's future.

"'Dear Caroline:

"'My cousin, Angelica Blackburn, has asked me to recommend a trained
nurse for her little girl, who is delicate, and I am wondering if you
would care to take the case. She particularly wishes a self-reliant and
capable person, and Doctor Boland tells me you have inherited your
mother's sweet and unselfish nature (I don't see how he knows. Everybody
is unselfish in a sick-room. One has to be.)'"

"Well, I'm sure you have a lovely nature," replied Mrs. Meade tenderly.
"I was telling the girls only yesterday that you never seemed to think
of yourself a minute." In her own mind she added, "Any other girl would
have been embittered by that unfortunate experience" (the phrase
covered Caroline's blighted romance) "and it shows how much character
she has that she was able to go on just as if nothing had happened. I
sometimes think a sense of humour does as much for you as religion."

"'I remember my poor father used to say,'" Caroline read on smoothly,
"'that in hard dollars and cents Carrie Warwick's disposition was worth
a fortune.'"

"That's very sweet of Lucy," murmured Mrs. Meade deprecatingly.

"'As you are the daughter of my old friend, I feel I ought not to let
you take the case without giving you all the particulars. I don't know
whether or not you ever heard of David Blackburn--but your mother will
remember his wife, for she was a Fitzhugh, the daughter of Champ
Fitzhugh, who married Bessie Ludwell.'"

"Of course I remember Bessie. She was my bosom friend at Miss Braxton's
school in Petersburg."

"Let me go on, mother darling. If you interrupt me so often I'll never
get to the interesting part."

"Very well, go on, my dear, but it does seem just like Providence. When
the flour gave out in the barrel last night, I knew something would
happen." For Mrs. Meade had begun life with the shining certainty that
"something wonderful" would happen to her in the future, and since she
was now old and the miracle had never occurred, she had transferred her
hopes to her children. Her optimism was so elastic that it stretched
over a generation without breaking.

"'Mrs. Blackburn--Angelica Fitzhugh, she was--though her name is really
Anna Jeannette, and they called her Angelica as a child because she
looked so like an angel--well, Mrs. Blackburn is the cousin I spoke of,
whose little girl is so delicate.' She is all tangled up, isn't she,
mother?"

"Lucy always wrote like that," said Mrs. Meade. "As a girl she was a
scatterbrain."

"'I do not know exactly what is wrong with the child,'" Caroline resumed
patiently, "'but as long as you may go into the family, I think I ought
to tell you that I have heard it whispered that her father injured her
in a fit of temper when she was small.'"

"How horrible!" exclaimed Diana. "Caroline, you couldn't go there!"

"'She has never been able to play with other children, and Doctor Boland
thinks she has some serious trouble of the spine. I should not call her
a disagreeable child, or hard to manage, just delicate and rather
whining--at least she is whenever I see her, which is not often. Her
mother is one of the loveliest creatures on earth, and I can imagine no
greater privilege than living in the house with her. She is far from
strong, but she seems never to think of her health, and all her time is
devoted to doing good. Doctor Boland was telling me yesterday that he
had positively forbidden her undertaking any more charitable work. He
says her nerves are sensitive, and that if she does not stop and rest
she will break down sooner or later. I cannot help feeling--though of
course I did not say this to him--that her unhappy marriage is the cause
of her ill health and her nervousness. She was married very young, and
they were so desperately poor that it was a choice between marriage and
school teaching. I cannot blame anybody for not wanting to teach school,
especially if they have as poor a head for arithmetic as I have, but if
I had been Angelica, I should have taught until the day of my death
before I should have married David Blackburn. If she had not been so
young it would be hard to find an excuse for her. Of course he has an
immense fortune, and he comes of a good old family in southside
Virginia--your mother will remember his father--but when you have said
that, you have said all there is to his credit. The family became so
poor after the war that the boy had to go to work while he was scarcely
more than a child, and I believe the only education he has ever had was
the little his mother taught him, and what he managed to pick up at
night after the day's work was over. In spite of his birth he has had
neither the training nor the advantages of a gentleman, and nothing
proves this so conclusively as the fact that, though he was brought up a
Democrat, he voted the Republican ticket at the last two Presidential
elections. There is something black in a man, my dear old father used to
say, who goes over to the negroes---- '"

"Of course Lucy belongs to the old school," said Mrs. Meade. "She talks
just as her father used to--but I cannot see any harm in a man's voting
as he thinks right."

"'I am telling you all this, my dear Caroline, in order that you may
know exactly what the position is. The salary will be good, just what
you make in other cases, and I am sure that Angelica will be kindness
itself to you. As for David Blackburn, I scarcely think he will annoy
you. He treats his wife abominably, I hear, but you can keep out of his
way, and it is not likely that he will be openly rude to you when you
meet. The papers just now are full of him because, after going over to
the Republicans, he does not seem satisfied with their ways.

"'Give my fondest love to your mother, and tell her how thankful I am
that she and I are not obliged to live through a second war. One is
enough for any woman, and I know she will agree with me--especially if
she could read some of the letters my daughter writes from France. I
feel every hour I live how thankful we ought to be to a kind Providence
for giving us a President who has kept us out of this war. Robert says
if there were not any other reason to vote for Mr. Wilson, that would be
enough--and with Mr. Hughes in the White House who knows but we should
be in the midst of it all very soon. David Blackburn is making fiery
speeches about the duty of America's going in, but some men can never
have enough of a fight, and I am sure the President knows what is best
for us, and will do what he thinks is right.

"'Be sure to telegraph me if you can come, and I will meet your train in
Angelica's car.

"'Your affectionate friend,

      LUCY COLFAX.

"'I forgot to tell you that Doctor Boland says I am prejudiced against
David Blackburn, but I do not think I am. I tell only what I hear, for
the stories are all over Richmond.'"

As Caroline finished the letter she raised her head with a laugh.

"It sounds like a good place, and as for Bluebeard--well, he can't kill
me. I don't happen to be his wife."

Her figure, with its look of relaxed energy, of delicate yet inflexible
strength, straightened swiftly, while her humorous smile played like an
edge of light over her features. The old lady, watching her closely,
remembered the way Caroline's dead father had laughed in his youth.
"She is as like him as a girl could be," she thought, with her eyes on
her daughter's wide white brow, which had always seemed to her a shade
too strong and thoughtful for a woman. Only the softly curving line of
hair and the large radiant eyes kept the forehead from being almost
masculine. "She might be as pretty as Maud if only she had more colour
and her brow and chin were as soft as her eyes. Her mouth isn't full and
red like Maud's, and her nose isn't nearly so straight, but the girls'
father used to say that the best nose after all is a nose that nobody
remembers." Smiling vaguely at the recollection, Mrs. Meade readjusted
her mental processes with an effort, and took up her work. "I hope Lucy
is prejudiced against him," she observed brightly. "You know her father
was once Governor of Virginia, and she can't stand anybody who doesn't
support the Democratic Party."

"But she says he treats his wife abominably, and that it's all over
Richmond!" exclaimed Maud indignantly.

Before this challenge Mrs. Meade quailed. "If she is prejudiced about
one thing, she may be about others," she protested helplessly.

"Well, he can't hurt me," remarked Caroline with firmness. "People can't
hurt you unless you let them." Nothing, she felt, in an uncertain world
was more certain than this--no man could ever hurt her again. She knew
life now; she had acquired experience; she had learned philosophy; and
no man, not even Bluebeard himself, could ever hurt her again.

"There was something about him in the paper this morning," said
Margaret, the serious and silent one of the family. "I didn't read it,
but I am sure that I saw his name in the headlines. It was about an
independent movement in politics."

"Well, I'm not afraid of independent movements," rejoined Caroline
gaily, "and I'm not like Mrs. Colfax--for I don't care what he does to
the Democratic Party."

"I hate to have you go there, my dear," Mrs. Meade's voice shook a
little, "but, of course, you must do what you think right." She
remembered the empty flour barrel, and the falling fence rails, and the
habit of a merciful Providence that invariably came to her aid at the
eleventh hour. Perhaps, after all, there was a design working through
it, she reflected, as she recovered her sprightliness, and Providence
had arranged the case to meet her necessities. "It seems disagreeable,
but one never knows," she added aloud.

"It isn't the first time I've had a disagreeable case, mother. One can't
nurse seven years and see only the pleasant side of people and things."

"Yes, I know, my child, I know. You have had so much experience." She
felt quite helpless before the fact of her daughter's experience. "Only
if he really does ill treat his wife, and you have to see it----"

"If I see it, perhaps I can stop it. I suppose even Bluebeard might have
been stopped if anybody had gone about it with spirit. It won't be my
first sudden conversion." Her eyes were still laughing, but her mouth
was stern, and between the arched black eyebrows three resolute little
lines had appeared. Before her "unfortunate experience," Mrs. Meade
thought sadly, there had been no grimness in Caroline's humour.

"You have a wonderful way of bringing out the good in people, Caroline.
Your Uncle Clarence was telling me last Sunday that he believed you
could get the best out of anybody."

"Then granting that Bluebeard has a best, I'd better begin to dig for it
as soon as I get there."

"I am glad you can take it like that. If you weren't so capable, so
resourceful, I'd never be easy about you a minute, but you are too
intelligent to let yourself get into difficulties that you can't find a
way out of." The old lady brightened as quickly as she had saddened.
After all, if Caroline had been merely an ordinary girl she could never
have turned to nursing so soon after the wreck of her happiness. "If a
man had broken my heart when I was a girl, I believe I should have died
of it," she told herself. "Certainly, I should never have been able to
hold up my head and go on laughing like that. I suppose it was pride
that kept her up, but it is queer the way that pride affects people so
differently. Now a generation ago pride would not have made a girl laugh
and take up work. It would have killed her." And there flashed through
her thoughts, with the sanguine irrelevance of her habit of mind, "What
I have never understood is how any man could go off with a little
yellow-haired simpleton like that after knowing Caroline. Yet, I
suppose, as Clarence said, if she hadn't been a simpleton, it would have
been that much worse."

"Well, I'm going," said Caroline so briskly that her mother and sisters
looked at her in surprise. "Jonas will have to saddle Billy and take the
telegram to the station, and then you can stop knitting and help me
finish those caps. This is my war and I'm going to fight it through to
the end."

She went out with the telegram, and a little later when she came back
and turned again to the window, Mrs. Meade saw that her eyes were
shining. After all, it looked sometimes as if Caroline really liked a
battle. Always when things went wrong or appeared disastrous, this
shining light came to her eyes.

Outside an eddying wind was driving the rain in gusts up the avenue, and
the old cedar dashed its boughs, with a brushing sound, against the
blurred window panes. As Caroline stood there she remembered that her
father had loved the cedar, and there drifted into her thoughts the
words he had spoken to her shortly before his death. "I haven't much to
leave you, daughter, but I leave you one good thing--courage. Never
forget that it isn't the victory that matters, it is the fight."

She heard Mrs. Meade telling Jonas, who was starting to the station,
that he must haul a load of wood from Pine Hill when the rain was over,
and while she listened, it seemed to her that she had never really known
her mother until this instant--that she had never understood her simple
greatness. "She has fought every minute," she thought, "she has had a
hard life, and yet no one would know it. It has not kept her from being
sweet and gay and interested in every one else. Even now in that calico
dress, with an apron on, she looks as if she were brimming with
happiness." Out of the wreck of life, out of poverty and sacrifice and
drudgery, she realized that her mother had stood for something fine and
clear and permanent--for an ideal order. She had never muddled things
under the surface; she had kept in touch with realities; she had looked
always through the changing tissue of experience to the solid structure
of life. Like the old house she had held through all vicissitudes to her
high standards.

Then her thoughts left her mother, and she faced the unknown future with
the defiant courage she had won from disillusionment. "If we were not so
poor I'd go to France," she reflected, "but how could they possibly do
without the hundred dollars a month I can earn?" No, whatever happened
she must stick to her task, and her task was keeping the roof from
falling in over her mother and the girls. After a month's rest at The
Cedars, she would start again on the round of uninspiring patients and
tedious monotony. The place Mrs. Colfax offered her seemed to her
uninteresting and even sordid, and yet she knew that nothing better
awaited her. She hated darkness and mystery, and the house into which
she was going appeared to her to be both dark and mysterious. She was
sure of her own strength; she had tested her courage and her endurance,
and she was not afraid; yet for some vague and inexplicable reason she
shrank from the position she had accepted. Mrs. Colfax's picture of the
situation she thought tinged with melodrama, and her honest and lucid
intelligence despised the melodramatic. They might all have been on the
stage--the good wife, the brutal husband, and the delicate child; they
seemed to her as unrelated to actual life as the sombre ghost that
stalked through Hamlet.

"Angelica! It is a lovely name," she mused, seizing upon the one
charming thing in Mrs. Colfax's description, "I wonder what she is
like?" Fair, graceful, suffering, she saw this unknown woman against the
background of the unhappy home, in an atmosphere of mystery and
darkness. "She must be weak," she thought. "If she were not weak, she
would not let him hurt her." And she longed to pour some of her own
strength of will, her own independence and determination and philosophy,
into the imaginary figure of Mrs. Blackburn. "It may be that I can help
her. If I can only help her a little, it will all be worth while."

She tried presently to think of other things--of the caps she must
finish, of the uniforms she had intended to make during her vacation, of
the piece of white lawn she must cut up into kerchiefs, of the mending
she would ask the girls to do for her before they went to bed. There was
so much to occupy her time and her thoughts in the one evening that was
left to her--yet, do what she would--look where she pleased--the sweet
veiled image of Mrs. Blackburn floated to her through the twilight, up
the long, dim road and round the bend in the avenue--as if this stranger
with the lovely name were the "something different" she had waited for
in the past. By a miracle of imagination she had transferred this single
character into actual experience. The sense of mystery was still there,
but the unreality had vanished. It was incredible the way a woman whose
face she had never seen had entered into her life. "Why, she is more
real than anything," she thought in surprise. "She is more real even
than the war."

For the war had not touched her. She stood secure, enclosed, protected
from disaster, in her little green corner of southside Virginia. Her
personal life had not been overpowered and submerged in the current of
impersonal forces. The age of small things still surrounded her--but the
quiver and vibration of great movements, of a world in dissolution, the
subdued, insistent undercurrent of new spiritual energies in
action--these were reaching her, with the ebb and flow of psychological
processes, as they were reaching the Virginia in which she lived.

The world was changing--changing--while she went toward it.



CHAPTER II

THE TIME


At midnight, when she was alone in her room, Caroline's mind passed from
an intense personal realization of the Blackburns to a broader
conception of the time in which she was living--the time which this
generation had helped to create, and which, like some monster of the
imagination, was now devouring its happiness. She thought of her
father--a man of intellectual abilities who had spent his life out of
touch with his environment, in an uncongenial employment. Young as she
was when he died, she had been for years the solitary confidant of his
mind, for he also, like these strangers into whose lives she was about
to enter, had been the victim of the illimitable and inscrutable forces
which shape the thought of an age. He had been different from his
generation, and because he had been different, it had destroyed him. Yet
his single idea had outlived the multitudinous actions and reactions
that surrounded him. He saw not to-day, but to-morrow; and though he was
of another mettle from this Blackburn of whom she had been reading, he
appeared now in her fancy to take a place beside him in the vivid life
of the age.

The lamp was smoking, and after lowering the wick, she sat gazing into
the darkness beyond the loosened shutters, which rattled when the wind
shook them.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was in the early autumn of nineteen hundred and sixteen, the moment
in history when America, hesitating on the verge of war, discovered that
it was no longer an Anglo-Saxon nation; that, in spite of its language
and literature, its shell of customs and traditions, a new race had been
created out of a complicated mass of diverse interacting sympathies,
prejudices, attractions, and repulsions. Confronted now with problems
demanding a definite expression of the national will, it became evident
that the pioneer stock had undergone profound modifications, and that
from a mingling of many strains had been born an emphatic American
spirit, with aspirations essentially different from those of the races
from which its lifeblood was drawn. In the arrogant vigour of youth this
spirit resented any disposition on the part of its kindred to dictate or
even influence its policy or its purpose.

For two years Europe had been at war. The outbreak of the struggle had
come as a distant thunderbolt to a nation unaccustomed to threatening
armies, and ignorant of the triumphant menace of military ideals; and
stunned by a calamity which it had believed impossible, America had been
inclined at first to condemn indiscriminately those who had permitted
the disaster for apparently insignificant causes. There was sympathy
with Belgium because it had been destroyed; with France because it had
been invaded; and with England because it had worked sincerely in the
interests of peace; but as early as the autumn of nineteen hundred and
sixteen this sympathy was little more than uncrystallized sentiment. To
the people the problem was irrelevant and disguised in words. For a
century they had been taught that their geographical isolation was
indestructible, and that European history concerned them only after it
had been successfully transmuted into literature. The effect of these
political illusions had been accentuated by the immediate demands upon
the thoughts and energies of the nation, by the adventure of conquering
a rich and undeveloped continent, and by the gradual adjustment of
complex institutions to a rapidly expanding social and economic life.
Secure in its remoteness, the country had grown careless in its
diplomacy. Commerce was felt to be vital, but foreign relations were
cheerfully left to the President, with the assumption that he was acting
under the special guidance of Providence, on those memorable occasions
when he acted at all. With the sinking of the _Lusitania_, the spirit of
the country had flamed into a passionate demand for redress or war. Then
the indignation had been gradually allayed by diplomatic phrases and
bewildering technicalities; and the masses of the people, busy with an
extravagant war prosperity, resigned international matters into the
hands of the Government, while, with an uneasy conscience but genuine
American optimism, they continued actively to hope for the best.

To an aërial philosopher the Government of the hour might have appeared
a composite image of the time--sentimental, evasive of realities,
idealistic in speech, and materialistic in purpose and action. Dominated
by a single strong intellect, it was composed mainly of men who were
without knowledge of world questions or experience in world affairs. At
the moment war was gathering, yet the demand for preparation was either
ignored or ridiculed as hysteria.

As the national elections approached both parties avoided the direct
issue, and sought by compromise and concession to secure the support of
the non-American groups. While the country waited for leadership, the
leaders hesitated in the midst of conflicting currents of public
sentiment, and endeavoured to win popularity through an irresolute
policy of opportunism. To Virginians, who thought politically in terms
of a party, the great question was resolved into a personal problem.
Where the President led they would follow.

From the beginning there had been many Americans who looked beneath the
shifting surface of events, and beheld in this war a challenge to the
principles which are the foundation-stones of Western civilization. They
realized that this was a war not of men, not of materials, but of
ideals--of ideals which are deeper than nationality since they are the
common heritage of the human race. They saw that the ideals assailed
were the basis of American institutions, and that if they should be
overthrown the American Republic could not endure. As in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries the problems of European civilization were
fought out in the forests of America, so to-day, they felt, the future
of America would be decided on the battlefields of Europe. The cause was
the cause of humanity, therefore it was America's war.

And now as the elections drew nearer, these clearer thinkers stood apart
and watched the grotesque political spectacle, with its unctuous
promises of "peace and prosperity," in the midst of world tragedy.
Though the struggle would be close, it was already evident that the
sentiment of the country was drifting, not so much toward the policies
of the administration, as away from the invectives of the opposite
party. Since neither party stood for principle, nor had the courage to
declare fearlessly for the maintenance of American rights, there was a
measure of comfort in the reflection that, though the purposes of the
Government were not wholly approved, they were at least partly known.

By the early autumn the campaign had passed through a fog of
generalization and settled into a sham battle of personal and sectional
issues, while in Europe the skies grew darker, and the events of the
coming year gathered like vultures before the approaching storm.

And always, while America waited and watched, the forces that mould the
destinies of men and of nations, were moving, profound, obscure, and
impenetrable, beneath the surface of life.

       *       *       *       *       *

Caroline's lamp flickered and went out, while her thoughts rushed back
to the shelter of the house. The room was in darkness, but beyond the
shutters, where the wind swept in gusts, the clouds had scattered, and a
few stars were shining.



CHAPTER III

BRIARLAY


In the train Caroline sat straight and still, with her eyes on the
landscape, which unrolled out of the golden web of the distance. Now and
then, when her gaze shifted, she could see the pale oval of her face
glimmering unsteadily in the window-pane, like a light that is going out
slowly. Even in the glass, where her eyes were mere pools of darkness,
her mouth looked sad and stern, as if it had closed over some tragic and
for ever unutterable secret. It was only when one saw her eyes--those
eyes which under the arch of her brows and hair made one think of
bluebirds flying--it was only when their colour and radiance lighted her
features, that her face melted to tenderness.

While she sat there she thought of a hundred things, yet never once did
she think of herself or her own interests as the centre around which her
imagination revolved. If life had repressed and denied her, it had
trained her mental processes into lucid and orderly habits. Unlike most
women, she had learned to think impersonally, and to think in relations.
Her spirit might beat its wings against the bars of the cage, but she
knew that it would never again rise, with a dart of ecstasy, to test its
freedom and its flight in the sky. She had had her day of joy. It was
short, and it had left only sadness, yet because she had once had it,
even for so brief a time, she might be disillusioned, but she could not
feel wholly defrauded. Through that dead emotion she had reached, for an
instant, the heart of life; she had throbbed with its rapture; she had
felt, known, and suffered. And in confronting the illusions of life, she
had found the realities. Because she had learned that thought, not
emotion, is the only permanent basis of happiness, she had been able to
found her house on a rock. It was worth a good deal of pain to discover
that neither desire nor disappointment is among the eternal verities of
experience.

To-day, as on many other days since she had passed through her training
in the hospital, she was leaving home, after a vacation in which she had
thought of herself scarcely a minute, for the kind of service in which
she would not have time to think of herself at all. Work had been the
solution of her problem, the immediate restorative; and she knew that it
had helped her through the anguish, and--worse than anguish--through the
bleakness of her tragedy, as nothing else could have done. "I will not
sit down and think of myself," she had said over and over in those first
bitter days, and in the years since then, while she was passionately
rebuilding her universe, she had kept true to her resolve. She had been
active always; she had never brooded among the romantic ruins of the
past. If her inner life had grown indifferent, cold, and a little hard,
her external sympathies had remained warm, clear, and glowing. The
comfort she had denied herself, she had given abundantly to others; the
strength she had not wasted in brooding, she had spent freely in a
passion of service and pity. In her face there was the beauty and
sweetness of a fervent, though disciplined, spirit.

"I am so sorry to leave them," she thought, with her eyes on the amber,
crimson, and purple of the forest. "Mother is no longer young. She needs
all the help I can give her, and the girls have so few pleasures. I wish
there was something more I could do for them. I would work my fingers to
the bone to give them a little happiness." And there floated before her,
against the background of the forest, a still yet swiftly fleeting
vision, of the fire-lit room, with the girls gathered, knitting, on the
hearthrug, and her mother turning to look at her with the good and
gentle expression that shone always in her face. Beyond the window the
rain fell; the cedar brushed its boughs against the panes with a sound
like that of ghostly fingers; on the roof above she heard the measured
dropping of acorns. In the flickering light the old mahogany gleamed
with a bronze and gold lustre, and the high white bed, under its fringed
Marseilles coverlet, stood, like an embodiment of peace and sleep, in
the corner. "It looks so happy, so sheltered," she thought, "and yet--"
she was going to add, "and yet unhappiness came up the road, from a
great distance, and found me there----" but she shattered the vague idea
before it formed in her mind.

At the station Mrs. Colfax was waiting, and though Caroline had seen her
only once, ten years ago, she recognized her by a bird-like, pecking
manner she had never forgotten. As the ruin of a famous beauty the old
lady was not without historic distinction. Though she was now shrunken
and withered, and strung with quaint gold chains, which rattled with
echoes of an earlier period, she still retained the gracious social art
of the "sixties." Her eyes, hollowed under thin grey eyebrows, were
black and piercing, and her small aristocratic features looked mashed,
as if life had dealt them too hard a blow.

"My dear child, I should have known you anywhere, so, you see, I haven't
yet lost my memory. It was years ago that I met you, wasn't it?"

A man in livery--she discovered afterwards that he was the Blackburn's
footman--took her bag, and Caroline helped Mrs. Colfax out of the
station and into the big limousine at the door. "It was so good of you
to meet me," she said, for it was all she could think of, and to the
last she had been haunted by the fear that Mr. Blackburn might decide to
come for her.

"Good of me? Why, I wanted to come." As she watched Caroline's face, the
old lady was thinking shrewdly, "She isn't so pretty as she used to be.
I doubt if many men would think twice about her--but she has a lovely
expression. I never saw a more spiritual face."

Once safely started she rambled on while the car shot into Franklin
Street, and ran straight ahead in the direction of Monument Avenue.

"I always meant to meet you, and just as soon as your telegram came, I
'phoned Angelica about the car. She wanted to come down herself, but the
doctor makes her lie down two hours every afternoon. Do you see that new
office building at the corner? Your mother and I went to school on that
spot before we boarded at Miss Braxton's in Petersburg. At that time
this part of Franklin Street was very fashionable, but everything has
moved west, and everybody who can afford it is building in the country.
It isn't like your mother's day at all. New people have taken possession
of the town, and anybody who has money can get into society now. We are
coming to Monument Avenue. All the houses are brand new, but it is
nothing to the country outside. The Blackburns' place just off the River
Road is the finest house anywhere about Richmond, they tell me. He built
it the year before his marriage, and I remember an artist, who came down
to lecture before the Woman's Club, saying to me that Briarlay was like
its owner--everything big in it was good and everything little in it was
bad. I don't know much about such things, but he poked fun at the
fireplaces--said they were Gothic or Italian--I can't remember
which--and that the house, of course, is Colonial."

A fit of coughing stopped her, and while she dived into her black silk
bag for a handkerchief, Caroline asked curiously, "Has Mr. Blackburn so
much money?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose he is the richest man we have here. He owns the
large steel works down by the river, and he discovered some new cheap
process, they say, which brought him a fortune. I remember hearing this,
but I haven't much of a head for such matters. Just now he is having a
good deal of trouble with his men, and I'm sure it serves him right for
deserting the ways of his father, and going over to the Republicans.
Charles takes up for him because David has always stood by him in
business, but of course out of respect for father's memory he couldn't
openly sympathize with his disloyalty."

"Does anybody follow him, or is he all alone?" inquired Caroline, less
from active interest in the question than from the desire to keep the
old lady animated.

"You'll have to ask Charles, and he will be delighted to answer. In this
new-fangled idea about breaking the solid South--did you ever hear such
stuff and nonsense?--I believe he has had a very bad influence over a
number of young men. Then, of late, he has been talking extravagantly
about its being our duty to go into this war--as if we had any business
mixing ourselves up in other people's quarrels--and that appeals to a
lot of fire-eaters and fight-lovers. Of course, a man as rich as David
Blackburn will always have a trail of sycophants and addlepates at his
heels. What I say is that if Providence had intended us to be in this
war, we shouldn't have been given a President wise and strong enough to
keep us out of it. If Mr. Wilson is elected for a second term--and my
brother Charles says there isn't a doubt of it--it will be because the
country feels that he has kept us out of war. There was a long editorial
in the paper this morning warning us that, if Mr. Hughes is elected, we
shall be fighting Germany within two months. Then think of all the
destruction and the dreadful high taxes that would follow----"

"But I thought there was a great deal of war spirit here? At home we
work all the time for the Allies."

"Oh, there is, there is. Angelica is president or chairman of two or
three societies for helping the wounded, and they even made me head of
something--I never can remember the name of it--but it has to do with
Belgian orphans. Everybody wants to help, but that is different from
going into the actual fighting, you know, and people are very much
divided. A few, like David Blackburn, wanted us to declare war the day
after the Lusitania was destroyed, but most of us feel--especially the
wiser heads--that the President knows more about it than any one
else----"

"I suppose he does," admitted Caroline, and she added while she looked
at the appointments of the car, "What a beautiful car!"

She sighed gently, for she was thinking of the rotting fence rails and
the leaking roof at The Cedars. How far she could make a few thousand
dollars go in repairing the house and the out-buildings! If only the
leaks could be mended, and the roof reshingled over the wings! If only
they could hire a younger man to help poor old Jones, who was growing
decrepit!

"This car is Angelica's," said the old lady, "and everything she has is
wonderful. As soon as she was married she began to re-decorate Briarlay
from garret to cellar. When David first made his money, he went about
buying everything he laid eyes on, and she gave whole wagon-loads of
furniture to her relatives. There are people who insist that Angelica
overdoes things in her way as much as her husband does in his--both were
poor when they grew up--but I maintain that her taste is perfect--simply
perfect. It is all very well for my daughter Lucy, who has studied
interior decoration in New York, to turn up her nose at walls hung with
silk in a country house, but to my mind that pink silk in Angelica's
parlours is the most beautiful thing she could have, and I reckon I've
as good a right to my ideas as Lucy has to hers. After all, as I tell
her, it is only a question of taste."

It was a mild, bright afternoon in October, and as the car turned into
the River Road, the country spread softly, in undulations of green,
gold, and bronze, to the deep blue edge of the horizon. The valley lay
in shadow, while above it shreds of violet mist drifted slowly against
the golden ball of the sun. Near at hand the trees were touched with
flame, but, as they went on, the brilliant leaves melted gradually into
the multi-coloured blend of the distance.

"Mrs. Blackburn must be so beautiful," said Caroline presently. As she
approached Briarlay--the house of darkness and mystery that she had seen
in her imagination--she felt that the appeal of this unknown woman
deepened in vividness and pathos, that it rushed to meet her and
enveloped her with the intensity and sweetness of a perfume. It was as
if the name Angelica were not a sound, but a thing composed of colour
and fragrance--sky-blue like a cloud and as sweet-scented as lilies.

"She was the most beautiful girl who ever came out in Richmond," replied
Mrs. Colfax. "The family was so poor that her mother couldn't do
anything for her--she didn't even have a coming-out party--but with a
girl like that nothing matters. David Blackburn saw her at some
reception, and lost his head completely. I won't say his heart because
I've never believed that he had one. Of course he was far and away the
best chance she was ever likely to have down here, for it wasn't as if
they could have sent her to the White Sulphur. They couldn't afford
anything, and they were even educating Angelica to be a teacher. What
she would have done if David Blackburn hadn't come along when he did, I
cannot imagine--though, as I wrote you, I'd have taught school to my
dying day before I'd have married him."

"But didn't she care anything for him?" asked Caroline, for it was
incredible to her that such a woman should have sold herself.

Mrs. Colfax sniffed at her smelling-salts. "Of course I haven't the
right to an opinion," she rejoined, after a pause, "but as I always
reply to Charles when he tells me I am talking too much, 'Well, I can't
help having eyes.' I remember as well as if it were yesterday the way
Angelica looked when she told me of her engagement. 'I have decided to
marry David Blackburn, Cousin Lucy,' she said, and then she added, just
as if the words were wrung out of her, 'I loathe the thought of
teaching!' It doesn't sound a bit like Angelica, but those were her very
words. And now, my dear, tell me something about your mother. Does she
still keep up her wonderful spirits?"

After this she asked so many questions that Caroline was still answering
them when the car turned out of the road and sped up a long, narrow
lane, which was thickly carpeted with amber leaves. At the end of the
lane, the vista broadened into an ample sweep of lawn surrounding a red
brick house with white columns and low wings half hidden in Virginia
creeper. It was a beautiful house--so beautiful that Caroline held her
breath in surprise. Under the October sky, in the midst of clustering
elms, which shed a rain of small bronze leaves down on the bright grass
and the dark evergreens, the house appeared to capture and imprison the
mellow light of the sunset. It was so still, except for a curving flight
of swallows over the roof, and the elm leaves, which fell slowly and
steadily in the soft air, that the gleaming windows, the red walls, and
the white columns, borrowed, for a moment, the visionary aspect of a
place seen in a dream.

"There is a formal garden at the back, full of box-borders and
cypresses--only they are really red cedars," said Mrs. Colfax. "From
the terrace there is a good view of the river, and lower down Angelica
has made an old-fashioned garden, with grass walks and rose arbours and
mixed flower beds. I never saw such Canterbury bells as she had last
summer."

As they entered the circular drive, a touring car passed them slowly on
the way out, and a man leaned forward and bowed to Mrs. Colfax. From her
casual glance Caroline received an impression of a strong, sunburned
face, with heavy brows and dark hair going a little grey on the temples.

"What searching eyes that man has," she observed carelessly, and added
immediately, "You know him?"

"Why, that was David Blackburn. I forgot you had never seen him."

"He isn't at all what I expected him to be." While Caroline spoke she
felt an inexplicable sense of disappointment. She scarcely knew what she
had expected; yet she realized that he was different from some vague
image she had had in her mind.

"His face looked so set I'm afraid he has been quarrelling with
Angelica," said the old lady. "Poor child, I feel so distressed."

They had reached the house, and as they were about to alight, the door
opened, and a girl in a riding habit, with two Airedale terriers at her
heels, strolled out on the porch. At sight of Mrs. Colfax, she came
quickly forward, and held out her hand. She had a splendid figure, which
the riding habit showed to advantage, and though her face was plain, her
expression was pleasant and attractive. Without the harsh collar and the
severe arrangement of her hair, which was braided and tied up with a
black ribbon, Caroline imagined that she might be handsome.

Mrs. Colfax greeted her as "Miss Blackburn" and explained immediately
that she lived at Briarlay with her brother. "She is a great lover of
dogs," added the old lady, "and it is a pity that Angelica doesn't like
to have them about."

"Oh, they don't mind, they're such jolly beggars," replied the girl in a
cheerful, slangy manner, "and besides they get all they want of me. I'm
so sorry you didn't come in time for tea. Now I'm just starting for a
ride with Alan."

While she was speaking a man on horseback turned from the lane into the
drive, and Caroline saw her face change and brighten until it became
almost pretty. "There he is now!" she exclaimed, and then she called out
impulsively, "Oh, Alan, I've waited for ever!"

He shouted back some words in a gay voice, but Caroline did not catch
them, and before he dismounted, Mrs. Colfax led her through the open
door into the hall.

"That's Alan Wythe," said the old lady in a whisper, and she resumed a
moment later when they stood within the pink silk walls of Angelica's
drawing-room, "Mary has been engaged to him for a year, and I never in
my life saw a girl so much in love. I suppose it's natural enough--he's
charming--but in my day young ladies were more reserved. And now we'll
go straight upstairs to Angelica. She is sure to be lying down at this
hour."

As they passed through the wide hall, and up the beautiful Colonial
staircase, Caroline felt that the luxury of the place bewildered her.
Though the house, except in size, was not unlike country homes she had
seen in southside Virginia, there was nothing in her memory, unless she
summoned back stray recollections of photographs in Sunday newspapers,
that could compare with the decoration of the drawing-room. "It is
beautiful, but there is too much of it," she thought, for her eyes,
accustomed to bare surfaces and the formal purity of Sheraton and
Chippendale, were beginning to discriminate.

"I want you to notice everything when you have time," said Mrs. Colfax.
"I tell Angelica that it is a liberal education just to come inside of
this house."

"It would take weeks to see it," responded Caroline; and then, as she
moved toward a long mirror in the hall upstairs, it seemed to her that
her reflection, in her severe blue serge suit, with the little round
blue hat Diana had trimmed, looked as grotesquely out of place as if she
had been one of the slender Sheraton chairs at The Cedars. "If I appear
a lady I suppose it is as much as I can hope for," she thought, "and
besides nobody will notice me."

The humour leaped to her eyes, while Mrs. Colfax, watching her with a
side-long glance, reflected that Carrie Warwick's daughter had
distinction. Her grace was not merely the grace of a slender body with
flowing lines; it was the grace of word, of glance, of smile, of
gesture, that indefinable and intangible quality which is shed by a
lovely soul as fragrance is shed by a flower. "Even if she lives to be
as old as I am, she will still keep her poise and her charm of
appearance," thought the old lady, "she will never lose it because it
isn't a matter of feature--it isn't dependent on outward beauty. Years
ago she was prettier than she is to-day, but she wasn't nearly so
distinguished." Aloud she said presently, "Your hair grows in such a
nice line on your forehead, my dear, just like your mother's. I remember
we always made her brush hers straight back as you do, so she could show
her 'widow's peak' in the centre. But yours is much darker, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is almost black. Mother's was the loveliest shade of chestnut.
I have a lock of it in an old breast-pin."

A door at the end of the hall opened, and a thin woman, in rusty black
alpaca, came to meet them.

"That's the housekeeper--Matty Timberlake, the very salt of the earth,"
whispered Mrs. Colfax. "She is Angelica's cousin."

When the housekeeper reached them, she stooped and kissed Mrs. Colfax
before she spoke to Caroline. She was a long, narrow, neuralgic woman,
with near-sighted eyes, thin grey hair which hung in wisps on her
forehead, and a look which seemed to complain always that she was poor
and dependent and nobody noticed her.

"Angelica is lying down," she said, "but she would like to speak to Miss
Meade before I take her to her room."

Caroline's heart gave a bound. "At last I shall see her," she thought,
while she followed Mrs. Timberlake down the hall and across the
threshold of Angelica's room. The influence that she had felt first in
the twilight at The Cedars and again in the drive out from Richmond,
welcomed her like a caress.

Her first impression was one of blue and ivory and gold. There was a
bed, painted in garlands, with a scalloped canopy of blue silk; and
Caroline, who was accustomed to mahogany testers or the little iron
beds in the hospital, was conscious of a thrill of delight as she
looked at it. Then her eyes fell on the white bear-skin rug before the
fire, and from the rug they passed to the couch on which Mrs. Blackburn
was lying. The woman and the room harmonized so perfectly that one might
almost have mistaken Angelica for a piece of hand-painted furniture. At
first she appeared all blue silk and pale gold hair and small delicate
features. Then she sat up and held out her hand, and Caroline saw that
she looked not only human, but really tired and frail. There were faint
shadows under her eyes, which were like grey velvet, and her hair,
parted softly in golden wings over her forehead, showed several barely
perceptible creases between her eyebrows. She was so thin that the bones
of her face and neck were visible beneath the exquisite texture of her
flesh, yet the modelling was as perfect as if her head and shoulders had
been chiselled in marble.

"You are Caroline Meade," she said sweetly. "I am so glad you have
come."

"I am glad, too. I wanted to come." The vibrant voice, full of warmth
and sympathy, trembled with pleasure. For once the reality was fairer
than the dream; the woman before her was lovelier than the veiled figure
of Caroline's imagination. It was one of those unforgettable moments
when the mind pauses, with a sensation of delight and expectancy, on the
edge of a new emotion, of an undiscovered country. This was not only
something beautiful and rare; it was different from anything that had
ever happened to her before; it was a part of the romantic mystery that
surrounded the unknown. And it wasn't only that Mrs. Blackburn was so
lovely! More than her beauty, the sweetness of her look, the appeal of
her delicacy, of her feminine weakness, went straight to the heart. It
was as if her nature reached out, with clinging tendrils, seeking
support. She was like a fragile white flower that could not live without
warmth and sunshine.

"The other nurse leaves in the morning," Mrs. Blackburn was saying in
her gentle voice, which carried the merest note of complaint, as if she
cherished at heart some secret yet ineradicable grievance against
destiny, "So you have come at the right moment to save me from anxiety.
I am worried about Letty. You can understand that she is never out of my
thoughts."

"Yes, I can understand, and I hope she will like me."

"She will love you from the first minute, for she is really an
affectionate child, if one knows how to take her. Oh, Miss Meade, you
have taken a load off my shoulders! You look so kind and so competent,
and I feel that I can rely on you. I am not strong, you know, and the
doctor won't let me be much with Letty. He says the anxiety is too
wearing, though, if I had my way, I should never think of myself."

"But you must," said Caroline quietly. She felt that the child's illness
and the terrible cause of it were wrecking Mrs. Blackburn's health as
well as her happiness.

"Of course, I must try to take care of myself because in the end it will
be so much better for Letty." As she answered, Angelica slipped her feet
into a pair of embroidered blue silk _mules_, and rising slowly from her
lace pillows, stood up on the white rug in front of the fire. Though she
was not tall, her extraordinary slenderness gave her the effect of
height and the enchanting lines of one of Botticelli's Graces. "With
you in the house I feel that everything will be easier," she added,
after a minute in which she gazed down at the new nurse with a
thoughtful, appraising look.

"It will be as easy as I can make it. I will do everything that I can."
The words were not spoken lightly, for the opportunity of service had
brought a glow to Caroline's heart, and she felt that her reply was more
than a promise to do her best--that it was a vow of dedication from
which only the future could release her. She had given her pledge of
loyalty, and Mrs. Blackburn had accepted it. From this instant the bond
between them assumed the nature and the obligation of a covenant.

A smile quivered and died on Angelica's lips, while the pathos in her
expression drew the other to her as if there were a visible wound to be
healed. "You will be a blessing. I can tell that when I look at you,"
she murmured; and her speech sounded almost empty after the overflowing
sympathy of the silence. To Caroline it was a relief when the
housekeeper called to her from the doorway, and then led her upstairs to
a bedroom in the third storey.

It was a delightful room overlooking the circular drive, and for a
minute they stood gazing down on the lawn and the evergreens.

"Everything is so lovely!" exclaimed Caroline presently. One could rest
here, she thought, even with hard work and the constant strain, which
she foresaw, on her sympathies.

"Yes, it is pretty," answered the housekeeper. Already Mrs. Timberlake
had proved that, though she might be the salt of the earth, she was a
taciturn and depressing companion--a stranded wreck left over from too
voluble a generation of women.

"And I never saw any one lovelier than Mrs. Blackburn," said Caroline,
"she looks like an angel."

"Well, I reckon there is mighty little you can say against Angelica's
looks unless your taste runs to a trifle more flesh," responded Mrs.
Timberlake drily.

"She ought to be happy," pursued Caroline, with a feeling that was
almost one of resentment. "Anyone as beautiful as that ought to be
happy."

Mrs. Timberlake turned slowly toward her, and Caroline was aware of a
spasmodic stiffening of her figure, as if she were nerving herself for
an outburst. When the explosion came, however, it was in the nature of
an anti-climax.

"I expect you are going to be very useful to her," she said; and in
answer to a hurried summons at the door, she made one of her nervous
gestures, and went out into the hall.

"It would be perfect," thought Caroline, "if I didn't have to meet Mr.
Blackburn"; and she concluded, with a flash of her mother's unquenchable
optimism, "Well, perhaps I shan't see him to-night!"

The sun had set, and almost imperceptibly the afterglow had dissolved
into the twilight. Outside, the lawn and the evergreens were in shadow;
but from the house a misty circle of light fell on the drive, and on a
narrow strip of turf, from which each separate blade of grass emerged
with exaggerated distinctness as if it were illuminated. Within this
circle, with its mysterious penumbra, human life also seemed exaggerated
by the luminous haze which divided it from the partial shadow of the
evening. The house stood enclosed in light as in a garden; and beyond
it, where the obscurity began, there was the space and silence of the
universe. While she stood there, she felt, with a certainty more
profound than a mere mental conviction, that this lighted house
contained, for her, all the joy and tragedy of human experience; that
her life would be interwoven with these other lives as closely as
branches of trees in a forest. The appeal of Mrs. Blackburn had stirred
her heart and intensified her perceptions. From the bleakness of the
last seven years, she had awakened with revived emotions.

"It is just my fancy," she thought, "but I feel as if something
wonderful had really happened--as if life were beginning all over again
to-night."

The words were still in her mind, when a child's laugh rang out from a
window below, and the figure of a man passed from the outlying obscurity
across the illuminated grass. Though he moved so hurriedly out of the
light, she caught the suggestion of a smile; and she had a singular
feeling that he was the same man, and yet not the same man, that she had
seen in the motor.

"I do hope I shan't have to meet him to-night," she repeated at the very
instant that a knock fell on her door, and an old coloured woman came in
to bring a message from Mrs. Blackburn.

She was a benevolent looking, aristocratic negress, with a fine, glossy
skin as brown as a chestnut, and traces of Indian blood in her high
cheekbones. A white handkerchief was bound over her head like a turban,
and her black bombazine dress hung in full, stately folds from her
narrow waist line. For a minute, before delivering her message, she
peered gravely at Caroline by the dim light of the window.

"Ain't you Miss Carrie Warwick's chile, honey? You ax 'er ef'n she's
done forgot de Fitzhugh chillun's mammy? I riz all er de Fitzhugh
chillun."

"Then you must be Mammy Riah? Mother used to tell me about you when I
was a little girl. You told stories just like Bible ones."

"Dat's me, honey, en I sutney is glad ter see you. De chillun dey wuz
al'ays pesterin' me 'bout dose Bible stories jes' exactly de way Letty
wuz doin' dis ve'y mawnin'."

"Tell me something about the little girl. Is she really ill?" asked
Caroline; and it occurred to her, as she put the question, that it was
strange nobody had mentioned the child's malady. Here again the darkness
and mystery of the house she had imagined--that house which was so
unlike Briarlay--reacted on her mind.

The old negress chuckled softly. "Naw'm, she ain' sick, dat's jes' some
er Miss Angy's foolishness. Dar ain' nuttin' in de worl' de matter wid
Letty 'cep'n de way dey's brung 'er up. You cyarn' raise a colt ez ef'n
hit wuz a rabbit, en dar ain' no use'n tryin'." Then she remembered her
message. "Miss Angy sez she sutney would be erbleeged ter you ef'n you
'ould come erlong down ter dinner wid de res' un um. Miss Molly Waver's
done 'phone she cyarn' come, en dar ain' nobody else in de house ez kin
set in her place."

For an instant Caroline hesitated. "If I go down, I'll have to meet Mr.
Blackburn," she said under her breath.

A gleam of humour shot into the old woman's eyes.

"Marse David! Go 'way f'om yer, chile, whut you skeered er Marse David
fur?" she rejoined. "He ain' gwine ter hu't you."



CHAPTER IV

ANGELICA


At a quarter of eight o'clock, when Caroline was waiting to be called,
Mrs. Timberlake came in to ask if she might fasten her dress.

"Oh, you're all hooked and ready," she remarked. "I suppose nurses learn
to be punctual."

"They have to be, so much depends on it."

"Well, you look sweet. I've brought you a red rose from the table. It
will lighten up that black dress a little."

"I don't often go to dinner parties," said Caroline while she pinned on
the rose. "Will there be many people?" There was no shyness in her voice
or manner; and it seemed to Mrs. Timberlake that the black gown, with
its straight, slim skirt, which had not quite gone out of fashion, made
her appear taller and more dignified. Her hair, brushed smoothly back
from her forehead, gave to her clear profile the look of some delicate
etching. There was a faint flush in her cheeks, and her eyes were richer
and bluer than they had looked in the afternoon. She was a woman, not a
girl, and her charm was the charm not of ignorance, but of intelligence,
wisdom, and energy.

"Only twelve," answered the housekeeper, "sometimes we have as many as
twenty." There was an expression of pain in her eyes, due to chronic
neuralgia, and while she spoke she pressed her fingers to her temples.

"Is Mr. Wythe coming?" asked Caroline.

"He always comes. It is so hard to find unattached men that the same
ones get invited over and over. Then there are Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers.
They are from New York and the dinner is given to them--and the
Ashburtons and Robert Colfax and his wife--who was Daisy Carter--she is
very good looking but a little flighty--and Mr. Peyton, old Mrs.
Colfax's brother."

"I know--'Brother Charles'--but who are the Ashburtons?"

"Colonel Ashburton is very amusing. He is on Mr. Blackburn's side in
politics, and they are great friends. His wife is dull, but she means
well, and she is useful on committees because she is a good worker and
never knows when she is put upon. Well, it's time for you to go down, I
reckon. I just ran up from the pantry to see if I could help you."

A minute later, when Caroline left her room, Mary Blackburn joined her,
and the two went downstairs together. Mary was wearing a lovely gown of
amber silk, and she looked so handsome that Caroline scarcely recognized
her. Her black hair, piled on the crown of her head, gave her, in spite
of her modern dash and frankness, a striking resemblance to one of the
old portraits at The Cedars. She was in high spirits, for the ride with
Alan had left her glowing with happiness.

"We'd better hustle. They are waiting for us," she said. "I was late
getting in, so I tossed on the first dress I could find."

Then she ran downstairs, and Caroline, following her more slowly, found
herself presently shaking hands with the dreaded David Blackburn. He was
so quiet and unassuming that only when he had taken her hand and had
asked her a few conventional questions about her trip, did she realize
that she was actually speaking to him. In evening clothes, surrounded by
the pink silk walls of Angelica's drawing-room, his face looked firmer
and harder than it had appeared in the motor; but even in this
extravagant setting, he impressed her as more carefully dressed and
groomed than the average Virginian of her acquaintance. She saw now that
he was younger than she had at first thought; he couldn't, she surmised,
be much over forty. There were deep lines in his forehead; his features
had settled into the granite-like immobility that is acquired only
through grim and resolute struggle; and his dark, carefully brushed hair
showed a silvery gloss on the temples--yet these things, she realized,
were the marks of battles, not of years. What struck her most was the
quickness with which the touch of arrogance in his expression melted
before the engaging frankness of his smile.

"I'm glad you've come. I hope you will get on with Letty," he said; and
then, as he turned away, the vision of Angelica, in white chiffon and
pearls, floated toward her from a group by the fireplace.

"Colonel Ashburton is an old friend of your mother's, Miss Meade. He
took her to her first cotillion, and he is eager to meet her daughter."
There followed swift introductions to the Ashburtons, the Chalmers, and
the Colfaxes; and not until Caroline was going into the dining-room on
the arm of Mrs. Colfax's "Brother Charles," was she able to distinguish
between the stranger from New York, who looked lean and wiry and
strenuous, and the white-haired old gentleman who had taken her mother
to the cotillion. She was not confused; and yet her one vivid impression
was of Angelica, with her pale Madonna head, her soft grey eyes under
thick lashes, and her lovely figure in draperies of chiffon that flowed
and rippled about her.

Though the house was an inappropriate setting for David Blackburn, it
was, for all its newness and ornate accessories, the perfect frame for
his wife's beauty. She reminded Caroline of the allegorical figure of
Spring in one of the tapestries on the dining-room walls--only she was
so much softer, so much more ethereal, as if the floral image had come
to life and been endowed with a soul. It was the rare quality of Mrs.
Blackburn's beauty that in looking at her one thought first of her
spirit--of the sweetness and goodness which informed and animated her
features. The appeal she made was the appeal of an innocent and
beautiful creature who is unhappy. Against the background of an
unfortunate marriage, she moved with the resigned and exalted step of a
Christian martyr.

Sitting silently between the flippant "Brother Charles" and the imposing
Colonel Ashburton, who was still talking of her mother, Caroline tried
to follow the conversation while she studied the faces and the dresses
of the women. Mrs. Chalmers, who was large and handsome in a superb gown
of green velvet, appeared heavy and indifferent, and Mrs. Ashburton, an
over-earnest middle-aged woman, with a classic profile and a look of
impersonal yet hungry philanthropy, was so detached that she seemed,
when she spoke, to be addressing an invisible audience. In spite of her
regular features and her flawless complexion, she was as devoid of charm
as an organized charity. On her right sat Allan Wythe, a clean-cut,
good-looking chap, with romantic eyes and the air of a sportsman.
Though Caroline had heard that he wrote plays, she thought that he
needed only a gun and a dog to complete his appearance. "He is the only
good-looking man here," she concluded. "Some people might think Mr.
Blackburn good-looking, but I suppose I know too much about him." And
she remembered that her father had said a man's character always showed
in his mouth.

Next to Alan there was Mrs. Robert Colfax--a beautiful Spanish-looking
creature, straight as a young poplar, and as full of silvery lights and
shadows. She had no sooner sat down than she began to ask Angelica, with
an agreeable though flighty animation, if she had seen somebody since he
had come back from his wedding trip? For the next quarter of an hour
they kept up an excited interchange of gossip, while Mr. Chalmers
listened with polite attention, and Caroline tried in vain to discover
who the unknown person was, and why his wedding trip should interest
anybody so profoundly.

"Well, I never thought he'd get another wife after his last
misadventure," rippled Mrs. Colfax, "but they tell me he had only to
wink an eyelash. I declare I don't know a more discouraging spectacle
than the men that some women will marry."

At the other end of the table, Mrs. Blackburn was talking in a low voice
to Mr. Chalmers, and the broken clauses of her conversation were
punctuated by the laughter of the irrepressible Daisy, who was never
silent. Though Angelica was not brilliant, though she never said
anything clever enough for one to remember, she had what her friends
called "a sweet way of talking," and a flattering habit, when she was
with a man, of ending every sentence with a question. "I'm sure I don't
see how we are to keep out of this war, do you, Mr. Chalmers?" or "I
think the simplest way to raise money would be by some tableaux, don't
you, Colonel Ashburton?"; and still a little later there floated to
Caroline, "I tell Mary she rides too much. Don't you think it is a pity
for a woman to spend half her life in the saddle? Of course if she
hasn't anything else to do--but in this age, don't you feel, there are
so many opportunities of service?"

"Oh, when it comes to that," protested Mrs. Colfax, in the tone of airy
banter she affected, "There are many more of us trying to serve than
there are opportunities of service. I was telling mother only the other
day that I couldn't see a single war charity because the vice-presidents
are so thick."

A lull fell on the table, and for the first time Caroline heard
Blackburn's voice. Mrs. Chalmers was asking him about the house, and he
was responding with a smile that made his face almost young and
sanguine. His mouth, when he was not on guard, was sensitive and even
emotional, and his eyes lost the sharpness that cut through whatever
they looked at.

"Why, yes, I built it before my marriage," he was saying. "Dodson drew
the plans. You know Dodson?"

Mrs. Chalmers nodded. "He has done some good things in New York. And
this lovely furniture," she was plainly working hard to draw him out.
"Where did you find it?"

He met the question lightly. "Oh, I had a lot of stuff here that
Angelica got rid of."

From the other end of the table Mrs. Blackburn's voice floated
plaintively, "There isn't a piece of it left," she said. "It made the
house look exactly like an Italian hotel."

The remark struck Caroline as so unfortunate that she turned, with a
start of surprise, to glance at her hostess. Could it be that Mrs.
Blackburn was without tact? Could it be that she did not realize the
awkwardness of her interruption? Yet a single glance at Angelica was
sufficient to answer these questions. A woman who looked like that
couldn't be lacking in social instinct. It must have been a casual slip,
nothing more. She was probably tired--hadn't old Mrs. Colfax said that
she was delicate?--and she did not perceive the effect of her words.
Glancing again in Blackburn's direction, Caroline saw that his features
had hardened, and that the hand on the tablecloth was breaking a piece
of bread into crumbs.

The change in his manner was so sudden that Caroline understood, even
before she saw the twitching of his eyebrows, and the gesture of
irritation with which he pushed the bread crumbs away, that, in spite of
his reserve and his coldness, he was a bundle of over-sensitive nerves.
"He was behaving really well," she thought. "It is a pity that she
irritated him." Though she disliked Blackburn, she was just enough to
admit that he had started well with Mrs. Chalmers. Of course, no one
expected him to appear brilliant in society. A man who had had no
education except the little his mother had taught him, and who had
devoted his life to making a fortune, was almost as much debarred from
social success as a woman who knew only trained nursing. Yet, in spite
of these defects, she realized that he appeared to advantage at his own
table. There was something about him--some latent suggestion of
force--which distinguished him from every other man in the room. He
looked--she couldn't quite define the difference--as if he could do
things. The recollection of his stand in politics came to her while she
watched him, and turning to Mr. Peyton, who was a trifle more human than
Colonel Ashburton, she asked:

"What is this new movement Mr. Blackburn is so much interested in? I've
seen a great deal about it in the papers."

There was a bluff, kind way about Charles Peyton, and she liked the
natural heartiness of the laugh with which he answered. "You've seen a
great deal more than you've read, young lady, I'll warrant. No, it isn't
exactly a new movement, because somebody in the North got ahead of
him--you may always count on a Yankee butting in just before you--but he
is organizing the independent voters in Virginia, if that's what you
mean. At least he thinks he is, though even way down here I've a
suspicion that those Yankees have been meddling. Between you and me,
Miss Meade, it is all humbug--pure humbug. Haven't we got one party
already, and doesn't that one have a hard enough time looking after the
negroes? Why do we want to go and start up trouble just after we've got
things all nicely settled? Why does David want to stir up a hornet's
nest among the negroes, I'd like to know?"

On the other side of Caroline, Colonel Ashburton became suddenly
audible. "Ask that Rip Van Winkle, Miss Meade, if he was asleep while we
made a new constitution and eliminated the vote of the negroes? You
can't argue with these stand-patters, you know, because they never read
the signs of the times."

"Well, there isn't a better way of proving it's all humbug than by
asking two questions," declared the jovial Charles--a plethoric,
unwieldy old man, with a bald head, and a figure that was continually
brimming over his waistcoat. "What I want to know, Billy Ashburton, is
just this--wasn't your father as good a man as you are, and wasn't the
Democratic Party good enough for your father? I put the same to you,
Miss Meade, wasn't the Democratic Party good enough for your father?"

"Ah, you're driven to your last trench," observed the Colonel, with
genial irony, while Caroline replied slowly: "Yes, it was good enough
for father, but I remember he used to be very fond of quoting some lines
from Pope about 'principles changing with the times.' I suppose the
questions are different from what they were in his day."

"I'd like to see any questions the Democrats aren't able to handle,"
persisted Charles. "They always have handled them to my satisfaction,
and I reckon they always will, in spite of Blackburn and Ashburton."

"I wish Blackburn could talk to you, Miss Meade," said Colonel
Ashburton. "He doesn't care much for personalities. He has less small
talk than any man I know, but he speaks well if you get him started on
ideas. By-the-way, he is the man who won me over. I used to be as
strongly prejudiced against any fresh departure in Virginia politics as
our friend Charles there, but Blackburn got hold of me, and convinced
me, as he has convinced a great many others, against my will. He proved
to me that the old forms are worn out--that they can't do the work any
longer. You see, Blackburn is an idealist. He sees straight through the
sham to the truth quicker than any man I've ever known----"

"An idealist!" exclaimed Caroline, and mentally she added, "Is it
possible for a man to have two characters? To have a public character
that gives the lie to his private one?"

"Yes, I think you might call him that, though, like you, I rather shy at
the word. But it fits Blackburn, somehow, for he is literally on fire
with ideas. I always say that he ought to have lived in the glorious
days when the Republic was founded. He belongs to the pure breed of
American."

"But I understood from the papers that it was just the other way--that
he was--that he was----"

"I know, my child, I know." He smiled indulgently, for she looked very
charming with the flush in her cheeks, and after thirty years of happy
companionship with an impeccable character, he preferred at dinner a
little amiable weakness in a woman. "You have seen in the papers that he
is a traitor to the faith of his fathers. You have even heard this
asserted by the logical Charles on your right."

She lifted her eyes, and to his disappointment he discovered that
earnestness, not embarrassment, had brought the colour to her cheeks.
"But I thought that this new movement was directed at the Democratic
Party--that it was attempting to undo all that had been accomplished in
the last fifty years. It seems the wrong way, but of course there must
be a right way toward better things."

For a minute he looked at her in silence; then he said again gently, "I
wish Blackburn could talk to you." Since she had come by her ideas
honestly, not merely borrowed them from Charles Colfax, it seemed only
chivalrous to treat them with the consideration he accorded always to
the fair and the frail.

She shook her head. The last thing she wanted was to have Mr. Blackburn
talk to her. "I thought all old-fashioned Virginians opposed this
movement," she added after a pause. "Not that I am very old-fashioned.
You remember my father, and so you will know that his daughter is not
afraid of opinions."

"Yes, I remember him, and I understand that his child could not be
afraid either of opinions or armies."

