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Title: Poppea of the Post-Office
Author: Wright, Mabel Osgood, 1859-1934
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 "Poppea of the Post-Office" ***

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



                            POPPEA OF THE POST-OFFICE

                             BY MABEL OSGOOD WRIGHT
                                   (BARBARA)

    AUTHOR OF "THE GARDEN OF A COMMUTER'S WIFE," "PEOPLE OF THE
    WHIRLPOOL," "THE OPEN WINDOW," ETC.

    WITH FRONTISPIECE
    BY THE KINNEYS

    New York
    THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
    1909
    _All rights reserved_

    THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
    NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO
    ATLANTA · SAN FRANCISCO

    MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED

    LONDON · BOMBAY · CALCUTTA
    MELBOURNE

    THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.
    TORONTO

    COPYRIGHT, 1909,
    BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

    Set up and electrotyped. Published July, 1909. Reprinted
    July, 1909.

    Norwood Press

    J. S. Cushing Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
    Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



          To
       E. C. S.
    IN REMEMBRANCE



[Illustration: _Poppea glanced wistfully across the room and then
slipped out through one of the long windows_]



CONTENTS


   CHAPTER                                         PAGE

        I. THE TENTH OF MARCH                         1

       II. THE WRONG AT HIS DOOR                     19

      III. THE NEXT DAY                              32

       IV. THE FELTONS                               50

        V. THE NAMING                                68

       VI. AS IT WAS WRITTEN                         83

      VII. INTO THE DARK                            101

     VIII. SANCTUARY                                116

       IX. THE MYSTERY OF THE NAME                  134

        X. PHILIP                                   154

       XI. INCOGNITA                                172

      XII. FRIENDSHIP?                              192

     XIII. THE TURNING                              213

      XIV. A PROPOSAL                               231

       XV. NIGHT AND MORNING                        251

      XVI. OUT OF THE ASHES                         267

     XVII. DADDY!                                   284

    XVIII. THE SCAR ON THE HAND                     305

      XIX. JOHN ANGUS                               318

       XX. ON THE WINGS OF THE MORNING              337



POPPEA OF THE POST-OFFICE



CHAPTER I

THE TENTH OF MARCH


The six-thirty New York mail was late. So late that when the tall clock
that faced the line of letter-boxes boomed eight, the usual hour for
closing, Oliver Gilbert, the postmaster, ceased his halting tramp up and
down the narrow length of the office, head and ears thrown forward in
the attitude of a listening hunting-dog. Going to the door, he pulled it
back with a nervous jerk and peered into the night.

As he did so, he was followed by a dozen men of various ages and social
conditions, who, in waiting for the evening mail, the final social event
of their day, had been standing about the stove, or, this choice space
being limited, overflowed into the open room at the back of the
post-office, with its work bench, chairs, and battered desk, topped by
book shelves; for, in addition to his official position, the postmaster
was a maker and mender of clocks and the Scribe for all those in the
village of Harley's Mills who could not safely navigate the whirlpools
of spelling.

In fact, a smattering of law, coupled with the taste for random browsing
in every old book on which he could lay his hands, had given Gilbert
the ability to draw up a will, a promissory note, or round an ardent yet
decorous love-letter, with equal success.

It was nothing unusual that the men saw as they looked into the bleak
March night, and yet they huddled together, listening spellbound and
expectant. A week before there had been a breath of spring in the air.
In a single day the heavy ice left the Moosatuck with a rush, to be lost
in the bay; a flock of migrant robins rested and plumed themselves in
the parsonage hedge; ploughing was possible in the fields that lay to
the southwest, and the wiseacres, one and all, predicted an early
spring. But in a single night this vision had vanished and winter
returned in driving snow that, turning to rain, coated everything
heavily with ice. Roadway, fences, and the sedate white colonial houses
that flanked the elm-bordered main street absolutely glittered in such
light as an occasional lantern on porch or fence post afforded. It
seemed almost mocking to the men in the door of the post-office; in
every way it had been a cruel season, this first winter of the War of
the Rebellion. It was not yet a year since the entire North had been
brought to its feet by the loss of Fort Sumter, and had sent forth an
army of seventy-five thousand volunteers as its reply.

The gloom of repeated defeat settled heavy as a cloud of cannon smoke
over New England, whose invincibility had given birth to the union of
states that it now sought to preserve, the only recent glimmer of light
having been Grant's capture of Fort Donelson in February.

This was discounted on the east coast by the terrifying career of the
_Merrimac_, beforetimes a United States cruiser, but now in Confederate
hands, that, by closely sheathing the wooden vessel with metal plates,
had converted her into a deadly ram which no wooden ship could
withstand, and already having ran amuck through the waters of Hampton
Roads, showed the possibility of putting every Union port in peril.

Then had come the news this very Monday morning, vague in detail and
almost unbelievable, that the _Monitor_, the mysterious invention of
Ericsson, a craft that to the casual observer looked as harmless as any
harbor buoy, going from New York under tow, had, on Sunday morning, met
and vanquished the great fire-spitting dragon that guarded the entrance
to the James.

It was for confirmation or details of this news that the men of Harley's
Mills were waiting and listening for the mail-train that did not come,
in their unfeigned anxiety interpreting its unusual delay as a bad omen.

Presently, a faint whistle struggled up against the fierce gusts of east
wind; a locomotive headlight, gaining in power after every
disappearance, flashed across the rolling fields that lay toward
Westboro. The train was coming at last.

"Here, take these lanterns, boys," cried Gilbert, "and do some of you go
down to meet her and come back with the mail-bag. It's a tough walk for
Binks's boy to bring it up alone in this storm."

"'Lisha Potts, do you unhook that red light from the horse-post yonder,
and if the news is good (Binks will likely have it from the train crew
or some passenger), wave the light above your head as you come back."
This to a broad-shouldered, up-country giant, with a grim, square jaw,
and hair the color and consistency of rye stubble.

"Good God! I can't stand this waiting and not knowing!" Gilbert almost
shouted as he closed the door behind the crowd and found himself alone
in the now dimly lighted post-office, except for old Selectman Morse,
white-haired and fragile, who, not being able to go out into the storm
with the others, was groping his way towards the stove.

"If I had two sound legs," Gilbert continued, "my fifty years shouldn't
stand between me and seeing and helping do what must be done down there
south of Washington; the bitter part of it is staying here. Next month
when the Felton ladies come back, I guess we'll have a telegraph
operator right at the station, at least that's what Wheeler their
foreman told me yesterday. You see, both Mr. Esterbrook and John Angus
are directors in the Railroad Company, and what with one's wanting to
hear the good news and the other the bad, we're likely to get it. Come
back into the workroom, neighbor Morse. After your long wait you'll find
a chair easier sitting than the coal-box lid."

"There's more than you that has to fight it out at home to give those
that's gone free minds," replied the old man, shivering as he settled
back in a carpet-covered rocker of strange construction. "Dan had turned
forty when he went, and now little Dan has run off to follow him and
he's scarce sixteen, so my fight must be fit out to keep son's wife and
girl children in food meantime; but I hope the Lord'll understand and
count it all for the same cause."

Gilbert, who had seated himself at his desk and was fumbling among some
papers in an absent-minded way, wheeled toward the old man quickly.

"Of course He will, for that's what Lincoln wrote me, and he and the
Lord have got to be of one mind in this business if it's going through
as it must."

"Wrote _you_? Lincoln wrote you? When? How? Why didn't you tell the
boys? They'd burst with pride to know a letter from Lincoln was in the
town, much less right here in the post-office that's public property, so
to speak!" cried Morse, leaving his chair and stiff limbs together, and
coming toward the desk almost with a bound.

Gilbert started as he realized what secret had slipped past his lips,
hesitated a moment, and then pulling a stool from under the desk,
motioned his companion to sit beside him.

On the wall directly in front hung a very good engraving of Washington,
in a home-made frame of charred wood; under it was suspended an old
flint-lock, worm-eaten in stock and rusty at trigger. Below it, at one
side of the desk so that it came face to face with the owner, a large
colored lithograph of Lincoln was tacked to the wall, framed only by a
wreath of shrivelled ground-pine and wax-berries.

Taking a key from his vest-pocket where it lay in company with bits of
sugared flag-root, Gilbert wiped it carefully and unlocking a drawer in
the desk that, to the casual glance, seemed merely an ornamental panel,
took out two letters and a double daguerreotype case that held the
pictures of a young woman and a little girl a year old. Placing these
things before him, Gilbert leaned back, grasping the arms of his chair
as if bracing himself for an effort.

"Last year when Curtis died and it was thought well to have the
post-office come up here in the centre of the town, the boys did all
they could to push me for the place in spite of John Angus's opposition,
and Mr. Esterbrook drew up a nicely worded account of who I was and why
I should have the office, to go to Postmaster Blair by our Senator. Of
course it was done the right way I suppose, with this and that claim for
consideration, but I'd never known it was me it spoke of, and somehow it
didn't seem quite square, for I'm nobody. So I thought I'd just send a
few words to the President, explaining things, if word of such small
offices ever reached him; anyway it would ease my mind. I made it short
as I could: just told him that it wasn't all money need made me want the
office, for I'd a trade, but I was lonesome with only the dead-and-gone
people in books for company, and I wanted something to do that would
keep me near to my fellow-men, without which age is souring.

"Well, Morse, in due time my appointment came and in with it, this--"
carefully opening and spreading out one of the letters:--

     "'WASHINGTON, April 2, 1861.

     "'MR. OLIVER G. GILBERT:

     "'MY DEAR SIR:--

     "'Your letter is in my hands. I have been lonely and have lived in
     books. I was once a postmaster and I understand.

     "'Faithfully yours,

     "'A. LINCOLN.'

"When a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of all this turmoil, his son
Willie died, I waked up in the night from dreaming of Mary and little
Marygold, and thought that Mary wanted me to write something. So I says
I guess I'll write Lincoln that I'm sorry, and that I understand his
trouble because of Mary's leaving me ten years ago, and Marygold the
next year, and how the Lord, through my crooked leg, won't let me join
them quick by way of battle. I put it down right then and there and sent
it the next morning, never thinking of a reply.

"Saturday, this came," and Gilbert unfolded the second letter:--

     "'WASHINGTON, March 3, 1862.

     "'OLIVER G. GILBERT:

     "'MY FRIEND:--

     "'It seems that we understand each other. I thank you for your
     letter. If the Lord's Will has stayed your joining in this
     conflict, be sure that He will find some other wrong for you to
     right, by your own door.

     "'Gratefully,

     "'A. LINCOLN.'

"Now, Morse, you can see why I haven't spoken of these letters and why I
shouldn't brag of them, for they are not from the President, but from
man to man.

"My grandfather, whose musket hangs up there, fought through the
Revolution. That picture of Washington is framed in a piece of oak wood
from this house that was set on fire by Arnold's men. Grandsir' revered
Washington next to God, and later, when he saw him as President, he
wrote a long letter, that cost eight shillings to deliver, to my
grandmother, telling her of his visit to Mt. Vernon. One part I've
always remembered, I've heard it read so often; it ran thus: 'His whole
demeanor was so full of dignity that he assuredly is great enough to
hold his own with kings, and be one in their company; yet though I
desired to have speech with him, as others did, I dared not take upon
myself to begin it. As he did not, I presently came away, much
disappointed.'

"Don't shake your head, neighbor Morse, I'm drawing no comparisons, for
there's no man fit to pair with either of them; but, mind you, if
Washington was fit to match with kings, Abraham Lincoln is humble enough
to be a man, a brother of the Man of Sorrows, who well knew loneliness
in the midst of a multitude, saying, 'Foxes have holes and the birds of
the air have nests, but the Son of Man has not where to lay his head.'"

A shout came down the street. Hastily pushing his treasures into their
drawer, the postmaster locked it with fingers that trembled, and reached
the door with his old friend, in time to see the little procession
crossing the road, the red lantern, held by a rake, swinging gayly
above 'Lisha Potts's head.

"It's a true victory!" he called; "we've got the paper. Shouldn't wonder
if next month saw the war end. Hey, Gilbert, now's the chance to run
your big flag up with the little one atop, unless the halyard's frozen
fast."

"Now, boys, bunch the lamps," said Gilbert, presently, as he cleared a
place on his work table, adjusted his spectacles, and spread out the
coveted sheet. The newspaper being fully three feet in length, the print
very small, and the large captions of to-day lacking, it took Gilbert
some time to locate the desired news. Meanwhile the boys pressed closer
and closer until, as he stopped for the second time to adjust his
glasses, 'Lisha Potts, peering over his shoulder, read at the top of his
voice: "Naval Engagement in Hampton Roads--Loss of the Frigates
_Cumberland_ and _Congress_--Great Success of the Ericsson Battery!"

"That'll do, 'Lisha," said Gilbert, with some asperity. "I believe that
I'm reading this paper--

"_First Edition_--Fortress Monroe, March 9.--The _Monitor_ arrived at 10
P.M. yesterday and went immediately to the protection of the _Minnesota_
lying aground just below Newport News. At 7 A.M. to-day the _Merrimac_,
accompanied by two wooden steamers, the _Yorktown_ and _Jamestown_, and
several tugs, stood out toward the _Minnesota_ and opened fire. The
_Monitor_ met them at once and opened fire, when the enemies' vessels
returned, except the _Merrimac_. The two ironclads fought part of the
time touching each other, from 8 A.M. until noon, when the _Merrimac_
retreated--"

"Never mind the whole story now, get the finish first," chorused the
audience.

"Here on the next page," cried 'Lisha.

"_Second Edition_," read Gilbert, deliberately. "The side of the
_Merrimac_ pierced by the _Monitor_! The Ericsson battery finally
succeeded in forcing a long hole in the port side of the _Merrimac_ and
she retired with the whole rebel fleet to Norfolk about one o'clock!"

Cheers drowned Gilbert's voice, and the paper passed from hand to hand,
each man reading some particular phrase that pleased him, while Seth
Moore, one of the retired sea-captains of which every coast town at this
period had its quota, banging on the floor with his cane, cried: "It
isn't only a blow to the rebels but to wooden ships as well; I didn't
think so much scrap-iron could keep afloat. Mark my words, first thing
we know even the passenger liners will all want their iron trim, and the
Lord knows but what even the coastwise service'll come to it some day!"

It was after ten o'clock before, discussion ended, the men went their
various ways. The storm had ceased, and the intense blue black of the
sky set with stars seemed only a degree less cold and burnished than the
ice-coated earth over which the "boys" went home, slipping and sliding;
the younger making a frolic of the matter, the older clinging to the
fence rails.

"It's going to be a mean walk for me to-night, three miles straight up
hill and against the wind," said 'Lisha Potts to Gilbert, as he helped
him fix the inside bars on the shutters, preparatory to closing the
office.

"Then why not stop with me?" questioned the postmaster. "I couldn't
think of sleeping for a couple of hours yet, and somehow, the idea of
reading don't come natural to-night, though I've been mighty interested
getting into the workings of the wars of the ancients, all about the way
Xenophon managed to get those ten thousand Greeks to retreat across
country, without really skedaddling. Ever heard about it? Mebbe you'd
like I should read it to you."

'Lisha, a man of the remoter farming country and timber land, used to
the big open spaces of life that some call loneliness, shook his head in
an emphatic denial that almost amounted to alarm, and began to button
his heavy frieze top-coat.

"Well, well, I won't, so don't get scared," laughed Gilbert,
indulgently. "If folks don't thirst for knowledge, there's small use
choking it down their throats. Not that the best of learning comes out
of books, for you learned your trade of reading the ground and the
weather 'n' hunting and tracking all out o' doors."

"I tell you what we'll do, go over back into the house, light all the
lamps I've got, and set them in the windows for a victory illumination.
Then we'll cook up a nice little supper for our two selves and have a
smoke by the fire. I don't often do it these days, haven't felt peart
enough; but to-night, somehow, I feel skittish, like I did forty years
ago when a pair of yearling steers I'd trained got first premium at the
Old Haven Fair. To-night a pipe between my teeth's not a bad habit as
the parsons preach, 'Lisha, but a necessity, yes, a bare, vital
necessity."

This proposition being in the direct path of 'Lisha's own desires, he
gave a cheerful whistle of consent and followed Gilbert through the
partly roofed grape arbor that made a passageway between the post-office
and the sloped roofed house of Gilbert's forefathers, that stood well
back in the garden with its porch facing the hill road.

"Nobody'll see the lights this time of night," criticised 'Lisha, as
Gilbert, mustering an array of six sperm-oil lamps and three sturdy
pewter candlesticks, proceeded to distribute them between the various
rooms, not forgetting the icy "spare chamber" upstairs, or the
"foreroom" at the right of the front door with its scriptural
engravings, bright three-ply carpet, and melodeon.

"That's as may be," Gilbert answered, while he regulated a wick, stiff
from lack of use, "but they'll be there all the same, and we'll know it
anyhow. What'll you have? There's beans and brown bread been in the oven
all afternoon, besides apple pie, crullers, biscuits, and spice snaps in
the pantry. I think this time o' night when we're wakeful anyway, we
might as well have hot coffee to mix and blend the vittles and put some
ginger in us. Mebbe you'd prefer hard cider, but since I found the stuff
was tangling the feet of some good neighbors, I haven't kept any about.
Yes, get a pail of fresh water while I grind the coffee; you can never
get the flavor, Mary always said, without fresh-drawn water come to its
first boil."

To have seen the neatness of the kitchen, pantry, and long, low bedroom
that ran across the back of both, no one would have supposed that the
house had been without the touch of a woman's hand for nine years. To be
sure, at the critical periods of spring and fall cleaning the
postmaster's sister, Satira Pegrim, a bustling widow of forty, came down
from her little hill farm to officiate. Why she did not stay on and keep
house for her brother had been a subject of much speculation during the
year after the baby Marygold had followed her young mother. But though
Gilbert said nothing, they came to understand that without the child to
care for there was not sufficient work to keep in check Mrs. Pegrim's
nervous energy, which found vent in a species of incessant reminiscent
sympathy that poor Gilbert could not bear.

When the only love of a silent man's life comes upon him when he is
nearly forty, fairly sweeping him from his feet, and in less than three
years wife and the child just forming her first words are snatched away,
leaving him deaf at heart, work is the only consoler that can gain even
his ear. So Gilbert had baked and swept and garnished, kept the
geraniums and the calla lilies and pink flowering "Gypsey" in the
windows, and a white spread upon the bed, and the hooded mahogany
cradle-cover of pink and white basket-pattern patchwork, as it had been
during those years.

As Gilbert added an armful of wood to the fire in the cooking stove that
was set in the wide chimney place, and opened the iron door of the
brick oven at the side, the bright light threw against the opposite wall
his somewhat remarkable silhouette. He was fully six feet tall with
close-cut, iron-gray hair, bushy eyebrows, and long, gray beard that
reached his waist, and so frequently got in his way that he twisted it
up and fastened it under his chin with an elastic band, or hairpin, as
upon the present occasion. Gilbert had craved education, but lacked the
strength to force the opportunity, though his reading had nourished a
gentle sentiment in him, and better speech than is often found in New
Englanders of his surroundings.

When 'Lisha had filled the kettle, the two men lighted their pipes, and
slipping off their clumsy shoes, in unison, spread feet covered by blue
yarn socks before the open front of the stove and, puffing comfortably,
drifted into desultory talk.

"It's mighty queer that John Angus, leading man in this town and his
folks Yankee all through after they stopped being Scotch, should stand
for slavery," mused 'Lisha. "Do you suppose he's got any reason other
than his usual one of taking the off side of things?"

"He has big cotton interests for one thing," said Gilbert; "otherwise,
who can tell why he does this or that? Why does he hate me? Because he
can't drive me off the earth, I take it. We played together as boys, but
I've never presumed on that. His father left him fully two hundred acres
of land, mine left me three; but it stood something like a nose on the
face of his holding, coming in the south front of it. He seemed to
think all he had to do was offer me money for my home; he thought I had
no right to love the place where I was born, but that he had. Once or
twice I've been on the point of yielding, but never since it became the
home of my wife and child."

"That's why, then, he did all he could to keep you from getting the
post-office?"

"I reckon so, and now I've got it, he has all his mail sent to Westboro
to keep down the receipts."

"Whew--!" whistled 'Lisha. "I didn't think he'd spite himself that far."

"Well," replied Gilbert, "I don't know but at bottom I'm sorry for him.
He's got a grand place here, a city home, and money; he's been senator,
and, they say, could have been governor; but he's all alone up there
without love or kin."

"He had a dreadful pretty wife, and pleasant spoken. I remember selling
her quail and partridge every fall of the year."

"Yes; when she first came home, she was not over twenty, and most as
pretty as my Mary. He met her when he was travelling in Europe, the Miss
Feltons said. She was there learning to sing or something. I heard her
sing once up where the end of their garden stops short and the ground
drops to my bit. It was just like the voice of the last wood robin that
keeps singing till after dark, and then quits sudden as if he was
lonesome. After living up there for ten years, she, that at first had a
laughing face and skin like a peach, grew thin and white as marble, and
then all of a sudden, she left him and died away in England, they say,
about a year ago. Some claim he was always reproaching her because she
was childless; others, that once when he was away, she went to the
midsummer ball up at Felton Manor against his wish and danced with a
nephew of Mr. Esterbrook's so beautifully that folks spoke of it until
it got round to him. He'd never let her dance before, so nobody knew she
could. Then next Sabbath the young man walked from church with her.

"I well remember the day she went, it's less than two years since. There
was no running about it; she came down the hill in her carriage as if
she was only going on a short journey. As she passed the shop, she
plucked the coachman by the coat to stop him and came in to ask me to
fit a key to her watch. I remember the watch too, small and thin, with a
flower on the back in diamonds. Oh, yes, Angus was generous enough, and
kept her well in clothes and jewels.

"All of a sudden she said, 'Mr. Gilbert, I'm going away and never coming
back, and there's nobody to miss me or be sorry.'

"I was struck all of a heap, for I'd always liked her and spoke my mind,
which added to his dislike of me, but I knew by her face she meant what
she said. She looked like a crumpled roseleaf, so young and frail, that
before I knew it, I had taken her cold little hands in mine and was
telling her that _I_ should miss her, and that I never should forget the
soft white slip made with her own hands she sent for Marygold to go to
sleep in, or how she came to comfort me in face of John Angus's
dislike. 'If ever I can do you a good turn, it's all I'd ask,' I said to
her.

"With that, she put her poor thin arms about my shoulders, looked me
straight in the face, and said, 'Yes, I believe you would,' and pulling
my head down, kissed me on the forehead as if I'd been her father.
Before I got my wits again, she was in her carriage and away, and now
she's dead and gone. They say that the Miss Feltons have heard that John
Angus is to be married again this spring to a woman as rich as he is,
the daughter of somebody high up in New York life. So I suppose he'll
raise a grand family now, and poor little roseleaf is forgotten."

"Hi there! the water's biled over," cried 'Lisha, and soon the subtle
aroma of good coffee filled the kitchen, and the men drew the table
toward the stove before sitting down to their supper, for in spite of
the rousing fire, the room was draughty.

Three clocks that hung in a row between dresser and chimney, which were
undergoing the delicate process of being regulated, struck twelve with
different emphases and in three different keys before Gilbert had made a
bed for his guest upon the wide lounge by the chimney-corner, and the
two men went about the house to put out the lamps.

"What's that?" said Gilbert, pausing as they came down the creaking back
stairs.

"Just a log of wood rolling off the heap on the stoop, I reckon,"
answered 'Lisha.

"There isn't any wood there; I fetched it all in," said Gilbert, giving
a decided start, as the noise was repeated and this time resolved itself
into a rhythmic knocking on the outer door.

'Lisha strode through the kitchen, picking up the poker on his way, and
threw open the door. At first he saw nothing, the change from light to
darkness was so sudden; then something white in the shadow beside the
door caught his attention.

"It's only a dog," he thought; yet as training had made him cautious, he
called, "Bring the lantern," to Gilbert, who had stopped to pull on his
coat.



CHAPTER II

THE WRONG AT HIS DOOR


As the lantern held by Gilbert flashed upon the furry object, 'Lisha,
who was bending over it, jumped back as though he had been shot, crying,
"Good God, Gilbert, it isn't a dog; I reckon it's a child!"

At the same time he gathered up the bundle, and, almost trampling
Gilbert in his haste, strode into the kitchen, where he laid it on the
table.

The outer wrapping was a well-worn buffalo-robe, and from between its
folds a small, white-mittened hand was visible.

For a moment the two men stood side by side, speechless with
astonishment; then Gilbert began to unfold the robe with fingers that
trembled so he could scarcely direct them. Inside the skin was an afghan
of soft wool tied crosswise, while in the depths of this nest lay a
child, wrapped from foot to head in coat and cap of white coney, even
the face being hidden by a knitted Shetland veil. The little form was so
still that Gilbert dreaded to touch it, but 'Lisha, having pulled
himself together, lifted the veil, disclosing softly rounded, pink
cheeks and red lips slightly parted in regular, if rather heavy,
breathing. This action disturbed the sleeper without waking her, for
she relaxed the arm that had been pressed close against her breast, and
from under it a tiny puppy sprawled out, dragging with it a large
handkerchief in which it had been wrapped, as if to make a doll of it.
He was not an aristocrat of the dog world, but one of those waifs that,
decorated with a bit of ribbon, are sold on city street corners for a
dollar, the appeal of their youth, added to the speculative element in
all of us, finding ready purchasers for them.

The puppy, tawny and roughish as to coat, having one ear that stuck up
while the other lopped, and the keenest of eyes, after licking the face
and the long-lashed lids of the child without getting a response,
tumbled to the edge of the table and began wagging his ridiculous rat
tail and making friendly advances to the men. Seeing that even the
puppy's rough caresses did not waken the baby, Gilbert raised one of the
eyelids gently, and then after holding his face close, whispered to
'Lisha: "Just as I thought, she's drugged with paregoric; we'll have to
rouse her even if she is scared of us and makes a time. I well remember
how it was with Marygold when sister Pegrim, not having her glasses,
gave her a large instead of a small spoon of cough syrup by mistake.
I'll wash her face and see if I can't liven her up. Just pull that
rocker over here, 'Lisha, and give me the tin basin of water."

As he talked, Gilbert was undoing the coat and cap from which came the
head of a child of about a year, covered with a mass of hair that lay in
close golden rings, with here and there a tinge of copper, in strange
contrast to the dark lashes and eyebrows.

From the moment his eyes had rested on her, Gilbert had unconsciously
said _she_, for every curve and line was feminine. Yet even with closed
eyes, there was nothing doll-like about her, while there was almost a
suggestion of resolution about the mouth corners.

"Now, precious, wake up and look at the pretty light," crooned Gilbert,
holding her with awkward hands, against his shoulder, so that her head
came above it, yet in a way that no man would have done who had not held
his own child.

Presently, the heavy eyelids drew upward, and then after the
consciousness of light became complete, she looked about the room, gave
a little cry of delight, and held out her hands when she saw the puppy,
rounding her lips into a sound like wow-wow; but as her eyes rested upon
big, ugly 'Lisha, her chin quivered, her cooing voice trailed off into a
heart-broken wail, and she hid her face in Gilbert's neck.

What the confiding touch meant to the lonely man, only he and his Maker
knew. It thrilled him to his finger-tips, awakened life springs that he
believed forever dry, and tears, unknown to him these nine years, became
a possibility, but not while 'Lisha stood there gaping at him with
hanging jaw. In a few moments the wailing stopped, and she began to look
about once more.

"Fetch me a cup of water, 'Lisha; mebbe she's thirsty."

As he turned to carry out Gilbert's directions, the young lady began to
smack her lips and show by her bodily motions that she knew what the
word "thirsty" and a cup in sight promised.

As Gilbert helped to guide it to her mouth with one hand, the corners of
her lips, assisted by a little quiver of the nose, expressed
unmistakable disgust at finding only water.

"Guess she's looking for milk same as kittens do," suggested 'Lisha,
tiptoeing to the table and peering into an empty pitcher. "Great
snakes!" his favorite ejaculation, "I spilled the last drop into my
coffee. The pup wants some, too, I reckon," as the queer little beast,
nose in air and tail wagging furiously, seemed bound to climb up his
trousers leg.

"Of course she does, the lamb!" said Gilbert, holding her from him upon
his knee, the better to look over her. "But where is it to come from?
It's half an hour past midnight and I don't like to wake up the
neighbors," he mused.

"Got a small open kettle?" asked 'Lisha, rummaging in the pantry. "I've
found it; now do you fix up a place for her to sleep while I fetch her
supper," he continued, with the air of one to whom the care of strange
lady babies was an everyday occurrence, when, truth be told, he had
never before come in contact with any young thing more delicate than a
calf or a long-legged colt.

"Don't go to the Bakers'," pleaded Gilbert; "I know they're the nearest,
but Mrs. Baker'll come back with you for sure, and I want time to turn
around before any women folks bear down on me."

"Nope, I'm not going to confide in any female, least it's Brooks's red
cow. I milked for them when the old man broke his leg last fall, 'n' the
cow knows me. It's only a quarter of a mile up the road; cow barn has no
windows on house side; key's kept under a mustard box on the
window-sill. Baker took his gun to Bridgeton Saturday to get her
cleaned. Not a bit of danger, and I'll explain to 'em to-morrow. Back in
no time."

So, jerking out his words with gestures as mysterious as if he were
going to commit a desperate crime, 'Lisha went out through the back
hallway, lest opening the front door should let in too much air.

He had no sooner gone than Gilbert's whole attitude changed. Settling
the little girl comfortably on his knees, he began to scrutinize her
clothing carefully, babbling a string of baby talk that would have been
almost unintelligible to the uninitiated, but that seemed very soothing
and reassuring to the child, who, after wriggling for a few minutes, as
though determined to get to her feet, suddenly discovered Gilbert's
beard, which he had knotted up to get it out of the way of the cooking.
It was fastened with a large shell hairpin that he had probably picked
up in the post-office. Fascinated by this unusual object, she clutched
at it with both hands, gave a crow of delight, and began jerking up and
down on his knee as if riding on a hobby-horse, treating Gilbert's beard
as its mane. Next spying the puppy on the floor, she stiffened herself
and prepared to slide down to him.

"All right," crooned Gilbert. "Let's see if the little lammy can stand?
Yes, but not so very well," he added, as, after taking a single step,
she doubled up and almost sat on the pup.

"Now we'll sit her on the lounge to play with doggy, while daddy gets
her bed fixed."

The word "daddy" slipped from his lips unconsciously, as he pulled the
high-backed sofa out from the wall and propped the child up with some
husk pillows and a comforter. Then he stole across to the bedroom where,
after choosing a key from the chain that was fastened to his pocket, he
unlocked a high chest of drawers still keeping his eye on the lounge and
its occupants.

"She's somewhere about a year, I reckon," he said, talking to himself,
after the fashion of those who are much alone. "She's bigger than
Marygold was at fourteen months, but not so clever on her feet. As for
talking, they're something alike; Marygold only said 'Daddy' and 'Puss,'
and I guess I can piece out some words from what _she_ says when I get
the time. Wow-wow means dog plain enough. I must get her undressed
before 'Lisha comes back; he's all right, but too rough in his ways for
handling a lady baby, and that's what the little one is."

Having taken some clothes from the drawers,--a pair of knitted socks, a
little night-dress of yellow shaker flannel, and a quilted wrapper in
gay-flowered print, all smelling of camphor and their long, pent-up
years in the chest,--he spread them on a chair by the stove to air and
warm.

Meanwhile, the child had nestled back among the pillows and was half
dozing, the puppy clasped tight in her arms. Going once more to the
bedroom, Gilbert stood a moment before the quaint hooded cradle, made up
ready for occupancy from spread to pilch, the cradle from out of which
he himself had gazed alternately at the leaves on the wall paper and the
leaves against the sky, dreaming in knowledge after the manner of
babies. Then lifting the cradle, he carried it into the kitchen,
negotiating the doorway with difficulty, for his burden was heavy and
the rockers wide of angle to prevent the overthrow of the occupant.
Pushing his hand between the sheets and finding them clammy to the
touch, he pulled them off and brought others from the inexhaustible
chest.

Then came the undressing of the lady baby herself, which was done as
dexterously as a woman might, for Gilbert's fingers, used to the
handling of mere specks of machinery, did not fumble with strings,
buttons, or the intricacies of shield pins. Moreover, memory crept into
his finger-tips and guided the almost-forgotten task, even as feet that
once have trodden a daily path, returning to it in the dark, after the
lapse of a lifetime, follow each rise and fall.

Piling the clothes she had worn upon the table, he held the little feet
in his big, rough palm, warming them, rocking gently the while. With a
sleepy friendliness, the child nestled to him; then, twisting as though
something pressed uncomfortably on her flesh, pushing her hand into the
neck of the knitted shirt that Gilbert had left on for extra warmth, she
began tugging at something, looking into his face and patting his hand
as if to ask his help.

"What is it, lammy? A tight string that chokes? Let daddy feel."

Drawing up a chain of intricate links, his fingers closed upon a thin
locket or watch, he could not tell which, as it would not open. He
unfastened the chain and put it with the heap of clothes, as the door
opened and 'Lisha, fairly blue with the cold, some of which rushed in
with him, returned with the milk. The trip from the Brooks farm had
cooled it sufficiently to make it palatable and this time the child took
a long drink, sighing with satisfaction when she paused for breath, with
her four tiny teeth clenched on the thick china cup to prevent its being
taken away.

Then with unmistakable gestures, she asked that the puppy might also
have some. She sat blinking and keeping her eyes open with difficulty
watching until his little elastic stomach began to grow heavy, and
rummaging a bit of carpet into a sort of nest, he settled for the night,
half under the stove. This did not suit the lady baby; she wished to
hold the puppy and began to show a decided bit of temper, until Gilbert,
lifting her from the lounge, carried her on his shoulder to the bedroom,
saying, "Hold crying a minute, lammy, 'til daddy sees what he can find
in the drawer. Yes, I thought it was here;" and the child, hugging a rag
doll flat faced and faded, allowed herself to be tucked into the cradle
without a murmur, and fell into natural sleep, the deep hood of the
cradle completely shutting off the light.

'Lisha gave a sigh of relief that was almost tragic. "She's safe off to
sleep and we ain't dropped her, nor broke her, thank the Lord! Well,
Gilbert, what do you think?" and the giant, spreading his hands behind
him, backed toward the stove.

"Think? Why, I reckon, after Marygold, she's the sweetest little one I
ever set eyes on, and in some ways she's remarkably like her, 'specially
the way she sets her chin,--"

"Great snakes! I don't mean that," snorted 'Lisha. "How do you think she
come here? Who brought her and why? Don't it strike you as anything
unusual that a child of her age, all togged out fine, should be left on
a porch in the middle of a perishing cold night?"

"Of course, of course, 'Lisha, it's unusual, and I reckon that's half
the reason that I've been in a daze ever since; that, and feeling
something warm and small on my knee. Now she's safe and asleep, it's our
duty to investigate and let her people know her whereabouts soon as I've
made up the morning mail. Draw up to the table and we'll find if there's
any marks on her clothes.

"To my thinking, it's a case of kidnapping," Gilbert continued, "either
for money, or perhaps spite. Even parents do queer things to outface
each other sometimes. Oh, you needn't shake your head, I _know_; there's
a chance to see a deal of life in a post-office.

"Whoever was making away with the lady baby likely got scared, or was
sorry for the job, so left her here in a public place where she'd be
soon found."

"Where'd they come from _last_?" persisted 'Lisha, but received no
answer, as Gilbert was examining each garment, fingering them carefully,
inch by inch, and though 'Lisha did likewise, no marks of any sort, not
even an embroidered initial, could they discover.

The large locket of heavily chased gold, the pattern much worn on the
sides, after many efforts at prying, at last flew open, purely by
accident when its secret spring was touched. Within, the picture of a
young woman seemed to look so directly in their faces, that both men
exclaimed. The face was that of a girl of eighteen or nineteen. Dark
brows and lashes guarded large hazel eyes, the nose was a trifle
tip-tilted, and this, together with the parted lips, gave the impression
that she was about to speak, while a very firm chin lent decision to the
youthful roundness of the face. Exquisitely shaded hair, in tints of
gold, copper, and ash, curved back from the broad forehead, and was
loosely braided and coiled about the small head, while resting lightly,
half sidewise on the braids, was a wreath of poppies, not the flaming
oriental flowers that suggest sensuous drowsiness, but delicate,
rosy-flushed blossoms with petals frail as the wings of a night moth.

The two men did not analyze the face that looked frankly into theirs,
they only knew that it was beautiful. Presently, the light caught upon
the inside of the cover of the locket showing, imperfectly, letters
engraved thereon.

"Get me my watch-glass from the work bench," said Gilbert, his hands
trembling with expectation. But this revealed only a single word and
date,--"Poppea--1850."

"Poppea! what's that, a place?" asked 'Lisha, turning the locket this
way and that in the hope of finding more.

"It's a woman's name if I remember rightly, and I think I've met it in
Mr. Plutarch's book or some history. The wife of one of the Cæsars or
some one of importance. I'll look it up to-morrow. Anyway, the picture
is done on ivory like the one of Miss Felton's mother that she wears in
a brooch. Some said it was only made of tea-cup china, so one day, when
she was waiting for me to weigh a package, I made bold to ask, and she
said, 'No, Mr. Gilbert, it is painted on ivory and is a work of art.' So
I judged only the well-to-do can lay claim to this sort, which carries
out what I say, as I did before, the lady baby has been kidnapped. Now
lets us turn in. You go in my room and I'll take the shake-down on the
lounge and keep a watch on the lady baby."

'Lisha, pulling himself stiffly to his feet to obey, stumbled over the
corner of the buffalo-robe that had been pushed under the table and
remained unnoticed.

"I wonder if this thing has anything to tell on the subject," he said,
spreading it wrong side up on the floor and scrutinizing the patched and
faded lining slowly.

"Look here, Gilbert! Just look at that patch there in the northeast
corner, that piece of felt with moon and star figgers on it! 'Long about
Christmas, Dr. Morewood was up at the farm in a sleigh from the stable
at Westboro, his own being in the shop for new irons. He'd throwd the
robe over his horse, and it slipping off, it got trampled, so he asked
mother to take a stitch in it. But the hole being big, she threw in a
hasty patch made from the end of an old table cover that had been in our
setting room since I was knee high to a toad. What you're looking at is
that patch."

"You'd reckon the party that brought the child had a team from Beers's
stable then," said Gilbert, now all eagerness. "If so, why didn't we
hear the rumble of it on the ice, and how would they account for the
robe when they got back?"

"As for the team, it might have been a sleigh with hushed bells; we
fellows up our way often fix them like that when we want to take the
girls out riding on the sly and the old folks asleep. As for their going
back, yer running on too fast; that's to be found to-morrow. That we've
got a clew right here's enough for you now. One o'clock! Great snakes!
it's to-morrow right now, and me due up home to milk at six and you to
pack up the first mail down. Say, Gilbert, don't you want me to stop at
Mis' Pegrim's as I go up and hustle her down for the day until this
child business is settled up? You'll have your hands overflowin', what
with her and it and all the people that'll be in ponderin' and
advisin'."

"Well," replied Gilbert, his hands working nervously, as he twisted and
untwisted the long beard from which the lady baby had pulled the pin,
"under the circumstances, I guess it'll be best, and I'd be obliged if
you'd hook up and fetch her yourself. 'Tisn't necessary for her to stop
and talk to every fence post on the way, either. As to the locket,
that's most likely _her_ mother's picture; we'll keep quiet about it,
lest, being valuable, it's wrongly claimed."

Soon comfortable snores sounded from the inner room. Gilbert, wrapping a
quilt about him, lay down upon the lounge without undressing. Sleep
would not come; instead, scenes and people of long ago flitted through
the room as across a stage; the wind from chimney, keyholes, and
window-sash supplying speech. Presently the light of the old moon, that
would loiter in the west until after sunrise, crept in the window
through the geraniums and reaching out long fingers toward the cradle,
seemed to Gilbert's burning eyes to draw it from him. Getting up, he
looked at the child, rosy with sleep, still clasping Marygold's faded
doll, turned the cradle once more into the shadow, and kneeling by it
with his arms clasped over the hood, half thought, half whispered, "I
can't tell how or why, only that a child is here, but if to make up for
my home-staying, as he wrote, this is that other wrong for me to right
at my own door,--I thank Thee, Lord!" Then quickening the dying fire,
Gilbert finished his vigil before it in Mary's rocking-chair.



CHAPTER III

THE NEXT DAY


Mrs. Jason Pegrim needed no urging in the matter of making haste to go
to her brother's assistance. During the nine years that she had lived in
her farm-house on the hill, her one desire had been to get back to the
village, and ever since her brother had been appointed postmaster she
had spent many sleepless nights in fruitless schemes for bringing it to
pass. For if the clock-maker's little shop had been a place of social
opportunities to the alert widow, how much wider a field could she find
in the post-office?

Now the opportunity had almost dropped out of a dream, as she told
'Lisha Potts, when she hurried to admit him in the early dawn, her
toilet being so far from complete that hairpins bristled from her mouth
and rendered still more incoherent her announcement. "There now, and
folks say there's nothing in dreams! To be sure, the man in my dream
last night that came to price the heifer was dark and you're sandy, and
while I went to lead her out, he stole my best spoons out of the
clock-case, and slipped out of the back door, which, of course, no Potts
would do, even in a dream. But where it comes out true is that a man
did come, which is a matter for thankfulness, the first that's opened
that gate in a week."

As 'Lisha explained his errand, his native shrewdness making him tell as
little as possible, brief as the time was, Mrs. Pegrim finished the
securing of the doorknob coil of hair at the back and freed her tongue
for better action.

"Brother Oliver has his hands full and wants me to come down and help
him out for a week? You're sure he doesn't feel sick and doesn't want to
allow it? Or mebbe he's minded to get the spring cleaning done early; if
so, he's too forehanded, for March cleaning won't hold over till fall,
not but what I'm glad to go down and get three miles nearer to the
news."

While her tongue flew, her hands and feet were not idle, for, shoving
'Lisha before her into the kitchen, Mrs. Pegrim quickly assembled a
pick-up breakfast, of which she motioned him to eat in expressive
pantomime, while continuing her questions.

"Do you reckon he'll want me for more than a week? If I thought he
would, I'd put in my Sunday pelerine, but if not, I'd hate to muss it.
Didn't specify any length of time, only said fetch her down? That's like
a man. Anyhow, I'll tell neighbor Selleck to feed my fowls and the cow
and heifer until he hears contrary, besides which, you'll have to get
him to milk for you this morning if you're going to drive me down.
Oliver must be in some sort of strait if you can't even wait to milk and
do your chores first."

Having packed a capacious carpet-bag, drawn down the gayly painted paper
window-shades, emptied and dried the tea-kettle, and made sure that not
an ash was at large on the hearth, for she still cooked in the open
chimney over a bed of wood embers by the aid of pot hook, crane, and
trammel, Satira joined 'Lisha at the table and poured herself a cup of
coffee. She had barely raised it to her lips when she set it down so
suddenly that the coffee splashed upon her cherry-colored bonnet
strings.

"'Lisha Potts," she adjured solemnly, "I know what it is! Oliver is
going to take a second and he wants me to put things in shape! And why
shouldn't he if he wishes? He's got a tidy sum laid by and a trade and a
position under government. Of course I'll go and help him, not but what
a widow must feel, losing her only brother twice, so to speak, but if I
suspicioned who she is, I could ride down easier, and resign my spirits
better if I knew it wasn't widow Baker."

"It isn't marrying anybody, so you're way off the track. It's just
unexpected company that Oliver ain't got time to entertain suitable, and
the quicker we get down there, the sooner you'll know all about it,"
said 'Lisha, indulging in what for him was a wild flight of fancy.

After the Sellecks had received instructions as to her live stock,
Satira Pegrim relapsed into a silence that lasted for almost a mile.

"How much company is there?" asked Satira, launching the question
suddenly in the hope of taking 'Lisha unawares.

"Two!" he replied, a gleam of amusement flitting across his grim visage.

"Males or females?"

"One of each."

"Married couple?"

"Nope."

"Brother and sister?"

"I reckon not."

"Just friends, then?"

"I guess you've hit it now, pretty near, though I should call them two
down to Gilbert's more sort of travelling companions that was on the way
to growin' real friendly." More than this, Satira Pegrim could not
extract, and she contented herself by weaving romance about the unknown
couple, paying no attention to the beauty of the morning, wherein every
ice-covered twig glistened in the sun.

'Lisha pulled up at the post-office-house door, and after steering Mrs.
Pegrim carefully along the slippery path to the side porch, having
suddenly made up his mind to stay down at the village for another day,
he led the horse and bobbing two-wheeled chaise to Gilbert's barn that
stood at the end of the lot against the high bank that made John Angus's
boundary.

The side door being open, Mrs. Pegrim went in without knocking, found no
one in either kitchen, bedroom, or pantry, though the general confusion
told its own story; as she almost fell over the cradle, its bedding
tumbled about as if to air, the last straw was added to the mystery.
With a gasp, combined of suppressed speech and astonishment, she seized
her bag and going up to the room over the kitchen that she had
previously occupied, donned a gown of stout indigo print, and throwing
over head and shoulders a wonderful shawl of her own knitting, a
marvellous blend of gray and purple stripes, resolutely crossed the
passage between house and post-office, and entering by the workshop
door, peered through into the office in an effort to see without being
seen.

An unusual number of men for the time of the morning when chores are
most pressing stood about the stove, while two women, one being the
objectionable widow Baker, were actually holding an animated
conversation with Gilbert through the delivery window of the beehive,
standing a-tiptoe in their endeavors to see some object within the
sacred precinct. At the same time Mrs. Baker exclaimed--"The darling!"
in a wheezy tone that was meant to be confidential.

To the searching eye of his sister, Gilbert looked completely unnerved.
His hair, usually so sleek and divided low over the left ear, stood on
end; his beard was buttoned under his collarless blue flannel shirt,
giving his face a curiously chopped-off appearance, while his hands
shook as he fumbled with the letters, and he continually cast furtive
glances behind him.

Finally, Satira Pegrim made a dive through the group of men, and,
without appearing to see the women, slipped through the door at the back
of the sorting bench, only to trip over a soft something on the floor,
and suddenly find herself kneeling and very much jarred upon the edge of
a bright patchwork quilt, in the centre of which sat the lady baby,
alternately feeding herself and the puppy with a thick slice of bread
which she held butter side down. In the dull morning light, the child
looked more pathetic than pretty, for she had an unmistakable snuffly
cold, and a pair of tears that had been quivering on her long lashes
rolled down her cheeks as she looked up at Mrs. Pegrim.

The puppy gave a shrill bark and began to play tug-of-war with a corner
of the cherished shawl. At the sound Gilbert turned, a look of infinite
relief spreading over his face when he saw his sister.

"Thank the Lord you've come," he jerked out over his shoulder as he
handed widow Baker ten three-cent stamps that she had bought merely to
prolong the interview. "Take 'em right back to the house and I'll come
over soon as I can. She's got a cold and is wheezy; if you can't fix her
up, I calculate 'Lisha'd better go for the doctor."

"Yes, I will, Oliver; the minute I set eyes on her it flashed through
me, lard and nutmeg, on the chest, that's what she needs. But who _be_
they, 'nd how'd they come here without parents is what I'd like to know;
that is, the child, I mean, for lots of puppies don't have any."

"That's what we don't know and have got to find out. Didn't 'Lisha
explain?"

"Not a word, only rigmarolled about company."

"'Lisha," called Gilbert to the backwoodsman, who had now come in, "will
you go over home with sister Pegrim? She wants to talk to you 'bout last
night."

"I reckon if it isn't against the law, I'd ruther step in there and dish
out the rest of them letters," said 'Lisha; so brother and sister, the
lady baby muffled in the quilt, and wow-wow nipping at the heels of
Gilbert's carpet slippers, went together.

The door had no sooner closed behind them than the men began questioning
'Lisha all together, propounding their theories of the event before
which the war news had temporarily paled; for never, even in the memory
of Selectman Morse, the oldest of them, had a baby been abandoned in the
township,--much less a well-grown child of a year.

Mr. Morse, in view of his position, appointed two of the men present to
take up the clew; for in these good old days of New England, the First
Selectman was virtually mayor of the township and was so chosen.

'Lisha, by reason of his being the first to discover the child, was
deputed to go to the stable at Westboro with the buffalo-robe, after
which the course of the search would depend upon what the stableman
could tell.

"Gilbert, are you willing that the child should stay here while we
investigate?" the Selectman asked when the postmaster returned and
'Lisha had driven off to Westboro; "or would you rather she were handed
over to proper authorities right now?"

"Who might those be?" asked Gilbert, by way of reply.

"Well, now, that raises a question of some moment," said the Selectman,
fitting the tips of his fingers together precisely and making a flywheel
of his thumbs, at the same time adjusting his upper teeth in place with
a clicking sound. That it was the wandering disposition of these teeth
that had prevented their owner from becoming an orator in the cause of
patriotism, he firmly believed.

"If the child's an orphan foundling, she goes to the county asylum; if
merely abandoned by worthless parents, she goes to the poor-house free;
while if she can be attributed to a living male parent, he must pay her
board either to the town or her mother."

"It appears to me," said Gilbert, moistening his lips nervously, and
dangerous gleams shooting from his keen gray eyes, "that as you don't
know where to send her, and you've no authority to take her, she will
stay right where she was left! And now, boys, while I'm obliged to ye
all for your interest, this matter isn't federal business, nor connected
with this post-office, so if there's anything to say, come 'round to the
house later on and have it out. Under anything that may come out, the
child is innocent, and it might come pretty hard a score of years from
now if she knew she was made light of by you fellows." Gilbert's voice
broke at this juncture, and the boys were looking at each other
sheepishly when a team rattled up to the door and 'Lisha and Beers, the
Westboro liveryman, came in together, having met at the lower end of
town.

"They hired a sleigh from Beers's all right and hushed the bells," cried
'Lisha, triumphantly.

"Who?" chorused the boys.

"The man and woman who brought the child here, of course."

"I didn't say it was a man _and_ a woman," put in Beers, cutting off a
generous quid of tobacco and passing the remainder around, as though
preparing for a social occasion that would be a strain on the juices of
speech.

"This here was the way of it," he said, settling himself within easy
range of the box of sawdust by the stove, while Gilbert came from the
hive to lean over the case where a collection of stationery,
knickknacks, cigars, and packages of lozenges was kept.

"You know how late the mail-train was last night, and how it stormed?
Well, the last train was late by that much too; after waiting 'round a
spell I came home and I made up my mind I wouldn't send a team over to
the depot again but trust to any folks that wanted one coming over, for
it was near midnight. I suppose I must have dozed off by the stove in
the office, because the first thing I knew, a man stood there by the
fire stamping his feet to warm them, the spring bell on the door having
waked me. 'I've got off at the wrong station, intending to go on to
Harley's Mills,' says he in a voice like he'd an awful cold; 'can I get
a team to drive my wife over? She's at the depot.'

"'A team you can have,' says I, 'but I've not a driver I could send out
to-night. What part are you going to?'

"'To the post-office,' says he. 'Maybe you'd let me put up the team
there and bring it back in the morning. I'll pay you ten dollars down
for security,' says he, coughing and acting tired like.

"Thinks I, this isn't any night for horse thieves and if I give him
Spunky Pete, it'll be a safe risk, for he won't go but just such a ways
from the stable when he balks and bolts back.

"'All right,' says I, 'what kind of a team do you want, chaise or
sleigh?' He thought a minute and says, 'A sleigh'll jar less a night
like this, and if you've got any old rag of a robe, just pile her in.'
Well, he started off all right toward the depot, the bells jingling
nice, and pretty soon I see the sleigh come back with somebody else
within and go up the turnpike this way, and so I went upstairs and
turned into bed. It was after I'd got into a good first sleep when
something seemed to be pounding me in a dream and I started up with wife
pulling my sleeve and calling, 'There's somebody pounding away on the
front stoop and yelling like mad. Do you suppose one of the mules could
have broke loose?'

"'One of the mules? That's Spunky Pete and no other,' says I, tumbling
into my clothes and grabbing a lantern. He always pounds and screeches
that way if I don't give him his feed first of the bunch. Yes, sure
enough, there was Pete pounding away on the porch. At first I thought
he'd served them some trick and upset them, but when my eyes fell on the
lines, I knew different; they were tied to the dash rail with a bit of
string!

"That made me suspicious and I looked Pete over as I led him to the
stable. For a cold night he had surely sweat more than the short run
warranted. Then I noticed the bells didn't jingle--the string on the
girth was gone (I found it after under the seat) and the two big ones on
the shafts were hushed by being wrapped in paper. 'I wonder what's up,'
says I, 'the horse has come back safe, but there's something amiss
somewhere. A man doesn't give up ten dollars to ride three miles on any
straight errand.' So this morning I started up to find if any company
had come up to Mr. Gilbert's, and I met 'Lisha here with the buffalo,
which, I declare, I hadn't missed, and he told me the rest."

