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Title: Meg, of Valencia
Author: Jarrell, Myra Williams
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Meg, of Valencia" ***

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[Illustration: “Meg”]








This little book is lovingly dedicated to my parents.

    “’Tis pleasant, sure, to see one’s name in print:
    A book’s a book, although there’s nothing in’t.”


    “What’s in a name?”

When Mr. Robert Spencer was annoyed, he made it known by pacing the
floor with his hands under his coat-tails. When he was pleased, he
quickened the pace, and his hands caused his coat-tails to stand out in
a most jaunty and undignified manner. He was pacing up and down a
handsomely furnished room, one bright May morning, with annoyance
visibly depicted in every line of his coat-tails.

The other occupant of the room, his sister, was watching him with an
expression half amused, half sad. They were much alike, both sandy in
coloring, and both wearing the same humorous, half-quizzical smile,
which in her was saddened by the loss her deep mourning indicated. She
had never been a handsome woman, but she possessed an attractiveness
far greater than that of mere outward beauty.

Suddenly her brother paused in front of her and began explosively: “I
tell you it’s tommy-rot. And it’s all because you wouldn’t call him
Bob! How the deuce do you expect a boy you have called ‘Robert’ for
twenty-five years, to have any worldly sense?”

“Wait a minute, Bob,” interrupted his sister, quietly; “how could I be
expected to call such a splendid boy anything else? ‘Bob,’ for him,
would have been nothing short of sacrilege,—no offense meant, my dear

“Don’t mention it,” he growled; “but I protest that you can make or mar
a boy by a name. You called him ‘Robert.’ What was the result?”

“Very fine, I call it.”

Unheeding the interruption, he continued in a mocking voice: “Lacy
dresses which he never tore, wax dolls, kittens, and long curls. Now
that just naturally led up to books, study, church!”

“That is a combination few people object to, Bob,” his sister gently

“If taken in moderation, my dear Stella,—in homeopathic doses. Your boy
went on the principle by which some people govern their
medicine-taking, that if a little is good, much is better.”

He paused for her reply, but as she was evidently waiting for the close
of his harangue, he continued: “Now, look here. Suppose you had called
him ‘Bob.’ There would have been no long curls or doll-rags for him. It
would have been baseball, marbles, fresh air, boy friends. And now,
hang it all, look at him now!”

Mrs. Malloy sat up with dignity, and asked, “Well, what of him now?”

“That’s just it,” he sputtered. “If he wasn’t so handsome, manly,
honest and lovable, I wouldn’t care; but to think of all those virtues
being shut up in a monastery, makes me wish I were a profane man, so I
could ease my mind by swearing.”

Mrs. Malloy had become very white, and she made no answer. Her brother
glanced at her, and added softly, dropping into a chair by her side:
“It’s all because he was brought up in that Faith. I don’t see how you
could do it, Stella.”

“You forget,” she answered sadly; “it was John’s religion, and it was
understood that he should do that if he were so inclined.”

“But John never meant for you to be left alone in the world. He
wouldn’t have wanted the boy to leave you, if he had known.”

“Perhaps not,” she said with white lips, “but I would not lay one straw
in the way, or stand between my boy and what he considers his duty.”

“Duty be—,” vociferated Mr. Spencer. “I beg your pardon, Stella,—it
almost slipped out. But can’t the young whelp see where his duty is?
Now, don’t be angry, Stella. Do you think I wouldn’t whale any other
man within an inch of his life if he called the boy that?”

“Nothing is gained by discussing it,” Mrs. Malloy wearily replied, “and
I insist that you say nothing to Robert on the subject. His mind is
quite made up, quite. He believes it to be his father’s wish. He does
not know but that it is mine, though it is, as you say, not my faith.”

“‘He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow,’” quoted Mr.
Spencer, softly.

“To say anything to him would make him very unhappy, but would not
alter his decision.”

“Perhaps some way may yet be found,” he ventured.

“I am sure nothing would change him. You see, he has had this idea ever
since he was a mere child. It has grown with him. It is so interwoven
with the very fibres of his being that it could not be uprooted. No,
no, Bob, it will have to stand. If I can bear it, surely you can.”

“If _you_ can bear it,” he answered. “Oh, yes, you can bear it. You
will wave your handkerchief and smile as the gates close upon him, and
then you’ll come home and die of a broken heart!”

“Don’t,—don’t,” she begged, piteously.

“Forgive me, Stella; I didn’t mean to hurt you so. But I’ve a scheme to
stop this foolishness and make you happy, and the boy, too.”

She shook her head hopelessly, but her brother patted her on the
shoulder and said, “But yes, I say. Will you be a party to it?”

For one moment her eyes flashed up with a look of hope, then it died
out as she said slowly, “I cannot conspire against my boy and what I
know to be his earnest desire.”

“Well, don’t,” was the brusque reply. “Your co-operation isn’t
necessary anyway. But you and Robert will come next week to visit me as
you promised, won’t you?”

After Mrs. Malloy nodded in reply, he walked out of the room with his
coat-tails expressing satisfaction.

He had not been gone long when the door was gently opened, and a young
man entered. Coming up to Mrs. Malloy, he stooped and kissed her on the
forehead. The look of passionate adoration she gave him was not
surprising, for he was undeniably good to gaze upon. He was tall, well
formed and athletic in build, with the fresh coloring, the warm, honest
gray eyes, clear-cut features and rippling dark hair of a long race of
Celtic ancestors. His brow was frank and noble, his smile charming.
There was nothing about him to suggest the parochial calling he was
about to adopt. He looked merely a healthy, wholesome, happy and
unusually handsome young fellow.

“Always cheerful, little mother,” he said, balancing himself on the arm
of her chair, and meeting her smile with tender, earnest eyes. “That
thought makes me very happy, for I know you are never lonely, and will
not mope after I am gone, as some mothers would.”

Her face blanched; with teeth shut hard together, she pressed her face
against his sleeve until she could control her voice, and finally
answered: “No, I was never given to moping, my son. But to be
irrelevant, I promised Uncle Bob that we would go to Valencia next week
and stay with him through the summer.”

“That will be jolly; I think I would enjoy one good old spree of that
sort before—”

“Let’s go out and find Uncle Bob,” said his mother quickly.


    “And both were young and one was beautiful.”

Valencia was a western town, with about forty thousand inhabitants who
believed in and were immeasurably proud of the place. There were no
factories, and there was no great value in real estate, since the wild
boom of the early eighties, which made and broke so many western towns;
but it was quite a railroad center, one of the principal western roads
having headquarters there. Amusement there was none, save band concerts
twice a week in summer, and an occasional show in the opera house in

The town had perhaps more than a fair allotment of that class of people
who find fault with everything, from the price of ice to the sparsity
of amusements. It was said, also, to be no more free from public
officials with itching palms, than other cities of its size.

Saloons were supposed to be unknown in Valencia, in accordance with the
laws of the State, and it did truly present a clean, moral aspect to
the casual observer.

Valencia was essentially a “home” town, with its wide streets, its many
trees, comfortable homes and green lawns, and it was much beloved by
its inhabitants, who, if they moved away, inevitably moved back again,
with untiring loyalty.

Robert Spencer had been borne into the town on the tide of prosperity
that had carried so many into it in 1882, and he was one of the
barnacles who had remained, firmly fastened, when the tide receded,
taking with it a few of the industries that had sprung up like
mushrooms during the boom. He had had a competence when he drifted into
Valencia, which by judicious investment had increased until he was
independently rich.

The first few years of his life there had been uneasy ones, for he had
to be constantly on the alert to avoid matrimony, so many were the
enticements thrown out to land him. He was unquestionably the biggest
fish in the pond, and the hooks had been baited for him repeatedly, but
he had not bitten.

The first evening after Mrs. Malloy and Robert reached Valencia, Mr.
Spencer entertained two of his nearest neighbors, a widow and her young
niece, at dinner.

Mrs. Weston had been a pretty girl in her youth, and it was a hard
habit for her to break from. She still affected baby blue, which had
set off to advantage her pink-and-whiteness twenty years before, but
which now exaggerated the faded lemon color into which that complexion
had degenerated. In place of dimples, there were creases in her cheeks,
but she clung to her original conception of them, and used them
accordingly. Her hair, from being golden, had become dull and lifeless,
but she still wore it in the jaunty frizzes which had once set off her
doll-like face.

She was an easy victim for complexion agents, and her generous
patronage had done much to hasten the decay of her delicate complexion.
She was entirely satisfied with herself, but nevertheless she felt a
pang of jealousy whenever she looked at her young niece, and was only
moved out of her complacency and simplicity, to indulge in caustic
remarks to her.

Robert Malloy felt himself shy and awkward in the presence of girls,
for his life had been spent close to his mother, with books and study,
and he was ignorant of their ways.

Before dinner was announced he found himself seated by the girl,
Margaret Anthony, vaguely wondering what to say, and wishing he dared
look at her to see what she really was like.

He ventured a remark about the weather, and looked at her as he did so.
She answered in a monosyllable, but kept her eyes cast down. Following
the direction of her eyes, he saw that she was twirling her thumbs.

In a flash he glanced at his own hands, and then he realized that he
was being ridiculed.

He looked hastily at her again, and this time she met his eyes with an
unmistakable gleam of laughter in hers. For a moment he was inclined to
be angry, but changed his mind and laughed outright, a musical, boyish
laugh, with which hers chimed.

The older folks looked over at them, and an expression of satisfaction
appeared on Mr. Spencer’s face.

“That little vixen is up to some mischief, I know,” twittered Mrs.

“Whatever it is, I am grateful to her,” responded Mr. Spencer. “I don’t
think I ever heard Robert laugh like that before. Did you, Stella?” he
asked, turning to his sister.

“He wasn’t so different from other boys, Bob,” she said smilingly; “he
and I have had many a romp together.”

“Maybe so, maybe so,” he muttered.

“If I should say ‘booh!’ you’d run,” said Margaret with conviction, to

“Try me and see,” was his good-humored response, just as dinner was

Mr. Spencer had seated the two young people together, for he rightly
concluded that the ice would be broken sooner, over soup and fish, with
the assistance of warm candlelight and flowers, than in a drawing-room
with the accompaniment of voices no longer young.

In taste, Robert was no acolyte, and he gave a little sigh of
satisfaction as his eyes took in the exquisite details of the table of
polished, massive mahogany, with gleaming silver and glass, the bowl of
gorgeous, rich red roses, and the candles with their red shades.

Turning, he met the eyes of his companion, and involuntarily thought
that she fitted with the environments. Her hair had a decidedly reddish
cast, and framed a face which was small and white, with a refractory
red mouth and an insignificant nose.

Her eyes were peculiar, but very beautiful, large and full and greenish
in color, shaded by lashes so long and dark that they gave a dazzling
brilliance to her face.

As she met his eyes she smiled and said, as though he had spoken, “Yes,
_isn’t_ it pretty?” Then she added, “But I am a gourmand. I like the
pretty surroundings _and_ a good dinner, but if I had to choose between
the two, I would take the latter.”

“That’s because you are such a child,” he said patronizingly.

“Of course, judging from the standpoint of _your_ experience, I must
appear like one,” was her lofty reply.

Her remark reduced him to an awkward consciousness of his inexperience,
and beside this small girl he felt himself suddenly to seem like an
uncouth school-boy.