She smiled up at him, and he saw that her eyes, which had been a little
sad, were charged with light. While he watched her he wondered if her
quietness were merely a professional habit of reserve which she wore
like a uniform. Was the warmth and fervour which he read now in her face
a glimpse of the soul which life had hidden beneath the dignity of her
manner?

"But Blackburn isn't an agitator," he resumed after a moment. "He has
got hold of the right idea--the new application of eternal principles.
If we could send him to Washington he would do good work."

"To Washington?" She looked at him inquiringly. "You mean to the Senate?
Not in the place of Colonel Acton?"

"Ah, that touches you! You wouldn't like to see the 'Odysseus of
Democracy' dispossessed?"

Laughter sparkled in her eyes, and he realized that she was more girlish
than he had thought her a minute ago. After all, she had humour, and it
was a favourite saying of his that ideas without humour were as bad as
bread without yeast.

"Only for another Ajax," she retorted merrily. "I prefer the strong to
the wise. But does Mr. Blackburn want the senatorship?"

"Perhaps not, but he might be made to take it. There is a rising tide in
Virginia."

"Is it strong enough to overturn the old prejudices?"

"Not yet--not yet, but it is strengthening every hour." His tone had
lost its gallantry and grown serious. "The war in Europe has taught us a
lesson. We aren't satisfied any longer, the best thought isn't
satisfied, with the old clutter and muddle of ideas and sentiments. We
begin to see that what we need in politics is not commemorative
gestures, but constructive patriotism."

As he finished, Caroline became aware again that Blackburn was speaking,
and that for the first time Mrs. Chalmers looked animated and
interested.

"Why, that has occurred to me," he was saying with an earnestness that
swept away his reserve. "But, you see, it is impossible to do anything
in the South with the Republican Party. The memories are too black. We
must think in new terms."

"And you believe that the South is ready for another party? Has the hour
struck?"

"Can't you hear it?" He looked up as he spoke. "The war abroad has
liberated us from the old sectional bondage. It has brought the world
nearer, and the time is ripe for the national spirit. The demand now is
for men. We need men who will construct ideas, not copy them. We need
men strong enough to break up the solid South and the solid North, and
pour them together into the common life of the nation. We want a
patriotism that will overflow party lines, and put the good of the
country before the good of a section. The old phrases, the old gestures,
are childish to-day because we have outgrown them----" He stopped
abruptly, his face so enkindled that Caroline would not have known it,
and an instant later the voice of Mrs. Blackburn was heard saying
sweetly but firmly, "David, I am afraid that Mrs. Chalmers is not used
to your melodramatic way of talking."

In the hush that followed it seemed as if a harsh light had fallen over
Blackburn's features. A moment before Caroline had seen him inspired and
exalted by feeling--the vehicle of the ideas that possessed him--and
now, in the sharp flash of Angelica's irony, he appeared insincere and
theatrical--the claptrap politician in motley.

"It is a pity she spoke just when she did," thought Caroline, "but I
suppose she sees through him so clearly that she can't help herself. She
doesn't want him to mislead the rest of us."

Blackburn's guard was up again, and though he made no reply, his brow
paled slowly and his hand--the nervous, restless hand of the emotional
type--played with the bread crumbs.

"Yes, it is a pity," repeated Caroline to herself. "It makes things very
uncomfortable." It was evident to her that Mrs. Blackburn watched her
husband every instant--that she was waiting all the time to rectify his
mistakes, to put him in the right again. Then, swiftly as an arrow,
there flashed through Caroline's mind, "Only poor, lovely creature, she
achieves exactly the opposite result. She is so nervous she can't see
that she puts him always in the wrong. She makes matters worse instead
of better every time."

From this moment the dinner dragged on heavily to its awkward end.
Blackburn had withdrawn into his shell; Mrs. Chalmers looked depressed
and bored; while the giddy voice of Mrs. Colfax sounded as empty as the
twitter of a sparrow. It was as if a blight had fallen over them, and in
this blight Angelica made charming, futile attempts to keep up the
conversation. She had tried so hard, her eyes, very gentle and pensive,
seemed to say, and all her efforts were wasted.

Suddenly, in the dull silence, Mrs. Colfax began asking, in her
flightiest manner, about Angelica's family. For at least five minutes
she had vacillated in her own mind between the weather and Roane
Fitzhugh, who, for obvious reasons, was not a promising topic; and now
at last, since the weather was too perfect for comment, she recklessly
decided to introduce the unsavoury Roane.

"We haven't seen your brother recently, Angelica. What do you hear from
him?"

For an instant Mrs. Blackburn's eyes rested with mute reproach on her
husband. Then she said clearly and slowly, "He has been away all summer,
but we hope he is coming next week. David," she added suddenly in a
louder tone, "I was just telling Daisy how glad we are that Roane is
going to spend the autumn at Briarlay."

It was at that instant, just as Mrs. Blackburn, smiling amiably on her
husband, was about to rise from the table, that the astounding, the
incredible thing happened, for Blackburn looked up quickly, and replied
in a harsh, emphatic manner, "He is not coming to Briarlay. You know
that we cannot have him here."

Then before a word was uttered, before Mrs. Colfax had time to twitter
cheerfully above the awkwardness, Mrs. Blackburn rose from her chair,
and the women trailed slowly after her out of the dining-room. As
Caroline went, she felt that her heart was bursting with sympathy for
Angelica and indignation against her husband. "How in the world shall I
ever speak to him after this?" she thought. "How shall I ever stay under
the same roof with him?" And glancing pityingly to where Mrs.
Blackburn's flower-like head drooped against the rosy shade of a lamp,
she realized that Angelica never looked so lovely as she did when she
was hurt.



CHAPTER V

THE FIRST NIGHT


When the last guest had gone, Caroline went upstairs to her room, and
sitting down before the little ivory and gold desk, began a letter to
her mother. For years, ever since her first night in the hospital, she
had poured out her heart after the day's work and the day's self-control
and restraint were over. It was a relief to be free sometimes, to break
through the discipline of her profession, to live and love for oneself,
not for others.

The house was very still--only from the darkness outside, where the wind
had risen, a few yellow leaves fluttered in through the window.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am here, at last, dearest mother, and I have been longing to tell you
about it. First of all, I had a good trip, my train was exactly on time,
and Mrs. Colfax met me in the most beautiful car I ever saw, and brought
me out to Briarlay. She was very nice and kind, but she looks ever so
much older than you do, and I cannot help feeling that, in spite of the
loss of so many children and father's dreadful disappointments, your
life has been happier than hers. As I get older, and see more of the
world--and heaven knows I have seen anything but the best of it these
last seven or eight years--I understand better and better that happiness
is something you have to find deep down in yourself, not in other people
or outside things. It shines through sometimes just as yours does and
lights up the world around and the dark places, but it never, _never_
comes from them--of this I am very sure.

I wish I could describe this house to you, but I cannot--I simply
cannot, the words will not come to me. It is big and beautiful, but I
think it is too full of wonderful things--there are rooms that make me
feel as if I were in a museum because of the tapestries and crowded rugs
and French furniture. I like English mahogany so much better, but that
may be just because I am used to it. I suppose it is natural that Mrs.
Blackburn should prefer surroundings that are opulent and florid, since
they make her look like a lovely flower in a greenhouse. She is even
more beautiful than I thought she would be, and she does not seem the
least bit snobbish or spoiled or arrogant. I have always said, you
remember, that nursing has taught me not to rely on mere impressions
whether they are first or last ones--but I have never in my life met any
one who attracted me so strongly in the beginning. It is years since I
have felt my sympathy so completely drawn out by a stranger. I feel that
I would do anything in the world that I could for her; and though I
cannot write frankly about what I have observed here, I believe that she
needs help and understanding as much as any one I ever saw. The
situation seems worse even than we were led to expect. Of course I have
seen only the surface so far, but my heart has been wrung for her ever
since I have been in the house, and this evening there was a very
painful scene at the dinner table. I shall not write any more about it,
though I imagine it will be spread all over Richmond by young Mrs.
Colfax.

About Mr. Blackburn I have not quite made up my mind. I do not doubt
that everything Mrs. Colfax wrote us is true, and I know if I stay on
here that I shall make no attempt to conceal from him how much I dislike
him. That will be no secret. I simply could not pretend even to him that
I was not heart and soul on the side of his wife. It is so perfectly
dreadful when one has to take sides with a husband or wife, isn't it?
When I think how wonderful a marriage like yours and father's can be, it
makes me feel sorry and ashamed for human nature as I see it here. But
you cannot become a nurse and keep many illusions about love. The thing
that remains after years of such work is no illusion at all--but the
clear knowledge of the reality. A nurse sees the best and the worst of
humanity--and the very best of it is the love that some people keep to
the end.

As for this marriage, there is not a person in Richmond, nor a servant
in the house, who does not know that it is an unhappy one. Mrs.
Blackburn cannot be at fault--one has only to look at her to realize
that she is too gentle and sweet to hurt any one--and yet I discovered
to-night that she does not know how to treat him, that she says the
wrong thing so often without meaning to, and that unconsciously she
irritates him whenever she speaks. It is impossible to blame her, for
she must have suffered a great many things that no one knows of, and I
suppose her nerves are not always under control. But nothing could be
more unfortunate than her manner to him at times.

Strange to say (I do not understand why) some people appear to admire
him tremendously. I went down to dinner to-night because one of the
guests did not come, and Colonel Ashburton--he said he used to know
you--talked in the most extravagant fashion about Mr. Blackburn's
abilities. The air here is heavy with politics because of the elections,
and I tried to listen as closely as I could. I thought how intensely
interested father would have been in the discussion. As far as I can
understand Mr. Blackburn's way of thinking is not unlike father's, and
but for his behaviour to his wife, this would give me a sympathetic
feeling for him. I forgot to tell you that he looked very well
to-night--not in the least rough or common. His face is not ugly, only
he wears his hair brushed straight back, and this makes his features
look sterner than they really are. His eyes are the keenest I ever
saw--grey, I think, and yet, funny as it sounds, there are times when
they are almost pathetic--and his smile is very nice and reminds me in
a way of father's. This may have been why I thought of father all the
time I was at dinner--this and the political talk which went on as long
as we were at the table.

Well, I started to tell you about the elections, and I know you are
thinking I shall never go on. It seems that Mr. Blackburn intends to
vote for Hughes--though I heard him tell Mr. Chalmers that if he lived
in the North he should probably vote with the Democrats. Voting for a
man, he feels, is not nearly so important as voting against a
section--at least this is what I gathered. There was a great deal said
about the war, but nobody, except Mrs. Colfax's brother Charles, who
does not count, seemed to think there was the faintest chance of our
being in it. Mr. Chalmers told me afterwards that if Wilson should be
re-elected, it would be mainly because of the slogan "he kept us out of
war." As far as I could discover Mr. Chalmers stands firmly by the
President, but I heard Mr. Blackburn tell Colonel Ashburton that what he
hoped for now was conduct so flagrant, on Germany's part, that the
public conscience would demand a more vigorous policy. By the way, Mr.
Chalmers said that the feeling was so strong in New York that he
expected the State to go to the Republicans because there was a general
impression that to vote with them meant to vote for war. Of course, he
added, this was mere German propaganda--but that was only another way of
saying he did not agree with it. Opinions change every hour, and just as
soon as a new one begins to be popular, people forget all that they
believed just as ardently a few weeks before. Don't you remember how
complacent we were about our splendid isolation and our pluperfect
pacifism and our being "too proud to fight" such a very short while ago?
Well, nobody remembers now the way we crowed over Europe and patted one
another on the back, and congratulated ourselves because we could stand
aside and wait until history showed who was right. That is over and
gone now, and "I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier" has joined the
dust of all the other rag-time. If the slow coach of history ever does
come up with us, it may find us in the thick of the fight after all, and
not waiting by the roadside. Mr. Chalmers believes that if the President
is re-elected, and can get the country behind him, the Government will
declare that a state of war exists--but Mr. Blackburn, on the other
hand, is convinced that both Wilson and Hughes are pledged to fulfil
their promises of "peace and prosperity." He insists that there was more
war spirit over the whole country the week after the _Lusitania_ was
sunk, than there has ever been since, and that we were as ready to fight
then as we shall be after the elections. It is like being in the midst
of electric currents to sit still and listen to these men argue. Can you
imagine anything more unlike father's day when all Virginians, except
those whom nobody knew, thought exactly alike? Now, though the vote is
solid still, and the great majority accepts the policies of the
Democrats as uncritically as it accepts Scripture, opinions about
secondary issues vary as much as they do anywhere else. There are some
who regard the President as greater than George Washington--and others
who say that the moment is great, not the man. Mr. Colfax believes that
he is a generation ahead of his country, and Colonel Ashburton believes
just as strongly that he is a generation behind it--that it is a case
where a wave of destiny is sweeping a man on to greatness. I suppose
here again we shall have to wait until history shows who is right.

I have not seen the little girl yet--her name is Letty. They have to be
careful not to excite her in the evening, and the other nurse is still
with her.

Now I must go to bed.

    Your devoted child,
         CAROLINE.

       *       *       *       *       *

She had finished her letter and glanced at her watch on the bureau--it
was one o'clock--when a cry or moan reached her from the darkness and
silence of the house, and a few minutes afterwards there came the sound
of running footsteps on the stairs, and a hasty knock fell on her door.

"Miss Meade, will you please come as quickly as you can?"

Opening the door, she met the frightened face of a maid.

"What has happened? Is Mrs. Blackburn ill?"

"I don't know. She hasn't undressed and she is too ill to speak. I left
her on the couch, and ran upstairs to call you."

They were already in the hall, and while they hurried to the staircase,
Caroline asked a few questions in a whisper.

"Is there any medicine that she is accustomed to take?"

"I give her ammonia sometimes, but to-night it didn't do any good."

"Does she faint often?"

"I'm not sure. She has these attacks, but only after--after----"

The woman paused in confusion, and before she could recover herself,
Caroline had opened the door and walked swiftly to the prostrate figure,
in white chiffon, on the couch in front of the fire. Bending over she
felt Angelica's pulse and lowered her head, with its loosened amber
hair, on the pillows.

"Your pulse is good. Do you feel better now?" she asked tenderly, for,
in spite of the quiet competence of her professional attitude, her heart
was aching with pity.

"I was sure I could count on your sympathy." As she answered, Mrs.
Blackburn stretched out her hands until they rested on Caroline's arm.
"Has Mary gone out of the room?"

"Your maid? Yes, she has just gone. What can I do for you?"

Even in the midst of the emotional crisis, Angelica's manner had not
lost a trace of its charming self-possession, its rather colourless
sweetness. Her grey eyes, drenched in tears which left no redness on the
firm white lids, were as devoid of passion as the eyes of a child.

"I cannot tell you--I cannot tell any one," she said after a moment, not
in answer to the other's question, but with a plaintive murmur. Then she
began to cry very gently, while she clung to Caroline with her lovely
hands which were as soft and fragrant as flowers.

"I think I know without your telling me," responded Caroline soothingly.
"Let me help you." All her years of nursing had not enabled her to watch
suffering, especially the suffering of helpless things, without a pang
of longing to comfort. She was on her knees now by the couch, her smooth
dark head bending over Angelica's disarranged fair one, her grave,
compassionate face gazing down on the other's delicate features, which
were softened, not disfigured, by tears.

"The worst is about Roane--my brother," began Angelica slowly. "He came
here to-night, but they--" she lingered over the word, "sent him away
before I could talk to him. He is downstairs now on the terrace because
he is not allowed to come into the house--my brother. I must get this
cheque to him, but I do not like to ask one of the servants----"

"You wish me to take it to him?" Caroline released herself from the
clinging hands, and rose quickly to her feet. Here at last was a
definite call to action.

"Oh, Miss Meade, if you would!" Already Angelica's eyes were dry.

"I will go at once. Is the cheque written?"

"I carried it down with me, but I could not get a chance to give it to
Roane. Poor boy," she added in a low rather than a soft tone, "Poor boy,
after all, he is more sinned against than sinning!"

Drawing the cheque from under the lace pillows, she gave it into
Caroline's hand with a gesture of relief. "Go through the dining-room to
the terrace, and you will find him outside by the windows. Tell him that
I will see him as soon as I can, and ask him please not to trouble me
again."

She had rung for her maid while she was speaking, and when the woman
appeared, she rose and waited, with a yawn, for her dress to be
unfastened. Then suddenly, as if she had forgotten something, she gave
Caroline a smile full of beauty and pathos. "Thank you a thousand tunes,
dear Miss Meade," she exclaimed gratefully.

It was dark downstairs, except for a nebulous glow from the hall above
and a thin reddish line that ran beneath the closed door of the library.
Not until she reached the dining-room did Caroline dare turn on the
electric light, and as soon as she did so, the terrace and the garden
appeared by contrast to be plunged in blackness. When she opened one of
the long French windows, and stepped out on the brick terrace, her eyes
became gradually accustomed to the starlight, and she discerned
presently the shrouded outlines of the juniper trees and a marble
fountain which emerged like a ghost from the quivering spray of water.
As she went quickly down the steps to the lower terrace, she felt as
much alone in her surroundings as if the house and Mrs. Blackburn had
receded into a dream. Overhead there was the silvery glitter of stars,
and before her she divined the simplicity and peace of an autumn garden,
where the wind scattered the faint scent of flowers that were already
beginning to drop and decay.

When she approached the fountain, the figure of a man detached itself
from the vague shape of an evergreen, and came toward her.

"Well, I've waited awhile, haven't I?" he began airily, and the next
instant exclaimed with scarcely a change of tone, "Who are you? Did Anna
Jeannette send you?"

"I am Letty's new nurse--Miss Meade."

"What! A spirit yet a woman too!" His voice was full of charm.

"Mrs. Blackburn sent me with this." As she held out the cheque, he took
it with a gesture that was almost hungry. "She asked me to say that she
would see you very soon, and to beg you not to trouble her again."

"Does she imagine that I do it for pleasure!" He placed the cheque in
his pocket book. "She cannot suppose that I came here to-night for the
sake of a row."

Though he was unusually tall, he carried his height with the ease of an
invincible dignity and self-possession; and she had already discerned
that his sister's pathos had no part in the tempestuous ardour and
gaiety of his nature.

"She didn't tell me," answered Caroline coldly. "There is nothing else,
is there?" Her features were like marble beneath the silken dusk of her
hair which was faintly outlined against the cloudier darkness.

"There is a great deal--since you ask me."

"Nothing, I mean, that I may say to your sister?"

"You may say to her that I thank her for her message--and her
messenger."

He was about to add something more, when Caroline turned away from him
and moved, without haste, as if she were unaware that he followed her,
up the shallow steps of the terrace. When she reached the window, she
passed swiftly, like a dissolving shadow, from the darkness into the
light of the room. Nothing had been said that she found herself able to
resent, and yet, in some indefinable way, Roane's manner had offended
her. "For a trained nurse you are entirely too particular," she said to
herself, smiling, as she put out the light and went through the wide
doorway into the hall. "You have still a good deal of haughtiness to
overcome, Miss Meade, if you expect every man to treat you as if you
wore side curls and a crinoline."

The hall, when she entered it, was very dim, but as she approached the
door of the library, it opened, and Blackburn stood waiting for her on
the threshold. Behind him the room was illuminated, and she saw the rich
sheen of leather bindings and the glow of firelight on the old Persian
rug by the hearth.

"You have been out, Miss Meade?"

"Yes, I have been out." As she threw back her head, the light was full
on her face while his was in shadow.

"Do you need anything?"

"Nothing, thank you."

For an instant their eyes met, and in that single glance, charged with
an implacable accusation, she made Angelica's cause her own. Grave,
remote, dispassionate, her condemnation was as impersonal as a judgment
of the invisible Powers.

"That is all, then, good-night," he said.

"Good-night."

While he watched her, she turned as disdainfully as she had turned from
Roane, and ascended the stairs.



CHAPTER VI

LETTY


In the breakfast room next morning, Caroline found the little girl in
charge of Miss Miller, the nurse who was leaving that day. Letty was a
fragile, undeveloped child of seven years, with the dark hair and eyes
of her father, and the old, rather elfish look of children who have been
ill from the cradle. Her soft, fine hair hung straight to her shoulders,
and framed her serious little face, which was charming in spite of its
unhealthy pallor. Caroline had questioned Miss Miller about the child's
malady, and she had been reassured by the other nurse's optimistic view
of the case.

"We think she may outgrow the trouble, that's why we are so careful
about all the rules she lives by. The doctor watches her closely, and
she isn't a difficult child to manage. If you once gain her confidence
you can do anything with her, but first of all you must make her believe
in you."

"Was she always so delicate?"

"I believe she was born this way. She is stunted physically, though she
is so precocious mentally. She talks exactly like an old person
sometimes. The things she says would make you laugh if it wasn't so
pathetic to know that a child thinks them."

Yes, it was pathetic, Caroline felt, while she watched Letty cross the
room to her father, who was standing before one of the French windows.
As she lifted her face gravely, Blackburn bent over and kissed her.

"I'm taking a new kind of medicine, father."

He smiled down on her. "Then perhaps you will eat a new kind of
breakfast."

"And I've got a new nurse," added Letty before she turned away and came
over to Caroline. "I'm so glad you wear a uniform," she said in her
composed manner. "I think uniforms are much nicer than dresses like Aunt
Matty's."

Mrs. Timberlake looked up from the coffee urn with a smile that was like
a facial contortion. "Anything might be better than my dresses, Letty."

"But you ought to get something pretty," said the child quickly, for her
thoughts came in flashes. "If you wore a uniform you might look happy,
too. Are all nurses happy, Miss Miller?"

"We try to be, dear," answered Miss Miller, a stout, placid person,
while she settled the little girl in her chair. "It makes things so much
easier."

Blackburn, who had been looking out on the terrace and the formal
garden, turned and bowed stiffly as he came to the table. It was evident
that he was not in a talkative mood, and as Caroline returned his
greeting with the briefest acknowledgment, she congratulated herself
that she did not have to make conversation for him. Mary had not come in
from her ride, and since Mrs. Timberlake used language only under the
direct pressure of necessity, the sound of Letty's unembarrassed
childish treble rippled placidly over the constrained silence of her
elders.

"Can you see the garden?" asked the child presently. "I don't mean the
box garden, I mean the real garden where the flowers are?"

Caroline was helping herself to oatmeal, and raising her eyes from the
dish, she glanced through the window which gave on the brick terrace.
Beyond the marble fountain and a dark cluster of junipers there was an
arch of box, which framed the lower garden and a narrow view of the
river.

"That's where my garden is, down there," Letty was saying. "I made it
all by myself--didn't I, Miss Miller?--and my verbenas did better than
mother's last summer. Would you like to have a garden, father?" she
inquired suddenly, turning to Blackburn, who was looking over the
morning paper while he waited for his coffee. "It wouldn't be a bit more
trouble for me to take care of two than one. I'll make yours just like
mine if you want me to."

Blackburn put down his paper. "Well, I believe I should like one," he
replied gravely, "if you are sure you have time for it. But aren't there
a great many more important things you ought to do?"

"Oh, it doesn't take so much time," returned the child eagerly, "I work
all I can, but the doctor won't let me do much. I'll make yours close to
mine, so there won't be far to go with the water. I have to carry it in
a very little watering-pot because they won't let me lift a big one."

A smile quivered for an instant on her father's lips, and Caroline saw
his face change and soften as it had done the evening before. It was
queer, she thought, that he should have such a sensitive mouth. She had
imagined that a man of that character would have coarse lips and a
brutal expression.

"Now, it's odd, but I've always had a fancy for a garden of that sort,"
he responded, "if you think you can manage two of them without
over-taxing yourself. I don't want to put you to additional trouble, you
know. After all, that's just what I hire Peter for, isn't it?"

While the child was assuring him that Peter had neither the time nor the
talent for miniature gardening, Miss Miller remarked pleasantly, as if
she were visited by a brilliant idea, "You ought to make one for your
mother also, Letty."

"Oh, mother doesn't want one," returned the child: "The big ones are
hers, aren't they, father?" Then, as Blackburn had unfolded his paper
again, she added to Caroline, with one of the mature utterances Miss
Miller had called pathetic, "When you have big things you don't care for
little things, do you?"

As they were finishing breakfast, Mary Blackburn dashed in from the
terrace, with the Airedale terriers at her heels.

"I was afraid you'd have gone before I got back, David," she said,
tossing her riding-crop and gloves on a chair, and coming over to the
table. "Patrick, put the dogs out, and tell Peter to give them their
breakfast." Then turning back to her brother, she resumed carelessly,
"That man stopped me again--that foreman you discharged from the works."

Blackburn's brow darkened. "Ridley? I told him not to come on the place.
Is he hanging about?"

"I met him in the lane. He asked me to bring a message to you. It seems
he wants awfully to be reinstated. He is out of work; and he doesn't
want to go North for a job."

"It's a pity he didn't think of that sooner. He has made more trouble in
the plant than any ten men I've ever had. It isn't his fault that
there's not a strike on now."

"I know," said Mary, "but I couldn't refuse to hear him. There's Alan
now," she added. "Ask him about it."

She looked up, her face flushing with pride and happiness, as Alan Wythe
opened the window. There was something free and noble in her candour.
All the little coquetries and vanities of women appeared to shrivel in
the white blaze of her sincerity.

"So you've been held up by Ridley," remarked Blackburn, as the young man
seated himself between Mary and Mrs. Timberlake. "Did he tell you just
what political capital he expects to make out of my discharging him? It
isn't the first time he has tried blackmail."

Alan was replying to Mrs. Timberlake's question about his coffee--she
never remembered, Caroline discovered later, just how much sugar one
liked--and there was a pause before he turned to Blackburn and answered:
"I haven't a doubt that he means to make trouble sooner or later--he has
some pull, hasn't he?--but at the moment he is more interested in
getting his job back. He talked a lot about his family--tried to make
Mary ask you to take him on again----"

Blackburn laughed, not unpleasantly, but with a curious bluntness and
finality, as if he were closing a door on some mental passage. "Well,
you may tell him," he rejoined, "that I wouldn't take him back if all
the women in creation asked me."

Alan received this with his usual ease and flippancy. "The fellow
appears to have got the wrong impression. He told me that Mrs. Blackburn
was taking an interest in his case, and had promised to speak to you."

"He told you that?" said Blackburn, and stopped abruptly.

For a minute Alan looked almost disconcerted. In his riding clothes he
was handsomer and more sportsmanlike than he had been the evening
before, and Caroline told herself that she could understand why Mary
Blackburn had fallen so deeply in love with him. What she couldn't
understand--what puzzled her every instant--was the obvious fact that
Alan had fallen quite as deeply in love with Mary. Of course the girl
was fine and sensible and high-spirited--any one could see that--but she
appeared just the opposite of everything that Alan would have sought in
a woman. She was neither pretty nor feminine; and Alan's type was the
one of all others to which the pretty and feminine would make its
appeal. "He must love her for her soul," thought Caroline. "He must see
how splendid she is at heart, and this has won him."

In a few minutes Blackburn left the table, while Letty caught Caroline's
hand and drew her through the window out on the terrace. The landscape,
beyond the three gardens, was golden with October sunlight, and over the
box maze and the variegated mist of late blooming flowers, they could
see the river and the wooded slopes that folded softly into the
sparkling edge of the horizon. It was one of those autumn days when the
only movement of the world seems to be the slow fall of the leaves, and
the quivering of gauzy-winged insects above the flower-beds. Perfect as
the weather was, there was a touch of melancholy in its brightness that
made Caroline homesick for The Cedars. "It is hard to be where nobody
cares for you," she thought. "Where nothing you feel or think matters to
anybody." Then her stronger nature reasserted itself, and she brushed
the light cloud away. "After all, life is mine as much as theirs. The
battle is mine, and I will fight it. It is just as important that I
should be a good nurse as it is that Mrs. Blackburn should be beautiful
and charming and live in a house that is like fairyland."

Letty called to her, and running down the brick steps from the terrace,
the two began a gentle game of hide-and-seek in the garden. The
delighted laughter of the child rang out presently from the rose-arbours
and the winding paths; and while Caroline passed in and out of the
junipers and the young yew-trees, she forgot the loneliness she had felt
on the terrace. "I'll not worry about it any more," she thought,
pursuing Letty beyond the marble fountain, where a laughing Cupid shot a
broken arrow toward the sun. "Mother used to say that all the worry in
the world would never keep a weasel out of the hen-house." Then, as she
twisted and doubled about a tall cluster of junipers, she ran directly
across the shadow of Blackburn.

As her feet came to a halt the smile died on her lips, and the reserve
she had worn since she reached Briarlay fell like a veil over her
gaiety. While she put up her hand to straighten her cap, all the dislike
she felt for him showed in her look. Only the light in her eyes, and the
blown strands of hair under her cap, belied her dignity and her silence.

"Miss Meade, I wanted to tell you that the doctor will come about noon.
I have asked him to give you directions."

"Very well." Against the dark junipers, in her white uniform, she looked
like a statue except for her parted lips and accusing eyes.

"Letty seems bright to-day, but you must not let her tire herself."

"I am very careful. We play as gently as possible."

"Will you take her to town? I'll send the car back for you."

For an instant she hesitated. "Mrs. Blackburn has not told me what she
wishes."

He nodded. "Letty uses my car in the afternoon. It will be here at three
o'clock."

In the sunlight, with his hat off, he looked tanned and ruddy, and she
saw that there was the power in his face which belongs to expression--to
thought and purpose--rather than to feature. His dark hair, combed
straight back from his forehead, made his head appear distinctive and
massive, like the relief of a warrior on some ancient coin, and his
eyes, beneath slightly beetling brows, were the colour of the sea in a
storm. Though his height was not over six feet, he seemed to her, while
he stood there beside the marble fountain, the largest and strongest man
she had ever seen. "I know he isn't big, and yet he appears so," she
thought: "I suppose it is because he is so muscular." And immediately
she added to herself, "I can understand everything about him except his
mouth--but his mouth doesn't belong in his face. It is the mouth of a
poet. I wonder he doesn't wear a moustache just to hide the way it
changes."

"I shall be ready at three o'clock," she said. "Mrs. Colfax asked me to
bring Letty to play with her children."

"She will enjoy that," he answered, "if they are not rough." Then, as he
moved away, he observed indifferently, "It is wonderful weather."

As he went back to the house Letty clung to him, and lifting her in his
arms, he carried her to the terrace and round the corner where the car
waited. For the time at least the play was spoiled, and Caroline, still
wearing her professional manner, stood watching for Letty to come back
to her. "I could never like him if I saw him every day for years," she
was thinking, when one of the French windows of the dining-room opened,
and Mary Blackburn came down the steps into the garden.

"I am so glad to find you alone," she said frankly, "I want to speak to
you--and your white dress looks so nice against those evergreens."

"It's a pity I have to change it then, but I am going to take Letty to
town after luncheon. The doctor wants her to be with other children."

"I know. She is an odd little thing, isn't she? I sometimes think that
she is older and wiser than any one in the house." Her tone changed
abruptly. "I want to explain to you about last night, Miss Meade. David
seemed so dreadfully rude, didn't he?"

Caroline gazed back at her in silence while a flush stained her cheeks.
After all, what could she answer? She couldn't and wouldn't deny that
Mr. Blackburn had been inexcusably rude to his wife at his own table.

"It is so hard to explain when one doesn't know everything," pursued
Mary, with her unfaltering candour. "If you had ever seen Roane
Fitzhugh, you would understand better than I can make you that David is
right. It is quite impossible to have Roane in the house. He drinks,
and when he was here last summer, he was hardly ever sober. He was rude
to everyone. He insulted me."

"So that was why----" began Caroline impulsively, and checked herself.

"Yes, that was why. David told him that he must never come back again."

"And Mrs. Blackburn did not understand."

Mary did not reply, and glancing at her after a moment, Caroline saw
that she was gazing thoughtfully at a red and gold leaf, which turned
slowly in the air as it detached itself from the stem of a maple.

"If you want to get the best view of the river you ought to go down to
the end of the lower garden," she said carelessly before she went back
into the house.

In the afternoon, when Caroline took Letty to Mrs. Colfax's, a
flickering light was shed on the cause of Mary's reticence.

"Oh, Miss Meade, wasn't it perfectly awful last evening?" began the
young woman as soon as the children were safely out of hearing in the
yard. "I feel so sorry for Angelica!"

Even in a Southern woman her impulsiveness appeared excessive, and when
Caroline came to know her better, she discovered that Daisy Colfax was
usually described by her friends as "kind-hearted, but painfully
indiscreet."

"It was my first dinner party at Briarlay. As far as I know they may all
end that way," responded Caroline lightly.

"Of course I know that you feel you oughtn't to talk," replied Mrs.
Colfax persuasively, "but you needn't be afraid of saying just what you
think to me. I know that I have the reputation of letting out
everything that comes into my mind--and I do love to gossip--but I
shouldn't dream of repeating anything that is told me in confidence."
Her wonderful dusky eyes, as vague and innocent as a child's, swept
Caroline's face before they wandered, with their look of indirection and
uncertainty, to her mother-in-law, who was knitting by the window.
Before her marriage Daisy had been the acknowledged beauty of three
seasons, and now, the mother of two children and as lovely as ever, she
managed to reconcile successfully a talent for housekeeping with a taste
for diversion. She was never still except when she listened to gossip,
and before Caroline had been six weeks in Richmond, she had learned that
the name of Mrs. Robert Colfax would head the list of every dance, ball,
and charity of the winter.

"If you ask me what I think," observed the old lady tartly, with a
watchful eye on the children, who were playing ring-around-the-rosy in
the yard. "It is that David Blackburn ought to have been spanked and put
to bed."

"Well, of course, Angelica had been teasing him about his political
views," returned her daughter-in-law. "You know how she hates it all,
but she didn't mean actually to irritate him--merely to keep him from
appearing so badly. It is as plain as the nose on your face that she
doesn't know how to manage him."

They were sitting in the library, and every now and then the younger
woman would take up the receiver of the telephone, and have a giddy
little chat about the marketing or a motor trip she was planning. "But
all I've got to say," she added, turning from one of these breathless
colloquies, "is that if you have to manage a man, you'd better try to
get rid of him."

"Well, I'd like to see anybody but a bear-tamer manage David Blackburn,"
retorted the old lady. "With Angelica's sensitive nature she ought never
to have married a man who has to be tamed. She never dares take her eyes
off him, poor thing, for fear he'll make some sort of break."

"I wonder," began Caroline, and hesitated an instant. "I wonder if it
wouldn't be better just to let him make his breaks and not notice them?
Of course, I know how trying it must be for her--she is so lovely and
gentle that it wrings your heart to see him rude to her--but it makes
every little thing appear big when you call everybody's attention to it.
I don't know much about dinner parties," she concluded with a desire to
be perfectly fair even to a man she despised, "but I couldn't see that
he was doing anything wrong last night. He was getting on very well with
Mrs. Chalmers, who was interested in politics----" She broke off and
asked abruptly, "Is Mrs. Blackburn's brother really so dreadful?"

"I've often wondered," said the younger Mrs. Colfax, "if Roane Fitzhugh
is as bad as people say he is?"

"Well, he has always been very polite to me," commented the old lady.
"Though Brother Charles says that you cannot judge a man's morals by his
manners. Was Alan Wythe there last night?"

"Yes, I sat by him," answered Daisy. "I wish that old uncle of his in
Chicago would let him marry Mary."

This innocent remark aroused Caroline's scorn. "To think of a man's
having to ask his uncle whom he shall marry!" she exclaimed
indignantly.

"You wouldn't say that, my dear," replied old Mrs. Colfax, "if you knew
Alan. He is a charming fellow, but the sort of talented ne'er-do-well
who can do anything but make a living. He has an uncle in Chicago who is
said to be worth millions--one of the richest men, I've heard, in the
West--but he will probably leave his fortune to charity. As it is he
doles out a pittance to Alan--not nearly enough for him to marry on."

"Isn't it strange," said Caroline, "that the nice people never seem to
have enough money and the disagreeable ones seem to have a great deal
too much? But I despise a man," she added sweepingly, "who hasn't enough
spirit to go out into the world and fight."

The old lady's needles clicked sharply as she returned to her work.
"I've always said that if the good Lord would look after my money
troubles, I could take care of the others. Now, if Angelica's people had
not been so poor she would have been spared this dreadful marriage. As
it is, I am sure, the poor thing makes the best of it--I don't want you
to think that I am saying a word against Angelica--but when a woman runs
about after so many outside interests, it is pretty sure to mean that
she is unhappy at home."

"It's a pity," said the younger woman musingly, "that so many of her
interests seem to cross David's business. Look at this Ridley matter,
for instance--of course everyone says that Angelica is trying to make up
for her husband's injustice by supporting the family until the man gets
back to work. It's perfectly splendid of her, I know. There isn't a
living soul who admires Angelica more than I do, but with all the needy
families in town, it does seem that she might just as well have selected
some other to look after."

The old lady, having dropped some stitches, went industriously to work
to pick them up. "For all we know," she observed piously, "it may be
God's way of punishing David."



CHAPTER VII

CAROLINE MAKES DISCOVERIES


At four o'clock Daisy Colfax rushed off to a committee meeting at
Briarlay ("something very important, though I can't remember just which
one it is"), and an hour later Caroline followed her in Blackburn's car,
with Letty lying fast asleep in her arms.

"I am going to do all I can to make it easier for Mrs. Blackburn," she
thought. "I don't care how rude he is to me if he will only spare her. I
am stronger than she is, and I can bear it better." Already it seemed to
her that this beautiful unhappy woman filled a place in her life, that
she would be willing to make any sacrifice, to suffer any humiliation,
if she could only help her.

Suddenly Letty stirred and put up a thin little hand. "I like you, Miss
Meade," she said drowsily. "I like you because you are pretty and you
laugh. Mammy says mother never laughs, that she only smiles. Why is
that?"

"I suppose she doesn't think things funny, darling."

"When father laughs out loud she tells him to stop. She says it hurts
her."

"Well, she isn't strong, you know. She is easily hurt."

"I am not strong either, but I like to laugh," said the child in her
quaint manner. "Mammy says there isn't anybody's laugh so pretty as
yours. It sounds like music."

"Then I must laugh a great deal for you, Letty, and the more we laugh
together the happier we'll be, shan't we?"

As the car turned into the lane, where the sunlight fell in splinters
over the yellow leaves, a man in working clothes appeared suddenly from
under the trees. For an instant he seemed on the point of stopping them;
then lowering the hand he had raised, he bowed hurriedly, and passed on
at a brisk walk toward the road.

"His name is Ridley, I know him," said Letty. "Mother took me with her
one day when she went to see his children. He has six children, and one
is a baby. They let me hold it, but I like a doll better because dolls
don't wriggle." Then, as the motor raced up the drive and stopped in
front of the porch, she sat up and threw off the fur robe. "There are
going to be cream puffs for tea, and mammy said I might have one. Do you
think mother will mind if I go into the drawing-room? She is having a
meeting."

"I don't know, dear. Is it a very important meeting?"

"It must be," replied Letty, "or mother wouldn't have it. Everything she
has is important." As the door opened, she inquired of the servant,
"Moses, do you think this is a very important meeting?"

Moses, a young light-coloured negro, answered solemnly, "Hit looks dat
ar way ter me, Miss Letty, caze Patrick's jes' done fotched up de las'
plate uv puffs. Dose puffs wuz gwine jes' as fast ez you kin count de
las' time I tuck a look at um, en de ladies dey wuz all a-settin' roun'
in va' yous attitudes en eatin' um up like dey tasted moughty good."

"Then I'm going in," said the child promptly. "You come with me, Miss
Meade. Mother won't mind half so much if you are with me." And grasping
Caroline's hand she led the way to the drawing-room. "I hope they have
left one," she whispered anxiously, "but meetings always seem to make
people so hungry."

In the back drawing-room, where empty cups and plates were scattered
about on little tables, Angelica was sitting in a pink and gold chair
that vaguely resembled a throne. She wore a street gown of blue velvet,
and beneath a little hat of dark fur, her hair folded softly on her
temples. At the first glance Caroline could see that she was tired and
nervous, and her pensive eyes seemed to plead with the gaily chattering
women about her. "Of course, if you really think it will help the
cause," she was saying deprecatingly; then as Letty entered, she broke
off and held out her arms. "Did you have a good time, darling?"

The child went slowly forward, shaking hands politely with the guests
while her steady gaze, so like her father's, sought the tea table. "May
I have a puff and a tart too, mother?" she asked as she curtseyed to
Mrs. Ashburton.

"No, only one, dear, but you may choose."

"Then I'll choose a puff because it is bigger." She was a good child,
and when the tart was forbidden her, she turned her back on the plate
with a determined gesture. "I saw the man, mother--the one with the
baby. He was in the lane."

"I know, dear. He came to ask your father to take him back in the works.
Perhaps if you were to go into the library and ask him very gently, he
would do it. It is the case I was telling you about, a most distressing
one," explained Angelica to Mrs. Ashburton. "Of course David must have
reason on his side or he wouldn't take the stand that he does. I suppose
the man does drink and stir up trouble, but we women have to think of so
much besides mere justice. We have to keep close to the human part that
men are so apt to overlook." There was a writing tablet on her knee, and
while she spoke, she leaned earnestly forward, and made a few straggling
notes with a yellow pencil which was blunt at the point. Even her
efficiency--and as a chairman she was almost as efficient as Mrs.
Ashburton--was clothed in sweetness. As she sat there, holding the blunt
pencil in her delicate, blue-veined hand, she appeared to be bracing
herself, with a tremendous effort of will, for some inexorable demand of
duty. The tired droop of her figure, the shadow under her eyes, the
pathetic little lines that quivered about her mouth--these things, as
well as the story of her loveless marriage, awakened Caroline's pity.
"She bears it so beautifully," she thought, with a rush of generous
emotion. "I have never seen any one so brave and noble. I believe she
never thinks of herself for a minute."

"I always feel," observed Mrs. Ashburton, in her logical way which was
trying at times, "that a man ought to be allowed to attend to his own
business."

A pretty woman, with a sandwich in her hand, turned from the tea table
and remarked lightly, "Heaven knows it is the last privilege of which I
wish to deprive him!" Her name was Mallow, and she was a new-comer of
uncertain origin, who had recently built a huge house, after the Italian
style, on the Three Chopt Road. She was very rich, very smart, very
dashing, and though her ancestry was dubious, both her house and her
hospitality were authentic. Alan had once said of her that she kept her
figure by climbing over every charity in town; but Alan's wit was
notoriously malicious.

"In a case like this, don't you think, dear Mrs. Ashburton, that a woman
owes a duty to humanity?" asked Angelica, who liked to talk in general
terms of the particular instance. "Miss Meade, I am sure, will agree
with me. It is so important to look after the children."

"But there are so many children one might look after," replied Caroline
gravely; then feeling that she had not responded generously to
Angelica's appeal, she added, "I think it is splendid of you, perfectly
splendid to feel the way that you do."

"That is so sweet of you," murmured Angelica gratefully, while Mrs.
Aylett, a lovely woman, with a face like a magnolia flower and a
typically Southern voice, said gently, "I, for one, have always found
Angelica's unselfishness an inspiration. With her delicate health, it is
simply marvellous the amount of good she is able to do. I can never
understand how she manages to think of so many things at the same
moment." She also held a pencil in her gloved hand, and wrote earnestly,
in illegible figures, on the back of a torn envelope.

"Of course, we feel that!" exclaimed the other six or eight women in an
admiring chorus. "That is why we are begging her to be in these
tableaux."

It was a high-minded, unselfish group, except for Mrs. Mallow, who was
hungry, and Daisy Colfax, who displayed now and then an inclination to
giddiness. Not until Caroline had been a few minutes in the room did she
discover that the committee had assembled to arrange an entertainment
for the benefit of the Red Cross. Though Mrs. Blackburn was zealous as
an organizer, she confined her activities entirely to charitable
associations and disapproved passionately of women who "interfered" as
she expressed it "with public matters." She was disposed by nature to
vague views and long perspectives, and instinctively preferred, except
when she was correcting an injustice of her husband's, to right the
wrongs in foreign countries.

"Don't you think she would make an adorable Peace?" asked Mrs. Aylett of
Caroline.

"I really haven't time for it," said Angelica gravely, "but as you say,
Milly dear, the cause is everything, and then David always likes me to
take part in public affairs."

A look of understanding rippled like a beam of light over the faces of
the women, and Caroline realized without being told that Mrs. Blackburn
was overtaxing her strength in deference to her husband's wishes. "I
suppose like most persons who haven't always had things he is mad about
society."

"I've eaten it all up, mother," said Letty in a wistful voice. "It
tasted very good."

"Did it, darling? Well, now I want you to go and ask your father about
poor Ridley and his little children. You must ask him very sweetly, and
perhaps he won't refuse. You would like to do that, wouldn't you?"

"May I take Miss Meade with me?"

"Yes, she may go with you. There, now, run away, dear. Mother is so busy
helping the soldiers she hasn't time to talk to you."

"Why are you always so busy, mother?"

"She is so busy because she is doing good every minute of her life,"
said Mrs. Aylett. "You have an angel for a mother, Letty."

The child turned to her with sudden interest. "Is father an angel too?"
she inquired.

A little laugh, strangled abruptly in a cough, broke from Daisy Colfax,
while Mrs. Mallow hastily swallowed a cake before she buried her flushed
face in her handkerchief. Only Mrs. Aylett, without losing her
composure, remarked admiringly, "That's a pretty dress you have on,
Letty."

"Now run away, dear," urged Angelica in a pleading tone, and the child,
who had been stroking her mother's velvet sleeve, moved obediently to
the door before she looked back and asked, "Aren't you coming too, Miss
Meade?"

"Yes, I'm coming too," answered Caroline, and while she spoke she felt
that she had never before needed so thoroughly the discipline of the
hospital. As she put her arm about Letty's shoulders, and crossed the
hall to Blackburn's library, she hoped passionately that he would not be
in the room. Then Letty called out "father!" in a clear treble, and
almost immediately the door opened, and Blackburn stood on the
threshold.

"Do you want to come in?" he asked. "I've got a stack of work ahead, but
there is always time for a talk with you."

He turned back into the room, holding Letty by the hand, and as Caroline
followed silently, she noticed that he seemed abstracted and worried,
and that his face, when he glanced round at her, looked white and tired.
The red-brown flush of the morning had faded, and he appeared much
older.

"Won't you sit down," he asked, and then he threw himself into a chair,
and added cheerfully, "What is it, daughter? Have you a secret to tell
me?"

Against the rich brown of the walls his head stood out, clear and fine,
and something in its poise, and in the backward sweep of his hair, gave
Caroline an impression of strength and swiftness as of a runner who is
straining toward an inaccessible goal. For the first time since she had
come to Briarlay he seemed natural and at ease in his surroundings--in
the midst of the old books, the old furniture, the old speckled
engravings--and she understood suddenly why Colonel Ashburton had called
him an idealist. With the hardness gone from his eyes and the restraint
from his thin-lipped, nervous mouth, he looked, as the Colonel had said
of him, "on fire with ideas." He had evidently been at work, and the
fervour of his mood was still visible in his face.

"Father, won't you please give Ridley his work again?" said the child.
"I don't want his little children to be hungry." As she stood there at
his knee, with her hands on his sleeve and her eyes lifted to his, she
was so much like him in every feature that Caroline found herself
vaguely wondering where the mother's part in her began. There was
nothing of Angelica's softness in that intense little face, with its
look of premature knowledge.

Bending over he lifted her to his knee, and asked patiently, "If I tell
you why I can't take him back, Letty, will you try to understand?"

She nodded gravely. "I don't want the baby to be hungry."

For a moment he gazed over her head through the long windows that opened
on the terrace. The sun was just going down, and beyond the cluster of
junipers the sky was turning slowly to orange.

"Miss Meade," he said abruptly, looking for the first time in Caroline's
face, "would you respect a man who did a thing he believed to be unjust
because someone he loved had asked him to?"

For an instant the swiftness of the question--the very frankness and
simplicity of it--took Caroline's breath away. She was sitting straight
and still in a big leather chair, and she seemed to his eyes a different
creature from the woman he had watched in the garden that morning. Her
hair was smooth now under her severe little hat, her face was composed
and stern, and for the moment her look of radiant energy was veiled by
the quiet capability of her professional manner.

"I suppose not," she answered fearlessly, "if one is quite sure that the
thing is unjust."

"In this case I haven't a doubt. The man is a firebrand in the works. He
drinks, and breeds lawlessness. There are men in jail now who would be
at work but for him, and they also have families. If I take him back
there are people who would say I do it for a political reason."

"Does that matter? It seems to me nothing matters except to be right."

He smiled, and she wondered how she could have thought that he looked
older. "Yes, if I am right, nothing else matters, and I know that I am
right." Then looking down at Letty, he said more slowly, "My child, I
know another family of little children without a father. Wouldn't you
just as soon go to see these children?"

"Is there a baby? A very small baby?"

"Yes, there is a baby. I am sending the elder children to school, and
one of the girls is old enough to learn stenography. The father was a
good man and a faithful worker. When he died he asked me to look after
his family."

"Then why doesn't Mrs. Blackburn know about them?" slipped from
Caroline's lips. "Why hasn't any one told her?"

The next instant she regretted the question, but before she could speak
again Blackburn answered quietly, "She is not strong, and already she
has more on her than she should have undertaken."

"Her sympathy is so wonderful!" Almost in spite of her will, against her
instinct for reticence where she distrusted, against the severe code of
her professional training, she began by taking Mrs. Blackburn's side in
the household.

"Yes, she is wonderful." His tone was conventional, yet if he had adored
his wife he could scarcely have said more to a stranger.

There was a knock at the door, and Mammy Riah inquired querulously
through the crack, "Whar you, Letty? Ain't you comin' ter git yo'
supper?"

"I'm here, I'm coming," responded Letty. As she slid hurriedly from her
father's knees, she paused long enough to whisper in his ear, "Father,
what shall I tell mother when she asks me?"

"Tell her, Letty, that I cannot do it because it would not be fair."

"Because it would not be fair," repeated the child obediently as she
reached for Caroline's hand. "Miss Meade is going to have supper with
me, father. We are going to play that it is a party and let all the
dolls come, and she will have bread and milk just as I do."

"Will she?" said Blackburn, with a smile. "Then I'd think she'd be
hungry before bed-time."

Though he spoke pleasantly, Caroline was aware that his thoughts had
wandered from them, and that he was as indifferent to her presence as he
was to the faint lemon-coloured light streaming in at the window. It
occurred to her suddenly that he had never really looked at her, and
that if they were to meet by accident in the road he would not recognize
her. She had never seen any one with so impersonal a manner--so encased
and armoured in reserve--and she began to wonder what he was like under
that impenetrable surface? "I should like to hear him speak," she
thought, "to know what he thinks and feels about the things he cares
for--about politics and public questions." He stood up as she rose, and
for a minute before Letty drew her from the room, he smiled down on the
child. "If I were Miss Meade, I'd demand more than bread and milk at
your party, Letty." Then he turned away, and sat down again at his
writing table.

An hour or two later, when Letty's supper was over, Angelica came in to
say good-night before she went out to dinner. She was wearing an evening
wrap of turquoise velvet and ermine, and a band of diamonds encircled
the golden wings on her temples. Her eyes shone like stars, and there
was a misty brightness in her face that made her loveliness almost
unearthly. The fatigue of the afternoon had vanished, and she looked as
young and fresh as a girl.

"I hope you are comfortable, Miss Meade," she said, with the manner of
considerate gentleness which had won Caroline from the first. "I told
Fanny to move you into the little room next to Letty's."

"Yes, I am quite comfortable. I like to sleep where she can call me."

The child was undressing, and as her mother bent over her, she put up
her bare little arms to embrace her. "You smell so sweet, mother, just
like lilacs."

"Do I, darling? There, don't hug me so tight or you'll rumple my hair.
Did you ask your father about Ridley?"

"He won't do it. He says he won't do it because it wouldn't be fair." As
Letty repeated the message she looked questioningly into Mrs.
Blackburn's face. "Why wouldn't it be fair, mother?"

"He will have to tell you, dear, I can't." Drawing back from the child's
arms, she arranged the ermine collar over her shoulders. "We must do all
we can to help them, Letty. Now, kiss me very gently, and try to sleep
well."

She went out, leaving a faint delicious trail of lilacs in the air, and
while Caroline watched Mammy Riah slip the night-gown over Letty's
shoulders, her thoughts followed Angelica down the circular drive,
through the lane, and on the road to the city. She was fascinated, yet
there was something deeper and finer than fascination in the emotion
Mrs. Blackburn awakened. There was tenderness in it and there was
romance; but most of all there was sympathy. In Caroline's narrow and
colourless life, so rich in character, so barren of incident, this
sympathy was unfolding like some rare and exquisite blossom.

"Did you ever see any one in your life look so lovely?" she asked
enthusiastically of Mammy Riah.

The old woman was braiding Letty's hair into a tight little plait, which
she rolled over at the end and tied up with a blue ribbon. "I wan' bawn
yestiddy, en I reckon I'se done seen er hull pa'cel un um," she replied.
"Miss Angy's de patte'n uv whut 'er ma wuz befo' 'er. Dar ain' never
been a Fitzhugh yit dat wan't ez purty ez a pictur w'en dey wuz young,
en Miss Angy she is jes' like all de res' un um. But she ain' been riz
right, dat's de gospel trufe, en I reckon ole Miss knows hit now way up
yonder in de Kingdom Come. Dey hed a w'ite nuss to nuss 'er de same ez
dey's got for Letty heah, en dar ain' never been a w'ite nuss yit ez
could raise a chile right, nairy a one un um."

"But I thought you nursed all the Fitzhughs? Why did they have a white
nurse for Mrs. Blackburn?"

"Dy wuz projeckin', honey, like dey is projeckin' now wid dis yer chile.
Atter I done nuss five er dem chillun ole Miss begun ter git sort er
flighty in her haid, en ter go plum 'stracted about sto' physick en real
doctahs. Stop yo' foolishness dis minute, Letty. You git spang out er
dat baid befo' I mek you, en say yo' pray'rs. Yas'm, hit's de gospel
trufe, I'se tellin' you," she concluded as Letty jumped obediently out
of bed and prepared to kneel down on the rug. "Ef'n dey hed lemme raise
Miss Angy de fambly wouldn't hev run ter seed de way hit did atter old
Marster died, en dar 'ouldn't be dese yer low-lifeted doin's now wid
Marse David."

Later in the night, lying awake and restless in the little room next to
Letty's, Caroline recalled the old woman's comment. Though she had
passionately taken Angelica's side, it was impossible for her to deny
that both Mrs. Timberlake and Mammy Riah appeared to lean
sympathetically at least in the direction of Blackburn. There was
nothing definite--nothing particularly suggestive even--to which she
could point; yet, in spite of her prejudice, in spite of the sinister
stories which circulated so freely in Richmond, she was obliged to admit
that the two women who knew Angelica best--the dependent relative and
the old negress--did not espouse her cause so ardently as did the
adoring committee. "The things they say must be true. Such dreadful
stories could never have gotten out unless something or somebody had
started them. It is impossible to look in Mrs. Blackburn's face and not
see that she is a lovely character, and that she is very unhappy." Then
a reassuring thought occurred to her, for she remembered that her mother
used to say that a negro mammy always took the side of the father in any
discussion. "It must be the same thing here with Mrs. Timberlake and
Mammy Riah. They are so close to Mrs. Blackburn that they can't see how
lovely she is. It is like staying too long in the room with an exquisite
perfume. One becomes at last not only indifferent, but insensible to its
sweetness." Closing her eyes, she resolutely put the question away,
while she lived over again, in all its varied excitement, her first day
at Briarlay. The strangeness of her surroundings kept her awake, and it
seemed to her, as she went over the last twenty-four hours, that she was
years older than she had been when she left The Cedars. Simply meeting
Mrs. Blackburn, she told herself again, was a glorious adventure; it was
like seeing and speaking to one of the heroines in the dingy old volumes
in her father's library. And the thought that she could really serve
her, that she could understand and sympathize where Mrs. Timberlake and
Mammy Riah failed, that she could, by her strength and devotion, lift a
share of the burden from Angelica's shoulders--the thought of these
things shed an illumination over the bare road of the future. She would
do good, she resolved, and in doing good, she would find happiness. The
clock struck eleven; she heard the sound of the returning motor; and
then, with her mind filled with visions of usefulness, she dropped off
to sleep.

It might have been a minute later, it might have been hours, when she
was awakened by Letty's voice screaming in terror. Jumping out of bed,
Caroline slipped into the wrapper of blue flannel Diana had made for
her, and touching the electric button, flooded the nursery with light.
Sitting very erect, with wide-open vacant eyes, and outstretched arms,
Letty was uttering breathless, distracted shrieks. Her face was frozen
into a mask, and the bones of her thin little body quivered through the
cambric of her night-gown. As the shadows leaped out on the walls, which
were covered with garlands of pink and blue flowers, she shuddered and
crouched back under the blankets.

"I am here, Letty! I am here, darling!" cried Caroline, kneeling beside
the bed, and at the same instant the door opened, and Mammy Riah, half
dressed, and without wig or turban, came in muttering, "I'se coming,
honey! I'se coming, my lamb!"

Without noticing them, the child cried out in a loud, clear voice,
"Where is father? I want father to hold me! I want my father!" Then the
terror swept over her again like some invisible enemy, and her cries
became broken and inarticulate.

"Is she often like this?" asked Caroline of the old woman. "I can't hold
her. I am afraid she will have a convulsion." With her arms about
Letty, who moaned and shivered in her grasp, she added, "Letty, darling,
shall I send for your mother?"

"Dar ain' but one thing dat'll quiet dis chile," said the old negress,
"en dat is Marse David. I'se gwine atter Marse David."

She hobbled out in her lint slippers, while the girl held Letty closer,
and murmured a hundred soothing words in her ear. "You may have father
and mother too," she said, "you may have everyone, dear, if only you
won't be frightened."

"I don't want everyone. I want father," cried the child, with a storm of
sobs. "I want father because I am afraid. I want him to keep me from
being afraid." Then, as the door opened, and Blackburn came into the
room, she held out her arms, and said in a whisper, like the moan of a
small hurt animal, "I thought you had gone away, father, and I was
afraid of the dark."

Without speaking, Blackburn crossed the room, and dropping into a chair
by the bed, laid his arm across the child's shoulders. At his touch her
cries changed into shivering sobs which grew gradually fainter, and
slipping back on the pillows, she looked with intent, searching eyes in
his face. "You haven't gone away, father?"

"No, I haven't gone anywhere. You were dreaming."

Clasping his hand, she laid her cheek on it, and nestled under the
cover. "I am afraid to go to sleep because I dream such ugly dreams."

"Dreams can't hurt you, Letty. No matter how ugly they are, they are
only dreams."

His voice was low and firm, and at the first sound of it the pain and
fear faded from Letty's face. "Were you asleep, father?"

"No, I was at work. I am writing a speech. It is twelve o'clock, but I
had not gone to bed." He spoke quite reasonably as if she were a grown
person, and Caroline asked herself if this explained his power over the
child. There was no hint of stooping, no pretense of childish words or
phrases. He looked very tired and deep lines showed in his face, but
there was an inexhaustible patience in his manner. For the first time
she thought of him as a man who carried a burden. His very shadow, which
loomed large and black on the flowered wall paper, appeared, while she
watched it, to bend beneath the pressure of an invisible weight.

"Has mother come in?" asked Letty in a still whisper.

"Yes, she has gone to bed. You must not wake your mother."