"Did you keep the bits of newspaper?" asked Gilbert.

"Yes, they're down home; they're torn from _The Boston Traveller_ of
last Friday."

"I wonder if any one took the milk freight down last night; it carries a
passenger car," ventured the Justice of the Peace. "Nobody, so far as
Mr. Binks the agent saw; he loaded on some milk, but the ticket-office
isn't open for that train," said 'Lisha.

"Can you describe the man?" asked the Justice of the Peace, poising his
pencil.

"That's just what I've been trying to do for myself," said the
liveryman. "Not suspecting anything, I wasn't particular, and he had a
dark cloth cap with a chin piece that pretty well covered his mouth. He
was short and thick-set, 'n' I think his eyebrows were light, but that's
about all, except that he had a long scar between the two first fingers
of his right hand. I noticed that when he slapped the ten-dollar note
down on the table."

"He asked you how far it was to Harley's Mills Post-office?" said
Gilbert. "Then wherever they came from and whoever they are, they
_meant_ to leave the child here, it wasn't mere chance. Do you hear
that, all?"

"Yes," answered the Justice of the Peace; "but as you've said that you
have no kin that she could come from, mightn't she be of some distant
kin Down East of old Curtis's, who didn't know he was dead? He'd had the
office about ever since there was one and was reputed rich, you know."

Gilbert winced as though some one had rudely touched a vital spot, and
then, turning to the First Selectman, said quietly: "I don't know
whether it's law or not, but I think a notice should be put in the best
county paper. I reckon those from whom the child was stolen should have
as much chance to know of it as if one of us had found a good horse tied
at his gate. Then in a month's time, if there is no clew, other plans
can be made. Meantime, as it seems she was left here with intention,
sister Pegrim and I will look after her."

"That's well said--liberal too, for a man of your years--with prices
what they are--" were some of the comments.

"That'll do for the present," said the First Selectman, gathering his
gray long-shawl about him and steadying himself with his cane; "but we
have a mystery among us for the first time, boys, and we must not treat
it lightly. If Mr. Allan Pinkerton was not at this time needed by Mr.
Lincoln, I should vote that we put the case before him."

Then, led by 'Lisha Potts, who announced that he was going to finish the
day by asking a few questions at the Bridgeton station, the group,
having already shortened their working day by a couple of hours, drifted
away.

Oliver Gilbert watched them go, and mechanically took his seat before
the sorting table. He was dizzy from lack of sleep and the rush of many
emotions that he had almost forgotten he had ever felt before, blended
with others wholly new. His life had been slow in blossoming, the
crippled hip from his very childhood had kept him aloof and apart. Then
he had lived in the full for three years and twilight again fell around
him; for a while he had struggled against it, and then, as the neighbors
said, "become resigned." Now, everything was upheaved; work, his
consoler, lay on the bench untouched; the sun melted the ice from the
halyards, and yet he did not go to raise the flag of victory where it
must be seen from John Angus's windows. The hour struck and then the
next before noon; he did not even remember that he had not eaten
breakfast. Presently the outer door opened and a pair of small, heavily
shod feet clumped across to the delivery-window, through which their
owner could not look, even on tiptoes, and after waiting for a few
moments, the piping voice of a boy of six or so called, "It's me, Mr.
Gilbert. I've come over to see your little girl, please."

Gilbert started from his revery and came toward the voice. "Oh, it's
you, is it, Hughey, and who told you about her, pray?"

"Nobody told me 'xactly, but I heard Mr. Morse telling father and
mother, and I asked her if I might come right down, and she said yes.
You see, there wasn't any school this morning because it was too
slippery, but now it's all wet. Broken for spring, father says. See my
new rubber-boots, Mr. Gilbert; all red inside," and he held up one
sturdy leg.

"As it's so close on to noon I guess I'll shut up, and we'll go in
together and see little missy. Isn't this about the time of day for a
barley stick, sonny?" said the postmaster, taking one from the glass
case as he passed.

The kitchen was in its usual order; a boiled dinner was under way on the
stove, beneath which the puppy slept, while Mrs. Pegrim sat mending some
socks with the rocker drawn up close to the lounge upon which the lady
baby was enthroned and playing gayly with a string of spools. When she
saw Gilbert, she dropped them and tried to roll off the sofa to her
feet.

"No, no!" said Mrs. Pegrim, pleasantly but decidedly, "it's too cold
down there for little girls." Her face flushed, puckered up to cry;
then, for some reason, she changed her mind and held out her arms.

"So she knows daddy already, does she?" crooned Gilbert, "and here's a
little boy come to see her, the very first caller. Satira, this is Hugh
Oldys from the Mills--Richard Oldys's boy, you know."

Richard Oldys was one of the representative men of this section of New
England. He had rebuilt the original Harley's Mills near the mouth of
the Moosatuck, for which the town had been named, and made them a great
distributing centre of flour and all grains. The land had come down to
his wife, whose mother had been a Harley and was, therefore, kin of the
Misses Felton, who also had Harley blood in the female line. While a man
of less wealth than John Angus, Oldys was so much more liberal with it,
so much broader in his sympathies and culture, that nothing of
importance was undertaken in the community without his advice and
sanction. As for his wife,--in that clannish and conservative little
town, almost old-world-like in its simplicity and loyalty to
tradition,--it was a belief that a real Harley could do no wrong.
Coupled with this, Pamela Oldys was a rare woman, almost too highly
keyed to the needs and wishes of others for her own peace, and wrapped
up in this boy Hugh, the only child that her frail health had allowed
her.

Hugh surveyed the lady baby in silence for a moment, and then gravely
shook her hand, saying, "How do you do?" A crow came from the prettily
curved lips by way of answer, and she began a sort of game of
peek-a-boo, covering her face with her hands and then peeping out.
Evidently she had lived among responsive people.

"I suppose God sent her the same as usual," remarked Hugh, in the most
matter-of-fact way. "She's nice and big though, being so new; they're
mostly blinky and queer at first, like kittens. We've never had a baby
at our house; they often have them next door, but not as nice as this
one."

At this moment the puppy spied Hugh's rubber-boots that had been left at
the door, and made a dash for them, for if there is anything a young dog
loves, it is either shoe leather or shoe rubber.

"Hi! there's a puppy. Is it yours, Mr. Gilbert? I had a puppy once and
it died, and father's going to buy me one of a better kind next
Christmas. I'll be seven then. There's so many cats around the mill
that I hope they won't scratch its eyes out."

"That pup belongs to the lady baby," answered Gilbert, who was now
brushing his tousled hair in front of the mirror over the sink.

"Did it come with her?" asked Hugh, eagerly.

"It surely did; she had it right in her little arms," answered Gilbert,
busy with a collar button and not thinking ahead.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Hugh, clapping his hands, "for now I know that
if dogs come from heaven, they must go back there too, and I was afraid
that my puppy would be dreadful lonely if he couldn't go where there
were little boys and girls, for he just loved them."

Satira Pegrim looked at her brother with a horrified expression. Her
lips opened to speak, but something that she saw in his face made her
close them again. Whatever her feelings as a hard-shell Baptist upon the
future state of dogs might be, she did not propose to shorten her visit
to her brother by expressing them.

"Have they got names yet?" asked Hugh, his attention now embarrassingly
divided between the lady baby and the pup.

"No, sonny; that is, I'm not plumb sure, so I'm going to take time, say
until along about the first of the month, to think out a name for the
lady baby. As for the pup, suppose you help me out with that. Think up
all the names that's short and slick, and then we'll have a choosing
bee."

"Dinner is ready," called Mrs. Pegrim from the pantry, where she was
slicing bread. "Won't you set up to the table, Hugh, and eat with us?"

"I think I'd better go home now, mother didn't say anything about
dinner. Next time I come, I'm going to bring you something, lady baby,"
Hugh said, gently kissing the dimpled hand she thrust into his face,
"and byme by, when you can walk, I'll bring you up to my house to see my
mother and lend you part of her, 'cause you've only got a daddy."

"That's just it, at best there'll only be a daddy," murmured Gilbert,
drawing his chair to the table and eating as in a dream, in which the
wording of the notice for the papers was the chief theme, until he was
roused by a spoon pounding his hand vigorously, and found that the child
was seated close beside him in Marygold's high-chair, her eyes fastened
on his face.

"Look a-here now, Oliver," said Satira Pegrim, resting her arms on her
elbows, with knife and fork raised in midair; "I've been thinking,
suppose'n the Oldys took a fancy to adopt her. Wouldn't that square up
everything for everybody just right? For it's plain to see that Hugh's
just achin' for a sister."

Again the forbidding expression settled on Gilbert's face, but Satira
did not see it until too late.

"Mrs. Pegrim, I don't know just how long you may be called to visit
here, but longer or shorter, recollect one thing, you'll have no call to
_think_ about my business nor to _talk_ about it to me, but just to keep
quiet."

"Don't you want me to visit or have speech with the neighbors?" pleaded
Satira, her cheery voice dropping to a ludicrous whimper, as the vision
of social cups of tea flavored by neighborhood gossip began to fade.

"I don't ask anybody to do what they manifestly according to nature
can't; I said _me_!" retorted Gilbert, about whose long forefinger the
lady baby had gripped her hand as a bird clings to its perch.



CHAPTER IV

THE FELTONS


A month crept by with warm rains at the end of it, and the spring called
the blood back to the pale tree-tops with a bound.

Though the people of Harley's Mills did not by any means hibernate in
woodchuck fashion during winter, they did conserve their forces after
the habits of their thrifty forebears and did not light or heat any more
of their usually ample houses than was absolutely necessary. A strong
tie of kinship threaded the whole community. The stately residents of
Quality Hill and Westboro Road were often second and third cousins of
the owners of the lonely hill farms, of the blacksmith at the
cross-roads, or the joiner and carpenter, whose correct eye and a
self-taught course of mechanical drawing enabled him to supply plans
when required. Nor did this carpenter think it necessary to call himself
an architect and builder, as he would to-day, in order to back his
claims to consideration.

No one was jealous because the Misses Felton, year after year, went to
New York after Thanksgiving, and returned via the South late in May.
Rather were their doings a sort of general stimulant and tonic,
administered in regular doses through the letters that Miss Emmy Felton
wrote weekly to pretty little Mrs. Latimer, the Episcopal minister's
wife, who had a love of life beyond the radius of eight hundred a year,
while Miss Felton herself was in constant communication with her
steward, Wheeler, as to every detail of the management of the place, so
that all Harley's Mills knew exactly what to expect before it happened.

With the other wealthy landowner of the town the conditions were wholly
different. When John Angus left his house for travel or the city, the
gates were closed as far as knowledge of him was concerned. Ever since
he had come home to take the property at his father's death, twelve
years before, he had been a builder of barriers, not only between
himself and those he thought beneath him, but he hedged himself with
ceremony in his own household, his own inflexible will being his
universal measure, and every act being in accord with a fixed plan. If,
in his dislikes, he was deliberate and inexorable, those who knew him
said that it was the same with his passions; in nothing had he the
saving grace of spontaneity. Small wonder that his roseleaf wife
withered by his side until some final shock, too strong for her
endurance, swept her away to die in oblivion.

Thus the news came to Harley's Mills not only that the Feltons would
return the middle of April because the disturbed state of the South had
made their usual journey impossible, but that John Angus, who had been
running up at odd times all the month, was going to remodel his place
for the reception of his bride in June; while following on the heels of
this report, house-painters, paperers, masons, and a landscape-gardener
came to confirm it. So it fell out that, for a time, the lady baby, who
remained unclaimed at Oliver Gilbert's, became a thing of secondary
interest to every one but the postmaster and Satira Pegrim, until the
full month having gone, the village was again excited, this time by the
news that Gilbert had taken the final steps toward adopting the child.

Immediately several impromptu debating societies of villagers took up
the merits of the case for and against the adoption. The women of the
Hospital Aid Society vowing, as they rolled bandages and scraped lint,
that a man of Gilbert's age was no fit guardian for a female child,
especially as Satira Pegrim might be relied on to take her second at any
time he should come to hand, which might easily happen in a post-office,
and leave her brother in the lurch.

The men did their talking in the blacksmith's shop, a place where
Gilbert was not likely to appear suddenly, their objections being
impersonal and based chiefly on the fact that it wasn't a good plan to
encourage the leaving of stray children on people's stoops, also that
the presence of the mysterious child might be prejudicial to his
official position; next the three ministers of the town, Episcopal,
Congregational, and Methodist, had all made friendly calls at the
post-office house and asked, according to their different methods,
whether Gilbert recognized the responsibility he was contemplating.
Meanwhile, in the thick of the discussion, the Misses Felton and Mr.
Esterbrook arrived. Not all together, it is true, for Miss Emmy, being a
trifle delicate and disliking the mixed air, crowds, and jolting of the
cars, always drove from New York in the family carriage, a spacious
landau, lined with rose satin and swung high upon C springs, the journey
of fifty odd miles being broken for luncheon and a change of horses, the
sedate family grays having been sent on to this point the day previous.
Mr. Esterbrook accompanied Miss Emmy on this excursion; Nora, maid and
general factotum, making the third.

As for Miss Felton, this means of progress was too slow. She took the
train with the other maids and Caleb, the colored man-servant; but even
this method of progression was far from rapid, as the cars were pulled
singly by horses from the station in East Twenty-sixth Street, a little
above the Feltons' house on Madison Square, through Fourth Avenue until,
the press of traffic left behind, the cars were united and an engine
attached. Still, journey as they might, the family group that parted
after breakfast in the great high-ceiled house facing the square would
meet at a flower-decked supper table in a new and healthier atmosphere,
without hurry or disarrangement, so harmonious was Miss Felton's
housekeeping in the subduing of annoying details.

Not to understand the component parts of the household that lived, or,
one might almost say, reigned, at Felton Manor would be to have little
understanding of the conditions of the life and surroundings into which
the lady baby bid fair to be adopted. The Felton ladies were Bostonians
by birth and education, their father having been a prominent judge.
Failing of sons, he had, after being some years a widower, virtually
adopted and educated a cousin's son to be his confidential secretary,
and afterward appointed him in his will as a sort of guardian and
adviser to his daughters, who were left at the respective ages of
eighteen and twenty with a large property for those days. This man was
William Esterbrook, ten years the senior of Elizabeth Felton.

When Squire Felton died, the combination household continued as before,
except that the Boston house was given up for one in New York, as the
east winds were bad for Miss Emmy's throat. Miss Felton, however, took
her Aunt Lucretia's place at the helm. Strangers sometimes remarked upon
the peculiarity of the household arrangements, where William Esterbrook,
in a house not his own, filled the old-world position of guardian over
attractive and marriageable wards. The family friends, however, saw
nothing more than a brotherly and sisterly arrangement, and this was the
view that the trio thought they held themselves. The real fact was that
the kinship, so remote as to be merely a shadow, had kept them all three
from leading the normal life that was their due.

Twenty years had passed, years full of event and social intercourse with
the best that either came to or lived in the land, and still it was the
Misses Felton that bought a picture from a rising but struggling artist;
gave the young poet or musician a chance to be heard; entertained the
sedate at dinner or the opera, and, though they no longer joined in it,
gave the young a chance to dance in their great rooms, or sit out the
dances on stairs or in the trim conservatory. For, motherless and young
as they had been at the time of their father's death, they realized the
true social and moral responsibility of their wealth. Miss Felton was
independent, I had almost said masculine, of action; without being
brusque, she was direct and to the point, comprehended financial
questions, and had an accurate judgment in real estate. Tall and of
elegant proportions, she wore dark rich silks of simple lines, a plain
linen collar and brooch, while her splendid hair, without a thread of
gray, was drawn loosely over the ears and braided close to her head. She
did not seem to make any exertion to follow the fashions, and yet was
always distinguished.

Miss Emmy, having been the younger, and the pet of her father in
addition, was of the spontaneous, romantic, and feminine type that,
while it seems very yielding, has quite fixed ideas. She was but a
trifle above medium height, with large gray eyes and light brown hair,
that at forty was either heaped high in puffs, gathered in a netted
"waterfall" at the back of her head, or let loose in a shower of
ringlets as the whim of the moment required. She loved everything
dainty, in people as well as in clothes; her skirts rippled with ribbons
and lace as she trailed slowly along, her sunshades were of the
daintiest, and her flowery hats bits of art that almost defied nature.
Lyric music was her passion, and in spite of her years she still had a
pretty voice, quite the size for ballads. Small wonder that between
these two opposites William Esterbrook, who, though of somewhat
superfine tastes combined with an undeveloped sense of responsibility,
was still a man, stood undecided.

Twenty years before, his interests had centred upon Miss Felton, and
together they had regarded pretty, kittenish Emmy as a child, a
plaything. This aspect soon ceased, when Emmy, coming into the social
world, had taken the sedate man of thirty-two for her cavalier quite as
a matter of course, and alternately bullied him and turned to him in
every strait. Once only he had come face to face with his manhood and
resolved to make the plunge and propose to Emmy, but an over-estimate of
the effect it might have upon Elizabeth held him back, and so the three
had drifted through the best years of life, loyal to each other, yet too
supremely and evenly comfortable to ever know the highest happiness.

If the trio had been separated even by a season of travel, they might
have discovered their real selves, for absence is often quite necessary
to give the perspective for rightly judging the feelings and relations
with one another.

Six months before, the fire of war had entered Esterbrook's veins, and
he, the veteran of a militia regiment, had almost broken away to join a
company of his old comrades as a minor officer; but even here he was
rebuffed and turned back by something wrong with his heart action that
his physician discovered at the last moment. Consequently, at fifty odd,
William Esterbrook, whom Miss Emmy called Willy, and Miss Felton,
cousin Esterbrook, though a very well-preserved man, who had no need as
yet to use either hair tonic or other toilet accessories, was possessed
by a sort of self-consciousness and a certain agitated courtesy of
manner.

A married man of this age usually has relaxed his tension through
natural processes; a confirmed bachelor, living in his own apartments,
takes his ease because there is nothing to goad him to do otherwise; but
for Esterbrook, he was still living in the play that had absorbed his
youth without realizing that it was a play, and sometimes he was
horribly bored.

In personal appearance he had a style quite his own. At a time of beards
and many whiskers, low collar, and loose tie, he kept a clean-shaven
face and still affected a modified stock. His coat--except in the
evening, a Prince Albert--had a decided waist line; he wore spats that
broke the plainness of the customary high boots of the time, and his
taste in waistcoats was as refined as it was fanciful. After all, it was
the hat that was the most distinguishing characteristic of his apparel.
This was of the softest beaver, brushed until it shone like silk; the
crown of moderate height was belled out at the top and the brim curled
well at the sides. In the crown of this he invariably carried his
right-hand glove, the left being always in place and neatly buttoned.
This habit came of the old-time courtesy of either removing the glove
when shaking hands with ladies or apologizing for its presence. Once
Esterbrook had removed the glove with graceful ceremony before extending
his well-shaped hand. Now?--well, he was a bit weary of manners and
customs, so that the offending glove lived in his hat.

About ten o'clock on the morning after the Feltons' arrival Miss Emmy
and Mr. Esterbrook were seen walking on the road that ran from Quality
Hill down to Westboro. Many heads looked out of windows and nodded, and
not a few hands were extended over gates by way of greeting, together
with bits of local news, either offered at random or for exchange.

"Had the ladies heard of the lady baby left at old Oliver Gilbert's, and
his preposterous idea of keeping her?" asked the farrier's wife, who had
been one of the many helpers who had married from Felton Manor.

"Had they seen Miss Marcia Duane, John Angus's intended, and was she as
handsome and rich as folks said? Able to wind him, who had never before
bent head or knees, around her little finger? And if so, why did she
take a man old enough to be her father?"

"Why?" said Mr. Esterbrook, with his jauntiest air. "John Angus and
myself are nearly of an age, and I'm not yet out of the running."

"Oh! Mr. Esterbrook, present company is always suspected, and then I'm
sure no one ever thinks how old _you_ are; you've always been just the
same," said the farrier's wife.

Yes, always the same, a house cat by the fire; the bitter thought
flashed through his brain, yet the next moment he was stooping
courteously to disentangle Miss Emmy's parasol from the fringe of her
silk mantilla. Then they proceeded along the street, Miss Emmy's full
skirt of gray chiné silk, with its bordered flounces of pink roses,
rustling as it swung about her, buoyed out by many petticoats, for this
dainty lady followed the fashion without the use of what she considered
the unnecessary vulgarity of a harsh and unmanageable hoop-skirt.

Little Mrs. Latimer ran out to remind her friend that the Hospital Aid
Society would meet at the Rectory that afternoon, and did she suppose
that dear Miss Felton would come and say something to the ladies about
the necessity of rolling the bandages straight, as Dr. Morewood had said
that to expect an army surgeon in a hurry to use a long bandage rolled
loosely on the bias, was simply to invite a lesson in profanity.

Finally the post-office was reached. Oliver Gilbert, who was at his work
bench in the back shop, put down a cuckoo clock that he was tinkering
with and came forward quite spryly to meet his visitors, the limp,
caused in boyhood by the ill setting of a broken hip, being less
noticeable than usual.

"We've come to see you first, and then to take a peep at this wonderful
lady baby about whom the village is agog. That is, _I_ have; Mr.
Esterbrook would probably rather stay here and talk with you about the
new soldier, Grant, who has come out of nowhere and is doing such great
things.

"By the way, my watch has been losing time, though sister Elizabeth
declares that I wind it in the dark and turn the hands backward; at any
rate, it will be the better for a visit with you." Then turning to Mr.
Esterbrook, who was trying to decide which of the three morning paper
she should read first, "Willy, my watch, please; you have it in your
pocket."

As Miss Emmy passed through the arbor to the house, she was surprised to
hear the halting tap of Gilbert's footsteps behind her. "I do not need
to take you from the office," she said, "for you must not forget that
Mrs. Pegrim is an old friend of mine."

"'Tisn't that, but I want to know what you think of _her_."

"Hasn't she any name? I mean, haven't you decided what to call her?"

"I've pretty much made up my mind; I had to, for she's to be baptized
this afternoon."

At this moment, Mrs. Pegrim, who had been chafing with impatience ever
since she saw Miss Emmy go into the post-office, opened the door. By her
side, standing straight and true, even though one hand clung to the
woman's apron, was the lady baby.

Very scant was the greeting that Miss Emmy gave Satira Pegrim, for
suddenly she picked up the child and, carrying her across the room,
stood her upon the table so that their faces were upon a level, all
oblivious of the fact that her mantilla had slipped from her shoulders
and that the lace sunshade she had dropped had been seized by the pup,
who bore it to his usual câche under the stove.

"The darling! how could any one have the heart to desert such an
exquisite little creature? Positively, Mr. Gilbert, you must let us
have her; I've always thought that I should adopt a young girl some day,
twenty years hence, to buy pretty clothes for, after I grow too wrinkled
and gray to wear pink and corn color, but I never before realized what a
dear a lady baby could be. After all, it will be much nicer to watch her
grow up; how surprised sister Elizabeth will be, and as for Mr.
Esterbrook, I wonder what he would do if I asked him to carry her home
for me."

As she leaned toward the child, who was clutching at her long pearl
earrings, shaped like bunches of grapes, seeming to regard her as a new
and improved species of doll, Gilbert's hand closed on Miss Emmy's arm
with a grip that was by no means gentle.

"Hush!" he said almost roughly in her ear, "we don't speak about her
being deserted and talk of that sort any more. None can tell when she
will begin to understand. As for her being adopted by you or any one
else, that's not to be. She was not left on Quality Hill; no lights were
there that stormy night; there were no folks awake! She was as good as
born to me. There's just three of us in this, God and her and me, and
we've got to work it out between us, stand or fall."

"I could do so much more for her," Miss Emmy murmured apologetically;
then stopped, checked by the expression of his face, though she did not
understand it.

"Yes, ma'am, you could and would as far as boughten things would carry,
but I've held Marygold in my arms, her little fingers clasped around my
neck, so I _know_, and time out of mind it's come to me that with women
folks and children the _knowing_ and _feeling sure_ is more than the
_having_."

"Miss Emmy, what is a parrotpet?" Satira Pegrim had been on pins and
needles during this interview, and in seeking to cut it short, jerked
out a sentence quite as irrelevant as those two that have become
famous,--"There's milestones on the Dover road," and "Barneses goose was
stole by tinkers."

"A paroquet is a bird, a small parrot. Don't you remember that I kept a
pair until one died and the other one grew moody and bit Willy--I mean
Mr. Esterbrook?" said Miss Emmy, also glad of the break in a strained
situation.

"No, it isn't a bird, it's something to do with bricks. They've been
carting them from sloops in Westboro Harbor up to John Angus's place
this week past, and this morning, when I was raking up the leaves in the
garden down beyond the apple trees, making ready to sow early radishes
and lettuce, I climbed up the bank to Angus's boundary to take a look,
and if the old fence wasn't gone! Half a dozen men were filling out the
bank even with dirt from what was the old flower garden; the old shrubs
was uptore and lying roots in air, and right at the end of what was the
long path was a mountain of bricks.

"Peter Nichols, the overseer, was there, so I called out and asked him
what became of the fence and said I wished I could have had some of the
piney roots and garden stuff that was just tossed out for filling. He
says, 'There's going to be a fine brick parrotpet instead of the fence,
'cause this here's to be a rose garden, and as for the posy roots and
things, I daresn't give 'em, but later on I reckon that some of 'em'll
root and sprout on the filled bank your side of the parrotpet."

"Oh, it's a parapet you mean!" exclaimed Miss Emmy; "a wall something
like a fort. That proves the reports that John Angus is anxious to
please his bride and let her carry out her tastes, for she has a
charming rose garden at their estate on the Hudson that ends in a stone
parapet overlooking the river."

"Only this one overlooks the post-office and me, though I believe they
_can_ see over the trees to salt water," said Gilbert, dryly; and then
his frown changed to a smile, as the lady baby, tiring of her fingering
inspection of Miss Emmy's ribbons, crawled to his knee with the
sidewheel motion she used when she wished to hurry, and holding her head
on one side like an inquisitive bird, stretched out her arms and called
"Daddy!" with unmistakable clearness.

"Mr. Gilbert, did I understand you to say that the child is to be
baptized this afternoon?" asked Miss Emmy, presently, not a trace of
annoyance at his rebuff remaining in her manner or voice. "Who is going
to do it, and will it be here or at one of the churches? I should like
to send the lady baby some of our roses; I know she will love flowers by
the way her eyes follow my hat."

"Mr. Latimer is going to do it; he's coming here, Miss Emmy, and we'd be
grateful for a few posies to trick out the foreroom. I reckoned to get a
new paper on it before this, but it doesn't seem any season to spend
for ornaments."

"Mr. Latimer, an Episcopalian? Why, I thought that you were a
Congregationalist, and your wife was certainly the daughter of Mr.
Moore, who used to be Methodist preacher in Bridgeton."

"That's all so, Miss Emmy; but what I'm striving at in regards to the
bringing up of lady baby is to be fair and unbiassed in all things where
I can. Now, Mary belonging to one of the sects in town and me to
another, it seems fair to divide 'round and give this child whatever
benefit there is in the third. Then, too, they've got an organ down to
the 'Piscopal Church and we've only got a tuning-fork, 'cause whenever
an organ is brought up, John Angus votes it down as sinful."

"Aye, aye! he still holds to Kirk o' Scotland; he's vairy serious and
canty," interposed Miss Emmy, with a well-feigned accent, "for his
housekeeper told that last winter, when the cook asked higher wages, he
couldn't give an answer until he'd pondered it on communion sabbath,
which put off the evil day four weeks."

"The child likes music," continued Gilbert, "for only yesterday, when a
fiddler with a dancing bear came past and I had him in to play, she'd a
crept off after him in a twinkling while Satira's back was turned, if
the pup there hadn't barked and tugged her by the skirt.

"Well, I asked Mr. Latimer and explained to him, and he said, 'Why not
bring her to the church after service Sunday morning,' but when I told
him Marygold was named in the foreroom, then he said he'd come up. I'm
not asking a company,--Satira couldn't see her way to manage,--so
there'll only be jest two or three, but I'd be pleased to see you, Miss
Emmy, if you're interested that far to take the trouble."

"What is the news?" asked Miss Emmy, as she joined Mr. Esterbrook, who
was walking to and fro under the maples that lined the walk opposite the
post-office, a goodly quantity of their scarlet catkins decorating the
wide brim of his hat.

"News? There isn't any, except that McClellan is still on his way to
Richmond and there are some war bonds, 5-20's and 6-20's, going on the
market that I think we should all subscribe to as far as we are able. I
must speak to Elizabeth about them to-night."

Then as he raised the parasol in which there were several holes not in
the original pattern and held it between her and the now really hot sun,
he glanced at her face and saw, not only that it was flushed, but that
it wore a wholly new expression, while the strings of her bonnet, that
had been tied with a graceful precision, hung loose and bore the
unmistakable print of moist fingers. Her face held Esterbrook's eyes
until, unconsciously drawn, she looked up and in her turn was amazed at
the sudden intensity of his usually placid countenance and the flash of
his eyes as he shifted them.

"What is it? What has happened?" he said. "Has the child been temperish
and vexed you, or did she pull your ribbons awry in play?"

"No, she was lovely, far too lovable;" then she paused to look over the
neat picket-fence into one of the many gardens that filled the spaces
between street and white-pillared porches, where tufts of golden
daffodils shone like prisoned sunbeams on the lawn and single white
violets, short stemmed and fragrant, huddled timidly about the roots of
leafless rose-bushes in the long borders. "What has happened is that in
this last hour I've been away, Willy," she said, as she made a
wide-sweeping gesture, "so far away from you and Elizabeth that I almost
forgot how you looked. So far that I saw quite back to things that might
have been."

Emeline Felton had always been, within fixed boundaries, of a romantic
and emotional disposition, but with that gesture, suggestive of the
breaking of bonds, Esterbrook felt that she swept these boundaries
aside.

"Was I other than I am now in those far-away days? Have I not always
been the same to you? Do I not always study your interests?" Esterbrook
said, again meeting her eyes that did not turn away.

"Yes, but you were different once, though not for long; since then, as
you say, you've been always the same, and that's part of the matter."

"I wish that in those other days I'd had the courage to go away far
enough to see if you would miss me and then haunt you until I'd made you
marry me, Emeline."

"And I--I wish you had!"

Esterbrook caught his breath: "Is it too late? Am I too old to change
the might have been?"

"Ah, yes; if I married, after to-day, it must be a younger man than you.
Besides you could not stand the shock of telling Elizabeth, and if I
told her, she might send me to bed without my supper!

"Then at our age we must consider our obligations to society; as
Elizabeth puts it, how disappointed it would be if the institution known
as the _Misses Felton and Mr. Esterbrook_ should disintegrate! How we
should be missed, we nice _safe_ people! Ah, no, Willy, don't look so
serious; it's only some left-over mad March Hare that has bewitched me,"
and Miss Emmy laughed with the same ripple in her voice as that of the
bluebird on the roof of its box in the garden.

"We must not forget to be patriotic; we must hurry home to consult
Elizabeth about those 6-20's you spoke of, and please, Willy, ask
Wheeler to make me a nice little bouquet of roses with lace paper around
it by three o'clock to-day, and tie up a box of loose flowers also. I'm
going to the christening of Oliver Gilbert's lady baby."

The bonnet strings were tied as usual and the flush on her cheek had
faded to its normal tint when Esterbrook next glanced at his companion,
but in those few minutes he too had looked back and travelled afar, and
his face changed as though he had been a ghost of himself.



CHAPTER V

THE NAMING


The Feltons, in common with their neighbors of Quality Hill, dined at
one o'clock and had tea or supper, according to the heartiness of the
meal, at six or half past, the village and farm folk having their
mid-day meal at noon. While a number of these families kept the same
hours in their winter city life, during the past four or five seasons
there had been a move toward afternoon dinner at five. Dinner parties
were given at even a later hour, oftentime not beginning until six, the
Feltons being among those who adopted the extreme custom. So far,
however, no one had brought the innovation to upset the almost historic
domestic regulations of Harley's Mills.

Promptly at half-past two on this April afternoon, the carriage came
around to take Miss Felton to the meeting of the Hospital Aid Society,
where she was preparing to inaugurate a better system of work, the
material for which was tied in a great bundle in the porch,--cotton
cloth, soft unbleached muslin for bandages, and rolls of the gray blue
flannel of the hue that for years after was known as army blue.

"Are you coming, Emeline? Or are you too tired after your long drive
yesterday?" asked Miss Felton, as she stood before her bureau fastening
a wide lace collar with the brooch to which Gilbert had referred, and
then catching the folds of her India shawl with an inconspicuous pin of
Scotch pebbles that blended with the fabric. Her bonnet was of finely
braided straw of soft brown, the chaise-top front being filled in with
geraniums of crimson velvet; the broad strings of brown watered ribbon
were of the exact shade of her gown. Though the Misses Felton were but
two years apart, Elizabeth, by far the handsomer of the two, dressed as
a doting mother, who considers that all the daintily pretty things of
life belong by right to her daughter.

Miss Emmy, who was searching for something in the many small drawers of
her dressing-table, did not answer immediately, and her sister repeated
the question.

"I'm not in the least tired, but I'm not going with you because I've
promised dear quaint Oliver Gilbert that I will go to the christening of
the mysterious lady baby this afternoon."

"Do you think under the circumstances it is necessary? Is it not a
rather public expression of our approval of what the conservative
townspeople consider a very unwise action of Gilbert's?"

"It certainly is approval,--_my_ approval, that is,--for really,
Elizabeth, the only objection that I have to Gilbert's taking the lady
baby is that it prevents me from adopting her myself. No, this isn't one
of my little pleasantries, as you call them. I asked Gilbert for her
and he refused. From your standpoint it may seem strange, and I have no
wish to compromise you. I've come to think now that as we are both past
forty and likely to remain the Misses Felton and live in one house to
the end of our days, it is time that, at least, we allow ourselves to
hold different opinions. It will make variety and keep us fresher, you
know. See, I'm going to take the lady baby these coral beads that I wore
at her age. She has precisely the colored hair and eyes to wear coral;
when she looks up from under her long lashes, she might be a mer-baby,
or whatever a mermaid's child should be called."

Miss Emmy chatted gayly along, nonchalantly and without the slightest
air of being put out, yet Miss Felton knew that some great change had
come over her volatile sister, but instead of accepting the warning in
silence, she still felt called upon to chide.

"Do you think under the circumstances it is a wise thing to give
ornaments to a foundling of whose antecedents we know nothing? Isn't it
putting possible temptation in her way?"

"The knowing nothing is precisely what makes it right, my dear
emotionless sister. As we know nothing about her, we can take it for
granted that she is everything we could wish for. There, don't be vexed;
you are so compounded of judgment and righteousness that you can't
possibly understand people that want to do things simply because they
feel that they must. Don't wait for me, but send the carriage back,
please; I'm taking down some flowers."

Miss Emmy went on with her toilet, Nora lending a helping hand now and
then to adjust the net of silk and beads that to-day held her curls, but
so rapid and nervous were the fragile lady's movements that she had the
air of a paradise bird pluming itself, and while the color her exertions
spread upon her cheeks lasted, no one would have guessed her due in
years by ten or fifteen.

The front yard at the post-office house was decked as for summer when
Miss Emmy arrived. She had refused Nora's aid, preferring to carry her
own bundles, and had a little single-handed tussle with the gate that
allowed her to see in detail the row of pink conch shells, alternating
with round stones freshly whitewashed, that outlined the path. While two
settees, also spotless white, of the form once used in schools, set off
the bit of lawn, one resting under a tall lilac bush, the other standing
aimlessly in the open, as though it lacked the decision of character
necessary for a choice of background, between a crab tree, the grape
arbor, or the bank that rolled up to John Angus's garden. The
little-used front door was open, and a pair of gigantic overshoes beside
the mat told that one guest had arrived from a region where the roads
were still "unsettled."

Satira Pegrim was at the door before Miss Emmy had reached the top step,
and rushing out, laid hold of the boxes of flowers with one hand, while
she half led, half shoved her visitor in with the other.

"Do mind your step, Miss Emmy; Oliver hasn't got the storm door off'n
yet, he's been so eat up with worry this last month. Neither have I had
the pluck to attack that hall tread and turn it. It's now dark figgers
on light, but bein' three ply, if turned it would be light on dark and a
sight fresher; so if you kin just play to see it that way, you'll ease
my feelin's. Won't you step up into the best room and lay off your
bunnit?

"Going to leave it on? Well, it's real handsome, and I've heard say that
folks in New York keep their hats on to most all kinds of day parties,
which I lay to folks not bein' as well acquainted as they are this way.
Besides, there being such a heap o' ornery thievin' ones, the bunnits
might get mixed or done away with if laid off'n. Still, bein' as it's
right here in town, I do wish you'd loosen yours; it would seem more
friendly like, and as if you was one of the family, of which the good
Lord knows there's a lack, 'specially on an occasion like this."

Miss Emmy laughingly expressed her willingness to take off her
head-gear, and after arranging the roses in two yellow and brown lustre
pitchers on the mantel-shelf, and laying the little bouquet beside the
deep bowl of Russian cut glass that was to do duty for the christening,
she followed Mrs. Pegrim upstairs.

"Why, where is the lady baby?" she asked in surprise.

"I'm letting her sleep until the last moment, and Oliver, who's dressing
and fussing between his room and the kitchen's, got an eye to her.
'Lisha Potts's in there talking to him. Oliver would have 'Lisha to the
naming 'cause of his being the one to open the door _that_ night, you
know." (This was as near as Satira ever allowed herself to approach the
forbidden subject.) "He balked considerable, not being used to society
down here at the centre, and settin' in there now he does look uncommon
like a coon they had in a cage last county fair, 'n' we-all didn't tell
him one of the Miss Feltons was coming, for fear he'd streak it, so
you'd best stand just behind the door 'ntil he gets in.

"I'm turrible glad to see your bunnit off'n, and how you do your hair.
Only a few of the daring hereabout has fixed theirs in what's called a
waterfall, and those as has looks like they'd put spice bags on the back
of their necks for a crick' n' they'd stuck fast. Yourn is just elegant,
trickles down and hangs as easy as if there wasn't no net to gather it.

"Who all is coming to the naming? Only First Selectman Morse, little
Hughey Oldys, me and you and 'Lisha and Gilbert, besides Mr. Latimer
that does it. Gilbert he wanted more, but, says I, not having cleaned
house I'm not ready for a charge o' the whole town 'at would come if we
loosed the line, so we'd best draw it close as we can without choking
ourselves, and that's how.

"No, brother hasn't told me the name yet, but I suspicion it's something
choice and bookish, for though Gilbert never made out to get further'n
three terms at the old Academy (that little building 'nexed behind the
new one), he's always thought a sight of books. In fact, he got
something of the taste from pa, who was a carpenter and the
forehandedest man about naming his family in all Newfield County; he'd
names for us all before he'd picked out his wife, pa had.

"You ain't never heard? Well, it come about this way: Thomas, Henry, and
Gideon had been the male names among the Gilberts ever since they set
foot in this land o' promise near two hundred years ago, and as they
slumped down in one spot and didn't journey to speak of, with first,
second, and third cousins all clinging to those names, things got mixed
pretty well.

"Father, he that was to be, was jobbing around down at the Harley house,
which is now Mis' Oldys's, fixin' more shelves in grandsir' Harley's
liberary. My, but isn't there a sight of books there! They do claim that
grandsir' Harley had every one that was made from Adam up to the time of
his death, and the Oldys folks has been buyin' ever since.

"Well, they knowin' and trustin' father, he put in his dinner hour there
in the liberary instead o' coming clear home, and he got real interested
in the printing outside the books, and he came to find there was quite a
few double names he'd never heard of. So he says to himself, says he,
'I'll put a few down; they'll come handy some day mebbe, and freshen up
the family,' and so he did, and after ma died we found his pocket-book
all full of figgerin' on work and the names writ in the end. There was
more than he ever used, there bein' only ten of us, six boys and four
girls. Some o' the names he'd passed over, I reckon, 'cause he wasn't
quite sure of their sect.

"The first of us was a girl and she was named Jane Grey, but didn't live
out her second year; then come Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlow, and
Clarissy Harlow, Robinson Crusoe, Charlotte Temple, Daniel Defoe,
Oliver Goldsmith, Cotton Mather, and lastly me, with Oliver, all that's
living. I was called for grandma on ma's side on account of her silver
spoons, two candlesticks, and snufflers, which I didn't get, marryin'
against her wishes before she died.

"Some of the names were a mouthful, but they did look real choice on
headstones, and liven up the West Hill graveyard a lot. The marble man
that came from Boston to set up John Angus's father's moniment allowed
he'd never seen such a litery crop o' stones outside east
Massachusetts."

A knock at the door sent Mrs. Pegrim scurrying away, Miss Emmy following
more slowly, as the front stairs were so steep and high that a misstep
was all that lay between the top and bottom. In the foreroom Mr. Latimer
was alone, standing hands behind him looking out the south window, the
waking voice of the lady baby having called away Mrs. Pegrim.

Miss Emmy had entered softly and waited a moment before she spoke. There
was something about Stephen Latimer that always seemed as though it
belonged to another world and appealed physically to her spiritual
sense. Though of American birth and ancestry, he was a type of the
old-world vicar, well born and cultured, yet who, through his intense
introspection, spends his life in a small church of a remote parish,
seeing each morning's sun through the dimly colored glass of the chancel
windows, as a light sent especially from heaven to him, and basking in
mystic joy as, between times, his fingers draw from the organ the
simple linked notes that hold the village children to their hymns.

In figure Latimer was rather above the medium height, spare without
thinness; a smoothly shaven face was saved by distinct mouth lines and a
firm chin from the perfect symmetry that seems to lack sympathy.
Iron-gray hair belied his age, which was barely forty years. In New
England towns at this time people looked askance at men of this type.
Patriotism rushed to any form of dissent in which to cloak itself rather
than lean toward anything that might be preëstablished and, therefore,
un-American,--the middle classes knowing no distinction between
catholicity and Romanism.

Such feelings had Stephen Latimer met with in coming to Harley's Mills
six years before, yet he stayed on and soon came to be reckoned with as
an influence, holding his own and more, by seeing over what he might not
see through. The Misses Felton, though not of his fold, had given St.
Luke's an organ, such as was not known in Newfield County, and through
it, Latimer's influence went out even more than by the pulpit. For
though his young wife played at service, on Wednesday afternoons, rain
or shine, he sat before the keys and let his fingers speak the words
that all might hear who would.

Sometimes the little church was filled by the Quality Hill folk and
their guests, sometimes a tired woman with a fretful, half-sick child,
or a pauper laborer creeping in to rest from his work on the roads,
would be the only audience--it made no difference in the music.

Presently Latimer turned,--"Ah, so you are here! I thought I recognized
your roses. Is it not a brave deed of Gilbert's, this going again into
the fray after time had healed his wounds and let him at least build a
shelter around his sorrow? Talk of the bravery of those who go to
battle, I believe his courage in this matter in facing the unknown is
the real heroism."

"I think you are right, though I had not looked at it in this way
before; I only thought of the amusement of the child's companionship,
not the responsibility. Ah, here is little Hugh Oldys."

Presently, Satira Pegrim came in, carrying the lady baby, who would have
much preferred to walk, for having acquired this accomplishment all of a
sudden, she was loath to relinquish it. Gilbert and 'Lisha Potts
followed. It was not until Potts had come quite into the room, crossing
to between the centre-table and Mary's melodeon that stood between the
windows, that he saw Miss Emmy. All retreat being cut off, he gave a
sort of gasp and tried in vain to sink into the depths of his
stiff-collared, deep-cuffed Sunday shirt as a turtle disappears into its
shell.

The sight of Miss Emmy produced a different effect upon the child, who
crowed and stretched her hands toward her new friend, quietly allowed
her to fasten the corals upon the plump, bare neck, and afterward tried
to look at them with real satisfaction, moving them up and down with her
dimpled chin.

For a moment general conversation reigned, then--

"What is she to be named? I cannot wait another moment," cried Miss
Emmy.

"It's writ in this book," said Gilbert, taking a small morocco Bible
from the table and showing the fly leaf, upon which, in characters
painfully round and precise, was "Julia Poppea Gilbert, from her loving
Daddy on her first birthday, April 20, 1862."

For a moment no one stirred, for all realized the final way in which the
quiet man had settled the matter of birth and name, giving her an
anchorage so far as might be.

Then Stephen Latimer spoke.

"Julia Poppea! Where did you find that name, Gilbert?"

"Julia was my mother's name; seems as if there should be family in it
somehow. And the other--I've read it somewhere, and it's got my fancy."
(Not a word of the locket.)

"If I remember," said Mr. Latimer, hesitatingly, "it was the name of one
of Nero's wives; would not something nearer home be more suitable,
neighbor Gilbert? Mary, or a flower name, if you like fanciful things,
such as Violet or Rose?"

"No, I've settled to Poppea. I've known of some one called by it that
wasn't kin of any Neroes or spoken of in Mr. Plutarch's books. Poppea
comes near to being a posy too,--poppies, nice cheerful flowers that,
come to recollect, have long lashes to their eyes, just like the lady
baby."

When Stephen Latimer explained the need of sponsors according to his
ritual, and their duties, Gilbert knit his brows at the unforeseen
complication.

"It is customary to have some others than the parents of the child to
stand, as it were, in their place of responsibility in case of need;
under these circumstances, surely no one can be more suitable than Mrs.
Pegrim and yourself, neighbor Gilbert."

"I couldn't stand for any such strange customs or their results," said
Satira, closing her jaws quickly; she had been reading the sentences of
promise in the prayer-book that Mr. Latimer had marked. "I couldn't go
further than to agree to keep her in clothes, her body clean and well
fed, and to say, 'Now I lay me.'"

"As I am in the eye of the law her father, the choice must be outside of
me, parson," Gilbert said slowly. "Who is usually asked?"

"Near kin, or friends upon whom one can rely to take a true interest in
the child."

"Then I ask you, Miss Emmy, and you, 'Lisha Potts."

"I'm Baptist born, but no church-member," said Potts, his words forced
out as by some explosive.

"And I am a Channing Unitarian and therefore an arch dissenter," said
Miss Emmy; yet at the same time, through the yearning of her eyes, she
already had the lady baby in her arms.

Stephen Latimer looked from one to the other, an expression of
satisfaction stealing over his features as if he saw some special
significance in this strange combination, then whispered to Miss Emmy
that upon her devolved the duty of holding the child, who began to fret
strangely and pucker her face for tears.

Latimer said something to little Hugh, his music pupil, and going to
the melodeon, covered and silent these many years, threw back the lid,
coaxed the fitful breath and reluctant keys to speak again, so gently
that there was no discord, only a far-away voice as of memory. Then the
two, the childish treble and the baritone, sang,

    "Saviour, Who Thy flock art feeding
    With the shepherd's tenderest care,
    All the feeble gently leading,
    While the lambs Thy bosom share."

       *       *       *       *       *

"That was her tune, Mary's, the last she sang to Marygold. How did you
know?" asked Gilbert when the hymn ended, his voice sinking
unconsciously to an awed whisper.

"_I_ did not, but God does not forget."

Slowly and clearly Latimer read the brief service of private baptism,
ending with the sentence, "If thou art not already baptized, Julia
Poppea, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost--Amen."

"Is that in the book?" asked Gilbert; "then if it is, there are enough
other children named that 'tisn't known about where or when, so that she
isn't the only one."

"No, we are none of us the _only ones_ either for sorrow or joy; in that
lies the love of God, which is brotherhood;" and seeing the light of the
smile upon Stephen Latimer's face, the child laughed and crowed, and
succeeded in wriggling from Miss Emmy's arms down to the floor, where
the pup was wagging furiously, as though trying to shake hands with
everybody at once, having slipped in as Mrs. Pegrim hurried out for the
christening cake.

"It is not as light as it should be," she said, bustling back, "but I
made it sponge, so's the children could have it (I've fruit cake coming
for we-all). It was the last of the limed eggs I used, and though fresh
to taste, they do act sort of discouraged when it gets spring o' the
year and the responsibility o' hefting sponge cake is laid on them.

"Would you mind, Miss Emmy, seeing as you stepped so far into the
family, as to cut it, I mean break it, as a knife spiles sponge cake,
while I pour the coffee?"

"Hasn't the pup got any name yet?" asked Hughey, joining the pair on the
floor. "Mr. Gilbert, you promised he should have a name and that I might
help choose."

"The boys in the office of nights call him Mack, after that little
General McClellan, 'cause he's always busy barking and running about,
planning great things he never does, so I reckon that'll stick to him."

"Oh, I forgot! I've brought _her_ a present," and Hughey tugged at a
small parcel that was bulging from the pocket of his overcoat. "It's tin
soldiers and a little cannon; father brought me them from Bridgeton.
Aren't they fine? I'll show her how to stand them up."

"I've a whimsey name for you," said Miss Emmy, as she set down her
coffee cup, a relic of grandma Gilbert's old Lowestoft with the little
half Chinese flower on front and in bottom, and stooping over the child,
kissed the rim of her ear that had an odd break in its curve like the
blemish on the petal of a flower that has folded too tight in the bud,
"a name that won't mix you up with any Mrs. Nero. You aren't to be
called lady baby any more, but Poppea of the post-office!"

Poppea, however, gave no heed; she was absorbed in the ecstatic task of
tasting tin soldier.



CHAPTER VI

AS IT WAS WRITTEN


The twilight had been long for April, as though the vivid sunset colors
had fairly dazzled night, but now it was fading. Oliver Gilbert sat
before his desk in the workshop. He was not looking at what was before
him, but out of the window across road and fields to where a pearly
mist, in which floated the crescent of the new moon, hung above
Moosatuck. The rush of the river over the last dam that checked it above
the mills was occasionally punctuated by the cry of a little screech-owl
or the call of a robin shifting its perch, while the rhythmic chorus of
peeping frogs insisted upon "sleep-sleep-sleep."

That Gilbert was tired was apparent in the deepened lines of his face
and droop of his shoulders, but it was wholly fatigue of mind. The
adoption which had for a month filled his waking and sleeping thoughts
was a thing accomplished. A week before, when the matter hung in the
balance, possession of the child had seemed the finality. To-night it
appeared as merely an open gate through which stretched a vista beyond
ken; across this many figures passed to and fro, but with faces in
shadow or averted. A question asked by Satira Pegrim at supper had given
birth to the entire throng.

"Don't you calkerlate, Gilbert, it'll be best to lead her up to calling
us aunty and uncle? Then byme-by, when she comes to know, as know she
must, there won't be such a mess o' unravellin' to do."

Gilbert had answered hotly, chided her unreasonably, ending by saying
that the child called him Daddy already, and that it could do no harm as
she grew up for the two white stones on the hillside to stand for Mother
and little sister. Perhaps, God helping, she might not learn the truth
until she was a woman and married. Then it need not hurt so much. Thus
Gilbert drugged himself reckless with hope, after the manner of us all.

Darkness fell about him as he sat, his head fallen between his hands,
the side rays of the post-office lamp only seeming to draw the shadows
closer. Presently he pulled himself together, lighted the other lamps in
office and workshop, talking to himself in an argumentative strain as he
walked about. One man came in for a paper of tobacco and another for
some stamps, but seeing that the postmaster was preoccupied, they did
not linger.

"That's just what I'll do," he said, as though after arguing with some
one he had suddenly achieved a conclusion. Again seating himself before
the desk and selecting a particular key from the chain he continued the
conversation with the opponent who, being speechless, could not
contradict. "When I was a boy, I always was scheming to write a book
some day that should be printed out like them in Squire Oldys's study.
The printing won't be compassed, but I can write out all that happens
from _that night_ on concerning the child, and the village doings, so's
it'll be there plain and no hearsay when she comes to read it and I'm
not here perhaps. Yes, and I must not forget discretion in the doing of
it. Mr. Esterbrook lent me some books of Mr. Pepys's, his remarks on his
own and neighborhood doings. They were fine and edifying in parts, but
lacked the discreetness and holding back I always find in Mr. Plutarch.
I wonder anyhow, if in the beginning books weren't written just for the
sake of talking to some one."

After searching in a cupboard under the desk, Gilbert drew out a large
ledgerlike volume, bound in sheep. The cover was worn merely by lying
for years side by side with its shelf mates. The pages within were of
thick smooth paper, finely ruled. Gilbert tried several pens, quill and
steel, and finally brought a new one from the office; then slowly and
painfully he inscribed on the first page:--

_As it was written--by Oliver G. Gilbert for Julia Poppea, beginning
March 10, 1862._ Next he took his two precious Lincoln letters from
their drawer and fastened them between the first and second pages by
corner strips of gummed paper. Then began the diary.