After this little encounter they listened to the conversation of their
elders. Mrs. Malloy was expressing her opinion of a new book which she
did not like, and said that people were better off with no books at all
than with one of that character.

Mrs. Weston, who had never delved very deep into any subject, said with
a little giggle: “I would hate to acknowledge, though, that I had not
read a book of which every one was talking. But I have often heard Meg
express herself the way you have been doing.”

After they were back in the drawing-room Robert said to Margaret, “Did
I understand your aunt to call you ‘Meg’?”

“You did,” was the reply; “I have as many names as Eugene Field’s
‘Bill,’ in the little poem ‘Jes ’fore Christmas.’ You remember it?”

He nodded.

“Well, it’s this way with me: Father called me Margaret, the girls they
called me Peg, Mother called me Margie, but Auntie calls me Meg.”

“And—?” he queried.

A sudden gravity settled over her face, as she replied, “There is no
one now to call me Margaret or Margie. Auntie’s name for me sort of
sticks. But I suppose it’s all right. I’m not big enough to be entitled
to the big, dignified name of Margaret.”

“When I know you well enough, I shall call you Margie,” Robert said


    “A child of our grandmother Eve, a female;
    or, for thy more sweet understanding, a woman.”

The life which opened up for Robert Malloy was so full of surprises,
new sensations and experiences, that he was both bewildered and

His uncle watched him hopefully, his mother anxiously. There could be
no doubt that she would have welcomed anything which would turn her son
from his desire, but she was paradoxically jealous for the strength of
character and singleness of purpose which had determined him for the
life which would take him from her. Also, she could not be certain that
he would be happy, should he walk into the trap so obviously set for
him by his uncle.

A few weeks after they reached Valencia she had a chance to study Meg
more closely, and to obtain an insight into the character of the girl
who puzzled her, and who very evidently attracted her son. There was
something so subtle and elusive about her, that Mrs. Malloy, with her
ear attuned to simplicity and directness, had not been able to form an
opinion concerning her.

She had taken a favorite book and started for a quiet spot in the woods
adjoining her brother’s place, when she met Meg. The girl flushed with
pleasure when Mrs. Malloy asked her to join her. There was little said
by either as they walked along, yet there was no constraint. Finally
Mrs. Malloy turned to her companion and said smilingly, “I believe you
are one of those rare persons who are good company without saying a

Meg laughed as she answered, “I hope I know the value of silence.”

Just then Meg’s quick eyes detected a little bird which had been
wantonly shot, and was lying under the tree where probably it had made
its home. Picking it up, she murmured a few broken words of pity, which
might have been a requiem over the little dead body.

“Isn’t it cruel?” she asked, raising her lovely dark-lashed eyes to
Mrs. Malloy’s face, “and so useless,—a little bird that never harmed
anyone,—and not even good to eat,” she added mournfully.

Mrs. Malloy was impelled to laugh, though she, too, felt the pity of

They finally sat down under a large tree, whose branches afforded a
refreshing shade. Leaning her back against the tree, and sighing
restfully, Mrs. Malloy turned to look at her companion. Meg wore the
most inexpensive white dress, but she wore it as she did all of her
home-made clothes, like a small princess.

As she sat there, with her hands clasped around her knees, and her
small head, with its refractory reddish hair, drooping, there was a
pathetic look about her that went straight to Mrs. Malloy’s warm heart.
She put her hand out and slightly touching Meg’s shoulder, said softly:
“You look unhappy, dear,—sort of lonely. Can I help you?”

The girl’s face changed instantly, and looking up at Mrs. Malloy she
said gayly, “But I’m not lonely,—not now.”

Mrs. Malloy withdrew her hand and said simply, “Pardon me. I no doubt
seemed intrusive.”

“_You_ intrusive! oh, dear Mrs. Malloy, you _couldn’t_ be intrusive!
Why, if you should tell me my hair was red, I would not be offended.
And that’s what I wouldn’t take from anyone else,” she added under her

“Well, I won’t be so rude, nor so untruthful. It is beautiful auburn, a
color I’ve always liked.”

“Of course,” Meg admitted reluctantly, “it isn’t exactly the color one
could wear red with,—not but what I would if I wanted to.”

Mrs. Malloy threw her head back and laughed, and her laugh was as
pleasant as it was rare.

Meg looked at her in a pleased manner. Then Mrs. Malloy said: “What a
spunky little girl you are! It’s regular red-headed spunk, though of
course your hair is not red. My dear, it’s a blessing you are so
independent, having no one to do your fighting for you.”

The wistful look came back into Meg’s eyes as she answered: “It has
never seemed just right that I didn’t have a father, or mother, or even
a big brother to take care of me. Sometimes,—” there was a little catch
in her voice,—“oh, dear Mrs. Malloy, sometimes I feel as if there were
no fight left in me!”

“You poor little thing!” exclaimed Mrs. Malloy, reaching out for her
hand, “this is really yourself that I see now,—a little tame canary
made wild because it has no one to shield it, and must look out for

Meg looked at her adoringly.

“You are the first person I have ever known who has seemed to
understand me, and somehow, I feel that my mother was like you. You
won’t laugh at me or tell any one if I tell you something?” she asked

“You may count on my silence and sympathy, dear.”

“When I was a little girl, my principal amusement was to ‘pretend’
things. I would pretend I was a princess, or something else equally
improbable. One day, I wanted some one else to play with me so badly,
that I told Aunt Amelia about it.”

“Yes?” queried Mrs. Malloy softly, as she paused.

“Oh, she slapped me, told me I was nothing but an ugly, red-headed
little object of charity, and not to go imagining any more nonsense.”

Mrs. Malloy bit her lip to keep back the disparaging words which longed
for utterance. Instead, she stroked the hand she held, and Meg

“Since then I have played my little games by myself. Sometimes I go up
to the attic, where I have a trunk containing mother’s things. I put on
her dress and apron, and take a piece of crochet work in my hands,—the
one she was making when she was taken sick,—and then I pretend that I
am she, and that I am there, too,—you understand?”

Mrs. Malloy nodded. “And then I talk as I know she would talk to me if
she were here. I give myself lectures for my frivolity, and good
advice,—and,—and,—oh, I say the tender little things that I know she
would say, and that no one ever does——” She stopped, and began to sob

Mrs. Malloy drew her up beside her, so that the little red head rested
on her shoulder. There were unshed tears in her eyes, which had looked
out bravely and hopefully upon a world that had little enough to offer
her, and she felt, in this moment, that a very strong bond was between
this girl, almost a stranger, and herself.


    “Ope the sacred source of sympathetic tears.”

Meg was leaning back in delicious idleness on the cool, shaded porch of
her aunt’s house, with her hands loosely clasped above her head, and
her eyes dreamily fixed on the treetops.

Robert Malloy was reading aloud from a book of verse. His voice, rising
and falling musically, harmonized with the summer sounds, the hum of
the insects, and chirping of the birds that came fearlessly close, to
bathe in the whirling spray of the garden hose.

After he had read a while he closed the book, and said, “Tell me a

“A really, truly one?” she asked, bringing her eyes on a level with

“Yes; tell me about yourself.”

“All right. Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess, and she
was as good as she was beautiful; never cross, never impatient, always
serene, gentle, and loving. She lived with her cruel stepmother—”

“Wasn’t there a prince?” he queried anxiously.

“Not any real one,” was the severe retort, “just a few little imitation
ones. But she had a taste above paste jewels, so she determined—”

At this moment the air was pierced by a shrill cry from the road,
followed by lusty weeping.

Meg was half-way to the gate before Robert started, and when he reached
there he found her exclaiming pityingly over a small, ragged, and
decidedly dirty boy, who was sitting in the dust of the road nursing an
injured toe.

“How did it happen?” she was asking as Robert came up and leaned
against the fence.

The hurt, slight in itself, assumed new importance in the eyes of the
boy, and he answered proudly, between the sniffles into which his sobs
had subsided, “I was running fast, an’ I never seen that piece of
broken bottle, an’ I stepped right on it, an’ cut my toe, an’ it hurts
just awful.”

“I know it does, you poor, dear thing,” was Meg’s sympathetic
rejoinder; “come right in the yard with me, where it’s cool, and I’ll
fix it all right.”

The boy began to strut after her, but meeting Robert’s broad smile,
bethought himself of his affliction, so changed the strut into a limp,
and followed her in.

He looked a trifle dubious over the water when she took the injured
member in her soft hands to bathe it, but submitted like a martyr.
After Meg had washed the wound free from dirt she looked up at Robert,
who was watching the proceedings with amused eyes, and imperiously
demanded his handkerchief.

He elevated his brows, as he handed it to her, and, addressing the boy,
remarked, “The heroines one reads about always tear their own
handkerchiefs into strips.”

“Yessir,” responded the boy, scarcely knowing what was expected of him.

“Do you remember what Chesterfield says about just such a case as
this?” Meg asked the boy, ignoring Robert.

“No’m. Who’s he? The doctor?” And alarm became visibly written under
the grime of his countenance.

“Never mind,” Meg said reassuringly to him, and went on neatly binding
the toe. When it was finished, she darted into the house and came out
carrying an apple and a huge piece of cake, which she immediately
bestowed upon her new protegé.

He accepted them graciously, as he had her ministrations, and was about
to edge off when her eye was attracted to a sling-shot protruding from
his coat pocket. She pulled it out and threw it as far as she could,
then turned to the amazed boy with flashing eyes. “You horrid, bad,
ugly boy! You were chasing a poor little bird when you stepped on that
bottle! I’m glad you got hurt, and I hope the next time you will cut
your toe completely off!”

She emphasized her words with a little shake, which sent him scuttling
down the yard and out of the gate without a backward glance.

After he had disappeared, Meg stood, red and mortified, realizing that
Robert must despise her for her outburst of temper, and wishing that at
least she had been more dignified in her expression of disapproval. She
became uneasy at the long silence, and finally ventured to raise her
eyes to his, prepared for the scorn and contempt she knew would be in
his glance.

Instead, his eyes were dancing with enjoyment, and when he met her
look, he laughed outright. Then he said deliberately, “I think I know
you well enough now to call you Margie.”


    “A creature not too bright or good
    For human nature’s daily food;
    For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
    Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.”

“Come out for a boat-ride,” Robert called to Meg, who was hemming
kitchen towels on her rose-embowered porch. She had seen him between
the leaves, as he came striding up the walk, but gave a very natural
start of surprise when he spoke. “I’m not deaf,” was her rejoinder, as
she kept on with her sewing.

“Neither am I dumb,” retorted Robert, turning around and starting down
the path.

Meg flung the towel from her, scattered thread, thimble and scissors in
every direction as she flew down the steps and overtook him. “What was
your first remark?” she asked demurely.

He looked down at her, and tried to preserve his dignity, but the eyes
which met his were so innocent and wide opened, the little white face
so alluring, that his anger melted, and he said, “I asked you to go

“Oh, you yelled so that I didn’t distinguish what you said. Yes, oh,
yes,” catching his arm as he started away again, “certainly I will go
with you. It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”

His eyes smiled into hers as he said gently, “Well, get your hat. I’ll
wait here for you.”

She was gone only a moment, and rejoined him with her big hat thrown
back somewhat rakishly on her head. “Aunt Amelia is cross. She wanted
me to wash her hair for her, but I told her I was no lady’s maid.”