"I'll try not to," answered the child, and a minute afterwards she said
with a yawn, "I feel sleepy now, father. I'd like to go to sleep, if
you'll sit by me."

He laughed. "I'll sit by you, if you'll let Miss Meade and Mammy Riah go
to bed."

As if his laugh had driven the last terror from her mind, Letty made a
soft, breathless sound of astonishment. "Miss Meade has got on a
wrapper," she said, "and her hair is plaited just like mine only there
isn't any ribbon. Mammy Riah, do you think my hair would stay plaited
like that if it wasn't tied?"

The old woman grunted. "Ef'n you don' shet yo' mouf, I'se gwine ter send
Marse David straight down agin whar he b'longs."

"Well, I'll go to sleep," replied Letty, in her docile way; and a
minute later, she fell asleep with her cheek on her father's hand.

For a quarter of an hour longer Blackburn sat there without stirring,
while Caroline put out the high lights and turned on the shaded lamp by
the bed. Then, releasing himself gently, he stood up and said in a
whisper, "I think she is all right now." His back was to the lamp, and
Caroline saw his face by the dim flicker of the waning fire.

"I shall stay with her," she responded in the same tone.

"It is not necessary. After an attack like this she sleeps all night
from exhaustion. She seems fast asleep, but if you have trouble again
send for me."

He moved softly to the door, and as Caroline looked after him, she found
herself asking resentfully, "I wonder why Letty cried for her father?"



CHAPTER VIII

BLACKBURN


A week later, on an afternoon when the October sunshine sparkled like
wine beneath a sky that was the colour of day-flowers, Caroline sat on
the terrace waiting for Mrs. Blackburn to return from a rehearsal. In
the morning Angelica had promised Letty a drive if she were good, and as
soon as luncheon was over the child had put on a new hat and coat of
blue velvet, and had come downstairs to listen for the sound of the
motor. With a little white fur muff in her hands, she was now marching
sedately round the fountain, while she counted her circuits aloud in a
clear, monotonous voice. Under the velvet hat she was looking almost
pretty, and as Caroline gazed at her she seemed to catch fleeting
glimpses of Angelica in the serious little face. "I believe she is going
to be really lovely when she grows up. It is a pity she hasn't her
mother's colouring, but she gets more like her every day." Leaning over,
she called in a low, admonishing tone, "Letty, don't go too near the
fountain. You will get your coat splashed."

Obedient as she always was, Letty drew away from the water, and Caroline
turned to pick up the knitting she had laid aside while she waited.
Angelica had promised a dozen mufflers to the War Relief Association,
and since it made her nervous to knit, she gracefully left the work for
others to do. Now, while Caroline's needles clicked busily, and the ball
of yarn unwound in her lap, her eyes wandered from the dying beauty of
the garden to the wreaths of smoke that hung over the fringed edge of
the river. On the opposite side, beyond the glittering band of the
water, low grey-green hills melted like shadows into the violet haze of
the distance. A roving fragrance of wood-smoke was in the air, and from
the brown and russet sweep of the fields rose the chanting of
innumerable insects. All the noise and movement of life seemed hushed
and waiting while nature drifted slowly into the long sleep of winter.
So vivid yet so evanescent was the light on the meadows that Caroline
stopped her work, lest a stir or a sound might dissolve the perfect hour
into darkness.

Growing suddenly tired of play, Letty came to Caroline's side and leaned
on her shoulder. The child's hat had slipped back, and while she nestled
there she sank gradually into the pensive drowsiness of the afternoon.

"Do you think she has forgotten to come for us?"

"No, dear, it is early yet. It can't be much after three o'clock."

Up through the golden-rod and life-everlasting, along the winding
pathway across the fields, Alan and Mary were strolling slowly toward
the lower garden. "They are so happy," mused Caroline. "I wonder if she
is ever afraid that she may lose him? He doesn't look as if he could be
constant."

Suddenly one of the nearest French windows opened, and the scent of
cigar smoke floated out from the library. A moment later she heard the
words, "Let's get a bit of air," and Blackburn, followed by two callers,
came out on the terrace. While the three stood gazing across the garden
to the river, she recognized one of the callers as Colonel Ashburton,
but the other was a stranger--a tall, slender man, with crisp iron-grey
hair and thin, austere features. Afterwards she learned that he was
Joseph Sloane of New York, a man of wide political vision, and a
recognized force in the industrial life of America. He had a high,
dome-like forehead, which vaguely reminded Caroline of a tower, and a
mouth so tightly locked that it looked as if nothing less rigid than a
fact had ever escaped it. Yet his voice, when it came, was rich and
beautifully modulated. "It is a good view," he remarked indifferently,
and then looking at Blackburn, as if he were resuming a conversation
that had been broken off, he said earnestly, "A few years ago I should
have thought it a sheer impossibility, but I believe now that there is a
chance of our winning."

"With the chance strengthening every hour," observed Colonel Ashburton,
and as he turned his back to the view, his mild and innocent gaze fell
on Caroline's figure. "It is good to see you, Miss Meade," he said
gallantly, with a bow in which his blue eyes and silvery hair seemed to
mingle. "I hope the sound of politics will not frighten you?"

Caroline looked up with a smile from her knitting. "Not at all. I was
brought up in the midst of discussions. But are we in the way?"

The Colonel's gallantry was not without romantic flavour. "It is your
Eden, and we are the intruders," he answered softly. It was a pity,
thought Caroline, while she looked at him over Letty's head, that a
velvet manner like that had almost vanished from the world. It went with
plumes and lace ruffles and stainless swords.

"I am going to drive, father," called Letty, "if mother ever comes."

"That's good." Blackburn smiled as he responded, and then moving a step
or two nearer the garden, drew several deep wicker chairs into the
sunshine. For a few minutes after they had seated themselves, the men
gazed in silence at the hazy hills on the horizon, and it seemed to
Caroline that Blackburn was drawing strength and inspiration from the
radiant, familiar scene.

"I have never wanted anything like this," he said at last, speaking very
slowly, as if he weighed each separate word before it was uttered.

"Not for yourself, but for the country," replied the Colonel in his
musical voice, which sounded always as if it were pitched to arouse
sleeping enthusiasm. He had once been in Congress, and the habit of
oratorical phrasing had never entirely left him. "Do you know,
Blackburn, I sometimes think that you are one of the few statesmen we
have left. The others are mixtures of so many ingredients--ambition,
prejudice, fanaticism, self-interest--everything but the thought of the
country, and the things for which the country should stand. It's the
difference, I suppose, between a patriot and a politician."

"It is not that I am less selfish," Blackburn laughed with embarrassment
as he answered, "but perhaps I have had a harder time than the others,
and have learned something they haven't. I've seen how little material
things or their acquisition matter in life. After all, the idea is the
only thing that really counts--an idea big enough to lift a man out of
his personal boundaries, big enough to absorb and possess him
completely. A man's country may do this, but not a man's self, nor the
mere business of living."

As he paused, though his head was turned in Caroline's direction, she
had a queer impression that he was looking beyond her at some glowing
vision that was imperceptible to the others. She knew that he was
oblivious of her presence, and that, if he saw her at all, she was
scarcely more to him than an image painted on air. The golden light of
the afternoon enveloped his figure, yet she realized that the
illumination in his face was not due to the shifting rays of the sun.
She did not like him--the aversion she felt was too strong for her to
judge him tolerantly--but she was obliged to admit that his straight,
firm figure, with its look of arrested energy, of controlled power, made
Colonel Ashburton and the stranger from the North appear almost
commonplace. Even his rough brown clothes possessed a distinction apart
from the cut of his tailor; and though it was impossible for her to
define the quality which seemed to make him stand alone, to put him in a
class by himself, she was beginning to discern that his gift of
personality, of intellectual dominance, was a kind of undeveloped
genius. "He ought to have been a writer or a statesman," she thought,
while she looked at his roughened hair, which would never lie flat, at
his smoky grey eyes, and his thin, almost colourless lips. It was a face
that grew on her as she watched it, a face, she realized, that one must
study to understand, not attempt to read by erring flashes of insight.
She remembered that Colonel Ashburton had told her that Blackburn had no
small talk, but that he spoke well if he were once started on a current
of ideas. "It is true. He speaks just as if he had thought it all out
years ago," she said to herself while she listened, "just as if every
sentence, every word almost, was crystallized." She felt a mild
curiosity about his political convictions--a desire to know what he
really believed, and why his opinions had aroused the opposition of men
like Charles Peyton and Robert Colfax.

"I used to believe, not long ago, that these things counted supremely,"
Blackburn said presently, with his eyes on the river--those intense grey
eyes which seemed always searching for something. "I held as firmly as
any man by the Gospel of Achievement--by the mad scramble to acquire
things. I had never had them, and what a man hasn't had, he generally
wants. Perhaps I travelled the historic road through materialism to
idealism, the road America is following this very hour while we are
talking. I am not saying that it isn't all for the best, you know. You
may call me an optimist, I suppose, down beneath the eternal muddle of
things; but I feel that the ambition to acquire is good only as a
process, and not as a permanent condition or the ultimate end of life. I
haven't a doubt that the frantic struggle in America to amass things, to
make great fortunes, has led to discoveries of incalculable benefit to
mankind, and has given a splendid impetus to the development of our
country. We wanted things so passionately that we were obliged to create
them in order to satisfy our desires. This spirit, this single phase of
development, is still serving a purpose. We have watched it open the
earth, build railroads, establish industries, cut highways over
mountains, turn deserts into populous cities; and through these things
lay the foundation of the finer and larger social order--the greater
national life. We are fond of speaking of the men who have made this
possible as money-grubbers or rank materialists. Some of them were,
perhaps, but not the guiding spirits, the real builders. No man can do
great constructive work who is not seeking to express an imperishable
idea in material substance. No man can build for to-morrow who builds
only with bricks and mortar."

He leaned forward to flick the ashes from his cigar, while the sunshine
sprinkling through the junipers deepened the rapt and eager look in his
face. "It all comes back to this--the whole problem of life," he pursued
after a moment. "It all comes back to the builders. We are--with
apologies for the platitude--a nation of idealists. It is our ability to
believe in the incredible, to dream great dreams, not our practical
efficiency, that has held our body politic together. Because we build in
the sky, I believe we are building to last----"

"But our mistakes, our follies, our insanities----?" As Blackburn paused
the voice of Colonel Ashburton fell like music on the stillness. "Even
our fairest dreams--the dream of individual freedom--what has become of
it? Show me the man who is free among us to-day?" With his bowed white
head, his blanched aristocratic features, and his general air of having
been crushed and sweetened by adversity, he reminded Caroline of one of
the perpetual mourners, beside the weeping willow and the classic tomb,
on the memorial brooch her great-grandmother used to wear.

"I believe you are wrong," replied Blackburn slowly, "for, in spite of
the voice of the demagogue, America is a land of individual men, not of
classes, and the whole theory of the American State rests upon the
rights and obligations of the citizen. If the American Republic
survives, it will be because it is founded upon the level of
conscience--not upon the peaks of inspiration. We have no sovereign
mind, no governing class, no body of men with artificial privileges and
special obligations. Every American carries in his person the essential
elements of the State, and is entrusted with its duties. To this extent
at least, Colonel, your man is free."

"Free to sink, or to swim with the current?"

Blackburn smiled as he answered. "Well, I suppose your pessimism is
natural. In Colonel Ashburton, Sloane, you behold a sorrowful survivor
of the Age of Heroes. By Jove, there were giants in those days!" Then he
grew serious again, and went on rapidly, with the earnest yet impersonal
note in his voice: "Of course, we know that as long as a people is
striving for its civil rights, for equality of right before the law,
there is a definite objective goal. Now, in theory at least, these
things have been attained, and we are confronted to-day with the more
difficult task of adjusting the interests, without impairing the rights,
of the individual man. The tangled skeins of social and economic justice
must be unravelled before we can weave them into the fabric of life."

"And for the next fifty years this is our business," said Sloane,
speaking suddenly in the rich, strong voice which seemed to strike with
unerring blows at the root of the question.

"Yes, this is our business for the next fifty years. I believe with you,
Sloane, that this may be done. I believe that this work will be
accomplished when, and only when, the citizen recognizes that he is the
State, and is charged with the duties and the obligations of the State
to his fellowmen. To reach this end we must overthrow class prejudice,
and realize that justice to all alike is the cornerstone of democracy.
We must put aside sectional feeling and create a national ideal by
merging the State into the nation. We must learn to look beyond the
material prosperity of America and discern her true destiny as the
champion of the oppressed, the giver of light. It is for us to do this.
After all, we are America, you and I and Ashburton and the man who works
in my garden. When all is said, a nation is only an organized crowd, and
can rise no higher, or sink no lower, than its source--the spirit of the
men who compose it. As a man thinketh in his heart so his country will
be."

For a moment there was silence, and then Sloane said sharply: "There is
one thing that always puzzles me in you Southerners, and that is the
apparent conflict between the way you think and the way you act, or to
put it a trifle more accurately, between your political vision and your
habit of voting. You see I am a practical man, an inveterate believer in
the fact as the clinching argument in any question, and I confess that I
have failed so far to reconcile your theory with your conduct. You are
nationalists and idealists in theory, you Virginians, yet by your votes
you maintain the solid South, as you call it, as if it were not a part
of the American Republic. You cherish and support this heresy regardless
of political issues, and often in defiance of your genuine convictions.
I like you Virginians. Your history fascinates me like some brilliantly
woven tapestry; but I can never understand how this people, whose heroic
qualities helped to create the Union, can remain separated, at least in
act, from American purposes and ideals. You give the lie to your great
statesmen; you shatter their splendid dream for the sake of a paradox.
Your one political party battens on the very life of the South--since
you preserve its independence in spite of representatives whom you
oppose, and, not infrequently, in spite even of principles that you
reject. However broad may be our interpretation of recent events, as
long as this heresy prevails, the people of the South cannot hope to
recover their historic place in the councils of the nation. And this
condition," he concluded abruptly, "retards the development of our
future. A short while ago--so short a while, indeed, as the year
1896--the security of the nation was endangered by the obsession of a
solid and unbreakable South. This danger passed yesterday, but who knows
when it may come again?"

As he finished, Blackburn leaned eagerly forward as if he were bracing
himself to meet an antagonist. To the man whose inner life is compacted
of ideas, the mental surgery of the man of facts must always appear
superficial--a mere trick of technique. A new light seemed to have
fallen over him, and, through some penetrating sympathy, Caroline
understood that he lived in a white blaze not of feeling, but of
thought. It was a passion of the mind instead of the heart, and she
wondered if he had ever loved Angelica as he loved this fugitive,
impersonal image of service?

"I sometimes doubt," he said gravely, "if a man can ever understand a
country unless he was born in it--unless its sun and dust have entered
into his being."

"And yet we Southerners, even old-fashioned ones like myself, see these
evils as clearly as you Northerners," interposed Colonel Ashburton while
Blackburn hesitated. "The difference between us is simply that you
discern the evils only, and we go deep enough to strike the root of the
trouble. If you want really to understand us, Sloane, study the motive
forces in English and American history, especially the overpowering
influence of racial instinct, and the effect of an injustice on the mind
of the Anglo-Saxon."

With the Colonel's voice the old sense of familiarity pervaded
Caroline's memory like a perfume, and she seemed to be living again
through one of her father's political discussions at The Cedars--only
the carefully enunciated phrases of Sloane and Blackburn were more
convincing than the ringing, colloquial tones of the country orators. As
she listened she told herself that these men were modern and
constructive while her father and his group of Confederate soldiers had
been stationary and antiquated. They had stood like crumbling landmarks
of history, while Blackburn and his associates were building the
political structure of the future.

"Of course I admit," Sloane was saying frankly, "that mistakes were made
in the confusion that followed the Civil War. Nobody regrets these
things more than the intelligent men of the North; but all this is past;
a new generation is springing up; and none of us desires now to put your
house in order, or force any government upon you. The North is perfectly
willing to keep its hands off your domestic affairs, and to leave the
race problem to you, or to anybody else who possesses the ability to
solve it. It seems to me, therefore, that the time has come to put these
things behind us, and to recognize that we are, and have been, at least
since 1865, a nation. There are serious problems before us to-day, and
the successful solution of these demands unity of thought and purpose."

There was a slight ironic twist to his smile as he finished, and he sat
perfectly still, with the burned-out cigar in his hand, watching
Blackburn with a look that was at once sympathetic and merciless.

"Colonel Ashburton has pointed out the only way," rejoined Blackburn
drily. "You must use the past as a commentary before you can hope
clearly to interpret the present."

"That is exactly what I am trying to do." The irony had vanished, and a
note of solemnity had passed into Sloane's voice. "I am honestly trying
to understand the source of the trouble, to discover how it may be
removed. I see in the solid South not a local question, but a great
national danger. There is no sanctity in a political party; it is merely
an instrument to accomplish the ends of government through the will of
the people. I realize how men may follow one party or another under
certain conditions; but no party can always be right, and I cannot
understand how a people, jealous of its freedom, intensely patriotic in
spirit, can remain through two generations in bondage to one political
idea, whether that idea be right or wrong. This seems to me to be beyond
mere politics, to rise to the dignity of a national problem. I feel that
it requires the best thought of the country for its adjustment. It is
because we need your help that I am speaking so frankly. If we go into
this war--and there are times when it seems to me that it will be
impossible for us to keep out of it--it must be a baptism of fire from
which we should emerge clean, whole, and united."

"Ashburton is fond of telling me," said Blackburn slowly, "that I live
too much in the next century, yet it does not seem to me unreasonable to
believe that the chief end of civilization is the development of the
citizen, and of a national life as deeply rooted in personal
consciousness as the life of the family. The ideal citizen, after all,
is merely a man in whom the patriotic nerve has become as sensitive as
the property nerve--a man who brings his country in touch with his
actual life, who places the public welfare above his private aims and
ambitions. It is because I believe the Southern character is rich in the
material for such development that I entered this fight two years ago.
As you know I am not a Democrat. I have broken away from the party, and
recently, I have voted the Republican ticket at Presidential
elections----"

"This is why I am here to-day," continued Sloane. "I am here because we
need your help, because we see an opportunity for you to aid in the
great work ahead of us. With a nation the power to survive rests in the
whole, not in the parts, and America will not become America until she
has obliterated the sections."

Blackburn was gazing at the hills on the horizon, while there flickered
and waned in his face a look that was almost prophetic.

"Well, of course I agree with you," he said in a voice which was so
detached and contemplative that it seemed to flow from the autumnal
stillness, "but before you can obliterate the sections, the North as
well as the South must cease to be sectional--especially must the North,
which has so long regarded its control of the Federal Government as a
proprietary right, cease to exclude the South from participation in
national affairs and movements. Before you can obliterate the sections,
you must, above all, understand why the solidarity of the South exists
as a political issue--you must probe beneath the tissue of facts to the
very bone and fibre of history. Truth is sometimes an inconvenient
thing, but experience has found nothing better to build on. First of
all--for we must clear the ground--first of all, you must remember that
we Virginians are Anglo-Saxons, and that we share the sporting spirit
which is ready to fight for a principle, and to accept the result
whether it wins or loses. When the war was over--to dig no deeper than
the greatest fact in our past--when the war was over we Virginians, and
the people of the South, submitted, like true sportsmen, to the logic of
events. We had been beaten on the principle that we had no right to
secede from the Union, and therefore were still a part of the Union. We
accepted this principle, and were ready to resume our duties and
discharge our obligations; but this was not to be permitted without the
harsh provisions of the Reconstruction acts. Then followed what is
perhaps the darkest period in American history, and one of the darkest
periods in the history of the English-speaking race----"

"I admit all this," interrupted Sloane quickly, "and yet I cannot
understand----"

"You must understand before we work together," replied Blackburn
stubbornly. "I shall make you understand if it takes me all night and
part of to-morrow. Politics, after all, is not merely a store of
mechanical energy; even a politician is a man first and an automaton
afterwards. You can't separate the way a man votes from the way he
feels; and the way he feels has its source in the secret springs of his
character, in the principles his parents revered, in the victories, the
shames, the sufferings and the evasions of history. Until you realize
that the South is human, you will never understand why it is solid.
People are ruled not by intellect, but by feeling; and in a democracy
mental expediency is no match for emotional necessity. Virginia proved
this philosophical truth when she went into the war--when she was
forced, through ties of blood and kinship, into defending the
institution of slavery because it was strangely associated with the
principle of self-government--and she proved it yet again when she began
slowly to rebuild the shattered walls of her commonwealth."

For a moment he was silent, and Colonel Ashburton said softly with the
manner of one who pours oil on troubled waters with an unsteady hand, "I
remember those years more clearly than I remember last month or even
yesterday."

His voice trailed into silence, and Blackburn went on rapidly, without
noticing the interruption: "The conditions of the Reconstruction period
were worse than war, and for those conditions you must remember that the
South has always held the Republican Party responsible. Not content with
the difficulties which would inevitably result from the liberation of an
alien population among a people who had lost all in war, and were
compelled to adjust themselves to new economic and social conditions,
the Federal Government, under the influence of intemperate leaders,
conferred upon the negroes full rights of citizenship, while it denied
these rights to a large proportion of the white population--the former
masters. State and local governments were under the control of the most
ignorant classes, generally foreign adventurers who were exploiting the
political power of the negroes. The South was overwhelmed with debts
created for the private gain of these adventurers; the offices of local
governments were filled either by alien white men or by negroes; and
negro justices of the peace, negro legislators, and even negro members
of Congress were elected. My own county was represented in the
Legislature of Virginia by a negro who had formerly belonged to my
father."

"All this sounds now like the ancient history of another continent,"
remarked Sloane with anxious haste, "Fifty years can change the purpose
of a people or a party!"

"Often in the past," resumed Blackburn, "men who have taken part in
revolutions or rebellions have lost their lives as the punishment of
failure; but there are wrongs worse than death, and one of these is to
subject a free and independent people to the rule of a servile race; to
force women and children to seek protection from magistrates who had
once been their slaves. The Republican Party was then in control, and
its leaders resisted every effort of the South to re-establish the
supremacy of the white race, and to reassert the principles of
self-government. We had the Civil Rights Act, and the Federal Election
Laws, with Federal supervisors of elections to prevent the white people
from voting and to give the vote to the negroes. Even when thirty years
had passed, and the South had gained control of its local governments,
the Republicans attempted to pass an election law which would have
perpetuated negro dominance. You have only to stop and think for a
minute, and you will understand that conditions such as I have suggested
are the source of that national menace you are trying now to remove."

"It is all true, but it is the truth of yesterday," rejoined Sloane
eagerly. "If we have made mistakes in the past, we wish the more
heartily to do right in the present. What can prove this more clearly
than the fact that I am here to ask your help in organizing the
independent vote in Virginia? There is a future for the man who can lead
the new political forces."

The sun was dropping slowly in the direction of the wooded slopes on the
opposite shore; the violet mist on the river had become suddenly
luminous; and the long black shadows of the junipers were slanting over
the grass walks in the garden. In the lower meadows the chanting rose so
softly that it seemed rather a breath than a sound; and this breath,
which was the faint quivering stir of October, stole at last into the
amber light on the terrace.

"If I had not known this," answered Blackburn, and again there flickered
into his face the look of prophecy and vision which seemed to place him
in a separate world from Sloane and Colonel Ashburton, "I should have
spoken less frankly. As you say the past is past, and we cannot solve
future problems by brooding upon wrongs that are over. The suffrage is,
after all, held in trust for the good of the present and the future; and
for this reason, since Virginia limited her suffrage to a point that
made the negro vote a negligible factor, I have felt that the solid
South is, if possible, more harmful to the Southern people than it is to
the nation. This political solidarity prevents constructive thought and
retards development. It places the Southern States in the control of
one political machine; and the aim of this machine must inevitably be
self-perpetuation. Offices are bestowed on men who are willing to submit
to these methods; and freedom of discussion is necessarily discouraged
by the dominant party. In the end a governing class is created, and this
class, like all political cliques, secures its privileges by raising
small men to high public places, and thereby obstructs, if it does not
entirely suppress, independent thought and action. I can imagine no more
dangerous condition for any people under a republican form of
government, and for this reason, I regard the liberation of the South
from this political tyranny as the imperative duty of every loyal
Southerner. As you know, I am an independent in politics, and if I have
voted with the Republicans, it is only because I saw no other means of
breaking the solidarity of the South. Yet--and I may as well be as frank
at the end as I was at the beginning of our discussion, I doubt the
ability of the Republican Party to win the support of the Southern
people. The day will come, I believe, when another party will be
organized, national in its origin and its purposes; and through this new
party, which will absorb the best men from both the Republican and the
Democratic organizations, I hope to see America welded into a nation. In
the meantime, and only until this end is clearly in sight," he added
earnestly, "I am ready to help you by any effort, by any personal
sacrifice. I believe in America not with my mind only, but with my
heart--and if the name America means anything, it must mean that we
stand for the principle of self-government whatever may be the form.
This principle is now in danger throughout the world, and just as a man
must meet his responsibilities and discharge his obligations regardless
of consequences, so a nation cannot shirk its duties in a time of
international peril. We have now reached the cross-roads--we stand
waiting where the upward and the downward paths come together. I am
willing to cast aside all advantage, to take any step, to face
misunderstanding and criticism, if I can only help my people to catch
the broader vision of American opportunity and American destiny----"

The words were still in the air, when there was a gentle flutter of pink
silk curtains, and Angelica came out, flushed and lovely, from a
successful rehearsal. An afternoon paper was in her hand, and her eyes
were bright and wistful, as if she were trying to understand how any one
could have hurt her.

"Letty, dear, I am waiting!" she called; and then, as her gaze fell on
Sloane, she went toward him with outstretched hand and a charming manner
of welcome. "Oh, Mr. Sloane, how very nice to see you in Richmond!" The
next instant she added seriously, "David, have you seen the paper? You
can't imagine what dreadful things they are saying about you."

"Well, they can call him nothing worse than a traitor," retorted Colonel
Ashburton lightly before Blackburn could answer. "Surely, the word
traitor ought to have lost its harshness to Southern ears!"

"But Robert Colfax must have written it!" Though she was smiling it was
not because the Colonel's rejoinder had seemed amusing to her. "I know I
am interrupting," she said after a moment. "It will be so nice if you
will dine with us, Mr. Sloane--only you must promise me not to encourage
David's political ideas. I couldn't bear to be married to a
politician."

As she stood there against a white column, she looked as faultless and
as evanescent as the sunbeams, and for the first time Sloane's face lost
its coldness and austerity.

"I think your husband could never be a politician," he answered gently,
"though he may be a statesman."



CHAPTER IX

ANGELICA'S CHARITY


As the car turned into the lane it passed Alan and Mary, and Mrs.
Blackburn ordered the chauffeur to stop while she leaned out of the
window and waited, with her vague, shimmering look, for the lovers to
approach. "I wanted to ask you, Mr. Wythe, about that article in the
paper this morning," she began. "Do you think it will do David any real
harm?"

Her voice was low and troubled, and she gazed into Alan's face with eyes
that seemed to be pleading for mercy.

"Well, I hardly think it will help him if he wants an office," replied
Alan, reddening under her gaze. "I suppose everything is fair in
politics, but it does seem a little underhand of Colfax doesn't it? A
man has a right to expect a certain amount of consideration from his
friends."

For the first time since she had known him, Caroline felt that Alan's
nimble wit was limping slightly. In place of his usual light-hearted
manner, he appeared uncomfortable and embarrassed, and though his eyes
never left Angelica's face, they rested there with a look which it was
impossible to define. Admiration, surprise, pleasure, and a fleeting
glimpse of something like dread or fear--all these things Caroline
seemed to read in that enigmatical glance. Could it be that he was
comparing Angelica with Mary, and that, for the moment at least, Mary's
lack of feminine charm, was estranging him? He looked splendidly
vigorous with the flush in his cheeks and a glow in his red-brown
eyes--just the man, Caroline fancied, with whom any woman might fall in
love.

"But don't you think," asked Angelica hesitatingly, as if she dared not
trust so frail a thing as her own judgment, "that it may be a matter of
principle with Robert? Of course I know that David feels that he is
right, and there can't be a bit of truth in what people say about the
way he runs his works, but, after all, isn't he really harming the South
by trying to injure the Democratic Party? We all feel, of course, that
it is so important not to do anything to discredit the Democrats, and
with Robert I suppose there is a great deal of sentiment mixed with it
all because his grandfather did so much for Virginia. Oh, if David could
only find some other ambition--something that wouldn't make him appear
disloyal and ungrateful! I can't tell you how it distresses me to see
him estrange his best friends as he does. I can't feel in my heart that
any political honour is worth it!"

There was a flute-like quality in her voice, which was singularly
lacking in the deeper and richer tones of passion, like the imperfect
chords of some thin, sweet music. Though Angelica had the pensive eyes
and the drooping profile of an early Italian Madonna, her voice, in
spite of its lightness and delicacy, was without softness. At first it
had come as a surprise to Caroline, and even now, after three weeks at
Briarlay, she was aware of a nervous expectancy whenever Mrs. Blackburn
opened her lips--of a furtive hope that the hard, cold tones might melt
in the heat of some ardent impulse.

"It isn't ambition with David," said Mary, speaking bluntly, and with an
arrogant conviction. "He doesn't care a rap for any political honour,
and he is doing this because he believes it to be his duty. His country
is more to him, I think, than any living creature could be, even a
friend."

"Well, as far as that goes, he has made more friends by his stand than
he has lost," observed Alan, with unnatural diffidence. "I shouldn't let
that worry me a minute, Mrs. Blackburn. David is a big man, and his
influence grows every hour. The young blood is flowing toward him."

"Oh, but don't you see that this hurts me most of all?" responded
Angelica. "I wouldn't for the world say this outside, but you are
David's friend and almost one of the family, and I know you will
understand me."

She lifted her eyes to his face--those large, shining eyes as soft as a
dove's breast--and after a moment in which he gazed at her without
speaking, Alan answered gently, "Yes, I understand you."

"It would grieve me if you didn't because I feel that I can trust you."

"Yes, you can trust me--absolutely." He looked at Mary as he spoke, and
she smiled back at him with serene and joyous confidence.

"That is just what I tell Mary," resumed Angelica. "You are so
trustworthy that it is a comfort to talk to you, and then we both feel,
don't we, dear?" she inquired turning to the girl, "that your wonderful
knowledge of human nature makes your judgment of such value."

Alan laughed, though his eyes sparkled with pleasure. "I don't know
about that," he replied, "though my opinion, whatever it may be worth,
is at your service."

"That is why I am speaking so frankly because I feel that you can help
me. If you could only make David see his mistake--if you could only
persuade him to give up this idea. It can't be right to overturn all the
sacred things of the past--to discredit the principles we Virginians
have believed in for fifty years. Surely you agree with me that it is a
deplorable error of judgment?"

As she became more flattering and appealing, Alan recovered his gay
insouciance. "If you want a candid answer, Mrs. Blackburn," he replied
gallantly, "there isn't an ambition, much less a principle on earth, for
which I would disagree with you."

Angelica smiled archly, and she was always at her loveliest when her
face was illumined by the glow and colour of her smile. Was it possible,
Caroline wondered while she watched her, that so simple a thing as the
play of expression--as the parting of the lips, the raising of the
eyebrows--could make a face look as if the light of heaven had fallen
over it?

"If you get impertinent, I'll make Mary punish you!" exclaimed Angelica
reproachfully; and a minute later the car passed on, while she playfully
shook her finger from the window.

"How very handsome he is," said Caroline as she looked back in the lane.
"I didn't know that a man could be so good-looking."

Angelica was settling herself comfortably under the robe. "Yes, he is
quite unusual," she returned, and added after a pause, "If his uncle
ever dies, and they say he is getting very feeble, Alan will inherit one
of the largest fortunes in Chicago."

"I'm so glad. That's nice for Miss Blackburn."

"It's nice for Mary--yes." Her tone rather than her words, which were
merely conventional, made Caroline glance at her quickly; but Angelica's
features were like some faultless ivory mask. For the first time it
struck the girl that even a beautiful face could appear vacant in
repose.

"Where are we going now, mother?" asked Letty, who had been good and
quiet during the long wait in the lane.

"To the Ridleys', dear. I've brought a basket." There was a moment's
delay while she gave a few directions to the footman, and then, as Letty
snuggled closely against Caroline's arm, the car went on rapidly toward
the city.

The Ridleys lived in a small frame house in Pine Street; and when the
car stopped before the door, where a number of freshly washed children
were skipping rope on the pavement, Angelica alighted and held out her
hand to Letty.

"Do you want to come in with me, Letty?"

"I'd rather watch these children skip, mother. Miss Meade, may I have a
skipping-rope?"

Behind them the footman stood waiting with a covered basket, and for an
instant, while Mrs. Blackburn looked down on it, a shadow of irritation
rippled across her face. "Take that up to the second floor, John, and
ask Mrs. Ridley if she got the yarn I sent for the socks?" Then,
changing her mind as John disappeared into the narrow hall, from which a
smell of cabbage floated, she added firmly, "We won't stay a minute,
Letty, but you and Miss Meade must come up with me. I always feel," she
explained to Caroline, "that it does the child good to visit the poor,
and contrast her own lot with that of others. Young minds are so
impressionable, and we never know when the turning-point comes in a
life." Grasping Letty's hand she stepped over the skipping-rope, which
the children had lowered in awe to the pavement.

"Letty has a cold. I'm afraid she oughtn't to go in," said Caroline
hastily, while the child, rescued in the last extremity, threw a
grateful glance at her.

"You really think so? Well, perhaps next time. Ah, there is Mr. Ridley
now! We can speak to him without seeing his wife to-day." Instinctively,
before she realized the significance of her action, she had drawn
slightly aside.

A tall man, with a blotched, irascible face and a wad of tobacco in his
mouth, lurched out on the porch, and stopped short at the sight of his
visitors. He appeared surly and unattractive, and in her first
revulsion, Caroline was conscious of a sudden sympathy with Blackburn's
point of view. "He may be right, after all," she admitted to herself.
"Kind as Mrs. Blackburn is, she evidently doesn't know much about
people. I suppose I shouldn't have known anything either if I hadn't
been through the hospital."

"I am glad to see you down, Mr. Ridley," said Angelica graciously. "I
hope you are quite well again and that you have found the right kind of
work."

"Yes, 'm, I'm well, all right, but there ain't much doing now except
down at the works, and you know the way Mr. Blackburn treats me whenever
I go down there." He was making an effort to be ingratiating, and while
he talked his appearance seemed to change and grow less repelling. The
surliness left his face, his figure straightened from the lurching
walk, and he even looked a shade cleaner. "It is wonderful the power she
has over people," reflected the girl. "I suppose it comes just from
being so kind and lovely."

"You mustn't give up hope," Mrs. Blackburn replied encouragingly. "We
never know at what moment some good thing may turn up. It is a pity
there isn't more work of the kind in Richmond."

"Well, you see, ma'am, Mr. Blackburn has cornered the whole lot. That's
the way capital treats labour whenever it gets the chance." His face
assumed an argumentative expression. "To be sure, Mr. Blackburn didn't
start so very high himself, but that don't seem to make any difference,
and the minute a man gets to the top, he tries to stop everybody else
that's below him. If he hadn't had the luck to discover that cheap new
way to make steel, I reckon he wouldn't be very far over my head to-day.
It was all accident, that's what I tell the men down at the works, and
luck ain't nothing but accident when you come to look at it."

Mrs. Blackburn frowned slightly. It was plain that she did not care to
diminish the space between Blackburn and his workmen, and Ridley's
contemptuous tone was not entirely to her liking. She wanted to stoop,
not to stand on a level with the objects of her charity.

"The war abroad has opened so many opportunities," she observed, amiably
but vaguely.

"It's shut down a sight more than it's opened," rejoined Ridley, who
possessed the advantage of knowing something of what he was talking
about. "All the works except the steel and munition plants are laying
off men every hour. It's easy enough on men like Mr. Blackburn, but it's
hard on us poor ones, and it don't make it any easier to be sending all
of this good stuff out of the country. Let the folks in Europe look
after themselves, that's what I say. There are hungry mouths enough
right here in this country without raising the price of everything we
eat by shipping the crops over the water. I tell you I'll vote for any
man, I don't care what he calls himself, who will introduce a bill to
stop sending our provisions to the folks over yonder who are fighting
when they ought to be working----."

"But surely we must do our best to help the starving women and children
of Europe. It wouldn't be human, it wouldn't be Christian----" Angelica
paused and threw an appealing glance in the direction of Caroline, who
shook her head scornfully and looked away to the children on the
pavement. Why did she stoop to argue with the man? Couldn't she see that
he was merely the cheapest sort of malcontent?

"The first thing you know we'll be dragged into this here war
ourselves," pursued Ridley, rolling the wad of tobacco in his mouth,
"and it's the men like Mr. Blackburn that will be doing it. There's a
lot of fellows down at the works that talk just as he does, but that's
because they think they know which side their bread is buttered on! Some
of 'em will tell you the boss is the best friend they have on earth; but
they are talking through their hats when they say so. As for me, I
reckon I've got my wits about me, and as long as I have they ain't going
to make me vote for nobody except the man who puts the full dinner pail
before any darn squabble over the water. I ain't got anything against
you, ma'am, but Mr. Blackburn ain't treated me white, and if my turn
ever comes, I'm going to get even with him as sure as my name is James
Ridley."

"I think we'd better go," said Caroline sternly. She had suspected from
the first that Ridley had been drinking, and his rambling abuse was
beginning to make her angry. It seemed not only foolish, but wicked to
make a martyr of such a man.

"Yes, we must go," assented Mrs. Blackburn uneasily. "I won't see Mrs.
Ridley to-day," she added. "Tell her to let me know when she has
finished the socks, and I will send for them. I am giving her some
knitting to do for the War Relief."

"All right, she may do what she pleases as long as she's paid for it,"
rejoined Ridley with a grin. "I ain't interfering."

Then, as the procession moved to the car, with the footman and the empty
basket making a dignified rear-guard, he added apologetically, "I hope
you won't bear me a grudge for my plain speaking, ma'am?"

"Oh, no, for I am sure you are honest," replied Mrs. Blackburn, with the
manner of affable royalty.

At last, to Caroline's inexpressible relief, they drove away amid the
eager stares of the children that crowded the long straight street. "I
always wonder how they manage to bring up such large families," remarked
Angelica as she gazed with distant benignity out of the window. "Oh, I
quite forgot. I must speak to Mrs. Macy about some pillow cases. John,
we will stop at Mrs. Macy's in the next block."

In a dark back room just beyond the next corner, they found an elderly
woman hemstitching yards of fine thread cambric ruffling. As they
entered, she pinned the narrow strip of lawn over her knee, and looked
up without rising. She had a square, stolid face, which had settled into
the heavy placidity that comes to those who expect nothing. Her thin
white hair was parted and brushed back from her sunken temples, and her
eyes, between chronically reddened lids, gazed at her visitors with a
look of passive endurance. "My hip is bad to-day," she explained. "I
hope you won't mind my not getting up." She spoke in a flat, colourless
voice, as if she had passed beyond the sphere of life in which either
surprises or disappointments are possible. Suffering had moulded her
thought into the plastic impersonal substance of philosophy.

"Oh, don't think of moving, Mrs. Macy," returned Angelica kindly. "I
stopped by to bring you the lace edging you needed, and to ask if you
have finished any of the little pillow slips? Now, that your son is able
to get back to work, you ought to have plenty of spare time for
hemstitching."

"Yes, there's plenty of time," replied Mrs. Macy, without animation,
"but it's slow work, and hard on weak eyes, even with spectacles. You
like it done so fine that I have to take twice the trouble with the
stitches, and I was just thinking of asking you if you couldn't pay me
twenty cents instead of fifteen a yard? It's hard to make out now, with
every mouthful you eat getting dearer all the time, and though Tom is a
good son, he's got a large family to look after, and his eldest girl has
been ailing of late, and had to have the doctor before she could keep on
at school."

A queer look had crept into Angelica's face--the prudent and guarded
expression of a financier who suspects that he is about to be
over-matched, that, if he is not cautious, something will be got from
him for nothing. For the instant her features lost their softness, and
became sharp and almost ugly, while there flashed through Caroline's
mind the amazing thought, "I believe she is stingy! Yet how could she be
when she spends such a fortune on clothes?" Then the cautious look
passed as swiftly as it had come, and Mrs. Blackburn stooped over the
rocking-chair, and gathered the roll of thread cambric into her gloved
hands. "I can have it done anywhere for fifteen cents a yard," she said
slowly.

"Well, I know, ma'am, that used to be the price, but they tell me this
sort of work is going up like everything else. When you think I used to
pay eight and ten cents a pound for middling, and yesterday they asked
me twenty-six cents at the store. Flour is getting so high we can barely
afford it, and even corn meal gets dearer every day. If the war in
Europe goes on, they say there won't be enough food left in America to
keep us alive. It ain't that I'm complaining, Mrs. Blackburn, I know
it's a hard world on us poor folks, and I ain't saying that anybody's to
blame for it, but it did cross my mind, while I was thinking over these
things a minute ago, that you might see your way to pay me a little more
for the hemstitching."

While she talked she went on patiently turning the hem with her blunted
thumb, and as she finished, she raised her head for the first time and
gazed stoically, not into Angelica's face, but at a twisted ailantus
tree which grew by the board fence of the backyard.'

"I am glad you look at things so sensibly, Mrs. Macy," observed Angelica
cheerfully. She had dropped the ruffling to the floor, and as she
straightened herself, she recovered her poise and amiability. "One hears
so many complaints now among working people, and at a time like this,
when the country is approaching a crisis, it is so important"--this was
a favourite phrase with her, and she accented it firmly--"it is so
important that all classes should stand together and work for the common
good. I am sure I try to do my bit. There is scarcely an hour when I am
not trying to help, but I do feel that the well-to-do classes should not
be expected to make all the sacrifices. The working people must do their
part, and with the suffering in Europe, and the great need of money for
charities, it doesn't seem quite fair, does it, for you to ask more than
you've been getting? It isn't as if fifteen cents a yard wasn't a good
price. I can easily get it done elsewhere for that, but I thought you
really needed the work."

"I do," said Mrs. Macy, with a kind of dry terror. "It's all I've got to
live on."

"Then I'm sure you ought to be thankful to get it and not complain
because it isn't exactly what you would like. All of us, Mrs. Macy, have
to put up with things that we wish were different. If you would only
stop to think of the suffering in Belgium, you would feel grateful
instead of dissatisfied with your lot. Why, I can't sleep at night
because my mind is so full of the misery in the world."

"I reckon you're right," Mrs. Macy replied humbly, and she appeared
completely convinced by the argument. "It's awful enough the
wretchedness over there, and Tom and I have tried to help the little we
could. We can't give much, but he has left off his pipe for a month in
order to send what he spent in tobacco, and I've managed to do some
knitting the last thing at night and the first in the morning. I
couldn't stint on food because there wasn't any to spare, so I said to
myself, 'Well, I reckon there's one thing you can give and that's
sleep.' So Mrs. Miller, she lets me have the yarn, and I manage to go
to bed an hour later and get up an hour sooner. When you've got to my
age, the thing you can spare best is sleep."

"You're right, and I'm glad you take that rational view." Mrs.
Blackburn's manner was kind and considerate. "Every gift is better that
includes sacrifice, don't you feel? Tell your son that I think it is
fine his giving up tobacco. He has his old place at the works, hasn't
he?"

"I wrote straight to Mr. Blackburn, ma'am, and he made the foreman hold
it for him. Heaven only knows how we'd have managed but for your
husband. He ain't the sort that talks unless he is on the platform, but
I don't believe he ever forgets to be just when the chance comes to him.
There are some folks that call him a hard man, but Tom says it ain't
hardness, but justice, and I reckon Tom knows. Tom says the boss hasn't
any use for idlers and drunkards, but he's fair enough to the ones who
stand by him and do their work--and all the stuff they are putting in
the papers about trouble down at the works ain't anything on earth but a
political game."

"Well, we must go," said Mrs. Blackburn, who had been growing visibly
restless. On her way to the door she paused for an instant and asked,
"Your son is something of a politician himself, isn't he, Mrs. Macy?"

"Yes, 'm, Tom has a good deal to do with the Federation of Labour, and
in that way he comes more or less into politics. He has a lot of good
hard sense if I do say it, and I reckon there ain't anybody that stands
better with the workers than he does."

"Of course he is a Democrat?"

"Well, he always used to be, ma'am, but of late I've noticed that he
seems to be thinking the way Mr. Blackburn does. It wouldn't surprise me
if he voted with him when the time came, and the way Tom votes," she
added proudly, "a good many others will vote, too. He says just as Mr.
Blackburn does that the new times take new leaders--that's one of Tom's
sayings--and that both the Democratic and Republican Parties ain't big
enough for these days. Tom says they are both hitched tight, like two
mules, to the past."

By this time Angelica had reached the door, and as she passed out, with
Letty's hand in hers, she glanced back and remarked, "I should think the
working people would be grateful to any party that keeps them out of the
war."

Mrs. Macy looked up from her needle. "Well, war is bad," she observed
shortly, "but I've lived through one, and I ain't saying that I haven't
seen things that are worse."

The air was fresh and bracing after the close room, and a little later,
as they turned into Franklin Street, Angelica leaned out of the window
as if she were drinking deep draughts of sunlight.

"The poor are so unintelligent," she observed when she had drawn in her
head again. "They seem never able to think with any connection. The war
has been going on for a long time now, and yet they haven't learned that
it is any concern of theirs."

Letty had begun coughing, and Caroline drew her closer while she asked
anxiously, "Do you think it is wise to take a child into close houses?"

"Well, I meant to stay only a moment, but I thought Mrs. Macy would
never stop talking. Do you feel badly, darling? Come closer to mother."

"Oh, no, I'm well," answered the child. "It is just my throat that
tickles." Then her tone changed, and as they stopped at the corner of
the park, she cried out with pleasure, "Isn't that Uncle Roane over
there? Uncle Roane, do you see us?"

A handsome, rather dissipated looking young man, with a mop of curly
light hair and insolent blue eyes, glanced round at the call, and came
quickly to the car, which waited under the elms by the sidewalk. The
street was gay with flying motors, and long bars of sunshine slanted
across the grass of the park, where groups of negro nurses gossiped
drowsily beside empty perambulators.

"Why, Anna Jeannette!" exclaimed the young man, with genial mockery.
"This is a pleasure which I thought your worthy Bluebeard had forbidden
me!"

"Get in, and I'll take you for a little drive. This is Miss Meade. You
met her that night at Briarlay."

"The angel in the house! I remember." He smiled boldly into Caroline's
face. "Well, Letty, I'd like to trade my luck for yours. Look at your
poor uncle, and tell me honestly if I am not the one who needs to be
nursed. Lend her to me?"

"I can't lend you Miss Meade, Uncle Roane," replied the child seriously,
"because she plays with me; but if you really need somebody, I reckon I
can let you have Mammy Riah for a little while."

Roane laughed while he bent over and pinched Letty's cheek. That he had
a bad reputation, Caroline was aware, and though she was obliged to
admit that he looked as if he deserved it, she could not deny that he
possessed the peculiar charm which one of the old novels at The Cedars
described as "the most dangerous attribute of a rake." "I could never
like him, yet I can understand how some women might fall in love with
him," she thought.

"No, I decline, with thanks, your generous offer," Roane was saying. "If
I cannot be nursed by an angel, I will not be nursed by a witch."

Beneath his insolent, admiring gaze a lovely colour flooded Caroline's
cheeks. In the daylight his manner seemed to her more offensive than
ever, and her impulsive recognition of his charm was followed by an
instantaneous recoil.

"I don't like witches," said Letty. "Do you think Miss Meade is an
angel, Uncle Roane?"

"From first impressions," retorted Roane flippantly, "I should say that
she might be."

As Caroline turned away indignantly, Angelica leaned over and gently
patted her hand. "You mustn't mind him, my dear, that's just Roane's
way," she explained.

"But I do mind," replied Caroline, with spirit. "I think he is very
impertinent."

"Think anything you please, only think of me," rejoined Roane, with a
gallant air.

"You bad boy!" protested Angelica. "Can't you see that Miss Meade is
provoked with you?"

"No woman, Anna Jeannette, is provoked by a sincere and humble
admiration. Are you ignorant of the feminine heart?"

"If you won't behave yourself, Roane, you must get out of the car. And
for heaven's sake, stop calling me by that name!"

"My dear sister, I thought it was yours."

"It is not the one I'm known by." She was clearly annoyed. "By the way,
have you got your costume for the tableaux? You were so outrageous at
Mrs. Miller's the other night that if they could find anybody else, I
believe that they would refuse to let you take part. Why are you so
dreadful, Roane?"

"They require me, not my virtue, sister. Go over the list of young men
in your set, and tell me if there is another Saint George of England
among them?"

His air of mocking pride was so comic that a smile curved Caroline's
lips, while Angelica commented seriously, "Well, you aren't nearly so
good-looking as you used to be, and if you go on drinking much longer,
you will be a perfect fright."

"How she blights my honourable ambition!" exclaimed Roane to Caroline.
"Even the cherished career of a tableau favourite is forbidden me."

"Mother is going to be Peace," said Letty, with her stately manner of
making conversation, "and she will look just like an angel. Her dress
has come all the way from New York, Uncle Roane, and they sent a wreath
of leaves to go on her head. If I don't get sick, Miss Meade is going to
take me to see her Friday night."

"Well, if I am brother to Peace, Letty, I must be good. Miss Meade, how
do you like Richmond?"

"I love it," answered Caroline, relieved by his abrupt change of tone.
"The people are so nice. There is Mrs. Colfax now. Isn't she beautiful?"

They were running into Monument Avenue, and Daisy Colfax had just waved
to them from a passing car.

"Yes, I proposed to her twice," replied Roane, gazing after Daisy's
rose-coloured veil which streamed gaily behind her. "But she could not
see her way, unfortunately, to accept me. I am not sure, between you
and me, that she didn't go farther and fare worse with old Robert. I
might have broken her heart, but I should never have bored her. Speaking
of Robert, Anna Jeannette, was he really the author of that slashing
editorial in the _Free-Press_?"

"Everybody thinks he wrote it, but it doesn't sound a bit like him.
Wasn't it dreadful, Roane?"

"Oh, well, nothing is fair in politics, but the plum," he returned. "By
the way, is it true about Blackburn's vaulting ambition, or is it just
newspaper stuff?"

"Of course I know nothing positively, Roane, for David never talks to me
about his affairs; but he seems to get more and more distracted about
politics every day that he lives. I shouldn't like to have it repeated,
yet I can't help the feeling that there is a great deal of truth in what
the article says about his disloyalty to the South."

"Well, I shouldn't lose any sleep over that if I were you. No man ever
took a step forward on this earth that he didn't move away from
something that the rest of the world thought he ought to have stood by.
There isn't much love lost between your husband and me, but it isn't a
political difference that divides us. He has the bad taste not to admire
my character."

"I know you never feel seriously about these things," said Angelica
sadly, "but I always remember how ardently dear father loved the
Democratic Party. He used to say that he could forgive a thief sooner
than a traitor."

"Great Scott! What is there left to be a traitor to?" demanded Roane,
disrespectfully. "A political machine that grinds out jobs isn't a
particularly patriotic institution. I am not taking sides with
Blackburn, my dear sister, only I'd be darned before I'd have acted the
part of your precious Colfax. It may be good politics, but it's pretty
bad sport, I should think. It isn't playing the game."

"I suppose Robert feels that things are really going too far," observed
Angelica feebly, for her arguments always moved in a circle. "He
believes so strongly, you know, in the necessity of keeping the South
solid. Of course he may not really have attacked David," she added
quickly. "There are other editors."

"I am sure there is not one bit of truth in that article," said Caroline
suddenly, and her voice trembled with resentment. "I know Mr. Blackburn
doesn't oppress his men because we've just been talking with the mother
of a man who works in his plant. As for the rest, I was listening to him
this afternoon, and I believe he is right." Her eyes were glowing as she
finished, and her elusive beauty--the beauty of spirit, not of
flesh--gave her features the rare and noble grace of a marble Diana. Her
earnestness had suddenly lifted her above them. Though she was only a
dark, slender woman, with a gallant heart, she seemed to Roane as remote
and royal as a goddess. He liked the waving line of hair on her clear
forehead, where the light gathered in a benediction; he liked her firm
red lips, with their ever-changing play of expression, and he liked
above all the lovely lines of her figure, which was at once so strong
and so light, so feminine and so spirited. It was the beauty of
character, he told himself, and, by Jove, in a woman, he liked
character!

"Well, he has a splendid champion, lucky dog!" he exclaimed, with his
eyes on her face.

For an instant Caroline wavered as Angelica's gaze, full of pained
surprise, turned toward her; then gathering her courage, she raised her
lashes and met Roane's admiring stare with a candid and resolute look.

"No, it is not that," she said, "but I can't bear to see people unjust
to any one."

"You are right," ejaculated Roane impulsively, and he added beneath his
breath, "By George, I hope you'll stand up for me like that when I am
knocked."



CHAPTER X

OTHER DISCOVERIES


In the morning Letty awoke with a sore throat, and before night she had
developed a cold which spent itself in paroxysms of coughing. "Oh, Miss
Meade, make me well before Friday," she begged, as Caroline undressed
her. "Isn't Friday almost here now?"

"In three days, dear. You must hurry and get over this cold."

"Do you think I am going to be well, Mammy?" They were in the nursery at
Letty's bedtime, and Mammy Riah was heating a cup of camphorated oil
over the fire.

"You jes' wait twel I git dish yer' red flan'l on yo' chist, en hit's
gwinter breck up yo' cough toreckly," replied Mammy Riah reassuringly.
"I'se done soused hit right good in dis hot ile."

"I'll do anything you want. I'll swallow it right down if it will make
me well."

"Dar ain't nuttin dat'll breck up a cole quick'n hot ile," said the old
woman, "lessen hit's a hot w'iskey toddy."

"Well, you can't give her that," interposed Caroline quickly, "if she
isn't better in the morning I'm going to send for Doctor Boland. I've
done everything I could think of. Now, jump into bed Letty, dear, and
let me cover you up warm before I open the window. I am going to sleep
on the couch in the corner."

"Hit pears to me like you en Marse David is done gone clean 'stracted
'bout fresh a'r," grumbled Mammy Riah, as she drew a strip of red
flannel out of the oil. "Dar ain' nuttin in de worl' de matter wid dis
chile but all dis night a'r you's done been lettin' in on 'er w'ile she
wuz sleepin'. Huh! I knows jes ez much about night a'r ez enny er yo'
reel doctahs, en I ain' got er bit er use fur hit, I ain't. Hit's a
woner to me you all ain' done kilt 'er betweenst you, you and Marse
David en Miss Angy, 'en yo' reel doctah. Ef'n you ax me, I 'ud let down
all dem winders, en stuff up de chinks wid rags twel Letty was peart
enuff ter be outer dat baid."

The danger in night air had been a source of contention ever since the
first frost of the season, and though science had at last carried its
point, Caroline felt that the victory had cost her both the respect and
the affection of the old negress.

"I ain' never riz noner my chillun on night a'r," she muttered
rebelliously, while she brought the soaked flannel over to Letty's bed.

"I hope it will cure me," said the child eagerly, and she added after a
moment in which Mammy Riah zealously applied the oil and covered her
with blankets, "Do you think I'd better have all the night air shut out
as she says, Miss Meade?"

"No, darling," answered Caroline firmly. "Fresh air will cure you
quicker than anything else."

But, in spite of the camphorated oil and the wide-open windows, Letty
was much worse in the morning. Her face was flushed with fever, and she
refused her breakfast, when Mammy Riah brought it, because as she said,
"everything hurt her." Even her passionate interest in the tableaux had
evaporated, and she lay, inert and speechless, in her little bed, while
her eyes followed Caroline wistfully about the room.

"I telephoned for Doctor Boland the first thing," said Caroline to the
old woman, "and now I am going to speak to Mrs. Blackburn. Will you sit
with Letty while I run down for a cup of coffee?"

"Ef'n I wuz you, I wouldn't wake Miss Angy," replied the negress.
"Hit'll mek 'er sick jes ez sho' ez you live. You'd better run along
down en speak ter Marse David."

"I'll tell him at breakfast, but oughtn't Letty's mother to know how
anxious I am?"

"She's gwine ter know soon enuff," responded Mammy Riah, "but dey don'
low none un us ter rouse 'er twell she's hed 'er sleep out. Miss Angy is
one er dem nervous sort, en she gits 'stracted moughty easy."

In the dining-room, which was flooded with sunshine, Caroline found the
housekeeper and Blackburn, who had apparently finished his breakfast,
and was glancing over a newspaper. There was a pile of half-opened
letters by his plate, and his face wore the look of animation which she
associated with either politics or business.

"I couldn't leave Letty until Mammy Riah came," she explained in an
apologetic tone. "Her cold is so much worse that I've telephoned for the
doctor."

At this Blackburn folded the paper and pushed back his chair. "How long
has she had it?" he inquired anxiously. "I thought she wasn't well
yesterday." There was the tender, protecting sound in his voice that
always came with the mention of Letty.

"She hasn't been herself for several days, but this morning she seems
suddenly worse. I am afraid it may be pneumonia."

"Have you said anything to Angelica?" asked Mrs. Timberlake, and her
tone struck Caroline as strained and non-committal.

"Mammy Riah wouldn't let me wake her. I am going to her room as soon as
her bell rings."

"Well, she's awake. I've just sent up her breakfast." The housekeeper
spoke briskly. "She has to be in town for some rehearsals."

Blackburn had gone out, and Caroline sat alone at the table while she
hastily swallowed a cup of coffee. It was a serene and cloudless day,
and the view of the river had never looked so lovely as it did through
the falling leaves and over the russet sweep of autumn grasses. October
brooded with golden wings over the distance.

"I had noticed that Letty had a sort of hacking cough for three days,"
said Mrs. Timberlake from the window, "but I didn't think it would
amount to anything serious."

"Yes, I tried to cure it, and last night Mammy Riah doctored her. The
child is so delicate that the slightest ailment is dangerous. It seems
strange that she should be so frail. Mr. Blackburn looks strong, and his
wife was always well until recently, wasn't she?"

For a moment Mrs. Timberlake stared through the window at a sparrow
which was perched on the topmost branch of a juniper. "I never saw any
one hate to have a child as much as Angelica did," she said presently in
her dry tones. "She carried on like a crazy woman about it. Some women
are like that, you know."

"Yes, I know, but she is devoted to Letty now."

The housekeeper did not reply, and her face grew greyer and harsher than
ever.

"No one could be sweeter than she is with her," said Caroline, after a
moment in which she tried to pierce mentally the armour of Mrs.
Timberlake's reserve. "She isn't always so silent," she thought. "I hear
her talking by the hour to Mammy Riah, but it is just as if she were
afraid of letting out something if she opened her lips. I wonder if she
is really so prejudiced against Mrs. Blackburn that she can't talk of
her?" Though Caroline's admiration for Angelica had waned a little on
closer acquaintance, she still thought her kind and beautiful, except in
her incomprehensible attitude to the old sewing woman in Pine Street.
The recollection of that scene, which she had found it impossible to
banish entirely, was a sting in her memory; and as she recalled it now,
her attitude toward Angelica changed insensibly from that of an advocate
to a judge.