Two hours passed ere he had finished the first week, but as time went
on, he would naturally grow more brief--the more action the fewer words.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the first of May the reconstructed post-office household was accepted
as a matter of course, Satira Pegrim having leased her farm for a three
years' term to 'Lisha Potts, and stored her furnishings in the empty
half hayloft of the post-office barn. When urged by Potts to sell her
farm, she had answered: "No, Gilbert or I either one of us may feel
called to marry, then what's to do? 'Cause I wouldn't be number four to
Deacon Green with his white chin whiskers, and his 'it's all for the
best' and other heartless sayings when number one, two, and three was
took, or, I claim, clean froze to death, isn't to say I'm set against
the institution. To camp 'longside of an ice pond isn't marriage. I
never did like lizards, real or human, since brother Cotton Mather put
one down my neck in Sunday-school the day sister Clarissy Harlow
'sperienced religion and I screeched so folks thought I had it too."

On May Day itself, Poppea emerged from the hands of Satira Pegrim
clad in the first attempts for many a year of that good woman in
fashioning clothes for a child. The result was a sunbonnet of
brown-and-white-checked gingham, a sack-shaped slip of the same
material, reenforced by the species of extension-legged underwear called
pantalets, below which came a glimpse of sturdy ankles and feet shod in
stout ties. This being the universal garb of children of her age and
station all over Newfield County, the color of the gingham being
diversified.

Miss Emmy Felton had protested and begged to be allowed to keep the
child in dainty nainsook and dimities, ribbons, and flowery hats, but
Gilbert had stood firm that in clothing at least she must be like the
neighborhood children, as he expressed it. Thus Poppea began life at
Harley's Mills without pretence, having for guardian Mack, who was fast
developing into a brown-and-white hound of medium size, a trace of
setter blood showing in the grain of his hair, and having the
forethought and human intelligence that is more often found in dogs of
unknown parentage than in pampered thoroughbreds.

The parapet that made a barrier between the Angus garden and Gilbert's
home acres was finished. A series of massive stone urns, filled with
foliage plants that topped it, seemed in the half light of night and
morning like seneschals in plumed helmets, keeping watch over the doings
of those humbly encamped below, whom they suspected, but might not
displace. Yet what does Nature care for such distinctions and
boundaries? She does not even stop to snap her fingers at them, but
simply keeps on surrounding, overlapping, or undermining all barriers
that oppose her plans.

The wash of earth and water from Windy Hill was toward Gilbert's
orchard, with its trees of mossed-branch crannies and knot holes,
beloved of robins, bluebirds, and woodpeckers, where the ample red cow
flavored her cud with apple blossoms, meadow mint, or nips of the sweet
corn in the vegetable patch, according to season and the location and
length of her tether.

Down through the ground gaps in the parapet, a combination of
architectural design and necessity, came the spirit of that other garden
that the roseleaf wife had created, tended, and left to outlive her.
From the bank presently there sprang a bunch of tulips here, a crimson
peony there, a musk rose-bush in the débris put forth new branches
reaching toward the light, then came the matted green of violets, tufts
of velvet sweet william, a wand of madonna lilies. All through this
season and others some deep-sleeping seed or bulb put forth,
Johnny-jump-ups, prim quilled asters, and, with June, there swayed a
flock of butterfly-winged poppies that in still other seasons would
wander from their earth bank and alight among the plumes of orchard
grass to colonize all the sunny spaces. This was the child's playground,
where she first rolled among the daisies, while Mack, led by his nose,
made quest of ground-hog and cottontail; there she sucked clover honey,
was stung by jealous bees, solved the first mystery of the nest and
eggs, told time by puff-ball clocks, and by and by, through playing
make-believe, approached the real. Like the good fairy of a story who
always comes to the christening to mend with her gift any evil that
others have wrought, so at Poppea's naming, Nature the mother was the
invisible sponsor, who gave her three gifts: love of the beautiful
through eye and ear, love of the best through a warm heart, and the
precious gift of the tears that cleanse the spirit.

As soon as the wind-flowers starred the lowlands and the red bells of
the columbine swung from their many shrines in the rocky banks, Oliver
Gilbert once more resumed his Sunday habit of taking a posy to Mary and
Marygold in God's-acre on the hillside. When the afternoon was right,
Poppea went with him, riding in the old chaise safe in the grasp of
Daddy's left arm. It was on one of the first of these visits that
Gilbert began to train the five-fingered woodbine, that, creeping
through the half-wild grass, clung to the two white stones and would not
be denied. Heretofore he had always pulled it away ruthlessly, but now
he plucked a leaf here, a tendril there, coaxing it gently to make a
living frame about the names and date of day and month, but praying it
to overgrow the _year_ that filled a sunken oval near the base of both
the stones.

While he worked, he prattled unceasingly, as a child might, to the
little one crawling in the mossy grass to gather the light-hued,
short-stemmed violets and soft-pawed "pussy-toes." She neither paused
nor seemed to heed, yet two sounds heard week after week lingered in her
brain until her tongue should one day release them, and these words were
"Mother" and "Ma'gold."

There was no Fourth of July celebration at Harley's Mills that year,--no
picnics, no speeches. The depressing summer of McClellan's fruitless
meanderings, as well as lack of money, forbade crackers or fireworks, so
that the return of John Angus with his bride, the second week of the
month, was an event that helped to relieve the general tension.

Mr. Binks, who saw Mrs. Angus on her arrival as she crossed the platform
of the little station, reported:--

"She's good-lookin', middlin' young 'n' dark haired with pale skin.
She's a high stepper 'at knows which way she wants to go, 'n' mark my
words, if John Angus's goin' to foller like she 'spects him to, he'll
have to act freer and more quick'n he ever did for t'other one."

Next day the village had a shock almost as great as if Lee had suddenly
entered Washington. Mr. and Mrs. Angus appeared, walking in the village
street, he holding her sunshade to the best advantage, while she let her
flounced, fresh organdie gown brush the ground that she might clasp both
her hands over her husband's arm, the white roses on her wide chip hat
tickling his ear the while as she moved her head in talking.

In and out of the half dozen shops they went marketing (John Angus had
habitually marketed in Bridgeton), she chatting gayly. Presently, as
they reached the post-office, there was a pause. Then she was heard to
say, by a loiterer who sat upon the steps:--

"Don't be tiresome, Jack; you mustn't expect me to help keep afloat
senseless old grudges. Please open the door, it hurts my hand. Oh, what
a lovely child!" For though Angus did not actually enter with her, he
held the door back without further opposition.

"I will take box fifteen," she said to Gilbert with decision. "I see
that it is vacant. Is that your little grandchild? No, your daughter?
You must let your wife bring her up to see me some day. I'm devoted to
little children."

"I thought that he looked red and was getting mad," the witness said,
"but when she come out, she stuck a big yaller rose she was wearing in
her belt right under his chin, and says she, 'Jack, do you love butter?'
Oh, Lordy, I thought I'd die, her callin' John Angus Jack, and ticklin'
of his chin!"

Quality Hill called immediately, both those who had previously known
Mrs. Angus in New York as Miss Duane and those who had not. Meanwhile
the stern mansion on Windy Hill relaxed and bade fair to become a factor
in the town, drawing its social life westward.

There was much discussion among the village people as to Mrs. Angus's
age; at one of the Feltons' piazza days at home, Miss Emmy, by a process
of calculation all her own, said thirty-six, but Mr. Esterbrook
gallantly declared that as looks should be the only way of reckoning
such matters, the lady could be barely twenty-five.

When Mrs. Angus returned her calls, a trim footman in white tops seated
by the coachman on the box of the barouche, the first ever brought to
Harley's Mills, the good folks stared and raised their hands. When she
took a pew at St. Luke's church, her husband escorting her to the door
each Sunday, they lost their breaths completely. But when she invited
all to a garden party to see a new lawn game called _croquet_ that had
been sent her direct from London by a married sister, they found their
tongues again to wonder if the mastering of its fascinating mysteries
would in any way impeach their loyalty to the Declaration of
Independence; then straightway succumbed as to an epidemic, grace hoops,
battledore and shuttlecock, and even archery having to yield it place.

If Marcia Angus handled her husband somewhat dramatically, his
satisfaction seemed complete as it was deep. Only two in the place,
Gilbert and Miss Emmy, ever whispered even to themselves that she was
playing the sort of comedy that is only possible to a woman when some
motive of ambition rather than her affections has sway. So that it was a
relief to both when, on the Anguses' return from town late the next
spring, the touch of nature that makes all women kin colored the village
gossip, and it was known that at last there would be a child born in the
great house on Windy Hill. Satira Pegrim, who chatted often with the
gardener's wife, though her brother had never let her take Poppea for
the oft-requested visit to the hill, repeated wild tales of the fineness
of the cambric needlework and lace upon the little wardrobe; of the blue
silk draperies of the south room now fitted for a nursery; of the gilt
bassinet, with its pillow and spread of real lace, and bed, they said,
of swan's-down.

Finally a new rumor was whispered and then took visible shape. Harley's
Mills, with its staff of competent women, single and widowed, who were
ready and willing to "accommodate," was overlooked; an English head
nurse of the brand accustomed to rear an infant from its birth and
chosen by Mrs. Angus's sister, who had sent croquet, appeared in the
stalwart person of a Mrs. Shandy.

Then the village pursed its lips, folded its hands, and waited.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Some random extracts from Oliver Gilbert's book, 1863, Jan. 1._--Three
million slaves were freed to-day according to the promise of September.
It had to be, but now I'm wondering what will become of them. Poppea may
see the working out of this, though I shall not. Having her, there's
somebody ahead to hand out hopes and fears to. Without somebody ahead to
keep up with, old feet must stumble and get tired on the march.

_July the 3._--Meade is in command and they're at it again hot and heavy
around Gettysburg. Morse's boy is there and his grandson, or they were
when it began. We've all been living around the station for the last
three days, just gasping for news like stranded fish for water, but half
the time the operator can't get the wire, and then it's only that
they're at it still, with Lee to the better last night.

My head is on fire and seem's as if my hands can't feel. What if they
should win--but they _can't while Lincoln's above ground_.

_July 4._--We've won Gettysburg; but now the fight's over, the fields
yonder are just seeded down with bodies, blue and gray together. The
Union's safe, and all the town boys, big and little, are firing cannons
and muskets, there not being a store that's charging for powder! There's
been hallelujahs in the meeting-house, bell-ringings and speeches on the
green. I've run up both the flags, one atop of t'other, and yet now it's
night and I've come in out of the crowd, it seems like I must put a bit
of black out somewhere for _those others_! The picture of them in the
glass looks darkly, but byme-by, when Poppea comes to read this, mebbe
it'll shine up clear and be seen face to face. Joy and sorrow, there's
always the two around; the matter is _which of us gets which_.

_July 5._--It's just come in by 'Lisha Potts that plucky Grant, who's
been meandering down-stream and in the marshes this long time, got safe
down the river past the fort and in back of Pemberton's men, and through
battering and starving, Vicksburg has given in! _Hallelujah for
victory!_ say I with the rest, yet I can't get the thought out of my
head of those famished women and children living in ground-holes and
caves to keep out of shot range. Maybe when Poppea is grown, there'll be
some way of keeping peace and right _without this murder_. Perhaps it
might come about even through women themselves! Who knows?

_July 7._--Joy and sorrow! Both amongst us in this village. John Angus's
wife has borne him his long-wished-for son, but she is dead!

Oh, God! what has he done to be so dealt with? He bent his will
considerable through love of her, or maybe it was pride. Must it be
altogether broke? Or is it because he withered little Roseleaf? I hauled
my victory flags down just so soon as Dr. Morewood told me. Then I run
the little one back, halfway up. I wouldn't want Angus to think that I
bear malice or was aught but sorry; though if I told him so, he'd likely
read it as a taunt. Mrs. Angus was pleasant spoken to the child and me;
mebbe some day Poppea can pass those kind words back _to the little
boy_.

_July 10._--To-day they buried her up in God's-acre on the hill. The
flowers and singing were beautiful,--'specially the little boys from
Mr. Latimer's church that he teaches music. Hughey Oldys sang one piece
all alone about flying away on the wings of a dove to find rest. It took
me straight up after it and set me down far away, wondering where little
Roseleaf lies and if any bedded her with flowers and singing.

The women folks brought home satisfaction from the funeral anyhow, for
there on a graven silver plate was the age out plain--"In her
thirty-seventh year."

       *       *       *       *       *

_1864, July 13._--Early tried to get into Washington yesterday, but he
didn't. What a terrible year it's been so far, and only half over. Blood
it seems everywhere, in earth and sky and sea. Our boys dropping down at
more'n a thousand a day, week in and week out. Can we hold out? Yes, to
the end, with patience; for Lincoln says, "Victory will come, but it
comes slowly."

There's nobody else left to go soldiering from this town. 'Lisha Potts
was the last likely one and went yesterday. His mother has come down to
widow Baker's and they've sold most of their stock,--fodder and labor
both being so high. Three dollars a day for a man at haying. Tough bull
beef at thirty cents the pound; sack flour taken over from the Mills is
at the rate of seventeen dollars a barrel, and taxes up to eight mills
from five, they say, to help pay the war debt; things look pretty blue
in my purse. Did I do wrong in keeping the child from those who could do
better by her?

Sister Satira is all shook up by 'Lisha's going. I never suspicioned
before that they were courting. But she claims ever since he hired her
farm it sort of seems as if she belonged with it, and he claims ever
since she left and shut the door more'n half the place is missing.
Satira isn't in any hurry, even if 'Lisha hadn't enlisted, for she says
she had less than a month's courting before and poor quality at that, so
now she means to make it last.

I pray she does. What would become of us?

_Nov. 12._--_The Union is safe for Lincoln is reëlected!_

       *       *       *       *       *

_1865, Feb. 10._--Lincoln wanted to pay the owners something for the
slaves set free, but the cabinet would not let _him_! Others wanted to
hang the chief Rebel leaders, but he would not let _them_. So it goes. I
want the child by and by to think of this every time she sees those
letters that he wrote her Daddy, so's she'll remember what times and
doings she came into to make her loyal to the land and the folks that
stand next her.

This month the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution was passed that
cuts out slavery from every State and Territory. So help us, God! that
every soul of us on this soil may be free forever more, black or white,
man, woman, or child. Keep us from bondage to ourselves, for slavery
isn't only the body being bought and sold.

_March 5._--Yesterday, Lincoln took oath again.

_March 12._--'Lisha Potts came home to-day, honorably discharged and
wounded some, but not past mending. He's been in three battles, and
looks old enough to count out those four years that he's younger than
Satira. Dave Morse came with him, but little Davy lies at Gettysburg.
It seems as if we ones behind can't keep our hands from touching and
feeling of the flesh of them that was there, or our eyes from searching
the eyes of them that have seen!

_April 5._--Yesterday, Lee surrendered and Richmond fell. This ends the
war. Yet woe is still upon the land. What martyrs' blood must be shed to
cleanse it?

_April 15._--_He is dead! Assassinated! None else would suffice!_

_April 24._--To-morrow we are going to see them take him home, the
child and I. The Fennimans have made me free of their front porch; they
have a house on Union Square, New York. He will pass that way. The
neighbors think I'm crazy to take a child of four or five. She may not
understand, but she will see, and byme-by, some day, it will come back
to her, and she'll be glad that Daddy took her with him.

_April 25._--We left at daybreak. As it was raw and threatening, the
child wore a little blue cloak and cap like a soldier's that Satira made
to please her last winter. It being eight years since I've seen the
city, I was forced to ask my way, but Mr. Esterbrook being at the
station to meet some friends, he counselled me. Carrying Poppea, for the
streets were thronged, I went out to Madison Square and so down to Fifth
Avenue. Black on every side, hanging from roof to street, black-banded
flags, black bands on people's arms, the great clock shrouded in black.
There were no public stages on the streets that I could see, so I walked
down Fifth Avenue to Seventeenth Street, then eastward to Union Square,
and so down to Fourteenth Street.

One large building in particular was covered with black from the dormers
down to the street, with all the windows hid by black-trimmed flags. I
asked a passer-by whose house it was, and he told me that it was the
home of a society called the Union League, formed by the best men of
this city for the upholding of the Union.

We got to the house at half after one o'clock. I don't know how long we
waited, bells tolling. A groan ran up and down the street, and then a
great silence. From where I stood out by the fence, the porch and
verandy being crowded, I could see the black-covered horses swinging
round the corner from Broadway, and after them the car. Down the street
it came, from the corner seemed an hour. I lifted Poppea to the iron
fence post by the walk. The groan rose once more, and then silence, with
all hats off. When the car passed, it seemed as though the world was
dead, and that after the minute guns would follow the last trump!

Gazing before her at the car, the child pulled her little soldier cap
off, then whispered to me, drawing my head down, "I don't see him,
Daddy. Is he going to heaven in that bed asleep?" "Yes, yes," I said.
"'N' when he wakes up, will he see muvver and Ma'gold and tell 'em we
was here?"

A band struck up a dirge, so I didn't have to answer. I can't but think
perhaps he'll find _her_ mother, and tell her that there's an old fellow
who couldn't fight, that just lives to right her wrongs.

After the car a stream of faces followed, men and more men of high-up
societies and committees. I was looking at them without seeing, until
one man passed and looked back as he went, at us I thought. It was John
Angus! My suz, but he's aged or something. His face was drawn as if by
pain or anger, I can't judge which.

Poppea saw him too, and as he passed she waved her hand, she's such an
eye for faces. Then she turned her mind to some cakes the ladies gave
her, with pink tops. It's wonderful how nature eases things for
children.

_May 10._--The Anguses are back, and folks say that Philip is not well,
does not keep his footing as a boy should who is turning three. Satira
saw him yesterday, sitting in his little coach behind the parapet, and
she says he looks old and tired across the eyes.

Some doctors are coming from New York to-night to see him. Morewood only
shakes his head when asked, as much as saying, _I know_, but he will not
believe _me_.

_May 12._--Mrs. Shandy came down to Satira last evening crying, and
blurted out that Philip has a twist or something in his
backbone,--Pott's disease they call it. He will be a hunchback. "An'
when he looks at me so lovin' with those big gray eyes of his, it seems
that I can't bear it," she sobbed right on Satira's shoulder.

"What did his father say?" asked she.

"Mr. Angus? Well he was hard struck and stayed above stairs all
yesterday. But this morning he came down and says to us help standing
by, 'Do all the doctors say, but never mention to my son or to me that
he is different from other boys. Who breaks my order--goes.' Ah! Mrs.
Pegrim, but he's got an awful pride and will; I have my _doubts if God
himself could break it_."

       *       *       *       *       *

_1867, May._ Poppea is past six now and the Misses Felton think she
should have lessons. She knows her letters from her blocks, and Hughey
Oldys reads fairy books to her, but it's the hill-country speech that
worries me, and also the Felton ladies. When I talk, I talk like those I
live among, but when I put pen to paper, I do better, and write more
like those I've met in reading.

Miss Emmy wants to learn her every day so when she's eight she can go to
the Academy, and being a lady baby as she was, not shame her breeding.
For manners, she's catching them already, and Stephen Latimer says she
has a great ear for music, and can sing anything she hears Hugh sing in
Sunday-school; not out loud, of course, but soft and strange, like a
young bird that's trying.



CHAPTER VII

INTO THE DARK


During the week of the greenest Christmas that had been known at
Harley's Mills for years, sudden and bitter cold turned a heavy rain to
an ice-storm that locked village and country-side, laying low great
trees by the clinging weight of icicles, freezing outright more than one
veteran crow in the roost on Cedar Hill, and making prisoners of the
ruffed grouse and bob-whites in their shelter of hemlock and juniper in
the river woods.

In two nights Moosatuck became a vast mirror, in which the figures of
the skaters by daylight and torchlight were reflected, framed by
wonderful prismatic colors. Below the falls, however, the water,
tempered by the breath of the sea, bedded the wild fowl, repulsed by the
ice-pointed reed bayonets from their usual shelter.

From all the bordering towns the people gathered along the banks this
particular Wednesday afternoon in a spirit of holiday festivity, whether
they took the part of actors or spectators. Contrary to the custom of
years, the Feltons and Mr. Esterbrook had returned to Quality Hill for
the week, though quite against the wishes of Miss Elizabeth, who
insisted that for Miss Emmy, with her sensitive lungs, the tropic
atmosphere of a steam-heated New York house, with double windows to
prevent even a breath of fresh air from entering unduly, was the only
place. Miss Emmy, however, had rebelled, and seemed bent upon following
the advice of a young practitioner, who had for two years been
propounding the radical doctrine that fresh, cool air was the natural
cure. The absurdity of his theory was on every tongue, even though he
was backed by a few women of the progressive sort, who are always said
by others to fly in the face of Providence.

Be this as it may, a quaint old push-sled that had belonged to Madam
Harley, and been many years in the loft at the Mills, presently appeared
on the ice, propelled by Patrick, somewhat indignant at his descent from
the thronelike box of the carriage. When above a mass of fur robes Miss
Emmy's eager face appeared, framed in a chinchilla hood tied with wide
rose-colored ribbons, she was quickly surrounded, even before she had
time to shrug her shoulders free and draw one hand from the depths of
her great muff, extending it toward a young girl who had come toward her
with the grace of a swallow skimming the air, bending to kiss her almost
before she had paused, saying in the same breath: "Oh, Miss Emmy, I'm so
glad that you've come out; I was afraid that we had missed you, and I
must be going soon, for I promised Daddy that I would be home by four.
No, it's not cold if you keep moving, but it will never do for you to
sit stock-still. Please let Hugh push and I will skate beside you, and
Patrick can wait in that old shed yonder, back of the bonfire the boys
have made.

"We've been pushing Philip Angus all the afternoon. His tutor is ill,
and the man that brought him out only stood about stamping his feet and
beating his hands. It must be hard enough not to be able to skate, for
there's nothing like flying down with the wind and fighting your way
back in spite of it, without having to be stuck in one spot like a snow
man. So we simply made Philip fly along, until he said that he really,
truly felt as if the runners were on his feet instead of on the sleigh,
and his cheeks grew red and his big gray eyes shone so. He is such a
dear little fellow, Miss Emmy, and so clever at making pictures and
images of anything he sees. Last summer he made Mack's head out of pond
clay and baked it in the sun, and it was ever so much like Mack when he
holds one ear up to listen, you know. Then he tried to do a head of Aunt
Satira, but it wasn't so good; the nose and bob of hair behind looked
too much alike. But then he coaxed Mack up through one of the parapet
holes into his garden, but he had to look over at aunty where she sits
to sew or shell peas under the first apple tree. You see, Philip and I
can't visit to and fro like other people, because his father is angry
with Daddy about something that isn't Daddy's fault, but we love each
other over the parapet just the same, so now I have two make-believe
brothers, little Philip and big Hugh."

Poppea had chattered on without a break in obedience to a signal from
Miss Emmy, who, putting her muff to her face, indicated that the young
girl must carry on the conversation, as she did not think it wise to
talk in the face of the wind. Then looking about for Hugh Oldys, Poppea
saw that he was evidently searching for her in the zigzag line of
skaters near the opposite bank, and as a wave of her scarlet muffler did
not attract his attention, she started in pursuit, still with the grace
of birdlike flight that makes of motion an embodied thought rather than
a muscular action.

As she glanced after the girl, Miss Emmy seemed to see as a panorama all
the years between the time that she had first found the lady baby in the
post-office house, with Hughey Oldys giving her his beloved tin soldier
and the present, nearly thirteen years. Poppea, now at the crisis of her
girlhood, Hugh in his first college year. Did she realize the lapse of
time? In some ways not at all. Mr. Esterbrook was as courteous and
precise as ever; if his morning walk was a little shorter and his
before-dinner nap a little longer, the change was imperceptible to any
outsider.

But it was through her interest in Poppea that Miss Emmy knew that time
was passing, and yet the same interest kept middle age from laying hold
upon her, either physically or mentally; Poppea, whom Miss Felton had
from the beginning called Julia as a matter of principle, the second
name having too theatrical a flavor to suit her. At first it had been
the little child of five, coming to take her lesson in needlework on
squares of dainty patchwork, one white, the alternate sprigged with blue
forget-me-nots. The tiny silver thimble and work-box as a reward when
the doll's bed-quilt was completed. With this came almost unconscious
teaching of pretty manners, rising when some one enters the room,
standing until all are seated.

Next came the discovery that Poppea was all music and rhythmic motion to
her toe tips. At one of the summer afternoon concerts for which Felton
Manor was famous, Louis Moreau Gottschalk had been the soloist, playing
some of his Cuban dances, when to the surprise of all, the child of
seven, who had been sitting on the porch steps listening intently, got
up and, creeping inside the window of the music room, began to dance,
suiting her steps to the music, now slow, now rapid, perfectly
unconscious that any one was present, until the great emotional pianist,
glancing up, finished abruptly, pausing to applaud, and Poppea, brought
suddenly to herself and covered with confusion, fled out into the
shrubbery, where, her face hidden in Mack's soft neck, she cried out her
excitement. Then followed the music lessons, Poppea's legs dangling from
the high piano-stool as Miss Emmy leaned over her, repeating the
ceaseless, "one-two-three (thumb under) four-five-six-seven-eight" of
the scale of C for the right hand.

Now, born of the last Christmas, a small upright piano stood in the
foreroom of the post-office house, the room being further transformed by
frilled draperies, flowery paper, and a few good prints, while in
another year, Poppea would, if Oliver Gilbert could bring his mind to
allow it, go away to school to have the necessary companionship of girls
of her own age; not that she had the slightest feeling of aloofness or
did not mingle with the village young people in the simplest way. It was
the village people themselves, not Poppea, who seemed to hold aloof, as
if they did not know how to place the girl, who, though belonging at the
post-office, had the freedom of the Felton home, calling the ladies
"aunt." Gilbert could not realize this, and a possible parting put him
in a state of panic, not only for himself, but for her. What questions
might be asked her? What doubts raised?

The Misses Felton and Mr. Esterbrook, on this topic being united, said,
"Farmington, of course!" Yet they had to confess that there were certain
difficulties in the way, and were oftentimes inclined to agree with Hugh
Oldys's mother, who said in her gentle way, "You may be right, cousins
Felton, but my feeling would be to keep the dear child here close
amongst us, Stephen Latimer helping, so that when the time comes when
she must realize her natural loneliness, she need never otherwise feel
alone."

Miss Emmy's momentary fit of retrospection was broken by the return of
Poppea and Hugh, skating "cross-hands," and in a moment Miss Emmy was
whirling over the ice until she began to feel, like Philip Angus, that
the runners were on her own feet.

After a mile of this exhilaration, Hugh pushed the sled into a little
cove, to the shelter of the high bank and a hemlock tree combined, that
he might ease his numb hands and give Poppea a chance to collect her
straggling hair.

"How do you like that, cousin Emmy?" he cried. "If it wasn't that
gripping that confounded handle bar paralyzes my hands, I could push
you clear up to Kirby; the mischief of it would be coming down again.
Face the wind, Poppy, then your hair will blow back so you can grab it."

Hugh, of man's strength and stature, was still a boy in the joy of life
that was stamped in every line of his frank, well-featured, dark face.
His hair, tousled by a fur cap, had a wave above the forehead; his
almost black eyes looked straight at you without boldness. The corners
of both nostrils and mouth had a firmness of curve that might either
develop to a keen expression of humor or the power of holding his
emotions in check.

As he looked at Poppea who, having taken off her red woollen hood, was
struggling to rebraid her long hair that had escaped from its ribbon,
his expression was of the affectionate regard of a boy for his sister,
who is also his chum, and so much a part of his normal life that it
never occurs to him to analyze their relations.

"Here's your ribbon," he said, tossing it to her at the moment she
reached the end of the strand. "It blew into my hands a quarter of a
mile back. You tie and I'll hold; I never could manage a bow."

"Put on your hood quick or you'll lose that too," laughed Miss Emmy,
revelling in the youth and freshness of the pair before her. So Poppea
tied tight the ample head-gear crocheted by Satira Pegrim's generous, if
not artistic hands, and in so doing, hid her thick, long mane of golden
brown, with the tints of copper and ash that painters love. Beautiful as
her hair was, the great charm of her face lay in her eyes. These, a
casual observer might say, were hazel, but at times they held slanting
glints of gold and green, like the poppy's heart, shaded by dark lashes,
and all the opal colors: yes, even the fire opal.

Sometimes as they looked out from under the straight, dark brows, their
expression would have been wistful, almost sad, had it not been for the
upward curve of the lips and tip tilt of the straight nose that
separated them, the sort of a nose that in a child is termed kissable.

"Once more up to the turn," said Hugh, "and then home. I'm afraid it
will snow to-night and spoil the skating."

"No, home now; that is, for me," answered Poppea, looking for a hump
where she could take off her skates. "Daddy hasn't been feeling quite
well for a few days and he likes me to look over the mail after he has
tied up the packages. You see, he mismarked one, day before yesterday.
Quarter of four already? Then I shall be late."

"Not if we take a short cut across the fields and go down the hill
through the cemetery. There's no snow to speak of, and it will be easier
walking that way than over the icy main roads. Yes, I'm going back with
you; I've got to, anyway, for father told me to go to the express office
and also buy a lot of stamps, and I forgot both this noon.

"Bah! How cold my hands are! I wonder if, by any chance, Mrs. Pegrim
would give a couple of tramps a cup of tea and a doughnut."

"Not tea, Hugh, chocolate with whipped cream on top, and I'll make it.
I've learned up at the Feltons'; the aunties have it every afternoon,
and it's delicious."

In this mood, the girl and man tramped over the brown-and-white meadows
with their tumbledown stone fences, until in the high pickets of the
graveyard fence they met the first real obstruction, which they avoided
by going around to the north gate that opened above Oliver Gilbert's
plot.

"I hope the ice hasn't broken the young dogwoods," said Poppea; "they
were growing so nicely. No, but they are bending. Stop one minute, Hugh,
and help me break off the biggest icicles that are weighing down these
branches until they will snap.

"Oh, look! the ice and wind have torn all the vines from Mother's stone
and Daddy will feel dreadfully; he's trained it so as to make a frame
and he would never let me touch even a leaf. I wonder if we can put it
back? No," and she stooped to lift the vine; "the ice is too heavy."

As Poppea bent over she suddenly slipped to her knees before the stone,
her eyes fixed upon it with an intensity amounting to terror. Hugh,
close behind her, followed her glance. For a second, neither moved or
spoke, then turning toward him, her hands outstretched and pleading, she
cried:--

"Look, Hugh! look quick, and tell me if the snow has blinded me, or are
those numbers 1851?"

He stooped and looked intently before he answered what he already knew,
had known, these half dozen years; then said, "It is 1851, Poppea."

"But it must be a mistake then of the stone-cutters, that we've never
noticed before because of the vines; it should be 18_6_1, the year that
I was born and Mother died, so that I never saw her.

"Don't you think that is the way of it, Hugh? Why don't you speak? What
ails you?"

Again she turned from the stone to look him in the face. Something she
saw there struck a chill into her more penetrating than the icy ground
on which she continued to kneel.

Poor Hugh Oldys! What avail was his athletic strength or moral courage?
If his playmate had been drowning, burning, or in any other form of
physical peril, he could have dashed through anything, or even killed
men to rescue her from harm, but now--He stood facing the intangible,
with bent head, helplessly groping for some way of escape, not so much
for himself as for Poppea. The truth lay bare before them, and he knew
that it could no longer be veiled. The protective instinct of manhood
told him to get her home quickly and under cover, that the blow need not
seem so brutal as in the open cold. While he was trying to collect
himself and form a plan, Poppea's intuition, keyed almost to second
sight, was reading his mind through his eyes.

"You do not think the date is a mistake, but you don't know what to
say!"

The words came out so slowly that her lips hardly seemed to form them;
then Poppea faced the stone once more, her hands pressed to the sides of
her face.

"If 1851 is right, then '_Mary, beloved wife of Oliver G. Gilbert_'
can't be my mother. Do you understand, Hugh? Not my mother. Why don't
you speak? Oh, do say something, Hugh; that is, if you understand!"

Stumbling to her feet, Poppea went to the little stone and, pulling away
the vine, exposed the other date, 1852!

"Then Marygold isn't my sister either! Who was my mother, Hugh? And
Daddy--isn't Daddy my father? Tell me, you must!"

Grasping Hugh by the shoulders, half to steady herself, half in frenzy,
she shook him as she swayed to and fro.

"Come home, Poppea, and ask Daddy himself; he is the one to tell you all
about it," the lump in Hugh's throat almost stopping his voice, as he
took her arm and tried, without force, to turn her homeward. But Poppea
was at bay. Still holding fast and looking in his face, she gasped:--

"What were my mother's and father's names? Tell me that _now_! Where did
Daddy get me? Tell me that!"

Unconsciously Hugh shook his head, at the same time his lips said, "This
also you must ask Daddy."

"That means that no one knows; that I'm not anybody, not anybody," she
repeated with a moan. "Did Miss Emmy and Mr. Esterbrook and 'Lisha and
Aunt Satira and everybody know but me? Does little Philip know? Take
your hand off my arm, Hugh. I'm not going home any more; how can I, when
I haven't a home or even a _dead_ mother or a Daddy, and every one has
deceived me?"

The poor young fellow, meanwhile, was trying to lead her toward the
highway gate in the hope that a team might pass so that they could beg a
ride, for heavy snow clouds were hastening the dark, and even he began
to feel the chill of it through his pea-jacket, while Poppea was
colorless and rigid as one of the icicles that hung from the trees.
Could this be the same being who, less than an hour before, joyous and
radiant, was skating up the river holding Miss Emmy by the hand? If she
had cried, ever so passionately, it would have reassured him.

"If you don't want to go back, you must go over to my mother or Miss
Emmy," he said, as she again halted outside the gate in sight of the
cross-roads. "Listen, I hear a wagon in the turnpike; wait a moment
while I stop it and beg a ride down; you are trembling all over, and if
you stay here any longer, you'll be very ill maybe."

Hugh ran down the side road to the turnpike in time to stop the team, a
wave of relief sweeping over him when he saw that it was 'Lisha Potts
taking his evening milk down to the centre. ('Lisha, who was still
courting Satira Pegrim.)

To 'Lisha no explanation was needed save the fact of the discovery of
the date and the need of getting Poppea home.

"Great snakes!" he ejaculated, closing his jaw with the snap of a steel
trap. "So it's come at last! At the very first I rather sided with
Gilbert's keeping the thing dark from her, but Satiry had the common
sense,--'It's got to come,' says she, 'so why not let her grow up with
an aunty and uncle and fetch up to it drop by drop instead of gettin'
the whole thing some day like a pail of cold water on the head that may
jar the brain.' Now it seems the cold water's come. Go back and fetch
her, Hughey man, I'll wait; but I can't turn this long wagon on a hill
noway, nohow."

Hugh hurried back, calling Poppea's name as he went, but when he reached
the gate, she was gone.

Rushing frantically to and fro, he looked back into the graveyard and
behind the long line of stone fence opposite that the night was fast
blending with its other shadows, but Poppea was nowhere to be seen.

"She would ha' passed this way if she'd gone down home," said 'Lisha,
now thoroughly startled at Hugh's drawn face and hurried words of what
had happened. "I can see almost all the way down the other road, and she
ain't on that. 'Tain't like she'd take to the hill-country this time o'
night. Anyway, it isn't no use trying to track her; the ground's froze
so hard it doesn't take a hoof print. Well, come to think of it, if that
isn't darned queer! It was froze jest like this the night she was left
at Gilbert's! Best come down to the centre and I'll drop this milk and
borrer a buggy and you and me'll do some tall searchin'. It does look
some as if the Lord had meant I was to be sort of trackin' of the little
gall from the beginnin'. But mebbe it's jest because I'm a good deal
round about and keep my eyes open.

"You'll best tell Gilbert, but make him stay to hum, and we'll do the
searchin'. It's no fit night for his lame leg; jest say 'Lisha Potts's
going on the trail and he'll trust me, and mention to Satiry that the
coffee-pot on the back of the stove'll make a nice picture for us when
we get back."

Meanwhile, the long-legged horses were making good time toward the
village, and presently, as Hugh entered the post-office, he could see
Oliver Gilbert's face looking anxiously up the road through the window
by the beehive, for the Binks boy had already come for the mail-bag.

"Where's Poppy? Has anything happened? Don't say she's fell through the
ice and drowned!" Gilbert said almost in a whisper.

"No, no, she's safe enough," and Hugh paused, realizing that even these
words might not be true.

"Sit down, Daddy" (Hugh had fallen into using Poppea's epithets). "I
must tell you something."

Hugh told all as it had happened, repeating Poppea's broken sentences
word for word with unconscious emphasis and pathos. Then, after giving
'Lisha's message, he stopped short and, still standing, looked at the
old man, who was sitting motionless.

Gilbert arose with difficulty, steadying himself by the table corner.
"Go, Hugh, and do you and 'Lisha do the best you can. She--she came to
me in the night, and in the darkness she has gone from me," and hiding
his face in his arm he left the office and, stumbling across the passage
to the house, passed through the kitchen and entered his bedroom, where
he closed and locked the door.

Hugh followed to say a few words to Satira, and remind her of the
deserted post-office. She, overcoming her desire to set forth the
fulfilment of her prediction in all its details, sat down suddenly in
the rocker, head between her hands, until the honest tears spattered
both on the floor and on the coat of old Mack, who, gray and rheumatic,
still kept the place, half under the stove, that he had first chosen
almost thirteen years before.

Oliver Gilbert meanwhile paced up and down the inner room, the irregular
tapping of his heels telling its own story to Satira Pegrim, though she
could not see the pitiful working of his face or the nervous clenching
of his long, thin hands. Presently he paused by the hooded cradle that
stood as of old between the bed and wall. Lighting a candle, he set it
upon the chest of drawers, where its rays fell upon the cradle. Upon the
white counterpane was a little bouquet of Prince's pine, wintergreen
berries, and holly ferns that Poppea had placed there on Christmas eve.

Stiffly Gilbert dropped to his knees, his arms clasped about the cradle
as on that first night.--"God keep her and lead her in somewhere out of
the cold and harm. Oh, Lord! I've been short-sighted and selfish. I
wanted her for my very own so bad that I've lived out a lie rather than
have the truth come between ever so little. Now she is suffering for it
when it should only be me. I was puffed up and said to myself in my
pride,--'A wrong has been laid at my door because the Lord knew that I
would right it,'--but instead I have added to it. Oh, Lord! have pity;
keep her away from the river and the railroad and Brook's pea-brush
swamp until she gets time to think."



CHAPTER VIII

SANCTUARY


When Hugh Oldys left Poppea by the graveyard gate, her first blind
impulse was to hide somewhere, anywhere from familiar faces, this being
an instinct common to all healthy young animals when either physically
hurt or in trouble. Knowing as she did all the by-ways, lanes, and pent
roads of the entire township, the very last thing she thought of was to
follow the highway or any of its cross-roads. So when Hugh was peering
among the shadows of the walls and bushes that hedged them on either
side, Poppea was crossing the graveyard toward the Northeast gate by
which they had entered, flitting swiftly behind the larger stones for
concealment.

She had no voice to answer Hugh's call even if she had wished to; her
throat was contracted and dry, and to her ears, still ringing with the
rush of blood brought by the first shock, his voice sounded miles away.
When finally she heard the rattle of the milk wagon going unmistakably
downhill, she stopped her efforts at concealment, and walking directly
to the round hill above the graveyard took such a view of the
surroundings as the dusk would allow. The bitter north wind sweeping
down from the hill-country turned her about when she faced in that
direction, putting an end to a wild idea she had of spending the night
in a rough camp the young people had made the previous summer in the
hemlock woods. The Moosatuck was already being outlined by many bonfires
and all the lanterns that the young folks could collect, for they meant
to make the most of what might prove the only snowless skating of the
winter.

The village lights began to twinkle below, and an up train, stopping at
Harley's Mills Station, drew out again, taking long breaths, and,
creeping through the fields like a great glow-worm, made its way toward
Bridgeton. There would be a down train in a quarter of an hour; could
she reach the station in time, she might gain the last car from the
brook side of the track without being seen.

Then she realized that she had no money, and the Felton ladies, her only
friends in what was to her the fathomless mystery of New York, were at
Quality Hill. Could she have gone to Mrs. Oldys, sure of finding her
alone, and begged to be hidden for a few days, that would have suited
her mood and necessities the best. As she closed her eyes for a moment,
she saw the peaceful picture of Mr. Oldys sitting with his evening paper
by the fire in the library of endless books in their white, varnished
cases, discussing the doings of the day with Hugh. Through the doorway
into the dining room was a glimpse of white-clothed table, a jar of
flowers, and the delicate outlines of Mrs. Oldys' sensitive face, as she
bent over the great silver tray, tea-caddy in hand, watching for the
first puff of steam from the kettle in order to complete the brewing of
her perfect tea, and summon the father and son to table.

To go there would be once more to give herself up to all the dearest
things of home that she had experienced through the kindness of friends,
but thought that she must forever more lack; but above all, she was held
back by a bitter feeling of resentment toward those who had been kind to
her, for had they not all banded to deceive her? she, who was nobody,
saved from charity possibly,--so quickly did her mind travel ahead of
what she knew,--from being a town charge! At this bitter moment, the
conventional expression came back to her as applied to a child who was
being brought up by the widow Baker, much being expected of her and
little done for the girl.

Poppea did not analyze her feelings, she was too young and too miserable
for any logical reasoning; it was only that impressions crowded her
brain with the rapid confusion of a nightmare, and at this moment the
germs of two distinct natures began to develop rapidly: one sensitive
and emotional; the other stern, proud, and unflinching to the verge of
stubbornness.

For a few moments she stood thus, overlooking the village, the upland,
and marsh meadows that stretched to salt water, until it seemed that the
winking eyes of the lights, one red and one yellow, that guarded the
entrance of the shallow bay, were beckoning her to come to them. As she
waited, a curtain dropped about her from the clouds, and fine, crisp
snowflakes melted upon her upturned face.

Then she began to walk rapidly through the pasture, but whichever way
she turned thickets of bay or huckleberry bushes caused her to go back,
until, tired with groping, her feet found a worn track, one of the many
cow-paths that wound about the lot. Keeping to it, no longer trying to
think but walking blindly, she slipped and lost the narrow hollow worn
smooth in the thick old turf; then picking it up again, stumbled on.

After she had gone many miles, as she thought, the path came to some
bars; two of these were down, left so probably since the cows had made
their last homeward trip in November. On the other side of the bars, the
path that had previously zigzagged down a steep hillside continued on a
level, and the whistle of a locomotive sounded very near.

In a few minutes more a great hayrick stopped her short, and feeling a
way around it, she could see two cows, who were pulling their supper
from one side of the stack that had been hollowed into a sort of shelter
by many such meals. Then a lantern shone a few steps ahead, and a voice,
that she recognized as belonging to an old neighbor of their own, called
the cows into the shelter of the barnyard.

Poppea, finding that she had travelled only a mile and was within a few
feet of the village street, and thinking that the farmer had awakened
and come to protect his cattle from the storm, was tempted to crawl into
the hay for warmth and rest; her feet were almost without feeling, her
hood and muffler were frayed in many places; she shivered so that she
had bitten her tongue until it bled, and faintness was creeping over
her.

As she groped to find a place where the hay was loose enough to make a
place for her body, the clock in the tower of St. Luke's struck
melodiously, not counting out ten or eleven strokes as Poppea expected,
but stopping short at six.

It was the joy of Stephen Latimer that both clock and bells sent forth a
cheerful message of love and hope for what good time might bring forth
rather than a warning of passing hours. 'Lisha Potts had once voiced
this interpretation with his characteristic direct emphasis, saying one
day to Miss Emmy, who had given the bells and was asking his opinion of
them:--

"Yes, marm, they're real coaxin', persuasive, and comfortable; the First
Church bell allers calls jerky like, 'Re-pent, re-pent, re-pent,' and
the Hill Meeting House's says, 'H E L L! HELL! _Hell!_' plain as words,
so's I don't feel called to go, though they do say bein' set against a
rock has a powerful lot to do with the expression."

Be this as it may, the chimes had hardly ceased when Poppea left the
haystack and found her way to the main road through another pair of
bars, familiar to all the village children as the daily short cut to the
Academy. Perhaps the church door might be unlocked, it often was; surely
no one would look for her there.

The snow flurry was one of a series of squalls, that stopped long enough
for her to see her way across the road, also that a dim light came
through the chancel window. Then the snow began to fall again in large,
loose flakes that quickly filled her footprints.

Her scarf caught upon one of the shrubs that lined the bit of flagged
path from road to door, and when she had pulled herself free, she
noticed that the outer porch door stood open; then the notes of the
organ reached her.

What day was it? It took her a full minute to remember that it was
Wednesday, the afternoon upon which Stephen Latimer played the organ,
only it was much later than he usually stayed. Expecting that the people
might come out at any moment, Poppea tried to turn away, but she was
nearly spent. Pulling herself into the vestibule with great effort, she
looked through the diamond panes of the inner door into the church; it
was quite empty save for the figure of Latimer himself at the organ, a
single lamp above his head breaking the darkness. The truth being that
the skating carnival had drawn all the people toward the Moosatuck, and
finding himself alone, Latimer had this day let loose his very soul,
dreaming and playing on, oblivious of time or falling night.

Cautiously Poppea pushed open the felt-edged door and crept into the
church, watching intently for any move on the part of the player. Once
within she slipped into the first of the pair of pews, that were in the
deep shadow of the loft that once held the organ before the new
instrument had been placed beside the chancel. The backs and door ends
were high to keep out draughts; likewise these pews were seldom used
except for the infant class. Sinking upon the tufted seat, after trying
in vain to sit up, she gradually took a half-crouching position, her
head and shoulders supported by one of the little carpet footstools.

Oh! the unspeakable relief of it, after the hour out in the storm, this
being surrounded once more by friendly walls, the sudden cessation of
cold, the light, the subtle fragrance of the fir trees and pine of the
Christmas greens, and the sight of a human being who was, at the same
time, unconscious alike of her presence as of her misery.

Stephen Latimer, sitting upon the organ bench with the soft light of the
oil lamp outlining his face, looked little, if any, older than on the
day when he had baptized Poppea. It was his double vocation that kept
him young, for in reality he led two separate lives: in one he was the
tireless and sympathetic priest; in the other, romanticist, musician,
and dreamer. To-night he was leading this second life to the full. Once
he set the stops in order as though he had finished, then releasing a
few of the more delicate, he began to improvise, weaving together the
themes of the Christmas carols in which he had been drilling his little
choir throughout the Advent season. The very joy of the strains seemed
to mock the young girl listening back among the shadows, and she sat
upright with a gesture almost of impatience, so far away seemed the
singing and lighted tree of Christmas Eve.

Presently his mood dropped from exalted joy down into the depths of
stern reality, and the little church began to tremble with the opening
chords of the _Stabat Mater_ of Rossini.

Poppea knew nothing of the meaning of the music or the idea that it
interpreted, yet the emotion of it seized upon her, and she felt that
something inexplicable had found her in the dark hiding-place, and was
struggling with her body and soul. Her breath came quick and fast when
Latimer began the massive splendor of _Cujus Animam_, and when he let
the stop _Vox Humana_ sing the unpronounced words of _Sancta Mater_, it
seemed as though she must cry out, while the _Amen_ exalted her, but
painfully, and without final relief.

Evidently, it had somewhat the same effect upon the organist, for he
stopped abruptly, wiped his forehead, that was beaded by the masterly
exertion, and, passing his hand wearily across his eyes, shut off the
stops still quivering with passion, leaving only _Vox Humana_, and then,
after a moment's pause, played the hymn of childhood, as though
convinced that in its simplicity alone lay peace.

    "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
    Look upon a little child."

Poppea rose to her feet, grasping the back of the seat in front of her:
the hymn was the first that Gilbert had taught her while she still slept
in the hooded cradle. At last God was merciful: the tension broke; tears
rained from her strained eyes and began to quench the fire in her brain.

Burying her face in her hood to stifle the blessed sobs, she again
crouched in the pew corner.

At the same time, the door opened and Mrs. Latimer came into the church;
feeling her way, she steadied herself by the door of the pew where
Poppea lay until her eyes focussed to the surroundings. As Latimer
reluctantly closed the keyboard with the lingering of one parting from a
friend, she called, walking toward him as she spoke: "Stevie dear, what
have you been about? It is half-past seven and the popovers that I made
for tea have grown quite discouraged. I was expecting you hours ago, but
Hugh Oldys came rushing in looking so ghastly that he put everything
else out of my head. He was coming home with Poppy Gilbert from skating,
they took the short cut across the graveyard--" then, as Mrs. Latimer
reached her husband, she leaned over his shoulder and finished the
sentence, but the crouching girl knew its import perfectly.

In a moment, husband and wife were hurrying from the church. As Stephen
Latimer stooped to bolt the swinging inner door, Poppea heard Mrs.
Latimer say, "Elisha Potts and Hugh are hunting everywhere, but if they
do not find her by nine o'clock, don't you think we would better ring
the church bells to collect the skaters and have a general search?"

"Yes, if it must be; but I wish we could find some less public way of
reaching her, she is such a sensitive child, yet very proud beneath the
surface. Do you know, Jeanne, she very often reminds me of you yourself.
If you had fled before a cruel hurt, would you like to be brought home
by the ringing of bells?"

"No, Stevie, all I should need _now_ would be time to remember and know
that you were waiting for me with your arms outstretched."

Then the doors closed, and Poppea was a prisoner. Yet in those few
moments she had been given a glimpse of the perfection of one of the
great mysteries of life, and it made a lasting impression on the soul of
the girl who was pushed into womanhood in a single night. For the time
being she had what she most needed, rest and silence, with the single
lamp that had been forgotten, to prevent the oppression of darkness. She
was too physically numb to care what happened during the next hour or
realize the possible necessity of the ringing of the bells. Fixing
herself as comfortably as might be on the narrow seat, she fell into a
heavy sleep pillowed by the little carpet stool worn bare by the
restless feet of the infant class children.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile 'Lisha Potts and Hugh Oldys had gone to all the places where
Poppea would have been likely to take refuge, and finally, a little
before nine o'clock, meeting with Stephen Latimer at the Feltons', where
they snatched a hasty supper, held an impromptu consultation.

"Do you think," sobbed Miss Emmy, "that she could have drowned herself?
It's all open water below the dam at Harley's Mills."

"No," almost shouted Latimer, "and do not let us give the ugly thought
shape even by suggestion. To a healthy-minded, responsible girl such as
Poppea, the idea would not even occur, for suicide is the final proof of
irresponsibility. That she may be wandering, dazed, in the bay marshes
is my greatest fear; still, before we make a general hue and cry, let us
go back to Gilbert's and ask him his exact wishes. Whoever may be her
father after the flesh, Gilbert is now according to the law."

"Yes," seconded 'Lisha, "we'd best go back and ask Daddy, and keep a
good lookout by the way. She may head for home after a while, but not
have push enough to get there."

For the third time during the twelve hours the mood of the weather had
changed. The wind had parted and banished the heavier snow clouds, and
the moon, edging its way persistently through those that remained, made
the lanterns that the three men carried almost unnecessary.

       *       *       *       *       *

Oliver Gilbert had sorted and distributed the seven o'clock mail, closed
the post-office at the earliest legal moment, and was sitting by the
kitchen fire; that is, he sat there in the brief intervals when he was
not peering from the window toward the road or listening at the
different doors where the wind kept up a disconcerting tapping and
rattling.

For the third time Satira Pegrim spread supper before her brother, but
she had ceased urging him to eat. Mixing his coffee exactly to his
taste, she set it close to his elbow and then silently left the room. As
she closed the door at the bottom of the attic stairs and began a
creaking ascent, Gilbert called after her: "Satiry, will you fetch the
pair of little iron fire dogs from under the eaves when you come down?
They lie to the north side under where the seed corn is hung."

Noticing the food apparently for the first time, he ate a few morsels,
drank the coffee slowly, and then going to the side porch collected a
large armful of logwood topped with kindlings which he proceeded to
carry upstairs with no little difficulty, and coming in collision with
his sister on the landing at the top.

"Sakes alive, man, what are you doing!" she cried, almost dropping the
heavy andirons.

"I'm going to take out the chimney board in Poppy's room and start a
fire so's it will look real cheerful when she comes home--for--she'll be
tired and cold--most like. Mayhap the hearth'll need brushing," he
added; "the swallows' nests always fall down of a winter."

The spare bedroom that was now Poppea's had an empty look, in spite of
the bright-flowered wall paper and braided rugs. The straight white
drapery at the windows, and on the old high-posted bed in which several
generations had been ushered into the world, suggested ice and snow to
Gilbert rather than a soft fabric.

"Haven't you got a warm-looking comfortable to throw over that?" he said
to Mrs. Pegrim, who was standing in the doorway, jerking his thumb over
his shoulder toward the bed without looking at it. When, after a few
minutes of kneeling on the hearth and coaxing with the bellows, the
ruddy glow of the fire had penetrated all the ghostly nooks, Gilbert got
up and looked about with a sigh of satisfaction, letting his eyes rest
upon the white bed for the first time.