Her eyes sought his face and found no response to her frivolity.
“Perhaps you think I should have stayed at home to wash her hair,” she
suggested anxiously.

Then, as he still did not answer, she stopped and said in an offended
tone, “Oh, well, if _that’s_ the way you feel about it, I’ll go back
and do it.”

Robert turned and said to her gravely, “It is not for me to say whether
you shall or shall not wash your aunt’s hair, but if you must have the
truth, I think your manner of refusing a trifle rude.”

She flushed, and the quick tears came to her eyes, but she kept a brave
appearance as she said, “Perhaps I was rude, but if you had to live
with Aunt Amelia and wait on her like a slave, as I do, you might
forget your manners, too, sometimes.”

He turned and looked at her as he said, “I don’t want to quarrel with
you to-day, little girl. You may be as rude as you please to your aunt,
only be good to me.”

Her eyes flashed up with sudden joy, and she looked quickly at him, but
the calm, impersonal glance she met, quelled the thought she had
entertained for that brief second.

Then she said contritely: “I _do_ owe every thing to Aunt Amelia, for I
couldn’t live on my pittance anywhere else,—but I do, truly I do, earn
my board. However, if you say so, I’ll go right back now and apologize
to her.”

“Oh, don’t do that,” he hastily interposed; “the apology will keep, and
the daylight won’t.”

When they reached the river, he helped her into the boat, and taking
off his coat, folded it for her to sit on.

Neither was talkative at first, both preferring their thoughts to idle
conversation. Meg watched him warily, taking in the splendid muscular
development of his arms and chest, the straight, clean-cut features in
a face that in repose was somewhat grave and stern, but infinitely
tender and charming when he smiled. She was wishing, as she gazed at
him, that Fate had given her a brother like him.

As for Robert, with eyes on the setting sun, his reveries were of the
life about to open for him. For the time being he had forgotten his
companion, and was holding pleasurable communion with himself, absorbed
in the contemplation of his usefulness when once he had entered upon
that mission for which he had been always fitting himself. He was
aroused by an almost inaudible sigh, and he glanced across at Meg with
eyes which were as yet blind to emotion.

She was not looking at him now, and he watched her with satisfaction.
She had puzzled and bewildered him ever since he had met her, and he
had only occasionally had glimpses of her real character. There were
times when he distinctly disapproved of her, and his training had been
such that he considered it almost an imperative duty to tell her of it.

Then with a quick subtle change of manner she would do something, some
little gracious act, that would cause him to repent of his harsher
judgment. But through all the varied changes of her moods, she
attracted him.

She had fallen into one of her silences, and sat looking out over the
water with an expression so tender and childish, that for some reason
he would have been unable to explain, a great wave of pity swept over
him, and the longing to shelter her from harm became uppermost in his

When she spoke, it was dreamily. “I do love the water, and the sunset,
and the sound of the oars as they lap the waves.” Then, in a more
sprightly manner,—“It has the effect of shaded lights and soft music. I
am so _good_ at such times! All my thoughts are uplifting. Do you feel
that way?”

Amused by her vagaries, he nodded, and the encouragement started her
off again: “I almost weep to think how noble I am. Nothing that is
petty or mean has any connection with me. Even Aunt Amelia I view
through that rosy mist, and conjure up the kind things she _might_ have
done, the tender words she _might_ have spoken,—and I think with a
swelling heart that I will try to appreciate those ‘might have
beens,’—that I will so conduct myself as to make them possible.”

“And then?” as she paused.

“Oh, then,” with a trace of bitterness in her voice, “then the red
lights flicker and go out, and the pungent odor of kerosene oil is all
that remains of them. The music stops with a last protesting wail of
the violin, and the musicians hurry away after their beer and

“And what becomes of you and your noble thoughts?”

“Oh, I take my noble thoughts and go home, and quarrel with Aunt

Robert laughed so heartily that Meg leaned forward and said: “Sometimes
I light the piano-lamp, and start the music-box going in the parlor
after I go home.”

As they walked up the flower-bordered path to the house, Meg remarked
softly, “I feel that I could wash and crimp Auntie’s hair, and make it
look just lovely, now.”


    “Speak low if you speak love.”

Robert was walking, with no particular aim in view, when he saw a
familiar figure on the walk ahead of him, and hastening, he soon
overtook her.

Meg turned her head as his step accustomed itself to hers, and smiled.
“May I go with you, my pretty maid?” he asked lightly.

“Show me the girl who has been teaching you to say that kind of thing,”
she exclaimed with mock anger.

“Lend me your pocket mirror and I will.”

“Never!” she said emphatically.

“Never what?”

“Never carried a pocket mirror in my life. Never taught you to make
pretty speeches,” she said tartly. “Why, the first time I saw you, you
sat and twirled your thumbs like a ‘bound boy at a corn-husking,’ and
never said anything but ‘Yes’m,’ and ‘No’m,’ and then only when you
were spoken to!”

“That proves what I affirm. That was the way I was when I met
_you_,—and look at me now!” with an air of conscious pride.

“Yes, look at you now!” she mocked scornfully, “with Mother Goose
platitudes tripping off your tongue like extracts from the Hebrew
Decalogue. Why don’t you stick to your last? You might say all the nice
things you wished in Latin, Greek, French, German or Spanish, and I’d
have to smirk and act as if I understood, and felt very much

“And all this because I asked to accompany her on her walk!” he
murmured as though to himself.

She gave him an upward look through her lashes that made him feel very
peculiar, as she said sweetly, “Well, you know I didn’t mean it. I
_like_ to have nice things said to me.”

“By every one?” he queried idly, without looking at her.

“Well, no,” she admitted slowly.

There was nothing more said for a few minutes; then he remarked
carelessly, “You didn’t tell me where you were going.”

“I am going to see my cousin-in-law. I hate her, but I love her

“That’s frankness that might be misunderstood.”

“I know it,” Meg replied earnestly, “but it’s true. You see, Ada has
always felt that she married beneath her, and she has convinced poor
Charlie that she did. But how she came to cherish such a notion I don’t
know, for he’s the salt of the earth!”

“Was it a question of family?”

“Yes. Her father was at one time pretty well off, and at the time she
married Charlie some people thought she might have done better.
Charlie’s one of those big-souled men who never accumulate anything,
and he is blunt and hearty in his manner. Now she thinks because she
crooks her little finger when she drinks a glass of water, that she is
more refined than he!”

Robert laughed boyishly at her quaint description, and said, “I think I
know them—not this particular couple, but their prototypes.”

“Are there others like Charlie, I wonder,” she said musingly. “He
stands out so in my mind because he’s the best, the very best man I
ever saw.”

After a short walk, she stopped in front of a modest two-story house,
and turning to her companion, said coaxingly, “Come in with me, and
meet Ada—then you’ll see for yourself.”

“You are sure it won’t be an intrusion?”

“Of course I’m sure,” was the response.

They were admitted by a tall, overgrown girl of thirteen, who beamed
with pleasure when she saw Meg. “Come into the sitting-room,” she said;
“Papa’s in there, and he will be so glad to see you.”

“Why, what’s he doing at home in the middle of the day?” Meg asked.

“He’s not feeling very well—just indigestion, he says,” answered the
child, leading the way.

The room they entered was forlorn in the extreme, and in it was
everywhere evidence of the taste of the wife, as well as of her notably
poor housekeeping. There was dirt in the corners of the room, and dust
on the few uncomfortable, cheap, but ornate chairs. There was a rug
with big bouquets of red roses upon the floor, and soiled, sleazy,
fringed silk drapes hung over the few highly colored, gaudily framed
pictures. The wall paper was as startling as the rug, and at the
windows were coarse, cheap lace curtains.

Charlie Walker was a huge, broad-shouldered blond, with kind blue eyes,
a roaring laugh which always made his refined wife shudder, and a
hand-clasp that was warm and cordial.

He looked so pleased when he saw Meg, that it was plain to see how well
he liked her. As for the child, who had inherited her father’s size,
blondness, and disposition, she evidently regarded her small, grown-up
cousin as a veritable princess in a fairy tale.

Meg noticed with concern that Charlie really looked ill, but it was a
habit with her to say but little about such things; so, instead of
questioning him fully, she looked around the untidy room and asked,
“Where’s Ada?”

“Gone to her card club,” replied Charlie.

The child, Gertie, had taken up the mending-basket and was painfully
trying to darn a large hole in one of her father’s socks. It was
evident that she had had no training, but was trying to teach herself,
that she might assume that part of the household tasks.

“Let me do that,” said Meg impulsively, and taking it from the girl,
began deftly putting in the stitches.

Charlie watched her a moment, and then remarked, answering the unspoken
accusation of her mind, “Ada had so much to do this week that she
couldn’t get around to it.”

Meg drew the thread viciously and made no reply.

“She has had to practice a good deal for that concert she is to take
part in,” he said.

Still Meg did not speak, and the set of her lips impelled him to add
anxiously, yet with a certain amount of dignity, “It is in accordance
with my wishes, that she keeps up her music.”

“Yes, of course it is,” answered Meg meekly, for, as she told Robert
afterwards in discussing it, “Big as that man is, I would no more hurt
him than I would a baby.”

After that, Charlie drew Robert into the conversation. Each man had
taken the measure of the other, and approved. They had talked
indifferently for awhile on matters pertaining to the town, when the
front door opened and a step was heard in the hall.

Robert, looking at Charlie Walker, saw a light leap into his eyes, as
he turned toward the door leading into the hall. “What manner of woman
is this?” he asked himself, “who can bring such a look to a man’s face
after so many years of married life?” All unconsciously his eyes
wandered to Meg.

Mrs. Walker was pretty, in rather a coquettish way; with soft brown
hair and eyes, a weak red mouth, and a complexion which still retained
its girlish fairness. Her hands were little, white, helpless ones, and
about her was an air of childish innocence and irresponsibility. Her
dress was in keeping with the furnishing of the room, cheaply
pretentious and ornate.

Robert felt instinctively that while such a woman could never possess
any attraction for him, she was the type some men would die
for,—notably, her husband.

The talk was desultory for a while, and then Meg asked her cousin to
play for them, “Which was generous of me,” she confided later, to
Robert, “for it showed her to the best advantage.”

Without demur she seated herself at the piano and at once began to play
with such sweetness and power that Robert was amazed. Glancing toward
her husband, whose face reflected his appreciation of the music, as
well as his adoration of the performer, Robert felt that he held the
key to the puzzle.

As they were walking home, Meg asked him suddenly, “What did you think
of my kin-folks?” As he paused, she continued, “Never mind the house,—I
know what you thought of that,—but tell me what you think of Charlie?”

“He is a man I could love like a brother. I have never felt so drawn to
a stranger.”

“You dear boy!” cried Meg impulsively; “I always knew you were nice,
but I never dreamed you were _that_ nice. You see, Cousin Charlie is my
hobby, for I think he is a grand character, and I want him to be

“Is he not?”

“By everybody but his wife.”

“I thought that, but I didn’t want to judge her hastily,” commented

“She does not appreciate him,” Meg vehemently exclaimed. “I wish I
could shake a little sense into her. He was too sick a man to be left
this afternoon, but she didn’t know it, or didn’t care if she did know
it. Why, if I had a husband like that, and he had nothing more serious
the matter with him than a boil, I would stay with him!”

