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´╗┐Title: The Iron Woman
Author: Deland, Margaret Wade Campbell, 1857-1945
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 "The Iron Woman" ***

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THE IRON WOMAN

BY

MARGARET DELAND

"_This was the iniquity ... fulness of bread, and abundance of
idleness...._"--EZEKIEL, xvi., 49



TO MY

PATIENT, RUTHLESS, INSPIRING CRITIC LORIN DELAND

August 12, 1911



ILLUSTRATIONS

   "LOOK!"
   "BLAIR IS IN LOVE WITH ME!"
   "I THINK YOU ARE REASONABLE ENOUGH FOR BOTH OF US"
   "ELIZABETH, MARRY ME!"
   "OF COURSE YOU KNOW MY OPINION OF YOU"
   SHE WHEELED ABOUT, AND STOOD, SWAYING WITH FRIGHT
   "WILL YOU LIVE? WILL YOU GIVE ME LIFE?"
   CLUTCHING HER SHOULDER, SHE LOOKED HARD INTO THE YOUNGER
        WOMAN'S FACE



THE IRON WOMAN



CHAPTER I

"Climb up in this tree, and play house!" Elizabeth Ferguson commanded.
She herself had climbed to the lowest branch of an apple-tree in the
Maitland orchard, and sat there, swinging her white-stockinged legs so
recklessly that the three children whom she had summoned to her side,
backed away for safety. "If you don't," she said, looking down at them,
"I'm afraid, perhaps, maybe, I'll get mad."

Her foreboding was tempered by a giggle and by the deepening dimple in
her cheek, but all the same she sighed with a sort of impersonal regret
at the prospect of any unpleasantness. "It would be too bad if I got
mad, wouldn't it?" she said thoughtfully. The others looked at one
another in consternation. They knew so well what it meant to have
Elizabeth "mad," that Nannie Maitland, the oldest of the little group,
said at once, helplessly, "Well."

Nannie was always helpless with Elizabeth, just as she was helpless
with her half-brother, Blair, though she was ten and Elizabeth and
Blair were only eight; but how could a little girl like Nannie be
anything but helpless before a brother whom she adored, and a wonderful
being like Elizabeth?--Elizabeth! who always knew exactly what she
wanted to do, and who instantly "got mad," if you wouldn't say you'd do
it, too; got mad, and then repented, and hugged you and kissed you, and
actually cried (or got mad again), if you refused to accept as a sign
of your forgiveness her new slate-pencil, decorated with strips of
red-and-white paper just like a little barber's pole! No wonder Nannie,
timid and good-natured, was helpless before such a sweet, furious
little creature! Blair had more backbone than his sister, but even he
felt Elizabeth's heel upon his neck. David Richie, a silent, candid,
very stubborn small boy, was, after a momentary struggle, as meek as
the rest of them. Now, when she commanded them all to climb, it was
David who demurred, because, he said, he spoke first for Indians
tomahawking you in the back parlor.

"Very well!" said the despot; "play your old Indians! I'll never speak
to any of you again as long as I live!"

"I've got on my new pants," David objected.

"Take 'em off!" said Elizabeth. And there is no knowing what might have
happened if the decorous Nannie had not come to the rescue.

"That's not proper to do out-of-doors; and Miss White says not to say
'pants.'"

Elizabeth looked thoughtful. "Maybe it isn't proper," she admitted;
"but David, honest, I took a hate to being tommy-hocked the last time
we played it; so please, _dear_ David! If you'll play house in the
tree, I'll give you a piece of my taffy." She took a little sticky
package out of her pocket and licked her lips to indicate its
contents;--David yielded, shinning up the trunk of the tree,
indifferent to the trousers, which had been on his mind ever since he
had put them on his legs.

Blair followed him, but Nannie squatted on the ground content to merely
look at the courageous three.