Asking Satira to watch the fire until the sparks from the kindlings had
subsided, he lit a lantern and made his way slowly to the little
workshop back of the post-office, and seating himself before his desk,
drew out the shabby ledger in which was written the record of the years
since Poppea's coming. Below the record of the previous day he drew a
heavy line. Then writing _December twenty-eighth_, across the entire
page, he traced under it, writing painfully and making three strokes to
every letter,--"This day has the Lord taken the pen from my hand to put
it into hers. In three days comes a New Year. Amen." From a panel
beneath the drawer, that flew open when he touched the spring, he drew
the miniature and its slender chain, wrapped in a piece of chamois
leather.

It was several years since he had looked at it; yes, he was almost sure
that the young woman must be of Poppea's blood, if not her mother, for
the likeness between the two was now more than mere fancy. Dropping it
into his pocket, he returned to Poppea's bedroom, where he fastened the
miniature against the frilled pincushion on top of the high chest of
drawers, and lighting the candles in the two straight glass holders that
had been Miss Emmy's Christmas gift, set one on either side of it, then
laid the precious book upon her work-table by the window, and crept back
to the kitchen, where Mack was whining uneasily as though he missed some
one, and scratching at the door to be let out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Elisha Potts took the lead as the three men started on their slippery
walk from Quality Hill down through the main street of the village. As
they reached the Rectory, Mrs. Latimer flitted out to ask for news. When
they came abreast of the church, her husband, who had a veiled idea that
he had left the lamp burning, glanced up at the chancel window only to
be reassured that all was dark within.

Brief as the stop was, Hugh Oldys, who had half turned toward the
flagged pathway, saw something fluttering from one of the shrubs;
raising his lantern he recognized it as a fraying of Poppea's scarf.

"She has passed this way," he cried, "and since the snow has stopped,
for the worsted is quite dry, while the bush is crusted!" but lowering
the lantern to the pavement, the footprints there shown were confused
and told nothing, as Mrs. Latimer had gone in alone and come out with
her husband.

"Have you the keys, Mr. Latimer? We must look here, though of course she
may have merely stumbled into the bushes and gone on."

"I have them in my pocket, but I was in the church alone until half-past
seven and heard no one."

"Most likely not, if you was a-playin' the organ," said 'Lisha, "for you
kin make her beller powerful disconcertin', Parson. Lemme have them
keys."

       *       *       *       *       *

How long Poppea slept, she did not know. When she awoke, the church was
in total darkness, the lamp having burned out, and the cold of the
floor was creeping up to where she lay. Sitting up, she touched
everything in reach, yet could not place herself. Was it one of the
mazes of a bad dream?

Then the pungence of the fir trees came to her, and the moon without
outlined the long window over the chancel.

Something shook the outer door, and then some one fumbled at the keyhole
of the inner. The door was cautiously pushed open, and Poppea heard Hugh
Oldys's voice saying, "Go quietly and don't stamp so, Potts; she may be
asleep," and then Stephen Latimer's lantern was turned so full upon her
face that she raised her arm to shield her dazzled eyes.

Hugh and Elisha drew back into the doorway, and it was Latimer who,
sitting beside her, said: "We have come to take you home, Poppea. How
long have you been here?" The answer came in a whisper.

"Ever since six o'clock."

"Then you were here while I was playing; it was you who were struggling
with yourself. It seemed to me suddenly as I played that some one was in
hard conflict, and that I must play to help them in some unseen way. I
did not dream that it was you, my child. Now I know from the soul that
struggled with me that you are ready to go home."

"Let me give her some supper and go up with her," begged Jeanne Latimer
in her husband's ear, as she, alarmed by their long stay in the church,
joined them when they were leaving. "Send Hugh home, and ask Potts to
let Oliver Gilbert know that she will soon be there. She needs a woman
of her own sort to be with her at this moment, not Satira Pegrim."

A pressure of the hand from Latimer told her that she was right, and
putting an arm about Poppea, she drew her into the Rectory and
ministered to her by the dim firelight, and presently the two were
driven to the post-office house by Potts, going together to Poppea's
room without meeting any one except old Mack.

For a moment Poppea paused, her hand on the doorknob. The crackling
sound of the fire within made her turn it quickly. Mrs. Latimer hastened
to undress her, for she was nervously exhausted, and a red spot glowed
in the middle of each white cheek.

As Poppea stood before the chest of drawers to braid her straggling
hair, her eyes fell on the miniature. Seizing it, she gazed at the face
intently, and then, with dilating eyes, turned to Mrs. Latimer.

"Who is it?" she whispered; "how did it come here?"

"You brought it with you about your neck the night you came. We do not
know, Daddy and I; we can't be sure, but we think it must have been your
mother."

Without speaking, Poppea looked at it once more, put her hand to her
face as though struggling intently with memory, pressed the picture to
her lips, and then slipped the chain about her neck.

Lying back between the white curtains with the flowery counterpane
across her breast, her loosely braided hair wreathing her head, the
resemblance to the miniature became almost startling, but Jeanne Latimer
put a restraint upon her tongue and all she wished to say. Stooping,
she quickly kissed Poppea good-night.

"Shall I never know anything more?" Poppea asked pleadingly; "isn't
there anything to tell except that I am not me--that I don't belong to
them?"

"Yes, a little more, but the telling of that belongs to Daddy." Then
even as Mrs. Latimer spoke, Poppea's expression changed, the mouth
hardened, and a rigid expression mantled the delicate features, that
remained after the long fringed lashes shut out the changeful fire of
her eyes.

Waiting a moment to see if they would open again, Mrs. Latimer tiptoed
out.

From forcing her eyes shut, Poppea really dozed, and only awakened as
the candles gave their final splutter before going out. Mack lay upon
the mat before the fire twitching and whining in his sleep. Starting up,
she felt, rather than saw, that there was some one in the room. Peering
around the curtain, she came face to face with Oliver Gilbert, who,
wrapped in his double gown, was sitting in the deep chintz chair by her
bedside.

Instantly a long, thin hand was laid upon hers that struggled under it
for a moment but could not pull itself away.

"Some things are real if others are hid from us for a little while,
Poppy. You see your home is here, yours to have and hold under love and
law, and you see you've still got a Daddy; perhaps if you'd _say_ the
word just once, we'd both feel better."

The prisoned hand stopped struggling; raising herself on one arm she
repeated slowly, "Yes, I've a Daddy." Then she hid her face upon his
shoulder, the miniature of the other Poppea dangling from her neck.

When she fell asleep, he did not go away, but sat there, replenishing
the fire lest she should wake in some new terror.

Thus Gilbert kept his second vigil until dawn. In putting a last stick
upon the embers he stumbled over Mack, who did not move; his faithful
old life had gone out peacefully in the night, and with it his
mistress's careless girlhood.



CHAPTER IX

THE MYSTERY OF THE NAME


It being Saturday and market-day, Satira Pegrim had gone to Bridgeton
with 'Lisha Potts to look at furniture, for liberal as to matters of
time though Potts was as a wooer, he had told Satira on Christmas Day
that when a man reached fifty it was time he did something more about
settling down than talk of it. Satira, on the whole, had enjoyed a very
pleasant courtship during the years of her reign at the post-office. It
is given to few women to attend the county fair for thirteen consecutive
years at the expense of the same man without incurring further
responsibility.

She was now divided between conscientious motives about leaving her
brother until Poppea was able to keep house, and the fear lest 'Lisha
become discouraged and transfer his affections to Judith, daughter of
the widow Baker. This veteran, having failed to secure a second spouse
for herself, was now trying to checkmate in turn every available man in
the county for the benefit of her daughter. The Bakers lived almost
opposite the Pegrim farm that 'Lisha leased, and well Satira knew that
nearness means a good deal, especially in winter, so she had consented
to look at furniture, saying demurely at the same time:--

"Of course, if you wish my housekeepin' 'xperience in trading, it'll
pleasure me to give it, but if you want a woman that can rush into
things helterskelter and unthinkin', why not try Judy Baker?"

"No old maids for me, Satiry," he flung back, slapping his knees to give
emphasis to his words. "When I get spliced, it'll hev to be either a
young woman or a widder, the last bespoke and preferred."

"Sakes alive! and what's Judy but a young woman? She's only turning
twenty-four."

"Age hasn't got a thing to do with it; there's old maids at twenty and
women folks turning forty that though unmarried ain't, and is young."

"Oliver Gilbert, he hit them differences plumb on the head once't some
years back, when he was havin' considerable trouble in making folks
understand that he wasn't calculatin' to take a second. Gilbert he's
read lots of unor'nary thoughts in books, and he says, says he: ''Lisha,
there's three kinds o' females when it comes to considerin' matrimony:
widders that understand us men through 'xperience; just plain nice women
folks that know what's necessary about us by intooition, as the Lord
meant they should; and old maids that thinks they're dead wise, but all
they know's by suspicion. Now don't you take one of those last, 'cause
they suspect so much more bad of us than we really are that their idee
is darned hard to live up tew!' Well, just at that time what I took to,
was not gettin' married, but to the woods, and went in for trapping and
lumbering for quite a spell.

"Judy Baker's terrible knowin' by suspicion. When she shakes hands,
she'll jerk hern away before a man's really caught his grip, like she
most _knew_ he was goin' to squeeze it, which he, bein' I, hadn't no
such idee. Then she looks mad, 'cause he, bein' I, didn't."

After this complete understanding, Satira Pegrim, who felt that in
addition to the trip of inspection 'Lisha deserved some more positive
encouragement, told him that if he would begin and mend the fence up at
the farm and reshingle the buildings, she would begin to sew her carpet
rags and sheets, and that would give them both time to be ready by
Poppea's sixteenth birthday--this being the earliest age in Newfield
County at which a well-brought-up girl could be expected to keep house,
with a neighbor to accommodate in matter of washing and house cleaning.

'Lisha, jubilant over something so definite, not only bought tickets for
Christy's Minstrels that chanced to be in Bridgeton that night, but
insisted that they two sup at the Railway Hotel as well. Hence Satira's
prolonged absence.

Thus it chanced that in two days after the night of Poppea's awakening,
the post-office house, put in order from attic to porch, was left in her
charge, and in the afternoon she read Gilbert's record written in the
old ledger, they two sitting together in the long kitchen where the
first scene had been set.

As she read, Gilbert, from the south window, where he sat fitting and
adjusting an intricate bit of clockwork, furtively watched the varying
color and expression of her face. After slowly reading his simple story,
Poppea could not feel for a second that she was an unloved intruder, or
fail herself to be filled anew with love for the old man who had opened
his door. Her quick intuition and rapidly developing mentality scanned
between the lines, learning of many acts of self-sacrifice and devotion
that Gilbert believed locked securely in his own thoughts. It was the
_why_ of it all that rankled: the circumstances, people, or both that
had made the charity necessary. When the girl thought of this, a steely
flash came from her eyes, and the will that had been latent, except for
childish bursts of impetuosity, set its signals at the corners of lips
and nostrils, making the watcher sigh.

"Well, perhaps she may need it to stiffen her up by and by, who knows,"
said Gilbert to himself; "if only the Lord lets her always love
something harder than she hates something else."

Dear, patient Oliver Gilbert, in those few words he summed up the
struggle that Poppea must fight her way through in the next ten years.
Would she be victor or vanquished? As a girl glides unconsciously into
womanhood, the mysteries that surround her are like the intangible, yet
real, mists of daybreak that may clear away before the purifying rays of
the sun, or solidify into angry storm clouds to blot out the entire day.

In addition to these, over Poppea there hung what to her was a darker
cloud,--the mystery of the name; and the only rays that could penetrate
its shadow must come from the sun of love.

Presently Poppea closed the book, and after resting with her arms
clasped about it for a moment, laid it on the table. Going to the window
where Gilbert was sitting, she stood behind him, stroking his hair
gently and smoothing back one troublesome lock that kept falling over
his eyes. Then stooping and laying her cheek upon his, she whispered:--

"Daddy, please say that I need not go away anywhere to school. I can
learn a great deal more at the Academy if I try, and besides the Felton
Aunties and Mr. Oldys lend me so many books, and they are going to have
a French teacher next summer, and Miss Emmy has asked me to read with
them. I want to work hard at my music, so that by and by I can play an
organ perhaps, or sing in a Bridgeton choir. And I must help you in the
post-office. You've said so often lately that people are more careless
of their spelling than they used to be, and do not write the addresses
well, that I'm quite sure your eyes are getting tired. Please, Daddy? It
will make things so much easier."

Gilbert paused a moment in order to control his eagerness to assent.

"I never wanted you to go away, child, but for your own good, and
now--it doesn't seem to me that I could bear it. Miss Emmy thinks,
though, that you'd be better of a little change, and she's spoken with
me about your going down to them next month to spend a fortnight or so,
to see the city, hear some good singing, the Opery she calls it, and
things like that. Wouldn't you like it, Poppy? Yes, I thought so. Well,
you go try your wings outside of Harley's Mills a bit, dearie. Mayhap
you'll think you've never tasted life before, but if you get homesick
for Daddy and the post-office, and feel peeky for a sight o' the river
again and a sniff of the salt harbor wind that blows over Quality Hill,
they'll be here, and all you've got to do is just to come right back."

       *       *       *       *       *

A month later, Poppea was standing between the heavy crimson curtains of
one of the Feltons' parlor windows on Madison Avenue, overlooking the
Square. The sound of the traffic from the opposite side where Fifth
Avenue and Broadway meet and cross was deadened to a sullen roar by the
heavy double windows except when the stages passed, and then for a
moment the distinct sound of hoof and wheel was distinguishable.

Over in the park many children were playing, rolling hoops to and fro,
or wheeling about on roller-skates, having a row of small wheels set
lengthwise under the foot that made the sport as much a matter of
equipoise as ice skating.

Poppea longed to join them, to rush along and feel the air around her
and facing the wind, meet it halfway. For an airing she went to drive
every day with the Felton ladies in the new landau which was lined with
tufted blue satin, with little mirrors let into the side panels.
Sometimes they drove up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, through the east
drive to the turn and back again, at a decorous and leisurely pace,
Poppea and Mr. Esterbrook sitting opposite the ladies, who were
continually bowing and smiling to those in other carriages that they
passed. Even as late as 1874 to 1876, all those who kept private
equipages were well known to one another, and if a stranger appeared in
Mrs. ---- barouche, the identity was soon revealed by the sending out of
cards for a more or less stately reception to meet the guest. The
informal and irresponsible afternoon teas of the last two decades of the
century, their chief motive, as voiced by the Autocrat, being to
"gabble, gobble, and git," were as yet unconceived. Sometimes a party of
young folks on horseback, followed by an instructor, would come in
sight, winding among the trees that separate drive from bridlepath, and
pass before Poppea, all eagerness, could really see them, for except on
very mild days the carriage windows were closed in spite of Miss Emmy's
protestation that she never really breathed except in the open air. The
windows of Madam Felton's coach had always been closed against the east
winds of Boston fifty years before, and Miss Elizabeth felt that to do
otherwise would be too much of an exhibition of change. If Miss Emmy
chose to sleep with her bedroom window open, that was a different
matter; eccentric, of course, but inconspicuous.

One day Mr. Esterbrook had suggested that they two should leave the
carriage, walk back to the entrance gate and take a stage or a horse-car
home. How Poppea had enjoyed it. There had been enough wind to ripple
the water of the reservoir, and the gulls were flying over it, preparing
to bed down for the night as they did on Moosatuck. Another time, the
ladies always being interested in everything concerning the good of the
city, had driven across the park and out the west side of it to see
where the building of the Museum of Natural History was to be located,
the laying of the corner-stone by President Grant having been set for
the following June. Continuing on over poorly paved streets or muddy
roadways that ran between partly decayed country houses, or the shanties
of squatter settlements, they came within sight of the Hudson, making
their way northward through Manhattanville and Bloomingdale to a hill
called Claremont, where there was a place of refreshment in an old
farm-house.

The sight of the glorious river sweeping down between the high walls of
the palisades, with shadowy suggestion of headlands and mountains, made
the young girl's breath come quick and short. She could not keep her
eyes from the window and she spoke either in monosyllables or kept
silent. Could she, might she go out on the bank and see, not through the
glass, and feel the wind that was bending the old tulip trees with the
rattling seed cups?

Alas, no; it was a place of public entertainment where one, especially a
young lady, must be very careful to do nothing unusual. So, though Miss
Emmy looked as though she would not only have encouraged Poppea in her
desire but gone with her if it had not been so cruelly windy, they
turned their backs on the wonderful panorama, while Patrick sought an
easier, if less picturesque, way home.

He, in fact, scowled upon the whole trip to such an extent that it was
not repeated. The horses, used to half a dozen miles at most, had
sweated unduly; the rim of one of the newly painted wheels had sunk
between two cobbles and become badly scratched, while Patrick himself
had been jolted to such an extent that he had been obliged, in order to
keep his seat, to adapt himself to circumstances and do something more
than sit on the box and hold the reins, a new condition which raised his
ire. It may be said with truth that the tyrannical family coachman of
the old régime in New York was the logical and fitting ancestor of the
arbitrary chauffeur of to-day. The first, however, having only the "lame
horse" plea as his weapon; the other, any one of an endless series of
complicated intestinal diseases concealed in the corpulent tonneau.

Thus, after the first week, Poppea's exercise was limited to the correct
walk for girls of her age, up or down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square,
or with Nora for attendant, dressed in the neat garb of a city maid,
down Twenty-third Street and eastward to Gramercy Park, a key to which
exclusive enclosure had been given to the Misses Felton by one of their
many friends in the surrounding houses. She often looked longingly at
the girls of her own age who walked in groups of twos and threes,
chatting vivaciously, the maid following far enough away to be out of
sight if not out of mind. At home she had never felt lonely. Now, for
the first time, she realized that she had no real girl companions of
her own age.

This particular afternoon when she stood between the curtains, a hand on
each, looking alternately out into the square and then down the length
of the three great rooms, divided by marble columns, their size further
magnified by the vistas seen in the pier and mantel mirrors, she felt
like some wild thing at bay. The ladies had gone in the carriage to
Staten Island to visit a distant relative who was ill, taking Nora with
them. Mr. Esterbrook had lunched as usual at his club, the Union League,
only a few blocks further up the avenue, it having been his considerate
custom to leave the house to the ladies and their friends at mid-day
ever since luncheon had taken the place of early dinner.

Poppea tried to open first a front and then a back window to get a
breath of air, but without success. She was too wise now to refresh
herself by sitting on the outer doorstep, since the doing of it, during
the first week, had brought a very decided remonstrance from the usually
sympathetic Miss Emmy.

For a minute she was minded to get her hat and join the children in the
square; then some street musicians with harp and violins struck up
before the next house, riveting her attention. The playing was spirited
and the time good, though imperfect as to technique. The pent-up energy
in Poppea began to surge and sway her body to the music. Stepping from
the recessed window before the long mirror, where there was a space
clear of furniture, she began to dance, not with set steps or
calculated gestures, merely letting the music lead her.

When she finally stopped, head forward, a sort of half-mocking courtesy
to the looking-glass, laughing,--her good temper restored,--she was
startled to see a reflection besides her own, that of a young man of
perhaps eight and twenty, of medium height, clean shaven at a time when
this was uncommon, immaculate as to clothes, having an air of being
perfectly at ease in unusual surroundings that Poppea noticed even in
her confusion.

Caleb had ushered him through the sliding door unthinkingly, for the
colored servitor was standing transfixed, one hand raised in warning,
saying in the brief time that it took Poppea to prepare for flight:--

"Sho, I didn't know you was here, Miss Poppy; I 'lowed Marsa Esterbrook
was corned in."

Then in a confidential whisper to the caller as the girl slipped past
him and flew rather than ran up the thickly padded stairs, he added:--

"It's jest Miss Poppy, a young missy from de country that Miss Emmy
thinks a mighty heap of. She was lonesome-like I reckon, and just
a-dancin' to keep up her spirits. Do set down, Marsa Winslow; the ladies
should shuah be back by now and they'll feel powerful bad to have missed
you. I well recomember your lady mother back in the old Boston time; she
and Miss Emmy was like two twins for standing up for each other.

"Oh, so you'se livin' in New York an' can drop in any time. I'll deliber
your message wif honah, sah, to the ladies' pleasure," and Caleb bowed
the young man out, laying the silver salver with the bit of pasteboard
in a spot upon the hall table where it could not fail to attract
attention. The card read, Bradish Winslow, The Loiterers' Club.

"I should like to meet that girl four or five years hence; she's a
wonderful bit of live color already," was Winslow's mental comment as he
went down the steps, hesitating at the foot whether he should go up or
down the avenue, or across the square.

Poppea, having gained her room, where the windows consisted of a single
sash, threw one of them wide open, and kneeling on the floor so that her
chin rested on the sill, drew in a long, refreshing breath.

For a moment she wondered who the caller might be, and thought of her
dancing with regret, but on the return of the Misses Felton they had
such a delightful bit of news to impart that she forgot even to ask his
name. The following week the opera of Lohengrin was to be sung,
Christine Nilsson taking the part of Elsa for the last time in New York.

No such voice, Miss Felton declared, had been heard in America, except
possibly that of Nilsson's countrywoman, Jenny Lind. To hear her would
be a musical education in itself for Poppea; so not only had a box been
secured for the night, but Stephen Latimer and his wife were coming to
complete the party, in spite of the fact that there were some who
thought the witnessing of all dramatic performances unclerical. That
evening Miss Emmy played some fragments of the opera on the grand piano,
promising Poppea that Stephen Latimer should explain its construction
and motive to her when he came.

For a few days Poppea forgot her desire to run away in thinking of the
opera, and trying to pick out bits from the score, but its complication
baffled her and she had to content herself with persuading Nora to
continue their walk from Gramercy Park down Irving Place to Fourteenth
Street that she might look at the outside of the Academy of Music that
was her Mecca.

When the strain began again and she was once more longing for freedom
and a five-mile walk up the bank of the Moosatuck, alone or with Hugh,
the magic day came and with it the Latimers, Mrs. Stephen dimpling under
a bewitching spring bonnet entirely of her own manufacture, a cherished
possession. This, Miss Emmy told her playfully but firmly, she could
_not_ wear to the opera, but that Bachmann should dress her hair when
she came to do theirs.

"No matter what Stephen may say to-night, I'm going to dress you to suit
myself," said Miss Emmy. "This pink brocade with the silver trimmings,
your hair loosened into a crown of puffs with the pink feather at the
side, and the coral comb. The coral necklace and the white lace shawl
for shoulder drapery, if you think low neck a trifle too much for a
clergyman's lady, and these white gloves topped with coral bands."

"I will wear the white gloves gladly," said Jeanne Latimer, looking at
her two forefingers rather ruefully. One was roughened by the use of the
vegetable knife, for the times had been hard and houseworkers scarce at
Harley's Mills that winter; while the other was pricked deep from the
sewing of harsh muslin for the clothing that some would otherwise have
lacked. "But really, Miss Emmy, don't you think it would look more
honest if I wore my own gown?"

Miss Emmy laughingly acknowledged that perhaps it might, yet held her
point with determination, and eight o'clock saw the party of six
gathered in the opera-box, their faces differing almost as much in
expression as the details of their clothing.

Jeanne Latimer and Miss Emmy were what might be called very much dressed
without having overstepped the bounds of good taste. Miss Emmy wore pale
blue satin with much fine lace and pearl ornaments; though pale in the
morning, her color always grew somewhat hectic at night and helped
justify a combination by far too young for her years.

While Jeanne Latimer enjoyed the novel sensation of wearing her gay
attire, Miss Emmy's pleasure came from the conscious result of wearing
hers. Miss Felton, who sat behind her sister, wore an almost straight
robe of black velvet; the point lace fichu crossed in front and fastened
by a heavy diamond brooch, her only ornament, covered all but her slim
white throat. Her hair was parted in bandeaux and coiled at the back of
her head as usual, the only addition being two waxy white camelias
tucked into the mass. During the last two years, however, a decided
thread of silver had woven itself among the dark coils. Talking in short
sentences to, rather than with, Mr. Esterbrook, who sat next her, she
had an anxious air and seemed to be striving to keep him awake, for
scarcely had they been seated when an air of intense weariness came over
his elaborately dressed person, and he began to nod.

The remaining two of the party thus had the right-hand corner of the box
to themselves, Poppea, in her simple white summer muslin relieved by a
cherry sash, sitting in a low chair, with Stephen Latimer back of her.
From the moment of their entrance, he had busied himself in explaining
the great building to her, from the arrangement of the seats, boxes, and
orchestra, to the uses of the prompter's egg-shaped box. Music and
certain phases of human nature that he felt allied to the Divine were
the food for this man's dreams, and to-night he would have both very
near.

Presently the orchestra took their places, falling into silence at the
tap of the leader's baton and the prelude to the first act began with
the high notes of the Grail motif, rising to a climax of trumpets and
trombones, then fading away to silence again. With a word here and there
to focus the story of the libretto, Latimer called Poppea's attention to
the new theme, where the Herald calls for a champion for the accused
girl, the Elsa motif is voiced by the wood-wind instruments, and
presently Lohengrin appears in the boat drawn by the swan.

To Poppea the scene had the mystery of fairyland, but it was, at the
same time, her first glimpse of visible active romance, and through the
scenes that followed came her primal realization of the love of man and
woman as separate from the friendship of girl and boy.

When Lohengrin sets the one condition for the marriage that Elsa shall
never ask him his name and Latimer explained the _Mystery of the Name_
motif, Poppea with hands clasped in the folds of her gown sat with
strained eyes and parted lips scarcely breathing. Once heard, this motif
never left her ears, whether it was whispered by the wood-wind
instruments, the horn, or proclaimed by the whole orchestra, as when in
the scene of the bridal chamber the knight calls Elsa passionately by
name, but she, not knowing his, may not speak it, and so at last rebels
and demands to know.

As Latimer watched Poppea's face, he saw the change that fell upon it.
The joy of music, color, and pageant faded from it, until, finally, when
the boat, now guided by the Dove of the Grail, bears Lohengrin, its
knight, away and Elsa falls fainting, he saw Poppea's lips, from which
the color had fled, frame rather than say:--

"She would not marry him because she did not know his name, and when at
last she knew it, he had to go away; suppose, oh, suppose--?" Poppea
turned her head from him, but Latimer, through the music and the
dreaming, read the thought that had taken possession of her.

The Latimers returned to Harley's Mills the next afternoon, and Stephen,
at his wife's instigation, asked Miss Emmy if Poppea might not accompany
them. "It's very hard for her, Stephen," she said; "she isn't in a
natural frame of mind now at best, and all the new things she sees and
feels exaggerate it. I know how it is; last night, at first I loved my
fine feathers and then they pricked like pins, and I thought, 'Oh!
suppose I should have to wear them always and play a part and turn into
some one else and never go back to tell you what day of the week it is,
Stevie, or play the organ and peel potatoes and make nighties for stiff
old Mrs. Ricker, who scolds because it is so much trouble to wear and
wash them!' It simply paralyzes me.

"I _know_ that Poppy feels, 'Suppose I should turn out to be somebody
else, who was born to live indoors and be shut in by these double
windows and never get back to Daddy and the post-office, and never any
more hunt for lady's-slippers and arbutus in the Moosatuck woods with
Hugh.'

"I never could understand why people's friends always try to get them
away from home if there's anything they want them to forget. At home I
can always keep a worry in one place and needn't go out of my way to
look at it, but when one is away, it may turn up unexpectedly at any
corner."

Miss Emmy, however, had replied: "Send Poppea home with you when she's
only been here two weeks? Not a bit of it. The house hasn't been so gay
in my memory, besides, I'm having Nora and the seamstress turn her out
such a lot of pretty clothes. I'm sure, too, I'm giving her as nice a
time as any girl could ask."

A few days later the roving mood returned, and would not be restrained.
When the ladies had gone to a morning charitable meeting, leaving Poppea
practising some little ballads she had found in one of their many music
books, she slipped on her going-out things and, closing the front door,
made her way quickly across the square to where the omnibus passed that
Mr. Esterbrook had taken the day they two had left the carriage in
Central Park. Once in the park, she felt sure she could find her way to
that high bank overlooking the river, where she could feel the wind from
the hills on her face and look at the water that was always coming,
always passing, and yet never left one behind.

She had a small netted purse of dimes and nickels that Satira Pegrim had
given her on parting, with the admonition, "'Tain't but what they'll
feed and lodge you, Poppy, and more too; 'tisn't that, but mebbe you'd
fancy an apple or a bit of spruce gum, and not be able to lay hand on it
without buying, or need a penny for an organ monkey, for they do say
that all the organs that goes through here in summer heads for New York
in winter, and consequently monkeys must be plenty. There's 'busses in
New York, too, they say, and most like you'd like to make a change from
carriage riding."

Thus equipped, Poppea paid her fare and stole into a corner, where she
remained until the omnibus reached the end of its route. Her walk up
through the park to the northern outlet was easy, but after that, the
other mile was broken and irregular; for though there were old country
houses here and there, interspersed with newer buildings, the ground was
hilly, many shanties perched upon the rocks and huddled together in the
open fields.

Once she asked her way of a pleasant-faced woman at the gate of a large,
brown building which proved to be an orphan asylum, and her informant
told her that the location was called Bloomingdale, that another large
building set in ample grounds that they could see to the northward was
the asylum, and that if in going back she would walk down the
Bloomingdale Road (Broadway) a piece, she would find a stage that would
take her back through Manhattanville and Harlem into the heart of the
city. Also she cautioned Poppea not to loiter, for the water side was a
lonesome spot for girls.

At last the river was in sight. Getting her bearings, she crossed a lot
where a friendly cow followed her, trying to lick the rough woollen of
her coat, and crawling between some rails, reached the bank that she had
remembered, sitting to rest upon a low stump, where had been laid low
one of a group of giant tulip trees.

The grandeur of it almost oppressed Poppea for a moment, then it seemed
to compact itself and close up until the river became the Moosatuck
winding its way from the hill country down to the Mills, and then onward
through the marshes to the bay. There were not many boats upon it, but
one was hers, built by 'Lisha Potts, and one was Hugh Oldys's, and they
two were deciding which boat they should use, and whether both should
row or only Hugh, for often they rowed together. Then the second boat
disappeared, and Poppea rowed her boat, and in the stern sat Daddy
fishing--Daddy, who seldom took a holiday. How young he looked when he
caught that fine big bass; what jolly stories he told, and how good
Satira Pegrim's basket lunch had tasted. This vision was vivid, and
reminded Poppea that she was hungry.

Close in some bushes beside her a song-sparrow warbled his clear spring
ditty, and the lump that had been gathering in her throat tightened and
would not be swallowed. Scrambling to her feet she took one final look
up and down before turning homeward, and, as she did so, her eyes fell
upon a small marble shaft surmounted by an urn that stood not a dozen
feet from where she had been sitting.

There were several like it in the hill graveyard at home, but this could
not be a graveyard with only a single stone. Going near she looked for a
name or date, but found only these words, _Erected to an Amiable Child_.

Who was it? Was this another mystery of a name. Had the child none?

Waving her hand good-by to the great river, she retraced her steps
toward the Bloomingdale Road, and at that moment she heard in her ear,
with bell-like clearness, the voice of Gilbert, calling to her as he
often did when she stayed out late in the bank garden below the orchard:
"Come home, Poppy, it's lonesome for you out there by yourself; besides,
Daddy needs you!" Yes, Daddy needed her; that must be the answer to
everything that troubled her.

The next day it was Poppea who asked if she might go home, and Miss Emmy
said yes.



CHAPTER X

PHILIP


When Poppea was nineteen, she became the assistant postmaster at
Harley's Mills, with all the legal formality that the name implied, Mr.
Oldys having "gone on her bond" as the local saying ran. Not that
Gilbert's mental faculties were in any way impaired, but at seventy he
was naturally less alert physically, and the long hours told on him. At
least Poppea said so, and urged him to spend more time in the garden
during pleasant weather in company with his pipe and one of his
well-worn books. These, however, had palled upon him, or, as he once
told Stephen Latimer, "It seems as if since Poppy grew up and into
things, Mr. Plutarch is rather far back, and I don't any more care if
Alcibiades returned or not, or much about the siege of Troy, though
that's livelier. I want something with more up-to-date flesh and blood
in it that'll help me to understand things that come up."

Latimer had suggested Shakespeare as a remedy, at the same time offering
to lend Gilbert an edition that had clear print, and yet could be kept
in the pocket. So from the day that Latimer brought the books, Gilbert
had been under a new spell, while at the same period Miss Emmy had given
Poppea the Waverley Novels, which still further changed his emotional
horizon, and made him the more willing to leave the office in the warm
June days and go to the bench under the widest spreading tree in the old
orchard, with clover all about and the brilliant hues and perfumes of
what Poppea called her parapet garden showing between the trees.

Satira Pegrim and 'Lisha Potts had finally joined names and farms,
though the bustling woman had left her post of vantage at the village
with many regrets. When Mrs. Shandy, Philip Angus's erstwhile nurse, had
been obliged to leave him at fifteen altogether in the hands of a tutor,
she had gladly, for the sake of being near the boy whom she almost
worshipped, slipped into Satira's shoes as general caretaker at the
post-office house, for Poppea's earnings, with her voice and as
Gilbert's assistant, made such a helper possible.

No one in the village ever thought it strange that Poppea should fill a
position hitherto occupied by a man. Once Harley's Mills, in the person
of its elderly females, would have raised its hands in horror at the
thought of a young girl engaging in public business; but the Civil War
had changed all that by becoming the origin of the general necessity in
North and South alike for the woman's stepping into the man's empty
shoes, so that the labor horizon for all time widened for all women.

From John Angus had come the only objection to the innovation. He said
openly on several occasions that the charge of the United States mail
should not be left in hands that were only fit to tie ribbons or tell a
fortune with cards. This superficial criticism was attributed to his
old grudge against Gilbert and his evident disgust at not having the
chance to dislodge him that a change of postmasters might have rendered
easier. As he took no steps toward doing anything in the matter by the
usual method of presenting a petition, it was supposed that he had
forgotten it, especially as immediately after, Angus went to Europe to
be gone six months, on business, his lawyer announced, the truth being
that the inscrutable man, jarred and rent by many disappointments and
his own unyielding temperament, had received several warnings that he
held life by a rather uncertain thread. Too secretive to confess that he
was not well by calling in local physicians, he had gone abroad to seek
advice under the plea of business.

The last disappointment that he had forced himself to bear with an
immovable exterior was concerning Philip. Never from the day that he
knew that his only child had the inexorable disease covered by so short
a name, had he allowed any one to sympathize with him upon the subject,
nor had he admitted by any word or sign that the boy was suffering from
any physical limitation. Philip's life was arranged upon the same plan
as that of normal children, and nothing by way of affectionate regard or
added companionship was allowed to fill the place of all that he must
refrain from doing.

Thus the greatest craving that the child had was for the warmth and
protection of affection; he saw the fathers of other boys whom he
sometimes visited put their arms about the lads' shoulders, draw them to
their knees, or make room for them in the great easy-chair, where
confidences about the work and play of the day were exchanged. Not so
with Philip; the little real love that made him hunger for more had come
from the servants and Mrs. Shandy, when they felt that they were out of
eye- and ear-shot of the master.

Even this was stopped when Philip was fifteen by Mrs. Shandy's dismissal
because John Angus deemed that she was retarding his son's development
and keeping him childish. Henceforward a tutor and various teachers of
languages were the boy's associates, for Philip must needs go to college
and become, if not a lawyer, a man of affairs and politics like his
father.

Now Philip loved learning, but on its æsthetic rather than positive
side; beauty of form, color, sound, all appealed to him intensely, and
the thought of the beauty shone from his great gray eyes and beautified
every feature of his exquisitely modelled face, as though in this Nature
had outdone herself.

From the time he was a mere baby he had watched every butterfly and bird
and tried to copy them in what Mrs. Shandy called his mud pies; which
taste, as he grew, developed itself into a wonderful ability to
comprehend both the anatomy of things and their spiritual expression.
From time to time, during his winter city life, he had bought small
copies of the great statues, for at least he was never at a lack for
spending money, and gazed and gazed at them until he knew every curve
and line by heart. In short, as boy and youth, Philip's one desire was
to be a sculptor; but though John Angus never interfered with his
modelling as a recreation, to his appeals to be allowed to enter a
studio and study seriously he never made the slightest reply, and the
preparations for college were forced on.

One day Philip's brain strength had flagged, suddenly, and, as his
father thought, unaccountably. Once again physicians gathered, and this
time the word came to John Angus, "If you wish your boy to live, his
life must be of the open, and his work, if any, something that he craves
and loves."

Then again did John Angus shut himself up for a day and night, to emerge
as before and accept the inevitable with a denial of any need of
sympathy. In a week he announced that Philip was to study modelling,
therefore an outdoor studio was to be built in the garden, and he was to
be under the guidance of Clay Howell, a famous sculptor, who not only
had studios in Rome and New York, but also a summer home at Westboro.
The latest tutor was retained as a companion, and Angus, more ill than
he would confess even to himself, set sail at Christmas nominally for a
six months' absence.

Philip had as a child a beautiful soprano voice which, by the time he
was seventeen, had developed a tenor quality without losing any of its
impersonal boyish sweetness. Stephen Latimer had taken great pains in
its training, and in his friendship the boy had found the one soul who
seemed to understand without spoken words. It was through this
companionship that he found that other that seemed to him in his dark
hours of self abasement and disappointment, the one light that kept hope
alive,--this was Poppea.

As a child he had longed to play with her, and used to watch her by the
hour through the port-holes of the parapet, while she was working in the
garden that extended from the treasure-trove bank little by little until
it finally reached the apple trees. That they might not be playmates
Mrs. Shandy made plain to him, though never the reason why. Later on
they had met at children's parties at the Feltons' and at the choir
practice at St. Luke's, and Poppea had always so sweet and gentle a way
with him, that when he used to dream of angels or try to think what his
mother must have looked like, Poppea's face was always blended in his
visions, for he never _felt_ the stately portrait by Huntington in the
library to be his mother.

When at last it was decided that he was not to go to college and life
held out an olive branch to Philip, Poppea seemed to be the dove that
brought it; Poppea, for whom Stephen Latimer asked Philip to play
accompaniments when she went of an afternoon to the Rectory for a
singing lesson "between mails," and Jeanne Latimer could not be of the
party.

To Latimer, Philip seemed a mere child; it never occurred to him that he
might be reckoned with emotionally and sentimentally as a man, and it
rejoiced his gentle heart to see the boy so happy.

Any boy is spiritualized and made better by the sympathetic
companionship of an older woman if she be of the right mettle, and
Latimer believed that this companionship would give Philip the very
thing, the conception of the essence of woman's sympathy, that he had
lacked all his sad life and that must be realized if he was to grapple
successfully with his art. Consequently, he was quite unprepared and
almost angry, when after coming into the room one day while they were
practising, Jeanne had said:--

"Have a care, Stephen dear, that you do not develop a tragedy in, as you
say, cultivating Philip's artistic perceptions. Will it be well, think
you, that he falls entirely in love with Poppea?"

Even then Latimer would not understand. "There are many kinds of love
that are far removed from tragedy," he answered.

"Yes, but to a sensitive dreamer for a woman like Poppea there is but
one love," she had replied almost vehemently.

"You are mistaken, Jeanne, in this. I am with them, and I stand between
their thoughts as they pass, and my soul reads them. The safety lies in
that Poppea is what she is."

"Time will prove," said Jeanne, half sadly. By the very insistence of
certain word combinations this commonplace saying of his wife refused to
leave Latimer's memory, and even though it failed in any way to impress
him, it left an irritation like the prick of an invisible thorn.

Meanwhile, Poppea and Philip drew nearer together each day.

Howell was finishing a large and important piece of work at his Westboro
studio, and for this reason remained there during the summer, and there
it was that Philip went every day. The master, to test his creative
quality, told him to set about the bit of work he felt he would most
like to do, and that he would help him with the technique. Philip's
response had been to bring a rough crayon sketch that he had made of
Poppea's head and shoulders the last summer when he, looking over the
parapet, had seen her pick up a little bird that had fallen from the
nest and, after holding it in her hand a moment to still its
flutterings, put it back with its brothers. Under the drawing was
written _Amor Consolatrix_.

"Who is it?" the sculptor had asked abruptly. "She will make a good
model. I will send for her to come up here if she lives in the
neighborhood, as I suppose she does."

"Oh! I couldn't ask her; she isn't a model, but I can remember her face
as well as if she were here. Is it not perfect?"

"Head is well set on; forehead, eyes, and chin good; nose a bit too much
tipped up for classic proportions." Then, as he saw Philip's face flush
and quiver, he added "After all, noses are a matter of taste nowadays
when we are getting a long way on the road from Greek placidity, that in
the female face expressed little but form, toward the expression of
temperament. She'll do, my lad, she'll do; if for no other reason than
that you think so.

"Who is she, that is neither a model nor askable?" he inquired a half
hour later, as he looked over from his work to where Philip was
wrestling mentally and physically with the lump of clay of the size for
a bust that the attendant had set upon its block.

"Poppea Gilbert; she lives at the post-office in our town, and there is
nobody quite like her," Philip answered, his shyness suddenly rent by
the man's offhand air of comradeship, as well as in response to his own
need of some one to whom he might speak without restraint.

Howell seldom took pupils, and the price that John Angus had offered him
for his services would not alone have tempted him, but the boy had
interested him from the first. Now, as he stood there watching the eager
face, the light in his eyes, the energy with which he was attacking a
well-nigh impossible task, he sighed and said to himself: "So long as he
believes there is no one like _her_, whoever she may be, so long will he
be able to work. Her strength will make up for his lack--but if his
belief ends--" Here Howell had made an unconscious downward gesture that
in its expression of complete destruction knocked the index finger from
the outstretched hand of the figure upon which he was impressing the
final details.

For Poppea the last year had been rather lonely, so that the post-office
work was welcomed as a distraction as much as a necessity. A break had
come in the one companionship of her life, for after graduation from
college and the law school, Hugh Oldys, to carry out the carefully laid
plans of his father, was spending a year in foreign travel before
settling in New York, where a niche was waiting for the young man of
whose ability and qualities of determination no one who had come in
contact with him during his college life had any doubt.

During all this period Hugh had come home at the week ends, so that
there had been no absolute break; but when he had finally gone, Poppea
felt herself surrounded by a sort of open space wherein the air blew
chilly and nothing offered a satisfactory shelter. She did not fully
connect cause with effect in all its subtlety, but confessed to herself
a loneliness that came simply from the cutting off of her glimpse of the
outside world that Hugh had given her. His letters came at regular
intervals, but they were largely of things, not people, and least of all
himself, so that it was only when she went to see his mother and heard
her homely talk that she felt any of the vitality that belonged to the
real Hugh.

As for Mrs. Oldys, her eagerness to have Poppea with her was almost
pathetic. Locked in her heart, where no one suspected its existence, was
the simple mother-vision that so few cherish in its unselfish
perfection: in this lay the future of her boy, spent away from her if it
was best, and her place supplied by a younger woman to whom the
knowledge she had held of his innermost thoughts must be transferred.
But in this plan of hers for these many years it had been Poppea who was
to be that other woman. Poppea, whom she had watched and brooded over
almost as though she had been her own, and to whom now she revealed day
by day the devotion with which she had surrounded this only child
without in any way letting it hamper his freedom or his manhood.

No word or hint was ever dropped by her, and yet her belief in the
outcome was as firmly fixed as if it had been a vital point of
religion. Would her faith be shattered? Who could tell or count the
pulse beats of a man and a maid, that, being good friends, have
temperament and the world before them? Hugh was now trying one with the
other. Might it not happen, far away as it seemed, that the change might
also lie before Poppea?

It was now May; in August Hugh would return. As for the other traveller
from Harley's Mills, John Angus, he was due at almost any moment, and
the chill that was settling over his household at the prospect was a
tribute to the awe in which he was held that, had he been asked, he
doubtless would have preferred to any demonstration of affection.

Philip alone seemed to look forward with pleasure to seeing his father.
He was in love with his work; Howell, seeing genius even in his crude
efforts, had not only written John Angus, but had told the boy himself
all that he dared, knowing that his temperament lay too much on the side
of self-abasement to take undue harm from praise. Moreover, Philip had,
with his master's help in technique, the expression being all his own,
finished the bust of Poppea and had placed it at the window of his
garden studio, where the beauty of its modelling was brought out by a
background of living green. Surely John Angus must be pleased; must see
at last that his son had not so much found his calling as that it had
found him.

All about the studio were a score of other attempts of Philip's, very
crude, and yet none lacking in a truthful force, and in half of these,
what might be called the Poppea motive was visible. This he did not
realize, nor would he have thought it strange if he had. Why should he
not worship her?

His feeling had been the motive of all art in all ages. So had many a
dreaming monk of old in a cloistered garden wrought his thought into a
missal's page, his inspiration coming not from his walled-in self, but
from the light upon it, shed, it might be, from the ideal of the real
Virgin behind her image in the dim-lit shrine.

It chanced that upon the afternoon of John Angus's unheralded return,
Poppea and Philip had been bidden to the church to practise a duet which
they were to sing on Whitsunday at St. Luke's. This time Stephen Latimer
accompanied them on the organ, and the pair standing side by side in the
front choir stall facing the empty church, Poppea leaning forward
slightly that she might see the music Philip held, with a tender,
protective air, made a picture that would have appealed to any painter.

Going to his home to find it empty, Angus felt a quickening of the
blood, a desire to see his son for his own sake, perhaps for the first
time. Howell's words had pleased him in spite of himself; the crude,
early American idea of material progress was now rapidly making way for
the realm of literature and art. His life abroad had opened his eyes. To
be the father of a famous sculptor had its mitigations, and then too,
narrow though he was, he could not but realize the underlying
compensation that art deals with the spirit of things and makes as
naught any physical defect in its medium. Philip should also travel; he
himself would take him.

So on the whole, John Angus was in what might almost be called a genial
mood when, on hearing that his son was down at the church with Stephen
Latimer, he ordered the carriage (he had walked up from the station) and
went to seek him. He also looked in much better physical condition than
when he went abroad, and only those who are expert in such matters would
have detected the tension at the corners of the nostrils that came from
the continual apprehension of the heart condition that had been his for
years.

"They are in the church," Jeanne Latimer said, as he greeted her with
the polished manner for which he was famous on the doorstep of the
Rectory. Then she had fled indoors with the swift sense of foreboding
and desire to reach cover that a bird feels when, on a summer day, the
wind suddenly changes and the murmur rises of a thunder cloud that as
yet but edges the horizon.

Angus, hearing music, opened the door and stepped into the shelter of
the very pew that had shielded Poppea that winter night more than six
years before. Why he did it he could not have said, but when one is
watchful and suspicious by nature, the habit often becomes the dictator.
Having turned aside, he waited until the song ended, waited in a
condition of mixed rage and pain that amazed him, feelings stirred in
him which he believed buried; he seemed in some distant place; he could
not account for himself to himself. Even then he did not move at once;
the blending of the voices to any other ear had been uplifting. As
Philip stepped from the stall to the lower level of the chancel steps
and Poppea laid her hand lightly on his shoulder to steady him, John
Angus caught the expression of his face, and suspicion, as ever, being
his interpreter, he gnashed his teeth.

In another minute he was walking up the aisle masked in the perfect
self-control he wore to all outside his household.

"Philip, I have come for you," he said in clearly modulated tones, not
realizing that a warmer greeting might be expected after five months of
absence.

"Some other day, Mr. Latimer; I've only within an hour returned and wish
to see my son," without even a hand clasp, was his reply to the rector's
outstretched hand, words of greeting, and invitation to join Mrs.
Latimer in a cup of tea in the Rectory.

To Poppea he did not speak; looking toward her, he swept her with a
deliberate stare in which dislike and absolute non-recognition were
curiously blended. She at first had been impelled to look away, but
feeling his glance, she turned and met it proudly, head erect, without
either contempt or flinching, and even as she stood thus, John Angus,
gathering up the boy's music and the cloak he always wore, hurried him
from the church, without time for a word of explanation or good-by.

"Poor Philip," said Poppea, lowering her head, while tears filled the
eyes she turned toward Latimer.

"Yes, poor Philip," he echoed; "yet not so poor in any way as John
Angus."

       *       *       *       *       *

Once in the carriage, the man's self-control seemed to dominate him once
more. He said nothing about the happenings of the past few minutes, but
turned the talk to Philip's work, even before the boy himself had
recovered from the suddenness of the meeting with its incomprehensible
discordance. The tutor, who had been in Bridgeton, whither he frequently
went during Philip's practice afternoons, had returned, and in an agony
of apprehension was superintending the arrangements of the tea things on
the screened veranda overlooking the garden. He need not have trembled,
for John Angus paid no heed to him after a formal greeting, but relaxed
unusually in his effort to interest Philip and draw him out, and the
boy, warming under his father's rare interest, spoke frankly of his
hopes and fears.

"Now will you come to the studio and see it for yourself, father? Of
course it's lumpy and out of line in many ways yet, but Howell says that
I can do it over and over until it is right, and then, perhaps, you'd
have it cut in marble, not because it's good, but because it's the first
and I love it so."

Hand in hand father and son crossed the garden, the maids and
men-servants peeping from their various windows in amazement until the
pair disappeared within the studio door.

"There she is, father. Do you think it is like her?" Philip asked
eagerly, pulling the wet cloth from the bust, for every day he saw the
need of an added touch here and there.

John Angus had seated himself in a high-backed, carved chair and was
gazing at the bust with fierce intensity; whenever he turned his eyes
away, it was to see its lineaments in the crude attempts that filled
every nook in the long room.

"Like? who is it?" he finally managed to say in well-feigned ignorance.

"Ah, then it can't be, if you do not know, for you saw her singing with
me at the church half an hour ago. It is Poppea Gilbert from the
post-office house. I suppose it was foolish of me to try to make her as
lovely as she really is, though Howell sees the likeness, and yet you
did not know."

"Lovely! Know!" John Angus half shouted, jumping to his feet and going
toward Philip with an almost threatening gesture. "Do _you_ know who
this woman is, this adventuress? She was a waif left on Oliver Gilbert's
doorstep; he took her in and bred her up, what for no one knows, unless
to harry me; he who with his paltry four acres of ground and his
damnable Yankee independence has been the only man who has dared to balk
me with success. But now his time has come."

"I only wish she had been left on _our_ doorstep; how different
everything might have been," said Philip, who in a moment seemed to have
gained bodily height through the sudden development of spirit.

"Yes, so do I!" shrieked John Angus, "and, as you say, everything would
have been different, for I should have sent her to the almhouse!

"What do you know of those she came from? Tell me that. What do you
know?" continued the man, lashed to frenzy.

"What do I know of you or you of me, either; what we are or may be?"
said Philip, in the accents not only of manhood, but of a champion, the
words coming from lips that once and for all had ceased to tremble. "But
I do know that Poppea is a good woman and that I love her."

With a word that rang in Philip's ears for many a day and night, John
Angus turned upon him as if to strike him down, even as long ago he had
struck his roseleaf wife the day before she left him. Then as an
invisible something stayed his hand, he rushed across the studio, and
picking up a chair, brought it down full upon the bust, crashing it
outward through the window in many fragments.

For a moment Philip stood with one arm across his eyes as though to shut
out what to him seemed murder. Then dropping it to his side, he faced
his father, who, his wrath having reached a climax, had sunk back in his
chair, clutching his side, while an awful expression of apprehension
crossed his face.

"I cannot tell you to leave the room, for it is yours; but I must go,"
Philip said slowly and clearly, then crossed the studio and closed the
door quietly behind him.

For two days no one but the tutor saw John Angus, who remained in his
room, to write important letters, the tutor said. Then word went forth
that the house would be closed for the summer, as father and son were
going yachting for a change of air.



CHAPTER XI

INCOGNITA


Philip and his father went away in early June. There were, of course,
many rumors about their plans, one being to the effect that the house on
Windy Hill might not be reopened for several years, in spite of the fact
that greenhouses and gardens were to be maintained as usual. One thing
alone was certain, that they were to spend the summer either on board
the yacht of a Mr. Challoner, John Angus's close business associate, or
at his house at one of the resorts on the Maine coast.

Poppea had seen very little of Philip since his father's return, for his
singing lessons had become more and more irregular, until they finally
ceased. Stephen Latimer, when he frankly asked John Angus the reason,
was met by the vague excuse that he had been so long away that he wished
his son's society; there was much to be arranged. Also Philip was tiring
of singing.

On the day before he was to leave, Poppea met Philip at the Feltons',
whither he had gone to say good-by. When she entered, he was in the
great, cool library, and the blinds being drawn to keep out the
afternoon sun, all the light in the room seemed focussed on his face
where he sat by the book-strewn table, his head resting on one hand. He
was so intensely quiet and so pale Poppea's heart went out to him more
than ever; that he was suffering pain not merely physical she was sure,
and equally so that she must not ask its cause.