“I believe you would.” She looked up suddenly, surprised by a new note
in Robert’s voice, and found him looking at her earnestly. The
interchange of glances embarrassed both of them, and to cover it, he
continued rather hastily, “I don’t understand how a woman of her
evident lack of feelings can have such a divine conception of music.”

“I can explain that,” said Meg confidentially. “It was a case of mixed
identity. That gift was meant for me, but got switched around some way.
I have the love of music, the capacity to suffer manifested by her
playing, while she,—she simply expresses what I feel.”

Robert smiled at her whimsical conceit, but made no reply. At her gate
she put her hand in his and said, “Good-bye,” simply and quietly. All
the defiance and willfulness which usually characterized her were gone,
and in their place was a gracious sweetness which enveloped and
engrossed him the rest of the evening.


    “Alas! how light a cause may move
    Dissension between hearts that love.”

Meg came down-stairs to breakfast humming a gay little air to herself,
and looking so young and fresh that Mrs. Weston looked at her
disapprovingly as she took her seat at the table.

The morning light was unmerciful, showing up the wrinkles and
sallowness of the fretful little woman, in direct contrast to the
smooth purity of Meg’s skin and the brightness of her eyes. The elder
woman wore a somewhat soiled blue wrapper, and there was not the care
bestowed upon her appearance that usually characterized it.

She glanced pettishly at Meg as she poured the coffee, and said, “I
don’t see why you always wear white.”

Meg smiled at her sunnily, and replied, “Well, I like it—it doesn’t
fade, washes well, is economical—”

“And—?” queried her aunt with uplifted eyebrows.

“And is becoming,” finished the girl calmly. Then she added: “What
would you have me wear? It would be neither suited to you nor to the
glorious summer season to wear drab.”

“Pink?” suggested her aunt.

“Oh, Auntie, with my hair!”

Mrs. Weston almost smiled.

“Yellow?” she continued.

“Too vivid,” objected Meg.

“Then blue,” said her aunt hesitatingly.

“That’s _your_ color,” replied Meg, with laughing eyes, “and as it
wouldn’t become me so well, I wouldn’t think of wearing it.”

Mrs. Weston’s smile deepened, spread all over her face, into the
creases she still fondly believed to be dimples, and diplomatic
relations were established.

Meg picked up the morning paper, and propping it against the
coffee-pot, began scanning the head-lines of the first page. “I
declare,” her aunt commented, “you are as bad as a man about reading at
the breakfast-table.”

The girl smiled. “When I marry,” she announced, “I shall take a lesson
in managing a husband from that dear, clever little friend of mine in
Atchison, whose husband takes his ‘ease in his inn,’ sitting in a
rocking-chair while he eats. He shows his appreciation of the
privilege, by holding her hand between bites. Just think!” she added
pensively, “they have been married five years, and he still loves her!”

“I don’t see what that has to do with your reading the paper at the
breakfast table.”

“Why, Auntie,” and Meg looked reproachfully at her over the paper, “you
know I do it to save you the trouble of reading it yourself. Let me see
what is happening.” And she glanced over the front page. “‘More
Macedonians murdered,’—we won’t go into the details, please,—‘Jealous
lover shoots sweetheart,’—I’m glad I’m redheaded; it saves
complications,—‘Woman murders faithless husband,’—oh, what a bloody
world we live in! No, it is a beautiful world,” she said softly, after
a little pause, “when there are such women as Helen Gould in it. She
has been giving the waifs another outing at her lovely home. Mrs.
Stuyvesant Fish has consented to an interview. She declares that
America must have an aristocracy. She doesn’t say whether it will be an
aristocracy of brains or money. It must be the former, as she deplores
the depredations on the outskirts of society, committed by the vulgar
rich. Yes, of course it is of brains,—that order of brains which can
originate ‘cute’ things with which to amuse and entertain the elect.”

Mrs. Weston, growing restive, interposed, “That does not interest me.
Read the local news.”

“You are so provincial, Auntie,” was Meg’s comment, as she turned the
paper; “you belong so hopelessly to Valencia!”

“Well, so do you,” was the brief retort.

“Not in the way I mean, my dear Aunt! My spirit is cosmopolitan,
though, Prometheus-like, I am chained to Valencia. While my head is in
the clouds, my feet are, oh, very much on the earth!”

“You do talk the greatest nonsense.”

“Do I? Then I’ll read to you instead of talking. ‘Mrs. Guy Worthington
Deflurry has returned from an extended Eastern trip.’”

“Mrs. who? oh, Mrs. Deflurry? I suppose she had some handsome clothes
made while she was gone.” Mrs. Weston was tremulous with excitement.

“Do you know the lady?” Meg asked idly. “No? I thought from your
interest that she was a dear friend. ‘Miss Cordelia Jamison has
departed for Michigan to visit friends.’ ‘It is rumored that a rich
bachelor is to be wedded to a handsome young widow.’”

Mrs. Weston was all in a flutter instantly. “Who can it mean? Surely,—”
she giggled foolishly, “surely people cannot think that Mr. Spencer and

Meg put down the paper with a judicial air. “I have always held,” she
said, “that the newspaper habit was a pernicious one for some people. I
will read no more to you. It goes to your head.”

“Why, Meg Anthony, you might at least remember that I am older than
you, and treat me with some respect!”

Meg opened her eyes wide. “But you are not!” she protested. “I am
centuries older than you. I am a relic of the dark ages, while
you,—Auntie, I really believe you are the youngest woman I know.”

A smile encompassed Mrs. Weston’s entire face at what she considered a
compliment, and in the exuberance of her sudden good-humor, she said,
“How would you like to invite Mr. Spencer, his sister and nephew to
come to dinner to-morrow night?”

“Oh, Auntie, can we really do it?” Meg cried ecstatically.

“Yes,” answered her aunt; “I’ll go and interview Delia about it. I
think I’ll have some little-neck clams—the canned ones, you know,—some
kind of cream soup, a roast course, an entrée, salad—”

“Auntie!” interrupted Meg sternly, “You know we can’t afford any such
frills! And with only one servant! Let’s call it supper, and give them
just a plain meal, nicely cooked and served.”

A dull purplish color mingled with the yellow of Mrs. Weston’s face, as
she questioned with angry dignity, “Am I, or am I not mistress here?
When did I give over the reins of government into your hands? If I need
your advice, young lady, I’ll seek it.” With ruffled plumage, she went
into the kitchen to settle the details with Delia.


    “I cannot eat but little meat,
    My stomach is not good.”

On the evening of Mrs. Weston’s dinner—for she held to the dinner idea
in spite of Meg’s protests—the weather was so hot that the heavy,
poorly cooked meal was appreciated by no one but the hostess, who
plumed herself that she had surprised the guests with her cuisine.
Which, indeed, was true.

They sat in the stuffy dining-room while course after course was
brought and taken away. Through the window Meg caught the scent of
roses, and could see that a breeze gently stirred the leaves of the
trees. Turning with a sigh from the temptations without, she glanced at
her aunt. The work of entertaining, with the heat, had robbed her hair
of its curl, and the damp, straight locks hung limply around her
forehead, which was beaded with perspiration.

Meg felt an impish satisfaction when she beheld the wreck. Turning, she
met Robert’s eyes, and asked, “What were you saying?”

“I was recalling a remark you made the first evening I met you,—that
you were a gourmand. You have scarcely tasted your food to-night.”

“I was several hundred years younger then,” she retorted; “but if you
had been giving the proper attention to your own plate you would not
have noticed it.”

Leaning toward her, he murmured, “I know it’s horribly rude, especially
as you are co-hostess—” she put up a deprecating hand—“but my extreme
youth and callowness will have to be my excuse.”

“Callousness, did you say?”

“You know what I said. When will this thing come to an end? I’m dying
to get out on the porch and get a whiff of air.”

“So am I,” she whispered back. “Let me see,—where are we?”

He glanced down at his plate, and then said apologetically, “Well,

“Oh, yes,” she interrupted, stirring the contents of her plate with a
fork, “this is what Delia called the ‘entry.’ Delia claims to be the
direct descendant of a famous French cook. I believe his name was Brian

“Ah, Delia and I are cousins. And after the ‘entry,’ what then?” he

She counted them off on her fingers, “The ‘poonch,’ salad, dessert, and
coffee. And as you and Mr. Spencer are sociably inclined, Auntie will
forego the pleasure of withdrawing, and leaving you with your wine and
walnuts. After coffee, the porch.”

“Thank you for the information,” he said humbly.

When the dinner was finally finished, they went out on the porch. There
the conversation was general for a time, and then Robert said lightly
to Meg, “‘Come into the garden, Maud,’ and get me a flower for my

She rose without demur, and together they strolled down the walk. Mr.
Spencer looked after their retreating forms, and then, meeting his
sister’s eyes, he deliberately winked.

That wink, while not elegant, served as an elixir to Mrs. Malloy, and
under its influence she became fairly sparkling and gay. Mrs. Weston
was astonished, for she had never seen her in such a mood, though she
had never seen her despondent. Her gayety was short-lived, however, for
Mrs. Weston killed it with a word.

“What a fine-looking boy Robert is,” she began; and then,
enthusiastically, “I think it is just lovely that he is to go into a

There was no response, but she prattled on. “So romantic! And he will
be such a handsome monk in his brown bath-robe! And will he have to go
barefooted, and have his pretty curly hair shaved?”

She waited a moment, and then asked gushingly, “Don’t _you_ think it

Mrs. Malloy’s voice was even but cold, as she replied, when forced to
do so by the direct question, “I would hardly call it romantic.”

“Oh, _wouldn’t_ you? Most people see more romance in a love affair, but
I confess that the idea of a monastery appeals to me!”

“Let’s join the youngsters,” interrupted Mr. Spencer. “They probably
are boring each other to death by now.”

Mrs. Weston started up with alacrity, but his sister, with the look of
a wounded animal in her eyes, said, “I will be there presently. I want
to enjoy these wild roses a little longer.”


    “Blessings be with them, and eternal praise,
    Who gave us nobler loves, and nobler cares.”

A strong friendship sprang up between Robert and Charlie Walker,
unusual in its warmth, and surprising, as the two men were totally
different in taste and character, and as there was considerable
disparity in their years.

Charlie Walker was a man of many friends, for he loved the world, yet
of them all, none was, perhaps, so dear as this young friend. Robert
was a man of few friendships, for he was as reserved as the other was

Scarcely a week passed that did not see them together. Charlie was
never well from the time he had the first attack of indigestion, though
he was able to be at his office most of the time, and still kept his
hearty, healthy appearance. His hand-clasp was as strong, his laugh as
infectious as ever, but there was a strained look about his eyes, which
told of suffering borne in silence.

Robert and Meg, who went often together, commented on it to each other,
but his wife remained ignorant of the real seriousness of his
condition, which was what he desired. She still kept up her music and
her club duties, at his request. It was evident that the man, in his
great unselfishness, was determined to shield her from worry or
trouble, while there was life in his body.