"Oh, Angelica is sweet enough," said the housekeeper suddenly, with a
rasping sound, as if the words scraped her throat as she uttered them,
"if you don't get in her way." Then facing Caroline squarely, she added
in the same tone, "I'm not saying anything against Angelica, Miss Meade.
Our grandmothers were sisters, and I am not the sort to turn against my
own blood kin, but you'll hear a heap of stories about the way things go
on in this house, and I want you to take it from me in the beginning
that there are a plenty of worse husbands than David Blackburn. He isn't
as meek as Moses, but he's been a good friend to me, and if I wanted a
helping hand, I reckon I'd go to him now a sight quicker than I would to
Angelica, though she's my kin and he isn't."

Rising hurriedly, as she finished, she gave a curt little laugh and
exclaimed, "Well, there's one thing David and I have in common. We're
both so mortal shutmouthed because when we once begin to talk, we always
let the cat out of the bag. Now, if you're through, you can go straight
upstairs and have a word with Angelica before she begins to dress."

She went over to the sideboard, and began counting the silver aloud,
while Caroline pushed back her chair, and ran impatiently upstairs to
Mrs. Blackburn's room. At her knock the maid, Mary, opened the door, and
beyond her Angelica's voice said plaintively, "Oh, Miss Meade, Mary
tells me that Letty's cold is very bad. I am so anxious about her."

A breakfast tray was before her, and while she looked down at the china
coffee service, which was exquisitely thin and fragile, she broke off a
piece of toast, and buttered it carefully, with the precise attention
she devoted to the smallest of her personal needs. It seemed to Caroline
that she had never appeared so beautiful as she did against the lace
pillows, in her little cap and dressing sack of sky-blue silk.

"I came to tell you," said Caroline. "She complains of pain whenever she
moves, and I'm afraid, unless something is done at once, it may turn
into pneumonia."

"Well, I'm coming immediately, just as soon as I've had my coffee. I
woke up with such a headache that I don't dare to stir until I've eaten.
You have sent for the doctor, of course?"

"I telephoned very early, but I suppose he won't be here until after his
office hours."

Having eaten the piece of toast, Angelica drank her coffee, and
motioned to Mary to remove the tray from her knees. "I'll get up at
once," she said. "Mary, give me my slippers. You told me so suddenly
that I haven't yet got over the shock."

She looked distressed and frightened, and a little later, when she
followed Caroline into the nursery and stooped over Letty's bed, her
attitude was that of an early Italian Madonna. The passion of motherhood
seemed to pervade her whole yearning body, curving the soft lines to an
ineffable beauty.

"Letty, darling, are you better?"

The child opened her eyes and stared, without smiling, in her mother's
face.

"Yes, I am better," she answered in a panting voice, "but I wish it
didn't hurt so."

"The doctor is coming. He will give you some medicine to cure it."

"Mammy says that it is the night air that makes me sick, but father says
that hasn't anything to do with it."

From the fire which she was tending, Mammy Riah looked up moodily. "Huh!
I reckon Marse David cyarn' teach me nuttin' 'bout raisin chillun," she
muttered under her breath.

"Ask the doctor. He will tell you," answered Angelica. "Do you think it
is warm enough in here, Miss Meade?"

"Yes, I am careful about the temperature." Almost unconsciously Caroline
had assumed her professional manner, and as she stood there in her white
uniform beside Letty's bed, she looked so capable and authoritative that
even Mammy Riah was cowed, though she still grumbled in a deep whisper.

"Of course you know best," said Angelica, with the relief she always
felt whenever any one removed a responsibility from her shoulders, or
assumed a duty which naturally belonged to her. "Has she fallen asleep
so quickly?"

"No, it's stupor. She has a very high fever."

"I don't like that blue look about her mouth, and her breathing is so
rapid. Do you think she is seriously ill, Miss Meade?" Angelica had
withdrawn from the bed, and as she asked the question, she lowered her
voice until her words were almost inaudible. Her eyes were soft and
anxious under the drooping lace edge of her cap.

"I don't like her pulse," Caroline also spoke in a whisper, with an
anxious glance at the bed, though Letty seemed oblivious of their
presence in the room. "I am just getting ready to sponge her with
alcohol. That may lower her temperature."

For a moment Mrs. Blackburn wavered between the bed and the door. "I
wish I didn't have to go to town," she said nervously. "If it were for
anything else except these tableaux I shouldn't think of it. But in a
cause like this, when there is so much suffering to be relieved, I feel
that one ought not to let personal anxieties interfere. Don't you think
I am right, Miss Meade?"

"I haven't thought about it," replied Caroline with her usual
directness. "But I am sure you are the best judge of what you ought to
do."

"I have the most important part, you see, and if I were to withdraw, it
would be such a disappointment to the committee. There isn't any one
else they could get at the last moment."

"I suppose not. There is really nothing that you can do here."

"That is what I thought." Angelica's tone was one of relief. "Of course
if I were needed about anything it would be different; but you are
better able than I am to decide what ought to be done. I always feel so
helpless," she added sadly, "when there is illness in the house."

With the relinquishment of responsibility, she appeared to grow almost
cheerful. If she had suddenly heard that Letty was much better, or had
discovered, after harrowing uncertainty, the best and surest treatment
for pneumonia, her face would probably have worn just such a relieved
and grateful expression. In one vivid instant, with a single piercing
flash of insight, the other woman seemed to look straight through that
soft feminine body to Mrs. Blackburn's thin and colourless soul. "I know
what she is now--she is thin," said Caroline to herself. "She is thin
all through, and I shall never feel the same about her again. She
doesn't want trouble, she doesn't want responsibility because it makes
her uncomfortable--that is why she turns Letty over to me. She is
beautiful, and she is sweet when nothing disturbs her, but I believe she
is selfish underneath all that softness and sweetness which costs her so
little." And she concluded with a merciless judgment, "That is why she
wasn't kind to that poor old woman in Pine Street. It would have cost
her something, and she can't bear to pay. She wants to get everything
for nothing."

The iron in her soul hardened suddenly, for she knew that this moment of
revelation had shattered for her the romance of Briarlay. She might
still be fascinated by Mrs. Blackburn; she might still pity her and long
to help her; she might still blame Blackburn bitterly for his
hardness--but she could never again wholly sympathize with Angelica.

"There isn't anything in the world that you can do," she repeated
gravely.

"I knew you'd say that, and it is so good of you to reassure me." Mrs.
Blackburn smiled from the threshold. "Now, I must dress, or I shall be
late for the rehearsal. If the doctor comes while I am away, please ask
him if he thinks another nurse is necessary. David tells me he
telephoned for an extra one for night duty; but, dear Miss Meade, I feel
so much better satisfied when I know that Letty is in your charge every
minute."

"Oh, she is in my charge. Even if the other nurse comes, I shall still
sleep in the room next to her."

"You are so splendid!" For an instant Angelica shone on her from the
hall. Then the door closed behind her, and an hour afterwards, as
Caroline sat by Letty's bed, with her hand on her pulse, she heard the
motor start down the drive and turn rapidly into the lane.

At one o'clock the doctor came, and he was still there a quarter of an
hour later, when Mrs. Blackburn rustled, with an anxious face, into the
room. She wore a suit of grey cloth, and, with her stole and muff of
silver fox, and her soft little hat of grey velvet, she made Caroline
think of one of the aspen trees, in a high wind, on the lawn at The
Cedars. She was all delicate, quivering gleams of silver, and even her
golden hair looked dim and shadowy, under a grey veil, as if it were
seen through a mist.

"Oh, Doctor, she isn't really so ill, is she?" Her eyes implored him to
spare her, and while she questioned him, she flung the stole of silver
fox away from her throat, as if the weight of the furs oppressed her.

"Well, you mustn't be too anxious. We are doing all we can, you know. In
a day or two, I hope, we'll have got her over the worst." He was a young
man, the son of Mrs. Colfax's friend, old Doctor Boland, and all his
eager youth seemed to start from his eyes while he gazed at Angelica.
"Beauty like that is a power," thought Caroline almost resentfully. "It
hides everything--even vacancy." All the men she had seen with Mrs.
Blackburn, except her husband, had gazed at her with this worshipful and
protecting look; and, as she watched it shine now in Doctor Boland's
eyes, she wondered cynically why David Blackburn alone should be lacking
in this particular kind of chivalry. "He is the only man who looks at
her as if she were a human being, not an angel," she reflected. "I
wonder if he used to do it once, and if he has stopped because he has
seen deeper than any of the others?"

"Then it isn't really pneumonia?" asked Angelica.

He hesitated, still trying to answer the appeal in her eyes, and to
spare her the truth if it were possible.

"It looks now as if it might be, Mrs. Blackburn, but children pick up so
quickly, you know." He reached out his arm as he answered, and led her
to the couch in one corner. "Have you some aromatic ammonia at hand,
Miss Meade? I think you might give Mrs. Blackburn a few drops of it."

Caroline measured the drops from a bottle on the table by Letty's bed.
"Perhaps she had better lie down," she suggested.

"Yes, I think I'll go to my room," answered Angelica, rising from the
couch, as she lifted a grateful face to the young doctor. "A shock
always upsets me, and ever since Mary told me how ill Letty was, I have
felt as if I couldn't breathe."

She looked really unhappy, and as Caroline met her eyes, she reproached
herself for her harsh criticism of the morning. After all, Angelica
couldn't help being herself. After all, she wasn't responsible for her
limited intelligence and her coldness of nature! Perhaps she felt more
in her heart than she was able to express, in spite of her perfect
profile and her wonderful eyes. "Even her selfishness may be due to her
bringing up, and the way everyone has always spoiled her," pursued the
girl, with a swift reaction from her severe judgment.

When Angelica had gone out, Doctor Boland came over to the bed, and
stood gazing thoughtfully down on the child, who stirred restlessly and
stared up at him with bright, glassy eyes. It was plain to Caroline that
he was more disturbed than he had admitted; and his grave young features
looked old and drawn while he stood there in silence. He was a thickset
man, with an ugly, intelligent face and alert, nearsighted eyes behind
enormous glasses with tortoise-shell rims.

"If we can manage to keep her temperature down," he said, and added as
if he were pursuing his original train of thought, "Mrs. Blackburn is
unusually sensitive."

"She is not very strong."

"For that reason it is better not to alarm her unnecessarily. I suppose
Mr. Blackburn can always be reached?"

"Oh, yes, I have his telephone number. He asked me to call him up as
soon as I had seen you."

After this he gave a few professional directions, and left abruptly
with the remark, "I'll look in early to-morrow. There is really nothing
we can do except keep up the treatment and have as much fresh air as
possible in the room. If all goes well, I hope she will have pulled
through the worst by Friday--and if I were you," he hesitated and a
flush rose to his sandy hair, "I should be careful how I broke any bad
news to Mrs. Blackburn."

He went out, closing the door cautiously, as if he feared to make any
sound in the house, while Caroline sat down to wonder what it was about
Angelica that made every man, even the doctor, so anxious to spare her?
"I believe his chief concern about poor Letty is that this illness
disturbs her mother," she mused, without understanding. "Well, I hope
his prophecy will come true, and that the worst will be over by Friday.
If she isn't, it will be a blow to the entertainment committee."

But when Friday came, the child was so much worse that the doctor, when
he hurried out before his office hours, looked old and grey with
anxiety. At eleven o'clock Blackburn sent his car back to the garage,
and came up, with a book which he did not open, to sit in Letty's room.
As he entered, Angelica rose from the couch on which she had been lying,
and laid her hand on his arm.

"I am so glad you have come, David. It makes me better satisfied to have
you in the house."

"I am not going to the works. Mayfield is coming to take down some
letters, and I shall be here all day."

"It is a comfort to know that. I couldn't close my eyes last night, so
if you are going to be here, I think I'll try to rest a few minutes."

She was pale and tired, and for the first time since she had been in
the house, Caroline discerned a shade of sympathy in the glances they
interchanged. "What a beautiful thing it would be if Letty's illness
brought them together," she thought, with a wave of happiness in the
midst of her apprehension. She had read of men and women who were
miraculously ennobled in the crucial moments of life, and her vivid
fancy was already weaving a romantic ending to the estrangement of the
Blackburns. After all, more improbable things had happened, she told
herself in one of her mother's favourite phrases.

At five o'clock, when Doctor Boland came, Blackburn had gone down to his
library, and Caroline, who had just slipped into a fresh uniform, was
alone in the room. Her eyes were unnaturally large and dark; but she
looked cool and composed, and her vitality scarcely felt the strain of
the three sleepless nights. Though the second nurse came on duty at six
o'clock, Caroline had been too restless and wakeful to stay in her room,
and had spent the nights on the couch by the nursery window.

"If we can manage to keep up her strength through the night----"

The doctor had already looked over the chart, and he held it now in his
hand while he waited for a response.

"There is a fighting chance, isn't there?"

His face was very grave, though his voice still maintained its
professional cheerfulness. "With a child there is always a chance, and
if she pulls through the night----"

"I shall keep my eyes on her every minute." As she spoke she moved back
to Letty's bed, while the doctor went out with an abrupt nod and the
words, "Mr. Blackburn wishes me to spend the night here. I'll be back
after dinner."

The door had hardly closed after him, when it opened again noiselessly,
and Mrs. Timberlake thrust her head through the crack. As she peered
into the room, with her long sallow face and her look of mutely inviting
disaster, there flashed through Caroline's mind the recollection of one
of her father's freckled engravings of "Hecuba Gazing Over the Ruins of
Troy."

"I've brought you a cup of tea. Couldn't you manage to drink it?"

"Yes, I'd like it." There was something touching in the way Mrs.
Timberlake seemed to include her in the distress of the family--to
assume that her relation to Letty was not merely the professional one of
a nurse to a patient.

Stepping cautiously, as if she were in reality treading on ruins, the
housekeeper crossed the room and placed the tray on the table at the
bedside. While she leaned over to pour out the tea, she murmured in a
rasping whisper, "Mammy Riah is crying so I wouldn't let her come in.
Can Letty hear us?"

"No, she is in a stupor. She has been moaning a good deal, but she is
too weak to keep it up. I've just given her some medicine."

Her gaze went back to the child, who stirred and gave a short panting
sob. In her small transparent face, which was flushed with fever, the
blue circle about the mouth seemed to start out suddenly like the mark
of a blow. She lay very straight and slim under the cover, as if she had
shrunken to half her size since her illness, and her soft, fine hair,
drawn smoothly back from her waxen forehead, clung as flat and close as
a cap.

"I'd scarcely know her," murmured the housekeeper, with a catch in her
throat.

"If she passes the crisis she will pick up quickly. I've seen children
as ill as this who were playing about the room a few days afterwards."
Caroline tried to speak brightly, but in spite of her efforts, there was
a note of awe in her voice.

"Is it really as grave as we fear, Miss Meade?"

Caroline met the question frankly. "It is very grave, Mrs. Timberlake,
but with a child, as the doctor told me a minute ago, there is always
hope of a sudden change for the better."

"Have you said anything to Angelica?"

"She was in here a little while ago, just before the doctor's visit, but
I tried not to alarm her. She is so easily made ill."

The windows were wide open, and Mrs. Timberlake went over to the nearest
one, and stood gazing out on the lawn and the half-bared elms. A light
wind was blowing, and while she stood there, she shivered and drew the
knitted purple cape she wore closer about her shoulders. Beyond the
interlacing boughs the sunlight streamed in a golden shower on the
grass, which was still bright and green, and now and then a few
sparkling drops were scattered through the broad windows, and rippled
over the blanket on Letty's bed. "It is hard to get used to these
new-fangled ways," observed the housekeeper presently as she moved back
to the fire. "In my days we'd have thought a hot room and plenty of
whiskey toddy the best things for pneumonia."

"The doctor told me to keep the windows wide open."

"I heard him say so, but don't you think you had better put on a wrap?
It feels chilly."

"Oh, no, I'm quite warm." Caroline finished the cup of tea as she spoke
and gave back the tray. "That did me good. I needed it."

"I thought so." From the tone in which the words were uttered Caroline
understood that the housekeeper was gaining time. "Are you sure you
oughtn't to say something to Angelica?"

"Say something? You mean tell her how ill Letty is? Why, the doctor gave
me my instructions. He said positively that I was not to alarm Mrs.
Blackburn."

"I don't think he understood. He doesn't know that she still expects to
be in the tableaux to-night."

For an instant Caroline stared back at her without a word; then she said
in an incredulous whisper, "Oh, she wouldn't--she couldn't!"

"She feels it to be her duty--her sacred duty, she has just told me so.
You see, I don't think she in the least realizes. She seems confident
that Letty is better."

"How can she be? She was in here less than an hour ago."

"And she said nothing about to-night?"

"Not a word. I had forgotten about the tableaux, but, of course, I
shouldn't have mentioned them. I tried to be cheerful, to keep up her
spirit--but she must have seen. She couldn't help seeing."

The housekeeper's lips twitched, and she moistened them nervously. "If
you knew Angelica as well as I do," she answered flatly, "you'd realize
that she can help seeing anything on earth except the thing she wants to
see."

"Then you must tell her," rejoined Caroline positively. "Someone must
tell her."

"I couldn't." Mrs. Timberlake was as emphatic as Caroline. "And what's
more she wouldn't believe me if I did. She'd pretend it was some of my
crankiness. You just wait till you try to convince Angelica of something
she doesn't want to believe."

"I'll tell her if you think I ought to--or perhaps it would be better to
go straight to Mr. Blackburn?"

Mrs. Timberlake coughed. "Well, I reckon if anybody can convince her,
David can," she retorted. "He doesn't mince matters."

"The night nurse comes on at six o'clock, and just as soon as she gets
here I'll go downstairs to Mr. Blackburn. That will be time enough,
won't it?"

"Oh, yes, she isn't going until half-past seven. I came to you because I
heard her order the car."

When she had gone Caroline turned back to her watch; but her heart was
beating so rapidly that for a moment she confused it with Letty's
feverish breathing. She reproached herself bitterly for not speaking
frankly to Mrs. Blackburn, for trying to spare her; and yet, recalling
the last interview, she scarcely knew what she could have said. "It
seemed too cruel to tell her that Letty might not live through the
night," she thought. "It seemed too cruel--but wasn't that just what
Mrs. Timberlake meant when she said that Mr. Blackburn 'wouldn't mince
matters?'"

The night nurse was five minutes late, and during these minutes, the
suspense, the responsibility, became almost unbearable. It was as if the
whole burden of Angelica's ignorance, of her apparent heartlessness,
rested on Caroline's shoulders. "If she had gone I could never have
forgiven myself," she was thinking when Miss Webster, the nurse, entered
with her brisk, ingratiating manner.

"I stopped to speak to Mrs. Blackburn," she explained. "She tells me
Letty is better." Her fine plain face, from which a wealth of burnished
red hair was brushed severely back, beamed with interest and sympathy.
Though she had been nursing private cases for ten years, she had not
lost the energy and enthusiasm of a pupil nurse in the hospital. Her
tall, erect figure, with its tightly confined hips, bent back, like a
steel spring, whenever she stooped over the child.

Caroline shook her head without replying, for Letty had opened her eyes
and was gazing vacantly at the ceiling. "Do you want anything, darling?
Miss Webster is going to sit with you a minute while I run downstairs to
speak to father."

But the child had closed her eyes again, and it was impossible to tell
whether or not the words had penetrated the stupor in which she had been
lying for the last two or three hours. A few moments later, as Caroline
descended the staircase and crossed the hall to Blackburn's library, the
memory of Letty's look floated between her and the object of her errand.
"If Mrs. Blackburn could see that she would know," she told herself
while she raised her hand to the panel of the door. "She couldn't help
knowing."

At the knock Blackburn called to her to enter, and when she pushed the
door open and crossed the threshold, she saw that he was standing by the
window, looking out at the afterglow. Beyond the terrace and the dark
spires of the junipers, the autumn fields were changing from brown to
purple under the flower-like pink of the sky. Somewhere in the distance
one of the Airedale terriers was whining softly.

As soon as he caught sight of her, Blackburn crossed the floor with a
rapid stride, and stood waiting for her to speak. Though he did not open
his lips, she saw his face grow white, and the corners of his mouth
contract suddenly as if a tight cord were drawn. For the first time she
noticed that he had a way of narrowing his eyes when he stared fixedly.

"There hasn't been any change, Mr. Blackburn. I wish to speak to you
about something else."

From the sharp breath that he drew, she could measure the unutterable
relief that swept over him.

"You say there hasn't been any change?"

"Not since morning. She is, of course, very ill, but with a child," she
had repeated the phrase so often that it seemed to have lost its
meaning, "the crisis sometimes comes very quickly. If we can manage to
keep up her strength for the next twenty-four hours, I believe the worst
will be over."

His figure, as he stood there in the dim light, was impressed with a new
vividness on her mind, and it was as he looked at this moment that she
always remembered him.

"Do you wish anything?" he asked. "Is everything being done that is
possible?"

"Everything. The doctor is coming to spend the night, and I shall sit up
with Miss Webster."

"But don't you need rest? Can you go without sleep and not lose your
strength?"

She shook her head. "I couldn't sleep until she is better."

A look of gratitude leaped to his eyes, and she became aware, through
some subtle wave of perception, that for the first time, she had assumed
a definite image in his thoughts.

"Thank you," he answered simply, but his tone was full of suppressed
feeling.

While he looked at her the old prejudice, the old suspicion and
resentment faded from her face, and she gazed back at him with trusting
and friendly eyes. Though she was pale and tired, and there were lines
of worry and sleeplessness in her forehead, she appeared to him the
incarnation of helpfulness. The spirit of goodness and gentleness shone
in her smile, and ennobled her slight womanly figure, which drooped a
little in its trim uniform. She looked as if she would fight to the
death, would wear herself to a shadow, for any one she loved, or for any
cause in which she believed.

"I came to ask you," she said very quietly, "if it would not be better
to tell Mrs. Blackburn the truth about Letty?"

He started in amazement. "But she knows, doesn't she?"

"She doesn't know everything. She thinks Letty is better. Miss Webster
has been talking to her."

"And you think she ought to be warned?"

Her question had evidently puzzled him.

"I think it is unfair to leave her in ignorance. She does not in the
least realize Letty's condition. Mrs. Timberlake tells me she heard her
order the car for half-past seven."

"Order the car?" He seemed to be groping through a fog of uncertainty.
If only heaven had granted intuition to men, thought Caroline
impatiently, how much time might be saved!

"To go to the tableaux. You know the tableaux are to-night."

"Yes, I had forgotten." His tone changed and grew positive. "Of course
she must be told. I will tell her."

"That is all." She turned away as she spoke, and laid her hand on the
knob of the door. "Mrs. Timberlake and I both felt that I ought to speak
to you."

"I am glad you did." He had opened the door for her, and following her a
step or two into the hall, he added gratefully, "I can never thank you
enough."

Without replying, she hurried to the staircase, and ran up the steps to
the second storey. When she reached the door of the nursery, she glanced
round before entering, and saw that Blackburn had already come upstairs
and was on his way to Angelica's room. While she watched, she saw him
knock, and then open the door and cross the threshold with his rapid
step.

Miss Webster was sitting by Letty's bed, and after a look at the child,
Caroline threw herself on the couch and closed her eyes in the hope that
she might fall asleep. Though she was profoundly relieved by her
conversation with Blackburn, she was still anxious about Angelica, and
impatient to hear how she had borne the shock. As the time dragged on,
with the interminable passage of the minutes in a sickroom, she found it
impossible to lie there in silence any longer, and rising from the
couch, she glanced at the clock before going to her room to wash her
hands and straighten her hair for dinner. It was exactly half-past
seven, and a few minutes later, when she had finished her simple
preparations, and was passing the window on her way to the hall, she
heard the sound of a motor in the circular drive. "I suppose they forgot
to tell John," she thought, "or can it be the doctor so soon?"

The hall was empty when she entered it; but before she had reached the
head of the stairs, a door opened and shut in the left wing, and the
housekeeper joined her. At the bend in the staircase, beneath a copy of
the Sistine Madonna, which had been crowded out of the drawing-room, the
elder woman stopped and laid a detaining hand on Caroline's arm. Even
through the starched sleeve her grasp felt dry and feverish.

"Miss Meade, did you get a chance to speak to David?"

"Why, yes, I spoke to him. I went straight down as soon as Miss Webster
came on duty."

"Did he say he would tell Angelica?"

"He came up at once to tell her. I saw him go into her room."

Mrs. Timberlake glanced helplessly up at the Sistine Madonna. "Well, I
don't know what he could have said," she answered, "for Angelica has
gone. That was her motor you heard leaving the door."



CHAPTER XI

THE SACRED CULT


When Caroline looked back upon it afterwards, she remembered that dinner
as the most depressing meal of her life. While she ate her food, with
the dutiful determination of the trained nurse who realizes that she is
obliged to keep up her strength, her gaze wandered for diversion to the
soft blues and pinks on the wall. The tapestries were so fresh that she
wondered if they were modern. More than ever the airy figure of Spring,
floating in primrose-coloured draperies through a flowery grove,
reminded her of Angelica. There was the same beauty of line, the same
look of sweetness and grace, the same amber hair softly parted under a
wreath of pale grey-green leaves. The very vagueness of the features,
which left all except the pensive outline to the imagination, seemed to
increase rather than diminish this resemblance.

"Have you ever noticed how much that figure is like Mrs. Blackburn?" she
asked, turning to the housekeeper, for the silence was beginning to
embarrass her. Mary was away and neither Blackburn nor Mrs. Timberlake
had uttered a word during the four short courses, which Patrick served
as noiselessly as if he were eluding an enemy.

Mrs. Timberlake lifted her eyes to the wall. "Yes, it's the living image
of her, if you stand far enough off. I reckon that's why she bought
it."

Blackburn, who was helping himself to coffee, glanced up to remark, "I
forgot to take sugar, Patrick," and when the tray was brought back, he
selected a lump of sugar and broke it evenly in half. If he had heard
the question, there was no hint of it in his manner.

Having finished a pear she had been forcing herself to eat, Caroline
looked inquiringly from Blackburn to Mrs. Timberlake. If only somebody
would speak! If only Mary, with her breezy chatter, would suddenly
return from New York! From a long mirror over the sideboard Caroline's
reflection, very pale, very grave, stared back at her like a face seen
in a fog. "I look like a ghost," she thought. "No wonder they won't
speak to me. After all, they are silent because they can think of
nothing to say." Unlike in everything else, it occurred to her that
Blackburn and the housekeeper had acquired, through dissimilar
experiences, the same relentless sincerity of mind. They might be blunt,
but they were undeniably honest; and contrasted with the false values
and the useless accessories of the house, this honesty impressed her as
entirely admirable. The brooding anxiety in Blackburn's face did not
change even when he smiled at her, and then rose and stood waiting while
she passed before him out of the dining-room. It wasn't, she realized,
that he was deliberately inconsiderate or careless in manner; it was
merely that the idea of pretending had never occurred to him. The
thought was in her mind, when he spoke her name abruptly, and she turned
to find that he had followed her to the staircase.

"Miss Meade, I have to see a man on business for a half hour. I shall be
in the library. If there is any change, will you send for me?"

She bowed. "Yes, I shall be with Letty all the time."

"As soon as Baker goes, I'll come up. I asked the doctor to spend the
night."

"He said he couldn't get here before ten or eleven, but to telephone if
we needed him," broke in Mrs. Timberlake. "Mammy Riah has gone to the
nursery, Miss Meade. Is there any reason why she shouldn't stay?"

"None in the world." As Caroline turned away and ascended the stairs,
she remembered that there had been no question of Angelica. "I wish I
could understand. I wish I knew what it means," she said to herself in
perplexity. She felt smothered by the uncertainty, the coldness, the
reserve of the people about her. Everybody seemed to speak with tight
lips, as if in fear lest something might escape that would help to clear
away the obscurity. It was all so different from The Cedars, where every
thought, every joy, every grief, was lived in a common centre of
experience.

When she opened the nursery door, Mammy Riah glanced up from the fire,
where she was crouching over the low fender. "I'se mortal feared,
honey," she muttered, while she held out her wrinkled palms to the
blaze. She had flung a shawl of crimson wool over her shoulders, and the
splash of barbaric colour, with her high Indian cheek bones and the low
crooning sound of her voice, gave her a resemblance to some Oriental
crooked image of Destiny. As the wind rocked the elms on the lawn, she
shivered, and rolled her glittering eyes in the direction of Letty's
bed.

"Don't give up, Mammy Riah," said Caroline consolingly. "You have nursed
children through worse illnesses than this."

"Yas'm, I know I is, but dar wan' noner dese yer signs dat I see now."
The flames leaped up suddenly, illuminating her stooping figure in the
brilliant shawl with an intense and sinister glow. "I ain't sayin'
nuttin'. Naw'm, I ain' lettin' on dat I'se seen whut I'se seen; but
dar's somebody done thowed a spell on dis place jes ez sho' ez you live.
Dar wuz a ring out yonder on de grass de fust thing dis mawnin', en de
fros' ain' never so much ez teched it. Naw, honey, de fros' hit ain'
never come a nigh hit. Patrick he seed hit, too, but he ain' let on
nuttin' about hit needer, dough de misery is done cotched him in bofe er
his feet."

"You don't really think we're conjured, Mammy?"

Mammy Riah cast a secretive glance over her shoulder, and the dramatic
instinct of her race awoke in every fibre of her body as she made a
vague, mournful gesture over the ashes. "I 'members, honey, I 'members,"
she muttered ominously. Though Caroline had been familiar with such
superstitions from infancy, there was a vividness in these mysteries and
invocations which excited her imagination. She knew, as she assured
herself, that there "wasn't anything in it"; yet, in spite of her
reason, the image of the old woman muttering her incantations over the
fire, haunted her like a prophetic vision of evil.

Turning away she went over to Letty's bed, and laid her small, cool
fingers on the child's pulse.

"Has there been any change?"

Miss Webster shook her head. "She hasn't stirred."

"I don't like her pulse."

"It seemed a little stronger after the last medicine, but it was getting
more rapid a minute ago. That old woman has been talking a lot of
heathen nonsense," she added in a whisper. "She says she found a
conjure ball at the front door this morning. I am from the Middle West,
and it sounds dreadfully uncanny to me."

"I know. She thinks we are conjured. That's just their way. Don't notice
her."

"Well, I hope she isn't going to sit up all night with me." Then, as
Mammy Riah glanced suspiciously round, and began shaking her head until
the shadows danced like witches, Miss Webster added in a more distinct
tone, "Is Mrs. Blackburn still hopeful? She is so sweet that I've quite
lost my heart to her."

"She wasn't at dinner," answered Caroline, and going back to the fire,
she sat down in a chintz-covered chair, with deep arms, and shaded her
eyes from the flames. In some incomprehensible way Mammy Riah and
Blackburn and Angelica, all seemed to hover in spirit round the glowing
hearth.

She was still sitting there, and her hand had not dropped from her eyes,
when Blackburn came in and crossed the floor to a chair at the foot of
Letty's bed. After a whispered word or two with Miss Webster, he opened
a book he had brought with him, and held it under the night lamp on the
candle-stand. When a quarter of an hour had passed Caroline noticed that
he had not turned a page, and that he appeared to be reading and
re-reading the same paragraph, with the dogged determination which was
his general attitude toward adversity. His face was worn and lined, and
there were heavy shadows under his eyes; but he gave her still the
impression of a man who could not be conquered by events. "There is
something in him, some vein of iron, that you can't break, you can't
even bend," she thought. She remembered that her father had once told
her that after the worst had happened you began to take things easier;
and this casual recollection seemed to give her a fresh understanding of
Blackburn. "Father knew life," she thought, "I wonder what he would have
seen in all this? I wonder how he would have liked Mr. Blackburn and his
political theories?" The profile outlined darkly against the shade of
the night lamp, held her gaze in spite of the effort she made, now and
then, to avert it. It was a strong face, and seen in this light, with
the guard of coldness dropped, it was a noble one. Thought and feeling
and idealism were there, and the serenity, not of the philosopher, but
of the soldier. He had fought hard, she saw, and some deep instinct told
her that he had conquered. A phrase read somewhere long ago returned to
her as clearly as if it were spoken aloud. "He had triumphed over
himself." That was the meaning of his look. That was the thought for
which she had been groping. He had triumphed over himself.

She started up quickly, and ran with noiseless steps to the bed, for
Letty had opened her eyes and cried out.

"Is she awake?" asked Blackburn, and closing his book, he moved nearer.

Caroline's hand was on Letty's pulse, and she replied without looking at
him, "She is getting restless. Miss Webster, is it time for the
medicine?"

"It is not quite half-past ten. That must be the doctor now at the
door."

Rising hurriedly, Blackburn went out into the hall, and when he came
back, Doctor Boland was with him. As Caroline left the bedside and went
to the chair by the fire, she heard Blackburn ask sharply, "What does
the change mean, doctor?" and Doctor Boland's soothing response, "Wait
a while. Wait a while." Then he stooped to make an examination, while
Miss Webster prepared a stimulant, and Letty moaned aloud as if she were
frightened. A clock outside was just striking eleven when the doctor
said in a subdued tone, too low to be natural, yet too clear to be a
whisper, "Her pulse is getting weaker." He bent over the bed, and as
Caroline stood up, she saw Letty's face as if it were in a dream--the
flat, soft hair, the waxen forehead, the hard, bright eyes, and the
bluish circle about the small, quivering mouth. Then she crossed the
floor like a white shadow, and in a little while the room sank back into
stillness. Only the dropping of the ashes, and the low crooning of Mammy
Riah, disturbed the almost unendurable silence.

For the first hour, while she sat there, Caroline felt that the
discipline of her training had deserted her, and that she wanted to
scream. Then gradually the stillness absorbed her, and there swept over
her in waves a curious feeling of lightness and buoyancy, as if her mind
had detached itself from her body, and had become a part of the very
pulse and rhythm of the life that surrounded her. She had always lived
vividly, with the complete reaction to the moment of a vital and
sensitive nature; and she became aware presently that her senses were
responsive to every external impression of the room and the night. She
heard the wind in the elms, the whispering of the flames, the muttering
of Mammy Riah, the short, fretful moans that came from Letty's bed; and
all these things seemed a part, not of the world outside, but of her own
inner consciousness. Even the few pale stars shining through the window,
and the brooding look of the room, with its flickering firelight and
its motionless figures, appeared thin and unsubstantial as if they
possessed no objective reality. And out of this vagueness and
evanescence of the things that surrounded her, there stole over her a
certainty, as wild and untenable as a superstition of Mammy Riah's, that
there was a meaning in the smallest incident of the night, and that she
was approaching one of the cross-roads of life.

A coal dropped on the hearth; she looked up with a start, and found
Blackburn's eyes upon her. "Miss Meade, have you the time? My watch has
run down."

She glanced at the little clock on the mantelpiece. "It is exactly one
o'clock."

"Thank you." His gaze passed away from her, and she leaned back in her
chair, while the sense of strangeness and unreality vanished as quickly
as it had come. The old negress was mending the fire with kindling wood,
and every now and then she paused and shook her head darkly at the
flames. "I ain' sayin' nuttin', but I knows, honey," she repeated.

"Hadn't you better go to bed, Mammy Riah?" asked Caroline pityingly.

"Naw'm, I 'ouldn't better git to baid. I'se got ter watch."

"There isn't anything that you can do, and I'll call you, if there is a
change."

But the old woman shook her head stubbornly. "I'se got ter watch,
honey," she replied. "Dat's one er dem ole squitch-owls out dar now.
Ain't he hollerin' jes like he knows sump'n?"

Her mind was plainly wandering, and seeing that persuasion was useless,
Caroline left her to her crooning grief, and went over to Letty's bed.
As she passed the door, it opened without sound, as if it were pushed
by a ghost, and Mrs. Timberlake looked in with the question, "Is she any
better, doctor?"

The doctor raised his head and glanced round at her. "She is no better,"
he answered. "Her pulse gets worse all the time."

Unconsciously, while they spoke, they had drawn together around Letty's
bed, and stooping over, Caroline listened with a rapidly beating heart,
to the child's breathing. Then, dropping on her knees, she laid her arms
about the pillow, as if she would hold the fragile little body to life
with all her strength.

She was kneeling there, it seemed to her hours later, when the door
swung wide on its hinges, and Angelica, in her white robes, with the
wreath of leaves on her hair, paused on the threshold like some Luca
della Robbia angel. Her golden hair made a light on her temples; her
eyes were deep and starry with triumph; and a glow hung about her that
was like the rosy incandescence of the stage. For a minute she stood
there; then, flushed, crowned, radiant, she swept into the room.

Blackburn had not lifted his head; there was no sign in his stooping
figure that he heard her when she cried out.

"Is Letty really so ill? Is she worse, Doctor Boland?"

The doctor moved a step from the bed, and reached out a protecting hand.
"She has been getting weaker."

"I'd sit down and wait, if I were you, Angelica," said Mrs. Timberlake,
pushing forward a chair. "There isn't anything else that you can do
now."

But, without noticing her, Angelica had dropped to her knees at
Caroline's side. A cry that was half a sob burst from her lips, and
lifting her head, she demanded with passionate reproach and regret, "Why
did nobody tell me? Oh, why did he let me go?" The words seemed driven
from her against her will, and when she had uttered them, she fell
forward across the foot of the bed, with her bare arms outstretched
before her.

The doctor bent over her, and instinctively, as he did so, he glanced up
at Blackburn, who stood, white and silent, looking down on his wife with
inscrutable eyes. He uttered no word of defence, he made no movement to
help her, and Caroline felt suddenly that the sympathy around him had
rushed back like an eddying wave to Angelica. "If he would only speak,
if he would only defend himself," she thought almost angrily. Without
turning, she knew that Angelica was led to the couch by the window, and
she heard Mrs. Timberlake say in unemotional tones, "I reckon we'd
better give her a dose of ammonia."

The voices were silent, and except for Mrs. Blackburn's sobs and Letty's
rapid breathing, there was no sound in the room. Suddenly from somewhere
outside there floated the plaintive whining of the dog that Caroline had
heard in the afternoon. "He must be missing Mary," she found herself
thinking, while Mammy Riah murmured uneasily from the hearth, "Hit's a
bad sign, w'en a dawg howls in de daid er night."

The hours dragged on like eternity, and without moving, without stirring
or lifting her eyes, Caroline knelt there, pouring her strength into the
life of the unconscious child. Every thought, every feeling, every
throbbing nerve, was concentrated upon this solitary consuming
purpose--"Letty must live." Science had done all it could; it remained
now for hope and courage to fight the losing fight to the end. "I will
never give up," she said sternly under her breath, "I will never give
up." If hope and courage could save, if it were possible for the human
will to snatch the victory from death, she felt, deep down in the
passionate depths of her heart, that, while she watched over her, Letty
could not die.

And then gradually, while she prayed, a change as light as a shadow
stole over the face of the child. The little features grew less waxen,
the glittering eyes melted to a dewy warmth, and it seemed that the blue
circles faded slowly, and even the close brown hair looked less dull and
lifeless. As the minutes passed, Caroline held her breath in torture,
lest the faintest sound, the slightest movement, might check the
invisible beneficent current.

At last, when the change had come, she rose from her knees, and with her
hand on Letty's pulse, looked up at Blackburn.

"The crisis is past. Her hand is moist, and her pulse is better," she
said.

He started up, and meeting her joyous eyes, stood for an instant
perfectly motionless, with his gaze on her face. "Thank God!" he
exclaimed in a whisper.

As he turned away and went out of the door, Caroline glanced over her
shoulder, and saw that there was a glimmer of dawn at the window.



CHAPTER XII

THE WORLD'S VIEW OF AN UNFORTUNATE MARRIAGE


On a cloudy morning in December, Caroline ran against Daisy Colfax as
she came out of a milliner's shop in Broad Street.

"Oh, Miss Meade, I've been dying to see you and hear news of Letty!"
exclaimed the young woman in her vivacious manner. She was wearing a hat
of royal purple, with a sweeping wing which intensified the brilliant
dusk of her hair and eyes.

"She is quite well again, though of course we are very careful. I came
in to look for some small artificial flowers for a doll's hat. We are
dressing a doll."

"It must have been a dreadful strain, and Cousin Matty Timberlake told
mother she didn't know what they would have done without you. I think it
is wonderful the way you keep looking so well."

"Oh, the work is easy," responded Caroline gravely.

"I am sure you are a perfect blessing to them all, especially to poor
Angelica," pursued Daisy, in her rippling, shallow voice. Then, in the
very centre of the crowded street, regardless of the pedestrians
streaming by on either side of her, she added on a higher note: "Have
you heard what everybody is saying about the way David Blackburn
behaved? Robert insists he doesn't believe a word of it; but then Robert
never believes anything except the Bible, so I told him I was going to
ask you the very first chance I got. There isn't a bit of use trying to
find out anything from Cousin Matty Timberlake because she is so awfully
close-mouthed, and I said to Robert only this morning that I was
perfectly sure you would understand why I wanted to know. It isn't just
gossip. I am not repeating a thing that I oughtn't to; but the stories
are all over town, and if they aren't true, I want to be in a position
to deny them."

"What are the stories?" asked Caroline, and she continued immediately,
before she was submerged again in the bubbling stream of Daisy's
narrative, "Of course it isn't likely that I can help you. This is the
first time I have been in town since Letty's illness."

"But that is exactly why you ought to know." As Daisy leaned nearer her
purple wing brushed Caroline's face. "It is all over Richmond, Miss
Meade," her voice rang out with fluting sweetness, "that David Blackburn
kept Letty's condition from Angelica because he was so crazy about her
being in those tableaux. They say he simply _made_ her go, and that she
never knew the child was in danger until she got back in the night. Mrs.
Mallow declares she heard it straight from an intimate friend of the
family, and somebody, who asked me not to mention her name, told me she
knew positively that Doctor Boland hadn't any use in the world for David
Blackburn. She said, of course, he hadn't said anything outright, but
she could tell just by the way he looked. Everybody is talking about it,
and I said to Robert at breakfast that I knew you could tell exactly
what happened because we heard from Cousin Matty that you never left
Letty's room."

"But why should Mr. Blackburn have wanted her to go? Why should he
care?" Though Daisy's sprightly story had confused her a little,
Caroline gathered vaguely that somebody had been talking too much, and
she resolved that she would not contribute a single word to the gossip.

"Oh, he has always been wild about Angelica's being admired. Don't you
remember hearing her say at that committee meeting at Briarlay that her
husband liked her to take part in public affairs? I happen to know that
he has almost forced her to go into things time and again when Doctor
Boland has tried to restrain her. Mother thinks that is really why he
married Angelica, because he was so ambitious, and he believed her
beauty and charm would help him in the world. I suppose it must have
been a blow to him to find that she couldn't tolerate his views--for she
is the most loyal soul on earth--and there are a great many people who
think that he voted with the Republicans in the hope of an office, and
that he got mad when he didn't get one and turned Independent----"

The flood of words was checked for a moment, while the chauffeur came to
ask for a direction, and in the pause Caroline remarked crisply, "I
don't believe one word--not one single word of these stories."

"You mean you think he didn't make her go?"

"I know he didn't. I'm perfectly positive."

"You can't believe that Angelica really knew Letty was so ill?" her tone
was frankly incredulous.

"Of course I can't answer that. I don't know anything about what she
thought; but I am certain that if she didn't understand, it wasn't Mr.
Blackburn's fault." Afterwards, when she recalled it, her indignant
defence of David Blackburn amused her. Why should she care what people
said of him?

"But they say she didn't know. Mrs. Mallow told me she heard from
someone who was there that Angelica turned on her husband when she came
in and asked him why he had kept it from her?"

The hopelessness of her cause aroused Caroline's fighting blood, and she
remembered that her father used to say the best battles of the war were
fought after defeat. Strange how often his philosophy and experience of
life came back to inspirit her!

"Well, perhaps she didn't understand, but Mr. Blackburn wasn't to blame.
I am sure of it," she answered firmly.

Mrs. Colfax looked at her sharply. "Do you like David Blackburn?" she
inquired without malice.

Caroline flushed. "I neither like nor dislike him," she retorted
courageously, and wondered how long it would take the remark to
circulate over Richmond. Mrs. Colfax was pretty, amiable, and amusing;
but she was one of those light and restless women, as clear as running
water, on whose sparkling memories scandals float like straws. Nothing
ever sank to the depths--or perhaps there were no depths in the luminous
shoals of her nature.

"Well, the reason I asked," Daisy had become ingratiating, "is that you
talk exactly like Cousin Matty."

"Do I?" Caroline laughed. "Mrs. Timberlake is a very sensible woman."

"Yes, mother insists that she is as sharp as a needle, even if it is so
hard to get anything out of her. Oh, I've kept you an age--and, good
Heavens, it is long past my appointment at the dentist's! I can't tell
you how glad I am that I met you, and you may be sure that whenever I
hear these things repeated, I am going to say that you don't believe one
single word of them. It is splendid of you to stand up for what you
think, and that reminds me of the nice things I heard Roane Fitzhugh
saying about you at the Mallow's the other night. He simply raved over
you. I couldn't make him talk about anything else."

"I don't like to be disagreeable, but what he thinks doesn't interest me
in the least," rejoined Caroline coldly.

Daisy laughed delightedly. "Now, that's too bad, because I believe he is
falling in love with you. He told me he went motoring with you and
Angelica almost every afternoon. Take my word for it, Miss Meade, Roane
isn't half so black as he is painted, and he's just the sort that would
settle down when he met the right woman. Good-bye again! I have enjoyed
so much my little chat with you."

She rushed off to her car, while Caroline turned quickly into a cross
street, and hastened to meet Angelica at the office of a new doctor, who
was treating her throat. A few drops of rain were falling, and ahead of
her, when she reached Franklin Street, the city, with its church spires
and leafless trees, emerged indistinctly out of the mist. Here the long
street was almost deserted, except for a blind negro beggar, whose stick
tapped the pavement behind her, and a white and liver-coloured setter
nosing adventurously in the gutter. Then, in the middle of the block,
she saw Angelica's car waiting, and a minute later, to her disgust, she
discerned the face of Roane Fitzhugh at the window. As she recognized
him, the anger that Mrs. Colfax's casual words had aroused, blazed up in
her without warning; and she told herself that she would leave Briarlay
before she would allow herself to be gossiped about with a man she
detested.

While she approached, Roane opened the door and jumped out. "Come inside
and wait, Miss Meade," he said. "Anna Jeannette is still interviewing
old skull and cross-bones."

"I'd rather wait in the office, thank you." She swept past him with
dignity, but before she reached the steps of the doctor's house, he had
overtaken her.

"Oh, I say, don't crush a chap! Haven't you seen enough of me yet to
discover that I am really as harmless as I look? You don't honestly
think me a rotter, do you?"

"I don't think about you."

"The unkindest cut of all! Now, if you only knew it, your thinking of me
would do a precious lot of good. By the way, how is my niece?"

"Very well. You'd scarcely know she'd been ill."

"And she didn't see the tableaux, after all, poor kid. Well, Anna
Jeannette was a stunner. I suppose you saw her picture in the papers.
The Washington _Examiner_ spoke of her as the most beautiful woman in
Virginia. That takes old Black, I bet!"

Caroline had ascended the steps, and as she was about to touch the bell,
the door opened quickly, and Angelica appeared, lowering a net veil
which was covered with a large spiral pattern. She looked slightly
perturbed, and when she saw Roane a frown drew her delicate eyebrows
together. Her colour had faded, leaving a sallow tone to her skin, which
was of the fine, rose-leaf texture that withers early.

"I can't take you to-day, Roane," she remarked hastily. "We must go
straight back to Briarlay. Miss Meade came in to do some shopping for
Letty."

"You'll have to take me as far as Monument Avenue." He was as ready as
ever. "It is a long way, Anna Jeannette. I cannot walk, to crawl I am
ashamed."

"Well, get in, and please try to behave yourself."

"If behaviour is all that you expect, I shall try to satisfy you. The
truth is I'm dead broke, and being broke always makes a Christian of me.
I feel as blue as old Black."

"Oh, Roane, stop joking!" Her sweetness was growing prickly. "You don't
realize that when you run on like this people think you are serious. I
have just heard some silly talk about Miss Meade and you, and it came
from nothing in the world except your habit of saying everything that
comes into your mind."

"In the first place, my dear Anna, nothing that you hear of Miss Meade
could be silly, and in the second place, I've never spoken her name
except when I was serious."

"Well, you ought to be more careful how you talk to Daisy Colfax. She
repeats everything in the world that she hears."

He laughed shortly. "You'd say that if you'd heard the hot shot she gave
me last night about you and Blackburn. Look here, Anna Jeannette, hadn't
you better call a halt on the thing?"

She flushed indignantly. "I haven't the slightest idea what you are
talking about."

"Oh, it's all rot, I know, but how the deuce does such tittle-tattle get
started? I beg your pardon, Miss Meade, I am addressing you not as a
woman, but as a fount of justice and equity, and in the presence of Anna
Jeannette, I ask you frankly if you don't think it's a bit rough on old
Black? We had our quarrel, and I assure you that I have no intention of
voting with him; but when it comes to knifing a man in the back, then I
must beg the adorable Daisy to excuse me. It takes a woman to do
that--and, by Jove, old Black may be a bit of a heavyweight, but he is
neither a coward nor a liar."

"I think you are right," responded Caroline, and it was the first time
that she had ever agreed with an opinion of Roane's.

"I wish I knew what you are talking about," said Angelica wearily,
"Roane, do you get out here?"

"I do, with regret." As he glanced back from the pavement, his face,
except for the droop of the well-cut lips and the alcoholic puffs under
the gay blue eyes, might have been a thicker and grosser copy of
Angelica's. "Will you take me to-morrow?"

Mrs. Blackburn shook her head. "I am obliged to go to a meeting."

He appeared to catch at the idea. "Then perhaps Miss Meade and Letty may
take pity on me?"

A worried look sharpened Angelica's features, but before she could
reply, Caroline answered quickly, "We are not going without Mrs.
Blackburn. Letty and I would just as soon walk."

"Ah, you walk, do you? Then we may meet some day in the road." Though he
spoke jestingly, there was an undercurrent of seriousness in his voice.

"We don't walk in the road, and we like to go by ourselves. We are
studying nature." As she responded she raised her eyes, and swept his
face with a careless and indifferent glance.

"Take your hand from the door, Roane," said Mrs. Blackburn, "and the
next time you see Daisy Colfax, please remember what I told you."

The car started while she was speaking, and a minute later, as Roane's
figure passed out of sight, she observed playfully, "You mustn't let
that bad brother of mine annoy you, Miss Meade. He doesn't mean all that
he says."

"I am sure that he doesn't mean anything," returned Caroline with a
smile, "but, if you don't mind, I'd rather not go to drive with him
again."

The look of sharpness and worry disappeared from Angelica's face. "It is
such a comfort, the way you take things," she remarked. "One can always
count on your intelligence."

"I shouldn't have thought that it required intelligence to see through
your brother," retorted Caroline gaily. "Any old common sense might do
it!"

"Can you understand," Angelica gazed at her as if she were probing her
soul, "what his attraction is for women?"

"No, I can't. I hope you don't mind my speaking the truth?"

"Not in the least." Angelica was unusually responsive. "But you couldn't
imagine how many women have been in love with him. It isn't any secret
that Daisy Colfax was wild about him the year she came out. The family
broke it up because Roane was so dissipated, but everybody knows she
still cared for Roane when she married Robert."

"She seems happy now with Mr. Colfax."

"Well, I don't mean that she isn't. There are some women who can settle
down with almost any man, and though I am very fond of dear Daisy, there
isn't any use pretending that she hasn't a shallow nature. Still there
are people, you know, who say that she isn't really as satisfied as she
tries to make you believe, and that her rushing about as much as she
does is a sign that she regrets her marriage. I am sure, whatever she
feels or doesn't feel, that she is the love of poor Roane's life."

It was not Angelica's habit to gossip, and while she ran on smoothly,
reciting her irrelevant detail as if it were poetry, Caroline became
aware that there was a serious motive beneath her apparent flippancy. "I
suppose she is trying to warn me away from Roane," she thought
scornfully, "as if there were any need of it!"

After this they were both silent until the car turned into the drive and
stopped before the white columns. The happiness Caroline had once felt
in the mere presence of Angelica had long ago faded, though she still
thought her lovely and charming, and kind enough if one were careful not
to cross her desires. She did not judge her harshly for her absence on
the night of Letty's illness, partly because Letty had recovered, and
partly because she was convinced that there had been an unfortunate
misunderstanding--that Blackburn had failed to speak as plainly as he
ought to have done. "Of course he thought he did," she had decided, in a
generous effort to clear everybody from blame, "but the fact remains
that there was a mistake--that Mrs. Blackburn did not take it just as he
meant it." This, in the circumstances, was the best she felt that
anybody could do. If neither Blackburn nor Angelica was to blame, then
surely she must shift the responsibility to that flimsy abstraction she
defined as "the way things happen in life."

Upstairs in the nursery they broke in upon a flutter of joyous
excitement. Mary had just returned after a month's absence, and Letty
was busily arranging a doll's tea party in honour of her aunt's arrival.
The child looked pale and thin, but she had on a new white dress, and
had tied a blue bow on her hair, which was combed primly back from her
forehead. Mammy Riah had drawn the nursery table in front of the fire,
and she was now placing a row of white and blue cups, and some plates of
sponge cake and thinly sliced bread and butter, on the embroidered cloth
she had borrowed from Mrs. Timberlake. The dignified old negress, in her
full-waisted dress of black bombazine and her spotless white turban, was
so unlike the demented figure that had crouched by the hearth on the
night of Letty's illness, that, if Caroline had been less familiar with
the impressionable mind of the negro, she would not have recognized her.

"So I'm back," said Mary, looking at them with her kind, frank glance,
as they entered. She was still in her travelling clothes, and Caroline
thought she had never seen her so handsome as she was in the smartly cut
suit of brown homespun. "Letty is going to give me a party, only she
must hurry, for if I don't get on a horse soon I'll forget how to sit in
the saddle. Well, Angelica, I hear you were the whole show in the
tableaux," she pursued in her nice, slangy manner, which was so
perfectly in character with her boyish face and her straight,
loose-limbed figure. "Your picture was in at least six magazines,
though, I must say, they made you look a little too spectral for my
taste. How are you feeling? You are just a trifle run down, aren't
you?"

"Of course Letty's illness was a great strain," replied Angelica. "One
never realizes how such shocks tell until they are over."

"Poor lamb! Look here, Letty, who is coming to this feast of joy? Do you
mind if I bolt in the midst of it?"

"Father's coming and Aunt Matty," replied the child. "I couldn't have
anybody else because mammy thought mother wouldn't like me to ask John.
I like John, and he's white anyway."

"Oh, the footman! Well, as long as you haven't invited him, I suppose
there'll be only home folks. I needn't stand on formality with your
father and Cousin Matty."

"And there's mother--you'll come, won't you, mother?--and Miss Meade,"
added Letty.

"Yes, I'll come," responded Angelica. "I'm dying for my tea, dear, isn't
it ready?"

"May I pour it for you? I'll be very careful, and I know just how you
like it."

"Yes, you may pour it, but let Mammy Riah help you. Here's your father
now, and Cousin Matty."

"Hallo, David!" Mary's voice rang out clearly. "You look just a bit
seedy, don't you? Letty's illness seems to have knocked out everybody
except the youngster herself. Even Miss Meade looks as if she'd been
giving too much medicine." Then she turned to embrace Mrs. Timberlake,
while Blackburn crossed the room and sat down near the fireplace.

"Well, daughter, it isn't a birthday, is it?"

Letty, with her head bent sideways, and her small mouth screwed up very
tight, was pouring Angelica's tea with the aid of Mammy Riah. "You
mustn't talk to me while I am pouring, father," she answered seriously.
"I am so afraid I shall spill it, and mother can't bear to have it
spilt."

"All right. I'll talk to your Aunt Mary. Any news, Mary?"

"Yes, there's news, David. Alan is coming in for his own, and it looks
as if his own were enough for us."

"You mean the old man in Chicago----?"

"He died last week, just as he was celebrating his ninetieth birthday.
At ninety one couldn't reasonably have asked for very much more, do you
think?"

"And is Alan his heir?"

"His one and only. To be sure he wrote a will a few weeks ago and left
every cent of it--I can't begin to remember the millions--to some
missionary society, but fortunately he had neglected or forgotten to
sign it. So Alan gets the whole thing, bless his heart, and he's out
there now in Chicago having legal bouts with a dozen or more lawyers."

For the first time Angelica spoke. "Is it true that Alan will be one of
the richest men in the West?" she asked slowly. "Thank you, Letty,
darling, my tea is exactly right."

"If he gets it all, and he is going to unless another will and a
missionary society come to light. My dear Angelica, when you see me a
year hence," she continued whimsically, "you won't recognize your
dependent sister. Alan says he is going to give me a string of pearls
even finer than yours."

She spoke jestingly, yet as Caroline watched Angelica's face, it
occurred to her that Mary was not always tactful. The girl ought to have
known by this time that Angelica had no sense of humour and could not
bear to be teased.

"It's funny, isn't it, the way life works out?" said Mrs. Timberlake.
"To think of Mary's having more things than Angelica! It doesn't seem
natural, somehow."

"No, it doesn't," assented Mary, in her habitual tone of boyish
chaffing. "But as far as the 'things' go, Angelica needn't begin to
worry. Give me Alan and a good horse, and she may have all the pearls
that ever came out of the ocean."

"I read an account in some magazine of the jewels old Mrs. Wythe left,"
remarked Angelica thoughtfully. "She owned the finest emeralds in
America." Her reflections, whatever they were, brought the thin, cold
look to her features.

"Can you imagine me wearing the finest emeralds in America?" demanded
Mary. "There's a comfort for you, at any rate, in the thought that they
wouldn't be becoming to you. Green isn't your colour, my dear, and white
stones are really the only ones that suit you. Now, I am so big and bold
that I could carry off rubies." Her laughing tone changed suddenly,
"Why, Angelica, what is the matter? Have you a headache?"

"I feel very tired. The truth is I haven't quite got over the strain of
Letty's illness. When does Alan come back, dear? I suppose you won't put
off the wedding much longer? Mother used to say that a long engagement
meant an unhappy marriage."

"Alan gets back next week, I hope, and as for the wedding--well, we
haven't talked it over, but I imagine we'll settle on the early
summer--June probably. It's a pity it has to be so quiet, or I might
have Miss Meade for a bridesmaid. She'd make an adorable bridesmaid in
an orchid-coloured gown and a flower hat, wouldn't she, Cousin Matty?"

"I'd rather dress you in your veil and orange blossoms," laughed
Caroline. "Diana or I have pinned on almost every wedding veil of the
last five years in southside Virginia."

"Oh, is Aunt Mary really going to be married at last?" asked Letty, with
carefully subdued excitement, "and may I go to church? I do hope I
shan't have to miss it as I did mother's tableau," she added wistfully.

"You shan't miss it, dearie," said Mary, "not if I have to be married up
here in the nursery."

Angelica had risen, and she stooped now to pick up her furs which she
had dropped.

"Your tea was lovely, Letty dear," she said gently, "but I'm so tired
that I think I'll go and lie down until dinner."

"You must pick up before Alan gets back," remarked Mary lightly. "He
thinks you the most beautiful woman in the world, you know."

"He does? How very sweet of him!" exclaimed Angelica, turning in the
doorway, and throwing an animated glance back into the room. Her face,
which had been wan and listless an instant before, was now glowing,
while her rare, lovely smile irradiated her features.

When she had gone, Mary went to change into her riding clothes, and
Caroline slipped away to take off her hat. A few minutes later, she came
back with some brown yarn in her hand, and found that Blackburn was
still sitting in the big chintz-covered chair by the hearth. Letty had
dragged a footstool to the rug, and she was leaning against her
father's knee while he questioned her about the stories in her reader.