Nora came into the room at that minute to say, "Miss Felton and Mr.
Esterbrook had gone to Bridgeton and would Miss Gilbert come upstairs?
Miss Emmy was suffering from a bad headache, and so Mr. Philip must
excuse her."

"Then I must tell you good-by and go home," Philip said to Poppea;
"Harvey is waiting for me with the chair, for somehow I'm rather tired
this week. Please come into the light and turn your face as I saw you in
the garden from the parapet the day, long ago, when you picked up the
little bird. There, that is it. I want to remember every line to take
with me, for I shall be so lonely."

"And I too, Philip. Look up at me and remember, that whatever is
worrying you worries me also, and let me halve it with you," and Poppea,
stooping, lifted his face and kissed him gently on the forehead.

The young man bent his head as if in reverence for an instant, then
raising it again to look Poppea in the eyes whispered, so far away his
voice sounded, "I shall not be lonely any more, for it seems as though
you must have called my mother's angel and she kissed me." And yet John
Angus could not understand, and would not had he been there.

       *       *       *       *       *

The summer residents of Quality Hill had returned in full force,
increasing the work at the post-office so much that Poppea had but
little time to herself. Yet she was satisfied so long as everything ran
smoothly and no possible criticism could fall upon the postmaster; for
it was not only the income and certain fixed position that mattered so
much to Oliver Gilbert, but in and about the associations of his
appointment were woven the very elements of his patriotism and the
verbal contact with Lincoln that became more precious as time went on.
Of course Gilbert knew that the day would come when he must resign what
he called his trust, but that was not yet. In some respects he felt his
seventy years less than he had the weight of a lonely fifty. That his
conducting of the business might be unsatisfactory or the post-office
might be taken away from him had never troubled his thoughts even
remotely.

It was therefore a great surprise to both postmaster and mistress, when
one day, about the middle of June, a duly accredited government
inspector appeared one morning, and after going over the accounts and
putting many abrupt and, to those in charge, meaningless questions, took
a seat by the sorting shelf, opened a newspaper, and seemed prepared to
spend the day. The visit being all the more strange from the fact that
the usual but rather perfunctory official visit had been paid less than
two months before.

When noontime came and the official made no move to leave, Gilbert,
knowing that there was no suitable place of refreshment in town, with
old-time hospitality asked the stranger to join them at their mid-day
meal. The invitation was accepted, and the moment that the official left
his post behind the beehive, his entire manner changed; he talked and
laughed with Gilbert in a way that dismissed a growing apprehension,
complimented Satira Potts, who was substituting for the day, upon her
cooking, and kept his eyes fastened upon Poppea in a way that made her
color hotly and then turn rigid with resentment, saying that he had
heard Harley's Mills was a very quaint town, and that there was a pretty
walk by the river toward the hills. Wouldn't she be his guide that
afternoon?

Poppea, feeling that she must hold herself in check at any cost, replied
that she could not leave the office, but that Oliver Gilbert would
doubtless drive him about town with horse and chaise; then turning to
the old man, she urged him to go, as he had been out so little of late.

Poor Gilbert, entirely oblivious of the undercurrent, protested that he
could do all the office work required before night, saying in
good-hearted indiscretion, "Go you out, Poppy; the young gentleman will
enjoy the trip much better than with a half-deaf old codger like me."

For a moment Poppea struggled for words less abrupt than "I will not
go," with which to extricate herself from the net. Then Satira Potts
(who was Pegrim, and having once taught Poppea what she called her
manners never forgot it), grasping the situation, rose so suddenly from
the table that she scattered the crumbs that she had in her apron, and
said, "Poppy couldn't go with you noway, nohow, Mister--I don't think
you've mentioned your name. Our Newfield County girls don't take up
with strangers, and besides, even if they did, Miss Gilbert, holding
what might be called a public place, has got to draw the line even
shorter!"

Gilbert, who had raised his hand deprecatingly toward his, as he
considered, too officious sister, stopped short as he caught sight of
Poppea's face, while into the other man's eyes there flashed a glare of
rage which was far less offensive than the expression it replaced.
Getting up slowly with an affected yawn of boredom, he bit the end from
a cigar, lit it without asking leave, nodded curtly to the postmaster
and, picking up his bag of papers and hat, which he put on before
reaching the door, went on his way.

"Shoo! Scat!" said Satira Potts, who, following him closely, drove away
a stray cat from the porch and scattered the remaining crumbs in her
apron on the flagging for the birds.

For a minute Gilbert and Poppea sat looking at one another, then he
said: "I wonder why that smart Aleck dropped in here just now and hung
around so? Most likely missed connections in Bridgeton for somewhere
else and thought he'd pass the time and get a dinner. He wasn't mannered
like the regular inspector that's been here for three years past. It's
too bad he riled you so, Poppy; it's likely he thought he was being
polite and pleasuring of you."

It was well for his feeling of content that Gilbert did not look back,
for when Satira Potts returned to the kitchen, Poppea, who had left the
table for the window and was looking with eyes that did not see up
through the orchard to the back garden, wheeled suddenly, and, throwing
her arms about Satira's neck, began to sob with the broken-hearted
abandon of a child.

"There, there, dearie, that skate has gone flying, so don't you care. I
sensed right off the way he was squinting at you, and if only you hadn't
been born a lady baby, and so mustn't, I could have wished you'd slapped
his face."

All that afternoon and for many days, whenever Poppea paused in her work
in the office or in the bank garden, where the flowers seeded from the
garden above ran riot and needed much restraining, the thought, "I
wonder, oh, I wonder, who sent that man here?" came to her.

One day, as the insistence of the query was beginning to pass, Miss Emmy
sent for Poppea to come up to luncheon and hear the plans for the
afternoon and evening entertainment that the Felton ladies were in the
habit of giving each year, either at rose time or at midsummer. This
year, the season being late and also the roses, the twenty-first of
June, the summer equinox, was chosen; for, as time went on, the ladies
felt less like entertaining and keeping open house in the humid July
weather, though they did not yet acknowledge it even to one another. But
at sixty and sixty-two, why should not even those to whom that form of
tyranny known as duty to society is a law relax, and prepare to spend
the afternoon of life a little more naturally?

As for Mr. Esterbrook, at threescore and ten, relaxation of any kind
would be impossible. For the last dozen years, having practically ceased
to take manly exercise, he was propped by his rigid surroundings,
courteous formalities of the old school, and clothes to such a degree,
that had he sought to escape from them, collapse would have resulted,
and it would have been as impossible to collect him as water that
suddenly rebelled against the confines of its pail.

The ladies themselves could hardly have told when the thinning iron-gray
hair had been first subtly concealed, and then replaced by a wig of its
own exact shade; nor did they know that he had abandoned billiards at
the club in favor of whist or piquet, because following the course of
the red or white balls over the vivid green cloth with eyes slow to
focus had twice given him a fit of vertigo. As for riding, Oliver
Gilbert, hip-crippled as he was, could still throw himself across the
old white horse and follow the cow to its hill pasture, while the very
thought of riding made William Esterbrook dizzy; so wide apart is the
life natural from the life artificial.

The afternoon reception, Poppea found, was to be general, the Bridgeton
band supplying outdoor music; the evening function, an affair in costume
combined of music, dancing, and a half-dozen tableaux of the seasons. To
the latter the residents of the hill and their guests, together with the
Feltons' more intimate neighborhood acquaintances, were bidden.

Before leaving home, Poppea had resolved to decline Miss Emmy's
invitation to the evening party. Hugh being away and also Jeanne
Latimer, she was not in the mood for going among strangers, as they
would largely be. Then, too, a sense of depression had hung over her of
late, as she realized for the first time that the comparative luxury and
special privileges that her contact with the Feltons had surrounded her,
were not only not hers by right, but that at any time she must become,
at least in part, the financial protector of the man who had for twenty
years protected her.

Virtually she was living under false pretences when she went to the
Feltons and mingled with their guests. As a child it had been different;
now it must stop, and the sooner the better. She did not find it easy to
carry out her resolutions at once when she found that Miss Emmy took it
for granted that she would sing half a dozen of the songs that Stephen
Latimer said few others could sing so well, either from point of
phrasing or simple pathos. Besides, Miss Emmy argued, New York friends
would be there who might help her to turn her music to account, and as
for the costume, anything dainty and summerish would do. There was a
chest full of old muslins and flowered organdies in the attic from which
Poppea could surely select something, and Nora should help her fashion
it if she herself lacked time.

Under such circumstances how could Poppea refuse those who had made
music possible, as well as given all her education, even to the final
lessons in French pronunciation that made the Creole songs fall from her
lips in such perfection. So saying to herself, "only this once," she had
gone to the attic chest in question, and selected from it a soft green
muslin with embroidered fern fronds scattered over it, a relic of the
days when skirts were six yards full and further amplified by three
flounces; then declining Nora's help, she took it home to brood over.

As she went slowly down the stairs, the muslin gathered into a hasty
bundle, Miss Emmy called to her from her morning room where she was
sealing some invitations, the social secretary not, as yet, having
become an institution. As she waited for the notes, Poppea, glancing
idly about the room, caught sight of a colored print of Gainsborough's
Mrs. Robinson as Perdita, in her pretty furbelows. This gave her an idea
that once at home she quickly put into form with scissors, thread, and
needle.

To the muslin bodice, made a trifle low, frills falling from the half
sleeves, she added an open-fronted over-skirt, which, being caught back
below the waist, gave somewhat the appearance of the print. Then, other
matters calling her, she put the dress away until the day came for the
party. By this time she had forgotten how Perdita had arranged her hair,
and she had also discovered that the even green of the muslin looked
monotonous by lamplight. Ah me, what could she do? Mrs. Shandy, being
appealed to, with true bucolic British taste could suggest nothing but
"red ribbons, and plenty of them, to liven of yourself up, Miss."

Walking about the room at a loss how to proceed, Poppea picked up the
miniature of her "little mother" as she called her to herself, that
other Poppea with the wreath of fragile summer poppies in her hair. It
had become almost a habit, this looking at the picture in moments of
perplexity either serious or trivial, as though the laughing eyes and
parted lips could in some way respond. In this instance, the reply,
though indirect, was instantaneous.

"The poppies twisted in the hair and bunched at the neck; could anything
be better!" cried Poppea, "and the garden is full of the fall sown ones,
open and in bud. Frail as they are, if I pick buds this morning and put
them in water in the bright sun, they will be open by afternoon and keep
open if I do not let them see the dark. The leaves are the color of the
muslin, only of a lighter shade. Thank you, little mother!"

As Poppea dressed that evening, taking the flowers that she had
transferred from sun to lamplight to put in her hair when she arrived,
she again turned to the miniature, talking to it as if it were a person.

"You've stayed here by yourself too long," she said; "to-night you shall
go out and whisper to the people who will hear me sing and ask them to
be kind." Slipping the chain over her head, she let the locket hang half
veiled among the folds of drapery that crossed her bosom.

There was no one but Nora in the dressing-room at the Feltons' when
Poppea looked shyly in, and, seizing the chance, dropped music and light
shawl upon a chair to arrange the flowers. They adjusted themselves
easily to her coiled hair. In a half wreath with a great bunch at the
waist, so intangible did they seem in their cloud colors of rose, pink,
salmon, and flame fading back to white, that it was impossible to
believe that they would not flutter away from their perch like
butterflies.

"Look at that now! there isn't a dress here to-night'll touch yours,
dearie," said Nora, hands raised in honest admiration. "But I mistrust
them posies not to last long, gi'n you dance too hard."

"That's precisely it, Nora," said Poppea, a mischievous smile banishing
the little pathetic droop that her lips sometimes wore, and the opal
colors flashing from the black-lashed eyes. "I must not dance, but sing
my songs and disappear, else my finery will drop away as Cinderella's
did when the clock struck."

Downstairs among the maze of faces, she saw that of Stephen Latimer, and
motioning to him that she was there when needed, Poppea glanced
wistfully across the room, slipped through one of the long windows, then
drew into the shadows where she could see and not be seen, except as the
light fell now and then upon her eager face as she leaned forward to
watch the tableaux, dreading the time when she must step before so
fashionable and critical an audience.

Evidently, she had not been as wholly unobserved as she thought, for
Miss Emmy, who had reached the veranda through another window in company
with a youngish man, came toward her, saying:--

"Ah, here she is, Bradish, keeping quiet until her own time comes. Julia
dear" (Miss Emmy often used this name in formal society), "this is Mr.
Winslow, the son of my dearest Boston friend, who wishes to meet you. It
is the first time that we have been able to lure him into the country,
and we wish him to like it. Where is your shawl, child? It is quite
breezy here, and you mustn't risk your voice. Upstairs? No, don't go; I
will tell Nora to fetch it," and as Miss Emmy flitted away, her
shimmering silver costume, with a crescent and gold stars in her fluffy
light hair still guiltless of gray, caught and held the combined lights
of moon and lamp, helping to perfect the part of "Evening" for which she
was costumed.

For a moment after she had recognized Mr. Winslow's bow, Poppea
continued looking into the room. She wished that Miss Emmy had not
introduced her to this stranger; she did not care to talk, but to remain
quiet and alone. Then making an effort, she turned toward him to put the
orthodox query as to what character he represented, when before the
sentence was half framed, she realized that he wore conventional evening
dress, and her air of embarrassment turned to a smile when she saw the
half quizzical, half satirical expression of his cleanly shaven face.

"Confess that you not only did not look at me, but that you are rather
vexed at either being obliged to do so now or be rude," he said, placing
a chair with a dexterous turn of the wrist in the exact spot where she
could continue to look at the tableaux and yet be seated.

"I'm afraid that you are right, and yet I will not allow that I was even
almost rude to one of the Aunties' friends. It is this way; I am to sing
to-night before all these men and women from the city who know what
music means; I have only sung before here in the church for Mr. Latimer
or at some little musicals at Bridgeton. If I had to go into the room
now and be shut in among them all, I should simply run away. So I came
out here to find myself, and when Miss Emmy spoke your name, I was so
far away that I do not think I heard it. Pray forgive me." Something
about the direct simplicity of her excuse touched a new chord in
Winslow's perfectly controlled nature. This was not the simpering,
self-satisfied young woman of the small towns who usually, when taking
part in amateur social functions, keeps well in the limelight.

He drew up a second chair, saying quietly: "I understand so well that I
will either go away or stay and play watch-dog; which do you prefer? I
see two callow youths in there who are looking toward this window as
their only loophole of escape, but they will not come until I go."

"Then please stay," said Poppea, with a shimmer of a laugh, soothed into
perfect tranquillity by the self-possession of her companion,--a
condition that caused her much wonder when she afterward analyzed it.

Much clapping of hands announced the completion of the first group of
pictures, and the stringed quartet struck up a Strauss waltz, to the
compelling measure of which Poppea's fingers, hanging over the back of
the chair, tapped time.

"Are you fond of dancing?"

"Yes and no; there are times when it seems as if I must dance, but I do
not believe that I could ever dance to order."

"I have seen you somewhere before, but very long ago," he said abruptly.

"Yes, I remember your face. I have been thinking and thinking when and
where. Ah! now I have it!" Poppea exclaimed, flushing deeply, so that
even in the moonlight it rivalled the color of the flowers in her hair.

"Do you remember once calling upon the Felton ladies in New York one
afternoon and finding a half-wild girl dancing before the parlor
mirror?"

"By Jove! that's it, and you were the little girl! I can see it all
perfectly. I should judge that it was one of the times that you danced
because you must, was it not?"

"Oh, yes, the windows were so heavy that they would not open, and the
carpets so thick they held my feet, and I began to feel as though I were
in prison and should never get out, and so I danced to be sure that I
was alive."

"Do you know what I said to myself as you slid away behind the heavy
stair guards?"

"Probably that you wondered why the Feltons harbored such a barbarian."

"No, that I wished that I might meet you again six or seven years hence;
and you see I have my wish."

Noticing that Poppea seemed once more inclined to withdraw into herself,
Winslow dropped the personal tone that he had been forcing into the
conversation and sought more neutral ground in his next venture.

"If, as I understand, you have lived about here all your life, you can
give me some help in a little matter of business, that, combined with
pleasure, brought me here. I suppose, of course, that you know every
resident in the town?"

"Most surely, as well as almost every one who comes to or goes through
it;" Poppea was going to add, "because all news comes to the
post-office," but a sudden influence caused her to suppress the last
sentence.

"Very good, now I will explain my errand, if you have the patience to
listen, and I have confidence in asking that what I say will go no
further, because the matter concerns others rather than myself."

Poppea, nodding her head in assent, leaned forward, her lips slightly
parted in an attitude of undivided attention.

"A cousin of mine, a young New Yorker, who is working his way into
politics _via_ being secretary to the postmaster-general, was intrusted
to look up a matter in this vicinity during a week of vacation. Meeting
me at the club a couple of days ago and finding I was coming here, he
asked me to help him out by doing the investigating and letting him
spend his time in town.

"It seems that Postmaster Gilbert, here at Harley's Mills, is getting
rather old and doddering, and has for his assistant a young woman, a
foundling or something, that he has brought up. Complaints have been
coming in for the past year of the conduct of the office from a man who
is not only a prominent resident here, but one who has strong political
influence both in New York and Washington."

Poppea straightened herself, opened her lips to speak, but no sound
came; meanwhile Winslow, intent upon reciting the story word for word as
he had had it from his cousin, paid no heed.

"Under ordinary circumstances a change would possibly have been made on
the matter of age, but as the complainant is known to be a man of
violent prejudices and the appointment was one of the few now existing
made by Lincoln himself, extra trouble was taken in the matter.
Examinations showed the accounts to be all straight, and there the
affair halted on both sides.

"A month ago new complaints came from the same source in a different
key; the young woman, called by the fantastic name of Poppea, it seems,
was causing trouble among the youths of the town, and the complainant
did not hesitate to call her a dangerous adventuress. A special sent to
cast his eye over the ground brought back an unsatisfactory and garbled
account. Now my point is, can you from an outside and perhaps kinder
point of view set me straight upon this matter?"

It seemed to the woman sitting opposite that she had lived a lifetime
while Winslow was speaking; shame and courage, despair and pride, were
all struggling for the mastery, and courage, with the chance for
justification, won.

"Yes, I know them both, the postmaster and his daughter, as well as John
Angus, the man who has complained."

"Then his dislike is public property?"

"Most assuredly; he has harried Oliver Gilbert for years because he
would not sell him his homestead to round out his own land."

"Very good, a motive proven; that settles one point," said Winslow,
with legal brevity. "Now how about the girl?"

"That is--not, cannot be told in so few words," said Poppea, nerving
herself with a visible effort. "It is true that she was a foundling left
in a storm upon Oliver Gilbert's porch. He took her in for the sake of
his dead wife and baby Marygold. Then he grew to love her until he quite
forgot she was not his own, and she thought all the world of 'Daddy,' as
she had learned to call him. By and by as he grew older she naturally
helped him in the office until, as the business grew and she became of
age, she was appointed his assistant.

"She tried, oh, so hard, to work steadily and not forget her place, but
she could not help the fact that John Angus's son, a couple of years
younger and a cripple, who had no one to be kind to him, liked to talk
to her. She couldn't help being glad to find some one to help make up
for the sisters and brothers she had never known, for all the real kin
she had was an ivory miniature of a young woman with a wreath of poppies
in her hair, that hung about her neck on a gold chain the night she came
to Gilbert's. There was one word engraved upon the locket, 'Poppea' and
a date, '1850.' So they two practised singing together with Mr. Latimer
down at St. Luke's, Philip and she, and he made a bust of her, for he is
studying to be a sculptor. But John Angus did not understand, and though
no one but himself knows what he thought, it is bringing evil to Poppea,
for the last man they sent from Washington dared to insult her. Yet all
she asks is to be let work for her Daddy until his quarter century is
out and he resigns; for it would kill him if he thought that any one
could say anything against him or his that could take away the trust
that Lincoln gave him."

Poppea stopped, her hands twisting at a flower that had fallen to her
lap, and then looked quietly at Winslow as though waiting for his
answer. As for him, he was completely taken out of himself and his
acquired stoicism in regard to all things feminine. The spectacle of the
beautiful young woman pleading the cause with such unconscious dignity
swept him from his feet and made him feel until he tingled.

"Well?" she queried at last.

"You have made it as plain as if I had seen the whole business myself,
and I'm no end grateful for the trouble you've taken. This meeting seems
to have been quite providential for the post-office family; all I need
do is to take a look at them to-morrow and leave. Let me think quickly;
there is so much more I wanted to say to you. I see the musical dominie
coming our way, and they are drawing the curtains on the last tableau."

"Yes, it _was_ providential your coming, but there is one thing more to
be said, and I must say it before you go to the office to-morrow. Look
at this," and bending toward him, she held out the locket on its chain
that had lain concealed in the folds of her waist, pressing the spring
that opened it as she did so.

Winslow looked and then grew bewildered.

"Read," she said. "'Poppea, 1850.'"

"Then you are--Impossible!"

"Poppea of the post-office, whom you have heard accused, and have tried,
and, I hope, acquitted for her Daddy's sake." But the eyes that she
turned so bravely to meet his reassuring ones were full of tears that
could not be recalled.

"What a brute I have been," he said, standing with bent head.

Then Stephen Latimer came to lead her in.

"You will dance with me or at least speak to me afterward?" Winslow
managed to ask, instinctively expecting refusal after the ordeal she had
gone through.

"This is one of the nights I could not dance; in fact, I doubt if I ever
shall again."

Winslow sought out the darkest corner of the porch, where he was yet
within sound of her voice. Lighting a cigar, he gave himself over to an
uninterrupted train of musing, while those within who missed him thought
him merely escaping them after the manner of a man of the world, who,
having been courted for a decade by maids, wives, and widows, prefers
his own society.

After the final applause, which was unusually long and loud for such an
audience, had ceased, Winslow threaded his way rapidly through the rooms
in search of _Incognita_, as he called her to himself, but she was
nowhere to be found.

"The excitement of her success was too much for the dear child," said
Miss Emmy, taking his arm and switching him in the direction where he
cared least to go.

"I've sent Nora home with her in the coupé, for she looked really
overdone. Don't be so disappointed; you can go and inquire for her
to-morrow."

When Winslow broke away from his hostess at last, he wondered what had
happened to him. He had intended leaving in the morning if he had
completed his inquiry. Well, he would sleep on it; some impressions lose
their color the next day. But in the morning he resolved to telegraph
his cousin and put off going at least until another to-morrow.



CHAPTER XII

FRIENDSHIP?


When the next morning came, Poppea kept her bed for the first time since
the childhood days of whooping-cough and measles. From sunrise waves of
intense heat swept the village and outlying country, intensified rather
than veiled by the low-hanging mists. Yet this alone could not account
for the flushed cheeks and restless sparkle of her eyes, or the
weariness of limb that almost refused to let her move. The fact was that
she had not slept, but each hour of the summer night had brought a new
phantom with which she had struggled. In so far as it was possible, she
had ceased to dwell upon the theme of _The Mystery of the Name_, now it
had returned with new force to haunt her, and with it the persecution of
John Angus. This in itself was hard enough to bear, but it meant also
complete separation from Philip, who had come to be such a part of her
inner life that no one else seemed fully to comprehend that even the
idea of readjustment was impossible.

The unintentional abruptness of Bradish Winslow in stating the pith of
Angus's complaints against the post-office, by its very shock had
brought her face to face with the fact that she had tried to conceal
even from herself. Oliver Gilbert was swiftly coming to a time when, if
he did not resign, his age and slowness of motion might surely be cast
up against him for some trivial oversight that would, in a younger man,
pass unnoticed.

For a time the danger of dismissal was probably averted; that is, if
Winslow's attitude of apparent sympathy was sincere. Was he to be
trusted? Standing face to face with him the night before, it had not
occurred to her to doubt him. Away from him, a certain sustaining
magnetism coming from his entire confidence in himself, blended with an
agreeable personality, was lacking, and Poppea wondered if he had read
her aright, or taken her justification as a clever bit of acting. And
why not, if John Angus could so misjudge her!

Other women of her age and naturally emotional temperament might take
peeps into the promised land of love and romance even before the gate
opened and they were bidden to enter. The knowledge of her own name was
the only key to the gate for her; she had long since resolved this, that
evening at the opera when the Knight of the Grail, to her a real
personality, had disappeared. But since then the doubt had come to her,
suppose that the knowing proved to her also a final barrier instead of
the key?

Oliver Gilbert was appalled at Poppea's indisposition, which he viewed
in the light of a positive disaster. Leaving his six o'clock cup of
coffee untasted, he went about putting up the early mail with shaking
hands and a lack of precision that might well have called down
criticism, had it been observed. Neither did he draw comfort from Mrs.
Shandy's common-sense assurance that "Miss Poppy is only a bit done up
with the strong heat coming all of a sudden, and having to sing before
such a gathering of the quality for the first time. When she's rested a
bit and had a nice cup of breakfast tea and some toast, she'll be quite
another thing."

The doctor must be had! Nothing else would satisfy Gilbert. So, about
eleven o'clock, when Miss Emmy drove down in the barouche to tell Poppea
the pleasant gossip about the party, together with the comments upon her
singing, encountering Bradish Winslow in spotless white clothes
sauntering in the same direction, Dr. Morewood's chaise came up the
Westboro road and halted at the gate of the post-office house a little
ahead of them.

Miss Emmy, on hearing that he had called to see Poppea, followed him
into the house, while Winslow went into the office and, over the buying
of a newspaper, drew Gilbert into conversation.

Whether it was the tea and toast that had the predicted effect, or the
fact that Poppea had finally acquired the mastery of herself and
remembered that Winslow had promised to look at the post-office and its
master through his own eyes and judgment, at the moment that Miss Emmy
was ushered into the parlor she heard, through the open window, Dr.
Morewood's voice talking to Poppea in the room above.

"Something is worrying you, child; get away from here for a week and
look at things from a different place," he said. "If it's too lively
for you at Felton Manor, go over to the Mills. Dear little Mrs. Oldys is
nearly down ill through homesickness for Hugh, and the next best thing
to seeing him will be to see some one who knows him to whom she can read
his letters. It'll do you good to go up there, with that view over the
Moosatuck to the hills that every sunrise is like a glimpse of the
promised land, and it will be a perfect godsend to her. Do you know,
sometimes I think that plucky little woman is simply clinging to life by
the love she has for her husband and son. I've been so impressed with
the idea this spring that about a month ago I wrote Hugh asking him if
he couldn't shorten his trip and come home early in August, so as to
give some leeway before he goes to his new work in September.

"I am going up to the Oldyses' now; may I tell Madam that you're coming,
say this afternoon?"

Poppea was looking out the window to where the grim outline of the
chimneys and roof of John Angus's house could be seen above the vines
that covered the parapet. Yes, she realized that she must go somewhere
if only for a couple of days, to be out of sight of that dominant house
and all that it implied, until she could pull herself together once
more, so she nodded in assent and followed the doctor downstairs.

"Not sick, but playing lazy and caught at it," was her reply to Miss
Emmy's outstretched hands, and eyes full of sympathy.

"You see that putting on fine feathers and spending an evening with the
quality has quite turned my head," she continued, forcing her
sprightliest manner that Miss Emmy might be led from questioning her too
closely.

"Then your head will have to stay turned, for every one who heard you
sing last night wishes to hear you again," and the loquacious little
lady ran over a long list of names that represented not only many of the
bricks and beams of New York society, but much of the decorative
superstructure as well.

"You always said that you wanted to step out and really do something
against the time when Daddy would be too old to keep the post-office,
and now here is the chance. You are to come to us in New York and be
properly introduced at our first musical of the winter, and then you
will have all the engagements you can fill at fifty dollars each for the
rest of the season. Two or three a week will be a plenty and leave you
time for lessons with Tostelli or some one equally good. Then, by and
by, when you have acquired manner, and you are well known, you might
consent to sing at a few public concerts, given of course under the
patronage of our best people. But we mustn't whisper of that yet; sister
Elizabeth would not hear of such a thing. You will naturally spend the
winter with us, for the post-office work is very light in the off
season, I've heard you say.

"I will tell you a secret," and Miss Emmy drew Poppea toward her with a
dramatic air of extreme caution. "I've come to the time at which I used
to think I should adopt a young girl. I can no longer wear pink and pale
blue with impunity! I'm growing sallow! I must, therefore, think out
pretty costumes for some one else--for you. For the first winter,
simple dresses with flower trimmings will be very telling; violet tulle
and wistaria, corn-colored gauze and cowslips," and Miss Emmy's hands,
flexible and nervous, described the lines and folds of flower-wreathed
draperies, as she spoke.

"What do you think? Don't you like the idea, child? I'm going to carry
you off to the Manor for luncheon, and afterward to call on some of the
hill people before their guests, who came for last night, disperse.
There is nothing like striking while the iron is hot, but especially
with people of the _beau monde_; if you let them cool off, there's the
heating process all to be done over again, whereas this time it was
simply a case of spontaneous combustion with you as the spark."

In spite of her vivacity and high spirits, Miss Emmy coughed wrackingly
when she stopped, and even a casual observer could see the ominous
falling away at the temples and behind the ears, as well as the
wrinkling of the throat under its bertha of embroidered mull.

"I like the idea of singing as an employment," said Poppea, when Miss
Emmy paused long enough to let her be heard; "but as to all the
rest--well, that would have to be on a business basis also. From the
moment I begin to earn money, I must pay money. You see, dear Aunty, up
to now it's been all for love and love in return, and now--it must be
different."

"Don't be obstinate, Poppy, for if you are and put on that determined
look, I shall have to call you Julia, even in private."

"No, I'm not obstinate, neither can I change; it is simply this, I
cannot allow myself to be an object of charity any longer. Ask Mr.
Latimer. I have talked of it with him, and he understands. Ah, Aunty,
Aunty, I cannot go on standing in false positions. If they like my
singing and it is worthy, I will sing, but I do not want it to come by
social favor only."

"Think it over, child, and don't try to fly with ideas for wings that
may do very well here at Harley's Mills, but not in New York," Miss Emmy
replied, rather tartly for her. "I don't think that in your present
state of mind you will improve your prospects by calling on those who
heard you last night; they would best keep you in mind as the dreamy
looking girl with downcast eyes and poppies in her hair." Miss Emmy
walked out to the carriage without more ado, while Poppea wondered if it
was going to be her fate to be misunderstood.

Going to the post-office, she encountered Winslow, who was occupying a
chair inside the beehive and alternately chatting with and scrutinizing
Gilbert over the edge of a _New York Herald_ in which he was ostensibly
studying the stock market.

By the furtive glance that Gilbert gave her, Poppea knew he had been
talking of her, therefore her color heightened, and no one less keen
than Winslow in taking every detail of a woman's appearance in a casual
glance would have noticed that the shadows under her eyes were not those
of her lashes. She was dressed in a straight white gown akin to that of
a trained nurse in its simplicity, without a single touch of color other
than her hair; yet the effect in the bare surroundings of the shop was
to envelop her with a virginal freshness that appealed to Winslow even
more than the more poetic costume of the previous evening.

"Having made the acquaintance of Cinderella, who vanished, I've now come
to call upon the Postmistress, hoping that she will not also disappear,"
he said, taking her hand with a caressing touch that was personal enough
to be remembered, but not of a quality to be resented.

"Sit down here, child, and just cast your eye over this money-order to
be sure if it is right, for Stephen Latimer may come for it any time.
Mr. Winslow will excuse you a minute, I reckon," said Gilbert, as Poppea
hesitated a moment in embarrassed silence, not knowing whether she
should ask Winslow to the porch or garden, or merely take the call in
her official capacity. The request decided the matter, and as Gilbert
went over to his work bench to become instantly absorbed, she slipped
into his revolving chair, glanced rapidly over the figures, separated
note from stub, and returned the book to the drawer. When she again
faced Winslow, her hands were clasped rather nervously in her lap.

"I came over this morning for two reasons," he said, as though in answer
to a question in her eyes. "I was afraid that last night's excitement
was altogether too much of a strain, and I wanted to reassure myself by
a peep at you. Then I wished to tell you in plain, open daylight how
deeply I feel about my unknowing brutality concerning this post-office
business, and to ask you, if you can help it, not to let it tinge or
prejudice your feelings about me, but to judge me only by the outcome.
As it is, no one else need ever know the details except our two
selves."

The look of intense relief that lighted Poppea's face and raised the
drooping lip corners was perfectly apparent to Winslow, and also told
him that doubt as to this outcome had probably broken her rest.

"I do not think of it as brutality even though it hurt, and though I
shall not tell Daddy, because he would grieve himself sick, I _must_
tell Mr. Latimer, because he has always known of everything concerning
me, and helps me understand my troubles by holding them, as he says, in
trust. For the rest, I can only thank you for taking the trouble to
consider a passing stranger."

"I do not feel that you are a stranger; I did not when I first saw you
dancing before the mirror, or yet again on the porch last night. You are
to me Youth and all the good that belongs with it. We have met twice by
accident, the third time by intent; does not that make us friends?"

As far as his emotions were concerned, Bradish Winslow at six and thirty
might be said to have his second wind. The things that appealed to him
with any permanence in these days knocked first at the door of his
judgment where his æsthetic taste was doorkeeper. It was by this route
that Poppea stole swiftly along until his heart was reached, and
responded before he even remembered that he had one. Then, too, she was
as refreshing as the first sun-ripened strawberries of June after the
complicated winter confections of the club.

Winslow found himself leaning toward Poppea, holding her eyes and
speaking with a vibrating eagerness that would have surprised any one of
his half-hundred city intimates, both male and female. Of a
distinguished family, rich in moderation, and with no one to please but
himself, Winslow, though an indispensable social factor, was, as far as
women were concerned, a devoted cynic, always at the beck and call of
some modish woman, usually either married or a widow, but whenever the
chains of his own forging seemed likely to fetter, he had always eluded
them, to seek safety in numbers once more.

He had no further reason for sitting in the stuffy little post-office
than to see Poppea; he had no other reason for having stayed the second
day at the hill, and yet, with all of his resources, quick wit, and
elastic principles, he could devise no way of prolonging the interview
or bringing Poppea into less conventional relations than her expressions
of gratitude implied.

His hesitation surprised him, for on a still briefer acquaintance he had
brought a very difficult and much-sought widow to ask him to luncheon,
after which she had taken him to a round of "teas" in her carriage.

Winslow realized this as they sat there, presently talking of inane and
safe topics, such as the heat, the city people visiting on the hill, and
the tennis match to be held there next day, and it was almost a relief
when Stephen Latimer, coming for his money-order, told Poppea that the
Oldyses' rockaway was stopping at the Rectory and would be down for her
in a quarter of an hour. As Latimer showed no signs of leaving
immediately, there was nothing left for Winslow to do but bow himself
out, more awkwardly than Stephen Latimer, who had known him of old,
would have believed possible.

Once in the roadway, where he could throw back his shoulders and strike
out, the web that he had sought to spin as a spider, but which had held
him like a captive fly, parted, and he admonished himself in no measured
terms.

"I wouldn't have thought it of you, Brad, my boy; there you sat as dumb
as a fish, and she, when she got through being politely grateful, looked
absolutely bored. It must be because you feel out of your running in a
real cow-country place like this. Is it possible that you're falling
in--? No, it's nonsense! But you'd give a pile to make her look in your
face with something other than gratitude in her eyes. Well, maybe she'll
go to the city some day, who knows. Meanwhile, we'll not let out of
sight be out of mind."

This resolution was the foundation of a series of subtly chosen gifts
sent at regular intervals that, coming in the mail, Poppea could not
fail to see. As, however, after the first, from which fell a pressed
poppy, they contained no sign, she could neither acknowledge nor return
them, for their source was a matter of inference only. Neither did she
know that Winslow, summering here, there, and everywhere, from Newport
to the North Cape, had left an order with his agent for the sending of
the remembrances; consequently, in spite of herself, he was kept in
mind, and she was somewhat touched, according to his plan.

       *       *       *       *       *

Poppea was shocked when she reached the Mill House to find how much
Madam Oldys had changed in a few weeks, and she reproached herself for
not having seen her oftener. But the house had seemed so strange and
still without Hugh that she had avoided bringing herself face to face
with its emptiness.

Yes, as the doctor said, the chord that held her soul in her body was
Madam Oldys's love for husband and son. This Poppea saw as she knelt on
the mat beside the straw lounging chair on the deeply shaded porch and
watched the rapid pulsing at the thin temples as the time drew near for
Mr. Oldys to come home to tea. He was very busy these days in
remodelling the Mills and fitting them for a new manufacturing
enterprise that should not only retrieve the heavy loss of the last
years in the waning of the old business, but give work to the men who
had built their homes and houses about him and the surging outlet of
Moosatuck.

This night he was unaccountably late, and Poppea had already run the
gamut of plausible excuses before Charlotte came out to inquire, after
the comfortable manner of the old colored servant, if Missy Oldys
wouldn't better have her tea before she went all gone from waiting. But
a negative shake of the head was her answer.

"I think, my dear, that I will walk down to the gate to-night as usual,
where I can see beyond the turn," she said to Poppea, at the same time
trying to rise without aid and finding it impossible.

"He is coming!" cried Poppea. "Mr. Oldys has this moment turned into the
road from the little gate in the south meadow. Ah, he has a man with
him, a stranger; some one about the new machinery, probably, which
accounts for his being late. There, he is waving his handkerchief, so
everything is right," and Poppea waved hers in return, thus keeping up
the significant little signal that had passed between this sweet old
couple every summer evening, time out of mind.

"A stranger," the wifely anxiety instantly merging into the hospitable
interest in a guest. "Then please ask Charlotte to add coffee and one of
what Hugh called 'her hasty hot dishes' to supper; the ham omelet will
be best. He may have come by train and had merely a sandwich at noon."

Poppea gave the order, and on her return looked again at the pair who
had almost reached the gate. She had never before realized that Mr.
Oldys either stooped or was short of stature; in fact, he was taller
than the average, but his companion, broad-shouldered, dark, and trimly
bearded, towered over him by half a head. At the gate they paused, and
Mr. Oldys, putting his hand on the other's shoulder, leaned
affectionately on it, while the stranger lifted and waved the
wide-brimmed soft felt hat.

It was Hugh! the forehead line told the tale to Poppea that the beard
had concealed.

With a swift gesture that warned the pair to come slowly, dreading the
shock to Madam Oldys that might come from the unexpected, Poppea knelt
again by the chair, and putting one hand each side of the face, still
beautiful with all its delicacy, turned it toward her and whispered:--

"Close your eyes and think of some one you would like to see coming
across the field, then make a wish, for the fairies are about to-night."

The lids quivered and closed, then opened, and the eyes that read
Poppea's were full of new life.

"It is Hugh! it is my boy! All day I have felt him come nearer, closer,
but I thought it was only in spirit. Give me your hand; he must not find
me idling. See, I am stronger already;" and Madam Oldys not only stood
up, but walked toward the steps, barely leaning on the arm that Poppea
stretched out to steady her, to be grasped the next moment by a strong
pair of arms in an embrace that stifled her cry halfway and lifted her
from her feet, while as Poppea tried to slip back, she found her hand
held in the same grasp and a kiss fell squarely upon her lips.

She did not blush then or separate the greeting in any way from the
good-by of ten months before. But later, as they gathered about the
supper table where Madam Oldys sat behind the tray, handling the chubby
tea-caddy for the first time in months, and Poppea looked at Hugh as he
attacked the "hasty hot dish" with a traveller's relish, she knew that
he was and yet was not the same. The span of the months and distance had
added immeasurably to the man, but the boy, the chum, the comrade, that
he had been even throughout his college days, had vanished, and a hot
color flushed her face up to her hair roots until she became so
conscious of it that she put her hand up as though to shade her eyes
from the light.

Before, Hugh Oldys had been clean shaven and slender for his height; now
he was filled out without fleshiness, and a closely trimmed beard and
crisp, clearly pencilled mustache gave a new masculinity to his face
without in any way concealing the determined yet flexible lips or the
nostril curve that told of nerves high strung but perfectly under the
control of will.

Naturally it was Hugh who talked the most, his father putting brief
questions and gazing in deep contentment at his wife, who, without
expressing a shadow of the loneliness she must have felt or even asking
Hugh why he had shortened his year by nearly three months, was reviving
and expanding; a miracle under their very eyes, like the refreshment of
a plant that, withered and famished, takes hold of life anew even at the
breath of the wind that brings rain.

A year before, Poppea would have stayed on as a matter of course, one of
the family group, but now she felt that on this precious evening the
three should be alone together, and when Hugh went upstairs to change to
a coat more suitable to the sultry night, she whispered a few words in
Madam Oldys's ear about feeling quite rested and not being needed now
for company; then with a nod to Mr. Oldys, finger on lips, slipped
through the side hall where hung her hat and scarf, and thence through
the garden gate into the depths of the June evening, where every bush
held a flower in bud and every tree a sleeping bird.

The Oldyses saw nothing strange in her going, for she had always come
and gone at will. Rather it was another proof of her thought of them,
this silent understanding that three was company that night; besides, a
half-mile walk alone on a street where each house kept watch over its
neighbor, was a mere nothing to a village girl.

"Where is Poppea?" was Hugh's question on reëntering, his hands full of
the trinkets of travel that he had pulled hastily from his grip. "Gone
home? alone in the dark? why, Mother!" and dropping his burden in her
lap, he went out the low French window and sprang over the piazza rail
without turning the corner for the steps.

Mother and father, sitting side by side, exchanged glances and a hand
pressure that revealed that they two recognized a change in Hugh, but
that they were well content in the knowledge.

Poppea walked down the side road to the main street that passed the base
of Quality Hill before she heard the rapid footsteps behind her that
halted presently by her side. No word was spoken, but her hand was drawn
through a muscular arm and held there fast. A year ago this might have
happened without comment, but the arm was not the same, neither the hand
that rested on it.

"What made you run away, Poppea? You never did before; that is, never
but once."

As soon as he had completed the heedless sentence, Hugh was sorry, while
to Poppea it was as though some one had spread the last seven years of
her life before her guised in a knitted fabric, and slipping the thread,
bade her ravel it stitch by stitch to its beginning.

"I thought you would wish to be alone with the home people," she said,
searching for her words as if they were packed away for lack of use.

"And what are you if you are not one of the home people? what else have
you ever been to me since the day that I first saw you and for a moment
wasn't quite sure whether I wanted you or the puppy the most?"

Poppea could not answer at once; the ground seemed unsteady. The months
of parting had broken the old shuttle and snapped the thread; what
pattern would the new loom weave that the meeting had set in motion?

At this moment they were passing the church, and the lamp in Stephen
Latimer's study cast a path of light across the turf almost to their
feet, against which the outline of his face was silhouetted.

"Aren't you going in to see the Latimers?" she said, forgetting that
Hugh's last question was unanswered.

"No, not to-night; to-morrow. This hour is mine and yours, Poppea. Why
do you shiver so and draw away; you've always taken my arm?"

"I didn't know that I was doing either, but somehow everything seems
different to-night, strange and new. Perhaps it is because I've not been
feeling quite myself for a few days. Only this morning the doctor sent
me up to the Mill House for a change." Then, in her turn, Poppea
regretted the final words.

"And my homecoming has sent you away when you were tired, and that is
why you falter. This is a bitter thought."

"It is not exactly that; I don't know what it is, but that I seem to
bring distress upon all those I care for," and from a rush of
half-coherent words he heard of her friendship with Philip and its
results to him, and in a partial way the danger to Oliver Gilbert. As
she talked, they had reached the post-office house gate.

The house itself was dark, but a light shone from Gilbert's workroom. On
the side porch the ample figure of Mrs. Shandy rocked to and fro,
fanning vigorously.

As Poppea turned toward the steps, almost stumbling in her fatigue, Hugh
guided her along the path to a bench by the orchard edge, an old
schoolhouse bench with a platform under foot that he had made once,
years ago, when Gilbert had chided Poppea for letting the dew spoil her
new Sunday shoes.

"Sit here," he said; "take off your hat and let the air blow through
your hair, while I get you some water."

How good it seemed to have some one say with authority, "do this," or
"do that," the unspoken motive being "because it is for your good." Then
she began to realize that during the last few months she and Daddy had
rather been shifting places in point of responsibility.

She drank the water slowly and gratefully, knowing through the clear
starlight that his eyes were on her face, and as she drank she breathed
the perfume of the half-double damask roses that had long ago crept from
the garden above the parapet to make a thicket on either side the bank.

"A little while ago you said that everything seemed different and
strange. Then both of us feel this. I had not landed on the other shore
last autumn, hardly left this even, when the wrench of parting told me
that everything was different, and would remain so. But I wanted you to
have a chance to feel it for yourself if might be, and I kept it from my
letters,--though I knew they were like wretched guide-books,--because I
dared not let myself go.

"To-night, when I came back, hurried by Dr. Morewood's letter, and saw
the woman who gave me life clinging to my little comrade, I knew the
time had come when I must tell her that my love had changed."

"Then can we no longer be friends?" Poppea asked faintly. "Must I lose
you, too, as I have lost Philip?"

"Always friends, Poppea; that is the beginning. Are not Stephen Latimer
and Jeanne friends? and my father and mother also? But it must be more
than friends, everything that a man and woman may be to each other. The
change is that I love you as Latimer does Jeanne, that I want you for my
wife.

"Is that strange to you, Poppea? or does it seem to you as it does to
me, the fulfilment?" and Hugh leaned toward her, pale and anxious, in
the starlight and holding out his arms.

Poppea turned quickly as though she would let him take her, then
catching her breath, drew back, covering her face with her hands, while
a half-forgotten harmony forced itself on her ears, and once more the
Knight of the Grail waving farewell, with the mystic sadness on his
face, passed before her mental vision.

"Oh, Hugh!" she moaned, "I've lost you, lost you! It isn't what I feel;
it isn't what I wish! Don't you see that I can never be any man's wife,
much less yours, who knows my whole life through, until I can give my
own name with my love?"

"That is for me to say, and I say yes!" cried Hugh, holding her to him
as though to prove her need of protection.

"No, it is for neither of us to say; it is something beyond ourselves. I
cannot tell why, but I know it," Poppea answered, without the tremor of
the previous moment, but with a pleading dignity that made Hugh drop his
arms.

"Suppose that something should some day come to light, when it was too
late, that made it wrong for me to love you, we might not be able to
bear the harm of it only ourselves." Then springing up with all the
intensity of nerve and lithe motion that marked her dancing, she stood
before him, with hands clasped, beseeching.

"Oh, Hugh, Hugh, can't you help me; won't you help me find out who I am?
for sometimes I think that Daddy knows and will not tell!"

"And if I can, is that all that stands between us, Poppea? Look into my
face so that I can see your eyes when you answer me."

"Oh, Hugh, be patient with me, be merciful! How can I say until I know
my name, for it may be--that I have no real right to any."

It was so long before Hugh spoke that Poppea found herself counting her
heart-beats, so keenly was the silence borne in upon her.

Then she said timidly: "Meanwhile, Hugh, could you--could we go on being
friends? Your mother and Daddy, what could I say to them if we didn't
speak? What should I do without you?"

Once more he drew her toward him, this time gently, not passionately.
"It isn't an easy road that is before us, little one, but it is hardest
for you, because I must, in any event, go out to make my way. Though I
do not agree with your resolution, I do not say it is wrong.

"I love you, man to woman; that is where I stand. You must not forget
this for a moment, as I shall not. But you must not fear that I shall
harry you. I shall not tell you this in words again until you say to me,
'I need you, Hugh.'"

"Not even if the mystery of the name is solved?"

"Not even then, for only under such conditions will you cease to be on
your guard, and without frankness the name of friendship would be a
farce."

"And your mother, if she asks you--I think now she has perhaps
thought--"

"Yes, she loves you, Poppea, as my mother should love my wife. She is
the only one who has a right to ask. I shall tell the truth, which is
that we have come to a perfect understanding.

"One thing more, Poppea; remember _you_ are not bound."

If he could only have known the aching loneliness that fell upon her at
these words; again she seemed to feel herself cut adrift. With a sudden
turn she clung to him, and he, lifting her face, kissed her on lips and
eyes, whispering, "To-morrow or five years hence, you need only speak or
write the four words."



CHAPTER XIII

THE TURNING


When one has spent the early morning hours of a journey, in which no
steps may be retraced, in following a fairly straight and level path
through a familiar wood, hindered only by a few briers, with sheltering
trees above, pleasant vistas on every side, and in friendly company,
hope rises high and straightway trusts the path ahead. But when an
abrupt turn shows there is a steep to climb, the pathway itself becomes
confused, indefinite, treacherous, and the guiding voices have
scattered, some going one way and some another, what must one do?
Hesitate? sit down to think it out? or still walk on foot-length by
foot-length, trusting to circumstance for keeping the course that one
may not divine?

It was at the turn of such a road as this that Poppea found herself; she
could not go back if she would, and friendly voices called in opposite
directions from her own instinct. Of one thing only she was quite sure,
she must go on without a pause lest in it she lose courage; she must
climb on her hands and knees even, if necessary. The only mistake she
made was in thinking, as we all have done at times since the days of the
self-gratulatory St. Paul enumerating his trials, that she had reached
the turning alone.

If she had but realized it, Oliver Gilbert, near the end of his journey
and travelling in the opposite direction, was confronted by the same
sharp turn and the same barrier, that to each this bore the same
name--The Future!

If Poppea had been pondering how she could help her Daddy and lead him
naturally toward the resigning of his office, Gilbert was conscious of a
like necessity, but this was nothing compared to the appalling
realization of Poppea's womanhood that had suddenly confronted him.

In Gilbert's simple mind, when a girl crossed the boundary of the
twentieth year, the mating time was at hand, and each year after that
she remained unbespoken if not married, reflected in some way either
upon her good looks, disposition, or opportunities. As in all rural
districts, there were many long courtships in Newfield County lasting
from half a dozen to even a dozen years, but after the serious
intentions of the man were recognized, and the woman was spoken of as
"his intended," then the couple passed from the interest of the
match-makers into a sort of intermediate state, wherein they were both
supposed to be working for a common end and the duration of which was
considered purely their own business.

As Oliver Gilbert looked about at the eligible male population of the
country-side, his perplexity increased; many were prosperous after their
own standards, and some were even ambitious, but which one of them was
fit to mate with Poppea? Moreover, such an idea had never seemed to
occur to any of them. The only youths, who, dressed in their best, had
come of a Saturday evening to lean on the little shelf before the window
of the beehive and cast boldly admiring glances and random and
irrelevant remarks at the postmistress, were of the verdant and
irrepressible sort that Gilbert would not have tolerated for a moment,
and that Poppea had effectually withered by giving absolutely no more
heed to their pleasantries than to the wind muttering about the windows.

The matter that had brought Gilbert face to face with the rock behind
which lay the pathway to futurity, was a call from a prosperous
manufacturer of Bridgeton, a clean, well-built man of five and thirty,
self-made and commercially intelligent, if lacking the culture that
marks the man of real education. He had met Poppea at the church, where
she had sung for several months the previous winter, and was sincere and
outspoken in his admiration of her.

In a straightforward way he had come to the point and, with
old-fashioned courtesy, asked Gilbert for permission to court his
daughter, stipulating that he wished no influence brought to bear upon
her, only leave to make his own way if he might.

The whole thing was so sudden, and came from a sky so wholly cloudless,
that Gilbert had difficulty at first in keeping down a choking
resentment at the man's presumption, while, at the same time, these
feelings were checked by the realization that as the world measures,
the man who owned a well-equipped factory, and had half a hundred men on
his pay-roll, was the one who was condescending. These mixed feelings
caused Gilbert to hesitate, begin a sentence only to break it off, and
finally, flushed and perspiring, say, "I'm afraid that you don't
understand; it isn't all just what I've got to say about it nor Poppy,
either, sir."

Then very quietly and with a good deal of dignity, this man had drawn
near to Gilbert, and, lowering his voice, said: "That's what I do
understand; I know that she isn't your own born, for I was a lad driving
for the Westboro stables the time that she came here. Fifteen years
before that, I was left the same way at Deacon Tilley's in North
Bridgeton, so there's no need of explanations between Miss Gilbert and
myself; neither will have aught to hold against the other in family
matters."

A groan had escaped Gilbert, before he could control himself
sufficiently to say briefly that Poppea, being of age, was her own
mistress. But after the man had gone, he paced up and down the shop, his
hands working nervously, until at last big tears rolled down his cheeks,
and, sitting at his desk, head on his arms, he said aloud: "The lady
baby as good as asked in marriage by a boy left on old Tilley's steps,
and then driving teams for Beers, and nothing for either to throw at the
other! Well, why not old Gilbert's steps as well as old Tilley's? What
can I say? I _feel_ the difference, but that isn't proving it!