One day Meg and Robert went to see him, for they had learned that he
had been unable to be at his office for a week. When they reached the
home, they found Mrs. Walker softly playing the piano. Greeting them,
she asked sweetly, “Do you want to see Charlie? Just go upstairs. He
will be _so_ glad to see you. I will come up as soon as I finish my

In silence they ascended the stairs and stepped to the open door of the
bed-chamber. Charlie was propped up in bed with pillows, and they were
both shocked at the change in his appearance, wrought by his illness of
the past week. Gertie was curled up awkwardly by the foot of the bed,
and her eyes were big and woe-begone.

“Well, well, young people,” he called heartily when he saw them, “this
is all the medicine I need!”

At the word “medicine,” Gertie started, and going over to a stand where
there was an array of bottles, said, “It’s time for your powder, Papa.”

He made a slight grimace, and addressing himself to Meg, said: “Now did
you ever see such an unnatural child? Every time I really begin to
enjoy myself, she comes and stuffs some vile medicine down my throat!”

The child’s eyes were solemn as she said, “But, Papa, you have to take
it. The doctor told me not to neglect it.”

“Well, little Miss Literal, I see you are ‘she who must be obeyed,’ so
I’ll take it. Though I can’t imagine why I need anything else when I
have these two youngsters to look at.”

Meg turned to Robert and said, “Delia isn’t the only descendant of
Brian Boru in these parts, you see.” There was a little laugh at her
remark, but it was only half-hearted, for both Robert and she were too
much grieved at the change in Charlie to enjoy any joke.

He tried to be gay and natural, but after each effort he sank back
among the pillows exhausted. As he laid there, a light of exquisite
enjoyment came over his features, for the strains of the piano floated
up from below.

Ada was playing something in a minor key, and the strange, sweet notes
were so in harmony with the sadness of the occasion, that Meg was
obliged to rise suddenly and go to the window, that Charlie might not
see the tears in her eyes.

There was no sound in the room till the notes died away, and then
turning to Robert, Charlie said: “Did you ever hear anything like that?
Her music is an indication of her soul.”

Just then Ada came noiselessly into the room, and going over to the
bed, asked gayly of her husband: “Did you like that piece? I think I
will play it at the recital next week.”

“I would,” he replied, without a break in his voice, looking at her
adoringly; and then, to Robert and Meg, who had exchanged glances, and
were preparing to leave: “Must you go now? You will come again, won’t
you?—Come soon—” he added, in a voice he tried to make expressionless.

After they were outside Meg could contain her grief no longer, and
began to sob. “Oh, can’t _you_ see that he is dying?” she asked.

“I fear so,” was the grave rejoinder.

“And after he is gone, some one will have to shake that woman and say,
‘Wake up,—Charlie is dead!’”


    “Life’s a short summer,—man a flower—
    He dies—alas! how soon he dies!”

For the next few weeks Meg and Robert were almost daily visitors at the
Walker home. They could see that Charlie was failing very rapidly, but
it was plain that his wife did not realize it, and that he did not wish
her to.

One day Robert drove up to Mrs. Weston’s in his uncle’s phaeton, and
Meg knew instinctively why he had come. Throwing on her hat, she ran
out and asked breathlessly, “Oh, is it about Charlie?”

His face was grave as he answered, “The doctor has just told me that he
cannot live through the day.”

“And Ada?”

“She knows,—now,” was the low reply.

“Poor, poor girl!” Meg said in quivering accents.

Robert looked at her with an expression he was himself unconscious of,
but she did not meet his eyes.

Nothing more was said by either till they reached the home. Tossing a
coin to a boy who was loafing in the yard, Robert asked him to take the
horse back to the stable.

They went upstairs, and Ada came from the room with eyes swollen and
red, and said, “You may go in,—he will want to see you.”

As they entered, and Charlie recognized them, he called out in his old
cheery tones, much weakened by suffering, “My two young friends, I’m so
glad to see you! Gertie, honey, get another chair so they can both sit
down. How’s my little cousin?” he continued, looking at Meg. “What’s
that, what’s that? No crying, little girl. We want to be cheerful and
happy here.”

Meg dried her tears and tried to smile at him. “That’s it,” he said.
“That’s one reason I’ve always loved this little cousin so much,” he
explained, turning his eyes toward Robert. “She’s always
cheerful,—never makes a fellow feel badly.”

“Perhaps we—or at least I—would better not stay in here,” said Robert,
noticing how exhausted he was.

Charlie put out his hand feebly and laid it on Robert’s—“Don’t go. I
might get blue. _She_—” nodding toward the other room,—“has gone all to
pieces, and you know I can’t bear to see her unhappy.”

He seemed at times, from then on, to lapse into unconsciousness, but
whenever one of them would rise to call Ada he would rouse himself and
ask them not to. “The poor girl loses control of herself when she sees
me. I’ll tell you when to call her. I don’t want to make it any worse
for her than is necessary.”

After a little while he said: “Robert, I don’t belong to any church,
but I’m not an infidel. I’ve tried to live right. Won’t you say a
little prayer for me? Not any set form, my boy, but just a prayer from
your heart.”

Kneeling by the bed, Robert made a simple, touching, earnest prayer in
a few sentences, a prayer which brought the quick tears again to Meg’s
eyes. At its conclusion Charlie said, “Thank you,” very softly, and
turned his head away for a few minutes.

When he spoke again it was lightly, to cover his emotion. “Meg, I’ve
played a great joke on Ada. She thinks we are poor. We _have_ had to
economize a good deal, but there will be fifty thousand dollars life
insurance for her after—well, after a while. That ought to keep her and
the young one from starving, don’t you think?”

The room grew very silent, for neither Meg nor Robert had any heart for
conversation. Gertie sat in her usual place at the foot of the bed,
dry-eyed and sad, watching her father’s white face.

Outside, in the hall, could be heard the murmur of voices. It seemed to
disturb the sick man at last, for, opening his eyes, he asked, “Is it
the neighbor-women waiting to see me die? Just tell them that I’m not
at home to callers, will you?”

He tried to laugh at his pitiful little joke, but the laugh was so
hollow that it startled even himself. He nodded as Robert and Meg
arose, and said, “Yes, send her in, I want her. Good-bye, dear
friends,—God bless you!”

They started for the door, when he called feebly, “Meg!”

“Yes,” she cried, running back to him.

“Don’t let the doctor or any one disturb us. I just want _her_,—and
little Gertie.” As she started again he caught her hand and said
entreatingly, “Be good to _her_, little cousin!”

When she found Ada and sent her in to him, she whispered, “If you need
me, call me, dear.”

From the room came the sound of Ada’s sobs, above which, with
remarkable strength, arose Charlie’s voice, encouraging and cheering.
Then weaker and weaker it grew,—and ceased altogether.

A moment later a wild shriek rang through the house, and Meg, running
in, found Ada in a swoon on the floor, while Gertie, the child, with an
expression of heart-breaking despair, was striving to lift her mother’s
head, though she never took her eyes from the still, white face on the

Meg and Robert left the house an hour later. There was nothing more
they could do, for the Masons, to which lodge Charlie belonged, were in
charge of the body, and the neighbor-women had taken possession of Ada
and Gertie.

It had grown almost dark, and the lights were beginning to shine in the
houses along the way. There was little said between them, for both were
too deeply stirred by the sad events of the day to talk much.

Finally Meg broke the silence. With a little catch in her voice, she
said: “I am so wicked! When poor Charlie told me that Ada would have
fifty thousand dollars, my first thought was that there were many men
whom that amount of money would tempt.”

As there was no reply, she said, with attempted lightness, “Will you
absolve me?”

Meeting her mood, though both their hearts were heavy, he answered,
“There is no need of absolution where there is no sin.”

Nothing more was said until her gate was reached, and she cried: “It
doesn’t pay! It doesn’t pay to love, and marry, and be separated by


    “Domestic Happiness, thou only bliss
    Of Paradise that has survived the fall!”

About a week after Charlie’s funeral, Meg and Robert chanced to meet at
the Walker home, where both had gone to see the desolate young widow.

As they walked home together, both were silent. When within a block of
Meg’s home they passed a little cottage, plainly the home of people in
moderate circumstances. When they were just opposite the gate, a comely
young woman came out of the door and called, “Supper’s ready.”

Her husband, who was on the lawn in front, picked up one child, swung
him on his back, while the youngster squealed with glee, and called,
“Supper’s ready. Didn’t you hear Mama call, boys? The first one in gets
all the hot biscuit.”

Off he capered over the yard, the child on his back kicking and
pounding, and crying, “Get up, old horsie,” while the other two little
lads raced after him as fast as their short legs would carry them. The
mother stood in the open door, her hands on her hips, watching the
race, her face radiating good-humor and joy.

It was such a domestic scene! Rough and uncouth though they might be,
these people typified home, with all of the sweet meaning which is
often lost amid the environment of wealth.

Robert watched with his heart in his eyes. He noted each of the little
lads, for he loved children very dearly. He saw the look of idolatrous
pride on the mother’s face. He was absorbed in the delight of the
domestic scene.

And then they entered the house; the door closed upon them! It was as
though he had been given a glimpse of Heaven through a crack in the
door, which had suddenly been closed, leaving him out in the dark and
the night of his own despair.

Something of what he felt was in his eyes as he turned and looked at
Meg. Then the veil which had obscured his mental vision was lifted, and
he found himself face to face with his great soul-problem!

He seemed to see her for the first time. He took in the pure little
profile, the fresh red lips, the dark-lashed eyes, in a way he had
never done before. He even found himself looking with tender, amused
eyes at her reddish hair, and vaguely wondered what she would do if he
were to call her, school-boy fashion, “Sorrel-top.”

Suddenly he remembered! Not for him those charms, not for him the
companionship of this winsome little creature, of whose deeper nature
he had been given a glimpse, during the sad communion of the last few

When they reached her gate he dared not trust himself to shake hands
with her. He feared the touch of the soft little hand, and knew he must
be alone to fight it out by himself.

As Meg stepped up on the porch and was about to go in, a querulous
voice said: “Well, I see you have been gallivanting around with Robert
Malloy again. I should think he would be disgusted with you, the way
you run after him!”

“Oh, Auntie, don’t, please,” she pleaded, holding out her hands

“Every one sees it,” continued the merciless voice, “even his mother.
And from the way she spoke that night she was here, I could tell that
she was very much displeased.”

“Are you sure of that?” Meg asked quietly.

“Of course I’m sure,” was the impatient answer.

“Very well. I’ll see that no one has reason to criticise my actions
again. Thank you for telling me. Good-night,” she said gently, as she
started to her room.


    “_Pray, goody, please to moderate the rancour of your tongue._”

Meg did not see Robert for a week after that memorable walk. The days
of his absence were not sweetened by the comments of her aunt. “I knew
he would grow tired of being pursued. Men are not won that way,” was
the remark, with variations, which greeted the girl every day of the
seven during which she did not have the saving grace of Robert’s
presence to help her endure the torture.

All that was broad and sweet in her nature rejected the imprecations,
but what there was of suspicion, engendered by the loveless home life
she had led, listened to her tormentor.

It was not surprising, therefore, that she became irritable and
nervous. It was in this mood that Robert found her, when, after his
week of battle, he again walked up the narrow, flower-bordered path. It
seemed to him that he had never really been there before. Just as Meg,
after the great revelation, had appeared in a new light, so now did her

There was a certain tender gravity in his face as he offered her his
hand, which she purposely ignored. He flushed at this, but being
familiar with her somewhat prickly disposition, saw nothing significant
in her refusal to shake hands with him. “How is Aunt Amelia?” he asked
idly, as he seated himself.