"I know Miss Meade can tell you," said the child as Caroline entered.
"Miss Meade, do you remember the story about the little girl who got
lost and went to live with the fairies? Is it in my reader? Father, what
is the difference between an angel and a fairy? Mrs. Aylett says that
mother is an angel. Is she a fairy too?"

"You'd think she was sometimes to look at her," replied Blackburn,
smiling.

"Well, if mother is an angel, why aren't you one? I asked Mrs. Aylett
that, but she didn't tell me."

"You could scarcely blame her," laughed Blackburn. "It is a hard
question."

"I asked Miss Meade, too, but she didn't tell me either."

"Now, I should have thought better of Miss Meade." As Blackburn lifted
his face, it looked young and boyish. "Is it possible that she is
capable of an evasion?"

"What does that word mean, father?"

"It means everything, my daughter, that Miss Meade is not."

"You oughtn't to tease the child, David," said Mrs. Timberlake. "She is
so easily excited."

Caroline and the old lady had both unfolded their knitting; and the
clicking of their needles made a cheerful undercurrent to the
conversation. The room looked homelike and pleasant in the firelight,
and leaning back in his chair, Blackburn gazed with half-closed eyes at
the two women and the child outlined against the shimmering glow of the
flames.

"You are like the Fates," he said presently after a silence in which
Letty sank drowsily against him. "Do you never put down your knitting?"

"Well, Angelica promised so many, and it makes her nervous to hear the
needles," rejoined Mrs. Timberlake.

"It is evidently soothing to you and Miss Meade."

"The difference, I reckon, is that we don't stop to think whether it is
or not." Mrs. Timberlake was always curt when she approached the subject
of Angelica. "I've noticed that when you can't afford nerves, you don't
seem to have them."

"That's considerate of nature, to say the least." His voice had borrowed
the chaffing tone of Mary's.

As if in response to his words, Mrs. Timberlake rolled up the
half-finished muffler, thrust her long knitting needles through the
mesh, and leaned forward until she met Blackburn's eyes.

"David," she said in a low, harsh voice, "there is something I want to
ask you, and Miss Meade might as well hear it. Is Letty asleep?"

"She is dozing, but speak guardedly. This daughter of mine is a keen
one."

"Well, she won't understand what I am talking about. Did you or did you
not think that you had spoken plainly to Angelica that evening?"

He looked at her through narrowed lids.

"What does she say?"

"She says she didn't understand. It is all over town that she didn't
know Letty's condition was serious."

"Then why do you ask me? If she didn't understand, I must have blundered
in the telling. That's the only possible answer to your question."

He rose as he spoke, and lifting Letty from the footstool, placed her
gently between the deep arms of the chair.

"Isn't there anything that you can say, David?"

"No, that seems to be the trouble. There isn't anything that I can say."
Already he was on his way to the door, and as he glanced back, Caroline
noticed that, in spite of his tenderness with the child, his face looked
sad and stern. "There's a man waiting for me downstairs," he added, "but
I'll see you both later. Wake Letty before long or she won't sleep
to-night."

Then he went out quickly, while Mrs. Timberlake turned to take up her
knitting.

"If I didn't know that David Blackburn had plenty of sense about some
things," she remarked grimly while she drew the needle from the roll,
"I'd be tempted to believe that he was a perfect fool."



CHAPTER XIII

INDIRECT INFLUENCE


In January a heavy snow fell, and Letty, who had begun to cough again,
was kept indoors for a week. After the morning lessons were over, Mammy
Riah amused the child, while Caroline put on her hat and coat, and went
for a brisk walk down the lane to the road. Once or twice Mary joined
her, but since Alan's return Caroline saw the girl less and less, and no
one else in the house appeared to have the spirit for exercise.
Blackburn she met only at breakfast and luncheon, and since Christmas he
seemed to have become completely engrossed in his plans. After the talk
she had heard on the terrace, his figure slowly emerged out of the mist
of perplexity in her mind. He was no longer the obscure protagonist of a
vague political unrest, for the old dishonourable bond which had linked
him, in her imagination, to the Southern Republicans of her father's
day, was broken forever. She was intelligent enough to grasp the
difference between the forces of reaction and development; and she
understood now that Blackburn had worked out a definite theory--that his
thinking had crystallized into a constructive social philosophy. "He
knows the South, he understands it," she thought. "He sees it, not made,
but becoming. That is the whole difference between him and father.
Father was as patriotic as Mr. Blackburn, but father's patriotism clung
to the past--it was grateful and commemorative--and Mr. Blackburn's
strives toward the future, for it is active and creative. Father
believed that the South was separate from the Union, like one of the
sacred old graveyards, with bricked-up walls, in the midst of
cornfields, while the younger man, also believing it to be sacred, is
convinced that it must be absorbed into the nation--that its traditions
and ideals must go to enrich the common soil of America." Already she
was beginning insensibly to associate Blackburn with the great group of
early Virginians, with the men in whom love of country was a vital and
living thing, the men who laid the foundation and planned the structure
of the American Republic.

"Do you think Mr. Blackburn feels as strongly as he talks?" she asked
Mrs. Timberlake one afternoon when they were standing together by the
nursery window. It had been snowing hard, and Caroline, in an old coat
with a fur cap on her head, was about to start for a walk.

Mrs. Timberlake was staring intently through her spectacles at one of
the snow-laden evergreens on the lawn. A covering of powdery white
wrapped the drive and the landscape, and, now and then, when the wind
rattled the ice-coated branches of the elms, there was a sharp crackling
noise as of breaking boughs.

"I reckon he does," she replied after a pause, "though I can't see to
save my life what he expects to get out of it."

"Do you think it is ambition with him? It seems to me, since I heard him
talk, that he really believes he has a message, that he can serve his
country. Until I met him," Caroline added, half humorously, "I had begun
to feel that the men of to-day loved their country only for what they
could get out of it."

"Well, I expect David is as disinterested as anybody else," observed
Mrs. Timberlake drily, "but that seems to me all the more reason why
he'd better let things jog along as they are, and not try to upset them.
But there isn't any use talking. David sets more store by those ideas of
his than he does by any living thing in the world, unless it's Letty.
They are his life, and I declare I sometimes think he feels about them
as he used to feel about Angelica before he married her--the sort of
thing you never expect to see outside of poetry." She had long ago lost
her reserve in Caroline's presence, and the effect of what she called
"bottling up" for so many years, gave a crispness and roundness to her
thoughts which was a refreshing contrast to Angelica's mental vagueness.

"I can understand it," said Caroline, "I mean I can understand a man's
wanting to have some part in moulding the thought of his time. Father
used to be like that. Only it was Virginia, not America, that he cared
for. He wanted to help steer Virginia over the rapids, he used to say. I
was brought up in the midst of politics. That's the reason it sounded so
natural to me when Mr. Blackburn was talking."

Letty, who had been playing with her dolls on the hearthrug, deserted
them abruptly, and ran over to the window.

"Oh, Miss Meade, do you think I am going to be well for Aunt Mary's
wedding?"

"Why, of course you are. This is only January, darling, and the wedding
won't be till June."

"And is that a very long time?"

"Months and months. The roses will be blooming, and you will have
forgotten all about your cold."

"Well, I hope I shan't miss that too," murmured the child, going gravely
back to her dolls.

"I never heard anything like the way that child runs on," said Mrs.
Timberlake, turning away from the window. "Are you really going out in
this cold? There doesn't seem a bit of sense in getting chilled to the
bone unless you are obliged to."

"Oh, I like it. It does me good."

"You've stopped motoring with Angelica, haven't you?"

"Yes, we haven't been for several weeks. For one thing the weather has
been so bad."

"I got an idea it was because of Roane Fitzhugh," said the old lady, in
her tart way. "I hope you won't think I am interfering, but I'm old and
you're young, and so you won't mind my giving you a little wholesome
advice. If I were you, my dear, I shouldn't pay a bit of attention to
anything that Roane says to me."

"But I don't. I never have," rejoined Caroline indignantly. "How on
earth could you have got such an idea?"

A look of mystification flickered over Mrs. Timberlake's face. "Well, I
am sure I don't mean any harm, my child," she responded soothingly. "I
didn't think you would mind a word of warning from an old woman, and I
know that Roane can have a very taking way when he wants to."

"I think he's hateful--perfectly hateful," replied Caroline. Then,
drawing on her heavy gloves, she shook her head with a laugh as she
started to the door. "If that's all you have to worry about, you may
rest easy," she tossed back gaily. "Letty, darling, when I come in I'll
tell you all about my adventures and the bears I meet in the lane."

The terrace and the garden were veiled in white, and the only sound in
the intense frozen stillness was the crackling of elm boughs as the wind
rocked them. A heavy cloud was hanging low in the west, and beneath it a
flock of crows flew slowly in blue-black curves over the white fields.
For a minute or two Caroline stood watching them, and, while she paused
there, a clear silver light streamed suddenly in rays over the hills,
and the snow-covered world looked as if it were imprisoned in crystal.
Every frosted branch, every delicate spiral on the evergreens, was
intensified and illuminated. Then the wind swept up with a rush of sound
from the river, and it was as if the shining landscape had found a
melodious voice--as if it were singing. The frozen fountain and the
white trees and the half buried shrubs under the mounds of snow, joined
in presently like harps in a heavenly choir. "I suppose it is only the
wind," she thought, "but it is just as if nature were praising God with
music and prayer."

In the lane the trees were silvered, and little darting shadows, like
violet birds, chased one another down the long white vista to the open
road. Walking was difficult on the slippery ground, and Caroline went
carefully, stopping now and then to look up into the swinging boughs
overhead, or to follow the elusive flight of the shadows. When she
reached the end of the lane, she paused, before turning, to watch a big
motor car that was ploughing through the heavy snowdrifts. A moment
later the car stopped just in front of her, a man jumped out into a
mound of snow, and she found herself reluctantly shaking hands with
Roane Fitzhugh.

"Tom Benton was taking me into town," he explained, "but as soon as I
saw you, I told him he'd have to go on alone. So this is where you walk?
Lucky trees."

"I was just turning." As she spoke she moved back into the lane. "It is
a pity you got out."

"Oh, somebody else will come along presently. I'm in no sort of hurry."

His face was flushed and mottled, and she suspected, from the excited
look in his eyes, that he had been drinking. Even with her first impulse
of recoil, she felt the pity of his wasted and ruined charm. With his
straight fine features, so like Angelica's, his conquering blue eyes,
and his thick fair hair, he was like the figure of a knight in some
early Flemish painting.

"It's jolly meeting you this way," he said, a trifle thickly. "By Jove,
you look stunning--simply stunning."

"Please don't come with me. I'd rather go back alone," she returned,
with chill politeness. "Your sister went into Richmond an hour ago. I
think she is at a reception Mrs. Colfax is giving."

"Well, I didn't come to see Anna Jeannette." He spoke this time with
exaggerated care as if he were pronouncing a foreign language. "Don't
hurry, Miss Meade. I'm not a tiger. I shan't eat you. Are you afraid?"

"Of you?" she glanced at him scornfully. "How could you hurt me?"

"How indeed? But if not of me, of yourself? I've seen women afraid of
themselves, and they hurried just as you are doing."

Unconsciously her steps slackened. "I am not afraid of myself, and if I
were, I shouldn't run away."

"You mean you'd stay and fight it out?"

"I mean I'd stay and get the better of the fear, or what caused it. I
couldn't bear to be afraid."

His careless gaze became suddenly intense, and before the red sparks
that glimmered in his eyes, she drew hastily to the other side of the
lane. A wave of physical disgust, so acute that it was like nausea,
swept over her. Even in the hospital the sight of a drunken man always
affected her like this, and now it was much worse because the brute--she
thought of him indignantly as "the brute"--was actually trying to make
love to her--to her, Caroline Meade!

"Then if you aren't afraid of me, why do you avoid me?" he demanded.

At this she stopped short in order to face him squarely. "Since you wish
to know," she replied slowly, "I avoid you because I don't like the kind
of man you are."

He lowered his eyes for an instant, and when he raised them they were
earnest and pleading. "Then make me the kind of man you like. You can if
you try. You could do anything with me if you cared--you are so good."

"I don't care." A temptation to laugh seized her, but she checked it,
and spoke gravely. The relations between men and women, which had seemed
as natural and harmonious as the interdependence of the planets, had
become jangled and discordant. Something had broken out in her universe
which threatened to upset its equilibrium. "I don't doubt that there are
a number of good women who would undertake your regeneration, but I like
my work better," she added distantly. She was sure now that he had been
drinking, and, as he came nearer and the smell of whiskey reached her,
she quickened her steps almost into a run over the frozen ground. Some
deep instinct told her that at her first movement of flight he would
touch her, and she thought quite calmly, with the clearness and
precision of mind she had acquired in the hospital, that if he were to
touch her she would certainly strike him. She was not frightened--her
nerves were too robust for fear--but she was consumed with a still, cold
rage, which made even the icy branches feel warm as they brushed her
cheek.

"Now, you are running again, Miss Meade. Why won't you be kind to me?
Can't you see that I am mad about you? Ever since the first day I saw
you, you've been in my thoughts every minute. Honestly you could make a
man out of me, if you'd only be a little bit human. I'll do anything you
wish. I'll be anything you please, if you'll only like me."

For a moment she thought he was going to break down and cry, and she
wondered, with professional concern, if a little snow on his forehead
would bring him to his senses. This was evidently the way he had talked
to Mary when Blackburn ordered him out of the house.

"I wish you would go back," she said in a tone she used to delirious
patients in the hospital. "We are almost at the house, and Mr. Blackburn
wouldn't like your coming to Briarlay."

"Well, the old chap's in town, isn't he?"

"It is time for him to come home. He may be here any moment." Though she
tried to reason the question with him, she was conscious of a vague,
uneasy suspicion that they were rapidly approaching the state where
reasoning would be as futile as flight. Then she remembered hearing
somewhere that a drunken man would fall down if he attempted to run,
and she considered for an instant making an open dash for the house.

"I'll go, if you'll let me come back to-morrow. I'm not a bad fellow,
Miss Meade." A sob choked him. "I've got a really good heart--ask Anna
Jeannette if I haven't----"

"I don't care whether you are bad or not. I don't want to know anything
about you. Only go away. Nothing that you can do will make me like you,"
she threw out unwisely under the spur of anger. "Women never think that
they can cajole or bully a person into caring--only men imagine they
have the power to do that, and it's all wrong because they can't, and
they never have. Bullying doesn't do a bit more good than whining, so
please stop that, too. I don't like you because I don't respect you, and
nothing you can say or do will have the slightest effect unless you were
to make yourself into an entirely different sort of man--a man I didn't
despise." Her words pelted him like stones, and while he stood there,
blinking foolishly beneath the shower, she realized that he had not
taken in a single sentence she had uttered. He looked stunned but
obstinate, and a curious dusky redness was beating like a pulse in his
forehead.

"You can't fight me," he muttered huskily. "Don't fight me."

"I am not fighting you. I am asking you to go away."

"I told you I'd go, if you'd let me come back to-morrow."

"Of course I shan't. How dare you ask me such a thing? Can't you see
how you disgust me?"

As she spoke she made a swift movement toward the turn in the lane, and
the next minute, while her feet slipped on the ice, she felt Roane's
arms about her, and knew that he was struggling frantically to kiss her
lips. For years no man had kissed her, and as she fought wildly to
escape, she was possessed not by terror, but by a blind and primitive
fury. Civilization dropped away from her, and she might have been the
first woman struggling against attack in the depths of some tropic
jungle. "I'd like to kill you," she thought, and freeing one arm, she
raised her hand and struck him between the eyes. "I wonder why some
woman hasn't killed him before this? I believe I am stronger than he
is."

The blow was not a soft one, and his arms fell away from her, while he
shook his head as if to prevent a rush of blood to the brain. "You hurt
me--I believe you wanted to hurt me," he muttered in a tone of pained
and incredulous surprise. Then recovering his balance with difficulty,
he added reproachfully, "I didn't know you could hit like that. I
thought you were more womanly. I thought you were more womanly," he
repeated sorrowfully, while he put his hand to his head, and then gazed
at it, as if he expected to find blood on his fingers.

"Now, perhaps you'll go," said Caroline quietly. While the words were on
her lips, she became aware that a shadow had fallen over the snow at her
side, and glancing round, she saw Blackburn standing motionless in the
lane. Her first impression was that he seemed enormous as he stood
there, with his hands hanging at his sides, and the look of sternness
and immobility in his face. His eyelids were half closed with the trick
he had when he was gazing intently, and the angry light seemed to have
changed his eyes from grey to hazel.

"I am sorry to interrupt you," he said in a voice that had a dangerous
quietness, "but I think Roane is scarcely in a fit state for a walk."

"I'd like to know why I am not?" demanded Roane, sobered and resentful.
"I'm not drunk. Who says I am drunk?"

"Well, if you aren't, you ought to be." Then the anger which Blackburn
had kept down rushed into his voice. "You had better go!"

Roane had stopped blinking, and while the redness ebbed from his
forehead, he stood staring helplessly not at Blackburn, but at Caroline.
"I'll go," he said at last, "if Miss Meade will say that she forgives
me."

But there was little of the sister of mercy in Caroline's heart. She had
been grossly affronted, and anger devoured her like a flame. Her blue
eyes shone, her face flushed and paled with emotion, and, for the
moment, under the white trees, in the midst of the frosted world, her
elusive beauty became vivid and dazzling.

"I shall not forgive you, and I hope I shall never see you again," she
retorted.

"You'd better go, Roane," repeated Blackburn quietly, and as Caroline
hurried toward the house, he overtook her with a rapid step, and said in
a troubled voice, "It is partly my fault, Miss Meade. I have intended to
warn you."

"To warn me?" Her voice was crisp with anger.

"I felt that you did not understand."

"Understand what?" She looked at him with puzzled eyes. "I may be
incredibly stupid, but I don't understand now."

For an instant he hesitated, and she watched a deeper flush rise in his
face. "In a way you are under my protection," he said at last, "and for
this reason I have meant to warn you against Roane Fitzhugh--against the
danger of these meetings."

"These meetings?" Light burst on her while she stared on him. "Is it
possible that you think this was a meeting? Do you dream that I have
been seeing Roane Fitzhugh of my own accord? Have you dared to think
such a thing? To imagine that I wanted to see him--that I came out to
meet him?" The note of scorn ended in a sob while she buried her face in
her hands, and stood trembling with shame and anger before him.

"But I understood. I was told----" He was stammering awkwardly. "Isn't
it true that you felt an interest--that you were trying to help him?"

At this her rage swept back again, and dropping her hands, she lifted
her swimming eyes to his face. "How dare you think such a thing of me?"

"I am sorry." He was still groping in darkness. "You mean you did not
know he was coming to-day?"

"Of course I didn't know. Do you think I should have come out if I had
known?"

"And you have never met him before? Never expected to meet him?"

"Oh, what are you saying? Why can't you speak plainly?" A shiver ran
through her.

"I understood that you liked him." After her passionate outburst his
voice sounded strangely cold and detached.

"And that I came out to meet him?"

"I was afraid that you met him outside because I had forbidden him to
come to Briarlay. I wanted to explain to you--to protect you----"

"But I don't need your protection." She had thrown back her head, and
her shining eyes met his bravely. Her face had grown pale, but her lips
were crimson, and her voice was soft and rich. "I don't need your
protection, and after what you have thought of me, I can't stay here any
longer. I can't----"

As her words stopped, checked by the feeling of helplessness that swept
her courage away, he said very gently, "But there isn't any reason----
Why, I haven't meant to hurt you. I'm a bit rough, perhaps, but I'd as
soon think of hurting Letty. No, don't run away until I've said a word
to you. Let's be reasonable, if there has been a misunderstanding. Come,
now, suppose we talk it out as man to man."

His tone had softened, but in her resentment she barely noticed the
change. "No, I'd rather not. There isn't anything to say," she answered
hurriedly. Then, as she was about to run into the house, she paused and
added, "Only--only how could you?"

He said something in reply, but before it reached her, she had darted up
the steps and into the hall. She felt bruised and stiff, as if she had
fallen and hurt herself, and the one thought in her mind was the dread
of meeting one of the household--of encountering Mary or Mrs.
Timberlake, before she had put on her uniform and her professional
manner. It seemed impossible to her that she should stay on at Briarlay,
and yet what excuse could she give Angelica for leaving so suddenly?
Angelica, she surmised, would not look tolerantly upon any change that
made her uncomfortable.

The dazzling light of the sunset was still in Caroline's eyes, and, for
the first moment or two after she entered the house, she could
distinguish only a misty blur from the open doors of the drawing-room.
Then the familiar objects started out of the gloom, and she discerned
the gilt frame and the softly blended dusk of the Sistine Madonna over
the turn in the staircase. As she reached the floor above, her heart,
which had been beating wildly, grew gradually quiet, and she found
herself thinking lucidly, "I must go away. I must go away at
once--to-night." Then the mist of obscurity floated up to envelop the
thought. "But what does it mean? Could there be any possible reason?"

The nursery door was open, and she was about to steal by noiselessly,
when Mrs. Timberlake's long, thin shadow stretched, with a vaguely
menacing air, over the threshold.

"I wanted to speak to you, my dear. Why, what is the matter?" As the
housekeeper came out into the hall, she raised her spectacles to her
forehead, and peered nervously into Caroline's face. "Has anybody hurt
your feelings?"

"I am going away. I can't stay." Though Caroline spoke clearly and
firmly, her lips were trembling, and the marks of tears were still
visible under her indignant eyes, which looked large and brilliant, like
the eyes of a startled child.

"You are going away? What on earth is the reason? Has anything
happened?" Then lowering her voice, she murmured cautiously, "Come into
my room a minute. Letty is playing and won't miss you." Putting her lean
arm about Caroline's shoulders, she led her gently down the hall and to
her room in the west wing. Not until she had forced her into an easy
chair by the radiator, and turned back to close the door carefully, did
she say in an urgent tone, "Now, my dear, you needn't be afraid to tell
me. I am very fond of you--I feel almost as if you were my own
child--and I want to help you if you will let me."

"There isn't anything except--except there has been a
misunderstanding----" Caroline looked up miserably from the big chair,
with her lips working pathetically. All the spirit had gone out of her.
"Mr. Blackburn seems to have got the idea that I care for Roane
Fitzhugh--that I even went out to meet him."

Mrs. Timberlake, whose philosophy was constructed of the bare bones of
experience, stared out of the window with an expression that made her
appear less a woman than a cynical point of view. Her profile grew
sharper and flatter until it gave the effect of being pasted on the
glimmering pane.

"Well, I reckon David didn't make that up in his own mind," she observed
with a caustic emphasis.

"I met him--I mean Roane Fitzhugh to-day. Of course it was by accident,
but he had been drinking and behaved outrageously, and then Mr.
Blackburn found us together," pursued Caroline slowly, "and--and he said
things that made me see what he thought. He told me that he believed I
liked that dreadful man--that I came out by appointment----"

"But don't you like him, my dear?" The housekeeper had turned from the
sunset and taken up her knitting.

"Of course I don't. Why in the world--how in the world----"

"And David told you that he thought so?" The old lady looked up
sharply.

"He said he understood that I liked him--Roane Fitzhugh. I didn't know
what he meant. He was obliged to explain." After all, the tangle
appeared to be without beginning and without end. She realized that she
was hopelessly caught in the mesh of it.

"Well, I thought so, too," said Mrs. Timberlake, leaning forward and
speaking in a thin, sharp voice that pricked like a needle.

"You thought so? But how could you?" Caroline stretched out her hand
with an imploring gesture. "Why, I've never seen him alone until
to-day--never."

"And yet David believed that you were meeting him?"

"That is what he said. It sounds incredible, doesn't it?"

For a few minutes Mrs. Timberlake knitted grimly, while the expression,
"I know I am a poor creature, but all the same I have feelings" seemed
to leap out of her face. When at last she spoke it was to make a remark
which sounded strangely irrelevant. "I've had a hard time," she said
bluntly, "and I've stood things, but I'm not one to turn against my own
blood kin just because they haven't treated me right." Then, after
another and a longer pause, she added, as if the words were wrung out of
her, "If I didn't feel that I ought to help you I'd never say one single
word, but you're so trusting, and you'd never see through things unless
somebody warned you."

"See through things? You mean I'd never understand how Mr. Blackburn got
that impression?"

Mrs. Timberlake twisted the yarn with a jerk over her little finger. "My
dear, David never got that idea out of his own head," she repeated
emphatically. "Somebody put it there as sure as you were born, and
though I've nothing in the world but my own opinion to go on, I'm
willing to bet a good deal that it was Angelica."

"But she couldn't have. She knew better. There couldn't have been any
reason."

"When you are as old as I am, you will stop looking for reasons in the
way people act. In the first place, there generally aren't any, and in
the second place, when reasons are there, they don't show up on the
surface."

"But she knew I couldn't bear him."

"If you'd liked him, she wouldn't have done it. She'd have been trying
too hard to keep you apart."

"You mean, then, that she did it just to hurt me?"

Lifting her slate-coloured eyes, the old lady brushed a wisp of hair
back from her forehead. "I don't believe Angelica ever did a thing in
her life just to hurt anybody," she answered slowly.

"Then you wouldn't think for an instant----"

"No, I shouldn't think for an instant that she did it just for that.
There was some other motive. I don't reckon Angelica would ever do you
any harm," she concluded with a charitable intonation, "unless there was
something she wanted to gain by it." From her manner she might have been
making a point in Angelica's favour.

"But even then? What could she possibly gain?"

"Well, I expect David found out that Roane had been here--that he had
been motoring with you--and Angelica was obliged to find some excuse.
You see, responsibility is one of the things Angelica can't stand, and
whoever happens to be about when it is forced on her, usually bears it.
Sometimes, you know, when she throws it off like that, it chances to
light by accident just in the proper place. The strangest thing about
Angelica, and I can never get used to it, is the way she so often turns
out to be right. Look at the way it all happened in Letty's illness.
Now, Angelica always stuck out that Letty wouldn't die, and, as it
turned out, she didn't. I declare, it looks, somehow, as if not only
people, but circumstances as well, played straight into her hands."

"You mean she told him that about me just to spare herself?" Caroline's
voice was angry and incredulous.

"That's how it was, I reckon. I don't believe she would have done it for
anything else on earth. You see, my dear, she was brought up that
way--most American girls are when they are as pretty as Angelica--and
the way you're raised seems to become a habit with you. At home the
others always sacrificed themselves for her, until she got into the
habit of thinking that she was the centre of the universe, and that the
world owed her whatever she took a fancy for. Even as a girl, Roane used
to say that her feelings were just inclinations, and I expect that's
been true of her ever since. She can want things worse than anybody I've
ever seen, but apart from wanting, I reckon she's about as cold as a
fish at heart. It may sound mean of me to say it, but I've known Cousin
Abby to sit up at night and sew her eyes out, so the girl might have a
new dress for a party, and all the time Angelica not saying a word to
prevent it. There never was a better mother than Cousin Abby, and I've
always thought it was being so good that killed her."

"But even now I can't understand," said Caroline thoughtfully. "I felt
that she really liked me."

"Oh, she likes you well enough." Mrs. Timberlake was counting some
dropped stitches. "She wasn't thinking about you a minute. I doubt if
she ever in her life thought as long as that about anybody except
herself. The curious part is," she supplemented presently, "that
considering how shallow she is, so few people ever seem to see through
her. It took David five years, and then he had to be married to her, to
find out what I could have told him in ten minutes. Most of it is the
way she looks, I expect. It is so hard for a man to understand that
every woman who parts her hair in the middle isn't a Madonna."

"I knew she was hard and cold," confessed Caroline sadly, "but I thought
she was good. I never dreamed she could be bad at heart."

Mrs. Timberlake shook her head. "She isn't bad, my dear, that's where
you make a mistake. I believe she'd let herself be burned at the stake
before she'd overstep a convention. When it comes to that," she
commented with acrid philosophy, "I reckon all the bad women on earth
could never do as much harm as some good ones--the sort of good ones
that destroy everything human and natural that comes near them. We can
look out for the bad ones--but I've come to believe that there's a
certain kind of virtue that's no better than poison. It poisons
everything it touches because all the humanity has passed out of it,
just like one of those lovely poisonous flowers that spring up now and
then in a swamp. Nothing that's made of flesh and blood could live by
it, and yet it flourishes as if it were as harmless as a lily. I know
I'm saying what I oughtn't to, but I saw you were getting hurt, and I
wanted to spare you. It isn't that Angelica is wicked, you know, I
wouldn't have you believe that for a minute. She is sincere as far as
her light goes, and if I hadn't seen David's life destroyed through and
through, I suppose I shouldn't feel anything like so bitterly. But I've
watched all his trust in things and his generous impulses--there was
never a man who started life with finer impulses than David--wither up,
one after one, just as if they were blighted."

The sunset had faded slowly, and while Caroline sat there in the big
chair, gazing out on the wintry garden, it seemed to her that the
advancing twilight had become so thick that it stifled her. Then
immediately she realized that it was not the twilight, but the obscurity
in her own mind, that oppressed and enveloped her with these heavy yet
intangible shadows. Her last illusion had perished, and she could not
breathe because the smoke of its destruction filled the air. At the
moment it seemed to her that life could never be exactly what it was
before--that the glow and magic of some mysterious enchantment had
vanished. Even the garden, with its frozen vegetation and its forlorn
skeletons of summer shrubs emerging from mounds of snow, appeared to
have undergone a sinister transformation from the ideal back to the
actuality. This was the way she had felt years ago, on that autumn day
at The Cedars.

"And he never defended himself--never once," she said after a silence.

"He never will, that's not his way," rejoined Mrs. Timberlake. "She
knows he never will, and I sometimes think that makes matters worse."

As Caroline brooded over this, her face cleared until the light and
animation returned. "I know him better," she murmured presently, "but
everything else has become suddenly crooked."

"I've thought that at times before I stopped trying to straighten out
things." Mrs. Timberlake had put down the muffler, and while she spoke,
she smoothed it slowly and carefully over her knee. In the wan light her
face borrowed a remote and visionary look, like a face gazing down
through the thin, cold air of the heights. She had passed beyond mutable
things, this look seemed to say, and had attained at last the bleak
security of mind that is never disappointed because it expects nothing.
"I reckon that's why I got into the habit of keeping my mouth shut, just
because I was worrying myself sick all the time thinking how different
things ought to be." A chill and wintry cheerfulness flickered across
the arid surface of her manner. "But I don't now. I know there isn't any
use, and I get a good deal of pleasure just out of seeing what will
happen. Now, you take David and Angelica. I'm wondering all the time how
it will turn out. David is a big man, but even if Angelica isn't smart,
she's quick enough about getting anything she wants, and I believe she
is beginning to want something she hasn't got."

"When I came I didn't like Mr. Blackburn." Though the barriers of the
old lady's reserve had fallen, Caroline was struggling still against an
instinct of loyalty.

"Well, I didn't like him once." Mrs. Timberlake had risen, and was
looking down with her pitiful, tormented smile. "It took me a long time
to find out the truth, and I want to spare you all I suffered while I
was finding it out. I sometimes think that nobody's experience is worth
a row of pins to any one else, but all the same I am trying to help you
by telling you what I know. David has his faults. I'm not saying that
he is a saint; but he has been the best friend I ever had, and I'm going
to stand up for him, Angelica or no Angelica. There are some men, my
poor father used to say, that never really show what they are because
they get caught by life and twisted out of shape, and I reckon David is
one of these. Father said, though I don't like heathen terms, that it
was the fate of a man like David always to appear in the wrong and yet
always to be in the right. That's a queer way of putting it, but father
was a great scholar--he translated the "Iliad" before he was thirty--and
I reckon he knew what he was talking about. Life was against those men,
he told me once, but God was for them, and they never failed to win in
the end." With the last words she faltered and broke off abruptly. "I
have been talking a great deal more than I ought to, but when once I
begin I never know when to stop. Angelica must have come home long ago."
Bending over she laid her cheek against Caroline's hair. "You won't
think of going away now, will you?"

Surprised and touched by the awkward caress, Caroline looked up
gratefully. "No, I shan't think of going away now."



BOOK SECOND

REALITIES



CHAPTER I

IN BLACKBURN'S LIBRARY


The fire was burning low, and after Blackburn had thrown a fresh log on
the andirons, he sat down in one of the big leather chairs by the
hearth, and watched the flames as they leaped singing up the brick
chimney. It was midnight--the clock in the hall was just striking--and a
few minutes before, Angelica had gone languidly upstairs, after their
belated return from a dinner in town. The drive home had been long and
dreary, and he could still see the winter landscape, sketched in vivid
outlines of black and white, under a pale moon that was riding high in
the heavens. Road, fields, and houses, showed as clearly as a pen and
ink drawing, and against this stark background his thoughts stood out
with an abrupt and startling precision, as if they had detached
themselves, one by one, from the naked forms on the horizon. There was
no chance of sleep, for the sense of isolation, which had attacked him
like physical pain while he drove home with Angelica, seemed to make his
chaotic memories the only living things in a chill and colourless
universe.

Though it was midnight, he had work to do before he went up to bed--for
he had not yet given his final answer to Sloane. Already Blackburn had
made his decision. Already he had worked out in his own mind the phrases
of the letter; yet, before turning to his writing-table, he lingered a
moment in order to weigh more carefully the cost of his resolve. It was
not an age when political altruism was either mentally convincing or
morally expedient, and the quality of his patriotism would be estimated
in the public mind, he was aware, by the numbers of his majority.
Sloane, he was sure, had been sounding him as a possible candidate in
some future political venture--yet, while he sat there, it was not of
Sloane that he was thinking. Slowly the depression and bitterness
gathered to a single image, and looked out upon him from the pure
reticence of Angelica's features. It was as if his adverse destiny--that
destiny of splendid purpose and frustrated effort--had assumed for an
instant the human form through which it had wrought its work of
destruction.

"Well, after all, why should I decline? It is what I have always wanted
to do, and I am right."

The room was very still, and in this stillness the light quivered in
pools on the brown rugs and the brown walls and the old yellowed
engravings. From the high bookshelves, which lined the walls, the
friendly covers of books shone down on him, with the genial
responsiveness that creeps into the aspect of familiar inanimate things.
Over the mantelpiece hung the one oil painting in the room, a portrait
of his mother as a girl, by an unknown painter, who drew badly, but had
a genuine feeling for colour. The face was small and heart-shaped, like
some delicately tinted flower that has only half opened. The hair lay in
bands of twilight on either side of the grave forehead, and framed the
large, wistful eyes, which had a flower-like softness that made him
think of black pansies. Though the mouth was pink and faintly smiling,
it seemed to him to express an infinite pathos. It was impossible for
him to believe that his mother--the woman with the pallid cameo-like
profile and the saintly brow under the thin dark hair--had ever faced
life with that touching, expectant smile.

There had been a strong soul in that fragile body, but her courage,
which was invincible, had never seemed to him the courage of happiness.
She had accepted life with the fortitude of the Christian, not the joy
of the Pagan; and her piety was associated in his mind with long summer
Sundays, with old hymns played softly, with bare spotless rooms, and
with many roses in scattered alabaster vases. Her intellect, like her
character, he recalled as a curious blending of sweetness and strength.
If the speculative side of her mind had ever existed, life had long ago
hushed it, for her capacity for acquiescence--for unquestioning
submission to the will of God--was like the glory of martyrdom. Yet,
within her narrow field, the field in which religion reigned as a
beneficent shade, she had thought deeply, and it seemed to Blackburn
that she had never thought harshly. Her sympathy was as wide as her
charity, and both covered the universe. So exquisitely balanced, so
finely tempered, was her judgment of life, that after all these years,
for she had died while he was still a boy, he remembered her as one
whose understanding of the human heart approached the divine. "She
always wanted me to do something like this," he thought, "to look
forward--to stand for the future. I remember...."

       *       *       *       *       *

From the light and warmth of the room there streamed the sunshine and
fragrance of an old summer. After a hot day the sun was growing faint
over the garden, and the long, slim shadows on the grass were so pale
that they quivered between light and darkness, like the gauzy wings of
gigantic dragon flies. Against a flushed sky a few bats were wheeling.
Up from the sun-steeped lawn, which was never mown, drifted the mingled
scents of sheepmint and box; and this unforgotten smell pervaded the
garden and the lane and the porch at the back of the house, where he had
stopped, before bringing home the cows, to exchange a word with his
mother. The lattice door was open, and she stood there, in her black
dress, with the cool, dim hall behind her.

"Mother," he said, "I have been reading about William Wallace. When I
grow up, I want to fight kings."

She smiled, and her smile was like one of the slow, sad hymns they sang
on Sunday afternoons. "When you grow up there may be no kings left to
fight, dear."

"Will they be dead, mother?"

"They may be. One never knows, my son."

All the romance faded suddenly out of the world. "Well, if there are any
left," he answered resolutely, "I am going to fight them."

He could still see her face, thin and sad, and like the closed white
flowers he found sometimes growing in hollows where the sun never shone.
Only her eyes, large and velvet black, seemed glowing with hope.

"There are only three things worth fighting for, my son," she said,
"Your love, your faith, and your country. Nothing else matters."

"Father fought for his country, didn't he?"

"Your father fought for all three." She waited a moment, and then went
on more slowly in a voice that sounded as if she were reciting a prayer,
"This is what you must never forget, my boy, that you are your father's
son, and that he gave his all for the cause he believed in, and counted
it fair service."

The scene vanished like one of the dissolving views of a magic lantern,
and there rose before him a later summer, and another imperishable
memory of his boyhood....

       *       *       *       *       *

It was an afternoon in September--one of those mellow afternoons when
the light is spun like a golden web between earth and sky, and the grey
dust of summer flowers rises as an incense to autumn. The harvest was
gathered; the apples were reddening in the orchard; and along the rail
fence by the roadside, sumach and Virginia creeper were burning slowly,
like a flame that smoulders in the windless blue of the weather.
Somewhere, very far away, a single partridge was calling, and nearer
home, from the golden-rod and life-ever-lasting, rose the slow humming
of bees.

He lay in the sun-warmed grass, with his bare feet buried in sheepmint.
On the long benches, from which the green paint had rubbed off, some old
men were sitting, and among them, a small coloured maid, in a dress of
pink calico, was serving blackberry wine and plates of the pale yellow
cake his mother made every Saturday. One of the men was his uncle, a
crippled soldier, with long grey hair and shining eyes that held the
rapt and consecrated vision of those who have looked through death to
immortality. His crutch lay on the grass at his feet, and while he
sipped his wine, he said gravely:

"A new generation is springing up, David's generation, and this must
give, not the South alone, but the whole nation, a leader."

At the words the boy looked up quickly, his eyes gleaming, "What must
the leader be like, uncle?"

The old soldier hesitated an instant. "He must, first of all, my boy, be
predestined. No man whom God has not appointed can lead other men
right."

"And how will he know if God has appointed him?"

"He will know by this--that he cannot swerve in his purpose. The man
whom God has appointed sees his road straight before him, and he does
not glance back or aside." His voice rose louder, over the murmur of the
bees, as if it were chanting, "If the woods are filled with dangers, he
does not know because he sees only his road. If the bridges have fallen,
he does not know because he sees only his road. If the rivers are
impassable, he does not know because he sees only his road. From the
journey's beginning to its end, he sees only his road...."

       *       *       *       *       *

A log, charred through the middle, broke suddenly, scattering a shower
of sparks. The multitudinous impressions of his boyhood had gathered
into these two memories of summer, and of that earlier generation which
had sacrificed all for a belief. It was like a mosaic in his mind, a
mosaic in which heroic figures waited, amid a jewelled landscape, for
the leader whom God had appointed.

The room darkened while he sat there, and from outside he heard the
crackling of frost and the ceaseless rustle of wind in the junipers. On
the hearthrug, across the glimmering circle of the fire, he watched
those old years flock back again, in all the fantastic motley of
half-forgotten recollections. He saw the long frozen winters of his
childhood, when he had waked at dawn to do the day's work of the farm
before he started out to trudge five miles to the little country school,
where the stove always smoked and the windows were never opened. Before
this his mother had taught him his lessons, and his happiest memories
were those of the hours when he sat by her side, with an antiquated
geography on his knees, and watched her long slender fingers point the
way to countries of absurd boundaries and unpronounceable names. She had
taught him all he knew--knowledge weak in science, but rich in the
invisible graces of mind and heart--and afterwards, in the uninspired
method of the little school, he had first learned to distrust the kind
of education with which the modern man begins the battle of life.
Homespun in place of velvet, stark facts instead of the texture of
romance! The mornings when, swinging his hoe, he had led his chattering
band of little negroes into the cornfields, had been closer to the
throbbing pulse of experience.

When he was fourteen the break had come, and his life had divided. His
mother had died suddenly; the old place had been sold for a song; and
the boy had come up to Richmond to make his way in a world which was too
indifferent to be actually hostile. At first he had gone to work in a
tobacco factory, reading after hours as long as the impoverished widow
with whom he lived would let the gas burn in his room. Always he had
meant to "get on"; always he had felt the controlling hand of his
destiny. Even in those years of unformed motives and misdirected
energies, he had been searching--searching. The present had never been
more than a brief approach to the future. He had looked always for
something truer, sounder, deeper, than the actuality that enmeshed him.

Suddenly, while he sat there confronting the phantom he had once called
himself, he was visited by a rush of thought which seemed to sweep on
wings through his brain. Yet the moment afterwards, when he tried to
seize and hold the vision that darted so gloriously out of the shining
distance, he found that it had already dissolved into a sensation, an
apprehension, too finely spun of light and shadow to be imprisoned in
words. It was as if some incalculable discovery, some luminous
revelation, had brushed him for an instant as it sped onward into the
world. Once or twice in the past such a gleaming moment had just touched
him, leaving him with this vague sense of loss, of something missing, of
an infinitely precious opportunity which had escaped him. Yet invariably
it had been followed by some imperative call to action.

"I wonder what it means now," he thought, "I suppose the truth is that I
have missed things again." The inspiration no longer seemed to exist
outside of his own mind; but under the clustering memories, he felt
presently a harder and firmer consciousness of his own purpose, just as
in his boyhood, he would sometimes, in ploughing, strike a rock half
buried beneath the frail bloom of the meadows. It was the sense of
reality so strong, so solid, that it brought him up, almost with a jerk
of pain, from the iridescent cobwebs of his fancy; and this reality, he
understood after a minute, was an acute perception of the great war that
men were fighting on the other side of the world. His knowledge of
these terrible and splendid issues had broken through the perishable
surface of thought. The illusion vanished like the bloom of the meadows;
what remained was the bare rocky structure of truth. He had not meant to
think of this now. He had left the evening free for his work--for the
decision which must be made sooner or later; yet, through some
mysterious trend of thought, every personal choice of his life seemed to
become a part of the impersonal choice of humanity. The infinite issues
had absorbed the finite intentions. Every decision was a ripple in the
world battle between the powers of good and evil, of light and darkness.
And he understood suddenly that the great abstractions for which men lay
down their lives are one and indivisible--that there was not a corner of
the earth where this fight for liberty could not be fought.

"I can fight here as well as over there," he thought, "if I am only big
enough."

Now that his mind had got down to solid facts, to steady thinking, it
worked quickly and clearly. It would be a hard fight, with all the odds
against him, and yet the very difficulties appealed to him. Out of the
dense fog of political theories, out of the noise and confusion of the
Babel of many tongues, he could discern the dim framework of a purer
social order. The foundation of the Republic was sound, he believed,
only the eyes of the builders had failed, the hands of the builders had
trembled. That the ideal democracy was not a dream, but an unattained
reality, he had never doubted. The failure lay not in the plan, but in
the achievement. There was obliquity of vision, there was even
blindness, for the human mind was still afflicted by the ancient error
which had brought the autocracies of the past to destruction. Men and
nations had still to learn that in order to preserve liberty it must
first be surrendered--that there is no spiritual growth except through
sacrifice. But it must be surrendered only to a broader, an ever-growing
conception of what liberty means.

As in the sun-warmed grass on those Sunday afternoons, he still dreamed
of America leading the nations. The great Virginians of the past had
been Virginians first; the great Virginians of the future would be
Americans. The urgent need in America, as he saw it, was for unity; and
the first step toward this unity, the obliteration of sectional
boundaries. In this, he felt, Virginia must lead the states. As she had
once yielded her land to the nation, she must now yield her spirit. She
must point the way by act, not by theory; she must vote right as well as
think right.

"And to vote right," he said presently, thinking aloud, "we must first
live right. People speak of a man's vote as if it were an act apart from
the other acts of his life--as if they could detach it from his
universal conceptions. There was a grain of truth in Uncle Carter's
saying that he could tell by the way a man voted whether or not he
believed in the immortality of the soul." It was Uncle Carter, he
remembered, who had described the chronic malady of American life as a
disease of manner that had passed from the skin into the body politic.
"Take my word for it," the old soldier had said, "there is no such thing
as sound morals without sound manners, for manners are only the outer
coating--the skin, if you like--of morals. Without unselfish
consideration for others there can be no morality, and if you have
unselfish consideration in your heart, you will have good manners
though you haven't a coat on your back. Order and sanity and precision,
and all the other qualities we need most in this Republic, are only the
outward forms of unselfish consideration for others, and patriotism, in
spite of its plumed attire, is only that on a larger scale. After all,
your country is merely a tremendous abstraction of your neighbour."
Well, perhaps the old chap had been talking sense half the time when
people smiled at his words!

Rising from his chair, he pushed back the last waning ember, and stood
gazing down on the ashes.

"I will do my best," he said slowly. "I will fight to the last ditch for
the things I believe in--for cleaner politics, for constructive
patriotism, and for a fairer democracy. These are the big issues, and
the little ends will flow from them."

As he finished, the clock in the hall struck twice and stopped, and at
the same instant the door of the library opened slowly, and, to his
amazement, he saw Mary standing beyond the threshold. She carried a
candle in her hand, and by the wavering light, he saw that she was very
pale and that her eyes were red as if she had been weeping.

"The lights were out. I thought you had gone upstairs," she said, with a
catch in her voice.

"Do you want anything?"

"No, I couldn't sleep, so I came for a book."

With a hurried movement, she came over to the table and caught up a book
without glancing at the title.

"Are you ill?" he asked. "Is anything the matter?"

"No, nothing. I am well, only I couldn't sleep."

"There is no trouble about Alan, is there? Have you quarrelled?"

"Oh, no, we haven't quarrelled." She was plainly impatient at his
questioning. "Alan is all right. Really, it is nothing."

Though his affection for her was deep and strong, they had never learned
to be demonstrative with each other, perhaps because they had been
separated so much in childhood and early youth. It was almost with a
hesitating gesture that he put out his hand now and touched her hair.

"My dear, you know you can trust me."

"Yes, I know." The words broke from her with a sob, and turning hastily
away, she ran out of the room and back up the stairs.



CHAPTER II

READJUSTMENTS


In Letty's nursery the next afternoon, Blackburn came at last to know
Caroline without the barrier of her professional manner. The child was
playing happily with her paper dolls in one corner, and while she
marched them back and forth along a miniature road of blocks, she sang
under her breath a little song she had made.

    Oh, my,
    I'd like to fly
    Very high
    In the sky,
    Just you and I.

"I am very cold," said Blackburn, as he entered. "Mammy Riah has
promised me a cup of tea if I am good."

"You are always good, father," replied Letty politely, but she did not
rise from the floor. "I'm sorry I can't stop, but Mrs. Brown is just
taking her little girl to the hospital. If I were to get up the poor
little thing might die on the way."

"That must not happen. Perhaps Miss Meade will entertain me?"

"I will do my best." Caroline turned from her writing and took up a
half-finished sock. "If you had come an hour earlier you might have seen
some of Mrs. Blackburn's lovely clothes. She was showing us the dress
she is going to wear to dinner to-night."

"You like pretty clothes." It was a careless effort to make
conversation, but as he dropped into the armchair on the hearthrug, his
face softened. There was a faint scent of violets in the air from a
half-faded little bunch in Caroline's lap.

She met the question frankly. "On other people."

"Do you like nothing for yourself? You are so impersonal that I
sometimes wonder if you possess a soul of your own."

"Oh, I like a great many things." Mammy Riah had brought tea, and
Caroline put down her knitting and drew up to the wicker table. "I like
books for instance. At The Cedars we used to read every evening. Father
read aloud to us as long as he lived."

"Yet I never see you reading?"

"Not here." As she shook her head, the firelight touched her close, dark
hair, which shone like satin against the starched band of her cap.
Almost as white as her cap seemed her wide forehead, with the intense
black eyebrows above the radiant blue of her eyes. "You see I want to
finish these socks."

"I thought you were doing a muffler?"

"Oh, that's gone to France long ago! This is a fresh lot Mrs. Blackburn
has promised, and Mrs. Timberlake and I are working night and day to get
them finished in time. We can't do the large kind of work that Mrs.
Blackburn does," she added, "so we have to make up with our little bit.
Mrs. Timberlake says we are hewers of wood and drawers of water."

"You are always busy," he said, smiling. "I believe you would be busy
if you were put into solitary confinement."

To his surprise a look of pain quivered about her mouth, and he noticed,
for the first time, that it was the mouth of a woman who had suffered.
"It is the best way of not thinking----" She ended with a laugh, and he
felt that, in spite of her kindness and her capability, she was as
elusive as thistle-down.

"I can knit a little, father," broke in Letty, looking up from her
dolls. "Miss Meade is teaching me to knit a muffler--only it gets
narrower all the time. I'm afraid the soldiers won't want it."

"Then give it to me. I want it."

"If I give it to you, you might go to fight, and get killed." As the
child turned again to her dolls, he said slowly to Caroline, "I can't
imagine how she picks up ideas like that. Someone must have talked about
the war before her."

"She heard Mrs. Blackburn talking about it once in the car. She must
have caught words without our noticing it."

His face darkened. "One has to be careful."

"Yes, I try to remember." He was quick to observe that she was taking
the blame from Angelica, and again he received an impression that she
was mentally evading him. Her soul was closed like a flower; yet now and
then, through her reserve and gravity, he felt a charm that was as sweet
and fresh as a perfume. She was looking tired and pale, he thought, and
he wondered how her still features could have kindled into the beauty he
had seen in them on that snowy afternoon. It had never occurred to him
before, accustomed as he was to the formal loveliness of Angelica, that
the same woman could be both plain and beautiful, both colourless and
vivid.

This was perplexing him, when she clasped her hands over her knitting,
and said with the manner of quiet confidence that he had grown to expect
in her, "I have always meant to tell you, Mr. Blackburn, that I listened
to everything you said that day on the terrace--that afternoon when you
were talking to Colonel Ashburton and Mr. Sloane. I didn't mean to
listen, but I found myself doing it."

"Well, I hope you are not any the worse for it, and I am sure you are
not any the better."

"There is something else I want to tell you." Her pale cheeks flushed
faintly, and a liquid fire shone in her eyes. "I think you are right. I
agree with every word that you said."

"Traitor! What would your grandmother have thought of you? As a matter
of fact I have forgotten almost all that I said, but I can safely assume
that it was heretical. I think none of us intended to start that
discussion. We launched into it before we knew where we were going."

Her mind was on his first sentence, and she appeared to miss his closing
words. "I can't answer for my grandmother, but father would have agreed
with you. He used to say that the State was an institution for the
making of citizens."

"And he talked to you about such things?" It had never occurred to him
that a woman could become companionable on intellectual grounds, yet
while she sat there facing him, with the light on her brow and lips, and
her look of distinction and remoteness as of one who has in some way
been set apart from personal joy or sorrow, he realized that she was as
utterly detached as Sloane had been when he discoursed on the functions
of government.

"Oh, we talked and talked on Sunday afternoons, a few neighbours, old
soldiers mostly, and father and I. I wonder why political arguments
still make me think of bees humming?"

He laughed with a zest she had never heard in his voice before. "And the
smell of sheepmint and box!"

"I remember--and blackberry wine in blue glasses?"

"No, they were red, and there was cake cut in thin slices with icing on
the top of it."

"Doesn't it bring it all back again?"

"It brings back the happiest time of my life to me. You never got up at
dawn to turn the cows out to pasture, and brought them home in the
evening, riding the calf?"

"No, but I've cooked breakfast by candlelight."

"You've never led a band of little darkeys across a cornfield at
sunrise?"

"But I've canned a whole patch of tomatoes."

"I know you've never tasted the delight of stolen fishing in the creek
under the willows?"

Her reserve had dropped from her like a mask. She looked up with a laugh
that was pure music. "It is hard to believe that you ever went without
things."

"Oh, things!" He made a gesture of indifference. "If you mean
money--well, it may surprise you to know that it has no value for me
to-day except as a means to an end."

"To how many ends?" she asked mockingly.

"The honest truth is that it wouldn't cost me a pang to give up
Briarlay, every stock and stone, and go back to the southside to dig
for a living. I made it all by accident, and I may lose it all just as
easily. It looks now, since the war began, as if I were losing some of
it very rapidly. But have you ever noticed that people are very apt to
keep the things they don't care about--that they can't shake them off?
Now, what I've always wanted was the chance to do some work that
counted--an opportunity for service that would help the men who come
after me. As a boy I used to dream of this. In those days I preferred
William Wallace to Monte Cristo."

"The opportunity may come now."

"If we go into this war--and, by God, we must go into it!--that might
be. I'd give ten--no, twenty years of my life for the chance. Life! We
speak of giving life, but what is life except the means of giving
something infinitely better and finer? As if anything mattered but the
opportunity to speak the thought in one's brain, to sing it, to build it
in stone. There is a little piece of America deep down in me, and when I
die I want to leave it somewhere above ground, embodied in the national
consciousness. When this blessed Republic leaves the mud behind, and
goes marching, clean and whole, down the ages, I want this little piece
of myself to go marching with it."

So she had discovered the real Blackburn, the dreamer under the clay!
This was the man Mrs. Timberlake had described to her--the man whose
fate it was to appear always in the wrong and to be always in the right.
And, womanlike, she wondered if this passion of the mind had drawn its
strength and colour from the earlier wasted passion of his heart? Would
he love America so much if he loved Angelica more? As she drew nearer
to the man's nature, she was able to surmise how terrible must have been
the ruin that Angelica had wrought in his soul. That he had once loved
her with all the force and swiftness of his character, Caroline
understood as perfectly as she had come to understand that he now loved
her no longer.

"If I can cast a shadow of the America in my mind into the sum total of
American thought, I shall feel that life has been worth while," he was
saying. "The only way to create a democracy,--and I see the immense
future outlines of this country as the actual, not the imaginary
democracy,--after all, the only way to create a thing is to think it. An
act of faith isn't merely a mental process; it is a creative force that
the mind releases into the world. Germany made war, not by invading
Belgium, but by thinking war for forty years; and, in the same way, by
thinking in terms of social justice, we may end by making a true
democracy." He paused abruptly, with the glow of enthusiasm in his face,
and then added slowly, in a voice that sounded curiously restrained and
distant, "I must have been boring you abominably. It has been so long
since I let myself go like this that I'd forgotten where I was and to
whom I was talking."

It was true, she realized, without resentment; he had forgotten that she
was present. Since she had little vanity, she was not hurt. It was only
one of those delicious morsels that life continually offered to one's
sense of humour.

"I am not quite so dull, perhaps, as you think me," she responded
pleasantly. After all, though intelligence was sometimes out of place,
she had discovered that pleasantness was always a serviceable quality.

At this he rose from his chair, laughing. "You must not, by the way, get
a wrong impression of me. I have been talking as if money did not count,
and yet there was a time when I'd willingly have given twenty years of
my life for it. Money meant to me power--the kind of power one could
grasp by striving and sacrifice. Why, I've walked the streets of
Richmond with five cents in my pocket, and the dream of uncounted
millions in my brain. When my luck turned, and it turned quickly as luck
runs, I thought for a year or two that I'd got the thing that I
wanted----"

"And you found out that you hadn't?"

"Oh, yes, I found out that I hadn't," he rejoined drily, as he moved
toward the door, "and I've been making discoveries like that ever since.
To-day I might tell you that work, not wealth, brings happiness, but
I've been wrong often enough before, and who knows that I am not wrong
about this." It was the tone of bitterness she had learned to watch for
whenever she talked with him--the tone that she recognized as the subtle
flavour of Angelica's influence. "Now I'll find Mary," he added, "and
ask her if she saw the doctor this morning. The reading I heard as I
came up, I suppose was for her benefit?"

"I don't know," replied Caroline, wondering if she ought to keep him
from interrupting a play of Alan's. "I think Mr. Wythe had promised to
read something to Mrs. Blackburn."

"Oh, well, Mary must be about, and I'll find her. She couldn't sleep
last night and I thought her looking fagged."

"Yes, she hasn't been well. Mrs. Timberlake has tried to persuade her to
take a tonic."

For a minute he hesitated. "There hasn't been any trouble, I hope.
Anything I could straighten out?" He looked curiously young and
embarrassed as he put the question.

"Nothing that I know of. I think she feels a little nervous and
let-down, that's all."

The hesitation had gone now from his manner, and he appeared relieved
and cheerful. "I had forgotten that you aren't the keeper of the soul as
well as the body. It's amazing the way you manage Letty. She is happier
than I have ever seen her." Then, as the child got up from her play and
came over to him, he asked tenderly, "Aren't you happy, darling?"

"Yes, I'm happy, father," answered Letty, slowly and gravely, "but I
wish mother was happy too. She was crying this morning, and so was Aunt
Mary."

A wine-dark flush stained Blackburn's face, while the arms that had been
about to lift Letty from the floor, dropped suddenly to his sides. The
pleasure his praise had brought to Caroline faded as she watched him,
and she felt vaguely disturbed and apprehensive. Was there something,
after all, that she did not understand? Was there a deeper closet and a
grimmer skeleton at Briarlay than the one she had discovered?

"If your mother isn't happy, Letty, you must try to make her so," he
answered presently in a low voice.

"I do try, father, I try dreadfully hard, and so does Miss Meade. But I
think she wants something she hasn't got," she added in a whisper, "I
think she wants something so very badly that it hurts her."

"And does your Aunt Mary want something too?" Though he spoke jestingly,
the red flush was still in his face.

Letty put up her arms and drew his ear down to her lips. "Oh, no, Aunt
Mary cries just because mother does."

"Well, we'll see what we can do about it," he responded, as he turned
away and went out of the door.

Listening attentively, Caroline heard his steps pass down the hall,
descend the stairs, and stop before the door of the front drawing-room.
"I wonder if Mr. Wythe is still reading," she thought; and then she went
back to her unfinished letter, while Letty returned cheerfully to her
play in the corner.

       *       *       *       *       *

This is an ugly blot, mother dear, but Mr. Blackburn came in so suddenly
that he startled me, and I almost upset my inkstand. He stayed quite a
long time, and talked more than he had ever done to me before--mostly
about politics. I have changed my opinion of him since I came here. When
I first knew him I thought him wooden and hard, but the more I see of
him the better I like him, and I am sure that everything we heard about
him was wrong. He has an unfortunate manner at times, and he is very
nervous and irritable, and little things upset him unless he keeps a
tight grip on himself; but I believe that he is really kind-hearted and
sincere in what he says. One thing I am positive about--there was not a
word of truth in the things Mrs. Colfax wrote me before I came here. He
simply adores Letty, and whatever trouble there may be between him and
his wife, I do not believe that it is entirely his fault. Mrs.
Timberlake says he was desperately in love with her when he married her,
and I can tell, just by watching them together, how terribly she must
have made him suffer. Of course, I should not say this to any one else,
but I tell you everything--I have to tell you--and I know you will not
read a single word of this to the girls.