"I wonder what you'd have done, if you'd been cornered this way," he
continued, looking up at the portrait of Lincoln, that hung in the same
place as on the night of Poppea's coming. But now, a well-grown ivy
plant was wreathed about it, growing from a pot that stood on the window
ledge in a spot that the sun visited daily throughout the year, showing
that a woman's affection had been added to that of the old man's
hero-worship.

"Would you have stopped still just long enough to tell a story to make
folks laugh, and then gone straight on and walked over or out of the
trouble? Could you have done that if you'd had a more than daughter that
was too good for any man and yet a nameless man asked for her on equal
terms just because she _wasn't_ your daughter?"

As the incoherence of his speech dawned upon him, he threw back his head
and laughed aloud, then stopped short, calmed and steady of hand, as if
there had been something almost prophetic in the sound.

This had happened on the day of Poppea's visit to the Mill House and
Hugh Oldys's return. A week afterward, Poppea, very quietly and with
some hesitation, broached the subject of singing in New York and of its
possibilities, together with her intention of taking lessons of a famous
teacher, who had been an opera singer, was a friend of the Feltons, and
feeling the need of rest, was to spend the month of August with them on
the hill.

Instead of the opposition that she had expected, both on the ground of
Gilbert's seeing neither the necessity of self-support nor of her
partial separation from him, he not only gave a cheerful assent, but a
look as of a weight having been lifted from him crossed his face, and he
broke into what was for him voluble conversation about the virtue of
having something to do and doing it "up brown"; for this move of
Poppea's told the old man what he most wished to know, that either the
Bridgeton admirer had altered his intentions or been repulsed.

Then drawing from his pocket a letter that had come by the milkman and
not the post, Gilbert said: "Come to speaking of winter, Poppy, there's
something that I've had it on my mind to tell you, but I couldn't see my
way clear of it until to-day, and I didn't want to hamper you ahead.
Mrs. Shandy has set her mind on going back to the old country next fall,
as there's less and less likelihood of her seeing Philip, and she says
the living so near is only an aggravation. Now to-day comes a letter
from sister Satira Potts. She writes that 'Lisha has a chance to get the
contract for cutting all the grown chestnut timber from the Stryker
Hollow tract that lies along Moosatuck, to the west side, about twenty
miles to the north of Bridgeton. If he takes it, and it will advantage
them greatly if he does, he will have to stay in the camp all week and
only come home for Sundays, Satiry thereby being left lonesome. So the
pith of her letter is, that she's sort of feeling 'round to see if there
is any chance of her being wanted down here for the winter, as it is
handier for 'Lisha to come here from Bridgeton than to take the drive
round about home. I reckon it'll seem good to me to have sister Satiry
Potts back here. Mrs. Shandy's strong in British ways of toast and tea,
boiling green peas and mint together, and having a forceful way of
_looking_ me into a clean collar at meal times when I've chanced to lay
mine by for comfort. But for coffee and pancakes, brown bread and beans
that's cooked until they're swelled to burst, but daresn't, being
checked at just the moment, give me Satiry, who also speaks right out
about my collar and such, without ado.

"So you see, child, that old Daddy'll be well cared for, and you'll have
a ready listener to tell all about the city doings to when you come
back; for if they fancy you down there, there'll be a great to do; most
likely you'll have flowers thrown at you; I've read about its being done
for opery singers in the paper, and if they, why not you? Though likely,
if you're singing in folks' houses, they'll hand the posies to you,
instead of throwin', as being more polite and safer for the mantel
ornaments and mottoes on the wall.

"Oh, child, child," he continued, as, leaning over his chair in her
old-time way, Poppea had laid her soft cheek against his grizzled beard,
and at the contact the mental vision of each grew clearer, "a couple of
weeks ago, all at once, things fell into a sort of heaviness, and as
late as yesterday I couldn't seem to see the way ahead. But now I think
the corner's sort of swinging to the turning, and pretty soon we may
come to another good stretch of road, and if the Lord hasn't other
plans, mebbe he'll let me walk beside you on it for a little piece yet,
until younger company comes up that's spryer, Poppy. And when they do,
remember one thing, honey-clover, don't let old Daddy hold you
backward; step right off brisk. Daddy'll be content to stop behind, so
long as he sees you on before."

"Don't, Daddy, don't," she whispered, putting her hand over his mouth to
stop him. "Nobody else is going to walk beside me; it's either you or
loneliness, so never speak of falling back." She did not repeat the
reason that she had given Hugh Oldys, but Gilbert quickly divined it
from the tension of her arm, and the momentary joy that he had felt was
stifled in a sigh as though self merged in super-self.

       *       *       *       *       *

In early autumn, Hugh Oldys went to his work, and though he usually
returned for Sunday, it was not always possible. To his mother the break
seemed more complete and of a different quality than the separation
either of his college life or his travels; these had been tentative, the
last final. It was the first independent stepping out of the only one,
upon the way that leads from home, not toward it, even by an indirect
circuit.

Almost at the same time, Philip had returned, and had taken up his work
anew at Howell's studio at Westboro. Physically, he looked much
improved; his skin was sun-browned with sometimes a dash of color, he
weighed more, and his face had gained in strength and resolution. But
when he had been at work a month with the master, Howell saw that what
he was gaining in accuracy and flexibility was more than discounted by a
total lack of inspiration.

"Where is she? What has become of the young woman who is not a model or
to be had for the asking? Why not try the head once more from memory?"
Howell asked abruptly one day, after his pupil had worked for an entire
morning with the listless accuracy that is almost infuriating to the
real artist.

Taken off his guard, Philip cried out:--

"She is dead! My father murdered her and threw the pieces out of the
window."

For a moment Howell was startled. Then, as he looked at the face turned
toward him, proud yet quivering at a wound, he read therein a tragedy
whose underlying principles were greater than mere murder.

"Come and tell me about it, or you will let it kill your work and you
also," he said, fastening his eyes upon Philip in compelling sympathy,
at the same time stretching out his hand with a gesture wholly
compassionate, and motioning him to follow to an inner room beyond the
studio, where strangers never entered.

It was quite an hour before the pair returned, the master's arm resting
on Philip's shoulder.

"Now," he said, "we will make alive again, for that is the sculptor's
trade. This is my studio, and what I tell my pupils to do, they obey if
they are able, and it is the concern of no one outside. But this time
make her joyous and not pensive, in love with life; make her look up;
part her lips as though she were about to sing; twine poppies in her
hair to carry out her name; a butterfly on her shoulder, the Greek
emblem of immortality. Then she shall live here with us, and you can
look at her when you see nothing but bone and muscles in the lump of
clay you are working."

So Philip went to work once more, buoyed up in that some one understood
and did not scoff, and that some one was the master, who knew. But he
saw the real Poppea only once to speak to her, at Stephen Latimer's,
before the time when the Felton ladies bore her with them to New York
for her musical début, in that season of social introduction that is
crowded between Thanksgiving and Christmastide. She was cordial and the
very same when looked at from a distance, but when Philip stood before
her, he was conscious of a subtle change, a certain veiling and holding
back of self, where all had been spontaneous and freely given before,
yet, as a woman, this added distinctly to her charm.

"Can she know about my father; is it turning her away from me?" was his
constant thought, finally to be banished by the impossibility of such a
thing being the case, for the studio walls had no ears, and violent as
John Angus was in private, Philip well knew from his summer's experience
that it was no part of his father's policy to hold up his dislikes or
grievances for the public to peck at.

The next time that he saw Poppea it was through the doorway of a
flower-trimmed room, where she had been singing. During the intermission
a stringed quartet was playing Mendelssohn's _Songs without Words_ from
behind a screen of palms. In the circle that surrounded her, to which
she was in course of being presented by Miss Emmy, the evening gowns of
women were equally mingled with the black coats of the men, while the
figure nearest to her, holding her bouquet of Maréchal Neil roses and
ferns, was that of Bradish Winslow.

As Philip gazed hesitant about entering alone and yet wishing to, he
stepped backward, and in so doing jostled some one who was looking over
his shoulder. Turning, he saw that it was Hugh Oldys.

"Are you going to speak to her?" Philip asked eagerly after the first
words of greeting.

"Yes, surely, I am only waiting for the crowd to thin a little; I think,
Philip, that she will be glad to see some home faces among all these
strangers."

As they waited, Caleb came through the wide hall with an envelope in his
hand, peering anxiously into every masculine face. When he caught sight
of Hugh, he drew close to him, standing on tiptoe the better to reach
his ear.

"This here's a telegraph despatch fo' you, Marsa Hugh, and de boy what
brings it says it's a 'mergency and wants to be opened spry. Doan yo'
want to step in the little 'ception room and circumnavigate it private
like? Dem 'mergency despatches is terrible unsettlin', sah!"

Hugh seized the envelope, opening it with a nervous twist as he crossed
the hall to the room indicated by Caleb where there was a drop-light,
Philip following close.

    "Your father has had a serious accident. Your mother unstrung. Bring
    up MacLane or Grahammond, to-night, if possible. STEPHEN LATIMER."

Hugh dropped into a chair, and spreading the paper on the table, read
it a second time, motioning Philip to do likewise.

"MacLane and Grahammond are both brain specialists, I think; it must be
that the accident is to his head. I wonder where they live," he said,
half to himself and half aloud. Then turning to Caleb, who stood at a
respectful distance, the embodiment of discreet curiosity, he asked him
if there was a city directory in the house.

"Not jest that big ornery volume what dey keeps in drug stores, Marsa
Hugh, but Miss Emmy, she's got de little Blue Book on her desk, what
records all de quality, sah, and guarantees 'em true, and I'll fotch it
right away."

Hugh jotted the two addresses on a card, then rising, shook himself as
though to be sure he was awake. At this moment the tones of a clear
mezzo-soprano voice floated across the hall.

    "What's this dull town to me? Robin's not here!"

Poppea was singing _Robin Adair_. Hugh listened until the verse was
ended, his face white and drawn with contending emotions. Then turning
abruptly to Philip and reading both comprehension and sympathy in his
glance, he said abruptly:--

"Tell her that I've been here, but was called away by bad news from
home. No--not that, it might spoil her evening. Only say that I could
not wait," and taking his hat and coat that Caleb was holding, he went
out.

By the time Poppea had answered the last encore that her strength would
allow, a Creole folk-song ending in the minor key, Philip had made his
way through the throng that surrounded the girl, who was radiant with a
success that must appeal to her artistic sense, if her natural woman's
love of approbation was in the background. When she saw Philip, her
whole expression changed and softened, while the lips that had been
parted in laughing repartee drooped to wistfulness.

Bradish Winslow, who still kept his post, noticed the change at once,
and, following her eyes for the cause, was surprised at his own feeling
of relief upon discovering Philip.

Poppea came forward and, refraining from putting her hand upon his
shoulder in the old way that marked his boyishness, greeted him as she
would any other young fellow of nineteen, drawing him into a little
group back of the long piano where he saw Miss Emmy and half a dozen of
the Quality Hill colony. At the same time, he was conscious that her
eyes were looking over his head in a rapid search for something or some
one that she did not see, which reminded him of the message.

"Hugh Oldys has been here," he said, "and was very sorry that he could
not wait to see you."

"Then he has gone? Why could he not wait?"

Philip, who read Poppea's moods with mercurial swiftness, was tempted to
add some words of explanation, but Winslow, hearing Poppea's question,
intervened, saying, to her ear alone:--

"Now you have earned a rest in cooler air where you can enjoy the
reflection of the pleasure you have given. Miss Emmy has a surprise for
you; Capoul, the most expressive emotional tenor of a decade, is coming
in from the opera where he is singing Wilhelm Meister in _Mignon_. You
have never heard it? Ah, there is so much music that I wish to hear
again for the first time through watching you hear it."

The next morning Poppea slept late, owing to the fact that Nora had
slipped in and closed the shutters fast. She had intended taking the
early train for home, as three days would elapse before she was to sing
at an afternoon concert given for the benefit of a fashionable charity.

When Nora finally judged that it was proper for the household protégée,
in whom she took no small pride, to awake, and brought her coffee and
rolls to her room, after the Feltons' winter custom, Poppea found
herself undergoing a sort of nervous reaction caused by the excitement
of the night before and the lack of air in the shuttered room. Twelve
o'clock was the next train possible, and entering the library to make
positive her going, she found Stephen Latimer standing before the fire,
while the ladies and Mr. Esterbrook sat opposite him in benumbed
silence, Miss Emmy having her handkerchief pressed to her eyes.

Miss Felton motioned Poppea to the lounge beside her: "Mr. Latimer has
brought us dreadful news! Please tell her, Stephen."

For a moment Poppea thought that she would suffocate; suppose that Daddy
was dead and she away! Then she found herself listening as through
rushing water to the story of how Mr. Oldys, when superintending the
placing of a heavy piece of the new machinery, had been instantly killed
by its fall.

The mill hands, becoming demoralized in their wild rush to get a
physician, had broken the news abruptly to Madam Oldys, which at first
she did not believe. But later, when they brought her husband home and
Dr. Morewood was sitting by watching for a heart collapse, her mind, not
her body, had suddenly given way--not weakly or plaintively, but
violently, in a manner that no one who had witnessed her frailty would
have deemed possible, so that restraint was imperative.

Hugh had been sent for the previous evening, and two specialists were
even then on their way to Harley's Mills for consultation. Latimer
himself had come down to inform Hugh's new employers, as well as to do
some friendly acts of necessity.

"I am going home at noon," was Poppea's spoken answer to Latimer, but
between the brief words he read much besides.

"I expected that you would, and told Oliver Gilbert so in passing," was
his reply.

"How is Hugh?" was her first question, when after the bustle of transit
they were seated in the train with no other passengers in their
immediate vicinity.

"Perfectly quiet, but as one stunned; his sorrow for his father is deep
enough, but his anguish at his mother's condition is heartrending."

"Is there--do you think that there is anything I could do if I should go
there?" she faltered.

"Not now, my child; it is a time when no friend and not even a man's
wife must come between him and his sorrow, his thoughts are only for the
eye of God. Such help as Charlotte needs below stairs is being given by
Jeanne and Satira Potts."

"And the funeral?"

"Will be from St. Luke's to-morrow."

The next day Poppea and Oliver Gilbert followed with the rest, the
Feltons, Mr. Esterbrook, and half the summer colony. She only caught a
glimpse of Hugh, who, tearless, looking neither to the right or left,
seemed hewn from marble.

How could she go back to town, Poppea thought, and wreathe her hair and
sing? If only she knew, if she could comfort Hugh in anyway; but he saw
no one but Stephen Latimer. She had set her feet on the path of
self-support and could not leave it now; there was nothing to do but
wait.

Two weeks passed and public interest in Hugh Oldys's affairs had reached
a high pitch. Were the Mills to be abandoned? What would become of the
expectant men? Then it was whispered, though not maliciously, that Mr.
Oldys's affairs were seriously involved, and that a strong, alert man
with a keen business head would be required to save the property.

Poppea being at home one morning within the month of Mr. Oldys's death,
Stephen Latimer came to the post-office house, and being as usual
questioned as to whether there was any improvement in Mrs. Oldys's
condition, said, almost as though he were giving a requested message.--

"No, there is none, nor ever likely to be; the specialists gave this as
their decision yesterday and advised that she be sent at once to a
trustworthy asylum, because the strain of her care, even if competent
nurses came between, would be too much for any one person."

"Will Hugh let her be taken away?" asked Poppea, with dilating eyes and
hands tightly clasped.

"No, never! He says that from now on he will, if necessary, withdraw
from everything else to care for her and keep the home intact, in case
that she comes to herself, and missing something, wonders.

"This is not all," Latimer continued. "In order to have the money to
care for her, his father's funds being all placed in this new venture,
he must leave his profession, assume immediate control of the Mills, and
fight it out to a finish. But in this forced work lies his salvation.
When I saw him to-day, I marvelled at the new nobility of his face.
Resolution has always been its chief characteristic, now resignation is
blended with it. God grant that hope, born of the two, may presently
soften its set lines."

That Hugh had wholly put away his need of her was the meaning that
Poppea took from Latimer's words. Then she, too, would lose herself in
work, and the next day that she went to the city to sing, she let Miss
Emmy persuade her that she owed it to her art to tarry between times and
take the lessons that Tostelli was so eager to give her. When once hard
at work, with the best music to be heard by way of relaxation, small
wonder if the days were winged to Poppea, and at times disappointment
and responsibility alike seemed the unreal things of life; she would
have been less than a woman had it been otherwise.



CHAPTER XIV

A PROPOSAL


On returning from her singing lesson in the middle of a bitter cold
January afternoon, Poppea had walked the short distance from Chickering
Hall back to the Felton house on Madison Square, so far up in the clouds
that she was quite unconscious that her feet touched the icy pavements.
For not only had Tostelli commended her improved vocalization with true
Italian fervor expressed in elaborate French, but he had praised her
first teacher, Stephen Latimer, saying: "He who has brought out
Mademoiselle's voice thus far without a scratch or strain or a falsity
has done so much that she may hope to be anything that she wills, even
an _artiste_ of the Grand Opera, after much study abroad. That she can
also act, I am ver' certain, for what she sings that she is for the
time, gay, _triste_, _pathetique_, simple _comme en enfant_, _mais
toujours naturel_, _toujours ravissante_." Then he had asked her to take
the leading part in an operetta that was to be given by his pupils
toward the end of the season in one of the ample old houses on Gramercy
Park that boasted a perfectly equipped private theatre.

So buoyed up was she by his words that she had crossed the park, the
exquisite articulation of its crystal-covered trees still further
keeping up the illusion of fairyland wherein she was for the moment
living, and reached the steps of the house, before she realized where
she was, and that she was expected to make a round of calls with Miss
Emmy instead of going to sit by the fire and think it all out as she
desired. She had been in the company of others all day and had the need,
possessed by all those of her temperament, to be alone to realize
herself.

"Are the ladies at home?" was her question to Caleb as he opened the
door, knowing that the day's history would be forthcoming.

"Yes, Missy, and Mr. Esterbrook too; he doan seems to feel right peart
to-day. He didn't go to the club for his luncheon, and he isn't going to
the painter man's what's doing his picture. Miss 'Liz'beth's going out
later, but Miss Emmy's 'cided not to budge herself, and's taking her
comfort in the sitting room, where I'm to bring de tea soon's you come."

"Good!" cried Poppea, running up to her room as swiftly as she had done
many years before when Winslow had caught her dancing. Only this time,
instead of kneeling in front of the open window for breath, she threw
off her street things, loosened her hair that had been compressed by her
hat, and slipping on a soft crimson wrapper that she and Satira Potts
had fashioned when she had been getting together what the latter
insisted upon calling her "trowsoo" for the city, went down to the
sitting room, the door of which stood hospitably open.

The upstairs sitting room was one of the unsurpassed institutions of
the day among those who had sufficiently ample houses to allow for it.
Usually occupying the front room of the second floor, it served both as
a watch-tower of the street and a comfortable place of retreat when "not
at home," or "engaged," according to the moral veracity of the family,
was the word at the door. While there is a certain responsibility about
the coherent furnishings of all other rooms, from the music room of bare
floor and scant drapery to the library with its heavy rugs, draped
alcoves, and precise shelving--the sitting room may take tribute from
all others. A small upright piano, an open case of books, a table
serving both for writing and a comfortable litter of magazines, deep
nestlike chairs and a lounge that invites impromptu sleep without the
ceremonious disrobing suggested by a bedroom, a joyful canary or two,
and a shelf of blooming plants in the sunniest window complete the
setting.

The modern living room is undoubtedly grandchild of the sitting room
that abdicated in its favor a quarter of a century ago, owing to an
increasing contraction in house room. For the living room in ordinary
houses is more often a combination of library, drawing and dining room,
than a separate bit of luxury; also it is usually on the first floor,
and therefore below the range of safety for flowing hair, kimonos,
slippers, and pajamas.

When Poppea entered the Feltons' sitting room and saw Miss Emmy in one
of the deep chairs, released from stays and elaborate hair-dress,
actually sitting on her feet in curled-up comfort, while she petted Diva
the great fox-gray Angora, so-called from the vocal quality of her
purr,--whose wonderful fur enveloped her mistress like a lap robe,--she
knew that Miss Elizabeth had already gone out and she felt a sudden
relaxation and rush of comfort that brought tears of pleasure very near
to her eyes.

"Ring for the tea, child, and then we can shut the door and be by
ourselves," said Miss Emmy, keeping her eyes fixed on the fire.

When Caleb had brought in and lighted the kettle lamp and put another
lump of the unctuous Liverpool coal upon the fire, Poppea seated herself
on the tiger rug by Miss Emmy's chair and fed bits of Sally Lunn cake to
the cat while she waited for the elder woman to speak of the something
that lay behind her eager, restless expression.

"Tell me about your day," said Miss Emmy, abruptly.

Poppea began with her call at Mrs. Hewlett's, that the songs for her
afternoon musical of the next week might be chosen. In addition to the
list of old English ballads, Mrs. Hewlett had asked if she knew any
darky songs, and finding that she did, suggested that she make a
separate specialty of these as novelty was a _must be_ in social
entertaining. Then Gloria Hooper had taken her home to luncheon almost
forcibly, and there Bradish Winslow had drifted in and walked with her
over to Chickering Hall. Tostelli's comments and the hopes that were
aroused in her rounded out the narrative, while she waited, hands
clasped about her knees and her eyes gazing into Miss Emmy's, for her
judgment upon the matter.

"You are beginning, Poppea. Every one is very nice to you, as they
should be, and New York seems to you the promised land; so it seemed to
me thirty-five years ago. This singing, half socially, half
professionally, is very pleasant while it lasts; but if, when the winter
is over, you've made up your mind that you are going to let music hold
the first place, then you must go on,--go abroad and study with the
concert stage, if not opera, for the goal."

"Oh, Aunty, Aunty, you fly too fast!" Poppea cried. "Daddy is first,
though music fills up all the gaps and fits in between times and people,
and is letting me earn enough to save and help Daddy when he shall need
it. I am not even dreaming of opera, and 'abroad' is such a far-away
place. Why can't I stay where I am for at least a half a dozen years?"

"Why? because they won't let you;" then as if she feared by the look of
pained wonder on Poppea's face that she had gone too far in the rather
bitter mood that was upon her, she laughed lightly.

"There, there, you mustn't mind my nonsense, but I'm in a state of
rebellion myself to-day, and so wish every one else to be likewise. I've
just told sister Elizabeth that I will go on no more of the
wild-goose-chase performances known as 'making formal calls,' and that
after the dinners and other entertainments that are already afoot
between now and March are over, I shall withdraw from what is known as
'society'; not from my real friends, mind you, but merely from the
tyranny of the thing that should be called the 'Institution for
Amusement at the expense of one's own and one's neighbors' Comfort.' If
Elizabeth wishes to continue, she must, to use a card phrase, 'go it
alone.'

"I am going abroad in the early spring, and when I return, I mean to
spend most of my time at Westboro, and see if Jeanne and Stephen Latimer
between them cannot find some work for my hands and brain that will keep
my heart from either freezing or turning wholly to stone," and Miss Emmy
broke off and held up Diva before her face in a vain effort to suppress
a dry sob that made her voice tremble.

"Why, Miss Emmy, I have always thought that you loved New York and all
the people with whom you have lived so many years,--the art galleries,
theatres, music, shops, and all the rest. Don't you remember what you
said to me about it last autumn when you urged me to come down and try
my luck? That no American has lived or is fit to judge how or where they
will spend their lives until they have seen and known New York," and
Poppea arose to her knees in front of her admonisher, an expression of
incredulity on her upturned face, and her hands clasped in a
half-beseeching, half-defensive attitude.

"Yes, I believe I did say that among other things, and it is true none
the less because, after having tried it for the best of my life, I have
decided to leave it before it leaves me. The New York that I knew is
passing in more senses than one. When I first came to it, making the
journey from Boston by boat, Washington Square was the north side of the
residential city limit, the present corners of Fourteenth Street and
Fifth Avenue cow pastures. There were many charming country houses all
through the northern part of the Island and more especially near the
Hudson, Bradish Winslow's grandfather, on the maternal side, living in
one of them. We ourselves went to visit at the Waddell mansion set on
the edge of a farm with its wheat fields near what is now the corner of
Fifth Avenue and Thirty-seventh Street, the site of a church, a crowded
city in itself and this was less than forty years ago. Young as you are,
you can see the changes that seven or eight years have made, Poppea."

"Yes, I remember the fire-bell that pealed out numbers, and people
looked in little books that they kept in their pockets to see in what
district the fire was. Nora used to take me to a place down in
Fourteenth Street where I fed goats and chickens through the fence, and
there was a house on Broadway a little above Union Square that stood in
a high-fenced garden where we used to feed the peacocks.

"But now the streets seem so much gayer and better lighted at night, and
then it is easier to get about; there are so many street-cars instead of
the slow, jolting busses, and the elevated railroad over there on Sixth
Avenue is almost like flying. Though I'm very sorry there is to be a new
opera-house so far uptown in the place of the dear old Academy, for I
suppose the first of a thing must always seem the best because it is the
first," and Poppea's first night at the opera again came before her, but
this time there was more pleasure than pain in the memory.

Was it possible that she had been too sensitive? The people by whom she
was surrounded seemed to make her one of themselves without question,
and yet, coming from Quality Hill as many of them did, they must all
know.

"It is not simply the growth of the city that appals me," she heard Miss
Emmy's voice say as if from a distance. "Formerly, society was one; you
knew your friends well, their houses and their coachmen in the distance.
We who entertained did it to give our friends pleasure to the best of
our ability. Now people are beginning to entertain to outvie, and this
bidding for guests and the game of chance, where the victory is to the
purse if it is only used with a certain degree of discretion, is drawing
strangers to our social midst, and presto, society is no longer one but
many, and we shall soon be driven by the crowd from our houses to
entertain in hotels.

"Look at this!" and Miss Emmy tossed a couple of cards into Poppea's
lap. One was the ordinary engraved card of a formal afternoon reception
announcing that Mrs. John Sellers and the Misses Sellers would be at
home on January the twenty-fourth, from four to seven. The second card
bore simply the name of Mrs. M. E. Wilson, the address on both cards
being the same.

"I do not see anything amiss about these cards," said Poppea, examining
them carefully.

"Not in the cards, but in the facts back of them. Maria Wilson, one of
the best known of the old set, has a large house, well furnished, but
her husband's means have been decreasing ever since the Tweed Ring panic
ten years ago. The Sellers are from Minneapolis, rich, ambitious, and
their daughters decently educated, but as a family in a social sense
positively unknown. Maria Wilson has rented them her house for the
winter, herself included, for an enormous price. It is at their
reception in her house where she is to stand sponsor for them, and if it
is a success, it shows that society in New York is no longer able to
stand upon its own resources. It is the entering wedge, for as soon as
we cease to know personally those we invite, one must have police in
dress suits to see that the strangers that come do not steal the
spoons."

"How do you know all this, Aunty dear?" asked Poppea, a bewildered
expression crossing her face as she began to wonder if the social fabric
could possibly be woven of other than the silk and fair colors in which
it presented itself to her.

"Know? Maria Wilson came here to luncheon to-day and not only told me
the scheme, but asked me to receive at _her_ reception (as she called
it) and bring you to sing 'in a perfectly friendly way,' which, of
course, means without pay. I'm quite through with it all, and then,
besides, dear child, I'm very tired; lately I only seem to breathe an
inch at a time when I'm in a close room. I must get away and be myself
for a little, even though it is a rather poor thing to be, I'm afraid.

"Now as to this trip abroad--I want to see England in May and then go to
the continent for two months, and you must go with me, Poppea."

"You want me? But how about Miss Elizabeth and Mr. Esterbrook? Are they
not going?"

"No, dear; I have struck at last. It is late in the day, I allow, but
once before my eyes close I must see through them without benefit of the
spectacles of other opinions. Besides, poor Willy is losing his hold
upon things. Even Elizabeth has agreed that we must put our affairs at
Harley's Mills into the hands of Hugh Oldys, and Mr. Cragin, our lawyer
here, has practically all the responsibility at this end. Poppea child,
whatever you do or do not do in this world, do not put off living your
life to the full every day that it is possible. To-morrow is a good word
for hope to know, but remember that it is a bad word for a woman's heart
to feed upon. Will you go with me, dear?"

Poppea was looking into the fire, watching the little flock of sparks
creep up and burn a pathway through the soot. "Folks going to meeting,"
Satira Pegrim had called them when she had watched the same procession,
born of the wood embers, in the foreroom chimney. Without looking up,
she could feel Miss Emmy's eyes upon her face and knew that the question
in them was a double one.

"I should like to go abroad with you," she said at last, still keeping
her eyes upon the fire, "and I crave living to the full, but that it
might hurt some one else and, through them, me."

"That is what I thought for years, and now I know that what I thought
would hurt another did not exist. You say that you would like to go. Now
the remaining question is, will you?"

"I will try to make it yes, but between now and then something might
happen or Daddy might need me, dear Miss Emmy."

"That will do for a beginning, child. See, the kettle has quite boiled
away and you must have fresh water."

"De mail, ladies," said Caleb, advancing at that moment with half a
dozen letters on his salver, while at the same time they discovered that
Diva, unobserved, had finished the cake.

Miss Emmy's mail consisted of invitations, while of Poppea's two letters
one was from Oliver Gilbert, the other from Hugh Oldys.

Gilbert wrote carefully and in detail of every village happening, how
that it was proposed, through the influence of the Quality Hill people
who did not like the prosaic name of the old town, to unite Westboro and
Harley's Mills into a single town to be known as West Harbor. In this
case the Westboro post-office would be consolidated with his, and he
thought, under the circumstances, with the double work, he would be
justified in resigning "his charge." What did Poppea think of it? Then
he dwelt upon Hugh Oldys's kindness in coming frequently to see them and
supping at the post-office house on Sunday nights. But he did not add
that Hugh had cross-questioned him most keenly and persistently about
any possible ideas that he might entertain about Poppea's origin, and
had quietly told him that sooner or later he should find it out, thus
putting Gilbert into something akin to rage; for, blindly enough, the
one dread of his life was that some one should appear to claim the lady
baby.

For the moment Poppea was divided. Was this change, by any chance,
another scheme of John Angus's to oust her Daddy, or was it a
providential happening to render it easy for Gilbert to retire? Being
optimistic under all her trials, she decided upon the latter and turned
to the other letter.

Hugh wrote in a subdued rather than in a sad key and, without reference
to the interim, picked up their friendship as it was before the night of
his return when the fabric began to change its weave and pattern. That
he felt the need of her old-time letters and direct companionship he did
not hesitate to say, at the same time taking it for granted that his
would be a comfort to her. He told her freely of his daily routine of
life and asked for hers in such a frank way, free alike from either
restraint or curiosity, that the comrade emerged once more, and she
resolved again to write him the weekly letter of his college days.

Ah, what a boy he seemed, however much his manhood had been tried and
developed in the last few months, compared to the men who crowded about
her at the musicals, lavish in words of praise, personal compliments,
and gifts of flowers. To be sure, they all seemed a part of the play
world in which she was living--all but Bradish Winslow, and as he in a
sense had stepped accidentally into her life in its own home
surroundings, so he seemed in a way to belong to it.

"A polished man of the world" was Miss Felton's favorite expression
concerning him; yet knowing this as she did, there was something about
Winslow's personality, his deference, at once soothing and stimulating,
that when she was with him made it the most natural and desirable place
for her to be; but when he was absent, the condition was altered, and
she not only wondered at a certain influence that he held over her, but
experienced a sharp sense of repulsion at it.

It was the last of March when the rehearsals for the operetta drew to a
close. The performance would be given in Easter week. Two large houses
were to be thrown together for the occasion,--one for the musical part
of the affair, the other for the cotillon and supper following, the two
being joined by a covered passage between the gardens in the rear.

Poppea's character in the rather fantastic performance was that of a
young girl of the pastoral type, who for a part of the play personated
an actress, and for this scene, in which there was a dance, she was to
utilize the green muslin Perdita gown of her first appearance at Quality
Hill. Of course at this season the poppies must be artificial and more
abundant for stage effect, and after many protestations she was told
that she simply _must_ have her eyes pencilled and a dash of color added
to her cheeks to guard against nervous pallor.

When the night came, Mr. Esterbrook was not well, and Miss Felton, for
some accountable reason, in no mood for going out, so that Miss Emmy and
Poppea went to the Hoopers' alone in the depths of the last new carriage
which, as though to carry out Miss Emmy's announcement that her days for
light blue and pink were over, was lined with rich wine-colored cloth.

Poppea hardly knew whether she wished most to go or to run away, but by
the time that she stood behind the dark green plush curtain peeping at
the audience from between its folds, the desire for achievement had come
to her, and she was ready to stay and conquer. Very lovely were the
young society girls of the chorus arrayed as shepherdesses;
unembarrassed and statuesque was the contralto of the piece, Gloria
Hooper, otherwise Daphnis, the lover, a superb brunette and daughter of
the house; but for the time the sense of the music dominated her; she
was no longer Poppea of the Post-office in whose way stood many fears,
but Sylvaine of the Invincible Charm, whom she was personating.

Among the familiar faces in the audience, Philip's and Bradish Winslow's
were the only ones that her memory retained as the orchestra finished
the tinkling overture, full of the piping of shepherds, the sound of
cow-bells, and the tripping of dancing feet, and the curtain was drawn
aside. Then in a moment all faces vanished but that of Tostelli, who was
conducting from under the shelter of a thick palm in a tub. He had faith
in her, nor was it misplaced.

After the first act there was a storm of applause and flowers. In coming
forward to bow, hand in hand with Gloria, her eyes fell upon a figure
standing behind the last row of chairs. It was John Angus, who had
evidently come without knowledge that Poppea was taking part, for the
expression of his face was so blended of surprise, incredulity, anger,
and something else akin to dread, which she could not formulate, that
she was obliged to close her eyes for a second to blot it out, and then
fortunately Sylvaine again absorbed her.

It was toward the end of the last act that the dance came, and as the
time changed for it, something compelled Poppea, she abandoned the set
steps she had been taught and improvised until the measure ended. Then
the final storm of applause descended upon her. "Brava! brava!" Tostelli
cried. Coming from under his bush, he first shook her by both hands and
then kissed them publicly, saying for her ear alone, "For you the grand
opera is near--very near!"

Still the applause continued. Tostelli looked at her to see if she could
stand a repetition of the intricate song of the rather artificial scene,
but she shook her head. The revulsion had come; she was no longer
Sylvaine but herself, alone and among strangers but for the face of
Philip, whose eyes hung on her own.

Stretching out one arm as though to enjoin silence, she stepped forward,
her eyes seeing above and beyond. Then the clear legato notes of _Robin
Adair_ rang forth.

    "What's this dull town to me? Robin's not here!"

The effect of this sudden transition was marvellous, tears filled eyes
to which they were strangers, and for no reason that their owners could
understand.

Then Poppea, as soon as she could break away, her arms laden with
flowers, looked for Miss Emmy, her one desire being to get home and be
alone. But Winslow, who was her shadow for the time, told her that Miss
Emmy had heard through some one who had come in from the club, where Dr.
Markam, the Feltons' physician, happened to be spending the evening when
sent for, that Mr. Esterbrook had been taken suddenly ill. Miss Emmy had
at once returned, and would send Nora back in the carriage for Poppea
as soon as possible.

"Is there any quiet spot where I can wait?" begged Poppea; "I'm so
tired."

"Yes, at the end of the hall there are chairs among those palms; go
there, and I will bring you some supper, for I'm sure that you are
hungry quite as much as tired."

For a few moments Poppea waited at the place indicated, then the cooler
air of the improvised passage, which was quite empty, tempted her, and
crowding herself behind one of the curtains with which it was draped,
she found an opening through which she could breathe the air of the
first truly spring night.

Approaching voices sounded that she recognized as belonging to the three
women who, aside from the Misses Felton, had done the most toward her
establishment--Mrs. Hewlett; her hostess Mrs. Hooper, Gloria's mother;
and a young widow, Hortense Gerard, a favorite cousin of Bradish
Winslow's.

Fearing that they would insist upon her dancing the cotillon if she made
known her presence, Poppea remained behind the curtain, and they,
evidently in search of air also, seated themselves near by on a low
divan. Presently the sound of her own name made Poppea regret her
action, but it was already too late.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Mrs. Hewlett._ "Well, Miss Gilbert has certainly achieved a great
success; what a social institution she has become in a few months!"

_The Widow._ "Yes, but she will cease to be as quickly as she has
achieved; the very fact that we have admired her so much this winter is
the reason why no one will want her next."

_Gloria's mother._ "I'm not so sure of that, Hortense; I only wish that
I could be. I'm afraid she's come to stay, or thinks she has as far as
the men are concerned; they all take her _so_ seriously. My Johnnie had
the folly to say this morning that as soon as he was a senior he should
offer himself, and you know very well that your cousin Bradish won't let
us say a word about her in his presence. Why didn't the Feltons have
better sense than to take her into their family, a less than nobody? It
puts the whole thing upon a semisocial footing: otherwise we need not
have recognized her except by the envelope with the check in it."

_Mrs. Hewlett._ "I think you are a little hard on her, Charlotte; she's
a very sweet girl and not responsible for her origin, or rather lack of
it, though of course it would be deplorable if she should marry one of
our sons."

_The Widow._ "_I_ think I'll put it into some rich old rascal's head to
offer to put up for her training abroad for an operatic career: she'll
surely jump at that bait. Possibly even Brad might work himself up to
that extent; in fact, I think it's a case when he would put himself out
to any degree short of matrimony, which proves her dangerous, for if
Brad will go so far, others less seasoned will go the whole ribbon.
She's probably got a lot of magnetic bad blood beneath her baby skin.
Think of her art and craft in dropping into _Robin Adair_ to-night
after that Frenchy rigmarole. Yes, she's got all the born wit of an
adventuress, and she must go before she outwits us."

_Mrs. Hewlett._ "I had never thought of her in that light, before, but
of course it may be so, and no mother wishes her sons to--"

       *       *       *       *       *

They go on to the ball-room. Poppea clings to the curtain for support,
her hand showing her hiding-place to Winslow, who has come through an
opposite curtain with a plate and a glass of champagne.

"Drink this!" he said, in a voice that trembled. But Poppea shook her
head.

"How long have you been here? Ever since those shameless fence cats
came?"

Another motion of the head, this time in the affirmative.

"Then you've heard every word they said?"

"Yes," Poppea's lips managed to say. At the same time pride came to her
rescue; she raised her head and looked him in the face in a way that was
both supplication and a challenge.

Hastily putting aside the food that he had brought, Winslow threw back
the curtain, and before she could resist, drew her into an anteroom out
of the passageway.

"Sit down!" he commanded. Poppea dropped into a chair, but still kept
her eyes, now grown dull with despair, upon him; in fact, it seemed
impossible for her to remove them.

"Don't look at me so, child! I should like to wring every one of their
scrawny necks; only tell me what to do, and I will do it."

"You can do nothing," were the words formed by Poppea's dry lips, but no
sound came.

Suddenly stepping toward her and resting one knee on the divan, he began
to speak rapidly in a voice whose vibrant tones were moderated with
difficulty.

"I can, perhaps, do nothing alone, but _we_, we can do everything.

"Marry me, Poppea. I love you wholly, finally, and have ever since the
night when I first met you, also on painful ground. But together we will
put away the pain, and you shall trample on those harpies that have
stuck their claws in you. As Bradish Winslow's wife your word will be
law, your position in society unassailable, and my cousin Hortense in
particular will come grovelling to you by to-morrow, afraid of what she
thinks you may know of her.

"Come to me, child, and let me protect you once for all!"

Poppea dragged herself slowly to her feet until her face was on a level
with his, her eyes still fastened upon him, but the dulness was gone,
and they blazed with a wild fury akin to delirium, and the color in her
cheeks outdid the rouge that had not been wiped away.

"There is no one among them all to compare with you!" he whispered, his
voice turning hoarse; so moved was he by her wistful beauty that it
became a pain.

She did not seem to hear the last words; her anger blazed out and
cooled, and her motions were like those of a somnambulist. She put her
hand to her head as though listening for something that she had
forgotten but yet expected, but the Knight of the Grail and his music
had deserted her.

"Yes, I will marry you," she said in steady, monotonous voice, wholly
lacking in emotion.

"Come then, we will go in and announce it to our hostess before the trio
may guess the good--that they have done," and he leaned forward to clasp
her to him, but as she shrank back, one arm before her face, still as
some one who walks in a dream and wards off danger, he merely drew her
hand through his arm, still grasping it.

"Not to-night, to-morrow! please let me go home!" and at that moment a
man-servant came up to say that Miss Felton's carriage and maid were
waiting for Miss Gilbert.



CHAPTER XV

NIGHT AND MORNING


The picture of the night was in three panels,--that of the morning in
one.

According to Nora, Mr. Esterbrook had suffered a shock, that indefinite
something that may mean so many things. He had been in the library and
had evidently fallen in crossing the room. Miss Felton had found him and
had sent for two or three doctors, who were now with him; she was
terribly upset, and so the woman babbled on until the house was reached.

Three coupés were lined up before the door, and the house was lighted
from top to bottom. Poppea judged that the physicians were still in
consultation.

The cook opened the door, explaining that Caleb was wanted upstairs, and
that Nora was to go at once to Miss Felton.

On her way to her room Poppea passed through the sitting room and tapped
at Miss Emmy's door, which stood ajar, but there was no answer; the room
was empty, so she continued on her way.

Turning up the light, she looked about the pretty bedroom, her eyes
lingering on each article it contained. Was it possible that only four
hours had elapsed since she had left it? Yes, the little Dresden clock
was tinkling twelve.

Flowers from a concert of two days before filled the jars on the
mantel-shelf, then she remembered that all the tributes of that evening
had been forgotten and left behind. Philip had brought her a wicker
basket of daffodils such as later in the season starred the bank garden
below the parapet at home. She hoped that he would not know and be hurt;
as for the rest, what did it matter?

The night was warm, yet she closed the window, and crouching before the
hearth, lit the symmetrical pile of small logs put there chiefly for
ornament. Stripping off her gay attire and dropping it in a heap on the
floor of the dressing closet, she threw a wrapper about her and again
kneeled before the fire, as though its upward motion was a spell against
the loneliness of the room. As she looked at the curling flames, her
eyes dilated, and a terror that was an absolute pain swept over her: a
strain of music had penetrated the fog that enveloped her brain; it was
the song of the Knight--the Knight of the Grail.

"Oh, God, what have I done?" she whispered to the fire, "promised to
marry Bradish Winslow, when I have vowed that I would never marry until
_that_ is no longer a mystery. Promised to marry him, not for love, but
to trample on those who were trampling on me. It is true that when I am
with him there is something that makes me wish to stay, but when I am
alone, I want to keep away. There is no one to speak to, no one to ask;
if only I could feel Daddy's hand upon my hair to-night. Ah, little
mother, won't you ask God to help me in some way that I can feel and
understand? To-morrow it will be too late!"

Clasping the locket to her breast, she crouched lower and lower until
her face almost touched the fire guard. The wood snapped and a live coal
fell upon the carpet. Crushing it out with her slipper, her eye fell
upon something white beside the hearthstone. Picking it up she saw that
it was Hugh's weekly letter that she had read and laid by the clock and
that a draught had wafted to her feet. Holding it between her palms, she
gradually grew calm, and as she looked at it the only recourse opened
before her: she must write to Winslow so that he would receive the
letter when he awoke.

Going to the secretary with its litter of invitations and complimentary
social notes, she swept them to the floor with a gesture half contempt
and half full of the regret of renunciation. Then having cleared the
shelf, she began to write, slowly as a child pens its copy, giving each
letter a separate stroke and weighing its value. She had need of this
care, for before she had finished, the sheet was wet with tears.

Quarter of one, tittered the silly little clock. Poppea knew that no
mail would be taken from the pillar at the street corner before six, but
it might be her only chance to get out unobserved. The lights in the
extension, where Mr. Esterbrook's rooms were located, were burning
brightly; now was her chance. Slipping on a long ulster, she went down
without meeting any one, threw off the night latch on the door, and
closed it behind her. Two of the cabs had gone, and the driver of the
one remaining slept upon the box.

It was but a step to the corner and back, the only live thing that she
encountered being a long-bodied cat which seemed to separate itself from
the shadow of one pair of steps only to be swallowed by another shadow
farther on. Gaining her room once more, she put out the light and threw
herself upon the bed without undressing.

In the room beyond, which was Miss Felton's, Miss Emmy was pacing to and
fro. The consulting physicians had gone and their own family stand-by,
Dr. Markam, was now coming from Mr. Esterbrook's quarters ushered by
Caleb, Miss Felton remaining behind.

"Tell me the best and worst," said Miss Emmy, following the doctor down
to the sitting room.

Dr. Markam looked at her keenly as if to gauge the quality of her
emotion, then said tersely, "The best is that he may be quickly released
by another stroke, the worst that he may live for years partly or wholly
helpless and with clouded mental faculties. Go up and try to persuade
Miss Elizabeth that it is unnecessary for her to remain. She is not used
to illness or misery. Caleb will stay to-night, and the nurse that I
shall send will be here by daylight," and after drinking the glass of
wine that Caleb offered him instinctively, he went out, thinking to
himself how little his old friend Esterbrook had, at the end of life, to
show for the elaborate trouble of his living.

Thus bidden, Miss Emmy crept softly into the outer room of Mr.
Esterbrook's suite, then, not finding Elizabeth, she went through the
dressing closet to the inner room where a night lamp burned with the
pale rays of moonlight.

On the bed in the corner she could see the outline of Mr. Esterbrook's
form, still as though he no longer breathed. A second look revealed a
stranger object. Kneeling by the bed in the attitude of passionate
despair, her face buried in the quilt, her hands clasping the rigid one,
was Miss Elizabeth.

Miss Emmy could not at once take in the details; her natural supposition
was that her sister was ill or had fainted and slipped from the near-by
arm-chair. Going to her she touched her on the shoulder, and in a low
tone gave the doctor's message about the nurse and the sufficiency of
Caleb for the night.

Suddenly Miss Felton turned, but without moving from her kneeling
posture, and her sister started back, amazed at the entire change in her
face. Haggard and worn, furrowed under the eyes and pinched at the
nostrils, it was a woman of seventy-five, not sixty-four, that looked
up, while the carefully braided hair, always so exact a coronal to the
unbending head, was loosened in a gray, dishevelled mass. Again Miss
Emmy tried to explain the doctor's words. Pulling herself to her feet
with difficulty, Miss Felton clutched her sister by one shoulder, almost
screaming in her ear.

"I will not go! I will not have a nurse! Caleb will stay with us; Caleb
will be sufficient." Then as Miss Emmy did not move or seem to
understand, she shook her arm.

"I am going to care for him now, because I love him, have always loved
him, and you, or else your shadow, have always stood between. If he
could have stepped out of it for a month, a week, he would have known. I
thought once that you too loved him and you were my frail little sister,
my charge, and so I repulsed him, suppressed my nature, and kept back.
But you, you called him 'Willy' and played kitten and knitting ball with
him until you tired, until it was too late. Now he will never know; but
if he lives, and I can make him comfortable, he may perhaps realize the
comfort, and through it that I love him. Now go--and leave us together
at last! And if the people talk, tell them that Miss Felton does not
care!"

Shaken, nay, almost shattered, Miss Emmy dragged herself from the room,
clinging from chair to table like a child who creeps. Of all the
possibilities of life, this that had happened seemed the most
impossible. Elizabeth, the emotionless woman of perfect balance and
judgment! Like a condemned criminal but half conscious of what he is
accused, she groped her way along the hall. She must speak to some one,
it seemed, or lose her mind.

Poppea had sent a message by Nora that she must be called if needed.
Surely her need was great, so she opened the girl's door and listened
before entering.

"I am not asleep," said Poppea from the white draped bed, and raising
herself on her elbow, she lit the night lamp on the bed stand.

"Is he--is Mr. Esterbrook any worse? Is he very sick?"

"Yes, but being sick is not the worst," and Miss Emmy told Poppea
briefly what her sister now seemed to glory in, willing that the whole
world should know.

Clasping her arms about the fragile creature, scarcely more than a
bundle of ribbon and lace, Poppea held her close, crying, "Poor Aunty,
dear Aunt Emmy, you are not blamable, neither did _you_ know."

After a few minutes the girl's human sympathy relaxed the tension, and
freeing herself, Miss Emmy sat down by the bed.

"What is it, child? You are not yourself to-night, any more than I am.
Were you not well received? Something has happened. What is it?"

Poppea shivered as she tried to frame a sentence that should be truthful
and yet not reveal, then she said:--

"One day you said that I could not keep on for long singing as I had
this winter 'because they will not let you.' Every one was very kind,
but afterward--it chanced to come to me that the women on whom I counted
'will not let me' continue, as you said, so I am going home,
again--to-morrow."

"That is not all, Poppea."

"That is all that I shall ever say," she answered with the fixed intent
that always astonished those who for the first time realized her
capacity for firmness.

"You do not need; I understand. I, too, am going home to the Hill,
Poppea, because they will not let me stay."

"Oh, Aunty! Aunty!" she cried, "lie down beside me. I'm afraid, afraid
of I don't know what, as I used to be when I slept in the little hooded
cradle and Daddy came and put Mack in beside me and sat and held my
hand."

Then peace fell gently on Miss Emmy because this young creature needed
her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bradish Winslow left the Hooper's as soon after Poppea as he might
without having the two departures coupled. Not for the first time in his
life had he been repelled and enraged by the absolute lack of social
sincerity on the part of the group of women who, in their day, were the
cohesive element of society. Yet he never realized the responsibility in
the matter of men of his stamp who condone nearly everything in a woman
so long as she is modish and amusing. Lighting a cigar and leaving his
top-coat open that he might feel the vigor of the night air, Winslow
strolled slowly from Gramercy Park westward to the Loiterers' Club.
Contrary to his usual gregarious habits, he made his way to one of the
least brilliantly lighted retiring-rooms, and ordering some club soda
and Scotch, a kind of whiskey that was considered a marked eccentricity
in the era of Rye and Bourbon, stretched himself on a sofa, hands behind
head, and gave himself up wholly to steadying his nerves.

An hour later he entered his own bachelor home, a substantial and
conservative house in one of the wide streets that cross lower Fifth
Avenue, a little north of Washington Square. The house was neither his
birthplace nor the home of his childhood, but a legacy from a
great-aunt, the last of the Bradish name. It was twelve years since a
woman other than a caretaker or housemaid had lived in it; the first six
it had remained virtually closed, while during the second half of the
period, Winslow had developed the two first floors as suited the fancy
of a man who entertained elegantly and conservatively, not choosing to
establish a carousing Bohemia at too close range. If he had some or any
of the vices of his class and position, he chose to pursue them away
from his normal surroundings and at his own pace, where at any moment he
might either outdistance them or drop behind without clamor.

Hence the house, as he entered it with his latch-key, had the subdued
and grave air of any family residence in the same quarter. Turning out
the lights in the lower rooms, he went to his personal suite on the
second floor, lighted some gas-jets in the three rooms, rang for his
man, and gave directions that he was to be wakened at half-past nine,
breakfast in his room, and would under no consideration see any one
before eleven o'clock. Then as the valet, but half awake, stumbled out,
steadying himself by the portières as he drew them to, Winslow gave a
sigh of relief, and flinging himself into a chair before the hearth, as
Poppea had done, he stirred the embers and kindled a fire that was not
for warmth but like summoning a sympathetic yet reticent friend.

Winslow's feeling during the two hours since he had, as he considered,
rushed to Poppea's rescue was dual; he congratulated himself not a
little that for once in his life he had let himself be swayed by a
generous impulse and his own emotion. Also his curiosity was very
expectant as to the stir that would be made by the announcement of his
engagement to Poppea on the morrow and the consternation it would for
various reasons cause. He could see the pallor come to the unprotected
portion of his cousin Hortense's cheeks as she wondered if "Brad" would
ever tell that baby-faced girl how desperately she had worked to enmesh
him, and how deliberately and cleverly he had forced her to show a
trumpless hand. Then there were others, and the thoughts of them were
here and there tinged with regret. He had never been unscrupulous in his
pleasures; he had simply lived life to the full as he saw it. As he was
in a somewhat exalted and generous mood, why do things by halves?

Going to a large mahogany secretary in the corner, he unlocked a deep
drawer that was hidden by a panel and took therefrom several bundles of
letters and some photographs; to these he added a picture from a silver
frame on the mantle, of a very charming dark woman, well-groomed and
poised, but with an air of not belonging exactly to his world. He held
the bundle to his chest a moment as he stood looking into the fire;
opening a pit in the middle of the molten coals, he cast the letters
into it, not even glancing at the superscriptions, and only separating
them sufficiently to be sure that they would ignite, sat and watched
them until they were consumed.