“As ravishingly disagreeable as usual, thank you,” was the somewhat
snappy retort.

“Has your supply of kerosene oil run out? You don’t seem to have been
lighting the piano-lamp lately, with the music-box accompaniment.”

She almost smiled, but thought better of it, and replied, “My ambition
in that line has been nearly killed for lack of encouragement. Candles
and a jew’s-harp are about as near as I can approach to my shaded
lights and soft music.”

After a pause she said: “I’m sorry she’s not here just now. It will
grieve her to learn that she has missed a gentleman caller. They are
not standing in line any longer, so she can’t afford to lose one.”

“I did not come to see your aunt.”

Meg ignored his remark, and kept on: “She heard this morning of a new
skin balm, and she has torn madly down town to procure it. She will be
in rare good-humor when she returns. She always is after buying
something to enhance her beauty.”

Robert was watching her face with intense interest as she talked, and
made no reply.

“It’s something _all_ the time,” she complained; “either her face is
smeared with grease, or thick with some chalky mixture which gives her
a clown-like appearance, or else,—oh, the worst of all, the very limit,
was the rubber mask! While she wore that I used to lock my door at
night for fear she would come in my room for something, and scare me
into spasms!”

As she talked a severe expression came into Robert’s face. “Margie!” he

It was the first time he had used the dear name by which her mother had
called her, in spite of his threat to do so, and though she felt the
reproof of his tone, she thrilled when he spoke it. “Do you know,” he
began, “that your comments on your aunt are, to say the least in poor

She flushed deeply, but there was defiance in her voice and in the tilt
of her head. “Why don’t you say outright that I am a vulgar, ill-bred,
common little thing?” she demanded.

“Because I don’t think it.”

“Oh, yes, you do,” she retorted angrily. “I just wish you had to live
with Aunt Amelia! It might shake a little of the priggishness out of
you! You don’t seem to understand that I would go mad if I couldn’t
take it out in ridiculing her.”

His face softened, but before he could speak, she said in a hard,
expressionless tone, entirely devoid of the passion which had just
marked her utterances: “You will be leaving soon to enter your
monastery. I suppose it is proper to wish you _bon voyage_, as one does
people about to embark upon a long journey.”

His face went from red to white, and he studied his shoes, as though
trying to make up his mind to speak. Then he said slowly and
hesitatingly, “Let us not talk of that now. What are you reading?” and
reaching over, he lifted the book from the bench beside her where she
had dropped it on his approach.

“Nothing which would interest you,” she said tartly; “just the story of
a son’s devotion to his mother.”

“What do you mean by that?” he demanded sternly.

“Oh, nothing at all,” was the light reply; “you are more interested,
are you not, in foot-washing, shaven heads and cowls?”

He rose instantly, his face dark with passion, but as he talked, it
cleared, till in the end it was serene and calm. “I understand you now.
You take this means, this cruel means of wounding me, so that I would
know of your indifference. I have been having a mighty battle with
myself, as between my church and my love for you. And, though I should
blush to own it, my love won.”

He paused a brief second. She, too, was standing, and she was trembling
with emotion, but he did not observe it, nor that her lips were
quivering. “I came here to-day to ask you to marry me. I was willing to
forego the vows I was about to take, for which I have been preparing
all my life.”

He took a step nearer, and looked down at her. “Margie, I love you so!
I did not know such a thing existed as this fire which has permeated my
entire being! It will be my curse in my chosen life, because I will
never be able to concentrate my mind on the work before me. Your face
will be always between me and my duty. I could almost hate you for
shattering all the hopes and aspirations of a lifetime!”

He waited for some sign that she heard him, but she stood like a piece
of marble. “Yet perhaps had you loved me, and we had married, I would
neither be happy, nor cause you to be. So, though you are dearer to me
than all the world, dearer than the cloistered life I thought would be
all-sufficing, I thank you for not returning my love.”

Wheeling abruptly, he walked down the path to the gate.

“Oh,” she whispered to herself, wringing her hands together, “he thanks
me for not loving him!”


    “Thus repuls’d, our final hope
    Is flat despair.”

During the week that Robert was trying to choose his path for life,
Mrs. Malloy watched him with anxious, loving eyes, conscious of his
struggle, herself elated and depressed according to the moods his face

On the morning of the day he called on Meg, he had gone to his mother,
and nestling at her feet as had been his habit since his early
childhood, had leaned his head against her knee. She laid her hand
caressingly on his head, as though inviting him to speak.

With averted eyes, and a manner he strove to make careless, he said,
“Dear Mother mine, would you despise me for a weak, shilly-shally sort
of creature if—” he hesitated a moment,—“if I should, after all, alter
the plan of my life and not go into the monastery?”

Her face was transfigured, but she answered calmly, realizing fully
that it was delicate ground upon which they were treading: “Of course I
would not, dear. Whatever is for your happiness is that which I desire.
And no one, not even a mother, can decide for you.”

He reached up, and pulling her hand down, kissed it reverently. And
then she said softly: “While my boy was little I guided him through the
shoals, avoiding the rocks, and I longed,—oh, _how_ I longed to be
always at the helm, to keep his boat in the still, deep waters. But I
realized that it would be no kindness to have him depend on me alone
for guidance. I would grow old,—my hand would lose its cunning, my eyes
their keenness of vision,—or I would have to leave him altogether—”

He kissed her hand again, in protest. “Old age and death have nothing
in common with my young mother,” he whispered.

She smiled sadly as she shook her head. “Nevertheless, one must always
be prepared. At any rate, I taught you how to steer your own boat, my

“Then you desert the ship, do you, O most wise woman?” he asked gayly.

“I but abdicate the captaincy,” she replied in the same strain.

When he left the house to make his call, there was something in his
bearing which would have convinced his mother, even without their
previous conversation, that his decision was made and that he went to
put his life in the hands of the one woman in the world she would have
chosen for him. Her heart was light, for she had no doubt as to the

Mr. Spencer came in singing, “Hail to the chief who in triumph
advances,” and then, seeing his sister, he stopped abruptly and said,
“I told you so.”

“You think he has gone to put his fate ‘to the test, to win or lose it

“Did you see the set of his shoulders as he left the house?” demanded
her brother, and then, without waiting for a reply, he continued: “You
can’t fool me. I know the signs of the zodiac. It’s the full of the
moon, that part of the month when it gets into a fellow’s blood, and he
forgets everything except that here is the one being he loves. Why,
Stella, I’d have been infected with that same fever every full moon for
forty years, if I hadn’t been vaccinated.”

Mrs. Malloy laughed heartily, and then he said, more earnestly: “Robert
will be a lucky man to win that girl. I’ve known her for so long, and
have been so fond of her, that nothing but my age prevents my stepping
in now and interfering with Robert. The first time I ever saw her,” he
continued reminiscently, “she was a mere child, a quaint red-headed
little thing, with a world of tragedy in her big eyes. That was a few
months after she had lost her father. She had replied to a question of
her aunt’s, simply ‘yes,’—and Mrs. Weston was striving to make her say
‘yes, ma’am.’”

“Which won?” Mrs. Malloy asked idly.

“I don’t know. The last I saw of them they were walking down the
street, Mrs. Weston dragging her along and saying, ‘You _won’t_ say
“Yes, ma’am,” to me! Well, I’ll teach you some manners if you live with
me!’ But as I have never since heard Meg say ‘Yes, ma’am,’ I have an
idea that she won the day.”

When Robert returned, he sought his mother and said briefly: “Another
hand than mine has turned the boat back into the still waters of the
monastery. My novitiate begins in six weeks. Let us leave here in a few
days, that we may spend the remainder of the time alone together.”

All the glory had departed from her face, and she only nodded, not
trusting herself to speak.


    “Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he
    shall have abundance; but from him that hath not
    shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Meg did not see Robert again before he left. Mrs. Malloy she saw only
for a moment, in the presence of her aunt, when she came to tell them
“Good-bye.” “We leave to-morrow,” she explained with an attempt at a
smile; “Robert has only six weeks more of liberty.”

They looked into each other’s eyes, the two women who loved him. Soul
recognized soul, and Meg, throwing her arms around his mother,
whispered, “God give you strength to bear it.”

For reply, Mrs. Malloy clasped her close a moment and said so low that
Mrs. Weston could not hear, though she strained her ears. “If I find I
cannot bear it alone, and send for you, will you come?”

Meg could only nod. A moment more, and she was gone. Meg stood staring
after her till her aunt’s rasping voice broke the spell: “Do you want
the neighbors to say that you are dying of love for that young man? No?
Well, then, don’t act so mawkish about his mother!”

Meg could stand no more, and ran up to her room to escape the

The days dragged on hopelessly and drearily. One day, about three weeks
after Robert’s departure, Ada Walker came to see her. She looked very
pretty in her mourning-clothes, and her face wore a pensive air which
was becoming to her.

“I have come to say ‘Good-bye,’” was her greeting. “Good-bye!” asked
Meg in astonishment.

“Yes, I am going to put Gertie in boarding-school, and then I am going
East to study music.”

“And the home?”

“I have sold that,” was the reply.

“Sold Charlie’s home!” gasped the girl.

“Certainly. He always wanted me to keep up my music, and I couldn’t be
bothered with a house.”

Meg said nothing. “You know, Meg, Charlie would have wished it,” she
said somewhat peevishly.

“Yes, Charlie would have wanted you to do just as you wished,” replied
Meg drearily. Then suddenly she burst into tears, and throwing her arms
around Ada’s neck, cried, “Oh, I can’t bear to see you go! You are all
of Charlie that is left to me, and _everybody_ is going from me!”

Ada looked surprised at her burst of emotion, and said patronizingly:
“Why, I didn’t know that you cared so much! We people of deeper
feelings are sometimes at a loss to understand you frivolous ones!”

The words acted like a tonic on Meg, who dried her eyes, and said with
bitter lightness, “You must allow us frivolous ones to mope
occasionally. We are not always gay.”

“I suppose not,” said her cousin, eyeing her disapprovingly.

After she had gone Meg went up to the attic where she kept the little
trunk containing her mother’s things. Unlocking it, she clothed herself
in the dress and apron of which she had spoken to Mrs. Malloy. With the
addition the spectacles, the use of which her mother’s near-sightedness
had compelled, and the piece of unfinished work, she looked like a
child masquerading in grown-up clothes. But no child could have worn
the look of absolute despair depicted upon her face.

She sat gazing into vacancy for a while, and then, remembering her
game, began to talk: “Margie, dearie, don’t you realize that you are
only a light-minded little thing? You must try to be serious, darling,
try to have sober thoughts, try to feel as people of deeper natures do.

“And another thing you must remember,—you must not stand in anybody’s
way. When you find that you are standing between anyone and the light,
just step aside. Never mind about yourself. You are of no consequence.
You are just a waif,—you don’t belong anywhere, and don’t belong to

Suddenly the little red head went down on the folded arms, and she
began to sob, “Oh, mother! mother!”


“As a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.”

For a week or so after their return, Mrs. Malloy found herself, in
spite of her philosophy, growing bitter. She compared her life, replete
with all the bodily comforts that wealth procures, with that of other
women, who knew not the luxury of ease and comfort and beautiful
environments, but who, nevertheless, were surrounded by the dear ones
who alone make happiness.