I used to hope that Letty's illness would bring them together--wouldn't
that have been just the way things happen in books?--but everybody
blamed him because she went to the tableaux, and, as far as I can see,
she lets people think what is false, without lifting a finger to correct
them. It is such a pity that she isn't as fine as we once thought
her--for she looks so much like an angel that it is hard not to believe
that she is good, no matter what she does. If you haven't lived in the
house with her, it is impossible to see through her, and even now I am
convinced that if she chose to take the trouble, she could twist
everyone of us, even Mr. Blackburn, round her little finger. You
remember I wrote you that Mr. Wythe did not like her? Well, she has
chosen to be sweet to him of late, and now he is simply crazy about her.
He reads her all his plays, and she is just as nice and sympathetic as
she can be about his work. I sometimes wish Miss Blackburn would not be
quite so frank and sharp in her criticism. I have heard her snap him up
once or twice about something he wrote, and I am sure she hurt his
feelings. One afternoon, when I took Letty down to the drawing-room to
show a new dress to her mother, he was reading, and he went straight on,
while we were there, and finished his play. I liked it very much, and so
did Mrs. Blackburn, but Miss Blackburn really showed some temper because
he would not change a line when she asked him to. It was such a pity she
was unreasonable because it made her look plain and unattractive, and
Mrs. Blackburn was too lovely for words. She had on a dress of grey
crêpe exactly the colour of her eyes, and her hair looked softer and
more golden than ever. It is the kind of hair one never has very much
of--as fine and soft as Maud's--but it is the most beautiful colour and
texture I ever saw.

Well, I thought that Miss Blackburn was right when she said the line was
all out of character with the speaker; but Mrs. Blackburn did not agree
with us, and when Mr. Wythe appealed to her, she said it was just
perfect as it was, and that he must not dream of changing it. Then he
said he was going to let it stand, and Miss Blackburn was so angry that
she almost burst into tears. I suppose it hurt her to see how much more
he valued the other's opinion; but it would be better if she could learn
to hide her feelings. And all the time Mrs. Blackburn lay back in her
chair, in her dove grey dress, and just smiled like a saint. You would
have thought she pitied her sister-in-law, she looked at her so sweetly
when she said, "Mary, dear, we mustn't let you persuade him to ruin it."
You know I really began to ask myself if I had not been unjust to her in
thinking that she could be a little bit mean. Then I remembered that
poor old woman in Pine Street--I wrote you about her last autumn--and I
knew she was being sweet because there was something she wanted to gain
by it. I don't know what it is she wants, nor why she is wasting so much
time on Mr. Wythe; but it is exactly as if she had bloomed out in the
last month like a white rose. She takes more trouble about her clothes,
and there is the loveliest glow--there isn't any word but bloom that
describes it--about her skin and hair and eyes. She looks years younger
than she did when I came here.

I wanted to write you about Mr. Blackburn, but his wife is so much more
fascinating. Even if you do not like her, you are obliged to think about
her, and even if you do not admire her, you are obliged to look at her
when she is in the room. She says very little--and as she never says
anything clever, I suppose this is fortunate--but somehow she just
manages to draw everything to her. I suppose it is personality, but you
always say that personality depends on mind and heart, and I am sure her
attraction has nothing to do with either of these. It is strange, isn't
it, but the whole time Mr. Blackburn was in here talking to me, I kept
wondering if she had ever cared for him? Mrs. Timberlake says that she
never did even when she married him, and that now she is irritated
because he is having a good many financial difficulties, and they
interfere with her plans. But Mr. Blackburn seems to worry very little
about money. I believe his friends think that some day he may run for
the Senate--Forlorn Hope Blackburn, Colonel Ashburton calls him, though
he says that he has a larger following among the Independent voters than
anybody suspects. I shouldn't imagine there was the faintest chance of
his election--for he has anything but an ingratiating manner with
people; and so much in a political candidate depends upon a manner. You
remember all the dreadful speeches that were flung about in the last
Presidential elections. Well, Mr. Sloane, who was down here from New
York the other day, said he really thought the result might have been
different if the campaign speakers had had better manners. It seems
funny that such a little thing should decide a great question, doesn't
it? I suppose, when the time comes for us to go into this war or stay
out of it, the decision will rest upon something so small that it will
never get into history, not even between the lines. You remember that
remark of Turgot's--that dear father loved to quote: "The greatest evils
in life have their rise from things too small to be attended to."

After hearing Mr. Blackburn talk, I am convinced that he is perfectly
honest in everything he says. As far as I can gather he believes, just
as we do, that men should go into politics in order to give, not to
gain, and he feels that they will give freely of themselves only to
something they love, or to some ideal that is like a religion to them.
He says the great need is to love America--that we have not loved, we
have merely exploited, and he thinks that as long as the sections remain
distinct from the nation, and each man thinks first of his own place,
the nation will be exploited for the sake of the sections. He says, too,
and this sounds like father, that the South is just as much the nation
as the North or the West, and that it is the duty of the South to do her
share in the building of the future. I know this is put badly, but you
will understand what I mean.

Now, I really must stop. Oh, I forgot to tell you that Mrs. Blackburn
wants to know if you could find time to do some knitting for her? She
says she will furnish all the wool you need, and she hopes you will make
socks instead of mufflers. I told her you knitted the most beautiful
socks.

I am always thinking of you and wondering about The Cedars.

    Your loving,
        CAROLINE.

It looks very much as if we were going to fight, doesn't it? Has the
President been waiting for the country, or the country for the
President?



CHAPTER III

MAN'S WOMAN


From the second drawing-room, where Angelica had tea every afternoon,
there drifted the fragrance of burning cedar, and as Blackburn walked
quickly toward the glow of the fire, he saw his wife in her favourite
chair with deep wings, and Alan Wythe stretched languidly on the white
fur rug at her feet. Mary was not there. She had evidently just finished
tea, for her riding-crop lay on a chair by the door; but when Blackburn
called her name, Alan stopped his reading and replied in his pleasant
voice, "I think she has gone out to the stable. William came to tell her
that one of the horses had a cough."

"Then I'll find her. She seems out of sorts, and I'm trying to make her
see the doctor."

"I am sorry for that." Laying aside the book, Alan sprang to his feet,
and stood gazing anxiously into the other's face. "She always appears so
strong that one comes to take her fitness as a matter of course."

"Yes, I never saw her look badly until the last day or two. Have you
noticed it, Angelica?"

Without replying to his question, Angelica rested her head against the
pink velvet cushion, and turned a gentle, uncomprehending stare on his
face. It was her most disconcerting expression, for in the soft
blankness and immobility of her look, he read a rebuke which she was
either too amiable or too well-bred to utter. He wondered what he had
done that was wrong, and, in the very instant of wondering, he felt
himself grow confused and angry and aggressive. This was always the
effect of her stare and her silence--for nature had provided her with an
invincible weapon in her mere lack of volubility--and when she used it
as deliberately as she did now, she could, without speaking a syllable,
goad him to the very limit of his endurance. It was as if her delicate
hands played on his nerves and evoked an emotional discord.

"Have you noticed that Mary is not well?" he asked sharply, and while he
spoke, he became aware that Alan's face had lost its friendliness.

"No, I had not noticed it." Her voice dropped as softly as liquid honey
from her lips. "I thought her looking very well and cheerful at tea."
She spoke without movement or gesture; but the patient and resigned
droop of her figure, the sad grey eyes, and the hurt quiver of her
eyelashes, implied the reproach she had been too gentle to put into
words. The contrast with her meekness made him appear rough and harsh;
yet the knowledge of this, instead of softening him, only increased his
sense of humiliation and bitterness.

"Perhaps, then, there is no need of my speaking to her?" he said.

"It might please her." She was sympathetic now about Mary. "I am sure
that she would like to know how anxious you are."

For the first time since he had entered the room she was smiling, and
this slow, rare smile threw a golden radiance over her features. He
thought, as Caroline had done several afternoons ago, that her beauty,
which had grown a little dim and pale during the autumn, had come back
with an April colour and freshness. Not only her hair and eyes, but the
ivory tint of her skin seemed to shine with a new lustre, as if from
some hidden fire that was burning within. For a minute the old appeal to
his senses returned, and he felt again the beat and quiver of his pulses
which her presence used to arouse. Then his mind won the victory, and
the emotion faded to ashes before its warmth had passed to his heart.

"I'll go and find her," he said again, with the awkwardness he always
showed when he was with her.

Her smile vanished, and she leaned forward with an entreating gesture,
which flowed through all the slender, exquisite lines of her body.
Instinctively he knew that she had not finished with him yet; that she
was not ready to let him go until he had served some inscrutable purpose
which she had had in view from the beginning. His mind was not trained
to recognize subtleties of intention or thought; and while he waited for
her to reveal herself, he began wondering what she could possibly want
with him now? Clearly it was all part of some intricate scheme; yet it
appeared incredible to his blunter perceptions that she should exhaust
the resources of her intelligence merely for the empty satisfaction of
impressing Mary's lover.

"David," she began in a pleading tone, "aren't you going to have tea
with me?"

"I had it upstairs." He was baffled and at bay before an attack which he
could not understand.

"In the nursery?" Her voice trembled slightly.

"Yes, in the nursery." As if she had ever expected or desired him to
interrupt her amusements!

"Was Cousin Matty up there?" Though he was still unable to define her
motive, his ears detected the faint note of suspense that ruffled the
thin, clear quality of her voice.

"No, only Letty and Miss Meade."

A tremor crossed her face, as if he had struck her; then she said, not
reproachfully, but with a pathetic air of self-effacement and humility,
"Miss Meade is very intelligent. I am so glad you have found someone you
like to talk to. I know I am dull about politics." And her eyes added
wistfully, "It isn't my fault that I am not so clever."

"Yes, she is intelligent," he answered drily; and then, still mystified
and dully resentful because he could not understand, he turned and went
out as abruptly as he had entered.

While his footsteps passed through the long front drawing-room and
across the hall, Angelica remained motionless, with her head bent a
little sadly, as if she were listening to the echo of some
half-forgotten sorrow. Then, sighing gently, she looked from Alan into
the fire, and reluctantly back at Alan again. She seemed impulsively,
against her will and her conscience, to turn to him for understanding
and sympathy; and at the sight of her unspoken appeal, he threw himself
on the rug at her feet, and exclaimed in a strangled voice,

"You are unhappy!" With these three words, into which he seemed to put
infinity, he had broken down the walls of reticence that divide human
souls from each other. She was unhappy! Before this one torrential
discovery all the restraints of habit and tradition, of conscience and
honour, vanished like the imperfect structures of man in the rage of the
hurricane.

She shivered, and looked at him with a long frightened gaze. There was
no rebellion, there was only a passive sadness in her face. She was too
weak, her eyes said, to contend with unhappiness. Some stronger hands
than hers must snatch her from her doom if she were to be rescued.

"How can I be happy?" The words were wrung slowly from her lips. "You
see how it is?"

"Yes, I see." He honestly imagined that he did. "I see it all, and it
makes me desperate. It is unbelievable that any one should make you
suffer."

She shook her head and answered in a whisper, "It is partly my fault.
Whatever happens, I always try to remember that, and be just. The first
mistake may have been mine."

"Yours?" he exclaimed passionately, and then dropping his face into his
hands, "If only I were not powerless to protect you!"

For a moment, after his smothered cry, she said nothing. Then, with an
exquisite gesture of renunciation, she put the world and its temptations
away from her. "We are both powerless," she responded firmly, "and now
you must read me the rest of your play, or I shall be obliged to send
you home."

Blackburn, meanwhile, had stopped outside on his way to the stable, and
stood looking across the garden for some faint prospect of a clearer
to-morrow. Overhead the winter sky was dull and leaden; but in the west
a thin silver line edged the horizon, and his gaze hung on this thread
of light, as if it were prophetic not only of sunshine, but of
happiness. Already he was blaming himself for the scene with Angelica;
already he was resolving to make a stronger effort at reconciliation and
understanding, to win her back in spite of herself, to be patient,
sympathetic, and generous, rather than just, in his judgment of her. In
his more philosophical moments he beheld her less as the vehicle of
personal disenchantment, than as the unfortunate victim of a false
system, of a ruinous upbringing. She had been taught to grasp until
grasping had become not so much a habit of gesture, as a reflex movement
of soul--an involuntary reaction to the nerve stimulus of her
surroundings.

Though he had learned that the sight of any object she did not own
immediately awoke in her the instinct of possession, he still told
himself, in hours of tolerance, that this weakness of nature was the
result of early poverty and lack of mental discipline, and that
disappointment with material things would develop her character as
inevitably as it would destroy her physical charm. So far, he was
obliged to admit, she had risen superior to any disillusionment from
possession, with the ironic exception of that brief moment when she had
possessed his adoration; yet, in spite of innumerable failures, it was
characteristic of the man that he should cling stubbornly to his belief
in some secret inherent virtue in her nature, as he had clung, when love
failed him, to the frail sentiments of habit and association. The
richness of her beauty had blinded him for so long to the poverty of her
heart, that, even to-day, bruised and humiliated as he was, he found
himself suddenly hoping that she might some day change miraculously into
the woman he had believed her to be. The old half-forgotten yearning for
her swept over him while he thought of her, the yearning to kneel at her
feet, to kiss her hands, to lift his eyes and see her bending like an
angel above him. And in his thoughts she came back to him, not as she
was in reality, but as he longed for her to be. With one of those
delusive impersonations of memory, which torment the heart after the
mind has rejected them, she came back to him with her hands outstretched
to bless, not to grasp, and a look of goodness and love in her face.

He remembered his first meeting with her--the close, over-heated rooms,
the empty faces, the loud, triumphant music; and then suddenly she had
bloomed there, like a white flower, in the midst of all that was
ineffectual and meaningless. One minute he had been lonely, tired,
depressed, and the next he was rested and happy and full of wild,
startled dreams of the future. She had been girlish and shy and just a
little aloof--all the feminine graces adorned her--and he had
surrendered in the traditional masculine way. Afterwards he discovered
that she had intended from the first instant to marry him; but on that
evening he had seen only her faint, reluctant flight from his rising
emotion. She had played the game so well; she had used the ancient decoy
so cleverly, that it had taken years to tear the veil of illusion from
the bare structure of method. For he knew now that she had been
methodical, that she had been utterly unemotional; and that her angelic
virtue had been mere thinness of temperament. Never for a moment had she
been real, never had she been natural; and he admitted, in the passing
mood of confession, that if she had once been natural--as natural as the
woman upstairs--the chances were that she would never have won him.
Manlike, he would have turned from the blade-straight nature to pursue
the beckoning angel of the faint reluctance. If she had stooped but for
an instant, if she had given him so much as the touch of her fingers,
she might have lost him. Life, not instinct, had taught him the beauty
of sincerity in woman, the grace of generosity. In his youth, it was
woman as mystery, woman as destroyer, to whom he had surrendered.

Descending the steps from the terrace, he walked slowly along the brick
way to the stable, where he found Mary giving medicine to her favourite
horse.

"Briar Rose has a bad cough, David."

He asked a few questions, and then, when the dose was administered, they
turned together, and strolled back through the garden. Mary looked cross
and anxious, and he could tell by the way she spoke in short jerks that
her nerves were not steady. Her tone of chaffing had lost its ease, and
the effort she made to appear flippant seemed to hurt her.

"Are you all right again, Mary?"

"Quite all right. Why shouldn't I be?"

"There's no reason that I know of," he replied seriously. "Have you
decided when you will be married?"

She winced as if he had touched a nerve. "No, we haven't decided." For a
minute she walked on quickly, then looking up with a defiant smile, she
said, "I am not sure that we are ever going to be married."

So the trouble was out at last! He breathed heavily, overcome by some
indefinable dread. After all, why should Mary's words have disturbed him
so deeply? The chances were, he told himself, that it was nothing more
than the usual lovers' quarrel.

"My dear, Alan is a good fellow. Don't let anything make trouble between
you."

"Oh, I know he is a good fellow--only--only I am not sure we--we should
be happy together. I don't care about books, and he doesn't care any
longer for horses----"

"As if these things mattered! You've got the fundamental thing, haven't
you?"

"The fundamental thing?" She was deliberately evading him--she, the
straightforward Mary!

"I mean, of course, that you care for each other."

At this she broke down, and threw out her hands with a gesture of
despair. "I don't know. I used to think so, but I don't know any
longer," she answered, and fled from him into the house.

As he looked after her he felt the obscure doubt struggling again in his
mind, and with it there returned the minor problem of his financial
difficulties, and the conversation he must sooner or later have with
Angelica. Nothing in his acquaintance with Angelica had surprised him
more than the discovery that, except in the embellishment of her own
attractions, she could be not only prudent, but stingy. Even her
extravagance--if a habit of spending that exacted an adequate return for
every dollar could be called extravagance--was cautious and cold like
her temperament, as if Nature had decreed that she should possess no
single attribute of soul in abundance. No impulse had ever swept her
away, not even the impulse to grasp. She had always calculated, always
schemed with her mind, not her senses, always moved slowly and
deliberately toward her purpose. She would never speak the truth, he
knew, just as she would never over-step a convention, because
truthfulness and unconventionality would have interfered equally with
the success of her designs. Life had become for her only a pedestal
which supported an image; and this image, as unlike the actual Angelica
as a Christmas angel is unlike a human being, was reflected, in all its
tinselled glory, in the minds of her neighbours. Before the world she
would be always blameless, wronged, and forgiving. He knew these things
with his mind, yet there were moments even now when his heart still
desired her.

An hour later, when he entered her sitting-room, he found her, in a blue
robe, on the sofa in front of the fire. Of late he had noticed that she
seldom lay down in the afternoon, and as she was not a woman of moods,
he was surprised that she had broken so easily through a habit which had
become as fixed as a religious observance.

"It doesn't look as if you had had much rest to-day," he said, as he
entered.

She looked up with an expression that struck him as incongruously
triumphant. Though at another time he would have accepted this as an
auspicious omen, he wondered now, after the episode of the afternoon, if
she were merely gathering her forces for a fresh attack. He shrank from
approaching her on the subject of economy, because experience had taught
him that her first idea of saving would be to cut down the wages of the
servants; and he had a disturbing recollection that she had met his last
suggestion that they should reduce expenses with a reminder that it was
unnecessary to employ a trained nurse to look after Letty. When she
wanted to strike hardest, she invariably struck through the child.
Though she was not clever, she had been sharp enough to discover the
chink in his armour.

"Did you find Mary?" she asked.

"Yes, she seems out of sorts. What is the trouble between her and Alan?"

"Is there any trouble?" She appeared surprised.

"I fear so. She told me she was not sure that they were going to be
married."

"Did she say that?"

"She said it, but she may not have meant it. I cannot understand."

Angelica pondered his words. "Well, I've noticed lately that she wasn't
very nice to him."

"But she was wildly in love with him. She cannot have changed so
suddenly."

"Why not?" She raised her eyebrows slightly. "People do change, don't
they?"

"Not when they are like Mary." With a gesture of perplexity, he put the
subject away from him. "What I really came to tell you isn't very much
better," he said. "Of late, since the war began, things have been going
rather badly with me. I dare say I'll manage to pull up sooner or later,
but every interest in which I am heavily involved has been more or less
affected by the condition of the country. If we should go into this
war----"

She looked up sharply. "Don't you think we can manage to keep out of
it?"

"To keep out of it?" Even now there were moments when she astonished
him.

For the first time in months her impatience got the better of her. "Oh,
I know, of course, that you would like us to fight Germany; but it seems
to me that if you stopped to think of all the suffering it would
mean----"

"I do stop to think."

"Then there isn't any use talking!"

"Not about that; but considering the uncertainty of the immediate
future, don't you think we might try, in some way, to cut down a bit?"

Turning away from him, she gazed thoughtfully into the fire. "If it is
really necessary----?"

"It may become necessary at any moment."

At this she looked straight up at him. "Well, since Letty is so much
better, I am sure that there is no need for us to keep a trained nurse
for her."

She had aimed squarely, and he flinched at the blow. "But the child is
so happy."

"She would be just as happy with any one else."

"No other nurse has ever done so much for her. Why, she has been like a
different child since Miss Meade came to her."

While he spoke he became aware that she was looking at him as she had
looked in the drawing-room.

"Then you refuse positively to let me send Miss Meade away?"

"I refuse positively, once and for all."

Her blank, uncomprehending stare followed him as he turned and went out
of the room.



CHAPTER IV

THE MARTYR


A fortnight later light was thrown on Blackburn's perplexity by a shrewd
question from Mrs. Timberlake. For days he had been groping in darkness,
and now, in one instant, it seemed to him that his discovery leaped out
in a veritable blaze of electricity. How could he have gone on in
ignorance? How could he have stumbled, with unseeing eyes, over the
heart of the problem?

"David," said the housekeeper bluntly, "don't you think that this thing
has been going on long enough?" They were in the library, and before
putting the question, she had closed the door and even glanced
suspiciously at the windows.

"This thing?" He looked up from his newspaper, with the vague idea that
she was about to discourse upon our diplomatic correspondence with
Germany.

"I am not talking about the President's notes." Her voice had grown
rasping. "He may write as many as he pleases, if they will make the
Germans behave themselves without our having to go to war. What I mean
is the way Mary is eating her heart out. Haven't you noticed it?"

"I have been worried about her for some time." He laid the paper down on
the desk. "But I haven't been able to discover what is the matter."

"If you had asked me two months ago, I could have told you it was about
that young fool Alan."

"About Wythe? Why, I thought she and Wythe were particularly devoted."
If he were sparring for time, there was no hint of it in his manner. It
really looked, the housekeeper told herself grimly, as if he had not
seen the thing that was directly before his eyes until she had pointed
it out to him.

"They were," she answered tartly, "at one time."

"Well, what is the trouble now? A lovers' quarrel?"

It was a guiding principle with Mrs. Timberlake that when her conscience
drove her she never looked at her road; and true to this intemperate
practice, she plunged now straight ahead. "The trouble is that Alan has
been making a fool of himself over Angelica." It was the first time that
she had implied the faintest criticism of his wife, and as soon as she
had uttered the words, her courage evaporated, and she relapsed into her
attitude of caustic reticence. Even her figure, in its rusty black,
looked shrunken and huddled.

"So that is it!" His voice was careless and indifferent. "You mean he
has been flattered because she has let him read his plays to her?"

"He hasn't known when to stop. If something isn't done, he will go on
reading them for ever."

"Well, if Angelica enjoys them?"

"But it makes Mary very unhappy. Can't you see that she is breaking her
heart over it?"

"Angelica doesn't know." He might have been stating a fact about one of
the belligerent nations.

"Oh, of course." She grasped at the impersonal note, but it escaped her.
"If she only knew, she could so easily stop it."

"So you think if someone were to mention it?"

"That is why I came to you. I thought you might manage to drop a word
that would let Angelica see how much it is hurting Mary. She wouldn't
want to hurt Mary just for the sake of a little amusement. The plays
can't be so very important, or they would be on the stage, wouldn't
they?"

"Could you tell her, do you think?" It was the first time he had ever
attempted to evade a disagreeable duty, and the question surprised her.

"Angelica wouldn't listen to a word I said. She'd just think I'd made it
up, and I reckon it does look like a tempest in a teapot."

He met this gravely. "Well, it is natural that she shouldn't take a
thing like that seriously."

"Yes, it's natural." She conceded the point ungrudgingly. "I believe
Angelica would die before she would do anything really wrong."

If he accepted this in silence, it was not because the tribute to
Angelica's character appeared to him to constitute an unanswerable
argument. During the weeks when he had been groping his way to firmer
ground, he had passed beyond the mental boundaries in which Angelica and
her standards wore any longer the aspect of truth. He knew them to be
not only artificial, but false; and Mrs. Timberlake's praise was
scarcely more than a hollow echo from the world that he had left. That
Angelica, who would lie and cheat for an advantage, could be held,
through mere coldness of nature, to be above "doing anything really
wrong," was a fallacy which had once deluded his heart, but failed now
to convince his intelligence. Once he had believed in the sacred myth of
her virtue; now, brought close against the deeper realities, he saw
that her virtue was only a negation, and that true goodness must be,
above all things, an affirmation of spirit.

"I'll see what I can do," he said, and wondered why the words had not
worn threadbare.

"You mean you'll speak to Angelica?" Her relief rasped his nerves.

"Yes, I'll speak to Angelica."

"Don't you think it would be better to talk first to Mary?"

Before replying, he thought over this carefully. "Perhaps it would be
better. Will you tell her that I'd like to see her immediately?"

She nodded and went out quickly, and it seemed to him that the door had
barely closed before it opened again, and Mary came in with a brave step
and a manner of unnatural alertness and buoyancy.

"David, do you really think we are going to have war?" It was an awkward
evasion, but she had not learned either to evade or equivocate
gracefully.

"I think we are about to break off diplomatic relations----"

"And that means war, doesn't it?"

"Who knows?" He made a gesture of impatience. "You are trying to climb
up on the knees of the gods."

"I want to go," she replied breathlessly, "whether we have war or not, I
want to go to France. Will you help me?"

"Of course I will help you."

"I mean will you give me money?"

"I will give you anything I've got. It isn't so much as it used to be."

"It will be enough for me. I want to go at once--next week--to-morrow."

He looked at her attentively, his grave, lucid eyes ranging thoughtfully
over her strong, plain face, which had grown pale and haggard, over her
boyish figure, which had grown thin and wasted.

"Mary," he said suddenly, "what is the trouble? Is it an honest desire
for service or is it--the open door?"

For a minute she looked at him with frightened eyes; then breaking down
utterly, she buried her face in her hands and turned from him. "Oh,
David, I must get away! I cannot live unless I get away!"

"From Briarlay?"

"From Briarlay, but most of all--oh, most of all," she brought this out
with passion, "from Alan!"

"Then you no longer care for him?"

Instead of answering his question, she dashed the tears from her eyes,
and threw back her head with a gesture that reminded him of the old
boyish Mary. "Will you let me go, David?"

"Not until you have told me the truth."

"But what is the truth?" She cried out, with sudden anger. "Do you
suppose I am the kind of woman to talk of a man's being 'taken away,' as
if he were a loaf of bread to be handed from one woman to another? If he
had ever been what I believed him, do you imagine that any one could
have 'taken' him? Is there any man on earth who could have taken me from
Alan?"

"What has made the trouble, Mary?" He put the question very slowly, as
if he were weighing every word that he uttered.

She flung the pretense aside as bravely as she had dashed the tears
from her eyes. "Of course I have known all along that she was only
flirting--that she was only playing the game----"

"Then you think that the young fool has been taking Angelica too
seriously?"

At this her anger flashed out again. "Seriously enough to make me break
my engagement!"

"All because he likes to read his plays to her?"

"All because he imagines her to be misunderstood and unhappy and
ill-treated. Oh, David, will you never wake up? How much longer are you
going to walk about the world in your sleep? No one has said a breath
against Angelica--no one ever will--she isn't that kind. But unless you
wish Alan to be ruined, you must send him away."

"Isn't she the one to send him away?"

"Then go to her. Go to her now, and tell her that she must do it
to-day."

"Yes, I will tell her that." Even while he spoke the words which would
have once wrung his heart, he was visited by that strange flashing sense
of unreality, of the insignificance and transitoriness of Angelica's
existence. Like Mrs. Timberlake's antiquated standards of virtue, she
belonged to a world which might vanish while he watched it and leave him
still surrounded by the substantial structure of life.

"Then tell her now. I hear her in the hall," said Mary brusquely, as she
turned away.

"It is not likely that she will come in here," he answered, but the
words were scarcely spoken before Angelica's silvery tones floated to
them.

"David, may I come in? I have news for you." An instant later, as Mary
went out, with her air of arrogant sincerity, a triumphant figure in
grey velvet passed her in the doorway.

"I saw Robert and Cousin Charles a moment ago, and they told me that we
had really broken off relations with Germany----"

She had not meant to linger over the news, but while she was speaking,
he crossed the room and closed the door gently behind her.

"Don't you think now we have done all that is necessary?" she demanded
triumphantly. "Cousin Charles says we have vindicated our honour at
last."

Blackburn smiled slightly. The sense of unreality, which had been vague
and fugitive a moment before, rolled over and enveloped him. "It is
rather like refusing to bow to a man who has murdered one's wife."

A frown clouded her face. "Oh, I know all you men are hoping for war,
even Alan, and you would think an artist would see things differently."

"Do you think Alan is hoping for it?"

"Aren't you every one except Cousin Charles? Robert told me just now
that Virginia is beginning to boil over. He believes the country will
force the President's hand. Oh, I wonder if the world will ever be sane
and safe again?"

He was watching her so closely that he appeared to be drinking in the
sound of her voice and the sight of her loveliness; yet never for an
instant did he lose the feeling that she was as ephemeral as a tinted
cloud or a perfume.

"Angelica," he said abruptly, "Mary has just told me that she has broken
her engagement to Alan."

Tiny sparks leaped to her eyes. "Well, I suppose they wouldn't have been
happy together----"

"Do you know why she did it?"

"Do I know why?" She looked at him inquiringly. "How could I know? She
has not told me."

"Has Alan said anything to you about it?"

"Why, yes, he told me that she had broken it."

"And did he tell you why?"

She was becoming irritated by the cross examination. "No, why should he
tell me? It is their affair, isn't it? Now, if that is all, I must go.
Alan has brought the first act of a new play, and he wants my opinion."

The finishing thrust was like her, for she could be bold enough when she
was sure of her weapons. Even now, though he knew her selfishness, it
was incredible to him that she should be capable of destroying Mary's
happiness when she could gain nothing by doing it. Of course if there
were some advantage----

"Alan can wait," he said bluntly. "Angelica, can't you see that this has
gone too far, this nonsense of Alan's?"

"This nonsense?" She raised her eyebrows. "Do you call his plays
nonsense?"

"I call his plays humbug. What must stop is his folly about you. When
Mary goes, you must send him away."

Her smile was like the sharp edge of a knife. "So it is Alan now? It was
poor Roane only yesterday."

"It is poor Roane to-day as much as it ever was. But Alan must stop
coming here."

"And why, if I may ask?"

"You cannot have understood, or you would have stopped it."

"I should have stopped what?"

He met her squarely. "Alan's infatuation--for he is infatuated, isn't
he?"

"Do you mean with me?" Her indignant surprise almost convinced him of
her ignorance. "Who has told you that?"

She was holding a muff of silver fox, and she gazed down at it, stroking
the fur gently, while she waited for him to answer. He noticed that her
long slender fingers--she had the hand as well as the figure of one of
Botticelli's Graces--were perfectly steady.

"That was the reason that Mary broke her engagement," he responded.

"Did she tell you that?"

"Yes, she told me. She said she knew that you had not meant it--that
Alan had lost his head----"

Her voice broke in suddenly with a gasp of outraged amazement. "And you
ask me to send Alan away because you are jealous? You ask me
this--after--after----" Her attitude of indignant virtue was so
impressive that, for a moment, he found himself wondering if he had
wronged her--if he had actually misunderstood and neglected her?

"You must see for yourself, Angelica, that this cannot go on."

"You dare to turn on me like this!" She cried out so clearly that he
started and looked at the door in apprehension. "You dare to accuse me
of ruining Mary's happiness--after all I have suffered--after all I have
stood from you----"

As her voice rose in its piercing sweetness, it occurred to him for the
first time that she might wish to be overheard, that she might be making
this scene less for his personal benefit than for its effect upon an
invisible audience. It was the only time he had ever known her to
sacrifice her inherent fastidiousness, and descend to vulgar methods of
warfare, and he was keen enough to infer that the prize must be
tremendous to compensate for so evident a humiliation.

"I accuse you of nothing," he said, lowering his tone in the effort to
reduce hers to a conversational level. "For your own sake, I ask you to
be careful."

But he had unchained the lightning, and it flashed out to destroy him.
"You dare to say this to me--you who refused to send Miss Meade away
though I begged you to----"

"To send Miss Meade away?" The attack was so unexpected that he wavered
before it. "What has Miss Meade to do with it?"

"You refused to send her away. You positively refused when I asked you."

"Yes, I refused. But Miss Meade is Letty's nurse. What has she to do
with Mary and Alan?"

"Oh, are you still trying to deceive me?" For an instant he thought she
was going to burst into tears. "You knew you were spending too much time
in the nursery--that you went when Cousin Matty was not there--Alan
heard you admit it--you knew that I wanted to stop it, and you
refused--you insisted----"

But his anger had overpowered him now, and he caught her arm roughly in
a passionate desire to silence the hideous sound of her words, to thrust
back the horror that she was spreading on the air--out into the world
and the daylight.

"Stop, Angelica, or----"

Suddenly, without warning, she shrieked aloud, a shriek that seemed to
his ears to pierce, not only the ceiling, but the very roof of the
house. As he stood there, still helplessly holding her arm, which had
grown limp in his grasp, he became aware that the door opened quickly
and Alan came into the room.

"I heard a cry--I thought----"

Angelica's eyes were closed, but at the sound of Alan's voice, she
raised her lids and looked at him with a frightened and pleading gaze.

"I cried out. I am sorry," she said meekly. Without glancing at
Blackburn, she straightened herself, and walked, with short, wavering
steps, out of the room.

For a minute the two men faced each other in silence; then Alan made an
impetuous gesture of indignation and followed Angelica.



CHAPTER V

THE CHOICE


"Looks as if we were going to war, Blackburn." It was the beginning of
April, and Robert Colfax had stopped on the steps of his club.

"It has looked that way for the last thirty-two months."

"Well, beware the anger--or isn't it the fury?--of the patient man. It
has to come at last. We've been growling too long not to spring--and my
only regret is that, as long as we're going to war, we didn't go soon
enough to get into the fight. I'd like to have had a chance at potting a
German. Every man in town is feeling like that to-day."

"You think it will be over before we get an army to France?"

"I haven't a doubt of it. It will be nothing more than a paper war to a
finish."

A good many Virginians were thinking that way. Blackburn was not sure
that he hadn't thought that way himself for the last two or three
months. Everywhere he heard regrets that it was too late to have a share
in the actual whipping of Germany--that we were only going to fight a
decorous and inglorious war on paper. Suddenly, in a night, as it were,
the war spirit in Virginia had flared out. There was not the emotional
blaze--the flaming heat--older men said--of the Confederacy; but there
was an ever-burning, insistent determination to destroy the roots of
this evil black flower of Prussian autocracy. There was no hatred of
Austria--little even of Turkey. The Prussian spirit was the foe of
America and of the world; and it was against the Prussian spirit that
the militant soul of Virginia was springing to arms. Men who had talked
peace a few months before--who had commended the nation that was "too
proud to fight," who had voted for the President because of the slogan
"he kept us out of war"--had now swung round dramatically with the
_volte-face_ of the Government. The President had at last committed
himself to a war policy, and all over the world Americans were awaiting
the great word from Congress. In an hour personal interests had
dissolved into an impersonal passion of service. In an hour opposing
currents of thought had flowed into a single dominant purpose, and the
President, who had once stood for a party, stood now for America.

For, in a broader vision, the spirit of Virginia was the spirit of all
America. There were many, it is true, who had not, in the current
phrase, begun to realize what war would mean to them; there were many
who still doubted, or were indifferent, because the battle had not been
fought at their doorstep; but as a whole the country stood determined,
quiet, armed in righteousness, and waited for the great word from
Congress.

And over the whole country, from North to South, from East to West, the
one question never asked was, "What will America get out of it when it
is over?"

"By Jove, if we do get into any actual fighting, I mean to go," said
Robert, "I am not yet thirty."

Blackburn looked at him enviously. "It's rotten on us middle-aged
fellows. Isn't there a hole of some sort a man of forty-three can stop
up?"

"Of course they've come to more than that in England."

"We may come to it here if the war keeps up--but that isn't likely."

"No, that isn't likely unless Congress dies talking. Why, for God's
sake, can't we strangle the pacifists for once? Nobody would grieve for
them."

"Oh, if liberty isn't for fools, it isn't liberty. I suppose the supreme
test of our civilization, is that we let people go on talking when we
don't agree with them."

It was, in reality, only a few days that Congress was taking to define
and emphasize the President's policy, but these days were interminable
to a nation that waited. Talk was ruining the country, people said.
Thirty-two months of talking were enough even for an American Congress.
It was as much as a man's reputation was worth to vote against the war;
it was more than it was worth to give his reasons for so voting. There
was tension everywhere, yet there was a strange muffled quiet--the quiet
before the storm.

"We are too late for the fun," said Robert. "Germany will back down as
soon as she sees we are in earnest." This was what every one was saying,
and Blackburn heard it again when he left Colfax and went into the club.

"The pity is we shan't have time to get a man over to France. It's all
up to the navy."

"The British navy, you mean? Where'd we be now but for the British
navy?"

"Well, thank God, the note writing is over!"

There was determination enough; but the older men were right--there was
none of the flame and ardour of secession days. The war was realized
vaguely as a principle rather than as a fact. It was the difference
between fighting for abstract justice and knocking down a man in hot
blood because he has affronted one's wife. The will to strike was all
there, only one did not see red when one delivered the blow. Righteous
indignation, not personal rage, was in the mind of America.

"We aren't mad yet," remarked an old Confederate soldier to Blackburn.
"Just wait till they get us as mad as we were at Manassas, and we'll
show the Germans!"

"You mean wait until they drop bombs on New York instead of London?"

"Good Lord, no. Just wait until our boys have seen, not read, about the
things they are doing."

So there were a few who expected an American army to reach France before
the end of the war.

"Never mind about taxes. We must whip the Huns, and we can afford to pay
the bills!"

For here as elsewhere the one question never asked was, "What are we
going to get out of it?"

Prosperity was after all a secondary interest. Underneath was the
permanent idealism of the American mind.

When Blackburn reached Briarlay, he found Letty and Caroline walking
under the budding trees in the lane, and stopping his car, he got out
and strolled slowly back with them to the house. The shimmer and
fragrance of spring was in the air, and on the ground crowds of golden
crocuses were unfolding.

"Father, will you go to war if Uncle Roane does?" asked Letty, as she
slipped her hand into Blackburn's and looked up, with her thoughtful
child's eyes, into his face. "Uncle Roane says he is going to whip the
Germans for me."

"I'll go, if they'll take me, Letty. Your Uncle Roane is ten years
younger than I am." At the moment the war appeared to him, as it had
appeared to Mary, as the open door--the way of escape from an
intolerable situation; but he put this idea resolutely out of his mind.
There was a moral cowardice in using impersonal issues as an excuse for
the evasion of personal responsibility.

"But you could fight better than he could, father."

"I am inclined to agree with you. Perhaps the Government will think that
way soon."

"Alan is going, too. Mother begged him not to, but he said he just had
to go. Mammy Riah says the feeling is in his bones, and he can't help
it. When a feeling gets into your bones you have to do what it tells
you."

"It looks as if Mammy Riah knew something about it."

"But if you go and Alan goes and Uncle Roane goes, what will become of
mother?"

"You will have to take care of her, Letty, you and Miss Meade."

Caroline, who had been walking in silence on the other side of the road,
turned her head at the words. She was wearing a blue serge suit and a
close-fitting hat of blue straw, and her eyes were as fresh and
spring-like as the April sky.

"There is no doubt about war, is there?" she asked.

"It may come at any hour. Whether it will mean an American army in
France or not, no one can say; but we shall have to furnish munitions,
if not men, as fast as we can turn them out."

"Mr. Peyton said this morning it would be impossible to send men because
we hadn't the ships."

Blackburn laughed. "Then, if necessary, we will do the impossible." It
was the voice of America. Everywhere at that hour men were saying, "We
will do the impossible."

"I should like to go," said Caroline. "I should like above all things to
go."

They had stopped in the road, and still holding Letty's hand, he looked
over her head at Caroline's face. "Miss Meade, will you make me a
promise?"

Clear and radiant and earnest, her eyes held his gaze.
"Unconditionally?"

"No, the conditions I leave to you. Will you promise?"

"I will promise." She had not lowered her eyes, and he had not looked
away from her. Her face was pale, and in the fading sunlight he could
see the little blue veins on her temples and the look of stern sweetness
that sorrow had chiselled about her mouth. More than ever it seemed to
him the face of a strong and fervent spirit rather than the face of a
woman. So elusive was her beauty that he could say of no single feature,
except her eyes, "Her charm lies here--or here----" yet the impression
she gave him was one of magical loveliness. There was, he thought, a
touch of the divine in her smile, as if her look drew its radiance from
an inexhaustible source.

"Will you promise me," he said, "that whatever happens, as long as it is
possible, you will stay with Letty?"

She waited a moment before she answered him, and he knew from her face
that his words had touched the depths of her heart. "I promise you that
for Letty's sake I will do the impossible," she answered.

She gave him her hand, and he clasped it over the head of the child. It
was one of those rare moments of perfect understanding and sympathy--of
a mental harmony beside which all emotional rapture appears trivial and
commonplace. He was aware of no appeal to his senses--life had taught
him the futility of all purely physical charm--and the hand that touched
Caroline's was as gentle and as firm as it had been when it rested on
Letty's head. Here was a woman who had met life and conquered it, who
could be trusted, he felt, to fight to the death to keep her spirit
inviolate.

"Only one thing will take me away from Letty," she said. "If we send an
army and the country calls me."

"That one thing is the only thing?"

"The only thing unless," she laughed as if she were suggesting an
incredible event, "unless you or Mrs. Blackburn should send me away!"

To her surprise the ridiculous jest confused him. "Take care of Letty,"
he responded quickly; and then, as they reached the porch, he dropped
the child's hand, and went up the steps and into the house.

In the library, by one of the windows which looked out on the terrace
and the sunset, Colonel Ashburton was reading the afternoon paper, and
as Blackburn entered, he rose and came over to the fireplace.

"I was a little ahead of you, so I made myself at home, as you see," he
observed, with his manner of antiquated formality. In the dim light his
hair made a silvery halo above his blanched features, and it occurred to
Blackburn that he had never seen him look quite so distinguished and
detached from his age.

"If I'd known you were coming, I should have arranged to get here
earlier."

"I didn't know it myself until it was too late to telephone you at the
works." There was an unnatural constraint in his voice, and from the
moment of his entrance, Blackburn had surmised that the Colonel's visit
was not a casual one. The war news might have brought him; but it was
not likely that he would have found the war news either disconcerting or
embarrassing.

"The news is good, isn't it?" inquired Blackburn, a little stiffly,
because he could think of nothing else to say.

"First rate. There isn't a doubt but we'll whip the Germans before
autumn. It wasn't about the war, however, that I came."

"There is something else then?"

Before he replied Colonel Ashburton looked up gravely at the portrait of
Blackburn's mother which hung over the mantelpiece. "Very like her, very
like her," he remarked. "She was a few years older than I--but I'm
getting on now--I'm getting on. That's the worst of being born between
great issues. I was too young for the last war--just managed to be in
one big battle before Lee surrendered--and I'm too old for this one. A
peace Colonel doesn't amount to much, does he?" Then he looked sharply
at Blackburn. "David," he asked in a curiously inanimate voice, "have
you heard the things people are saying about you?"

"I have heard nothing except what has been said to my face."

"Then I may assume that the worst is still to be told you?"

"You may safely assume that, I think."

Again the Colonel's eyes were lifted to the portrait of Blackburn's
mother. "There must be an answer to a thing like this, David," he said
slowly. "There must be something that you can say."

"Tell me what is said."

Shaking the silvery hair from his forehead, the older man still gazed
upward, as if he were interrogating the portrait--as if he were seeking
guidance from the imperishable youth of the painted figure. Serene and
soft as black pansies, the eyes of the picture looked down on him from a
face that reminded him of a white roseleaf.

"It is said"--he hesitated as if the words hurt him--"that your wife
accuses you of cruelty. I don't know how the stories started, but I have
waited until they reached a point where I felt that they must be
stopped--or answered. For the sake of your future--of your work--you
must say something, David."

While he listened Blackburn had walked slowly to the window, gazing out
on the afterglow, where some soft clouds, like clusters of lilacs, hung
low above the dark brown edge of the horizon. For a moment, after the
voice ceased, he still stood there in silence. Then wheeling abruptly,
he came back to the hearth where the Colonel was waiting.

"Is that all?" he asked.

The Colonel made a gesture of despair. "It is rumoured that your wife is
about to leave you."

Blackburn looked at him intently. "If it is only a rumour----"

"But a man's reputation may be destroyed by a rumour."

"Is there anything else?"

As he spoke it was evident to the other that his thoughts were not on
his words.

"I am your oldest friend. I was the friend of your mother--I believe in
your vision--in your power of leadership. For the sake of the ideas we
both try to serve, I have come to you--hating--dreading my task----"

He stopped, his voice quivering as if from an emotion that defied his
control, and in the silence that followed, Blackburn said quietly, "I
thank you."

"It is said--how this started no one knows, and I suppose it does not
matter--that your wife called in the doctor to treat a bruise on her
arm, and that she admitted to him that it came from a blow. Daisy Colfax
was present, and it appears that she told the story, without malice, but
indiscreetly, I gathered----"

As he paused there were beads of perspiration on his forehead, and his
lip trembled slightly. It had been a difficult task, but, thank God, he
told himself, he had been able to see it through. To his surprise,
Blackburn's face had not changed. It still wore the look of immobility
which seemed to the other to express nothing--and everything.

"You must let me make some answer to these charges, David. The time has
come when you must speak."

For a moment longer Blackburn was silent. Then he said slowly, "What
good will it do?"

"But the lie, unless it is given back, will destroy not only you, but
your cause. It will be used by your enemies. It will injure
irretrievably the work you are trying to do. In the end it will drive
you out of public life in Virginia."

"If you only knew how differently I am coming to think of these things,"
said Blackburn presently, and he added after a pause, "If I cannot bear
misunderstanding, how could I bear defeat?--for work like mine must lead
to temporary defeat----"

"Not defeat like this--not defeat that leaves your name tarnished."

For the first time Blackburn's face showed emotion. "And you think that
a public quarrel would clear it?" he asked bitterly.

"But surely, without that, there could be a denial----"

"There can be no other denial. There is but one way to meet a lie, and
that way I cannot take."

"Then things must go on, as they are, to the--end?"

"I cannot stop them by talking. If it rests with me, they must go on."

"At the cost of your career? Of your power for usefulness? Of your
obligations to your country?"

Turning his head, Blackburn looked away from him to the window, which
had been left open. From the outside there floated suddenly the faint,
provocative scent of spring--of nature which was renewing itself in the
earth and the trees. "A career isn't as big a thing at forty-three as it
is at twenty," he answered, with a touch of irony. "My power for
usefulness must stand on its merits alone, and my chief obligation to my
country, as I see it, is to preserve the integrity of my honour. We hear
a great deal to-day about the personal not counting any longer; yet the
fact remains that the one enduring corner-stone of the State is the
personal rectitude of its citizens. You cannot build upon any other
foundation, and build soundly. I may be wrong--I often am--but I must do
what I believe to be right, let the consequences be what they will."

Now that he had left the emotional issue behind him, the immobility had
passed from his manner, and his thoughts were beginning to come with the
abundance and richness that the Colonel associated with his public
speeches. Already he had put the question of his marriage aside, as a
fact which had been accepted and dismissed from his mind.

"In these last few years--or months rather--I have begun to see things
differently," he resumed, with an animation and intensity that
contrasted strangely with his former constraint and dumbness. "I can't
explain how it is, but this war has knocked a big hole in reality. We
can look deeper into things than any generation before us, and the
deeper we look, the more we become aware of the outer darkness in which
we have been groping. I am groping now, I confess it, but I am groping
for light."

"It will leave a changed world when it is over," assented the Colonel,
and he spoke the platitude with an accent of relief, as if he had just
turned away from a sight that distressed him. "More changed, I believe,
for us older ones than for the young who have done the actual fighting.
I should like to write a book about that--the effect of the war on the
minds of the non-combatants. The fighters have been too busy to think,
and it is thought, after all, not action, that leaves the more permanent
record. Life will spring again over the battle-fields, but the ideas
born of the war will control the future destinies of mankind."

"I am beginning to see," pursued Blackburn, as if he had not heard him,
"that there is something far bigger than the beliefs we were working
for. Because we had got beyond the sections to the country, you and I,
we thought we were emancipated from the bondage of prejudice. The chief
end of the citizen appeared to us to be the glory of the nation, but I
see now--I am just beginning to see--that there is a greater spirit than
the spirit of nationality. You can't live through a world war, even with
an ocean between--and distance, by the way, may give us all the better
perspective, and enable Americans to take a wider view than is possible
to those who are directly in the path of the hurricane--you can't live
through a world war, and continue to think in terms of geographical
boundaries. To think about it at all, one must think in universal
relations."

He hesitated an instant, and then went on more rapidly, "After all, we
cannot beat Germany by armies alone, we must beat her by thought. For
two generations she has thought wrong, and it is only by thinking
right--by forcing her to think right--that we can conquer her. The
victory belongs to the nation that engraves its ideas indelibly upon the
civilization of the future."

Leaning back in the shadows, Colonel Ashburton gazed at him with a
perplexed and questioning look. Was it possible that he had never
understood him--that he did not understand him to-day? He had come to
speak of an open scandal, of a name that might be irretrievably
tarnished--and Blackburn had turned it aside by talking about universal
relations!



CHAPTER VI

ANGELICA'S TRIUMPH


Caroline wrote a few nights later:

DEAREST MOTHER:

So it has come at last, and we really and truly are at war. There is not
so much excitement as you would have thought--I suppose because we have
waited so long--but everybody has hung out flags--and Letty and I have
just helped Peter put a big beautiful one over Briarlay. Mrs. Blackburn
is working so hard over the Red Cross that we have barely seen her for
days, and Mary has already gone to New York on her way to France. She is
going to work there with one of the war charities, and I think it will
be the best thing on earth for her, for any one can see that she has
been very unhappy. Mr. Wythe wants to go into the army, but for some
reason he has hesitated about volunteering. I think Mrs. Blackburn
opposes it very strongly, and this is keeping him back. There is a new
feeling in the air, though. The world is rushing on--somewhere--somewhere,
and we are rushing with it.

For days I have wanted to write you about a curious thing, but I have
waited hoping that I might have been mistaken about it. You remember how
very sweet Mrs. Blackburn was to me when I first came here. Well, for
the last month she has changed utterly in her manner. I cannot think of
any way in which I could have offended her--though I have racked my
brain over it--but she appears to avoid me whenever it is possible, and
on the occasions when we are obliged to meet, she does not speak to me
unless it is necessary. Of course there are things I am obliged to ask
her about Letty; but this is usually done through the servants, and
Mrs. Blackburn never comes into the nursery. Sometimes she sends for
Letty to come to her, but Mammy Riah always takes her and brings her
back again. I asked Mrs. Timberlake if she thought I could have done
anything Mrs. Blackburn did not like, and if I had better go to her and
demand an explanation. That seems to me the only sensible and
straightforward way, but Mrs. Timberlake does not think it would do any
good. She is as much mystified about it as I am, and so is Mammy Riah.
Nobody understands, and the whole thing has worried me more than I can
ever tell you. If it wasn't for Letty, and a promise I made to Mr.
Blackburn not to leave her, I should be tempted to give up the place at
the end of the week. It is cowardly to let one's self be vanquished by
things like that, especially at a time when the whole world needs every
particle of courage that human beings can create; but it is just like
fighting an intangible enemy, and not knowing at what moment one may be
saying or doing the wrong thing. Not a word has been spoken to me that
was rude or unkind, yet the very air I breathe is full of something that
keeps me apprehensive and anxious all the time. When I am with Mr.
Blackburn or Mrs. Timberlake, I tell myself that it is all just my
imagination, and that I am getting too nervous to be a good nurse; and
then, when I pass Mrs. Blackburn in the hall and she pretends not to see
me, the distrust and suspicion come back again. I hate to worry you
about this--for a long time I wouldn't mention it in my letters--but I
feel to-night that I cannot go on without telling you about it.

Last night after dinner--when Mrs. Blackburn is at home Mrs. Timberlake
and I dine in the breakfast-room--I went to look for Letty, and found
that she had slipped into the drawing-room, where Mrs. Blackburn and Mr.
Wythe were engaged in their perpetual reading. The child is very fond of
Mr. Wythe--he has a charming way with her--and when I went in, she was
asking him if he were really going to war? Before answering her he
looked for a long time at Mrs. Blackburn, and then as Letty repeated her
question, he said, "Don't you think I ought to go, Letty?"

"What is the war about, Alan?" asked the child, and he replied, "They
call it a war for democracy." Then, of course, Letty inquired
immediately, "What is democracy?" At this Alan burst out laughing,
"You've got me there, Socrates," he retorted, "Go inquire of your
father." "But father says it is a war to end war," Letty replied, and
her next question was, "But if you want to fight, why do you want to end
war?" She is the keenest thing for her years you can imagine. I had to
explain it all to her when I got her upstairs.

Well, what I started to tell you was that all the time Mrs. Blackburn
said nothing, but kept looking from Alan to the child, with that wistful
and plaintive expression which makes her the very image of a grieving
Madonna. She never spoke a word, but I could tell all the time that she
was trying to gain something, that she was using every bit of her charm
and her pathos for some purpose I could not discover. In a little while
she took Letty from Alan and gave her over to me, and as we went out, I
heard Alan say to her, "I would give anything on earth to keep you from
being hurt any more." Of course I shouldn't repeat this to any one else,
but he must have known that I couldn't help hearing it.

Mr. Blackburn has been very kind to me, and I know that he would do
anything for Letty's happiness. He is so impersonal that I sometimes
feel that he knows ideas, but not men and women. It is hard for him to
break through the wall he has built round himself, but after you once
discover what he really is, you are obliged to admit that he is fine and
absolutely to be trusted. In a way he is different from any one I have
ever known--more sincere and genuine. I can't make what I mean very
clear, but you will understand.

For the last week I have scarcely seen him for a minute--I suppose he is
absorbed in war matters--but before that he used to come in and have
tea with Letty, and we had some long interesting talks. The child is
devoted to him, and you know she loves above all things to set her
little table in the nursery, and give tea and bread and butter to
whoever happens to come in. Mrs. Colfax used to drop in very often, and
so did Mary when she was here; but Mrs. Blackburn always promises to
come, and then is too busy, or forgets all about it, and I have to make
excuses for her to Letty. I feel sorry for Letty because she is lonely,
and has no child companions, and I do everything I can to make her
friendly with grown people, and to put a little wholesome pleasure into
her life. A delicate child is really a very serious problem in many ways
besides physical ones. Letty has not naturally a cheerful disposition,
though she flies off at times into a perfect gale of high spirits. For
the last week I can see that she has missed her father, and she is
continually asking me where he is.

Now I must tell you something I have not mentioned to any one except
Mrs. Timberlake, and I spoke of it to her only because she asked me a
direct question. Something very unfortunate occurred here last winter,
and Mrs. Timberlake told me yesterday that everybody in Richmond has
been talking about it. As long as it is known so generally--and it
appears that young Mrs. Colfax was the one to let it out--there can't be
any harm in my writing frankly to you. I haven't the faintest idea how
it all started, but one morning--it must have been two months ago--Mrs.
Blackburn showed young Mrs. Colfax a bruise on her arm, and she either
told her or let her think that it had come from a blow. Of course Mrs.
Colfax inferred that Mr. Blackburn had struck his wife, and, without
waiting a minute, she rushed straight out and repeated this to everybody
she met. She is so amazingly indiscreet, without meaning the least harm
in the world, that you might as well print a thing in the newspaper as
tell it to her. No one knows how much she made up and how much Mrs.
Blackburn actually told her; but the town has been fairly ringing, Mrs.
Timberlake says, with the scandal. People even say that he has been so
cruel to her that the servants heard her cry out in his study one
afternoon, and that Alan Wythe, who was waiting in the drawing-room, ran
in and interfered.

It is all a dreadful lie, of course--you know this without my telling
you--but Mrs. Timberlake and I cannot understand what began it, or why
Mrs. Blackburn deliberately allowed Daisy Colfax to repeat such a
falsehood. Colonel Ashburton told Mrs. Timberlake that the stories had
already done incalculable harm to Mr. Blackburn's reputation, and that
his political enemies were beginning to use them. You will understand
better than any one else how much this distresses me, not only because I
have grown to like and admire Mr. Blackburn, but for Letty's sake also.
As the child grows up this disagreement between her parents will make
such a difference in her life.

I cannot tell you how I long to be back at The Cedars, now that spring
is there and all the lilacs will so soon be in bloom. When I shut my
eyes I can see you and the girls in the "chamber," and I can almost hear
you talking about the war. I am not quite sure that I approve of Maud's
becoming a nurse. It is a hard life, and all her beauty will be wasted
in the drudgery. Diana's idea of going to France with the Y. M. C. A.
sounds much better, but most of all I like Margaret's plan of canning
vegetables next summer for the market. If she can manage to get an extra
man to help Jonas with the garden--how would Nathan's son Abraham do?--I
believe she will make a great success of it. I am so glad that you are
planting large crops this year. The question of labour is serious, I
know, but letting out so much of the land "on shares" has never seemed
to turn out very well.

It must be almost eleven o'clock, and I have written on and on without
thinking. Late as it is, I am obliged to run out to Peter's cottage by
the stable and give his wife, Mandy, a hypodermic at eleven o'clock. She
was taken very ill this morning, and if she isn't better to-morrow the
doctor will take her to the hospital. I promised him I would see her the
last thing to-night, and telephone him if she is any worse. She is so
weak that we are giving her all the stimulants that we can. I sometimes
wish that I could stop being a trained nurse for a time, and just break
loose and be natural. I'd like to run out bareheaded in a storm, or have
hysterics, or swear like Uncle George.

    Dearest love,
        CAROLINE.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Caroline reached the cottage, she found Mandy in a paroxysm of
pain, and after giving the medicine, she waited until the woman had
fallen asleep. It was late when she went back to the house, and as she
crossed the garden on her way to the terrace, where she had left one of
the French windows open, she lingered for a minute to breathe in the
delicious roving scents of the spring night. Something sweet and soft
and wild in the April air awoke in her the restlessness which the spring
always brought; and she found herself wishing again that she could cast
aside the professional training of the last eight or nine years, and
become the girl she had been at The Cedars before love had broken her
heart. "I am just as young as I was then--only I am so much wiser," she
thought, "and it is wisdom--it is knowing life that has caged me and
made me a prisoner. I am not an actor, I am only a spectator now, and
yet I believe that I could break away again if the desire came--if life
really called me. Perhaps, it's the spring that makes me restless--I
could never, even at The Cedars, smell budding things without wanting to
wander--but to-night there is a kind of wildness in everything. I am
tired of being caged. I want to be free to follow--follow--whatever is
calling me. I wonder why the pipes of Pan always begin again in the
spring?" Enchantingly fair and soft, beneath a silver mist that floated
like a breath of dawn from the river, the garden melted into the fields
and the fields into the quivering edge of the horizon. In the air there
was a faint whispering of gauzy wings, and, now and then, as the breeze
stirred the veil of the landscape, little pools of greenish light
flickered like glow worms in the hollows.

"I hate to go in, but I suppose I must," thought Caroline, as she went
up the steps. "Fortunately Roane is off after his commission, so they
can't accuse me of coming out to meet him."

For the first time she noticed that the lights were out in the house,
and when she tried the window she had left open, she found that
someone--probably Patrick--had fastened it. "I ought to have told them I
was going out," she thought. "I suppose the servants are all in bed, and
if I go to the front and ring, I shall waken everybody." Then, as she
passed along the terrace, she saw that the light still glimmered beneath
the curtains of the library, where Blackburn was working late, and
stopping before the window, she knocked twice on the panes.