From their ashes came a more natural mood. The house was at best rather
gloomy; how Poppea's coming would brighten it, and her voice echo up and
down those great rooms when she laughed; for he meant that she should
laugh and have no time for tears. The idea was very soothing; he
wondered why he had never seriously contemplated marrying before.

Jove! but she was beautiful and unusual; he would have a miniature
painted of her in the green muslin with the poppies in her hair. Then he
would take her everywhere that people might envy him her loveliness.

No, he would not! Formulating the thought brought a sharp revulsion. He
would take her abroad, away from the carpers and fawners alike, where
they two should be alone; for, after all contributing motives, what he
had said was true, he had loved Poppea at first sight, and as far as the
better side of his nature was concerned, he loved her finally.

What a splendid ring he would buy her to-morrow, no to-day! a ruby held
in a setting of poppy leaves to form the flower. Ah! but she already
held the spell of oblivion over him. He liked to feel this. Of course
they would be married in a month; there was no reason for delay. The old
man Gilbert? That was easily fixed: an annuity as a parting gift from
Poppea and some tears, of course. It would be strange if she did not
show some feeling, and besides, ingratitude was one of the traits he
most detested in a woman.

So when Winslow at last settled himself in his bed, severe almost as a
hospital cot, that stood in an alcove curtained from the luxurious room
to which it formed a sharp contrast, there was a smile on his lips, and
closing his eyes, he brought his finger-tips together, touched them
fervently, and flung a message into the dark. He well knew how to play
the lover, but it was only this night that he realized what it was to be
entirely in love with some one other than himself.

       *       *       *       *       *

The morning, like the night, was mild, but with the chilly undercurrent
suggestive of sudden rain that divides April from May. The city, always
early to awake in some quarter, now wore its widespread spring
alertness, and the venders of plants in a cheerful burst of bloom added
their cries to the street sounds.

Looking toward the square for a sign of color in the tree-tops, Poppea
saw a jet of water rising from the fountain that filled the air with
spray through which some birds were flitting. That the fountain was
being set in order showed that the same spring impulse was moving the
city wheels that sent all the little hillside springs rushing madly to
swell the tide of Moosatuck. How she hungered and thirsted for a sight
of it!

       *       *       *       *       *

At half-past nine, precisely to the moment, the time that he had been
directed, Winslow's valet came in, closed the windows, drew the curtains
across the alcove, and after arranging the toilet articles in the ample
bathroom, which was also used as a dressing-closet, went out until the
bell should say that his master wished his breakfast. For accustomed to
luxury as Winslow was in externals, his primitive tastes were direct and
simple and he detested the fuss and servility of bodily service.

When in half an hour's time, clad in a comfortable bath-gown, he lounged
into the library and rang for his coffee, picking up the letters that
were neatly piled on the desk, so quickly does the mind of man travel to
direct issues, that he was already considering the coming change of
breakfasting in one of the smaller rooms below stairs, and picturing
Poppea, gowned in some filmy draperies, flitting in like one of the
streaks of morning sunshine. As he glanced carelessly at the writing
upon the various envelopes that he might receive a clew as to which, if
any, were worth the trouble of opening on this particular morning,
Poppea's characters fixed his eye. It is true that he had previously
received but two or three brief notes from her, acknowledging flowers or
an invitation, but the writing, full of decision and so opposite from
the girl's almost poetic appearance, was of the type that is called
characteristic and became fixed in the memory.

So she was moved to write immediately upon getting home, was his first
thought; but instead of hastily tearing the note open, he turned it
slowly and reflectively in one hand as he poured himself a cup of
coffee, then drank it deliberately, and seated himself, before releasing
the letter with a careful stroke of the paper-knife.

He had vainly tried the whimsical experiment of judging of the contents
by the sense of touch. Everything about his connection with Poppea had
been unusual, hence its added piquancy. Why should he not expect that
its completion should be on the same plane? He almost dreaded the
finding of a gushing and honeyed first love-letter of the newly engaged
girl in her early twenties.

He read the letter through, then rubbed his eyes, turned the paper to
the light, and read anew. In it was expressed gratitude to him coupled
with self-reproach for allowing a bitter hurt to be revenged even in
thought by the idea of marriage. There was a request for forgiveness,
not for the retracting of a promise so much as for the sense of injury
that had made the promise possible, and then the final statement that
she would never take another's name until she had one of her own to
yield. Piteous as was her agony of mind expressed, not so much in the
words used as in their haste and almost incoherence, Winslow felt
forcibly that the nature that lay beneath had its depths and measures of
pride that his world could not fathom, because it was based upon a
frankness, a fundamental _noblesse oblige_, that could neither be denied
or argued away. A princess Poppea was, though wandering from her
kingdom.

One thing was evident through it all. She had been doubtless attracted
to him in a way, but she did not love him; her suffering, therefore, was
complicated, but not keenly direct, as more and more every moment he
felt his disappointment to be. Also the wind was taken out of any
fanciful balloon of his self-sacrifice, and it fell collapsed.

No, she did not love him,--"By God, but she shall!" he cried, bringing
his clenched hand down on the stand with a fervor that dashed the
delicate porcelain cup and saucer to the floor in shivering fragments.
"Life's been getting a sleepy nuisance these two years. What better to
wake me up than to track her origin and find her name? Time, money, and
grip I've got, if luck will only come in and take the fourth hand!

"What a conquest to remove her fantastic fortress and make her desire my
love at one bound!"

This was the second time that a man had made this wish; a different man
pitched in a different key.

This man, like the other, having made a resolution, went on his
accustomed way, which in Winslow's case was to dress with unusual care,
a dark red carnation, the prevailing flower for morning wear, in his
buttonhole. His business affairs calling him down town but three days a
week, he took a leisurely morning walk to the club, where he read the
papers and listened to other news that would never appear in print. On
some one's remarking upon the success that Miss Gilbert had achieved the
previous night, that she had left early on account of Mr. Esterbrook's
sudden illness before all the deserved congratulations had reached her,
and that those who knew her best said that not less than two men of
wealth were ready to back her for the study necessary to an operatic
career, Winslow merely looked up, apparently only mildly interested, and
observed in neutral tones:--

"Her voice has operatic capacity doubtless, but I should judge she
lacked the physique. By the way, what is the news of poor old
Esterbrook? A nice outlook ahead of us who grow old as bachelor
dandies, I must say."

But what he _thought_ was, "The cats have begun to weave their cradle
for Poppea's undoing, and when they find she has gone, they will lay it
to their strategy. Damn them!"



CHAPTER XVI

OUT OF THE ASHES


Poppea's chief wonder on her return home was in finding everything
precisely as she had left it. A single winter does not witness a very
great change in place or people, but to Poppea, so much having been
crowded into those few months, it seemed as though the children of the
village should have become men and women in her absence.

By the first of May, Miss Emmy had returned to Quality Hill. Miss Felton
had decided to remain with Mr. Esterbrook in the Madison Square house
for the present, the outlook being pleasant, though the nearness of the
doctor was her first thought. As for Mr. Esterbrook himself, he had
rallied sufficiently to be put in a wheel-chair. His right side was
paralyzed and his speech as yet well-nigh unintelligible, so that his
wants were filled mainly by the intuition of Miss Elizabeth and Caleb.

In spite of his absence of the previous summer and a report that it was
to be repeated, John Angus had returned to Harley's Mills rather earlier
than usual, and Stephen Latimer, the only one of the people who had
received more than a casual greeting, said that he was looking ill, and
that he had virtually confessed to Latimer that the winter had been a
hard one to him, this being the first time that he had ever mentioned
his health.

The new venture at the Mills was beginning to see daylight, for Hugh
Oldys's inexperience was offset by the loyalty of the men who surrounded
him. There was much also in connection with the growing plant that
interested Hugh in an altruistic way, and already, in cooperation with
Stephen Latimer, he was establishing relations with his employees and
their families entirely different from those obtaining in the near-by
New England factory towns.

It was Poppea who felt herself the odd number. Within the limits of a
certain suppression of force, she had always seemed content, and her
quiet, well-directed energy had been the reverse of the restlessness
that now possessed her. She worked at everything with a feverish
intensity wholly new and very disturbing to Oliver Gilbert, whose daily
life had been unconsciously regulated by her impulse. Poppea not only
took charge of the making-up and sorting of the two heaviest mails of
the day, but had undertaken a new and gratuitous task,--the writing of
letters to the old country for those who either could not write at all
or could only pen their names and had no way of pouring out their
feelings to those they had left behind. In addition, she had announced
her intention of doing all the housework herself when Satira Potts
should leave, for although Mrs. Shandy had returned in April from her
visit home, Hugh Oldys's need of a housekeeper had taken her from the
field.

Jeanne Latimer, who had been appealed to both by Satira Potts and Miss
Emmy as the one most likely to convince Poppea of the foolishness of
such a course, ended by indorsing the girl's resolution, for she felt
the growing tension that the others did not notice, and knew well, from
her own temperament, that only what sometimes would appear to be foolish
activity keeps the nerves elastic and from snapping.

One day, in talking to Hugh Oldys about the life in the city, when he
had expressed, as far as he ever allowed himself to, the feeling of
being out of the midst of things after having once broken his way in, he
turned the matter quickly by saying to Poppea:--

"And you, how did you like the New York life? I do not mean the outside
things, the theatre, music, galleries, and shops, but the inner life
that you led of yourself?"

As he spoke they were walking down the road from Quality Hill toward the
village and the afternoon sun was sifting through the hilltops that
gradually increased in height as Moosatuck disappeared among them,--a
slender, silvery thread unravelling toward its source.

For a moment the girl stood looking afar off to where one hill, called
the mountain by the local youths who climbed it, arose above all the
others; presently she said, speaking as of a state of existence where in
passing through she had lost something of herself:--

"The life, the real life there in the city? Oh, Hugh! at first it seemed
like being on the mountain where everything is spread before one. You
are very lonely, to be sure, but still, somebody, and then suddenly you
find that you are nothing at all but the wind among the grass that falls
away as night comes!"

And reading from what she did not say rather than from what she did,
Hugh sighed and then quickened their pace, wondering what would be the
end of it all for both of them.

That night, or rather morning, the fire signal was given by one of the
factories on the Westboro road, to be repeated the next moment by the
whistle of the Owl Express due to pass at three, and which halted
presently, tolling its bell dismally. Instantly the male portion of the
village was in its boots and trousers and running toward the red light
at the north horizon. This was soon found to come from the railroad
station at Harley's Mills. 'Lisha Potts, who had arrived at the
post-office house with his team the previous evening to take his wife
home the next day, was among the first to reach the building which had
been set on fire at one end of the roof, presumably by a passing train.

Breaking into the ticket-office to haul out a small safe, and such
express packages as had not been delivered, was the work of a few
moments, while some energetic villagers, with more vigor than
discretion, rushed into the attic and threw from the dormers a lot of
old lanterns, boxes, broken bits of furniture, and like rubbish already
partly on fire, that had been accumulating there ever since the station
was built and antedating the checking system. The lanterns, of course,
were shivered to atoms in transit, while the other smouldering stuff
was promptly seized by the crowd below and dumped into the little brook
that ran along the north side of the track.

After these efforts, no attempt was made to save the building, for there
was no water-supply, or fire company other than a bucket-brigade, which
was ineffectual against the keen spring wind that was scattering the
brands over the thirsty old shingles. The burning station furnished an
hour's spectacle both for the villagers and the passengers on the Owl
Express which, being on the near track, had to wait; then shrivelled
into a cellar full of ashes crossed by a few charred beams, the fire of
which was soon changed to harmless smoke by the efforts of the
bucket-brigade. The express ceased its tooting, gave one long and two
short whistles, and proceeded on its way; while after the safe and
miscellaneous contents of the express office had been transferred to the
freight-house, the throng turned homeward to snatch a little sleep in
the couple of hours that remained before the working day began.

'Lisha Potts was so thoroughly awake that it did not seem to him worth
while to go to bed again, especially as he wished to make an early start
for home. Satira, having also been to the fire, was in a bustling mood,
so she prepared some of her famous coffee, and the pair sat down to a
four o'clock pick-up breakfast in the kitchen of the post-office house,
with many cautions of silence interspersed with little jokes and much
chuckling that belonged to a young couple on the verge of eloping rather
than to people of sedate years who were about to take up housekeeping
once more after a winter of partial separation.

Presently 'Lisha stood in the doorway facing the east, watching the sky
redden until the climax was reached in the coming up of the sun over
Moosatuck, while the swifts wheeling in and out of the stone chimney
behind him were making mimic thunder. He was undecided whether to begin
at once the grooming of his horses or take a stroll along the lane that
indirectly joined the two main roads and get a sniff of the mist-laden
morning air so necessary to those whose life has been of the open.

Choosing the latter, he had gone but a dozen rods when he met the
station-master, who had come across lots with the direct intention of
hunting him out. It seemed that the mass of smouldering débris cast from
the attic into the brook had bunched together and formed an impromptu
dam, to the extent that the little stream, unusually lusty from the
spring rains, had been diverted from its course to the switch track,
where it was now busily washing the ballast from between the ties. The
station-master's errand was to see if 'Lisha would hook up and cart the
stuff about half a mile farther down the road to where a bottomless
bog-hole conveniently consumed the refuse of the community.

Armed with a potato-digger by way of a weapon, 'Lisha was soon loading
the sodden stuff into his long wagon, which he chanced to be driving the
night before, when he had come direct from the lumber camp to the
post-office house.

"Do you reckon there's any of this old stuff that's any good to dry
out?" he asked the station-master, who was standing on the switch track
on the lookout for the milk train.

"Nope; there's no company property amongst it, only a lot of odds and
ends that's been up there since old Binks's day, and his widder didn't
see value in to move. That little cow-skin trunk I've never seen before;
it must have lain away in the dark pit behind the chimney; it might have
been a sort of a curiosity if it hadn't been scorched and bulged, but as
it is, better dump the whole lot and done with it."

Not until 'Lisha was unloading the steaming and ill-smelling mass did
the box in question excite his curiosity; then dropping it to the grass,
he finished his task and swept out his wagon before waiting to examine
the trunk.

The lock had been broken and rusted away, the strap also had
disintegrated, so that all that held it together was a loop of wire.
Jerking the top up disclosed a mass of smoking rags and a few bundles of
scorched papers. The smell of the burned hide with which it was still
partly covered nearly choked 'Lisha as he stooped to finger the
contents. He was about to gather the things together and give the trunk
a mighty toss into the swamp, when a bundle of yellow papers, swelled by
the dampness and heat, squirmed and fell apart, leaving a long envelope,
in fairly good condition, lying face upward. It was merely the sudden
movement of the papers that drew the man's eye toward them, but he
quickly went nearer for a second look, then seized upon the letter with
hands that shook so that the characters danced about like
will-o'-the-wisps before him. Yes, the address was plain enough, a
well-known name, written in a delicate, pointed hand; the sight of it
made his heart beat like a nervous woman's. Turning the letter, he saw
that the large seal on it had never been broken.

Carefully wiping it on his coat, 'Lisha put it in his pocket and began
to stir the other papers, but very carefully, for the heat and moisture
made it very easy for a careless motion to turn the bundles into pulp.
"To whomsoever's hands these papers may fall," was written across the
wrapper of the most considerable package, while even as 'Lisha read it
moisture altered the writing so that its identity vanished in a blurred
streak. Quickly realizing that unless the papers were carefully dried
and separated their purport would be lost, he tipped the water from the
trunk and closed the lid, saying apparently to Toby the near horse,
after the fashion of a woodsman who talks to his animals:--

"There's suthin queer about this trunk, but as I be the hands the papers
have fallen into, I reckon I'll look into them."

Then, as an impetus akin to an electric spark touched the mists of
conjecture that were gathering in his roomy if not systematically
ordered brain, he jumped fairly off the ground, shouting:--

"Great snakes! suppos'n' these here have something to do with the lady
baby! Maybe the box was meant to come along with her; those rags there
look as if they was once baby clothes. But how did them villains that
left her get her switched off from her goods, and why ain't the letter
'dressed to Oliver Gilbert instead of to--My Lord! but this here's a
dilemma with three horns, not the two-horned, ornery kind.

"If I take 'em to Satiry, she'll be so fussed up she'll worry 'em to
bits before read; if Oliver Gilbert or Poppy gets 'em and I'm on the
wrong track, as I've nothing yet but instinct to prove that I ain't,
it'll pull her heart out with disappointment or maybe give him a stroke,
for strokes comes frequent to folks turned of seventy. If a thing's so
red-hot you can't handle it, there's folks that by nature's meant to do
it for you, and them's the doctor, the lawyer, and the parson. I reckon
in this case the parson's the best, 'cause if the Lord has let down a
bit of his wisdom, discretion, and loving-kindness in a sheet by four
corners in this neighborhood, it's fell on Stephen Latimer.

"I'll just clip over there by the back way and leave the box and home
again before a soul's awake to spy and whisper; hey, Toby 'n Bill?"

And the horses, accustomed to respond to his cheerful address and being
keen for breakfast, replied by a doubly shrill whinny.

It was past six o'clock when 'Lisha drove into the yard of the Rectory.
Latimer had but then returned from the cottage colony at the Mills,
where he had given courage to a young mother on the road of shadows that
seemed doubly lonely in that she would leave her new-born son behind.

Latimer wore the look of having himself walked in the beyond at day
dawn, and rough 'Lisha, no less than Jeanne, was struck by the
illumination of his face.

At 'Lisha's whispered surmises concerning the contents of the trunk, he
showed no surprise, but the rapt intensity that surrounded him
increased.

"Take it to my study," was all he said; and when Jeanne came in a few
minutes later, attracted by the sound of voices, 'Lisha had gone, and
her husband sat looking at the object on the floor, his hands clasped as
though he prayed.

He read the question in her face, all the more beautiful to him that the
love and care of others had left their life-lines on the cheeks that
were once as round and dimpled as a baby's. Telling the bare facts, he
added: "Something was struggling to make known that this was coming, for
all last night the face of the new-born babe I christened was Poppea's
and the other face that of her mother. The day will come, Jeanne, when
there will no longer be anything unnatural about the happenings that we
call visions and miracles, because the knowledge will have come to us to
understand them."

Then after breakfasting together in the sweet spring morning, in quiet
confidence, only separated in degree from the other couple who ate at
the post-office house before the dawn, Stephen Latimer lay down to take
some open-eyed rest before examining the trunk. When he began the work,
he cautioned Jeanne to refuse him absolutely to all callers. Then,
provided with blotters, a thin paper-knife, and warm irons, he spread a
sheet upon the study floor and raised the water-soaked lid.

All through the morning he worked, separating and drying. At noon, when
Jeanne opened the door, he did not turn his head, and setting the tray
of luncheon where he could see it, she closed the door again without
speaking. When supper-time came and she again entered, the papers were
arranged upon his desk in tidy piles, and he was reading. He stretched
his hand out for the cup of tea she held and still kept at his task.

It was after eight o'clock when he called her, and white and exhausted
as he looked, she saw at once that he had reached some definite
conclusion. Begging him to take at least a bowl of soup, he assented,
and then drew her to him on the seat before the open window. Holding her
hand as if the tender grasp of it would focus and harmonize his
thoughts, he sat a moment silent, as though he had lost the gift of
words.

"Was Poppea's secret hid among those papers?" Jeanne finally asked,
unable to restrain her curiosity any longer. "And if it was, do tell me
quickly and simply who she is, and then the why of it after. You don't
realize, Stevie, what the strain of this long day has been upon a
woman."

"It can be told quickly, but for the rest it's not a simple matter,"
replied Stephen, trying with his tired brain to sort his ideas and put
them in sequence. "The papers in this trunk are various family letters,
the certificate of Poppea's birth and baptism and some of her mother's
diaries--"

"Yes, yes! but _who_ was her mother?" cried Jeanne, the uncontrollable
impetuosity of youth returning to her, so that she rose to a kneeling
position on the window-seat and almost shook her husband, so vigorously
did she grasp his shoulder.

"Helen Dudleigh, John Angus's first wife; she whom Gilbert calls 'the
little roseleaf.'"

"Helen Dudleigh!" Jeanne repeated in an indrawn voice. "Then Poppea can
have no legal father, because John Angus's first wife merely left him
and there was never a divorce. Perhaps this was the reason for her
going, you know none was ever given; but no one ever dreamed that any
fault lay with her."

"Yes, it was the reason of her going, yet no one need ever dream of
legal wrong, for John Angus himself is Poppea's father."

Jeanne fell back, and then, after searching her husband's face and
reading there that he was speaking the unmetaphorical truth, she drew a
low chair to where she might continue to look at him and whispered:--

"Go on!"

"There is much detail among those papers that belongs to Poppea alone,
but this is the brief story that I have drawn from them.

"Over thirty years ago, John Angus was travelling on the continent when,
at the same hotel where he was stopping, he met an English artist,
Walter Dudleigh, who was staying there, both on account of his health,
and because his young daughter Helen was studying singing.

"Dudleigh was a widower of good birth but of frail health and uncertain
means. That Angus was at once struck by the girl's delicate beauty--she
was then only eighteen--some of these letters prove, and after hearing
her sing at a fête of flowers given by the conservatory, in which she
took the part of a poppy, he proposed to her, or rather to her father
for her. The artist, knowing that he had only a short life before him
and no one with whom to leave his child, urged on the match, and as a
wedding gift to his son-in-law, painted a miniature of Helen as she had
appeared at the fête with the poppies in her hair, having the fanciful
name of Poppea engraved in the locket with the date.

"This is, of course, the miniature that hung about Poppea's neck when
she was found.

"Dudleigh died of hemorrhage of the lungs almost before the honeymoon
was over, leaving the girl an unexpected two thousand pounds that came
from her mother, and Angus soon after returned to this country with his
girl wife.

"From the first she seems to have had a hard time of it. An emotional
child with an artistic temperament, thrown not only among strange people
and customs, but married to a man who always commanded and never
explained, and who considered that implicit affection, if it might be so
called, was her legal duty, a sort of commercial article that he had
bought, and nothing to be either won or kept by consideration or
tenderness. She, chilled and lonely, evidently did not make the marked
social success he desired, and his constant reproach was that she bore
him no children, for John Angus seems to have had an exaggerated idea of
the political importance of founding a family, so often held by those
of no especial ancestry.

"Ten years wore away, and Helen Angus, still under thirty, had faded to
the timorous, trembling shadow that we knew, when one summer, the love
of youth and life taking a final flicker, in John Angus's absence she
came out of her seclusion and took part in some of the Feltons'
entertainments, and renewed her habit of going to church, which had
dropped away. At this time it chanced that Mr. Esterbrook's nephew, a
young army officer, met her, danced with her, and showed her some
courtesies, but no more than any woman might receive. Nevertheless, on
his return, Angus upbraided her for going out, and upon her maintaining
her own defence for the first time in many years, he struck her
furiously and left the house, not returning for more than a week.

"During this period of outraged feeling and humiliation, she discovered
that at last a child was to be born to her, and resolving that John
Angus should not have it in his power to torture another human being as
he had herself, she determined to go away, leaving a letter saying that
the price of her silence concerning his treatment culminating in the
blow was that he should not try to find her. Public censure on his
private conduct was not what was desired by Angus in his prayer-meeting
and political purity pose, so he seems to have heeded her request.

"Helen Angus went directly to the little village in Hampshire on the
Isle of Wight where she had spent her childhood and sought out Betty
Randal, a woman of fifty, who had also been her nurse and managed their
little household prior to her father's going abroad. With Betty she
arranged not only to care for her during the coming crisis, but if a
daughter should be born, to keep her as long as her little sum of money
lasted and to teach her to earn her living and thus make it possible for
her to be free from her father if she so desired on learning her
mother's story.

"A girl was born and duly baptized Helen Dudleigh, by the rector of St.
Boniface's near Bonchurch, and the mother, worn out by contending
emotions more than disease, lived to see her daughter three months old,
and then was laid away, according to a death notice in a Hampshire
paper. This notice was in an envelope lettered by an illiterate hand and
is dated two weeks after the last record in Helen Angus's diary. That
she knew that she could not live is certain, for all the written
evidence was carefully prepared and the writing is decipherable in spite
of time and the blur of moisture.

"One package contains Helen Angus's marriage certificate and the
certificate of Poppea's birth and baptism; another her diaries and some
letters marked, 'Not to be read by my daughter until she is either
eighteen or forced to return to her father.' And then a single thick
letter (the one that had attracted 'Lisha Potts), sealed and addressed
to John Angus, and underneath in brackets the words, 'To be delivered in
case he should dispute my daughter's paternity.'"

As Latimer paused to wipe away the drops of sweat that stood upon his
forehead, he laid the letter on the table beside his wife and both
looked at the yellow paper and blurred writing with a feeling of awe at
the living evidence of the poor little roseleaf, wife who, beneath their
very eyes, had suffered so much in silence and then as silently gone
away to die. Hot tears trickled between the fingers that Jeanne held
before her face, but after the relief they brought, questions again
formed themselves.

"But how did the child come here so soon and why was she left at Oliver
Gilbert's instead of the Angus house?" asked Jeanne, "and how could the
little trunk have been hidden away so long?"

"The last question might be easily answered," said Stephen. "It was left
in the height of the excited war times when the checking of baggage was
not as rigid as it is now. In fact, merely the name of the village may
have been on the box, which was put aside until called for and presently
forgotten."

"As to how Poppea came here, was separated from her possessions, and
left at the wrong door, there we have another and unsolved mystery that
must be learned from the man who left her, the man with the scar on his
hand."

"Was it the wrong door after all, Stephen? Has she not been protected
and loved as her mother would have wished until she knows what love is,
even if she has suffered in a lesser way?"

"Yes, Jeanne, in one way; but do you realize, at the same time, in what
a light she has learned to regard her father, and that a knowledge of
his unrelenting spite is almost a part of her being? In all this is her
mother justified, but how inextricably it complicates the future and
its relations to every one concerned."

"How and when shall you tell her, Stephen? To-night?"

"No, I am much too worn. I will write her a brief note at once, saying
that papers have come to me concerning the identity of her parents, and
asking her to come here at once. She will get the note in the morning
mail and be able to accustom herself to the contents without the effort
of speech."

"Why do you not go to her?"

"Because Poppea will need to be alone with her mother's papers for a
space. It would be too trying if she should hear it first amid the
confusion at the office or in the company of any one, even of Oliver
Gilbert."

"Is it not strange, Stephen, that 'Lisha Potts, who was the first to
open the door that night, should have been the one to bring this all
about?"

"Yes, Jeanne, more than strange; we seem to be floating in mystery. No,
I cannot sleep yet; I must let the organ speak to me. Come into the
church for a little while, dearest, and sit beside me while I play."



CHAPTER XVII

DADDY!


Early in the afternoon of the day after the fire, as Stephen Latimer sat
writing in his study, a shadow that did not shift fell across his paper.
Glancing up, he saw Poppea, who, coming in the door behind, stood
looking at him as intently as though she would force him to yield up his
thoughts without the medium of words. Latimer, who knew that it would be
a trying interview, sought vainly to gauge her mood by the expression of
her face. When he thought, by the wistful lines of the mouth, that
tenderness was uppermost, the calm and searching look from her eyes
revealed indomitable pride, the trait of her later development.

"Will you stay here?" he said, trying to gain time and turning Jeanne's
special low chair with its back to the bright light, "or would you
rather go down into the sitting room?"

"Here, if you please," she replied, yet making no move toward the chair.
Then, as he sat fumbling with the papers, she took two or three steps
forward so that she could steady herself by resting her hands on the
table.

"Please do not try to be ceremoniously polite, nor look away from me. I
know that you have something to tell me that you think I shall not like
to hear, perhaps cannot bear. Be it so, but remember you are making it
less hard by telling me yourself. Now you must speak at once, for I
think if this uncertainty lasts another hour, my heart will stop through
dread."

Latimer stood up and faced her, moistening his lips the while, as if
trying to grip his words.

"It is mainly good news, not bad, dear child," he said at last. "It is
the uncertainty of how best to begin coupled with fatigue of nerves that
makes me hesitate. Perhaps you would better read the papers
first"--pointing to the packages on the table.

"Where did you get them?"

Latimer told her as briefly as might be.

"No, I cannot read them until I _know_; the printed words would prolong
that,--my brain is already on fire, I think. If I question, will you
answer, Mr. Latimer?"

"Yes," and he pointed once more to the chair, feeling that he himself
had not strength to stand.

Poppea, always alert to the needs of others, realized this and seated
herself, grasping the arms of the chair with a tension that made the
blood settle about her finger nails.

"You know who my parents are?"

"Yes."

"Were they married?"

"Yes."

"Are they living?"

"Your mother is not."

"I think that I knew that; _she_ would not have left me on a doorstep.
Is the miniature in the locket my mother's portrait?"

"Your mother at nineteen."

"Ah, then, at least, I need not give up that idea! I have been telling
her so many things these last years that I could not let her cast me
off, and I could not leave her," Poppea murmured, looking over Latimer's
head out through the open door.

"Would you not better read these papers now?" Latimer almost pleaded. He
had been at many death-beds, and had once walked beside a murderer to
the gallows without flinching, exalted by his calling, and able to
impart his confidence to others; now not only were his sympathies worked
to their highest pitch, but there was a complicated moral aspect about
the case that might at any moment be turned at him in a way to render
him speechless.

"Only one more question before I touch the papers," and Poppea crossed
the room and again stood by the table facing the clergyman.

"_Who_ was my mother?"

Now that the moment had come, Latimer's perturbation vanished, and
rising and resting his hands also upon the table, he faced her, holding
her eyes by the firmness of his own.

"Your mother was Helen Dudleigh, the first wife of John Angus."

For a moment Poppea did not speak; she was communing with memory; when
she did, the voice was but an echo of her own.

"Helen Angus, the roseleaf wife that Daddy has often told me about, who
went away alone and died far off; who stopped to speak to him at the
shop and have her watch fixed when she was leaving. I wonder if Daddy
has not dreamed of this, for he has told me of her over and over again."

Then Poppea's wistful expression changed to one of new uncertainty. "But
how can that be, Mr. Latimer? The roseleaf wife never was divorced from
John Angus, Daddy says, and so she could not have been married to my
father. Was he mistaken, or are you?"

"Neither of us, my child; do you not understand?"

Putting one hand to her forehead, she thought with knitted brows, then
gave a sharp cry and started back.

"You don't mean--you can't mean me to think that John Angus is my
father! No, God couldn't be so cruel to Daddy and to me. Anything, any
one but that man! I would rather have never known at all or have had my
mother alone and closed my eyes to all the rest."

"Think what you say, Poppea!"

"It is because I am thinking that I say it; I would rather for myself
alone have been born outside of what is called wedlock; it would have
been more natural and less horrible!"

"But it is not for yourself alone, remember that. If the end lay with
ourselves and we could bear all the penalty, there would be many a law
that every one of us in our time would push aside or shatter. But we are
of the race on whom the charge is laid, _Thou shalt not!_ and when we
throw it off, the next in line, who has not felt the pressure of our
motive, bears the penalty."

"I am the next and the end, and if I had to suffer, it would be alone."

"Read, little one; read the papers and think awhile in quiet. Then sleep
on it; to-morrow you may feel differently."

"To-morrow? There is no to-morrow to hate. You yourself told me years
ago that love is the only thing that owns to-morrow."

For a moment Latimer winced, but only for a moment.

"Yes, and love will make the to-morrow yours, the love of your brother
Philip!"

"Philip--he? Philip, my brother! Oh, God, have mercy and forgive me. I
had not thought of him," and Poppea crouched by the table, burying her
face in her hands.

Quietly and firmly Stephen Latimer raised her. Leading her to his chair,
he pointed again to the papers; then, saying, "Jeanne and I will be in
the room below; if you wish either of us, knock on the floor," he left
the room, closing the door behind him.

At intervals during the afternoon there was a sound of rapid footsteps
overhead, as though Poppea was pacing the floor, but all else was
silent. It was almost supper-time when they heard steps upon the stairs,
and Poppea came slowly into the sitting room, the papers gathered into a
bundle in her arms.

Jeanne went to her, clasped her arms about her neck and kissed her; she
then slipped out, saying she would hurry tea and that Poppea must stay
to take the meal with them.

When Poppea, having wrapped her bundle in the light shawl she had
brought, came toward him, Latimer was again surprised at the change in
her whole bearing. Passion and tension had alike disappeared from her
face, and though she was pale and her eyelids showed traces of tears,
the eyes were clear and calm. When she spoke, there was no uncertainty
or vacillation in her tone, but a quiet resolve that seemed as though it
should have come through the experience and self-control of years
instead of a single afternoon.

"Jeanne is very good, but I think I would best go home now; there are
several things that I must do to-night."

"What are they, Poppea? I should think that you would need to rest first
of all. Stay with us now, and after supper we will walk home with you."

"If you will do that, I will wait, for then you will stop and tell it
all to Daddy while I do--the other thing. Oh nothing, nothing you could
do would help more than telling Daddy, Mr. Latimer, for I think it will
be easier for him as it was for me to hear it from you. I only wish this
had not happened while he is here, now he _must_ know; yet after all,
what he _thinks_ will be the only difference it can make."

"What is the other thing, my child, that you must do to-night?" Latimer
persisted.

"Go up to see John Angus and show him these," and from her loose blouse
she pulled three papers, the certificate of her birth, baptism, and the
sealed letter.

"But, Poppea, you must not do this yourself; suppose he will not listen,
does not believe, or, possibly, in his bewilderment, should say
something hard for you to bear and impossible for you to forget."

"He has already done that more than once."

"Be reasonable, my child; this is a matter for a lawyer, who will take
the case from its legal aspect only and see to it that your claims are
publicly maintained."

"My mother did not have a lawyer when she went away; she made no public
claims, neither shall I."

"Then let me go to Angus as your friend, or else Hugh Oldys, who would
be both friend and lawyer; you cannot possibly realize the position in
which you may place yourself or, for that matter, place us all, through
your suffering."

"I do not mean to be wilful, but this that I must do to-night and what I
have to ask concerns only we three,--my mother, Philip, and myself,--so
I must go alone; a half hour will be more than enough, and there will be
no trouble. Will you not also tell Miss Emmy and Hugh? He has tried so
hard in every way to find out what this fire has made known, purely for
my sake, because he knew how much it meant to me, not that he cared. I
want him to know before any one else but Daddy, and I hope--I pray that
he will be _very_ glad," and a look crossed Poppea's face that she did
not know was there, but Latimer saw it, and his heart sank as he
replied:--

"In these dark days Hugh Oldys keeps both joy (of which he has little)
and sorrow to himself, as if the sharing of either might divert him from
his fixed purpose concerning his mother."

Then Stephen Latimer ceased urging and they went to the supper table,
all three creating talk merely to avoid the strain of silence.

It was a little past eight o'clock, the hour for closing, when Poppea
and Stephen Latimer reached the post-office; the only light other than
from the street lantern came from Oliver Gilbert's workshop. Going
softly to the farther window, Poppea looked in, beckoning Latimer to
follow her.

Gilbert sat at his desk, with all his little relics spread before him,
the daguerreotype of Mary, a little black paper profile of Marygold, the
shoes Poppea had first worn, and various photographs of her, from one
taken at the county fair in company with Hugh Oldys, to the rather
dramatic picture by Sarony in her first concert gown. Then putting these
back into their drawer, he drew out the old ledger, read his Lincoln
letters through, touching them lovingly. After putting these also away,
he crossed the room to the work bench, lighted both lamps, and, in spite
of the sultriness of the evening, began to work, now and then glancing
first at the clock and then at the door, with a sigh.

"I wonder of what he is thinking," said Poppea. "Please go in, Mr.
Latimer, and tell him that I am coming very soon. If I should go to him
now, even for a minute, I should stay and these papers would be burned,"
and Poppea pressed her hand to her bosom as if to brace herself by the
knowledge of what she carried.

"No, do not come with me, it is only a step up the hill and the moon is
rising." So saying, Poppea turned the corner of the post-office and went
up the hill road.

When she reached the massive gate, she paused before she laid her hand
upon the latch, which, in all these years of proximity, she had never
before touched. It yielded easily, and she found herself walking toward
the house, guided on her way by the long beds of heavily scented
hyacinth and narcissus that outlined the path.

A bronze lamp hung in the porch, the front door stood partly open, and
Poppea could see lights in the long hall beyond. She was surprised at
her own calmness. When she pulled the bell that jangled sharply through
the great rooms, she felt no less at ease than if she had rung at the
Feltons' door.

The butler, who answered the summons, was the one to evince surprise, or
perhaps dismay is the apter term, for the feud as it was regarded
between the great house and the post-office was well known below stairs,
and of course mightily exaggerated in its details.

Poppea said very quietly, "Please ask if Mr. John Angus can see Miss
Gilbert on business."

The butler, however, wishing to take no risks, motioned Poppea to follow
him, and throwing open the door of one of the rooms on the left of the
long hall, announced in ringing tones, "Miss Gilbert to see Mr. Angus on
business!" then promptly disappeared down the corridor only to slip back
into the adjoining room where he could be a party to what was, to his
mind, an occasion where anything including murder might happen.

As Poppea advanced into the room which was John Angus's library, he
arose slowly from one of the deep chairs in which he had been half
dozing, half reading. For a minute she thought that he had not heard her
name.

John Angus, whatever his feelings might be, always kept up at least the
external traditions of courtesy in the ceremonious rooms of his own
house. Coming forward, but without asking her to be seated, in coldly
civil tones he asked her what he could do for her, at the same time
trying to gain an advantage by guessing her errand. Had she, possibly,
laid to him the scheme of consolidating the two post-offices under a new
name? Was she come to either beg or offer quarter in the shape of the
original bit of land he coveted? Or, the feeling of apprehension that
had come over him the night that he had seen her personate Sylvaine
returned with redoubled force, but he pushed it aside as being too
improbable.

Seeing that she was looking at him fixedly and did not reply, he
repeated the question, motioning carelessly to a chair as he did so.

Poppea remained standing, and drawing two of the papers from her dress,
she held them towards him, saying, "Read those."

There was no insolence in her words or manner, but there was that
quality in her that precluded any idea of refusal. Without even feeling
surprised, he took the papers and carrying them to his reading lamp,
unfolded them deliberately.

The minutes passed slowly; when perhaps five had elapsed, he turned an
ashy face toward Poppea, and asked curtly:--

"Where did you obtain these papers, and how long have you had them?"

Poppea answered with equal brevity, then there was another pause.

"Have you any other proof of this claim that you are making?" Angus
asked, his hand shaking so that he laid the papers on the table with
difficulty.

"I am making no claim for myself; I am merely acting for my mother," she
replied, never taking her eyes from his face. "As to further proof, I
have this letter that my mother left for you, should you raise the
question."

Angus took the letter in his hand, saw the address in the characteristic
writing of his first wife, and the words below in the corner. Crushing
the envelope in an effort not to drop it, he said quickly:--

"I did not say that I disputed your claim to be the daughter of Helen
Dudleigh, for you resemble her very closely, now that I see you for the
first time face to face."

"Ah! you see it then; was that why you left the room so suddenly the
night that I sang in the dress of the miniature?"

"Yes, it was," replied Angus, amazed at his direct answer, yet unable to
hold it back.

"If it is not that but the other part that is in dispute, then you
_must_ read the letter!"

John Angus looked at her, then at the envelope, an angry flash in his
eyes, the color surging back to his face until it was suffused with a
deep, veiny red.

"And if I do not choose to read it? if I prefer to set a match to it,
instead of troubling myself with what might be the clever scheme of
an--" here Angus paused as though he were conscious of being swept
farther than he cared or dared to go.

"Adventuress," said Poppea, "the same name that you gave me a year ago
in your complaint to the government about the post-office." Angus's eyes
dropped before the unexpected accusation, and Poppea continued:--

"You are perfectly at liberty to burn the letter, but you will not until
you have read it, because you are more anxious to know its contents than
to justify my mother or me."

It is always the unexpected that subdues a man of John Angus's fibre,
who lives by carefully made and guarded plans and prides himself on the
fact of never changing his mind, and Poppea's quiet persistence, void of
either impertinence, threat, or beseeching, was the last thing he had
ever dreamed of encountering. Slowly he broke open the seal and
envelope, having some difficulty in unfolding the single sheet that it
contained, as the moistened ink had become sticky and in drying had left
an offset that made the letter difficult to decipher. As he read he
turned toward the light and Poppea could not see his face, but after he
had refolded the paper and put it in his pocket, he continued sitting in
the same position until, the silence becoming more than she could bear,
she closed her eyes and tried to call up the picture of Daddy poring
over his little relics at his desk in the shop, to give her relief.

When a slight noise caused her to open them, Angus was standing before
her, his breath coming spasmodically, the drawn look having again driven
the color from his face.

"What do you wish?" he asked abruptly. Poppea knew then that a more
complete verbal explanation was unnecessary. In that brief sentence and
its intonation lay the acknowledgment that she sought, while, at the
same time, her comprehension of his moods, in spite of her dislike of
the man, proved the bond of fundamental relationship.

"What do you wish?" he repeated.

"That you shall tell Philip what I _am_ as decidedly as you once told
him--what I was _not_."

If it had been possible for Angus to be abashed, one might have said
that he was so now. In the suddenness of it all this phase had not
occurred to him, but his dominant will soon overcame what he put down to
the momentary physical weakness that had overcome him many times during
the past year, and he said, with his old air of conferring a favor:--

"I will explain to my son to-morrow. I mean when do you wish to come--"
(he was about to say home, and then the hollowness of the term even to
his comprehension changed the words) "up here to live?"

Ignoring the second part of the sentence wholly, Poppea repeated:--

"Philip must know now, to-night. Suppose for one of the three to-morrow
should not come? I hear him on the stairs. Will you not call him in?"

There was something in Poppea's suppressed passion that froze John Angus
and caused his faculties to work more slowly than their wont. As he
hesitated, trying to frame some moderate and dignified phrase, Poppea,
unable to stand the strain of being alone with him any longer, finding
her self-control vanishing and rash words pressing at her very lips,
called:--

"Philip, Philip, come here to the library--It is I--Poppea!"

The slow steps quickened at the unexpected cry, and pushing the
door open so vigorously that it crashed back against a piece of
furniture, Philip came in--glanced at Poppea and his father both
standing--remembered the latter's fury on the day that he had broken the
plaster bust. Straightway going to Poppea, he threw one arm about her,
and then turning, said:--

"What are you saying to her, Father? Why did she call me as if she were
afraid?"

With the air of one to whom Philip's coming was at precisely the desired
moment, Angus replied, "She called you that I might tell you that she is
your half-sister, Philip; the daughter of my first wife."

All at once Poppea was kneeling beside Philip, her arms tight about him,
whispering, "I called you because I need you, shall always need you to
help me to bear this."

Looking down into her upturned face, an almost holy light came into
Philip's eyes as he repeated softly, "Sister? You are my sister? Then
that is what it means that I have been feeling for you all these years.
Oh, sister! _I_ need _you_; I have always needed you to help me bear to
_live_." In that young face with all its artistic capacity for intense
joy as well as suffering there was stamped already the knowledge that in
such affection alone could he find place, that the barrier of his
infirmity stood forever between him and the other love of woman.

As they spoke thus together John Angus waited for a moment, considering
them critically. Noticing the little blemish on Poppea's ear, he
involuntarily raised his hand to his own ear bearing the same mark.

Poppea had all the first fresh beauty of his wife Helen, that after the
days of courtship he had thought to possess forever by mere force of
will and legal right; but in Poppea he saw much of the strength of his
own resolution with this, to him, incomprehensible cross,--Poppea knew
what love meant, but Angus understood only the power of ambition and
authority. There she was, his daughter, yet only the unwilling kin of
flesh, always to be a stranger in spirit. Then as he saw that the two
had forgotten his presence, he left the room to seek his own chamber and
pace up and down in a half-physical attempt to readjust himself to the
circumstances that had overtaken him.

After all, he argued, thanks to the Feltons, his daughter was an
accomplished woman with many friends. At last he would have some one to
make his house a social centre, and probably she would after a time
make a brilliant marriage. He had heard that Bradish Winslow had
admired her--there would now be no reason on his part why he might not
follow the game to a suitable finish. Toward Oliver Gilbert, however,
his old-time resentment, instead of diminishing, was increased. How was
it that this humble man always managed to come between? How utterly
abominable to be obliged to assume an attitude of obligation!

Had his wife Helen directed in the case of her death that the child be
left with Gilbert as a sort of spite to himself? Or was it a mistake and
the intention been to leave her at his house on Windy Hill?

In either case he held Gilbert to blame, for he, in his comparative
poverty, had supported the child and naturally (from Angus's standpoint)
would expect recompense, while the very act had deprived Angus of
rearing his own child. In this way he worked himself into a commendable
fit of righteous indignation, entirely forgetting that had Poppea been
left at his door, without the subsequent evidence, he would have been
the first, on principle, to have sent her to the town farm.

       *       *       *       *       *

As Poppea made her way up the hill, Stephen Latimer opened the door of
Oliver Gilbert's workshop. Gilbert put down the bit of work at which he
had been tinkering, and leaning back, hands behind head, prepared to
enjoy a comfortable dish of talk with the dominie, who could always move
satisfactorily from books and the political outlook to farming and
local news, without either exertion to himself or condescension toward
the listener, and then, first and last, he was always ready to speak of
Poppea.

After delivering the girl's message that she would soon return, the
consolidation of the two towns under the name of West Harbor, now
practically an accomplished fact, was discussed, then the burning of the
railway station naturally followed.

"Has 'Lisha Potts been in to-day?" Latimer inquired.

"No, but he'll be down to-morrow; Satiry insists that she's coming to
bake us up once a week or so. Poppy don't want it, but I must look to it
she don't overdo her strength; you see she isn't in body one of our
hard-working race, Mr. Latimer. I sort of think her mother was a rather
delicate woman."

With this for the entering wedge, Mr. Latimer saw his way to going
farther.

"Then you have some idea about her mother? I have thought this for some
time. I have an idea also, more than an idea; suppose we compare them,"
and he told briefly of the trunk of papers and 'Lisha finding them.

Instantly Gilbert's bent shoulders straightened, new life came to his
eyes; leaning forward he sat in an attitude of such expectant certainty
of what he was to hear that Latimer could not help smiling as he said,
"Poppea's mother was--"

"Helen Angus, little Roseleaf, wife of that man who drove her to do what
she did!" broke in Gilbert, unable to hold his conviction any longer.
"No one who knew her could blame her,--I, who know what Angus is and
was, least of all. Young Esterbrook was a dashing, taking blade, like
many an army man, not steady like his uncle. I kept track of him for
years one way or another; he never married, and was killed in Indian
warfare near Cheyenne, so he would never have turned up; and yet, of
course before the world this will be a blight upon Poppea. I wish 'Lisha
Potts had dropped the papers in the bog; I wish to God he had, Mr.
Latimer! Could you find it right in your conscience to burn the papers
and let the past be buried? Need _she_ know?"

"She knows already, Gilbert."

The old man groaned and struck his clenched hand on the table. "Ah,
well," he said, "that takes it from my hands and the temptation with it,
but it's hard, right hard, to feel, link by link, that my power to
protect her from trouble is going. But," as an idea made him brighten
again, "she can keep my name, can't she, dominie? It's hers, isn't it,
by law?"

"Yes, Gilbert, it is hers for good unless she chooses to renounce it,"
Latimer replied fervently. "But stop a minute, old friend,
think--suppose that young Esterbrook was _not_ Poppea's father, and that
the only wrong (though it was a virtue, not a fault) that Helen Angus
did was in preferring to have her child born away from the atmosphere of
tyranny that was crushing out her own life. Could you be glad? Not for
yourself, not for ourselves, but for the law's full measure?"

For a while Gilbert sat so absolutely motionless that Latimer began to
fear that he was suffering some sort of shock, while it was merely the
slowness of his comprehension of what had never before occurred to him
ever so remotely. A moment later, he started up with blazing eyes and
all the fury of a madman.

"That! that! Oh, my God! Then he can take her from me in my old age,
from me who have reared her. He can take her, but he cannot love her as
I have nor make her love him! I withheld the bit of land, my birthright,
that he coveted, and this is my punishment!

"Pray and pray quickly, dominie; it isn't the dying of the body that
must soon come that I fear; no, nor even the craziness that is reaching
out after me. I'm losing my hold on believing! It's all slipping and
slipping until I'm going down out of sight of Mary and little Marygold.
Help me! Stephen Latimer, help me keep my faith! Not in the everyday
prayers from books or Bible; I want something nearer, something said by
some one that has lived and suffered in the times that I have!

"There on that card that hangs under his picture--He knew,--he suffered.
I've pieced his words together for my need, and said them every day and
night these many years. Now all is a blank, I can't remember them," and
Gilbert fell upon his knees, his head covered by his arms, strangled
with sobs.

Following where Gilbert pointed, Latimer saw an old calendar card
hanging below Lincoln's portrait. Seizing it, he found on the reverse
side Gilbert's crooked writing, and straightway kneeling beside him, one
arm about his shoulders, he read this prayer:--

"'Keep us free from giving offence, O Lord; neither let us be slandered
from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by
menaces of destruction. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in
that faith let us do our duty as we understand it to the end.'

"'Both of us read the same Bible and pray to the same God. Each invokes
His aid against the other. The prayers of both cannot be answered--Thine
it is to choose between us.

"'Thou hast Thine own purposes. Woe unto the world because of offences,
for it must needs be that offences come, but woe unto that man by whom
the offence cometh." Through Thine aid keep us with malice toward none,
with charity for all, with firmness in the right as it is given us to
see the right; let us strive on to finish the work and to do justly,
love mercy, and walk humbly with Thee, O God, for the sake of Him who
suffered to teach us how to bear suffering.'"

After Latimer's voice ceased, there was again a long silence, as if each
man prayed alone. Then Gilbert pulled himself slowly to his chair, and
with hands clasped upon his knees to hide their trembling, he said
clearly, as if reading his own death sentence over in order to become
used to the sound of it:--

"I must not forget! She will go to her own home and father upon the
hill--"

"Daddy!" came the cry from the open door. A rush across the room and
Poppea was clinging to the old man, laughing and sobbing at the same
time.

"Daddy! dear Daddy! Don't you know that this is my home, and that you
are my father, just as God is, because we love each other?"

Then it was Stephen Latimer's turn to steal away and turn his footsteps
to where Jeanne was waiting with anxious eyes, straining to see through
the dark.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE SCAR ON THE HAND


Stephen Latimer, as soon as might be, communicated with the few people
that Poppea considered had a right to know of the solving of the mystery
of the name, and these were the Felton ladies, Satira and 'Lisha Potts,
and Hugh Oldys. He wrote the details to Miss Felton and 'Lisha, but
called upon Miss Emmy and Hugh the same evening.

If there is aught in the saying that bad news spreads like fire in dry
grass, while good news requires three kindlings, then the news
concerning Poppea must have been considered very bad indeed. Owing
probably to the eavesdropping of the butler, accounts more or less
garbled appeared within two days, not only in the local and county
papers, but in the New York journals as well. It was only in the latter,
however, that anything was attempted like writing up the matter as a
streak of good luck, upon which the heroine, as Poppea was called, was
to be congratulated; one paper adding optimistically that she would, the
coming season, open her father's house to those who had the past winter
welcomed and entertained her solely on account of her incomparable charm
coupled with her vocal ability.

The way in which those nearest to her took the change was the greatest
possible proof of their single-hearted love for herself alone.

'Lisha received an unexpected rating from Satira, who told him he'd have
better let Beaver Brook wash out the whole railroad company than have
fished out that box of misery. Miss Emmy took a more conventional view
of the matter, but ended by saying with a sigh, "As long as Poppea could
not have grown up with the knowledge, it was better unknown."

Hugh Oldys alone remained absolutely silent; finally, Poppea, who was
waiting with feverish eagerness for him to make some sign, received
these few lines from him.

     "I am glad for you if you are glad, little comrade. Yet oftentimes
     lately it has seemed to me that the positive knowledge of a thing
     is so much harder to bear than the vague lack of it, that I have
     ceased to ask, Why?

     "As ever your friend,

     "HUGH."

Over these few words Poppea pondered long and sadly, seated in the
window of her little bedroom with the warm air of late May again
bringing the fragrance of apple blossoms with it. It was not yet a year
since they two had walked home together and she had hidden her heart
that with the first lift of its wings was poised, ready to fly to Hugh,
and at the same time she proffered him friendship. Her motives, surely,
had been of the most unselfish, and, as she then thought, far-seeing,
but now how insignificant they seemed compared to her loss that lay in
Hugh's acceptance of them. If she could have felt one pulse of the old
pressure in his hand-clasp when they met, or read the faintest
inclination toward a need of her between the lines of the brief note,
how quickly she would have revealed herself. Not only had she ceased to
be a necessity, but rather it seemed were their meetings becoming a
strain upon him, where even his cordial outward friendship was forced.