"Come on up," said Elizabeth. Nannie shook her little blond head. At
which the others burst into a shrill chorus: "'Fraid-cat! 'fraid-cat!
'fraid-cat!" Nannie smiled placidly; it never occurred to her to deny
such an obviously truthful title. "Blair," she said, continuing a
conversation interrupted by Elizabeth's determination to climb, "Blair,
_why_ do you say things that make Mamma mad? What's the sense? If it
makes her mad for you to say things are ugly, why do you?"

"'Cause," Blair said briefly. Even at eight Blair disliked both
explanations and decisions, and his slave and half-sister rarely
pressed for either. With the exception of his mother, whose absorption
in business had never given her time to get acquainted with him, most
of the people about Blair were his slaves. Elizabeth's governess, Miss
White--called by Elizabeth, for reasons of her own, "Cherry-pie"--had
completely surrendered to his brown eyes; the men in the Maitland Works
toadied to him; David Richie blustered, perhaps, but always gave in to
him; in his own home, Harris, who was a cross between a butler and a
maid-of-all-work, adored him to the point of letting him make candy on
the kitchen stove--probably the greatest expression of affection
possible to the kitchen; in fact, little Elizabeth Ferguson was the
only person in his world who did not knuckle down to this pleasant and
lovable child. But then, Elizabeth never knuckled down to anybody!
Certainly not to kind old Cherry-pie, whose timid upper lip quivered
like a rabbit's when she was obliged to repeat to her darling some new
rule of Robert Ferguson's for his niece's upbringing; nor did she
knuckle down to her uncle;--she even declared she was not at all afraid
of him! This was almost unbelievable to the others, who scattered like
robins if they heard his step. And she had greater courage than this;
she had, in fact, audacity! for she said she was willing--this the
others told each other in awed tones--she said she had "just as lieves"
walk right up and speak to Mrs. Maitland herself, and ask her for
twenty cents so she could treat the whole crowd to ice-cream! That is,
she would just as lieves, _if she should happen to want to_. Now, as
she sat in the apple-tree swinging her legs and sharing her taffy, it
occurred to her to mention, apropos of nothing, her opinion of Mrs.
Maitland's looks:

"I like Blair's mother best; but David's mother is prettier than
Blair's mother."

"It isn't polite to brag on mothers," said David, surveying his new
trousers complacently, "but I know what I think."

Blair, jouncing up and down on his branch, agreed with unoffended
candor. "'Course she's prettier. Anybody is. Mother's ugly."

"It isn't right to say things like that out of the family," Nannie
observed.

"This _is_ the family. You're going to marry David, and I'm going to
marry Elizabeth. And I'm going to be awfully rich; and I'll give all
you children a lot of money. Jimmy Sullivan--he's a friend of mine; I
got acquainted with him yesterday, and he's the biggest puddler in our
Works. Jimmie said, 'You're the only son,' he said, 'you'll get it
all.' 'Course I told him I'd give him some," said Blair.

At this moment Elizabeth was moved to catch David round the neck, and
give him a loud kiss on his left ear. David sighed. "You may kiss me,"
he said patiently; "but I'd rather you'd tell me when you want to. You
knocked off my cap."

"Say, David," Nannie said, flinging his cap up to him, "Blair can stand
on his head and count five. You can't."

At this David's usual admiration for Blair suffered an eclipse; he grew
very red, then exploded: "I--I--I've had mumps, and I have two warts,
and Blair hasn't. And I have a real dining-room at my house, and Blair
hasn't!"

Nannie flew to the rescue: "You haven't got a real mother. You are only
an adopted."

"Well, what are you?" David said, angrily; "you're nothing but a Step."

"I haven't got any kind of a mother," Elizabeth said, with complacent
melancholy.

"Stop fighting," Blair commanded amiably; "David is right; we have a
pigsty of a dining-room at our house." He paused to bend over and touch
with an ecstatic finger a flake of lichen covering with its serpent
green the damp, black bark in the crotch of the old tree. "Isn't that
pretty?" he said.

"You ought not to say things about our house," Nannie reproved him. As
Blair used to say when he grew up, "Nannie was born proper."