At her second knock, she heard a chair pushed back inside and rapid
steps cross the floor. An instant later the window was unbolted, and she
saw Blackburn standing there against the lighted interior, with a look
of surprise and inquiry, which she discerned even though his face was in
shadow. He did not speak, and she said hurriedly as she entered,

"I hated to disturb you, but they had locked me out."

"You have been out?" It was the question he had put to her on her first
night in the house.

"Peter's wife has been ill, and I promised the doctor to give her a
hypodermic at eleven o'clock. It must be midnight now. They kept me some
time at the cottage."

He glanced at the clock. "Yes, it is after twelve. We are working you
overtime."

She had crossed the room quickly on her way to the door, when he called
her name, and she stopped and turned to look at him.

"Miss Meade, I have wanted to ask you something about Letty when she was
not with us."

"I know," she responded, with ready sympathy. "It isn't easy to talk
before her without letting her catch on."

"You feel that she is better?"

"Much better. She has improved every day in the last month or two."

"You think now that she may get well in time? There seems to you a
chance that she may grow up well and normal?"

"With care I think there is every hope that she will. The doctor is
greatly encouraged about her. In this age no physical malady, especially
in a child, is regarded as hopeless, and I believe, if we keep up the
treatment she is having, she may outgrow the spinal weakness that has
always seemed to us so serious."

For a moment he was silent. "Whatever improvement there may be is due to
you," he said presently, in a voice that was vibrant with feeling. "I
cannot put my gratitude into words, but you have made me your debtor for
life."

"I have done my best," she replied gravely, "and it has made me happy to
do it."

"I recognize that. The beauty of it has been that I recognized that from
the beginning. You have given yourself utterly and ungrudgingly to save
my child. Before you came she was misunderstood always, she was
melancholy and brooding and self-centred, and you have put the only
brightness in her life that has ever been there. All the time she
becomes more like other children, more cheerful and natural."

"I felt from the first that she needed companionship and diversion. She
won my heart immediately, for she is a very lovable child, and if I have
done anything over and above my task, it has been because I loved
Letty."

His look softened indescribably, but all he said was, "If I go away, I
shall feel that I am leaving her in the best possible care."

"You expect to go away?"

"I have offered my services, and the Government may call on me. I hope
there is some work that I can do."

"Everyone feels that way, I think. I feel that way myself, but as long
as I can, I shall stay with Letty. It is so hard sometimes to recognize
one's real duty. If the call comes, I suppose I shall have to go to
France, but I shan't go just because I want to, as long as the child
needs me as much as she does now. Mother says the duty that never stays
at home is seldom to be trusted."

"I know you will do right," he answered gravely. "I cannot imagine that
you could ever waver in that. For myself the obligation seems now
imperative, yet I have asked myself again and again if my reasons for
wishing to go are as----"

He broke off in amazement, and glanced, with a startled gesture, at the
door, for it was opening very slowly, and, as the crack widened, there
appeared the lovely disarranged head of Angelica. She was wearing a
kimono of sky-blue silk, which she had thrown on hastily over her
nightgown, and beneath the embroidered folds, Caroline caught a glimpse
of bare feet in blue slippers. In the hall beyond there was the staring
face of the maid, and at the foot of the stairs, the figure of Mammy
Riah emerged, like a menacing spirit, out of the shadow.

"I heard Mammy Riah asking for Miss Meade. She was not in her room,"
began Angelica in her clear, colourless voice. "We were anxious about
her--but I did not know--I did not dream----" She drew her breath
sharply, and then added in a louder and firmer tone, "Miss Meade, I must
ask you to leave the house in the morning."

In an instant a cold breath blowing over Caroline seemed to turn her
living figure into a snow image. Her face was as white as the band of
her cap, but her eyes blazed like blue flames, and her voice, when it
issued from her frozen lips, was stronger and steadier than Angelica's.

"I cannot leave too soon for my comfort," she answered haughtily. "Mr.
Blackburn, if you will order the car, I shall be ready in an hour----"
Though she saw scarlet as she spoke, she would have swept by Angelica
with the pride and the outraged dignity of an insulted empress.

"You shall not go," said Blackburn, and she saw him put out his arm, as
if he would keep the two women apart.

"I would not stay," replied Caroline, looking not at him, but straight
into Angelica's eyes. "I would not stay if she went on her knees to me.
I will not stay even for Letty----"

"Do you know what you have done?" demanded Blackburn, in a quivering
voice, of his wife. "Do you know that you are ruining your child's
future--your child's chance----" Then, as if words were futile to convey
his meaning, he stopped, and looked at her as a man looks at the thing
that has destroyed him.

"For Letty's sake I shut my eyes as long as I could," said Angelica, and
of the three, she appeared the only one who spoke in sorrow and regret,
not in anger. "After to-night I can deceive myself no longer. I can
deceive the servants no longer----"

Her kimono was embroidered in a lavish design of cranes and
water-lilies; and while Caroline gazed at it, she felt that the vivid
splashes of yellow and blue and purple were emblazoned indelibly on her
memory. Years afterwards--to the very end of her life--the sight of a
piece of Japanese embroidery was followed by an icy sickness of the
heart, and a vision of Angelica's amber head against the background of
the dimly lighted hall and the curious faces of the maid and Mammy Riah.

"You shall not----" said Blackburn, and his face was like the face of a
man who has died in a moment of horror. "You shall not dare do this
thing----"

He was still keeping Caroline back with his outstretched hand, and while
she looked at him, she forgot her own anger in a rush of pity for the
humiliation which showed in every quiver of his features, in every line
of his figure. It was a torture, she knew, which would leave its mark
on him for ever.

"You shall not dare----" he repeated, as if the words he sought would
not come to him.

Beneath his gaze Angelica paled slowly. Her greatest victories had
always been achieved through her dumbness; and the instinct which had
guided her infallibly in the past did not fail her in this moment, which
must have appeared to her as the decisive hour of her destiny. There was
but one way in which she could triumph, and this way she chose, not
deliberately, but in obedience to some deep design which had its source
in the secret motive-power of her nature. The colour of her skin faded
to ivory, her long, slender limbs trembled and wavered, and the pathos
of her look was intensified into the image of tragedy.

"I tried so hard not to see----" she began, and the next instant she
gave a little gasping sob and dropped, like a broken flower, at his
feet.

For a second Caroline looked down on her in silence. Then, without
stooping, without speaking, she drew her skirt aside, and went out of
the room and up the stairs. Her scorn was the scorn of the strong who is
defeated for the weak who is victorious.



CHAPTER VII

COURAGE


When she reached her room, Caroline took off her cap and uniform and
laid them smoothly away in her trunk. Then she began packing with
deliberate care, while her thoughts whirled as wildly as autumn leaves
in a storm. Outwardly her training still controlled her; but beneath her
quiet gestures, her calm and orderly movements, she felt that the veneer
of civilization had been stripped from the primitive woman. It was as if
she had lived years in the few minutes since she had left Angelica
lying, lovely and unconscious, on the floor of the library.

She was taking her clothes out of the closet when there was a low knock
at her door, and Mammy Riah peered inquiringly into the room.

"Marse David tole me ter come," she said. "Is you gwine away, honey?"

Before she replied, Caroline crossed the floor and closed the door of
the nursery. "I am going home on the earliest train in the morning. Will
you be sure to order the car?"

The old woman came in and took the clothes out of Caroline's hands. "You
set right down, en wait twell I git thoo wid dis yer packin'. Marse
David, he tole me ter look atter you de same ez I look atter Letty, en
I'se gwine ter do whut he tells me."

She looked a thousand years old as she stood there beside the shaded
electric light on the bureau; but her dark and wrinkled face contained
infinite understanding and compassion. At the moment, in the midst of
Caroline's terrible loneliness, Mammy Riah appeared almost beautiful.

"I have to move about, mammy, I can't sit still. You were there. You saw
it all."

"I seed hit comin' befo' den, honey, I seed hit comin'."

"But you knew I'd gone out to see Mandy? You knew she was suffering?"

"Yas'm, I knows all dat, but I knows a heap mo'n dat, too."

"You saw Mrs. Blackburn? You heard?----"

"I 'uz right dar all de time. I 'uz right dar at de foot er de steers."

"Do you know why? Can you imagine why she should have done it?"

Mammy Riah wrinkled her brow, which was the colour and texture of
stained parchment. "I'se moughty ole, and I'se moughty sharp, chile, but
I cyarn' see thoo a fog. I ain' sayin' nuttin' agin Miss Angy, caze she
wuz oner de Fitzhugh chillun, ef'n a wi'te nuss did riz 'er. Naw'm, I
ain' sayin' nuttin 't'all agin 'er--but my eyes dey is done got so po'
dat I cyarn' mek out whar she's a-gwine en whut she's a-fishin' fur."

"I suppose she was trying to make me leave. But why couldn't she have
come out and said so?"

"Go 'way f'om yer, chile! Ain't you knowed Miss Angy better'n dat? She
is jes' erbleeged ter be meally-mouthed en two-faced, caze she wuz brung
up dat ar way. All de chillun dat w'ite nuss riz wuz sorter puny en
pigeon-breasted inside en out, en Miss Angy she wuz jes' like de res'
un um. She ain' never come right spang out en axed fur whut she gits, en
she ain' never gwine ter do hit. Naw'm, dat she ain't. She is a-gwine
ter look put upon, en meek ez Moses, en jes like butter wouldn't melt in
'er mouf, ef'n hit kills 'er. I'se done knowed 'er all 'er lifetime, en
I ain' never seed 'er breck loose, nairy oncet. Ole Miss use'n ter say
w'en she wuz live, dat Miss Angy's temper wuz so slow en poky, she'd git
ter woner sometimes ef'n she reely hed a speck er one."

"That must be why everybody thinks her a martyr," said Caroline sternly.
"Even to-night she didn't lose her temper. You saw her faint away at my
feet?"

A shiver shook her figure, as the vision of the scene rushed before her;
and bending down, with a dress still in her arms, the old woman patted
and soothed her as if she had been a child.

"Dar now, dar now," she murmured softly. Then, raising her head, with
sudden suspicion, she said in a sharp whisper, "Dat warn' no sho' nuff
faintin'. She wuz jes' ez peart ez she could be w'en she flopped down
dar on de flo'."

"I didn't touch her. I wouldn't have touched her if she had been dying!"
declared Caroline passionately.

Mammy Riah chuckled. "You is git ter be a reel spit-fire, honey."

"I'm not a spit-fire, but I'm so angry that I see red."

"Cose you is, cose you is, but dat ain' no way ter git erlong in dis
worl', perticular wid men folks. You ain' never seed Miss Angy git ez
mad ez fire wid nobody, is you? Dar now! I low you ain' never seed hit.
You ain' never seed 'er git all in a swivet 'bout nuttin? Ain't she
al'ays jes' ez sof ez silk, no matter whut happen? Dat's de bes' way
ter git erlong, honey, you lissen ter me. De mo' open en above boa'd you
is, de mo' you is gwine ter see de thing you is atter begin ter shy away
f'om you. Dar's Miss Matty Timberlake now! Ain't she de sort dat ain'
got no sof' soap about 'er, en don't she look jes egzactly ez ef'n de
buzzards hed picked 'er? Naw'm, you teck en watch Miss Angy, en she's
gwine ter sho' you sump'n. She ain' never let on ter nobody, she ain't.
Dar ain' nobody gwine ter know whut she's a-fishin' fur twell she's done
cotched hit." There was an exasperated pride in her manner, as if she
respected, even while she condemned, the success of Angelica's method.

"Yas, Lawd! I'se knowed all de Fitzhughs f'om way back, en I ain' knowed
nairy one un um dat could beat Miss Angy w'en hit comes ter gettin' whut
she wants--in perticular ef'n hit belongst ter somebody else. I'se seed
'er wid 'er pa, en I'se seed 'er wid Marse David, en dey warn' no mo'
den chillun by de time she got thoo wid um. Is you ever seed a man, no
matter how big he think hisself, dat warn' ready ter flop right down ez'
weak ez water, ez soon as she set 'er een on 'im? I'se watched 'er wid
Marse David way back yonder, befo' he begunst his cotin', en w'en I see
'er sidle up ter 'im, lookin ez sweet ez honey, en pertendin' dat she
ain' made up 'er min' yit wedder she is mos' pleased wid 'im er feared
un 'im, den I knows hit wuz all up wid 'im, ef'n he warn't ez sharp ez a
needle. Do you reckon she 'ould ever hev cotched Marse David ef'n he'd a
knowed whut 't'wuz she wuz atter? Naw'm, dat she 'ouldn't, caze men
folks dey ain' made dat ar way. Deys erbleeged ter be doin' whut dey
think you don't want 'um ter do, jes' like chillun, er dey cyarn' git
enny spice outer doin' hit. Dat's de reason de 'ooman dey mos' often
breecks dere necks tryin' ter git is de v'ey las' one dat deys gwinter
want ter keep atter deys got 'er. A she fox is a long sight better in de
bushes den she is in de kennel; but men folks dey ain' never gwine ter
fin' dat out twell she's done bitten um."

While she rambled on, she had been busily folding the clothes and
packing them into the trunk, and pausing now in her work, she peered
into Caroline's face. "You look jes' egzactly ez ef'n you'd seed a
ha'nt, honey," she said. "Git in de baid, en try ter go right straight
ter sleep, w'ile I git thoo dis yer packin' in a jiffy."

Aching in every nerve, Caroline undressed and threw herself into bed.
The hardest day of nursing had never left her like this--had never
exhausted her so utterly in body and mind. She felt as if she had been
beaten with rocks; and beneath the sore, bruised feeling of her limbs
there was the old half-forgotten quiver of humiliation, which brought
back to her the vision of that autumn morning at The Cedars--of the deep
blue of the sky, the shivering leaves of the aspens, and the long
straight road drifting through light and shadow into other roads that
led on somewhere--somewhere. Could she never forget? Was she for ever
chained to an inescapable memory?

"Is you 'bleeged ter go?" inquired the old woman, stopping again in her
packing.

"Yes, I'm obliged to go. I wouldn't stay now if they went down on their
knees to me."

"You ain't mad wid Marse David, is you?"

"No, I'm not angry with Mr. Blackburn. He has been very kind to me, and
I am sorry to leave Letty." For the first time the thought of the child
occurred to her. Incredible as it seemed she had actually forgotten her
charge.

"She sutney is gwine ter miss you."

"I think she will, poor little Letty. I wonder what they will make of
her?"

Closing her eyes wearily, she turned her face to the wall, and lay
thinking of the future. "I will not be beaten," she resolved
passionately. "I will not let them hurt me." Some old words she had said
long ago at The Cedars came back to her, and she repeated them over and
over, "People cannot hurt you unless you let them. They cannot hurt you
unless you submit--unless you deliver your soul into their hands--and I
will never submit. Life is mine as much as theirs. The battle is mine,
and I will fight it." She remembered her first night at Briarlay, when
she had watched the light from the house streaming out into the
darkness, and had felt that strange forewarning of the nerves, that
exhilarating sense of approaching destiny, that spring-like revival of
her thoughts and emotions. How wonderful Mrs. Blackburn had appeared
then! How ardently she might have loved her! For an instant the veiled
figure of her imagination floated before her, and she was tormented by
the pang that follows not death, but disillusionment. "I never harmed
her. I would have died for her in the beginning. Why should she have
done it?"

Opening her eyes she stared up at the wall beside her bed, where Mammy
Riah's shadow hovered like some grotesque bird of prey.

"Did you order the car, Mammy Riah?"

"Yas'm, I tole John jes' like you axed me. Now, I'se done got de las'
one er dese things packed, en I'se gwine ter let you git some sleep."
She put out the light while she spoke, and then went out softly, leaving
the room in darkness.

"_Why should she have done it? Why should she have done it?_" asked
Caroline over and over, until the words became a refrain that beat
slowly, with a rhythmic rise and fall, in her thoughts: "_Why should she
have done it?_ I thought her so good and beautiful. I would have worked
my fingers to the bone for her if she had only been kind to me. _Why
should she have done it?_ I should always have taken her part against
Mr. Blackburn, against Mrs. Timberlake, against Mammy Riah. It would
have been so easy for her to have kept my love and admiration. It would
have cost her nothing. _Why should she have done it?_ There is nothing
she can gain by this, and it isn't like her to do a cruel thing unless
there is something she can gain. She likes people to admire her and
believe in her. That is why she has taken so much trouble to appear
right before the world, and to make Mr. Blackburn appear wrong.
Admiration is the breath of life to her, and--and--oh, why _should she
have done it_? I must go to sleep. I must put it out of my mind. If I
don't put it out of my mind, I shall go mad before morning. I ought to
be glad to leave Briarlay. I ought to want to go, but I do not. I do not
want to go. I feel as if I were tearing my heart to pieces. I cannot
bear the thought of never seeing the place again--of never seeing Letty
again. _Why should she have done it?_----"

In the morning, when she was putting on her hat, Mrs. Timberlake came in
with a breakfast tray in her hands.

"Sit down, and try to eat something, Caroline. I thought you would
rather have a cup of coffee up here."

Caroline shook her head. "I couldn't touch a morsel in this house. I
feel as if it would choke me."

"But you will be sick before you get home. Just drink a swallow or two."

Taking the cup from her, Caroline began drinking it so hurriedly that
the hot coffee burned her lips. "Yes, you are right," she said
presently. "I cannot fight unless I keep up my strength, and I will
fight to the bitter end. I will not let her hurt me. I am poor and
unknown, and I work for my living, but the world is mine as much as
hers, and I will not give in. I will not let life conquer me."

"You aren't blaming David, are you, dear?"

"Oh, no, I am not blaming Mr. Blackburn. He couldn't have helped it."
Her heart gave a single throb while she spoke; and it seemed to her
that, in the midst of the anguish and humiliation, something within her
soul, which had been frozen for years, thawed suddenly and grew warm
again. It was just as if a statue had come to life, as if what had been
marble yesterday had been blown upon by a breath of the divine, and
changed into flesh. For eight years she had been dead, and now, in an
instant, she was born anew, and had entered afresh into her lost
heritage of joy and pain.

Mrs. Timberlake, gazing at her through dulled eyes, was struck by the
intensity of feeling that glowed in her pale face and in the burning
blue of her eyes. "I didn't know she could look like that," thought the
housekeeper. "I didn't know she had so much heart." Aloud she said
quietly, "David and I are going to the train with you. That is why I put
on my bonnet."

"Is Mr. Blackburn obliged to go with us?" Caroline's voice was almost
toneless, but there was a look of wonder and awe in her face, as of one
who is standing on the edge of some undiscovered country, of some virgin
wilderness. The light that fell on her was the light of that celestial
hemisphere where Mrs. Timberlake had never walked.

"He wishes to go," answered the older woman, and she added with an
after-thought, "It will look better."

"As if it mattered how things look? I'd rather not see him again, but,
after all, it makes no difference."

"It wasn't his fault, Caroline."

"No, it wasn't his fault. He has always been good to me."

"If anything, it has been harder on him than on you. It is only a few
hours of your life, but it is the whole of his. She has spoiled his life
from the first, and now she has ruined his career forever. Even before
this, Colonel Ashburton told me that all that talk last winter had
destroyed David's future. He said he might have achieved almost anything
if he had had half a chance, but that he regarded him now merely as a
brilliant failure. Angelica went to work deliberately to ruin him."

"But why?" demanded Caroline passionately. "What was there she could
gain by it?"

Mrs. Timberlake blinked at the sunlight. "For the first time in my
life," she confessed, "I don't know what she is up to. I can't, to save
my life, see what she has got in her mind."

"She can't be doing it just to pose as an ill-treated wife? The world is
on her side already. There isn't a person outside of this house who
doesn't look upon her as a saint and martyr."

"I know there isn't. That is what puzzles me. I declare, if it didn't
sound so far-fetched, I'd be almost tempted to believe that she was
trying to get that young fool for good."

"Mr. Wythe? But what would she do with him? She is married already, and
you know perfectly well that she wouldn't do anything that the world
calls really wrong."

"She'd be burned at the stake first. Well, I give it up. I've raked my
brain trying to find some reason at the bottom of it, but it isn't any
use, and I've had to give it up in the end. Then, last night after David
told me about that scene downstairs--he waked me up to tell me--it
suddenly crossed my mind just like that--" she snapped her
fingers--"that perhaps she's sharper than we've ever given her credit
for being. I don't say it's the truth, because I don't know any more
than a babe unborn whether it is or not; but the idea did cross my mind
that maybe she felt if she could prove David really cruel and faithless
to her--if she could make up a case so strong that people's sympathy
would support her no matter what she did--then she might manage to get
what she wanted without having to give up anything in return. You know
Angelica could never bear to give up anything. She has got closets and
closets filled with old clothes, which she'd never think of wearing, but
just couldn't bear to give away----"

"You mean----?" The blackness of the abyss struck Caroline speechless.

"I don't wonder that you can't take it in. I couldn't at first. It seems
so unlike anything that could ever happen in Virginia."

"It would be so--" Caroline hesitated for a word--"so incredibly
common."

"Of course you feel that way about it, and so would Angelica's mother. I
reckon she would turn in her grave at the bare thought of her daughter's
even thinking of a divorce."

"You mean she would sacrifice me like this? She would not only ruin her
husband, she would try to destroy me, though I've never harmed her?"

"That hasn't got anything in the world to do with it. She isn't thinking
of you, and she isn't thinking of Alan. She is thinking about what she
wants. It is surprising how badly you can want a thing even when you
have neither feeling nor imagination. Angelica isn't any more in love
with that young ass than I am; but she wants him just as much as if she
were over head and ears in love. There is one thing, however, you may
count on--she is going to get him if she can, and she is going to
persuade herself and everybody else, except you and David and me, that
she is doing her duty when she goes after her inclinations. I don't
reckon there was ever anybody stronger on the idea of duty than
Angelica," she concluded in a tone of acrid admiration.

"Of course, she will always stand right before the world," assented
Caroline, "I know that."

"Well, it takes some sense to manage it, you must admit?"

"I wish I'd never come here. I wish I'd never seen Briarlay," cried
Caroline, in an outburst of anger. "There is the car at the door. We'd
better go."

"Won't you tell Letty good-bye?"

For the first time tears rushed to Caroline's eyes. "No, I'd rather
not. Give her my love after I'm gone."

In the hall Blackburn was waiting for them, and Caroline's first
thought, as she glanced at him, was that he had aged ten years since the
evening before. A rush of pity for him, not for herself, choked her to
silence while she put her hand into his, which felt as cold as ice when
she touched it. In that moment she forgot the wrong that she had
suffered, she forgot her wounded pride, her anguish and humiliation, and
remembered only that he had been hurt far more deeply.

"I hope you slept," he said awkwardly, and she answered, "Very little.
Is the car waiting?"

Then, as he turned to go down the steps, she brushed quickly past him,
and entered the car after Mrs. Timberlake. She felt that her heart was
breaking, and she could think of no words to utter. There were trivial
things, she knew, that might be said, casual sounds that might relieve
the strain of the silence; but she could not remember what they were,
and where her thoughts had whirled so wildly all night long, there was
now only a terrible vacancy, round which sinister fears moved but into
which nothing entered. A strange oppressive dumbness, a paralysis of the
will, seized her. If her life had depended on it, she felt that she
should have been powerless to put two words together with an
intelligible meaning.

Blackburn got into the car, and a moment later they started round the
circular drive, and turned into the lane.

"Did John put in the bag?" inquired Mrs. Timberlake nervously.

"Yes, it is in front." As he replied, Blackburn turned slightly, and the
sunshine falling aslant the boughs of the maples, illumined his face for
an instant before the car sped on into the shadows. In that minute it
seemed to Caroline that she could never forget the misery in his eyes,
or the look of grimness and determination the night had graven about his
mouth. Every line in his forehead, every thread of grey in his dark
hair, would remain in her memory for ever. "He looked so much younger
when I came here," she thought. "These last months have cost him his
youth and his happiness."

"I am so glad you have a good day for your trip," said Mrs. Timberlake,
and almost to her surprise Caroline heard her own voice replying
distinctly, "Yes, it is a beautiful day."

"Will you telegraph your mother from the station?"

"She wouldn't get it. There is no telephone, and we send only once a day
for the mail."

"Then she won't be expecting you?"

"No, she won't be expecting me."

At this Blackburn turned. "What can we do, Miss Meade, to help you?"

Again she seemed to herself to answer with her lips before she had
selected the words, "Nothing, thank you. There is absolutely nothing
that you can do." The soft wind had loosened a lock of hair under her
veil, and putting up her hand, she pushed it back into place.

Rain had fallen in the night, and the morning was fresh and fine, with a
sky of cloudless turquoise blue. The young green leaves by the roadside
shone with a sparkling lustre, while every object in the landscape
appeared to quiver and glisten in the spring sunlight.

"I shall never see it again--I shall never see it again." Suddenly,
without warning, Caroline's thoughts came flocking back as riotously as
they had done through the long, sleepless night. The external world at
which she looked became a part of the intense inner world of her mind;
and the mental vacancy was crowded in an instant with a vivid multitude
of figures. Every thought, every sensation, every image of the
imagination and of memory, seemed to glitter with a wonderful light and
freshness, as the objects in the landscape glittered when the April
sunshine streamed over them.

"Yes, I am leaving it forever. I shall never see it again, but why
should I care so much? Why does it make me so unhappy, as if it were
tearing the heart out of my breast? Life is always that--leaving things
forever, and giving up what you would rather keep. I have left places I
cared for before, and yet I have never felt like this, not even when I
came away for the first time from The Cedars. Every minute I am going
farther and farther away. We are in the city now; flags are shining,
too, in the sun. I have never seen so many flags--as if flags alone
meant war! War! Why, I had almost forgotten the war! And yet it is the
most tremendous thing that has ever been on the earth, and nothing else
really matters--neither Briarlay, nor Mrs. Blackburn, nor my life, nor
Mr. Blackburn's, nor anything that happened last night. It was all so
little--as little as the thing Mrs. Blackburn is trying to get, the
thing she calls happiness. It is as little as the thing I have lost--as
little as my aching heart----"

"Do you know," said Mrs. Timberlake, "I had not realized that we were at
war--but look at the flags!" Her lustreless eyes were lifted, with a
kind of ecstasy, in the sunlight, and then as no one answered, she added
softly, "It makes one stop and think."

"I must try to remember the war," Caroline was telling herself. "If I
remember the war, perhaps I shall forget the ache in my heart. The
larger pain will obliterate the smaller. If I can only forget
myself----" But, in spite of the effort of will, she could not feel the
war as keenly as she felt the parting from something which seemed more
vital to her than her life. "We are at war," she thought, and
immediately, "I shall never see it again--I shall never see it again."

The car stopped at the station, and a minute afterwards she followed
Mrs. Timberlake across the pavement and through the door, which
Blackburn held open. As she entered, he said quickly, "I will get your
ticket and meet you at the gate."

"Has John got the bag?" asked Mrs. Timberlake, glancing back.

"Yes, he is coming." Caroline was looking after Blackburn, and while she
did so, she was conscious of a wish that she had spoken to him in the
car while she still had the opportunity. "I might at least have been
kinder," she thought regretfully, "I might have shown him that I
realized it was not his fault--that he was not to blame for anything
from the beginning----" A tall countryman, carrying a basket of
vegetables, knocked against her, and when she turned to look back again,
Blackburn had disappeared. "It is too late now. I shall never see him
again."

The station was crowded; there was a confused rumble of sounds,
punctuated by the shrill cries of a baby, in a blue crocheted hood, that
was struggling to escape from the arms of a nervous-looking mother. In
front of Mrs. Timberlake, who peered straight ahead at the gate, there
was a heavy man, with a grey beard, and beside him a small anxious-eyed
woman, who listened, with distracted attention, to the emphatic
sentences he was uttering. "Why doesn't he stop talking and let us go
on," thought Caroline. "What difference does it make if the whole world
is going to ruin?" Even now, if she could only go faster, there might be
time for a few words with Blackburn before the train started. If only
she might tell him that she was not ungrateful--that she understood, and
would be his friend always. A hundred things that she wanted to say
flashed through her mind, and these things appeared so urgent that she
wondered how she could have forgotten them on the long drive from
Briarlay. "I must tell him. It is the only chance I shall ever have,"
she kept saying over and over; but when at last she heard his voice, and
saw him awaiting them in the crowd, she could recall none of the words
that had rushed to her lips the moment before. "It is the only chance I
shall ever have," she repeated, though the phrase meant nothing to her
any longer.

"I tell you it's the farmers that pay for everything, and they are going
to pay for the war," declared the grey-bearded man, in a harsh,
polemical voice, and the anxious-eyed woman threw a frightened glance
over her shoulder, as if the remark had been treasonable. Mrs.
Timberlake had already passed through the gate, and was walking, with a
hurried, nervous air, down the long platform. As she followed at
Blackburn's side, it seemed to Caroline that she should feel like this
if she were going to execution instead of back to The Cedars. She longed
with all her heart to utter the regret that pervaded her thoughts, to
speak some profound and memorable words that would separate this moment
from every other moment that would come in the future--yet she went on
in silence toward the waiting train, where the passengers were already
crowding into the cars.

At the step Mrs. Timberlake kissed her, and then drew back, wiping her
reddened lids.

"Good-bye, my dear, I shall write to you."

"Good-bye. I can never forget how kind you have been to me."

Raising her eyes, she saw Blackburn looking down on her, and with an
effort to be casual and cheerful, she held out her hand, while a voice
from somewhere within her brain kept repeating, "You must say something
now that he will remember. It is the last chance you will ever have in
your life."

"Good-bye." Her eyes were smiling.

"Your chair is sixteen. Good-bye."

It was over; she was on the platform, and the passengers were pushing
her into the car. She had lost her last chance, and she had lost it
smiling. "It doesn't matter," she whispered. "I am glad to be going
home--and life cannot hurt you unless you let it."

The smile was still on her lips, but the eyes with which she sought out
her chair were wet with tears.



CHAPTER VIII

THE CEDARS


No one met her at the little country station, and leaving her bag for
old Jonas, she started out alone to walk the two miles to The Cedars.
Straight ahead the long, empty road trailed beneath the fresh young
foliage of the woods, the little curled red velvet leaves of the oaks
shining through the sea-green mist of the hickories and beeches; and she
felt that within her soul there was only a continuation of this long,
straight emptiness that led on to nothing. Overhead flocks of small
fleecy clouds, as white as swans-down, drifted across the changeable
April sky, while the breeze, passing through the thick woods, stirred
the delicate flower-like shadows on the moist ground. "Spring is so
sad," she thought. "I never understood before how much sadder spring is
than autumn." This sadness of budding things, of renewing life, of
fugitive scents and ephemeral colours, had become poignantly real. "It
makes me want something different--something I have never had; and that
is the sharpest desire on earth--the desire for a happiness that hasn't
a name." A minute afterwards she concluded resolutely, "That is
weakness, and I will not be weak. One must either conquer or be
conquered by life--and I will not be conquered. Anybody can be
miserable, but it takes courage to be happy. It takes courage and
determination and intelligence to get the best out of whatever happens,
and the only way to begin is to begin by getting the best out of
yourself. Now I might have been hurt, but I am not because I won't let
myself be. I might be unhappy, but I am not because my life is my own,
and I can make of it anything that I choose." Then suddenly she heard an
inner voice saying from a great distance, "It is my last chance. I shall
never see him again." With the words her memory was illuminated by a
flame; and in the burning light she saw clearly the meaning of
everything that had happened--of her sorrow, her dumbness, her longing
to speak some splendid and memorable word at the last. It was not to
Briarlay, it was not even to Letty, that her thoughts had clung at the
moment of parting. She had wanted David Blackburn to remember because it
was the separation from him, she knew now, that would make her unhappy.
Unconsciously, before she had suspected the truth, he had become an
inseparable part of her world; unconsciously she had let the very roots
of her life entwine themselves about the thought of him.

Standing there in the deserted road, beneath the changeable blue of the
sky, she turned to fight this secret and pitiless enemy. "I will not let
it conquer me. I will conquer, as I have conquered worse things than
this. I believed myself dead because I had once been disappointed. I
believed myself secure because I had once been stabbed to the heart.
This is the punishment for my pride--this humiliation and bitterness and
longing from which I shall never be free." An unyielding cord stretched
from her heart back to Briarlay, drawing stronger and tighter with every
step of the distance. It would always be there. The pain would not
lessen with time. The flame of memory would grow brighter, not paler,
with the days, months, and years.

The April wind, soft, provocative, sweet-scented, blew in her face as
she looked back; and down the long road, between the rose and green of
the woods, an unbroken chain of memories stretched toward her. She saw
Blackburn as he had appeared on that first night at Briarlay, standing
in the door of his library when she came in from the terrace; she saw
him in Letty's room at midnight, sitting beside the night lamp on the
candle-stand, with the book, which he did not read, open before him; she
saw him in the day nursery, his face enkindled with tenderness; she saw
him in the midst of the snowy landscape, when there had been rage in his
look at the half-drunken Roane; and she saw him, most clearly of all, as
he looked facing, on that last night, the hour that would leave its mark
on him for ever. It was as if this chain of memories, beginning in the
vague sunshine and shadow of the distance, grew more distinct, more
vivid, as it approached, until at last the images of her mind gathered,
like actual presences, in the road before her. She could not escape
them, she knew. They were as inevitable as regret, and would follow her
through the bitter years ahead, as they had followed her through the
hours since she had left him. She must stand her ground, and fight for
peace as valiantly as she had ever fought in the past.

"I cannot escape it," she said, as she turned to go on, "I must accept
it and use it because that is the only way. Mine is only one among
millions of aching hearts, and all this pain must leave the world either
better or worse than it was--all this pain will be used on the side
either of light or of darkness. Even sorrow may stand in the end for
the world's happiness, just as the tragedy of this war may make a
greater peace in the future. If I can only keep this thought, I shall
conquer--war may bring peace, and pain may bring joy--in the end."

Beyond the white gate, the old aspens glimmered silver green in the
sunlight, and, half-hidden in a dusky cloud of cedars, she saw the red
chimneys and the dormer-windows of the house. Home at last! And home was
good however she came to it. With a smile she drew out the bar, and
after replacing it, went on with an energetic and resolute step.

The door was open, and looking through the hall, she saw her mother
crossing the back porch, with a yellow bowl of freshly churned butter in
her hands.

Mrs Meade had grown older in the last six months, and she limped
slightly from rheumatism; but her expression of sprightly cheerfulness
had not changed, and her full pink face was still pretty. There was
something strangely touching in the sight of her active figure, which
was beginning at last to stoop, and in her brisk, springy step, which
appeared to ignore, without disguising, the limp in her walk. Never, it
seemed to Caroline, had she seen her so closely--with so penetrating a
flash of understanding and insight. Bare and hard as life had been, she
had cast light, not shadow, around her; she had stood always on the side
of the world's happiness.

"Mother, dear, I've come home to see you!" cried Caroline gaily.

The old lady turned with a cry. "Why, Caroline, what on earth?" she
exclaimed, and carefully set down the bowl she was carrying.

The next instant Caroline was in her arms, laughing and crying
together.

"Oh, mother, I wanted to see you, so I came home!"

"Is anything wrong, dear?"

"Nothing that cannot be made right. Nothing in the world that cannot be
made right."

Drawing her out on the porch, Mrs. Meade gazed earnestly into her face.
"You are a little pale. Have you been ill, Caroline?"

"I never had much colour, you know, but I am perfectly well."

"And happy, darling?" The dear features, on which time was beginning to
trace tender lines of anxiety, beamed on her daughter, with the
invincible optimism that life had granted in place of bodily ease. As
the wind stirred the silvery hair, Caroline noticed that it had grown a
little thinner, though it was still as fine and light as spun flax. For
the first time she realized that her mother possessed the beauty which
is permanent and indestructible--the beauty of a fervent and dominant
soul. Age could soften, but it could not destroy, the charm that was
independent of physical change.

Caroline smiled brightly. "Happy to be with you, precious mother."

"Maud is in the hospital, you know, and Diana is in New York getting
ready to sail. Only Margaret is left with me, and she hasn't been a bit
well this winter. She is working hard over her garden."

"Yes, you wrote me. While I am here, I will help her. I want to work
very hard."

"Can you stay long now? It will be such a comfort to have you. Home
never seems just right when one of you is away, and now there will be
three. You knew old Docia was sick, didn't you? We have had to put her
daughter Perzelia in the kitchen, and she is only a field hand. The
cooking isn't very good, but you won't mind. I always make the coffee
and the batter bread."

"You know I shan't mind, but I must go back to work in a week or two.
Somebody must keep the dear old roof mended."

Mrs. Meade laughed, and the sound was like music. "It has been leaking
all winter." Then she added, while the laugh died on her lips, "Have you
left Briarlay for good?"

"Yes, for good. I shall never go back."

"But you seemed so happy there?"

"I shall be still happier somewhere else--for I am going to be happy,
mother, wherever I am." Though she smiled as she answered, her eyes left
her mother's face, and sought the road, where the long procession of the
aspens shivered like gray-green ghosts in the wind.

"I am so glad, dear, but there hasn't been anything to hurt you, has
there? I hope Mr. Blackburn hasn't been disagreeable."

"Oh, no, he has been very kind. I cannot begin to tell you how kind he
has been." Her voice trembled for an instant, and then went on brightly,
"And so has Mrs. Timberlake. At first I didn't like her. I thought she
was what Docia calls 'ficy,' but afterwards, as I wrote you so often,
she turned out to be very nice and human. First impressions aren't
always reliable. If they were life would be easier, and there wouldn't
be so many disappointments--but do you know the most valuable lesson
I've learned this winter? Well, it is not to trust my first
impression--of a cat. The next time old Jonas brings me a lot of kittens
and asks me what I think of them, I'm going to answer, 'I can't tell,
Jonas, until I discover their hidden qualities.' It's the hidden
qualities that make or mar life, and yet we accept or reject people
because of something on the surface--something that doesn't really
matter at all."

She was gay enough; her voice was steady; her laugh sounded natural; the
upward sweep of the black brows was as charming as ever; and the old
sunny glance was searching the distance. There was nothing that Mrs.
Meade could point to and say "this is different"; yet the change was
there, and the mother felt, with the infallible instinct of love, that
the daughter who had come home to her was not the Caroline who had left
The Cedars six months ago. "She is keeping something from me," thought
Mrs. Meade. "For the first time in her life she is keeping something
from me."

"Now I must take off my hat and go to work," said Caroline, eagerly, and
she added under her breath, "It will rest me to work."

The fragrance of spring was in the air, and through the fortnight that
she stayed at The Cedars, it seemed to her that this inescapable
sweetness became a reminder and a torture--a reminder of the beauty and
the evanescence of youth, a torture to all the sensitive nerves of her
imagination, which conjured up delusive visions of happiness. In the
beginning she had thought that work would be her salvation, as it had
been when she was younger, that every day, every week, would soften the
pain, until at last it would melt into the shadows of memory, and cease
to trouble her life. But as the days went by, she realized that this
emotion differed from that earlier one as maturity differs from
adolescence--not in weakness, but in the sharper pang of its regret.
Hour by hour, the image of Blackburn grew clearer, not dimmer, in her
mind; day by day, the moments that she had spent with him appeared to
draw closer instead of retreating farther away. Because he had never
been to The Cedars she had believed that she could escape the sharper
recollections while she was here; yet she found now that every object at
which she looked--the house, the road, the fields, the garden, even the
lilacs blooming beneath her window--she found now that all these dear
familiar things were attended by a thronging multitude of associations.
The place that he had never known was saturated with his presence. "If I
could only forget him," she thought. "Caring wouldn't matter so much, if
I could only stop thinking." But, through some perversity of will, the
very effort that she made to forget him served merely to strengthen the
power of remembrance--as if the energy of mind were condensed into some
clear and sparkling medium which preserved and intensified the thought
of him. After hours of work, in which she had buried the memories of
Briarlay, they would awake more ardently as soon as she raised her head
and released her hands from her task. The resolution which had carried
her through her first tragedy failed her utterly now, for this was a
situation, she found, where resolution appeared not to count.

And the bitterest part was that when she looked back now on those last
months at Briarlay, she saw them, not as they were in reality, filled
with minor cares and innumerable prosaic anxieties, but irradiated by
the rosy light her imagination had enkindled about them. She had not
known then that she was happy; but it seemed to her now that, if she
could only recover the past, if she could only walk up the drive again
and enter the house and see Blackburn and Letty, it would mean perfect
and unalterable happiness. At night she would dream sometimes of the
outside of the house and the drive and the elms, which she saw always
shedding their bronze leaves in the autumn; but she never got nearer
than the white columns, and the front door remained closed when she rang
the bell, and even beat vainly on the knocker. These dreams invariably
left her exhausted and in a panic of terror, as if she had seen the door
of happiness close in her face. The day afterwards her regret would
become almost unendurable, and her longing, which drowned every other
interest or emotion, would overwhelm her, like a great flood which had
swept away the natural boundaries of existence, and submerged alike the
valleys and the peaks of her consciousness. Everything was deluged by
it; everything surrendered to the torrent--even the past. Because she
had once been hurt so deeply, she had believed that she could never be
hurt in the same way again; but she discovered presently that what she
had suffered yesterday had only taught her how to suffer more intensely
to-day. Nothing had helped her--not blighted love, not disillusionment,
not philosophy. All these had been swept like straws on the torrent from
which she could not escape.

The days were long, but the nights were far longer, for, with the first
fall of the darkness, her imagination was set free. While she was
working with Margaret in the garden, or the kitchen, she could keep her
mind on the object before her--she could plant or weed until her body
ached from fatigue, and the soft air and the smell of earth and of
lilacs, became intermingled. But it was worse in the slow, slow
evenings, when the three of them sat and talked, with an interminable
airy chatter, before the wood-fire, or round the lamp, which still
smoked. Then she would run on gaily, talking always against time,
longing for the hour that would release her from the presence of the
beings she loved best, while some memory of Blackburn glimmered in the
fire, or in the old portraits, or through the windows, which looked,
uncurtained, out on the stars. There were moments even when some quiver
of expression on her mother's face or on Margaret's, some gleam of
laughter or trick of gesture, would remind her of him. Then she would
ask herself if it were possible that she had loved him before she had
ever seen him, and afterwards at Briarlay, when she had believed herself
to be so indifferent? And sitting close to her mother and sister,
divided from them by an idea which was more impregnable than any
physical barrier, she began to feel gradually that her soul was still
left there in the house which her mind inhabited so persistently--that
her real life, her vital and perpetual being, still went on there in the
past, and that here, in the present, beside these dear ones, who loved
her so tenderly, there was only a continuous moving shadow of herself.
"But how do I know that these aren't the shadows of mother and of
Margaret?" she would demand, startled out of her reverie.

At the end of a fortnight a letter came from Mrs. Timberlake, and she
read it on the kitchen porch, where Perzelia, the field hand, was
singing in a high falsetto, as she bent over the wash-tub.

"_We is jew-els--pre-cious--jew-els in--His--c-r-ow-n!_" sang Perzelia
shrilly, and changing suddenly from hymn to sermon, "Yas, Lawd, I tells
de worl'. I tells de worl' dat ef'n dat nigger 'oman don' stop 'er lies
on me, I'se gwine ter cut 'er heart out. I'se gwine ter kill 'er jes'
de same ez I 'ould a rat. Yas, Lawd, I tells 'er dat. '_We is
jew-els--pre-cious--jew-els in His c-r-o-w-n._'"

Mrs. Timberlake wrote in her fine Italian hand:

       *       *       *       *       *

MY DEAR CAROLINE,

I have thought of you very often, and wanted to write to you, but ever
since you left we have been rather upset, and I have been too busy to
settle down to pen and paper. For several weeks after you went away
Letty was not a bit well. Nobody knew what was the matter with her, and
Doctor Boland's medicine did not do her any good. She just seemed to
peak and pine, and I said all along it was nothing in the world except
missing you that made her sick. Now she is beginning to pick up as
children will if you do not worry them too much, and I hope she will
soon get her colour back and look as natural as she did while you were
here. We have a new trained nurse--a Miss Bradley, from somewhere up in
the Shenandoah Valley, but she is very plain and uninteresting, and,
between you and me, I believe she bores Letty to death. I never see the
child that she does not ask me, "When is Miss Meade coming back?"

We were very anxious to have a word from you after you went away.
However, I reckon you felt as if you did not care to write, and I am
sure I do not blame you. I suppose you have heard all the gossip that
has been going on here--somebody must have written you, for somebody
always does write when there is anything unpleasant to say. You know, of
course, that Angelica left David the very day you went away, and the
town has been fairly ringing with all sorts of dreadful scandals. People
believe he was cruel to her, and that she bore his ill-treatment just as
long as she could before leaving his house. Only you and I and Mammy
Riah will ever know what really happened, and nobody would believe us if
we were to come out and tell under oath--which, of course, we can never
do. I cannot make out exactly what Angelica means to do, but she has
gone somewhere out West, and I reckon she intends to get a divorce and
marry Alan, if he ever comes back from the war. You may not have heard
that he has gone into the army, and I expect he will be among the very
first to be sent to France. Roane is going, too. You cannot imagine how
handsome he is in his uniform. He has not touched a drop since we went
to war, and I declare he looks exactly like a picture of a crusader of
the Middle Ages, which proves how deceptive the best appearances are.

David has not changed a particle through it all. You remember how
taciturn he always was, and how he never let anybody even mention
Angelica's name to him? Well, it is just the same now, and he is, if
possible, more tight-lipped than ever. Nobody knows how he feels, or
what he thinks of her behaviour--not even Colonel Ashburton, and you
know what close and devoted friends they are. The Colonel told me that
once, when he first saw how things were going, he tried to open the
subject, and that he could never forget how Blackburn turned him off by
talking about something that was way up in the air and had nothing to do
with the subject. I am sure David has been cut to the heart, but he will
never speak out, and everybody will believe that Angelica has been
perfectly right in everything she has done. If it goes on long enough,
she will even believe it herself, and that, I reckon, is the reason she
is so strong, and always manages to appear sinned against instead of
sinning. Nothing can shake her conviction that whatever she wants she
ought to have.

Well, my dear, I must stop now and see about dinner. The house is so
lonely, though, as far as I can tell, Letty hardly misses her mother at
all, and this makes it so provoking when people like Daisy Colfax cry
over the child in the street, and carry on about, "poor dear Angelica,
who is so heartbroken." That is the way Daisy goes on whenever I see
her, and it is what they are saying all over Richmond. They seem to
think that David is just keeping Letty out of spite, and I cannot make
them believe that Angelica does not want her, and is glad to be relieved
of the responsibility. When I say this they put it down as one of my
peculiarities--like blinking eyes, or the habit of stuttering when I get
excited.

Give my love to your mother, though I reckon she has forgotten old Matty
Timberlake, and do drop me a line to let me hear how you are.

    Your affectionate friend,
        MATTY TIMBERLAKE.

Letty sends her dearest, dearest, dearest love.

       *       *       *       *       *

When she had finished the letter, Caroline looked over the lilacs by the
kitchen porch and the broken well-house, to the road beneath the aspens,
which still led somewhere--somewhere--to the unattainable. At one corner
of the porch Perzelia was singing again, and the sound mingled with the
words that Mrs. Timberlake had written.

"_We is jew-els, pre-cious jew-els in His c-r-o-w-n._"

A fever of restlessness seized Caroline while she listened. The letter,
instead of quieting her, had merely sharpened the edge of her longing,
and she was filled with hunger for more definite news. In an hour The
Cedars had become intolerable to her. She felt that she could not endure
another day of empty waiting--of waiting without hope--of the monotonous
round of trivial details that led to nothing, of the perpetual,
interminable effort to drug feeling with fatigue, to thrust the
secondary interests and the things that did not matter into the
foreground of her life. "He has never wasted a regret on me," she
thought. "He never cared for a minute. I was nothing to him except a
friend, a woman who could be trusted." The confession was like the
twist of a knife in her heart; and springing to her feet, she picked up
the letter she had dropped, and ran into the house.

"I must go back to work, mother darling," she said. "The money I saved
is all gone, and I must go back to work."



CHAPTER IX

THE YEARS AHEAD


Toward the close of an afternoon in November, Caroline was walking from
the hospital to a boarding-house in Grace Street, where she was spending
a few days between cases. All summer she had nursed in Richmond; and now
that the autumn, for which she had longed, had at last come, she was
beginning to feel the strain of hard work and sleepless nights. Though
she still wore her air of slightly defiant courage, a close observer
would have noticed the softer depths in her eyes, the little lines in
her face, and the note of sadness that quivered now and then in her
ready laughter. It was with an effort now that she moved with her
energetic and buoyant step, for her limbs ached, and a permanent
weariness pervaded her body.

A high wind was blowing, and from the scattered trees on the block, a
few brown and wrinkled leaves were torn roughly, and then whirled in a
cloud of dust up the street. The block ahead was deserted, except for an
aged negro wheeling a handcart full of yellow chrysanthemums, but as
Caroline approached the crossing, Daisy Colfax came suddenly from the
corner of a church, and hesitated an instant before speaking. The last
time that Caroline had seen her, old Mrs. Colfax had been in the car,
and they had not spoken; but now that Daisy was alone, she pounced upon
her with the manner of an affectionate and playful kitten.

"Oh, I didn't know you at first, Miss Meade! You are so much thinner.
What have you been doing?"

She held out her hand, diffusing life, love, joy, with the warmth of her
Southern charm; and while Caroline stood there, holding the soft, gloved
hand in her own, a dart of envy pierced the armour of her suffering and
her philosophy. How handsome Daisy looked! How happy! Her hat of the
royal purple she favoured made her black hair gleam like velvet; her
sealskin coat, with its enormous collar of ermine, wrapped her
luxuriously from head to foot; her brilliant complexion had the glow of
a peach that is just ready to drop. She also had had an unfortunate
romance somewhere in the past; she had married a man whom she did not
love; yet she shone, she scintillated, with the genuine lustre of
happiness. Never had the superior advantages of a shallow nature
appeared so incontestable.

"I saw you go by yesterday, Miss Meade, and I said to myself that I was
going to stop and speak to you the first chance I got. I took such a
fancy to you when you were out at Briarlay, and I want to tell you right
now that I never believed there was anything queer in your going away
like that so early in the morning, without saying a word to anybody. At
first people didn't understand why you did it, and, of course, you know
that somebody tried to start gossip; but as soon as Mrs. Timberlake told
me your sister was ill, I went straight about telling everybody I saw.
You were the last woman on earth, I always said, to want anything like a
flirtation with a man, married or single, and I knew you used to
sympathize _so_ with Angelica. I shall never forget the way you looked
at David Blackburn the night you came there, when he was so dreadfully
rude to her at the table. I told mother afterwards that if a look could
have killed, he would have fallen dead on the spot." She paused an
instant, adjusted a loosened pin in her lace veil, and glided on
smoothly again without a perceptible change in her voice, "Poor, dear
Angelica! All our hearts are broken over her. I never knew David
Blackburn well, but I always despised him from the beginning. A man who
will sit through a whole dinner without opening his mouth, as I've known
him to do, is capable of anything. That's what I always say when Robert
tells me I am prejudiced. I am really not in the least prejudiced, but I
just can't abide him, and there's no use trying to make me pretend that
I can. Even if he hadn't ruined Angelica's life, I should feel almost as
strongly about him. Everybody says that she is going to get a divorce
for cruelty, though one of the most prominent lawyers in town--I don't
like to mention his name, but you would know it in a minute--told me
that she could get it on _any_ grounds that she chose. Angelica has such
delicacy of feeling that she went out West, where you don't have to make
everything so dreadfully public, and drag in all kinds of disgraceful
evidence--but they say that David Blackburn neglected her from the very
first, and that he has had affairs with other women for years and years.
He must have selected those nobody had ever heard of, or he couldn't
have kept it all so secret, and that only proves, as I said to Robert,
that his tastes were always low----"

"Why do people like to believe these things?" demanded Caroline
resentfully. "Why don't they try to find out the truth?"

"Well, how in the world are they going to find out any more than they
are told? I said that to Mrs. Ashburton--you know they stand up for Mr.
Blackburn through thick and thin--but even they can't find a word to say
against Angelica, except that she isn't sincere, and that she doesn't
really care about Letty. There isn't a word of truth in that, and nobody
would believe it who had seen Angelica after she told Letty good-bye.
She was heartbroken--simply heartbroken. Her face was the loveliest
thing I ever looked at, and, as Alan Wythe said to me the next day--it
was the very afternoon before he went off to camp--there was the soul of
motherhood in it. I thought that such a beautiful way of putting it, for
it suited Angelica perfectly. Didn't you always feel that she was full
of soul?"

"I wonder how Letty is getting on?" asked Caroline, in the pause. "Have
you heard anything of her?"

"Oh, she is all right, I think. They have a nurse there who is looking
after her until they find a good governess. She must miss her mother
terribly, but she doesn't show it a bit. I must say she always seemed to
me to be a child of very little feeling. If I go away for a week, my
children cry their eyes out, and Letty has lost her mother, and no one
would ever know it to watch her."

"She is a reserved child, but I am sure she has feeling," said Caroline.

"Of course you know her better than I do, and, anyhow, you couldn't
expect a child not to show the effects of the kind of home life she has
had. I tell Robert that our first duty in life is to provide the memory
of a happy home for our children. It means so much when you're grown,
don't you think, to look back on a pleasant childhood? As for Letty she
might as well be an orphan now that David Blackburn has gone to
France----"

"To France?" For a minute it seemed to Caroline that claws were tearing
her heart, and the dull ache which she had felt for months changed into
a sharp and unendurable pain. Then the grey sky and grey street and grey
dust intermingled, and went round and round in a circle.

"You hadn't heard? Why, he went last week, or it may be that he is going
next week--I can't remember which. Robert didn't know exactly what he
was to do--some kind of constructive work, he said, for the Government.
I never get things straight, but all I know is that everything seems to
be for the Government now. I declare, I never worked so hard in my life
as I have done in the last six or eight months, and Robert has been in
Washington simply slaving his head off for a dollar a year. It does one
good, I suppose. Mr. Courtland preached a beautiful sermon last Sunday
about it, and I never realized before how wonderfully we have all grown
in spirit since the war began. I said to Mrs. Mallow, as I came out,
that it was so comforting to feel that we had been developing all the
time without knowing it, or having to bother about it. Of course, we did
know that we had been very uncomfortable, but that isn't quite the same,
and now I can stand giving up things so much better when I realize that
I am getting them all back, even if it's just spiritually. Don't you
think that is a lovely way to feel about it?"

"I must go," said Caroline breathlessly. Her pulses were hammering in
her ears, and she could scarcely hear what Daisy was saying.

"Well, good-bye. I am so glad to have seen you. Are you going to France
like everybody else?"

"I hope so. I have offered my services."

"Then you are just as wild about war work as I am. I'd give anything on
earth to go over with the Y. M. C. A., and I tell Robert that the only
thing that keeps me back is the children."

She floated on to her car at the corner, while Caroline crossed the
street, and walked slowly in the direction of the boarding-house. "It
can make no possible difference to me. Why should I care?" she asked
herself. Yet the clutch of pain had not relaxed in her heart, and it
seemed to her that all the life and colour had gone out of the town. He
was not here. He was across the world. Until this instant she had not
realized how much it meant to her that he should be in the same city,
even though she never saw him.

She reached the house, opened the drab iron gate, went up the short
brick walk between withered weeds, and rang the bell beside the
inhospitable door, from which the sallow paint was peeling in streaks.
At the third ring, a frowzy coloured maid, in a soiled apron, which she
was still frantically tying, opened the door; and when she saw Caroline,
a sympathetic grin widened her mouth.

"You is done hed a caller, en he lef' his name over dar on de table. I
axed 'im ef'n he wouldn't set down en res' his hat, but he jes' shuck
his haid en walked right spang out agin."

Entering the hall, Caroline picked up the card, and passed into the
shabby living-room, which was empty during the afternoon hours. In the
centre of the hideous room, with its damaged Victorian furniture, its
open stove, its sentimental engravings, and its piles of magazines long
out of date--in the midst of the surroundings of a contented and
tasteless period, she stared down, with incredulous eyes, at the bit of
paper she was holding. So he had been there. He had come at the last
moment, probably on his last day in Richmond, and she had missed him!
Life had accorded her one other opportunity, and, with the relentless
perversity of her fate, she had lost it by an accident, by a quarter of
an hour, by a chance meeting with Daisy! It was her destiny to have the
things that she desired held within reach, to watch them approach until
she could almost touch them, to see them clearly and vividly for a
minute, and then to have them withdrawn through some conspiracy of
external events. "I didn't ask much," she thought, "only to see him once
more--only the chance to let him see that I can still hold my head high
and meet the future with courage." In an instant she felt that the utter
futility and emptiness of the summer, of every day that she had passed
since she left Briarlay, enveloped and smothered her with the thickness
of ashes. "It is not fair," she cried, in rebellion, "I have had a hard
life. I asked so little. It is not fair."

Going over to the window, she put the cheap curtains aside, and looked
out into the street, as if searching the pavement for his vanishing
figure. Nothing there except emptiness! Nothing except the wind and
falling leaves and grey dust and the footsteps of a passer-by at the
corner. It was like her life, that long, deserted street, filled with
dead leaves and the restless sound of things that went by a little way
off.

For a minute the idea stayed with her. Then, raising her head, with a
smile, she looked up at the bare trees and the sombre sky over the
housetops. "Life cannot hurt you unless you let it," she repeated. "I
will not let it. I will conquer, if it kills me." And, so inexplicable
are the processes of the soul, the resolution arising in her thoughts
became interfused not only with her point of view, but with the bleak
external world at which she was looking. The will to fight endowed her
with the physical power of fighting; the thought created the fact; and
she knew that as long as she believed herself to be unconquered, she was
unconquerable. The moment of weakness had served its purpose--for the
reaction had taught her that destiny lies within, not without; that the
raw material of existence does not differ; and that our individual lives
depend, not upon things as they are in themselves, but upon the thought
with which we have modified or enriched them. "I will not be a coward. I
will not let the world cheat me of happiness," she resolved; and the
next instant, as she lowered her eyes from the sky, she saw David
Blackburn looking up at her from the gate.

For a moment she felt that life stopped in its courses, and then began
again, joyously, exuberantly, drenched with colour and sweetness. She
had asked so little. She had asked only to see him again--only the
chance to show him that she could be brave--and he stood here at the
gate! He was still her friend, that was enough. It was enough to have
him stand there and look up at her with his grave, questioning eyes.

Turning quickly away from the window, she ran out of the house and down
the brick walk to the gate.

"I thought I had missed you," she said, her eyes shining with
happiness.

"It is my last day in Richmond. I wanted to say good-bye." He had
touched her hand with the briefest greeting; but in his face she read
his gladness at seeing her; and she felt suddenly that everything had
been made right, that he would understand without words, that there was
nothing she could add to the joy of the meeting. It was friendship, not
love, she knew; and yet, at the moment, friendship was all that she
asked--friendship satisfied her heart, and filled the universe with a
miraculous beauty. After the torment of the last six months, peace had
descended upon her abundantly, ineffably, out of the heavens. All the
longing to explain faded now into the knowledge that explanation was
futile, and when she spoke again it was to say none of the things with
which she had burdened her mind.

"How is Letty?" she asked, "I think of her so often."

"She is very well, but she misses you. Will you walk a little way? We
can talk better in the street."