Ah, back, far back, her thoughts flew, no longer the strains of the
motive of the Mystery of the Name sang to her brain; like Elsa, in the
pursuit of the mystery, she had not gained but lost. Moreover, though
she was happy in the fact that she might now see Philip without
restraint or reproach, her joy must be pale compared to his, for to him
she was all.

For a week or more John Angus had made no move other than to see that a
proper statement of the facts of her birth was added to the village
record, writing tersely to Poppea that he had communicated with his
London solicitor to have all possible details traced out; then he
waited.

The second week brought another note addressed to Miss Angus, asking her
to fix the time of her coming home, as there were some necessary
preparations to be made.

This note remained unanswered for several days, not because of anything
contemptuous or insolent in Poppea's attitude, but for the reason that
she did not know how to word her refusal in order to make it final
without first consulting Stephen Latimer, and yet if she did so, she
feared that he might, from his high impersonal standpoint, try to
dissuade her; until, as she was about to write, the New York lawyer of
John Angus called at the post-office house.

He was a polished man of the world as well as a legal light, but all the
subtly drawn pictures of advantage presented with the intricacies of his
calling were shattered upon the bare rock of her simple statement, "This
is my home, and I shall not leave Daddy or drop this name that has
sheltered me so long."

Utterly baffled, the lawyer's admiration for the girl's firmness did not
prevent his returning to Angus and imparting something of the bitter and
sarcastic mood that opposition develops in legal temperaments. So that
while Angus ceased his attempts to bring Poppea to him, he brooded over
the matter to such an extent that he really came to believe that he
alone was wronged. If he had been physically able, he would have again
closed the house and gone away, but he could no longer hide his
increasing feebleness even from himself; consequently he had lost the
first field in his effort to conceal his condition from others. Besides,
Philip, once more established at his work, was now to be reckoned
with,--Philip with a man's spiritual courage and his newly acquired
strength of having kin, no longer bearing that brand of utter
desolation,--the being the last of one's race.

All the other outlets being closed, John Angus fell back upon the law
for solace, and with its advice constructed a will under which, outside
of the cautionary sum of one hundred dollars, Poppea was to benefit in
no way by his estate. This was so tied up that Philip also would lose
his rights if he attempted in any way to share with his sister, and the
document being duly signed, sealed, was stowed away in the little safe
inserted in the wall by his bed head. He would not be within hearing of
criticism when the paper went into effect, so Angus, wearing his usual
air of inscrutability, took up his life much as before, save that he
suddenly announced that, owing to Philip's love of the sea, he would
build a midsummer home for him with a studio attached, on a strip of
land that he owned on the west side of Quality Hill, where the Moosatuck
joins the bay; and almost before the community had grasped the news the
quaintly gabled house was under way.

With Poppea the matter was not to be allowed to rest so soon. Letters
came to her from all quarters, congratulating her, giving invitations
for visits, the sudden desire for her company all too evidently the
result of her supposedly changed condition. Gloria Hooper wrote more
than cordially, while Mrs. Hewlett, the well-meaning but very dense
mother of the two susceptible sons, ended her letter with this dubious
sentence, "I take great credit to myself, dear child, for always having
believed that you were not what you seemed to be."

Others yet asked her plans and prospects in the most direct language,
with all their social training missing the fine reticence in this matter
that had marked the neighborhood people of Harley's Mills.

In early June Poppea went up to visit Miss Emmy for a few days. Brave as
this little lady had been, the complete breaking up of the family
arrangements of years, and the lack of Miss Felton's strong personality
against which to lean, was telling upon her sadly. Her idea of a summer
abroad, once abandoned, was now again under discussion. A summer of long
periods of rest rather than hasty travel, with Nora for maid and Poppea
for companion, was the doctor's advice, and at the same time he said
that when the July heat came, it would be necessary for Miss Felton and
her charge to leave the city, and where else could they be so
comfortable as the great house on Quality Hill.

Miss Emmy had been talking over the journey with Poppea, who at last had
consented to go with her, the final inducement being that she could
visit Hampshire, and in learning any possible facts concerning her
mother's life and death there, bring her nearer as a reality.

The third week in July was the time now set, and the _Normanic_, with
its popular captain, the ship chosen, after much debate. That other
time, in the sixties, when Miss Emmy had been on the verge of breaking
away, the _Scotia_, with its ponderous side-wheels, had been the only
vessel to which women of sensibility felt that they could trust
themselves.

Jeanne Latimer had come up for afternoon tea, and the two sat upon the
broad piazza overlooking the rose garden, already showing the golden
yellow of the scentless, old-fashioned, half-double brier roses
contrasting with the vivid crimson and rich perfume of the Jacqueminots.

Each one of the three women was in a reflective mood, in which, strange
to say, the thought focussed about each other rather than about
themselves.

"Where is Mr. Latimer?" asked Poppea. "This morning, when I met him on
the village road, he promised that he would surely come up this
afternoon to help us plan the English end of our journey; besides that,
he was to explain to me the best way for Daddy to write to Washington
concerning the new post-office. He cannot, of course, resign from an
office that will cease to exist the first of next January and he hopes
to hold it to the end. But he wishes to write in such a way that it will
be clearly seen that he does not desire the new _West Harbor_ position.
Not that they would give it to so old a man, but it satisfies his pride
not to allow himself to be merely dropped.

"Think of it, Aunt Emmy, very soon Poppea of the Post-Office must give
up the name you gave her, not that she leaves it, but it will drop away
from her."

"Why not take your mother's name, then?" said Jeanne Latimer. "Helen is
more fitting to the woman than Poppea, though of course to us you will
be Poppy for all time."

"That also is one of the things about which I wanted to speak to Mr.
Latimer. Do you think that he is coming?"

"He started with me, but as we were waiting at the church to see the men
who are doing something to the water-power that works the organ, Will
Burt, one of the young doctors from the Bridgeton Hospital, came past on
horseback, riding like mad. Stephen waved to him, for as a boy he had
been one of his music pupils, and he stopped short. It seems that he was
on his way to the Rectory on an errand that he had undertaken for its
very strangeness.

"Late last night a short, thick-set man was brought into the hospital, a
brakeman from one of the through freights, and apparently a new hand on
the road, for he did not know of the low bridge at Moosatuck Junction,
or understand the signal lights. He was swept off and crushed against
the pier. Though hurt to death, he had remained conscious, and early
this afternoon, when rallied to the utmost by drugs, asked to speak to
one of the physicians alone. Burt, chancing through the ward, was
appealed to. There was something about the man that struck him at once;
past fifty, and bearing the signs of dissipation and recent neglect of
his person, he did not come of the grade who keep to the road at his
age. When he spoke, his words confirmed the impression.

"'What place am I in, Doctor?' he began.

"'Bridgeton, Connecticut,' Burt answered.

"The man repeated the name to himself several times, and then asked:--

"'Would that be near a little place called Harley's Mills?'

"'The next town to it.'

"'Is there a clergyman hereabout who would, think you, do an errand for
a man that, being already dead in his legs, cannot do it for himself, a
matter of--well, we'll say _business_ rather than religion?'

"Burt told him that there was a Roman Catholic priest always within
call, besides ministers of other denominations that could be had; but
the man sighed, hesitated, and finally said: 'I'm English born, though
I've long ago sold out my birthright, yet there's that much left of it
that makes me want to say what I must to the one that's the nearest like
him that used to teach us our duty in the little church betwixt the
wheat fields over there. I want the one that has the white robe, the
book, and the law behind him; but maybe, sir, you do not understand?'

"Burt did understand, however, and remembering that the rector of St.
John's in Bridgeton was ill, came galloping over for Stephen. Why he did
it, or put Stephen to the trouble, he himself could not say, for maimed
railway men and similar requests are not uncommon in a hospital. Stephen
borrowed a horse from Hugh Oldys and fully expected to be back again by
six; it is after five now. Shall I make the tea, Miss Emmy? He would be
vexed to have you wait."

How many odd moments as well as times of painful suspense the tea-tray
has bridged over. Many a time the period of waiting for the kettle to
boil has given the necessary pause to think that has changed a whole
life, and the need of balancing a cup and saucer in the hand has made an
excuse for looking down when looking up would have betrayed the whole.

As Jeanne pottered and poured, Poppea's wandering eyes caught upon a
mere speck in the distance on the lower Bridgeton road. As it reached
the great span over Moosatuck it took the shape of horse and wheels.
Before it reached the turn below the hill, she knew rather than saw that
it was Hugh Oldys's outfit with Stephen Latimer driving, and that he was
in great haste.

Though she neither spoke of it nor betrayed the slightest interest, yet
her heart pounded so that the hand that held the cup pulsed in response,
and she shifted it to the table, where she deliberately stirred the
sugar. Then, feeling that she could no longer sit still, she said,
looking toward the roses:--

"What a superb flower that is on the third bush. May I have it, Miss
Emmy?" and she swung herself lightly over the rail at the end of the
porch opposite the steps and arrived at the head of the walk with her
rose at the same time that Latimer drove in the gate.

Seeing her, he threw the reins over the dashboard and jumped out; he had
the same pallor, coupled with the tension of suppressed excitement, that
he had worn the day after the fire. Coming directly toward Poppea, he
said:--

"Can you go through one more ordeal, the last?"

"Yes," she answered quietly. "I knew that it was coming half an hour
ago. Is he dead? the man with the scar on his hand?"

Latimer, startled in spite of himself at her words, merely nodded his
head for yes.

"I felt that it was he when Jeanne told me you had been sent for. Won't
you please come and tell us all together, Jeanne and Miss Emmy? I have
not the courage I once had; I cannot seem to bear things alone."

While Latimer walked slowly up the steps, his wife had time to gauge, in
a degree, the scene he had been through, before Poppea, who was in
advance of him, said, in answer to the questioning look upon the face of
both women:--

"The man whom he went to see was the one who brought me to Daddy; now
we shall know how," and dropping to a stool by Miss Emmy's side, she
rested her head upon the elder woman's knees, as she was used in the old
days of confidence before things began to happen.

Latimer took the cup of tea that Jeanne brought to him, and then
another, before he drew his chair closer to the group of women and
began, trying to compress his narrative as much as possible for the sake
of all concerned, while he spoke as to Poppea alone.

"The man brought to the Bridgeton Hospital was Peter Randal, the son of
Betty Randal, your grandfather Dudleigh's housekeeper and your mother's
nurse. When your mother returned to Hampshire and you were born, Peter
was away at sea, but came back soon after her death and married an old
sweetheart, a pretty barmaid of the town. Betty Randal, though to all
appearances in the prime of life and best of health, died suddenly a few
months after your mother, without having had time to carry out any of
her directions or safeguard you in any way, so that Peter and his wife
found themselves left with you on their hands and the temptation of a
snug fortune before them, because your little sum of money had been at
the time entirely in Betty Randal's control.

"Peter's wife had a sister in Canada, who made great representations of
the fortunes to be made there in farming if one only had money in hand;
so after much persuading, Peter yielded doggedly to the scheme of
keeping your money, which it would have been really difficult to prove
did not belong to Betty herself.

"Peter, however, refused even to think of the plan of leaving you at
some foundling asylum instead of taking you to your father, and insisted
upon going to Canada by way of Boston, bringing you with them, and
leaving you with John Angus _en route_. He also had sufficient family
feeling to take with you the papers your mother had left, upon which he
knew Betty had set such store.

"Knowing nothing of the country, they found upon their arrival that
Boston was far east of their destination, and so, going to New York,
worked their way backward, getting off in the confusion of the war
excitement and the late train at Westboro, while the box, hastily
addressed to John Angus, Harley's Mills, and not checked, was dropped
off at this station, the tag evidently having been in some way mutilated
in transit so that the place of destination only remained.

"On asking some chance loungers at the Westboro depot the direction of
John Angus's house at Harley's Mills, Randal was told 'the first above
the post-office,' and to that they drove, not realizing that their
guides in this case considered the joined house and office as one
building. In the fury of the storm the Randals only waited to be sure
that the door was opened, and going to Bridgeton, were lost among many
other travellers. For some time everything went well with the pair, and
then luck turned. Peter's wife left him after securing the farm to
herself, and first the man took to the road, trying in some way to
return to the old country, but in spite of all, a bit of deep-down
remorse made him wish to know what had become of the baby Helen on his
way.--The rest you know."

"What will they do with him?" asked Poppea, softly.

"That which he asked of me," said Latimer.

"I must have known you would have thought of it, and yet there must be
an odd touch of the same race feeling in me too. Thief as he was, his
people were once loyal to mine, also I wish I might have thanked him for
his mistake."

"I did it for you, child, and for us all," and in the look that Poppea
turned on him he read a gratefulness beyond words.



CHAPTER XIX

JOHN ANGUS


In the early part of July, a lift having been added to the house to
accommodate his wheel-chair, Miss Felton and Caleb brought Mr.
Esterbrook to Quality Hill. The homecoming was in itself pathetic, but
not to be compared with the starved and yearning affection that beamed
from Miss Felton's eyes every time she looked at him, followed by an
expression of gratitude when he managed to express the simplest wish.

In appearance the old man was as trim and dapper as of old; he never was
allowed to be seen below stairs without his light gray or buff spats,
and this toilet was made afresh every afternoon, though as to the
evening there was no change, for he supped in his room and was put to
bed by eight o'clock.

Of waistcoats and neckties he had a fresh assortment and appeared to
take pleasure in them, and in some way express his choice to Caleb; but
aside from the physical difficulty of speech, such as he could command
had the aphasia warp, so that he usually said the opposite of what he
meant, thus bringing an added bitterness to Miss Elizabeth. When she was
in the room, he followed her with his eyes and sometimes refused to eat
at all unless she fed him, and he often held and patted her hand when
she walked beside his chair under the old shade trees, but when he tried
to call her by name, it was always Emmy that he said and not Elizabeth,
or Beth, as she had been called in childhood.

Sometimes Miss Felton would try to argue, saying:--

"This is Elizabeth. You know Elizabeth, do you not?" but still he would
laugh noiselessly, the laugh of senility not mirth, and nod his head to
and fro, saying:--

"Know Emmy? know Emmy? yes, yes, Emmy!" and sometimes throw kisses to
her with the hand that he could move. So finally she let it pass
unnoticed. But Miss Emmy, being once within hearing of it, conceived an
intense aversion to the poor man, and afterward kept entirely out of his
sight.

After a time of absolute silence, Poppea took up her singing with fresh
interest, and Stephen Latimer noticed the increased volume as well as
sympathy of her voice. After all, it seemed a pity to put any check upon
such a gift, and little by little he began to speak of the desirability
of her still further developing it as an art, even as her brother Philip
was developing his gift of modelling.

Latimer well knew that Poppea's nature was not one of those who can eke
out a life of small things without the force of a mastering love to
blend them into dignity, and so he talked of study abroad and travel
until Poppea herself began to take up the idea.

Early one evening she had been walking up and down the grassy garden
path, watching the poppies fold their petals, palm to palm, for the
night, taking the form of pilgrim's cockle-shells, and all at once it
came to her that these flowers from the old garden on the hill above had
doubtless been planted by her mother long ago, for they were English
poppies, delicate of tint, and not the heavy-hued Orientals. How
wonderful it was, this handing down. Touching them lightly with her
finger-tips as she walked, her heart began to sing back to that long
ago, and then the music welled from her lips, all unconscious that she
had two auditors; John Angus, sitting above on his piazza, muffled and
chilly even in the balmy evening, and a man, who with the air of a
stranger, had been walking up and down the road. Finally he opened the
gate to the post-office house, but instead of following the sound of the
music to its origin, proceeded to the door and knocked.

Presently Oliver Gilbert came stumbling out into the twilight, and, cane
in hand, made his halting way into the garden.

"Poppy," he said, "there is some one who wants to see you; it's that Mr.
Winslow who came down last summer, the day after the Felton ladies had
the party. Do you remember?"

"Yes, Daddy," said Poppea, "I remember,"--the words feeling cold to her
lips like drops of dew.

"Will you come indoors? or shall I tell him you are here?"

"I will come in," she said, rising quickly from the bench on which she
had been seated for a moment. No, she did _not_ want him to come there,
for beside her in the twilight seemed to be sitting the ghost of Hugh.

Yet slow as Gilbert was, he gained the house before her, and when she
reached the porch, it was Bradish Winslow alone who stood in the open
doorway, both hands extended.

"I have been abroad; I did not know until yesterday," he said at once
without other greeting--as if she must have wondered at his silence.
"And now the thing of which you made a barrier has vanished, how can you
keep me out, how can you hold me away even if you want to, little one?
But you don't, you can't; ah, child, child, do you know how I have
missed you? How I had to put the ocean between in order to obey the plea
in your letter?"

He had seized her hands in his greeting and still held them, drawing her
nearer and nearer to him by a power that was not wholly physical force;
while she, having forgotten a certain magnetism she had always felt in
his presence, did not know how to protest.

Finally freeing her hand, she pulled forward a deep porch chair, and
intrenched in its protecting arms, motioned him to take its mate.

"I did not know that you were away," she managed to say at last.

"Then why did you not write me only one word, 'Come'?"

"Because, because," she stammered miserably, "I didn't think of it,
because it was better that you shouldn't," and she hid her face between
her hands to free it from the yearning of his eyes.

"Poppea, do you not understand how much and why I care for you, for
yourself and that only?" he said presently, his voice changing from the
ringing, joyous tone of his greeting to one serious to the verge of
sadness.

"I believe that you do, with all my heart and soul," she answered, and
continued in an almost reverent tone, "Few men would have acted toward
me as you did that night of humiliation. I did not realize it fully
then, but I do now, and this makes me understand all the more the
difference between what you offer me and the best I have to give."

"Even so, a little is a beginning, dear, and I can wait in patience if
you will only let me be near you and teach you what love means. You do
not even yet dream what it is, you, who, above all others I have met,
were made for it and cannot be yourself without it." He saw that Poppea
was moved, was trembling, and for the moment he believed he had almost
won.

"Perhaps I have not yet dreamed as you say," she answered gently, "but
of this I am certain: love does not come by learning, love knows and is
sure."

Winslow's face changed, his throat felt dry, his lips seemed riveted
together, his whole being fell under the spell of a complete depression.

"Then you do know?" he said in a broken, husky voice.

"Yes, I know," she replied like a faint echo.

He did not make any attempt either to reason with her or to go; he
merely sat there in utter dejection, this man of the world and its
affairs, whom women had these many years called callous.

When at last he pulled himself from the chair, he held out both his
hands, but did not go toward Poppea.

"Then it is good-by?" he questioned.

"I'm afraid it must be," she replied, touched by a profound sadness,
"but oh, I do wish for my own sake it need not be, for in spite of
everything I am so very lonely." Then of her own accord she took his
hands and looked into his face, but in her eyes there shone something
that checked the parting kiss that he intended. If she were born for
love, she was no less fashioned for fidelity even to an idea, and
Winslow saw that young as she was and whether she realized it or not, he
had come into her life too late.

       *       *       *       *       *

John Angus, sitting alone on his piazza, had at first listened in
irritation to the voice below in the garden, then the very quality of
its tone brought back the past as a surging tide that he could not
check. Once more he was at the open-air fête of a foreign city and the
singing of a lovely girl, little more than a child, had crept into his
heart, as her exquisite form and coloring had pleased his critical eye,
and he had let himself go. Then to keep the time schedule he had
arranged between himself and certain inexorable ambitions, he had
suddenly pulled the chain brutally taut, and among those that it had
cruelly bruised, must he not at last count himself?

What if he had not--but what was the use. The singing ceased and with it
his unusual revery. Shivering at the touch of the dew on the arm of his
chair, he went indoors, closing the long porch window after him, and
after wandering listlessly through the lower rooms for a while, climbed
slowly up to his own chamber in the same wing with Philip's rooms, where
he sat reading, and so seemed less lonely. For of late, without spoken
words having passed between, Philip was becoming more and more estranged
from his father, and sought his room or went to the studio as soon as
might be after meals, until John Angus began to wonder, with a
half-physical, half-emotional belief in the supernatural, if it were
possible that Philip knew the policy of the will that he had made, by a
form of second sight.

This thought was uppermost as he entered his private room, and after
lighting the four lamps that it held, closed and locked the door. He
would read the will over once more after he was comfortably fixed in
bed. He could not understand why in July the air should be so cold, yet
as fresh air was his chief necessity, he could not close the windows.
Turning to ring for his valet, that he might light the wood fire that
was laid ready at all seasons, he changed his mind and put a match to it
himself. Drawing a chair before the blaze, that under ordinary
conditions he would have deemed suffocating, he chafed and warmed his
hands. This done, he slowly set about undressing.

When quite ready for bed, he again changed his mind, and throwing on a
dressing-gown, slid back the panel from the small square closet by the
bed, and opening the safe, took from it the will, which, from its
completion, had seemed to exercise a strange fascination over him. He
would read it once more to be sure that all points were covered, and on
the morrow, as he expected to go to town, he would place it once for all
in the safety vault, for such a paper had no place in one's house, even
if under lock and key.

As he turned for the twentieth time the half dozen pages he knew almost
by heart, a voice seemed to be making a running commentary in his ear,
and the pith of it all was: "What have you gained by trying to control
others absolutely all your life? What are you gaining now by trying to
control others absolutely after you are dead?"

The worst of it was that the critic seemed waiting for an answer, and
he, having none ready, sat trying to frame one, but he could not, for
there was none to give.

Suddenly the pain that was an agony ran through the arm and hand that
grasped the will and then gripped his chest. It was one of his seizures,
but more intense than usual. He felt himself realizing that it would
pass off as others had before, but it did not. He could not reach the
bell or little tablet vial on his dresser. He had known, of course, the
end must come some day. Was that time now? The will, stirred by the
tremor of his hand, fairly flaunted in his face.

Why had he made it? Why? "Why not destroy it now," the voice whispered,
"and for once will for good?"

He tried to move, but the agony held him fast, he was suffocating and
not even slowly.

"Try," whispered the voice; "the fire is almost at your feet, and it
will help you."

Then inch by inch he worked himself forward, and unclasping his
stiffening hand, dropped the paper on the hearth.

Would the blaze reach it? Would he live to know?

Yes, the eager flame caught hold; he saw the red seals melt, his
signature disappear, and then--John Angus's greed for power was quenched
by that last act.

It was late the next morning that the man-servant, unable to open the
door, climbed in the open window and found his master fallen back in the
arm-chair, his bed untouched. When, panic-stricken, he opened the door,
calling loudly for help, Philip came quickly in, and saw his father, the
open safe, and the fragments of burnt legal papers on the hearthstone,
and reading the few words that remained, he understood. Putting his arms
about the lifeless form as he never before had dared, he thanked God in
his heart for the single tender memory.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though due show of public respect was paid in the last rites, as due to
a leading citizen whose name, known to them rather than his person, was
always first on the subscription papers alike for foreign missions and
civic improvements, John Angus's death did not affect any one. The only
person who really took it to heart was Oliver Gilbert. To him the one
idea was paramount, the death of his neighbor before the possibility of
mutual understanding had come, and with the Puritan strain of
self-reproach strong in him, Gilbert, sitting in his little shop,
mentally scourged himself and followed painfully on foot in company with
the humbler members of the town as though the fault lay on his side.

"What shall you do?" Jeanne Latimer had asked Poppea during the next day
when Philip was closeted with her husband in whose hands he had placed
all arrangements.

"Whatever Philip wishes," Poppea answered. "You know he is the family
now, and he will never broach the one point I cannot yield."

"Shall you wear black?" Jeanne continued with some hesitation.

"I think so, for a time," Poppea said with brows knitted, "or else
Philip will feel so entirely alone, so isolated."

In a week's time the lawyer, whom Poppea had met before, came to the
Rectory, where Philip had been staying since the funeral, for the boy
had told Stephen Latimer frankly that he should never again sleep in the
house on Windy Hill, where the servants now remained alone, awaiting
events and orders, or again go to the sombre city house that looked
across Washington Square.

The lawyer met Philip and Mr. Latimer alone, as Poppea had asked to be
released from any part in this interview, and spoke of the will that he
had drawn up within the month and produced the draft of it.

Philip laid on the table the scorched fragments found upon the hearth
on which a visible word here and there was enough to prove identity.

"Then the course of the law lies straight," the lawyer said; "but as Mr.
Philip Angus is a minor until next year, a guardian must be appointed."

"I shall petition that Mr. Latimer acts as such," Philip replied.

"What has Miss Angus--Gilbert--or whatever she persists in calling
herself, to say to that, pray?"

"She bids me say as her spokesman," Philip answered, "that she intends
to make no personal claim in the matter. Whatever may be hereafter
decided will be out of the range of business or of law and will lie only
between her brother and herself."

"A close corporation, it seems," said the lawyer, puckering his mouth
for a contemptuous whistle, but catching sight of a glance in Latimer's
eye, he checked it by remarking:--

"Pray tell me, as between man and man, is this young woman quite sane?
She can claim half of an ample though not princely property."

"Yes, quite sane," said Latimer, in accents as steely and clear-cut as
the man's own, "but the expression of her sanity does not chance to take
a form familiar to members of your calling."

After this the wheels of local probate law began to turn with their
usual deliberation.

At first Miss Emmy proposed to postpone their journey, but now it was
Poppea who urged her on, feeling the positive necessity of a change and
a little time away from familiar places, in which to readjust herself.
She not only now wished to look over the field for musical study at
close range, but dreams flitted through her head of a winter either in
Florence or in Rome in company with Philip, though not, perhaps, at
once; for winter was a perilous time for one of Oliver Gilbert's years,
and this winter the post-office would cease to be, in itself no small
bereavement to him.

Again Satira, her snapping black eyes always fixed eagerly upon the
bustling life of the village centre, came to the fore, and 'Lisha, good,
easy man, acquiesced, acknowledging that "twarn't no further to go up to
the corn and potato fields of mornings than, living on the hill, to hev
to drop down to the village o' nights for a dish of gossip and the
news."

Finally the day before the one for sailing came, and with it the
startling announcement from Oliver Gilbert that he was going to the city
to see Poppea off.

"Land alive! you'll get lost; you don't know how the city's changed
these near twenty years since the time you would fetch Poppy down to
President Lincoln's obsequies!" cried Satira. "I've heard Miss Emmy say
that what were cow pastures where she used to pick dandelions when a
girl are built solid over with emporiums of fashion. Besides, you've
never been aboard anything bigger'n Captain Secors's onion schooner, and
if that big thing they're going on began to get up steam and snort,
_how_ it would quake your vitals. It did mine that trip I took."

_That trip_ being the term applied to a wonderful excursion of the
previous summer, from Bridgeton to the new-found land of pleasure, Coney
Island, whither 'Lisha had taken her, and of which he was destined never
to hear the last.

But Gilbert saying in a tone that barred discussion that he would take
whatever risks there were, the matter was dropped as being decided.

Late in the scorching July afternoon he harnessed his old Roman-nosed
horse to the chaise and disappeared on the cross-road that ran eastward
toward the Moosatuck, without vouchsafing any explanation to his sister,
who, having questioned him in vain, called his attention to the
threatening array of 'thunder-heads' that were rolling over the hills,
every few seconds being rent together by forks of lightning.

He had been gone perhaps half an hour when the storm reached the
village, and great splashes of rain, falling upon the shed roof, were
turned into steam by the heat of the tin.

Poppea, having given the finishing touches to her simple packing, was
setting her room in order, fingering each article lovingly as though she
felt that even should she come back and find all as she left it, yet
there must be a difference.

As the rain increased to a steady downpour, she looked anxiously up the
road and made a mental calculation as to what houses lay on the route
Daddy had taken, and where he would be by now, his probable destination
having been as obscure to her as to Satira.

Meanwhile, the horse and chaise were standing in the shelter of an
abandoned lumber shack in the woods that overhung the west bank of
Moosatuck, while Gilbert, utterly oblivious of the rain that gradually
sifted to him through the heavy leafage, was following a narrow
foot-path. Glancing from side to side, he pulled a long string of
ground-pine here, there a fine branch of strong laurel, and then again a
handful of the dark green, white-veined leaves of the wax-flowered
pipsissewa; when his arms would hold no more and he again reached the
chaise, the thunder-heads were scurrying across the bay and the rain was
over.

Poppea had sorted the evening mail and was sitting at the desk in
Gilbert's workshop when he came in, slowly yet without his cane, and
crossing to where she was, laid his armful of dripping wood-treasure
before her, saying, half-shamedfacedly, yet as to one who would
understand:--

"Will you tie me a nice wreath, Poppy, like the one we always have to
hang up there at Christmas, lacking of course the berries? I guess I'll
go in and change and get a bite to eat, if you'll spell me here for
twenty minutes longer," and Poppea, with a comprehending smile and nod,
buried her face in the fresh, spicy greenery.

What Gilbert wanted with the wreath or did with it when he took it from
her hands presently, she did not know, for later, as she walked up and
down the flagged walk between the porch and gate, thinking of the
details of to-morrow, the latch clicked and Hugh Oldys came through the
wicket.

It was not alone the colorless twilight that made the change in his
face which struck her like a blow. Without having become absolutely
thin, the man of a year before, with height and breadth, good color,
wholesome flesh, natural joy and interest in life and living, seemed to
have passed through some phase that, while it spiritualized in a sense,
had eliminated much that was characteristic.

"Your mother--is she worse?" was Poppea's first question.

"I do not think so, though in a case like hers it is worse to be no
better. I should have been to see you many days ago but for a sudden
change in nurses. No one stays more than a month," he added, breaking
through his habitual reticence on this subject, as though at last he
must have the support of sympathy.

"No one but you, Hugh. Ah, how can you go on so when every one else
falters?"

"Because she is my mother and not theirs; in that lies all."

"All?" Poppea echoed, leaning toward him with such unmistakable
tenderness in her eyes that it must have broken through any self-raised
barrier of the man's had he but seen and compassed it. Yet he never
looked at her directly nor let her read his face, though it was not
until after he had gone that Poppea realized this.

For an hour the conversation drifted to casual things, and save for
Philip, his work and plans, in wholly impersonal channels, they two
sitting on the top step of the porch. When at last Hugh rose to go, and
walking slowly side by side down the narrow path they halted at the
end, one inside the gate, one without, he said, looking backward up the
way they had come, as if into the past:--

"It will be good when you come back, but it isn't to be supposed or
hoped that after you have made the break you will care for this sleepy
little village as you have, Poppea. I have always wondered why you cared
so little for the New York life with the fine opening you made. In the
few months I had there, the fulness and the vigor of it all gripped me
so that leaving was a wrench."

"For New York? Yes, I cared for that and all the best it gives. But the
life? Yes, I cared for that too, in a way, until I stood off and looked
back."

Then, clasping her hands about the post, she said, smiling shyly, with a
little quizzical expression at the corners of her mouth:--

"Do you remember once, long ago, how you and I stood by the railroad
brook and watched a big, striped snake charm and swallow a little green
frog?

"We didn't mean to let the affair come to the swallowing, but though the
beginning was slow, the frog sat still and waited too long, and the end
came quicker than we expected. Then, as the lump that was the frog began
to be moved down the snake's length in being digested, you took your
foot and little by little edged the frog backward out of the snake's
mouth to the ground, slime covered and quite insensible. Then we both
took water in our hands, and dashing it washed the slime away, until
presently the frog came to and hopped away like mad, without ever
looking back.

"Well, once upon a time, Hugh, as the fairy stories say, I was a little
green frog and the life down there the snake; it drew me, and I didn't
want to get away, until, when it was almost too late, one night a great
splash of cold water, thrown by people who did not throw it in kindness,
and that nearly strangled me, brought me to, and I hopped away without
even wishing to look back.

"So when you think to yourself again, 'Poppea will yet love the life of
the city,' remember the little green frog!"

Thus they parted in a sudden ripple of laughter, good friends.

Next day, in the hurry and bustle that always belong to an outgoing
steamer in the season of summer travel, some of those in the crowd on
the deck of the _Normanic_ were attracted by the sight of a young and
well-bred woman of unusual beauty, accompanied by a maid and some one
who might either be her mother or aunt, clinging tearfully about the
neck of an old man, whom she was wishing good-by. While there was
nothing unusual about the parting at such a time, yet the dainty dress
and bearing of the woman were in striking contrast to the homespun
plainness of the man, who wore the long, flowing beard, stiff clothes,
and wide-brimmed Panama hat, his Sunday best for years, that marks the
countryman. Moreover, he carried a home-made hickory cane and clutched
to his breast a bulky newspaper parcel.

When the final blast of "all ashore" was sounded, the air quivering with
the vibrations, the girl loosed her hold, and crying, "Good-by, dear
Daddy!" disappeared in the crowd that gathered by the stairway; while
he, turning toward the gang-plank, marched down it with all the
soldier-like precision his lameness would allow, never looking back, his
bundle still clasped tightly to him.

Boarding a small blue car known as a "bob-tail," Gilbert rode across the
city, carefully scanning his course. When he emerged presently from the
region of crooked ways to where the avenues run north and south and the
streets east and west, and saw ahead an open square, he stopped the car,
and standing at the street curb, shielding his eyes from the pitiless
sun, tried to get his bearings.

"Fourteenth Street," said one lamp-post, "University Place" another.
Yes, the park opposite was Union Square, but where was the house on
whose porch he had stood that April day in eighteen sixty-five when the
procession swung around from Broadway?

A business building covered with signs replaced it; yet at the same
moment, his eyes fell on what he sought. The statue of Lincoln, rugged
and majestic, standing above the cobbled plateau, calm and unmoved by
all the frantic bustle of the street.

Making his way carefully through the traffic, Gilbert approached the
rail about the statue. He paused for a moment, and then, undoing his
parcel, took from it the wreath, rested it on the railing, while he
folded the paper and, winding the string about it, placed it in his
pocket. Then getting stiffly over the barrier, he laid the wreath at
Lincoln's feet, raised his old hat, looking up into Lincoln's face as
one in perfect, if humble, comradeship, while his lips murmured,
"Through you I have finished the course, with you I have kept the
faith!"

The people of the street, big and little, loafer and gamin, who spring
up about an unusual object as swiftly as the circles surround a stone
flung in the water, neither jostled nor jeered nor plucked the wreath
away, for among the simple-minded, hero-worship will never die out save
for lack of heroes.

Then making his way back to Fifth Avenue, Gilbert, seeking the scanty
bits of shade as best he might, walked up its length until he reached
the third open space and turned eastward to the railway station.

At the coming of the evening mail he pottered as usual with the letters
as though that day had been like all the others, and ate his supper with
little sauce of conversation, to the inexpressible disappointment of
Satira Potts.



CHAPTER XX

ON THE WINGS OF THE MORNING


During the remainder of the summer the village of Harley's Mills went
into a sort of chrysalis state as befitted its coming change of name.
The fact that the Felton house had ceased to exist as a social centre
and that many of the Quality Hill folk had gone abroad added
considerably to its somnolence. Some of what are generally referred to
by the local press as "leading citizens" had under construction a brick
block on the Westboro side of the blacksmith shop in which the chief
trade interests of the place were to be sheltered, including the new
post-office.

Philip Angus continued with the Latimers, for his new house overlooking
the sea would not be ready before October, and if the rumor proved true
that Howell, the sculptor, was anxious to take Philip with him to winter
in Rome, it was unlikely that it would be occupied before spring.

Of course there was much speculation concerning the amount and
disposition of John Angus's property, especially his holdings in real
estate, for he owned some of the most sightly tracts in the township in
addition to the house and home acres on Windy Hill. Early in the autumn
a definite statement was given out concerning the latter by no less an
authority than Stephen Latimer. Poppea and Philip, agreeing that under
no circumstances could they live there, proposed to devote it to a
hospital and home for crippled children from the city, and the necessary
alterations began soon after.

It was almost Thanksgiving time when Miss Emmy and Poppea returned, Miss
Emmy going directly to the house on Quality Hill which she now called
home, Miss Felton and Caleb having moved Mr. Esterbrook back to Madison
Square at the beginning of cold weather. The village did not realize how
much it had missed them both until Poppea was again seen walking daily
up the road to Quality Hill, and Miss Emmy resumed her morning marketing
trips, where she sat in the barouche (the lining was now a durable
russet leather) dressed in very suitable and becoming brown with a
warming glint of color in the velvet rose on her bonnet, holding a sort
of court, whereat the butcher extolled the quality of his sweetbreads,
and the blacksmith's wife related the details of her rheumatism and her
husband's father's last seizure, with equal freedom.

Immediately after her return, Philip took Poppea to see the new house,
to which a music room with a place for an organ had been added to the
original plan by throwing out a wing to correspond with his studio. With
her arm about his shoulders they walked slowly through the rooms,
stopping before the picture that each window offered, until they came
to one on the second floor, a bay from which one might not only look out
to sea, but up the Moosatuck until it was lost in the hill-country.

"This is your room," he said, laying a detaining hand upon her arm to
make her hear him out, "whenever you wish to come to it for an hour or
forever, but I never shall ask you by so much as a word to leave Daddy,
for I feel about it much as you do. What if he had not? Oh, Sister, what
if he had not? You would have still been yourself, but I, what should I
have been without you to love?" and the rapt expression stole across his
face with which the devotee is pictured.

Presently, sitting side by side on the steps of the wide porch in the
early winter sunshine, they talked over Philip's plans, the tide
creeping up the sand laden with pungent seaweed, and the gulls now
flying across with shrill cries, now dropping to rest upon the water.

At last Philip, taking Poppea's hand and laying it against his cheek,
told her of what was closest to his heart,--his desire to go to Rome
with Howell for the winter, to do there with the master a piece of work
he could not hope yet to accomplish alone. Unrolling a paper he showed
her the design for the group, the outcome of months of thought and
dreaming. Two women, one taller than the other, with tender, radiant
faces, standing side by side, hands outstretched to aid a crippled
child, who, having dropped his crutch, was clinging to them. About the
base this legend ran _Amor Consolatrix_.

"These are our mothers," he said softly, "yours and mine. When they are
done in marble, they shall stand by the gate up at the hospital to
welcome the children who must go in alone."

So Philip sailed away, and from the Christmas music at St. Luke's his
silver voice was missing.

But if Philip's tones were silver, Poppea's now poured forth like rich,
unalloyed gold. It seemed to her as though she had never fathomed the
full joy of singing until, lacking necessity, it had ceased to be a
possible commercial profession, and become, as now she held it, a
freewill gift to all who asked for or needed it, singing alike in
church, hospital ward, the poor-house, or in the low farm-houses of the
back hill-country, where she carried hope and music to those for whom
all other doors were closed. Once even had she gone over the deeply
drifted roads on a wood sled with 'Lisha Potts to a revival meeting at
his lumber camp, and in the rough faces of the wood-choppers read a
deeper, truer appreciation than she had ever felt respond to her among
the music-lovers of the drawing-room.

Then, too, there were the Sunday evenings, she and Daddy sitting on
either side the fire in the foreroom,--Satira going invariably to the
muscular type of prayer-meeting that would satisfy her soul's hunger for
the next seven days.--Then the heartstrings would quiver in vain for the
magic thrill and the sound of the melody that only one may play for each
one of us, until to break the oppressive silence, she would lift the
piano lid and let her fingers feel their way a moment, until the
old-time hymns and anthems made response. Gradually Daddy would join in,
until at the end of half an hour he was singing with might and main,
although often quite off the key and half a bar behind. As she paused,
he would limp to and fro rubbing his hands together, and saying for the
fortieth time:--

"Pretty good music you and I can make, eh, Poppy? Forty years ago I was
the loudest bass singer in this township, and 'twas when I was singing
in First Church Choir that Mary, a stranger to me, sang the second
treble, and it was the kind way she had of keeping me in line when I'd
shied from the tuning-fork that made me take to her. Yes, it's true what
the poet says, that Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast. It
soothed mine, Poppy, who always had dreaded women."

So the winter wore away. March, the tug of war between seasons,
blustered out roaring defiance, and April, the capricious, in its last
week had kept to one mood long enough to green the grass, draw red blood
to the maple tops, and gold sap to the willows.

In two weeks more Philip would return. Poppea was entering the gate with
a letter from him that had come in the last mail. She had walked slowly
up from the new post-office in the brick block, reading it as she came.
How different all concerning the new order was, to be sure: _Entrance_
and _Exit_ printed plainly on the doors; no little knots of men from the
scattered back settlement exchanging news. Rather did these, after
getting their mail, continue to come to their old haunt and talk to
Gilbert as he sat in his shop, sometimes idle but never listless, while
a large checkerboard put by Poppea's suggestion in the place of the
boxes of the old beehive, filled the gap when the powers of conversation
needed rest.

She stopped to look at a cluster of daffodils, whose jolly yellow
flowers kept on beaming even through the dusk, and then went toward the
house, when the wheels of a vehicle, coming rapidly up the road, stopped
short, and Hugh Oldys's voice called:--

"Poppea, wait a minute, please," and without pausing to fasten the
horse, he pushed through the gate and strode toward her.

"What is it, Hugh?" she almost cried out, shocked by the ashiness of his
face and its nervous working. "Can I help you in any way?"

"Yes, you can help me and only you, though I do not know that I ought to
let you undergo the strain even if you are willing.

"Listen and judge, Poppea. Last night my mother became physically ill;
until then her bodily health has been better than for years. This
afternoon within two hours her mind has suddenly cleared, the doctors
explain it by the moving of a clot. She called me to her and spoke as
naturally as before the blow fell; yet she remembers perfectly well that
father is dead and that she has been very ill, though she has no sense
of the length of time. Then she begged me not to leave her for so long
again, and asked for you, Poppea."

"Why, Hugh, I will go to her at once. Could you think that I would not?"

"That--that is not all," he faltered, his shoulders drooping and his
whole attitude broken and dejected. "She thinks that everything is as
she had believed it would be--two years--ago. She thinks that we are
married--that you are in the house, but stay out of the room for fear of
disturbing her. Oh, Poppea, could you--could you slip a loose shawl or a
sack over your shoulders and go in for a moment and speak to her or
answer her, so that she need not know? Will you do it for the sake of
all those years that we were comrades?"

Only for a moment had Poppea drawn back, but it was so imperceptibly
that Hugh did not notice.

"I will go," she said slowly, without looking at him, "and you need wait
only a minute."

Going swiftly to her room, she made a wrapper and pair of slippers into
a hasty bundle and threw a light shawl about her head and shoulders.
Saying a few words to Satira, who was in the kitchen kneading bread and
so could not follow her to the gate for details other than she chose to
give, she took her place silently by Hugh in the buggy.

On the drive neither spoke, for it was one of the hours when the softest
spoken word is too harsh and jarring. Up from the marsh meadows the cry
of the rejuvenated "peepers" rose in what to Poppea's nerves, strained
to snapping, seemed a clamor that surrounded her head closely and dulled
even her powers of thought.

At the threshold Mrs. Shandy was waiting, her eyes red from crying. With
finger on her lips Poppea signalled that she wished to go to Mrs.
Shandy's room. There she slipped on the wrapper she had brought, and
loosing the pins, let her hair fall in a careless braid, as though she
had but just waked up.

In the square upper hall Dr. Morewood sat in a deep easy-chair, reading
by a shaded lamp. In answer to Poppea's questioning look he said in the
low tone, that yet is not a whisper, which the sensitive physician
acquires:--

"Yes, the brain is clear, but the physical vitality in its final
flicker; at best it can hold its own but a few hours."

When, steadying herself by an almost superhuman effort, Poppea reached
the door of Mrs. Oldys's chamber, so familiar in every detail even in
the subdued light, Hugh was already there crouched by the bedside, one
of his mother's transparent hands clasping his, while with the other she
was striving to push back the heavy hair from his forehead.

At the sight of Poppea the nurse drew back into the alcove shadows.
Seating herself in a vacant chair on the opposite side from Hugh and
waiting a few seconds, the girl made a very slight motion that revealed
her presence.

"My dear daughter!" Mrs. Oldys formed the words rather than spoke them,
dropping her other hand upon Poppea's so that she was held fast as it
were between them.

"Why have you stayed away so long? I have thought that you were ill,"
the voice was clearer now. "Did Hugh break your sleep to call you?"

"No,--Mother,--I was quite awake when he said you wanted me."

"And you will stay with me to-night?"

"Yes, surely I will stay."

"Now I am at peace, my two dear children--" the fluttering eyelids
closed and for a while she seemed to sleep, except that the pressure of
her hands did not relax.

Presently she looked up again.

"I cannot seem to think by myself," she said, "I need something to lean
upon--to carry me with it. Do you remember, Hugh, the music--the song
that you and Poppy used to sing sometimes without the organ? It brought
me close to the gate--perhaps it would carry me through with it
to-night."

Poppea, who was trembling like a leaf in the wind, looked toward Hugh,
but his face was buried in his arm. Then a calm settled over her.
Loosening the robe at her throat, she straightened herself, and from her
lips the notes fell soft yet clear:--

    "Hark! hark, my soul; angelic songs are swelling."

An expression of ineffable peace crossed Mrs. Oldys's face.

"Yes, that is it," she whispered, smiling.

Unfalteringly Poppea sang to the end, and it was not until the last note
died away in complete silence that Hugh raised his head.

Presently the doctor looked in, the nurse came forward with some
nourishment, and so the night wore on, but it was not until the dawn
began to scatter darkness that the frail hands gradually relaxed their
loving clasp, and the nurse looking from the shadows beckoned the
watchers away.

Through the passageway and down the stairs Hugh and Poppea passed
together. Then Hugh left her for a moment, returning to say that Dr.
Morewood would drive her home as she must have some rest as soon as
possible.

Mrs. Shandy, coming out, begged her to wait and take a cup of coffee,
but Poppea shook her head.

Out on the porch in the fresh, yet mysterious air of coming day, they
waited for the doctor to bring his chaise. Below lay Moosatuck veiled in
mist; beyond, the blue ridge of the hills; one bird called, then
another, until half a hundred had picked up the anthem. Each moment it
grew lighter, the darkness huddled cornerwise down the west, while the
morning star and the harbor beacon paled together.

For a time neither spoke nor looked at each other, then Hugh broke the
silence.

"In a few days, Poppea,--when I am no longer needed,--I shall be going
away for a rest, a long rest, and perhaps it may be that afterward my
life will lie in other places." Then suddenly breaking down, he grasped
her hands, and pressing them to his lips, said, with a half-suppressed
cry:--

"Little comrade! Little comrade! All that I can tell you, all that I
must tell you, is that God himself could not have done more for me than
you have this night."

Poppea, who had been looking off into the sunrise, turned her head
quickly, and for the first time in months, found his eyes fixed full
upon her face before he could shift them.

At last she knew! Leaving her hands in his, she leaned toward him,
murmuring in a voice so full of joy that it quivered as though strung
with tears:--

"Where is more rest than here? _I_ need you, Hugh!"

Then to the one behind the closed door and to the two facing the dawn a
new life came on the wings of the morning.


THE END



NOVELS, ETC., BY "BARBARA"

(MABEL OSGOOD WRIGHT)


The Garden of a Commuter's Wife Illustrated

"Reading it is like having the entry into a home of the class that is
the proudest product of our land, a home where love of books and love of
nature go hand in hand with hearty, simple love of 'folks.' ... It is a
charming book."--_The Interior._


People of the Whirlpool Illustrated

"The whole book is delicious, with its wise and kindly humor, its just
perspective of the true values of things, its clever pen pictures of
people and customs, and its healthy optimism for the great world in
general."--_Philadelphia Evening Telegraph._


The Woman Errant

"The book is worth reading. It will cause discussion. It is an
interesting fictional presentation of an important modern question,
treated with fascinating feminine adroitness."--Miss Jeannette Gilder in
the _Chicago Tribune_.


At the Sign of the Fox

"Her little pictures of country life are fragrant with a genuine love of
nature, and there is fun as genuine in her notes on rural
character."--_New York Tribune._


The Garden, You and I

"This volume is simply the best she has yet put forth, and quite too
deliciously torturing to the reviewer, whose only garden is in Spain....
The delightful humor which pervaded the earlier books, and without
which Barbara would not be Barbara, has lost nothing of its
poignancy."--_Congregationalist._


The Open Window. Tales of the Months.

"A little vacation from the sophistication of the
commonplace."--_Argonaut._


Poppea of the Post Office

       *       *       *       *       *

By EDEN PHILLPOTTS


The Three Brothers

"'The Three Brothers' seems to us the best yet of the long series of
these remarkable Dartmoor tales. If Shakespeare had written novels we
can think that some of his pages would have been like some of these.
Here certainly is language, turn of humor, philosophical play, vigor of
incident such as might have come straight from Elizabeth's day.... The
story has its tragedy, but this is less dire, more reasonable than the
tragedy is in too many of Mr. Phillpotts's other tales. The book is full
of a very moving interest, and it is agreeable and beautiful."--_The New
York Sun._


By Miss ELLEN GLASGOW

The Romance of a Plain Man

"From the first she has had the power to tell a strong story, full of
human interest, but as her work has continued it has shown an increasing
mellowness and sympathy. The atmosphere of this book is fascinating
indeed."--_Chicago Tribune._


By FRANK DANBY

The Heart of a Child

BEING PASSAGES FROM THE EARLY LIFE OF SALLY SNAPE, LADY KIDDERMINSTER

"'Frank Danby' has found herself. It is full of the old wit, the old
humor, the old epigram, and the old knowledge of what I may call the
Bohemia of London; but it is also full of a new quality, the quality of
imaginative tenderness and creative sympathy. It is delightful to watch
the growth of human character either in life or in literature, and in
'The Heart of a Child' one can see the brilliancy of Frank Danby
suddenly burgeoning into the wistfulness that makes cleverness soft and
exquisite and delicate.... It is a mixture of naturalism and romance,
and one detects in it the miraculous power ... of seeing things steadily
and seeing them wholly, with relentless humor and pitiless pathos. The
book is crowded with types, and they are all etched in with masterly
fidelity of vision and sureness of touch, with feminine subtlety as well
as virile audacity."--James Douglas in _The Star_, London.


Sebastian. A Son of Dreams.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. ROBERT HERRICK'S NOVELS


The Gospel of Freedom

"A novel that may truly be called the greatest study of social life, in
a broad and very much up-to-date sense, that has ever been contributed
to American fiction."--_Chicago Inter-Ocean._


The Web of Life

"It is strong in that it faithfully depicts many phases of American
life, and uses them to strengthen a web of fiction, which is most
artistically wrought out."--_Buffalo Express._


Jock o' Dreams, or The Real World

"The title of the book has a subtle intention. It indicates, and is true
to the verities in doing so, the strange dreamlike quality of life to
the man who has not yet fought his own battles, or come into conscious
possession of his will--only such battles bite into the
consciousness."--_Chicago Tribune._


The Common Lot

"It grips the reader tremendously.... It is the drama of a human soul
the reader watches ... the finest study of human motive that has
appeared for many a day."--_The World To-day._


The Memoirs of an American Citizen. Illustrated with about fifty
drawings by F. B. Masters.

"Mr. Herrick's book is a book among many, and he comes nearer to
reflecting a certain kind of recognizable, contemporaneous American
spirit than anybody has yet done."--_New York Times._

"Intensely absorbing as a story, it is also a crisp, vigorous document
of startling significance. More than any other writer to-day he is
giving us the American novel."--_New York Globe._


Together

"The thing is straight from life.... The spirit of the book is in the
end bracing and quickening."--_Chicago Evening Post._

"An able book, remarkably so, and one which should find a place in the
library of any woman who is not a fool."--_New York American._

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. WINSTON CHURCHILL'S NOVELS


Mr. Crewe's Career Illustrated

"Another chapter in his broad, epical delineation of the American
spirit.... It is an honest and fair story.... It is very interesting;
and the heroine is a type of woman as fresh, original, and captivating
as any that has appeared in American novels for a long time past."--_The
Outlook_, New York.

"Shows Mr. Churchill at his best. The flavor of his humor is of that
stimulating kind which asserts itself just the moment, as it were, after
it has passed the palate.... As for Victoria, she has that quality of
vivid freshness, tenderness, and independence which makes so many modern
American heroines delightful."--_The Times_, London.


The Celebrity. An Episode

"No such piece of inimitable comedy in a literary way has appeared for
years.... It is the purest, keenest fun."--_Chicago Inter-Ocean._


Richard Carvel Illustrated

"... In breadth of canvas, massing of dramatic effect, depth of feeling,
and rare wholesomeness of spirit, it has seldom, if ever, been surpassed
by an American romance."--_Chicago Tribune._


The Crossing Illustrated

"'The Crossing' is a thoroughly interesting book, packed with exciting
adventure and sentimental incident, yet faithful to historical fact both
in detail and in spirit."--_The Dial._


The Crisis Illustrated

"It is a charming love story, and never loses its interest.... The
intense political bitterness, the intense patriotism of both parties,
are shown understandingly."--_Evening Telegraph_, Philadelphia.


Coniston Illustrated

"'Coniston' has a lighter, gayer spirit and a deeper, tenderer touch
than Mr. Churchill has ever achieved before.... It is one of the truest
and finest transcripts of modern American life thus far achieved in our
fiction."--_Chicago Record-Herald._





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