She looked around her house, which in the minutest detail evidenced
exquisite refinement of taste, and thought with despair that in a few
weeks those rooms would be empty,—empty of the presence of her best

But something occurred which obliterated her reflections, and roused
all the strength and courage of her character. Robert became very ill
with typhoid fever, and for days it was impossible to foresee the

During his delirium he was like a child who dreads the dark, except
that the thing he feared was the monastery, that haven of rest for
which he had longed. He would beg his mother piteously to keep Margie
from pushing him through the gates.

One day he returned from the Crossway leading into the Valley, and
smiled a sane, rational smile. And simultaneous with his recovery, fell
the scales from his eyes.

He looked at the havoc anxiety had wrought in his mother’s face. Back
of the ever-ready smile, was a look he was beginning to understand.

And from having doubts as to his duty to fulfill his vows, he became
positive that his place was with her. As day after day he thought it
out, he felt horror of himself for the wrong he had unconsciously

Finally he told his mother. He begged her forgiveness for ever having
contemplated leaving her after his father’s death, and promised that in
the years to come he would try to make it up to her. She clasped him in
her arms, and murmured incoherent words of love, as she pressed her
face to his dark curls, as a mother does with a baby. “Oh, mother mine,
has it meant so much to you?” he asked in sorrow.

“So much more than you can ever know,” she answered, “but this moment
compensates for a whole lifetime of suffering!”

After a pause, during which he stroked her hand in silence, Mrs. Malloy
said gently, “Robert, I don’t want to rush in where angels would fear
to tread, so just stop me if the subject pains you,—but I don’t
understand why Margie refused to marry you.”

“She didn’t exactly refuse me, Mother,” he said hesitatingly; and then
he told her of their conversation.

His mother regarded him, during the recital, with amazement, amusement,
and consternation. When he had finished she observed quietly: “My son,
I see I neglected an important part of your education. You are not
schooled in woman-lore.”

A little later a telegram went out to Meg from her, saying, “I need
you. Come.”


    “To know, to esteem, to love,—and then to part,
    Makes up life’s tale to many a feeling heart!”

Valencia, to Meg, had become a barren spot on the map. Nothing relieved
the dreary monotony but the nagging tongue of her aunt, who, it would
seem, had found her mission in life, that of saying and doing the
little things which crucify.

Meg felt that she could have endured having her house of cards tumble
about her feet; could even have been stoical, because accustomed to a
loveless life. But the constant jarring note,—the mean, cutting words
which dwelt upon the lips perpetually of her one relative, kept her
soul in such a turmoil, that she seriously thought of embracing
Catholicism, and retiring to the peace of a convent.

That consolation, however, was denied her. She had not listened to Mrs.
Weston’s exordiums on unrequited love, without acquiring a tolerably
accurate idea of the remarks which such an act would call
forth,—remarks which she felt would follow and torment her, though
thirty convent walls, instead of one, hemmed her in from the strife and
malice and unwisdom of the world she had left.

When she took a mental inventory of her accomplishments with the view
of engaging in some business, she knew she could not qualify. She was
skilled in cooking and housework,—but courageous as she was in her
convictions, she shrank from the social ostracism that would surely
follow, should she employ her one talent in earning her independence.

While she was turning these things over in her mind, and trying to come
to a decision, the message came summoning her to the aristocratic
little Eastern city where Mrs. Malloy had made her home since the early
days of her wedded life.

Before speaking to her aunt about it, Meg counted over her scanty
savings from her insufficient income, and found that she would have
barely money enough for a round-trip ticket. It had not occurred to her
to refuse the summons. She felt it her positive duty to go, and,
putting her own trouble behind her, to do what she could for the
stricken mother who had turned to her in her need.

When she timidly mentioned it to Mrs. Weston, she said sharply, “You
surely don’t think of going! Why, it will only strengthen the opinion
most of the people have,—that you are desperately in love with Robert

Meg raised her head with a gesture of pride and dignity, though the red
blood mounted to her cheeks, as she replied, “You may tell the
neighbors should they inquire, that I _am_ in love with him.”

“Why, Margaret Anthony, I never heard so shameless an admission in my

“I thought you might as well know, being my nearest of blood. You have
thrown out so many innuendoes about the matter, that it may ease your
mind to know the truth. Now you have the knowledge, you may sow it
broadcast. No,” as her aunt started to speak, “there is nothing more to
be said between us on the subject. You may discuss me with the
butcher-boy, or the garbage-gatherer, whom I would consider a proper
receptacle for such gossip, or any one who inspires you with a desire
to talk,—but I demand silence for myself!”

It was a new phase of Meg’s character, which Mrs. Weston did not
understand, and as she did not possess a spirit of adventure, she
wisely refrained from disobeying the injunction.

The following day, with her few clothes, her ticket, and a small
lunch-box which Delia had smuggled to her, Meg set out on her journey.
To her it was a new experience, for since her orphanhood she had
scarcely been away from Valencia. It would have been a pleasurable
trip, but for the sorrow which she anticipated at its close.

She was so intensely alive, that everything interested her: the
occupants of the car, and the moving panorama without, the rolling
prairies of her own State, the cool, wooded forests of Missouri, the
rich farms of Illinois. But as she neared her journey’s end, and
contemplated what it meant to her, and to that other lonely woman who
loved him, her thoughts took shape, and, closing her eyes, she tried to
realize the full force of the blow that had fallen alike upon his
mother and herself.

In imagination she saw it all! A dim, high-ceilinged cathedral, with
the monastery at the rear. The gloom was relieved only by the candles
at the altar. A priest was droning the Latin of his prayer-book, while
the organ in the loft was playing some soft, monotonous air, that got
into her brain and nearly soothed her into forgetfulness. Suddenly it
burst into a triumphant Te Deum, as the altar boys appeared, followed
by other priests, and lastly, by five young men clad in the brown robe
of the order of St. Francis.

Her eyes sought their faces, one by one, till the last one was reached.
He was white, and in his eyes was the look of a man who had lived, and
loved, and lost. Over the heads of the other novitiates, beyond the
forms of the priests, his eyes met and held hers. And when he should
have responded in Latin, with the others, no sound issued from his
lips, but his eyes, fixed on hers, said: “Margie, I love you so! You
are dearer to me than all the world, dearer to me than the cloistered
life I thought would be all-sufficing!”

She held out her arms to him, but into his face had come the gray
pallor of a living death. The service went on and on, endlessly, it
seemed to her. It was all so meaningless! Her mind comprehended
nothing. Her heart, tense and ready to break, knew only that he was
leaving her. The beauty of the music, the impressiveness and solemnity
of the service meant but the one thing,—Robert was leaving her!

The service ended, his eyes said farewell to her,—and, with the others,
to the same monotonous music of the organ that had first lulled her
senses, he retreated, farther and farther away from her, until at last
he disappeared entirely. There was a moment of terrible suspense, as
she strained her ears to listen. Then came the clang of the monastery
gates, as they closed behind him, shutting him out of her life forever!

“Missy, de train’s done reached Welcomeville. Ain’t dis where you all
get off?”

Meg sat up straight and looked at the colored porter in a dazed manner
for a moment. Then, gathering her few possessions together, she left
the train.


    “Chewing the food of sweet and bitter fancy.”

Mrs. Malloy became oppressed with an uncomfortable feeling of guilt, in
the days following the sending of the message. It was foreign to her
nature to do anything about which there was necessity of being
secretive, and she shrank from the consequences of the revelation,
should her act meet Robert’s disapproval.

But dominant over that and every other sensation was her joy at her
son’s defection from his chosen path, and the anticipation of his
happiness in knowing that Meg loved him.

She did not meet Meg at the train, sending her trusted coachman alone,
for she preferred receiving her in her home. When the carriage drove
up, and she saw Meg’s white, drawn face, she became momentarily
nervous. But the nervousness gave way to happiness when she held the
girl in her arms, and caressed her hair. “Dear Mrs. Malloy,” Meg
whispered, “I seem so helpless! What can I do to make the burden

The silence that followed became uncomfortable. And Meg, looking up,
saw such a light on the face bending over hers that she added
wonderingly, “Why, how strange you look! What is it?”

“Please listen patiently, dear little girl, and don’t misunderstand me.
But first, let me take off your hat,—there—and now sit down. What would
you say if I told you that Robert had given up the monastery?”

Meg looked at her in a dazed manner, but made no reply. Mrs. Malloy
continued: “He awakened to the knowledge that he was more necessary on
_this_ side of the gates.”

Meg suddenly sat up very straight and asked in a strained voice, “And
the message? When did you send the message?”

Mrs. Malloy laughed softly, “Just as soon as he told me.”

“But you said you needed me.” The girl’s tone was hard.

For the first time Mrs. Malloy realized that here was an undreamed of
force, and she was suddenly reduced to an uncomfortable knowledge that
she had perhaps made a mistake. She hastened to adjust matters by an
explanation. “I felt I _did_ need you, my dear, for Robert. He told me
he loved you, and as I have always tried to procure for him everything
he wished, I thought I would bring you to him.” She tried to laugh, but
the effort was a failure.

“Then you have spoiled him by getting him all the playthings he
wanted,” Meg said dryly. “A little denial earlier in life would have
been morally beneficial. You should have let him cry for the moon, and
he would have learned the futility of tears.”

“Margie, dear,—” Mrs. Malloy leaned forward, and her tone was
pleading,—“don’t talk like that. It breaks my heart. I have blundered,
but only through love of my boy and you. Can’t you forgive a foolish
old woman?”

Meg smiled, but there was no warmth in the smile. “Certainly I will
forgive you. But Rob—your son: does he know you have sent for me?”

“No, he has no idea of it. And now that I see how you regard it, I fear
to meet his contempt when he knows that I have interfered, fruitlessly,
with his affairs.”

“But he need never know it,” Meg said quickly; “I will take the first
train back, and he need not know I was here.”

Robert’s convalescence had reached the stage where he longed to prove
to his loving mother that she had been needlessly alarmed about him.
Therefore, slipping out of his easy-chair in the library, he started
into the hall to find and surprise her. Following the direction of her
voice and that other low-toned one, which was so strangely familiar, he
pulled aside the heavy draperies, and stood framed in the doorway.

“Margie!” he cried, steadying himself by the curtains.

At the sound of that cry, and at sight of his thin, white face, she
half started toward him with an inarticulate exclamation. But suddenly
she remembered, and advancing formally, gave him her hand to shake, and
said in a conventional tone, as though they had met the day before:
“Good afternoon, Mr. Malloy. I hope you are improving in health.”

Robert dropped weakly into a chair, and with his eyes still fixed on
her face, said to Mrs. Malloy: “Mother, is it a cruel hallucination? Or
is it really my Margie, standing there?”

Meg flushed deeply, but before she could say anything Mrs. Malloy
interposed: “Let me explain, dear. I have been a foolish meddler. I
wired Margie that I needed her, and she came, thinking you had gone
into the monastery.”

An awkward pause followed, which Robert broke, falteringly: “Margie, it
is not a time to stand on formality, and I know from my former
experience that a delay in speaking is sometimes disastrous. So I am
going to ask you a question in the presence of my mother. Will you be
my wife?”