"Yes, the house will soon be full of boarders." Weariness had left her.
She felt strong, gay, instinct with energy. As she moved up the deserted
street, through the autumn dust, laughter rippled on her lips, and the
old buoyant grace flowed in her walk. It was only friendship, she told
herself, and yet she asked nothing more. She had been born again; she
had come to life in a moment.

And everything at which she looked appeared to have come to life also.
The heavy clouds; the long, ugly street, with the monotonous footsteps
of the few passers-by; the wind blowing the dried leaves in swirls and
eddies over the brick pavement; the smell of autumn which lingered in
the air and the dust--all these things seemed not dead, but as living
as spring. The inner radiance had streamed forth to brighten the outward
greyness; the April bloom of her spirit was spreading over the earth.

"This is my hour," her heart told her. "Out of the whole of life I have
this single short hour of happiness. I must pour into it everything that
is mine, every memory of joy I shall ever have in the future. I must
make it so perfect that it will shed a glow over all the drab years
ahead. It is only friendship. He has never thought of me except as a
friend--but I must make the memory of friendship more beautiful than the
memory of love."

He looked at her in the twilight, and she felt that peace enveloped her
with his glance.

"Tell me about yourself," he said gently. "What has life done to you?"

"Everything, and nothing." Her voice was light and cheerful. "I have
worked hard all summer, and I am hoping to go to France if the war
lasts----"

"All of us hope that. It is amazing the way the war has gripped us to
the soul. Everything else becomes meaningless. The hold it has taken on
me is so strong that I feel as if I were there already in part, as if
only the shell of my body were left over here out of danger." He paused
and looked at her closely. "I can talk to you of the things I
think--impersonal things. The rest you must understand--you will
understand?"

Her heart rose on wings like a bird. "Talk to me of anything," she
answered, "I shall understand."

"No one, except my mother, has ever understood so completely. I shall
always, whatever happens, look back on our talks at Briarlay as the
most helpful, the most beautiful of my life."

Her glance was veiled with joy as she smiled up at him. This was more
than she had ever demanded even in dreams. It was the bread of life in
abundance, and she felt that she could live on it through all the barren
years of the future. To have the best in her recognized, to be judged,
not by a momentary impulse, but by a permanent ideal--this was what she
had craved, and this was accorded her.

"For the time I can see nothing but the war," he was saying in a changed
voice. "The ground has been cut from under my feet. I am groping through
a ruined world toward some kind of light, some kind of certainty. The
things I believed in have failed me--and even the things I thought have
undergone modifications. I can find but one steadfast resolve in the
midst of this fog of disappointment, and that is to help fight this war
to a finish. My personal life has become of no consequence. It has been
absorbed into the national will, I suppose. It has become a part of
America's determination to win the war, let it cost what it may."

The old light of vision and prophecy had come back to his face while she
watched it; and she realized, with a rush of mental sympathy, that his
ideas were still dynamic--that they possessed the vital energy of
creative and constructive forces.

"Talk to me of your work--your life," she said, and she thought
exultantly, "If I cannot hold him back, I can follow him. I, too, can
build my home on ideas."

"You know what I have always felt about my country," he said slowly.
"You know that I have always hoped to be of some lasting service in
building a better State. As a boy I used to dream of it, and in later
years, in spite of disappointments--of almost unbearable disappointments
and failures--the dream has come back more vividly. For a time I
believed that I could work here, as well as away, for the future of
America--for the genuine democracy that is founded not on force, but on
freedom. For a little while this seemed to me to be possible. Then I was
pushed back again from the ranks of the fighters--I became again merely
a spectator of life--until the war called me to action. As long as the
war lasts it will hold me. When that is over there will be fresh fields
and newer problems, and I may be useful."

"It is constructive work, not fighting now, isn't it?"

"It is the machinery of war--but, after all, what does it matter if it
only helps to win?"

"And afterwards? When it is over?"

His eyes grew very gentle. "If I could only see into the future! Words
may come to me some day, and I may answer you--but not now--not yet. I
know nothing to-day except that there is work for my hand, and I must do
it. Trust me for the rest. You do trust me?"

There was a glory in her face as she answered, "To do right always.
Until death--and beyond."

"If we have trust, we have everything," he said, and a note of sadness
had crept into his voice. "Life has taught me that without it the rest
is only ashes."

"I am glad for your sake that you can go," she replied. "It would be
harder here."

The man's part was his, and though she would not have had it otherwise,
she understood that the man's part would be the easier. He would go
away; he would do his work; his life would be crowded to the brim with
incident, with practical interests; and, though she could trust him not
to forget, she knew that he would not remember as she remembered in the
place where she had known him.

"The work will be worth doing," he answered, "even if the record is soon
lost. It will mean little in the way of ambition, but I think that
ambition scarcely counts with me now. What I am seeking is an
opportunity for impersonal service--a wider field in which to burn up my
energy." His voice softened, and she felt, for the first time, that he
was talking impersonally because he was afraid of the danger that lay in
the silence and the twilight--that he was speaking in casual phrases
because the real thought, the true words, were unutterable. She was sure
now, she was confident; and the knowledge gave her strength to look with
clear eyes on the parting--and afterwards----

He began to talk of his work, while they turned and walked slowly back
to the boarding-house.

"I will write to you," he said, "but remember I shall write only of what
I think. I shall write the kind of letters that I should write to a
man."

"It all interests me," she answered. "Your thought is a part of you--it
is yourself."

"It is the only self I dare follow for the present, and even that
changes day by day. I see so many things now, if not differently--well,
at least in an altered perspective. It is like travelling on a dark
road, as soon as one danger is past, others spring up out of the
obscurity. The war has cast a new light on every belief, on every
conviction that I thought I possessed. The values of life are changing
hourly--they are in a process of readjustment. Facts that appeared so
steadfast, so clear, to my vision a year ago, are now out of focus. I go
on, for I always sought truth, not consistency, but I go on blindly. I
am trying to feel the road since I cannot see it. I am searching the
distance for some glimmer of dawn--for some light I can travel by. I
know, of course, that our first task is winning the war, that until the
war is won there can be no security for ideas or mankind, that unless
the war is won, there can be no freedom for either individual or
national development."

As they reached the gate, he broke off, and held out his hand. "But I
meant to write you all this. It is the only thing I can write you. You
will see Letty sometimes?"

"Whenever I can. Mrs. Timberlake will bring her to see me."

"And you will think of yourself? You will keep well?"

He held her hand; her eyes were on his; and though she heard his
questions and her answers, she felt that both questions and answers were
as trivial as the autumn dust at her feet. What mattered was the look in
his eyes, which was like a cord drawing her spirit nearer and nearer.
She knew now that he loved her; but she knew it through some finer and
purer medium of perception than either speech or touch. If he had said
nothing in their walk together, if he had parted from her in silence,
she would have understood as perfectly as she understood now. In that
moment, while her hand was in his and her radiant look on his face, the
pain and tragedy of the last months, the doubt, the humiliation, the
haunting perplexity and suspense, the self-distrust and the bitterer
distrust of life--all these things, which had so tormented her heart,
were swept away by a tide of serene and ineffable peace. She was not
conscious of joy. The confidence that pervaded her spirit was as far
above joy as it was above pain or distress. What she felt with the
profoundest conviction was that she could never really be unhappy again
in the future--that she had had all of life in a moment, and that she
could face whatever came with patience and fortitude.

"Stand fast, little friend," he said, "and trust me." Then, without
waiting for her reply, he turned from her and walked away through the
twilight.



CHAPTER X

THE LIGHT ON THE ROAD


When Caroline entered the house, the sound of clinking plates and
rattling knives told her that the boarders had already assembled at
supper; and it surprised her to discover that she was hungry for the
first time in months. Happiness had made everything different, even her
appetite for the commonplace fare Mrs. Dandridge provided. It was just
as if an intense physical pain had suddenly ceased to throb, and the
relief exhilarated her nerves, and made her eager for the ordinary
details which had been so irksome a few hours before. Life was no longer
distorted and abnormal. Her pride and courage had come back to her; and
she understood at last that it was not the unfulfilment of love, but the
doubt of its reality, that had poisoned her thoughts. Since she knew
that it was real, she could bear any absence, any pain. The knowledge
that genuine love had been hers for an hour, that she had not been
cheated out of her heritage, that she had not given gold for sand, as
she had done as a girl--the knowledge of these things was the chain of
light that would bind together all the dull years before her. Already,
though her pulses were still beating rapturously, she found that the
personal values were gradually assuming their right position and
importance in her outlook. There were greater matters, there were more
significant facts in the world to-day than her own particular joy or
sorrow. She must meet life, and she must meet it with serenity and
fortitude. She must help where the immediate need was, without thought
of the sacrifice, without thought even of her own suffering. How often
in the past eight years had she told herself, "Love is the greatest good
in the world, but it is not the only good. There are lives filled to
overflowing in which love has no place." Now she realized that her love
must be kept like some jewel in a secret casket, which was always there,
always hidden and guarded, yet seldom brought out into the daylight and
opened. "I must think of it only for a few minutes of the day," she
said, "only when I am off duty, and it will not interfere with my work."
And she resolved that she would keep this pledge with all the strength
of her will. She would live life whole, not in parts.

Without taking off her hat, she went into the dining-room, and tried to
slip unnoticed into her chair at a small table in one corner. The other
seats were already occupied, and a pretty, vivacious girl she had known
at the hospital, looked up and remarked, "You look so well, Miss Meade.
Have you been for a walk?"

"Yes, I've been for a walk. That is why I am late."

Down the centre of the room, beneath the flickering gas chandelier and
the fly-specked ceiling, there was a long, narrow table, and at the head
of it, Mrs. Dandridge presided with an air as royal as if she were
gracing a banquet. She was a stately, white-haired woman, who had once
been beautiful and was still impressive--for adversity, which had
reduced her circumstances and destroyed her comfort, had failed to
penetrate the majestic armour of her manner. In the midst of drudgery
and turmoil and disaster, she had preserved her mental poise as some
persons are able to preserve their equilibrium in a rocking boat.
Nothing disturbed her; she was as superior to accidents as she was to
inefficiency or incompetence. Her meals were never served at the hour;
the food was badly cooked; the table was seldom tidy; and yet her house
was always crowded, and there was an unimpeachable tradition that she
had never received a complaint from a boarder.

As she sat now at the head of her unappetizing table, eating her
lukewarm potato soup as if it were terrapin, she appeared gracious,
charming, supported by the romantic legends of her beauty and her
aristocratic descent. If life had defeated her, it was one of those
defeats which the philosopher has pronounced more triumphant than
victories.

"I spent the afternoon at the Red Cross rooms," she remarked, regal,
serene, and impoverished. "That is why supper was a little late
to-night. Since I can give nothing else, I feel that it is my duty to
give my time. I even ask myself sometimes if I have a moral right to
anything we can send over to France?"

Inadvertently, or through some instinct of tact which was either divine
or diabolical, she had touched a responsive cord in the heart of every
man or woman at the table. There was no motive beyond impulsive sympathy
in the words, for she was as incapable of deliberate design as she was
of systematic economy; but her natural kindliness appeared to serve her
now more effectively than any Machiavellian subtlety could have done.
The discontented and dejected look vanished from the faces about her;
the distinguished widow, with two sons in the army, stopped frowning at
the potato soup; the hungry but polite young man, who travelled for a
clothing house, put down the war bread he was in the act of passing; and
the studious-looking teacher across the table lost the critical air with
which she had been regarding the coloured waitress. As Caroline watched
the change, she asked herself if the war, which was only a phrase to
these people a few months ago, had become at last a reality? "We are in
it now, body and soul," she thought, "we are in it just as France and
England have been in it from the beginning. It is our war as much as
theirs because it has touched our hearts. It has done what nothing has
been able to do before--it has made us one people."

Into these different faces at Mrs. Dandridge's table, a single idea had
passed suddenly, vitalizing and ennobling both the bright and the dull
features--the idea of willing sacrifice. Something greater than selfish
needs or desires had swept them out of themselves on a wave of moral
passion that, for the moment, exalted them like a religious conversion.
What had happened, Caroline knew, was that the patriotism in one of the
most patriotic nations on earth had been stirred to the depths.

The talk she heard was the kind that was going on everywhere. She had
listened to it day after day, as it echoed and re-echoed from the
boarding-houses, the hospitals, and the streets--and through the long,
bitter months, when coal was scarce and heatless and meatless days kept
the blood down, she was aware of it, as of a persistent undercurrent of
cheerful noise. There were no complaints, but there were many jests, and
the characteristic Virginian habit of meeting a difficult situation with
a joke, covered the fuel administration with ridicule. For weeks ice lay
on the pavements, a famine in coal threatened; and as the winter went
by, bread, instead of growing better, became steadily worse. But, after
all, people said, these discomforts and denials were so small compared
to the colossal sacrifices of Europe. Things were done badly, but what
really counted was that they were done. Beneath the waste and
extravagance and incompetence, a tremendous spirit was moving; and out
of the general aspect of bureaucratic shiftlessness, America was
gathering her strength. In the future, as inevitably as history develops
from a fact into a fable, the waste would be exalted into liberality,
the shiftlessness into efficiency. For it is the law of our life that
the means pass, and the end remains, that the act decays, but the spirit
has immortality.

For the next six months, when the calls were many and nurses were few,
Caroline kept her jewel in the secret casket. She did not think of
herself, because to think of herself was the beginning of weakness, and
she had resolved long ago to be strong. When all was said, the final
result of her life depended simply on whether she overcame obstacles or
succumbed to them. It was not the event, she knew, that coloured one's
mental atmosphere; it was the point of view from which one approached
it. "It is just as easy to grow narrow and bitter over an unfulfilled
love as it is to be happy and cheerful," she thought, "and whether it is
easy or not, I am not going to let myself grow narrow and bitter. Of
course, I might have had more, but, then, I might have had so much
less--I might not have had that one hour--or his friendship. I am going
to be thankful that I have had so much, and I am going to stop thinking
about it at all. I may feel all I want to deep down in my soul, but I
must stop thinking. When the whole country is giving up something, I
can at least give up selfish regret."

The winter passed, filled with work, and not unhappily, for time that is
filled with work is seldom unhappy. From Blackburn she had heard
nothing, though in April a paragraph in the newspaper told her that
Angelica was about to sue for a divorce in some Western state; and Daisy
Colfax, whom she met one day in the waiting-room of the hospital,
breezily confirmed the vague announcement.

"There really wasn't anything else that she could do, you know. We were
all expecting it. Poor Angelica, she must have had to overcome all her
feelings before she could make up her mind to take a step that was so
public. Her delicacy is the most beautiful thing about her--except, as
Robert always insists, the wonderful way she has of bringing out the
best in people."

As the irony of this was obviously unconscious, Caroline responded
merely with a smile; but that same afternoon, when Mrs. Timberlake paid
one of her rare visits, she repeated Daisy's remark.

"Do you suppose she really believes what she says?"

"Of course she doesn't. Things don't stop long enough in her mind to get
either believed or disbelieved. They just sift straight through without
her knowing that they are there."

They were in the ugly little green-papered room at the hospital, and
Caroline was holding Letty tight in her arms, while she interpolated
cryptic phrases into the animated talk.

"Oh, Miss Meade, if you would only come back! Do you think you will come
back when mother and father get home again? I wrote to father the other
day, but I had to write in pencil, and I'm so afraid it will all fade
out when it goes over the ocean. Will it get wet, do you think?"

"I am sure it won't, dear, and he will be so glad to hear from you. What
did you tell him?"

"I told him how cold it was last winter, and that I couldn't write
before because doing all the doctor told me took up every single minute,
and I had had to leave off my lessons, and that the new nurse made them
very dull, anyhow. Then I said that I wanted you to come back, and that
I hadn't been nearly so strong since you went away."

She was looking pale, and after a few moments, Caroline sent her, with a
pot of flowers, into an adjoining room.

"I don't like Letty's colour," she said anxiously to the housekeeper, in
the child's absence.

"She is looking very badly. It is the hard winter, I reckon, but I am
not a bit easy about her. She hasn't picked up after the last cold, and
we don't seem able to keep her interested. Children are so easily bored
when they are kept indoors, and Letty more easily than most, for she has
such a quick mind. I declare I never lived through such a winter--at
least not since I was a child in the Civil War, and of course that was a
thousand times worse. But we couldn't keep Briarlay warm, even the few
rooms that we lived in. It was just like being in prison--and a cold one
at that! I can't help wishing that David would come home, for I feel all
the time as if anything might happen. I reckon the winter put my nerves
on edge; but the war seems to drag on so slowly, and everybody has begun
to talk in such a pessimistic way. It may sound un-Christian, but I
sometimes feel as if I could hardly keep my hands off the Germans. I get
so impatient of the way things are going, I'd like to get over in
France, and kill a few of them myself. It does look, somehow, as if the
Lord had forgotten that vengeance belongs to Him."

"Doctor Boland told me yesterday that he thought it would last at least
five years longer."

"Then it will outlast us, that's all I've got to say." She cleared her
throat, and added with tart irrelevancy, "I had a letter from Angelica a
few weeks ago."

"Is it true? What the paper said?"

"There wasn't a word about it in the letter. She wrote because she
wanted me to send her some summer clothes she had left here, and then
she asked me to let her know about Letty. She said she had been operated
on in Chicago a month ago, and that she was just out of the hospital,
and feeling like the wreck of herself. Everybody told her, she added,
how badly she looked, and the letter sounded as if she were very much
depressed and out of sorts."

"Do you think she may really have cared for Mr. Wythe?"

Mrs. Timberlake shook her head. "It wasn't that, my dear. She just
couldn't bear to think of Mary's having more than she had. If she had
ever liked David, it might have been easier for her to stand it, but she
never liked him even when she married him; and though a marriage may
sometimes manage very well without love, I've yet to see one that could
get along without liking."

She rose as Letty came back from her errand, and a minute or two later,
Caroline tucked the child in the car, and stood watching while it
started for Briarlay.

The air was mild and fragrant, for after the hard, cold winter, spring
had returned with a profusion of flowers. In the earth, on the trees,
and in the hearts of men and women, April was bringing warmth, hope, and
a restoration of life. The will to be, to live, and to struggle, was
released, with the flowing sap, from the long imprisonment of winter. In
the city yards the very grass appeared to shoot up joyously into the
light, and the scent of hyacinths was like the perfume of happiness. The
afternoon was as soft as a day in summer, and this softness was
reflected in the faces of the people who walked slowly, filled with an
unknown hope, through the warm sunshine.

"Love is the greatest good in the world, but it is not the only good,"
repeated Caroline, wondering who had first said the words.

It was then, as she turned back to enter the hospital, that the postman
put some letters into her hand, and looking down, she saw that one was
from Blackburn.



CHAPTER XI

THE LETTER


For the rest of the afternoon she carried the letter hidden in her
uniform, where, from time to time, she could pause in her task, and put
her hand reassuringly on the edge of the envelope. Not until evening,
when she had left her patient and was back in her room, did she unfold
the pages, and begin slowly to read what he had written. The first
sentences, as she had expected, were stiff and constrained--she had
known that until he could speak freely he would speak no word of love to
her--but, as soon as he had passed from the note of feeling to the
discussion of impersonal issues, he wrote as earnestly and spontaneously
as he had talked to Sloane on that October afternoon at Briarlay.
Another woman, she realized, might have been disappointed; but the
ironic past had taught her that emotion, far from being the only bond
with a man like Blackburn, was perhaps the least enduring of the ties
that held them together. His love, if it ever came to her, would be the
flower, not of transient passion, but of the profound intellectual
sympathy which had first drawn their minds, not their hearts, to each
other. Both had passed through the earlier fires of racial impulse; both
had been scorched, not warmed by the flames; and both had learned that
the only permanent love is the love that is rooted as deeply in thought
as in desire.

       *       *       *       *       *

      In France.

MY DEAR CAROLINE:

I have tried to write to you many times, but always something has held
me back--some obscure feeling that words would not help things or make
them easier, and that your friendship could be trusted to understand all
that I was obliged to leave to the silence. You will see how badly I
have put this, even though I have rewritten the beginning of this letter
several times. But it is just as if I were mentally tongue-tied. I can
think of nothing to say that it does not seem better to leave unsaid.
Then I remembered that when we parted I told you I should write of what
I thought, not of what I felt, and this makes it simpler. When I relax
my mental grip, the drift of things whirls like a snow-storm across my
mind, and I grow confused and bewildered----

In the last year I have thought a great deal about the questions before
us. I have tried to look at them from a distance and on the outside, as
well as from a closer point of view. I have done my best to winnow my
convictions from the ephemeral chaff of opinions; and though I am
groping still, I am beginning to see more clearly the road we must
travel, if we are ever to come out of the jungle of speculation into the
open field of political certainty. Behind us--behind America, for it is
of my own country that I am thinking--the way is strewn with experiments
that have met failure, with the bones of political adventurers who have
died tilting at the windmill of opportunity. For myself, I see now that,
though some of my theories have survived, many of them have been
modified or annulled by the war. Two years ago you heard me tell Sloane
that our most urgent need was of unity--the obliteration of sectional
lines. I still feel this need, but I feel it now as a necessary part of
a far greater unity, of the obliteration of world boundaries of
understanding and sympathy. This brings us to the vital question before
us as a people--the development of the individual citizen within the
democracy, of the national life within the international. Here is the
problem that America must solve for the nations, for only America, with
her larger views and opportunities, can solve it. For the next
generation or two this will be our work, and our chance of lasting
service. Our Republic must stand as the great example of the future, as
the morning star that heralds the coming of a new day. It is the cause
for which our young men have died. With their lives they have secured
our democracy, and the only reward that is worthy of them is a social
order as fair as their loyalty and their sacrifice.

And so we approach our great problem--individuality within democracy,
the national order within the world order. Already the sectional lines,
which once constituted an almost insurmountable obstacle, have been
partly dissolved in the common service and sacrifice. Already America is
changing from a mass of divergent groups, from a gathering of alien
races, into a single people, one and indivisible in form and spirit. The
war has forged us into a positive entity, and this entity we must
preserve as far as may be compatible with the development of individual
purpose and character. Here, I confess, lies the danger; here is the
political precipice over which the governments of the past have almost
inevitably plunged to destruction. And it is just here, I see now, in
the weakest spot of the body politic, that the South, and the
individualism of the South, may become, not a national incubus, but the
salvation of our Republic. The spirit that fought to the death fifty
years ago for the sovereignty of the States, may act to-day as a needed
check upon the opposing principle of centralization in government, the
abnormal growth of Federal power; and in the end may become, like the
stone which the builders rejected, the very head of the corner. As I
look forward to-day, the great hope for America appears to be the
interfusion of the Northern belief in solidarity with the ardent
Southern faith in personal independence and responsibility. In this
blending of ideals alone, I see the larger spirit that may redeem
nationality from despotism.

I am writing as the thoughts rush through my mind, with no effort to
clarify or co-ordinate my ideas. From childhood my country has been both
an ideal and a passion with me; and at this hour, when it is facing new
dangers, new temptations, and new occasions for sacrifice, I feel that
it is the duty of every man who is born with the love of a soil in his
heart and brain, to cast his will and his vision into the general plan
of the future. To see America avoid alike the pitfall of arbitrary power
and the morass of visionary socialism; to see her lead the nations, not
in the path of selfish conquest, but, with sanity and prudence, toward
the promised land of justice and liberty--this is a dream worth living
for, and worth dying for, God knows, if the need should ever arise.

The form of government which will yield us this ideal union of
individualism with nationalism, I confess, lies still uninvented or
undiscovered. Autocracies have failed, and democracies have been merely
uncompleted experiments. The republics of the past have served mainly as
stepping-stones to firmer autocracies or oligarchies. Socialism as a
state of mind, as a rule of conduct, as an expression of pity for the
disinherited of the earth--Socialism as the embodiment of the humane
idea, is wholly admirable. So far as it is an attempt to establish the
reign of moral ideas, to apply to the community the command of Christ,
'Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do
ye even so to them;' so far as it expresses the obscure longing in the
human heart for justice and right in the relations of mankind--so far as
it embodies the instincts of compassion and sympathy, it must win the
approval of every man who has looked deeply into human affairs. The evil
of Socialism lies not in these things; nor does it rest in the
impracticability of its theory--in the generous injustice of "robbing
the rich to pay the poor." The evil of it consists in the fact that it
would lend itself in practice even more readily than democracy, to the
formation of that outer crust of officialism which destroys the blood
and fibre of a nation. Socialism obeying the law of Christ might be a
perfect system--but, then, so would despotism, or democracy, or any
other form of government man has invented.

But all theories, however exalted, must filter down, in application,
through the brackish stream of average human nature. The State cannot
rest upon a theory, any more than it can derive its true life from the
empty husks of authority. The Republic of man, like the Kingdom of God,
is within, or it is nowhere.

To-day, alone among the nations, the American Republic stands as the
solitary example of a State that came into being, not through the
predatory impulse of mankind, but, like its Constitution, as an act of
intellectual creation. In this sense alone it did not grow, it was made;
in this sense it was founded, not upon force, but upon moral ideas, upon
everlasting and unchanging principles. It sprang to life in the sunrise
of liberty, with its gaze on the future--on the long day of promise. It
is the heir of all the ages of political experiment; and yet from the
past, it has learned little except the things that it must avoid.

There was never a people that began so gloriously, that started with
such high hearts and clear eyes toward an ideal social contract. Since
then we have wandered far into the desert. We have followed mirage after
mirage. We have listened to the voice of the false prophet and the
demagogue. Yet our Republic is still firm, embedded, as in a rock, in
the moral sense of its citizens. For a democracy, my reason tells me,
there can be no other basis. When the State seeks other authority than
the conscience of its citizens, it ceases to be a democracy, and becomes
either an oligarchy or a bureaucracy. Then the empty forms of hereditary
right, or established officialdom, usurp the sovereignty of moral ideas,
and the State decays gradually because the reservoir of its life has run
dry.

For our Republic, standing as it does between hidden precipices, the
immediate future is full of darkness. We have shown the giant's
strength, and we must resist the temptation to use it like a giant. When
the war is won, we shall face the vital and imminent danger, the danger
that is not material, but spiritual--for what shall it profit a nation,
if it shall gain the whole world, and lose its own soul? In a time of
danger arbitrary power wears always a benevolent aspect; and since man
first went of his own will into bondage, there has never been absolutism
on earth that has not masqueraded in the doctrine of divine
origin--whether it be by the custom of kingship, or by the voice of the
people. War, which is an abnormal growth on the commonwealth, may
require abnormal treatment; but history shows that it is easier to
surrender rights in war than it is to recover them in peace, and a
temporary good has too often developed into a permanent evil. The
freedom of the seas will be a poor substitute for the inalienable rights
of the individual American. A League of Nations cannot insure these; it
is doubtful even if it can insure peace on earth and good will toward
men. Men can hate as bitterly and fight as fiercely within a league as
outside of one.

We shall go forth, when victory is won, to enlighten the world with
liberty and with far-seeing statesmanship; but just as the far-sighted
physical vision perceives distant objects more clearly than near ones,
there is, also, a world vision of duty which overlooks immediate
obligations while it discerns universal responsibilities. In this mental
view the present is invariably sacrificed to the future, the personal
rights to the general security. Yet to the more normal faculty of
vision, it would appear that the perfect whole must result from the
perfect parts; and that only by preserving our individual liberties can
we make a League of Free Nations. International treaties are important,
but national morality is vital--for the treaty that is not confirmed by
the national honour is only a document.

And now, after a year's thinking, I have come back to the conviction
from which I started--that the only substantial groundwork of a republic
is the conscience of its citizens. The future of our democracy rests not
in the Halls of Congress, but in the cradle; and to build for
permanency, we must build, not on theory, but on personal rectitude. We
hear a great deal said now, and said unthinkingly, about the personal
values not counting in a war that is fought for world freedom. Yet there
was never an age, and I say this with certainty, in which personality
was of such supreme significance as it is to-day. For this, after all,
is the end to which my thinking has brought me--nationalism is nothing,
internationalism is nothing, unless it is an expression of individual
aspirations and ideals--for the end of both nationalism and
internationalism is the ultimate return to racial character. Cultivate
the personal will to righteousness, teach the citizen that he is the
State, and the general good may take care of itself.

And so our first duty appears to be, not national expansion, but the
development of moral fibre. Before we teach other nations to stand
alone, we must learn to walk straight; before we sow the seeds of the
future, we must prepare our own ground for planting. National greatness
is a flower that has often flourished over a sewer of class oppression
and official corruption; and the past teaches us that republics, as well
as autocracies, may be founded on slavery and buttressed by
inequalities. As I look ahead now, I see that we may win freedom for
smaller nations, and yet lose our own liberties to a Federal power that
is supported by a civilian army of office-holders. For power is never
more relentless in exercise than when it has transformed the oppressed
of yesterday into the oppressors of to-day; and it is well to remember
that democracy means not merely the tyranny of the many instead of the
few; it means equal obligations and responsibilities as well as equal
rights and opportunities. If we have failed to reach this ideal, it has
been because the individual American has grasped at opportunity while
he evaded responsibility; and the remedy for the failure lies not in a
change of institutions, but in a change of heart. We must realize that
America is a faith as well as a fact--that it is, for many, a divine
hypothesis. We must realize that it means the forward-looking spirit,
the fearless attitude of mind, the belief in the future, the romantic
optimism of youth, the will to dare and the nerve to achieve the
improbable. This is America, and this is our best and greatest gift to
the world--and to the League of Free Nations.

With the end of the war the danger will be threatening; and we must meet
it as we met the feebler menace of Prussian militarism--but we must meet
it and conquer it with intangible weapons. No nation has ever fought for
a greater cause; no nation has ever fought more unselfishly; and no
nation has ever drawn its sword in so idealistic a spirit. We have
entered this war while our hearts were full, while the high and solemn
mood was upon us. If we keep to this mood, if we seek in victory the
immaterial, not the material advantage, if our only reward is the
opportunity for world service, and our only conquered territory the
provinces of the free spirit--if we keep fast to this ideal, and embody
its meaning in our national life and actions, then we may save the
smaller nations because we have first saved our Republic. For, if it is
a day of peril, it is also a day of glory. The seal of blood is upon us,
but it is the prophetic mark of the future, and it has sealed us for the
union of justice with liberty. We have given our dead as a pledge of the
greater America--the America of invisible boundaries. There is but one
monument that we can build in remembrance, and that monument is a nobler
Republic. If we lose the inspiration of the ideal, if we turn aside from
the steady light of democracy to pursue the _ignis fatuus_ of
imperialistic enterprise or aggression, then our dead will have died in
vain, and we shall leave our building unfinished. For those who build on
the dead must build for immortality. Physical boundaries cannot contain
them; but in the soul of the people, if we make room for them, they will
live on forever, and in the spirit we may still have part and place with
them.

And because the collective soul of the race is only the sum total of
individual souls, I can discern no way to true national greatness except
through the cultivation of citizenship. Experience has proved that there
can be no stability either of law or league unless it is sustained by
the moral necessity of mankind; and, for this reason, I feel that our
first international agreement should be the agreement on a world
standard of honour--on a rule of ethical principles in public as well as
in private relations. I confess that a paternalism that enfeebles the
character appears to me scarcely less destructive than a license that
intoxicates. Between the two lies the golden mean of power with charity,
of enlightened individualism, of Christian principles, not applied on
the surface, but embodied in the very structure of civilization. Though
I am not a religious man in the orthodox meaning, the last year has
taught me that the world's hope lies not in treaties, but in the law of
Christ that ye love one another.

This splendid dream of the perfectibility of human nature may not have
led us very far in the past, but at least it has never once led us
wrong. There are ideas that flash by like comets, bearing a trail of
light; and such an idea is that of world peace and brotherhood. Only
those whose eyes are on the heavens behold it; yet these few may become
the great adventurers of the spirit, the prophets and seers of the new
age for mankind. There has never been a great invention that did not
begin as a dream, just as there has never been a great truth that did
not begin as a heresy. And, if we look back over history, we find that
the sublime moments with men and with nations, are those in which they
break free from the anchorage of the past, and set sail toward the
unknown seas, on a new spiritual voyage of discovery.

It is thus that I would see America, not as schoolmistress or common
scold to the nations, but as chosen leader by example, rather than by
authority. I would see her, when this crisis is safely past, keeping
still to her onward vision, and her high and solemn mood of service and
sacrifice; and it is in the spirit of humility, not of pride, that I
would have her stretch the hand of friendship alike to the great and the
little peoples. She has had no wiser leaders than the Founders of this
Republic, and I would see her return, as far as she can return, to the
lonely freedom in which they left her. I would see her enter no world
covenant except one that is sustained not by physical force, but by the
moral law; and I would, above all, see her follow her own great destiny
with free hands and unbandaged eyes. For her true mission is not that of
universal pedagogue--her true mission is to prove to the incredulous
Powers the reality of her own political ideals--to make Democracy, not a
sublime postulate, but a self-evident truth.

I have written as words came to me, knowing that I could write to you
freely and frankly, as I could to no one else, of the life of the mind.
Your friendship I can trust always, in any circumstances; and it is only
by thinking impersonally that I can escape the tyranny of personal
things. I have not written of my surroundings over here, because I could
tell you only what you have read in hundreds of letters--in hundreds of
magazines. It is all alike. One and all, we see the same sights. War is
not the fine and splendid thing some of us at home believe it to be.
There is dirt and cruelty and injustice in France, as well as glory and
heroism. I have seen the good and the evil of the battlefields, just as
I have seen the good and the evil of peace, and I have learned that the
romance of war depends as much upon the thickness of the atmosphere as
upon the square miles of the distance. It is pretty prosaic at close
range; yet at the very worst of it, I have seen flashes of an almost
inconceivable beauty. For it brings one up against the reality, and the
reality is not matter, but spirit.

I am trying to do the best work of my life, and I am doing it just for
my country.

God bless you.

      DAVID BLACKBURN.



CHAPTER XII

THE VISION


At the end of June, Caroline learned from the papers that Blackburn had
returned to Briarlay; and the same day she heard through Daisy Colfax
that Alan Wythe had been killed in France.

"I feel so sorry for poor Angelica," said the young woman mournfully.
"They were always such devoted friends. But, of course, it is splendid
to think that he was a hero, and I know that is the way Angelica will
look at it."

At the moment, though Caroline had liked Alan, the thing that impressed
her most was the way in which the whole world shared in the conspiracy
to protect Angelica from the consequences of her own acts. Evidently no
hint of scandal had ever touched her friendship for Alan.

"I am sorry," said Caroline, "I always liked him."

"Oh, everybody did! You know that Mr. Blackburn has come home?"

"Yes, I saw it in the paper."

"And Cousin Matty tells me that you are going away to camp?"

"I have just had my call, and I am leaving next week. I hope it means
France very soon, but of course no one knows."

"Well, be sure to take a great deal more than they tell you to. I know a
nurse who said she almost froze the first winter. Do you really have to
wear woollen stockings? I should think they would make your flesh
creep."

She passed on, blooming and lovely, and Caroline, with her bundle of
woollen stockings under her arm, left the shop, and turned down a side
street on her way to Mrs. Dandridge's. She was glad of the call, and
yet--and yet--she had hoped deep down in her heart, a hope unspoken and
unacknowledged, that she should see David again before she left
Richmond. A moment would be enough--only it might be for the last time,
and she felt that she must see him. In the last two months she had
thought of him very little. Her work had engrossed her, and the hope of
going to France had exhilarated her like wine through all the long days
of drudgery. She had grown to expect so little of life that every
pleasure was magnified into a blessing, and she found, in looking back,
that an accumulation of agreeable incidents had provided her with a
measure of happiness. Underneath it all was the knowledge of Blackburn,
though love had come at last to take the place of a creed that one
believes in, but seldom remembers. Yet she still kept the jewel in the
casket, and it was only when she stopped now and then to reflect on her
life, that she realized how long it had lain in its secret corner where
the light of day never shone.

As she approached the boarding-house she saw a car by the sidewalk, and
a minute afterwards, Mrs. Timberlake turned away from the door, and came
down to the gate.

"Oh, Caroline, I was afraid I had missed you! Are you going very soon?"

"Not until next week." Did the housekeeper hear, she wondered, the wild
throbbing of her heart?

"I came to see if you could come out for the night? Letty has been
ailing for several days, and the doctor says she has a touch of fever.
Miss Bradley is ill in bed, and we can't get a nurse anywhere until
to-morrow. Of course Mammy Riah and I can manage, but David and I would
both feel so much easier if you would come."

"Of course, I'll come. I'll get my bag in a minute. It is already
packed." Without waiting for Mrs. Timberlake's reply, she ran into the
house, and came out with the suitcase in her hands. "Tell me about
Letty. Is her temperature high?"

"It has been all day, but you know how it is with children, as I told
David this morning. You heard that David was back?"

"I saw it in the paper."

"He came very unexpectedly. Of course he couldn't cable about the boat,
and the telegram he sent from New York didn't get to me until after he
was in the house. He is looking badly, but I am sure it isn't the work.
I believe other things have been worrying him."

The car had passed out of Grace Street, and was running in the direction
of Monument Avenue. As they went on, Caroline remembered the April
morning when she had come in this same car down the familiar street,
where flags were flying so gaily. It seemed a hundred years ago--not one
year, but a hundred! Life was the same, and yet not the same, since the
very heart of it was altered. The same sky shone, deeply blue, overhead;
the same sun illuminated the houses; the same flags were flying; the
same persons passed under the glittering green of the leaves. It was
all just as it had been on that April morning--and yet how different!

"I suppose he is anxious about Letty?" she said.

"Even before that I noticed how much he had changed. It was only when he
was telling me about Roane that he looked a bit like himself. My dear,
can you believe that Roane has really turned into a hero?"

"No, I cannot. It must have been a long turning." She was talking only
to make sound. How could it matter to her what Roane had turned into?

"He's been fighting with the French, and David says he's won every
decoration they have to give. He is doing splendid things, like saving
lives under fire, and once he even saved a Red Cross dog at the risk of
his life. David says it's the way he makes a jest of it that the French
like--as if he were doing it for amusement. That's like Roane Fitzhugh,
isn't it? What do you suppose David meant when he said that beneath it
all was a profound disillusionment?"

"I don't know, but I never denied that Roane had a sense of humour."

"You never liked him, and neither did David. He says now that Roane
isn't really any more of a hero than he always was, but that he has
found a background where his single virtue is more conspicuous than his
collective vices. I believe he is the only human being I ever knew David
to be unjust to."

Caroline laughed. "There are some virtues it is simply impossible to
believe in. Whenever I hear of Roane Fitzhugh--even when I hear things
like this--I always remember that he kissed me when he was drunk."

"He hasn't touched a drop since the war. David says he is getting all
the excitement he wants in other ways."

"And I suppose when the war is over he'll have to get it again from
drink." It didn't make any difference whether he was a hero or not, she
told herself, she should always feel that way about him. After all, he
was probably not the first hero who had given a woman good cause to
despise him.

"Oh, I hope not!" Unlike Caroline, the housekeeper had always had a
weakness for Roane, though she disapproved of his habits. But a good
man, she often said to herself in excuse, might have bad habits, just as
a bad man might have good ones. The Lord would have to find something
else to judge people by at the day of reckoning. "He is the only man
I've ever known who could see through Angelica," she concluded after a
pause.

"He began early. She always got everything he wanted when they were
children. I've heard him say so."

"Well, I wrote to him about her the other day. Did I tell you I'd heard
from Cousin Fanny Baylor, who has been with her in Chicago?"

"No, you didn't tell me. How long ago was it?"

"It couldn't have been more than three weeks. She wrote me that Angelica
was only the wreck of herself, and that the operation was really much
more serious than we had ever been told. The doctor said there was no
hope of any permanent cure, though she might linger on, as an invalid,
for a good many years."

"And does she know? Mrs. Blackburn, I mean?"

"They wouldn't tell her. Cousin Fanny said the doctors and nurses had
all been so careful to keep it from her, and that the surgeon who
operated said he could not strike hope out of Angelica's heart by
telling her. Angelica has shown the most beautiful spirit, she wrote,
and everybody in the hospital thought her perfectly lovely. She left
there some months ago, and, of course, she believed that she was going
to get well in time. It's funny, isn't it, that the doctor who is
attending her now should be so crazy about her? Cousin Fanny says he is
one of the most distinguished men in Chicago, but it sounds to me very
much as if he were the sort of fool that Alan Wythe was."

"Could the war have changed her? Perhaps she is different now since Alan
Wythe was killed?"

Mrs. Timberlake met this with a sound that was between a sniff and a
snort. "I expect it's only in books that war, or anything else, makes
people over in a minute like that. In real life women like Angelica
don't get converted, or if they do, it doesn't last overnight. You can't
raise a thunderstorm in a soap bubble. No, Angelica will go on until she
dies being exactly what she has always been, and people will go on until
she dies and afterwards, believing that she is different. I reckon it
would take more than a world war, it would take a universal cataclysm,
to change Angelica."

For a time they drove on in silence, and when the housekeeper spoke
again it was in a less positive tone. "It wouldn't surprise me if she
was sorry now that she ever left David."

Caroline started. "Do you mean she would want to come back?"

"It wouldn't surprise me," Mrs. Timberlake repeated firmly.

"Then she didn't get the divorce?"

"No, she didn't get it, and there wouldn't be any use in her beginning
all over again, now that Alan is dead. If she is really as ill as they
say, I reckon she'd be more comfortable at Briarlay--even if that doctor
out yonder is crazy about her."

"Well, she could find one here who would be just as crazy." There was an
accent of bitterness in Caroline's voice.

"Oh, yes, she wouldn't have to worry about that. The only thing that
would seem to stand in her way is David, and I don't know that she has
ever paid much attention to him."

"Not even as an obstacle. But how can she come back if he doesn't want
her?" It really appeared a problem to Caroline.

"Oh, she'll make him want her--or try to----"

"Do you think she can?"

Mrs. Timberlake pondered the question. "No, I don't believe that she
can, but she can make him feel sorry for her, and with David that would
be half the battle."

"That and Letty, I suppose."

"Yes, she has been writing to Letty very often, and her letters are so
sweet that the child has begun to ask when she is coming home. You know
how easily children forget?"

Caroline sighed under her breath. "Oh, I know--but, even then, how could
Mr. Blackburn?"

"He wouldn't forget. If he thought it was right, he would do it if it
killed him, but he would remember till his dying day. That's how David
is made. He is like a rock about his duty, and I sometimes think
feelings don't count with him at all."

"Yet he did love her once."

"Yes, he loved her once--and, of course," she amended suddenly,
reverting to the traditional formula, "Nobody believes that Angelica
ever did anything really wrong."

For the rest of the long drive they sat in silence; and it seemed to
Caroline, while the car turned into the lane and ran the last half mile
to the house, that time had stopped and she was back again in the
October afternoon when she had first come to Briarlay. It was no longer
a hundred years ago. In the midst of the June foliage--the soft green of
the leaves, the emerald green of the grass, the dark olive green of the
junipers--in the midst of the wonderful brightness and richness of
summer--she was enveloped, as if by a drifting fragrance, in the
atmosphere of that day in autumn. It came to life not as a memory, but
as a moment that existed, outside of time, in eternity. It was here,
around, within, and above her, a fact like any other fact; yet she
perceived it, not through her senses, but through an intuitive
recognition to which she could not give a name. Under the summer sky she
saw again the elm leaves falling slowly; she approached again the red
walls in the glimmer of sunset; and she felt again the divine certainty
that the house contained for her the whole measure of human experience.
Then the car stopped; the door opened; and the scene faded like the
vision of a clairvoyant. Imagination, nothing more! She had stepped from
the dream into the actuality, and out of the actuality she heard Mrs.
Timberlake's dry tones remarking that David had not come home from the
office.

"Let me go to Letty. I should like to see Letty at once," said
Caroline.

"Then run straight upstairs to the night nursery. I know she will be
almost out of her head with joy."

Moses had opened the front door, and as Caroline entered, she glanced
quickly about her, trying to discover if there had been any changes. But
the house was unaltered. It was like a greenhouse from which the rarest
blossom had been removed, leaving still a subtle and penetrating
perfume. All the profusion of detail, the dubious taste, the warmth of
colour, and the lavishness of decoration, were still there. From the
drawing-room she caught the sheen of pink silk, and she imagined for an
instant that Angelica's fair head drooped, like a golden lily, among the
surroundings she had chosen. There was a lack of discrimination, she saw
now even more plainly than on that first afternoon, but there was an
abundance of dramatic effect. One might imagine one's self in any
character--even the character of an angel--with a background like that!

As she drew near to the nursery door she heard Letty's voice exclaiming
excitedly, "There's Miss Meade, mammy, I hear Miss Meade coming!" Then
Mammy Riah opened the door, and the next minute the child was stretching
out her arms and crying with pleasure.

"I asked father to send for you," she said, "I told him you could make
me well faster than Miss Bradley." She appeared to Caroline to have
grown unnaturally tall and thin, like the picture of Alice in Wonderland
they used to laugh over together. Her face was curiously transparent and
"peaked," as Mrs. Timberlake had said, and the flush of fever could not
disguise the waxen look of the skin. In her straight little nightgown,
which was fastened close at the throat, and with the big blue bow on
the top of her smooth brown head, she looked so wistful and pathetic
that she brought a lump to Caroline's throat. Was it any wonder that
Blackburn was anxious when she gazed up at him like that?

"I want to hurry up and get well, Miss Meade," she began, "because it
makes father so unhappy when I am sick. It really hurts father
dreadfully."

"But you're getting well. There isn't much the matter, is there, mammy?"

"She'd be jes ez peart ez I is, ef'n Miss Matty 'ould quit pokin' physic
down 'er thoat. Dar ain' nuttin' else in de worl' de matter wid 'er.
Whut you reckon Miss Matty know about hit? Ain't she done been teckin'
physic day in en day out sence befo' de flood, en ain't she all
squinched up, en jes ez yaller ez a punkin, now?"

"I don't mind the medicine if it will make me well," said the child.

"And you take what the doctor gives you too?"

"Oh, yes, I take that too. Between them," she added with a sigh, "there
is a great deal to take."

"It is because you are growing so fast. You are a big girl now."

Letty laughed. "Father doesn't want me to get much taller. He doesn't
want me to be tall when I'm grown up--but I can't help it, if it keeps
up. Do you think I've grown any since the last time I measured, Mammy
Riah?"

"Naw, honey, dat you ain't. You ain' growed a winch."

"She means an inch," said Letty. "Some people can't understand her. Even
father can't sometimes, but I always can." Then drawing Caroline down
on the bed, she began stroking her arm with a soft caressing touch. "Do
you suppose mother will come back now that you have?" she asked. "When
you are here she wouldn't have so much trouble. She used to say that you
took trouble off her."

"Perhaps she will. You would like to see her, darling?"

The child thought earnestly for a moment. "I'd like to see her," she
answered, "she is so pretty."

"It would make you happier if she came back?"

A smile, which was like the wise smile of an old person, flickered over
Letty's features. "Wasn't it funny?" she said. "Father asked me that
this morning."

A tremor shook Caroline's heart. "And what did you tell him?"

"I told him I'd like her to come back if she wanted to very badly. It
hurts mother so not to do what she wants to do. It makes her cry."

"She says she wants to come back?"

"I think she wants to see me. Her letters are very sad. They sound as if
she wanted to see me very much, don't they mammy? Somebody has to read
them to me because I can read only plain writing. How long will it be,
Miss Meade, before I can read any kind, even the sort where the letters
all look just alike and go right into one another?"

"Soon, dear. You are getting on beautifully. Now I'll run into my room,
and put on my uniform. You like me in uniform, don't you?"

"I like you any way," answered Letty politely. "You always look so
fresh, just like a sparkling shower, Cousin Daisy says. She means the
sort of shower you have in summer when the sun shines on the rain."

Going into her room, Caroline bathed her face in cold water, and brushed
her hair until it rolled in a shining curve back from her forehead. She
was just slipping into her uniform when there was a knock at the door,
and Mrs. Timberlake said, without looking in,

"David has come home, and he has asked for you. Will you go down to the
library?"

"In one minute. I am ready." Her voice was clear and firm; but, as she
left the room and passed slowly down the staircase, by the copy of the
Sistine Madonna, by the ivory walls of the hall and the pink walls of
the drawing-room, she understood how the women felt who rode in the
tumbril to the guillotine. It was the hardest hour of her life, and she
must summon all the courage of her spirit to meet it. Then she
remembered her father's saying, that after the worst had happened, one
began to take things easier, and an infusion of strength flowed from her
mind into her heart and her limbs. If the worst was before her now, in a
little while it would be over--in a little while she could pass on to
hospital wards, and the sounds of the battlefield, and the external
horrors that would release her from the torment of personal things.

The door of the library was open, and Blackburn stood in the faint
sunshine by the window--in the very spot where he had stood on the night
when she had gone to tell him that Angelica had ordered her car to go to
the tableaux. As she entered, he crossed the room and held her hand for
an instant; then, turning together, they passed through the window, and
out on the brick terrace. All the way down the stairs she had wondered
what she should say to him in the beginning; but now, while they stood
there in the golden light, high above the June splendour of the rose
garden, she said only,

"Oh, how lovely it is! How lovely!"

He was looking at her closely. "You are working too hard. Your eyes are
tired."

"I must go on working. What is there in the world except work?" Though
she tried to speak brightly, there was a ripple of sadness in her voice.
Her eyes were on the garden, and it seemed to her that it blazed
suddenly with an intolerable beauty--a beauty that hurt her quivering
senses like sound. All the magic loveliness of the roses, all the
reflected wonder and light and colour of the sunset, appeared to mingle
and crash through her brain, like the violent crescendo of some
triumphant music. She had not wanted colour; she had attuned her life to
grey days and quiet backgrounds, and the stark forms of things that were
without warmth or life. But beauty, she felt, was unendurable--beauty
was what she had not reckoned with in her world.

"You are going to France?" he asked.

"I am leaving for camp next week. That means France, I hope."

"Until the end of the war?"

"Until the end--or as long as I hold out. I shall not give up."

For the first time she had turned to look at him, and as she raised her
lashes a veil of dry, scorching pain gathered before her eyes. He looked
older, he looked changed, and, as Mrs. Timberlake had said, he looked as
if he had suffered. The energy, the force which had always seemed to her
dynamic, was still there in his keen brown face, in his muscular
figure; only when he smiled did she notice that the youth in his eyes
had passed into bitterness--not the bitterness of ineffectual rebellion,
but the bitterness that accepts life on its own terms, and conquers.

"When I parted from you last autumn," he said suddenly, "I was full of
hope. I could look ahead with confidence, and with happiness. I felt, in
a way, that the worst was over for both of us--that the future would be
better and richer. I never looked forward to life with more trust than I
did then," he added, as if the memory of the past were forcing the words
out of him.

"And I, also," she answered, with her sincere and earnest gaze on his
face, "I believed, and I hoped."

He looked away from her over the red and white roses. "It is different
now. I can see nothing for myself--nothing for my own life. Where hope
was there is only emptiness."

The sunset was reflected in the shining light of her eyes. "Life can
never be empty for me while I have your friendship and can think of
you."

By the glow in his face she knew that her words had moved him; yet he
spoke, after a moment, as if he had not heard them. "It is only fair
that you should know the truth," he said slowly and gravely, "that you
should know that I have cared for you, and cared, I think, in the way
you would wish me to. Nothing in my life has been more genuine than this
feeling. I have tested it in the last year, and I know that it is as
real as myself. You have been not only an emotion in my heart--you have
been a thought in my mind--every minute--through everything----" He
stopped, and still without turning his eyes on her, went on more
rapidly, "As a lover I might always have been a failure. There have
been so many other things. Life has had a way of crowding out emotion to
make room for other problems and responsibilities. I am telling you this
now because we are parting--perhaps for a time, perhaps for ever. The
end no one can see----"

Beyond the rose garden, in one of the pointed red cedars down in the
meadow, a thrush was singing; and it seemed to her, while she listened,
that the song was in her own heart as well as in the bird's--that it was
pouring from her soul in a rapture of wonder and delight.

"I can never be unhappy again," she answered. "The memory of this will
be enough. I can never be unhappy again."

From the cedar, which rose olive black against the golden disc of the
sun, the bird sang of hope and love and the happiness that is longer
than grief.

"The end no one can see," he said, and--it may have been only because of
the singing bird in her heart--she felt that the roughness of pain had
passed out of his voice. Then, before she could reply, he asked
hurriedly, "Has Letty spoken to you of her mother?"

"Yes, she talked of her the little while that I saw her."

"You think the child would be happier if she were here?"

For an instant she hesitated. "I think," she replied at last, "that it
would be fairer to the child--especially when she is older."

"Her mother writes to her."

"Yes. I think Letty feels that she wishes to come home."

The bird had stopped singing. Lonely, silent, still as the coming night,
the cedar rose in a darkening spire against the afterglow.

"For us there can be no possible life together," he added presently. "We
should be strangers as we have been for years. She writes me that she
has been ill--that there was a serious operation----"

"Have the doctors told her the truth?"

"I think not. She knows only that she does not regain her strength, that
she still suffers pain at times. Because of this it may be easier."

"You mean easier because you pity her? That I can understand. Pity makes
anything possible."

"I am sorry for her, yes--but pity would not be strong enough to make me
let her come back. There is something else."

"There is the child."

"The child, of course. Letty's wish would mean a great deal, but I doubt
if that would be strong enough. There is still something else."

"I know," she said, "you feel that it is right--that you must do it
because of that."

He shook his head. "I have tried to be honest. It is that, and yet it is
not that alone. I wonder if I can make you understand?"

"Has there ever been a time when I did not understand?"

"God bless you, no. And I feel that you will understand now--that you
alone--you only among the people who know me, will really understand."
For a time he was silent, and when at last he went on, it was in a voice
from which all emotion had faded: "Pity might move me, but pity could
not drive me to do a thing that will ruin my life--while it lasts.
Letty's good would weigh more with me; but can I be sure--can you, or
any one else, be sure that it is really for Letty's good? The doubt in
this could so easily be turned into an excuse--an evasion. No, the
reason that brings me to it is larger, broader, deeper, and more
impersonal than any of these. It is an idea rather than a fact. If I do
it, it will be not because of anything that has happened at Briarlay; it
will be because of things that have happened in France. It will be
because of my year of loneliness and thought, and because of the spirit
of sacrifice that surrounded me. If one's ideal, if one's country--if
the national life, is worth dying for--then surely it is worth living
for. If it deserves the sacrifice of all the youth of the world--then
surely it deserves every other sacrifice. Our young men have died for
liberty, and the least that we older ones can do is to make that liberty
a thing for which a man may lay down his life unashamed."

The emotion had returned now; and she felt, when he went on again, that
she was listening to the throbbing heart of the man.

"The young have given their future for the sake of a belief," he said
slowly, "for the belief that civilization is better than barbarism, that
humanity is better than savagery, that democracy has something finer and
nobler to give mankind than has autocracy. They died believing in
America, and America, unless she is false to her dead, must keep that
faith untarnished. If she lowers her standards of personal
responsibility, if she turns liberty into lawlessness, if she makes
herself unworthy of that ultimate sacrifice--the sacrifice of her
best--then spiritual, if not physical, defeat must await her. The
responsibility is yours and mine. It belongs to the individual
American, and it cannot be laid on the peace table, or turned over to
the President. There was never a leader yet that was great enough to
make a great nation."

As he paused, she lifted her eyes, and looked into his without
answering. It was the unseen that guided him, she knew. It would be
always the unseen. That was the law of his nature, and she would accept
it now, and in the future. "I understand," she said, simply, after a
moment.

"It is because you understand," he answered, "because I can trust you to
understand, that I am speaking to you like this, from my heart. My dear,
this was what I meant when I wrote you that nationality is nothing for
personality is everything. Our democracy is in the making. It is an
experiment, not an achievement; and it will depend, not on the size of
its navy, but on the character of its citizens, whether or not it
becomes a failure. There must be unselfish patriotism; there must be
sacrifice for the general good--a willing, instead of a forced,
sacrifice. There must be these things, and there must be, also, the
feeling that the laws are not for the particular case, but for the
abstract class, not for the one, but for the many--that a democracy
which has been consecrated by sacrifice must not stoop, either in its
citizens, or in its Government, to the pursuit of selfish ends. All this
must be a matter of personal choice rather than of necessity. I have
seen death faced with gladness for a great cause, and, though I am not
always strong enough to keep the vision, I have learned that life may be
faced, if not with gladness, at least with courage and patience, for a
great ideal----"

His voice broke off suddenly, and they were both silent. The sun had
gone down long ago, and it seemed to Caroline that the approaching
twilight was flooded with memories. She was ready for the sacrifice; she
could meet the future; and at the moment she felt that, because of the
hour she had just lived, the future would not be empty. Whatever it
might bring, she knew that she could face it with serenity--that she was
not afraid of life, that she would live it in the whole, not in the
part--in its pain as well as in its joy, in its denial as well as in its
fulfilment, in its emptiness as well as in its abundance. The great
thing was that she should not fall short of what he expected of her,
that she should be strong when he needed strength.

She looked up at him, hesitating before she answered; and while she
hesitated, there was the sound of hurrying footsteps in the library, and
Mrs. Timberlake came through the room to the terrace.

"David," she called in a startled voice. "Did you know that Angelica was
coming back?"

He answered without turning. "Yes, I knew it."

"She is here now--in the hall. Did you expect her so soon?"

"Not so soon. She telegraphed me last night."

"Mrs. Mallow met her at the Hot Springs yesterday, and told her that
Letty was ill. That brought her down. She has been at the Hot Springs
for several weeks."

Blackburn had grown white; but, without speaking, he turned away from
the terrace, and walked through the library to the hall. Near the door
Angelica was leaning on the arm of a nurse, and as he approached, she
broke away from the support, and took a single step forward.

"Oh, David, I want my child! You cannot keep me away from my child!"

She was pale and worn, her face was transparent and drawn, and there
were hollows under the grey velvet of her eyes; but she was still
lovely--she was still unconquerable. The enchanting lines had not
altered. Though her colour had been blotted out, as if by the single
stroke of a brush, the radiance of her expression was unchanged, and
when she smiled her face looked again as if the light of heaven had
fallen over it. Never, not even in the days of her summer splendour, had
Caroline felt so strongly the invincible power of her charm and her
pathos.

"No, I cannot keep you away from her," Blackburn answered gently, and at
his words Angelica moved toward the staircase.

"Help me, Cousin Matty. Take me to her." Abandoning the nurse, she
caught Mrs. Timberlake's arm, clinging to her with all her strength,
while the two ascended the stairs together.

Blackburn turned back into the library, and, for a moment, Caroline was
left alone with the stranger.

"Have you known Mrs. Blackburn long?" asked the other nurse, "she must
have been so very beautiful."

"For some time. Yes, she was beautiful."

"Of course, she is lovely still. It is the kind of face that nothing
could make ugly--but I keep wondering what she was like before she was
so dreadfully thin. You can tell just to look at her what a sad life she
has had, though she bears it so wonderfully, and there isn't a word of
bitterness in anything that she says. I never knew a lovelier nature."

She passed up the stairs after the others, her arms filled with
Angelica's wraps, and her plain young face enkindled with sympathy and
compassion. Clearly Angelica had found another worshipper and disciple.

Alone in the hall, Caroline looked through the library to the pale
glimmer of the terrace where Blackburn was standing. He was gazing away
from her to the rose garden, which was faintly powdered with the silver
of dusk; and while she stood there, with her answer to him still
unuttered, it seemed to her that, beyond the meadows and the river,
light was shining on the far horizon.


THE END

[Illustration: colophon]

THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS

GARDEN CITY, N. Y.





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