Meg’s face was white, and her voice quietly cold as she replied, “I am
not unmindful of the very great honor you do me, Robert, but I must
decline it.” And turning to Mrs. Malloy, “Is there a train I can take

“No, dear, not till morning. Let me take you to your room, and you can
rest, for I know you are tired.”

“Thank you,” Meg said sweetly, and giving Robert a little nod she
followed his mother from the room.

After opening her door for her and seeing that everything was as she
had ordered, even to the flowers, and the cheerful grate fire, Mrs.
Malloy turned to leave the room. At the threshold she paused, and Meg
was really concerned to see the look of age which had overtaken her
features. “You would better rest a while,” she said, “and I will have
you called in time for dinner.”

When she was alone Meg threw herself down in a chair before the fire
and sat staring into the glowing embers. She was deeply wounded and
offended. “Do they think I have no self-respect?” she said to herself.
“Mrs. Malloy, knowing me to be dying of love for Robert, and being
accustomed to gratifying his slightest whim, hands me to him on a
platter, with her compliments. And he, so polite, having been taught to
say ‘Please,’ and ‘Thank you,’ accepts me graciously. ‘Thank you,
Mother dear; you have the knack of always getting me just what I want.
It’s very pretty. I would prefer it to that monastery or any other

Just then a glowing log separated, and fell with a hissing sound;
gradually the glow faded from it and it became gray and lifeless.
“That’s it,” Meg soliloquized; “that log represents life. One moment so
full of color and warmth, the next, a handful of ashes.—I hate
Robert.—He looks very badly.—I wonder if he was in any danger.—I
suppose his mother must have been terribly anxious.—Auntie would say I
was sentimentalizing.—I wonder—” The tired head fell back against the
cushion of the chair, and she slept dreamlessly and sweetly, till she
was summoned to dinner.


    “Her children arise up and call her blessed.”

Meg, refreshed by her nap, was her usual sprightly self at dinner. Mrs.
Malloy looked weary and old, and had little to say. Robert, who dined
only by courtesy, his repast consisting of a bowl of bouillon,
conversed with Meg on the impersonal topics she selected.

He found it impossible to get on the old familiar footing. Even the
subject of Aunt Amelia, she treated with respect, refusing to see the
opportunities for ridicule which his polite inquiries furnished, and of
which, once, she would have taken advantage. She was bright and
gracious, but there was a new dignity about her, which forbade any
approach to the doorway of her emotions.

Robert had forborne to reproach his mother. Being by instinct and
breeding a gentleman, he did not say a word to wound her. Yet ever in
his deference, she was conscious of his resentment. She knew that he
attributed his failure to win Margie, to her interference. That, had he
been left alone to shape his fate, his desire would have led him back
to Valencia, there to woo and win the maiden in the old-fashioned
conventional manner.

And through her over-zeal, his bubble had burst,—the prize was beyond
his seeking!

She was very miserable in her self-communion. More so, perhaps, than
either of her companions. With Robert, hope was not by any means
extinct. With Margie, in spite of her schooling, and her wounded pride,
the warmth and glow of life came into her heart, as she looked across
at Robert, listened to his deep, expressive voice, and met his eyes,
containing the message of love he dared not speak.

As they started to leave the dining-room, Mrs. Malloy turned suddenly
white, and before Robert could catch her, she sank in a crumpled heap
on the floor. It was only a fainting spell, induced by her unhappiness
following so closely upon the exhaustion and anxiety attending Robert’s

But this they did not know, those two young creatures! To them it
resembled the sleep of death, and they both knelt beside her, frantic
with self-reproach, crying and calling to her to open her eyes and
speak. When she finally emerged from the swoon, she looked from one to
the other of them. Thinking she was dying, and that the wish she could
not frame in words was her last request, Meg sobbingly cried, “Yes,
dear Mrs. Malloy, I _will_ marry him if he wants me, for I do love

Whereupon Robert, putting his arm around Meg, said solemnly, “Mother
darling, it shall be as you wish. We love each other, and will send for
the priest at once if you say so.”

Mrs. Malloy closed her eyes from sheer weakness, but even in her
half-swoon the look of youth stole back to her features, and a
beneficent expression of peace came over them. When she felt strong
enough to speak, she asked to be helped to the couch.

The young couple bent over her solicitously, and when she again opened
her eyes, Robert asked in a low voice, “Shall I send for the doctor for
you, and the priest for us, Mother dear?”

She smiled faintly. “I do not need the doctor, for I simply fainted. As
for the priest, suit yourselves, but don’t send on my account, for I
think I will live till morning. And now, if Margie will come to help
me, I am going to my room to lie down. I would rather have you than a
servant, dear. Good-night, my boy. I will send Margie back to you

A little later, Meg whispered to Robert, “I believe she fainted on


    “Sweet is every sound,
    Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet.”

Meg was writing to her aunt, and Robert leaned over her shoulder and
read: “So I will be married here, and then we will take a trip for
Robert’s health. Auntie, please don’t suspect me of marrying for money,
but did you guess they were rich? _I_ didn’t, till I came here, and
then I saw. Most of the rich people we know make such a vulgar display,
and that is why, I suppose, I did not suspect it of them. I feel like a
fairy princess—”

Meg stopped writing and leaned back in her chair. “Robert Malloy,” she
said with pretended severity, “I am surprised that your mother never
taught you it was impolite to look over people’s shoulders. I suppose
she wanted to leave part of your education to me.”

“Speaking of fairy princesses, tell me the rest of that story you began
the day that poor, dear little boy stubbed his poor, dear little toe.”

She blushed at the remembrance, but passed on the reference, and began
her story without a preface: “Well, the beautiful, amiable princess,
almost too good for this world, finally met her Prince, or at least a
very good imitation of one, but he thought _he_ was too good for this

“I don’t think I care for your story,” and he pretended to yawn.

“And I don’t think you would make a good monk. You are not fat enough,”
remarked Meg irrelevantly; and then, seeing a tense look on Robert’s
face, she leaned forward and said contritely, “Oh, Bobbie, I never will
make light of it again! Honest! Cross my heart and hope to die!”

“I hope not, dear one,” he said gently; “I have given it all up, and I
have no regrets, but,—”

“Yes,” seriously, “I understand.”

Robert had drawn a chair up beside her, and was holding and caressing
her hand. “Tell me, little girl, where you would like to go, when we
leave the world behind us.”

Her face assumed a prim look, as she replied: “I have always been
taught that if I mended my ways and became very, _very_ good, I would
go to Heaven.”

Robert laughed. “But in the meantime? I would like to travel more or
less for a year, especially as Mother can be with us part of the time.
After that, I will come home and go into some kind of business.”

Meg’s eyes were shining with excitement. “Won’t it be fine!” she
exclaimed; “I have always longed to see the world. I want to view the
universe from the summit of Pike’s Peak. I would like to gather oranges
in Florida, to be prodigal with flowers in California. It is my desire
to be made dumb by the magnificence of Yellowstone Park,—temporarily
dumb, you understand,—and deaf by the roar of Niagara!”

“And you have never been to any of these places?”

“No, but I once went to Tecumseh! That’s fifteen miles from Valencia,”
she replied confidentially.

Robert laughed. Her voice became softly reminiscent, as she continued:
“I used to ‘pretend’ that I was traveling. I wandered through quaint
old streets in the unfrequented northern parts of Great Britain. I
spent whole weeks in that little town with its one street, paved with
cobblestones, leading straight down to the sea. I reveled in the
strong, salt air, and the odor of the fish, freshly caught,—though I
never could bear to smell them in a meat market in Valencia!” and her
small nose went up at the recollection.

“And did you never visit France, Germany, or Italy?”

“Oh, yes,—and Spain, where were all my possessions! I didn’t miss any
of the usual places, but I was contrary enough to prefer the unbeaten
path. That, I suppose, is the spirit of my pioneer ancestors in me. I
dearly loved Ireland, and the warm-hearted Irish people,—indeed,
indeed, I’m not saying it to flatter you!”

Robert was enjoying himself thoroughly, and to encourage her in her
whimsicalities, he asked, “Did you never visit Japan?”

“Yes, it was there I learned the exquisite art of arranging flowers.
But auntie, being a born and bred Valencian, could never be convinced
that it was not artistic to stuff a vase full of nasturtiums, geraniums
and sweet peas, with a garnishing of alyssum and petunias!”

“You must have gained quite a smattering of the languages in your
travels,” Robert said idly.

“_Just_ a smattering! Not enough to make me forget the everyday
language which years of association had made familiar, if not dear. My
travels usually ended as abruptly as though a cablegram had called me
home. Just as I would alight from one voyage, and, living over again my
delight in the scenes which had enchanted me, before preening my wings
and preparing for another flight, I would be jerked back to my
commonplace existence by a familiar voice saying, ‘Meg, tell Delia to
boil some cabbage for dinner!’ Auntie was addicted to cabbage,” she
concluded plaintively.

There was something of sadness in Robert’s smile, as he said: “Poor
little bird with the clipped wings! How much of pleasure and happiness
you have missed. Please God, I shall make it up to you!”

Meg gave him a grateful, upward look, as she exclaimed impulsively,
“Oh, Robert, my dear, you will have to give me so much love to make up
for the fifteen years I have missed it.”

“For twenty years, for forty years, if you say so, sweetheart, for the
supply is unlimited. And you,—will you turn on your shaded lights for

“No,” she said, with sweet gravity, “for shaded lights are artificial.
They may, at any time, flicker and go out. Nothing but the sunlight and
the moonlight will do now, to express my love.”


    An after-thought.

Mr. Robert Spencer to Robert Malloy:

                                                “Valencia, Nov. 5.

  “_Dear Robert_: Hold on. Wait for me. I made the match, and it’s
  no fair playing the game out till I come. Will take the first
  train. But what a combination of hair and name for your wife! It
  fixes her nationality, all right. Red-headed Meg Malloy! Salute
  her, for

                                                      “Uncle Bob.”

Mrs. Amelia Weston to Miss Margaret Anthony:

                                                “Valencia, Nov. 5.

  “_Dear Niece Margaret_: For such I suppose you will prefer to be
  called, now that you are to marry a rich man. I hope you will not
  forget your former friends and relatives who befriended you in
  your hour of need. And I trust you will profit by the refined
  example I have striven to set you. Be careful of your table
  manners. You always had a tendency to put your elbow on the
  table. I used to think you did it to annoy me. Perhaps if Robert
  never speaks of it you may cease doing it. I am very much afraid
  the neighbors will say you pursued Robert to his very home to
  marry him. They are likely to say you were afraid to come back to
  Valencia to be married for fear he would change his mind. It is
  just awful the way people gossip!

  “Of course, I am glad you are going to marry well. But I can’t
  help thinking how sweet Robert would have looked in that brown

  “I have bought a new complexion beautifier that I like so much.
  The young lady agent explained that my complexion really didn’t
  need improvement, but that this was a good preservator. She is a
  very pleasant young lady.

  “Give my respects to Mrs. Malloy and your future husband. I hope
  he won’t live to regret choosing you instead of the monastery.

                                         “Your loving Aunt Amelia.

  “P.S.—I am having the sweetest little dress made! It is of
  light-blue cashmere, trimmed in the cutest little chiffon ruffles.
  The dressmaker thinks it is going to be very becoming to me.”

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