"Why not?" said Blair. "They know everything is ugly at our house.
They've got real dining-rooms at their houses; they don't have old
desks round, the way we do."

It was in the late sixties that these children played in the apple-tree
and arranged their conjugal future; at that time the Maitland house was
indeed, as poor little Blair said, "ugly." Twenty years before, its
gardens and meadows had stretched over to the river; but the estate had
long ago come down in size and gone up in dollars. Now, there was
scarcely an acre of sooty green left, and it was pressed upon by the
yards of the Maitland Works, and almost islanded by railroad tracks.
Grading had left the stately and dilapidated old house somewhat above
the level of a street noisy with incessant teaming, and generally
fetlock-deep in black mud. The house stood a little back from the badly
paved sidewalk; its meager dooryard was inclosed by an iron fence--a
row of black and rusted spears, spotted under their tines with
innumerable gray cocoons. (Blair and David made constant and furtive
attempts to lift these spears, socketed in crumbling lead in the
granite base, for of course there could be nothing better for fighting
Indians than a real iron spear.) The orchard behind the house had been
cut in two by a spur track, which brought jolting gondola cars piled
with red ore down to the furnace. The half dozen apple-trees that were
left stretched gaunt arms over sour, grassless earth; they put out
faint flakes of blossoms in the early spring, and then a fleeting show
of greenness, which in a fortnight shriveled and blackened out of all
semblance of foliage. But all the same the children found it a
delightful place to play, although Blair sometimes said sullenly that
it was "ugly." Blair hated ugly things, and, poor child! he was
assailed by ugliness on every side. The queer, disorderly dining-room,
in which for reasons of her own Mrs. Maitland transacted so much of her
business that it had become for all practical purposes an office of her
Works, was perhaps the "ugliest" thing in the world to the little boy.

"Why don't we have a real dining-room?" he said once; "why do we have
to eat in a office?"

"We'll eat in the kitchen, if I find it convenient," his mother told
him, looking at him over her newspaper, which was propped against a
silver coffee-urn that had found a clear space on a breakfast table
cluttered with papers and ledgers.

"They have a bunch of flowers on the table up at David's house," the
little boy complained; "I don't see why we can't."

"I don't eat flowers," Mrs. Maitland said grimly.

"I don't eat papers," Blair said, under his breath; and his mother
looked at him helplessly. How is one to reply to a child of eight who
makes remarks of this kind? Mrs. Maitland did not know; it was one of
the many things she did not know in relation to her son; for at that
time she loved him with her mind rather than her body, so she had none
of those soft intuitions and persuasions of the flesh which instruct
most mothers. In her perplexity she expressed the sarcastic anger one
might vent upon an equal under the same circumstances:

"You'd eat nothing at all, young man, let me tell you, if it wasn't for
the 'papers,' as you call 'em, in this house!" But it was no wonder
that Blair called it ugly--the house, the orchard, the Works--even his
mother, in her rusty black alpaca dress, sitting at her desk in the
big, dingy dining-room, driving her body and soul, and the bodies and
souls of her workmen--all for the sake of the little, shrinking boy,
who wanted a bunch of flowers on the table. Poor mother! Poor son! And
poor little proper, perplexed half-sister, looking on, and trying to
make peace. Nannie's perplexities had begun very far back. Of course
she was too young when her father married his second wife to puzzle
over that; but if she did not, other people did. Why a mild, vague
young widower who painted pictures nobody bought, and was as
unpractical as a man could be whose partnership in an iron-works was a
matter of inheritance--why such a man wanted to marry Miss Sarah Blair
was beyond anybody's wisdom. It is conceivable, indeed, that he did not
want to.

There were rumors that after the death of Nannie's mother, Herbert
Maitland had been inclined to look for consolation to a certain Miss
Molly Wharton (she that afterward married another widower, Henry
Knight); and everybody thought Miss Molly was willing to smile upon
him. Be that as it may, he suddenly found himself the husband of his
late partner's daughter, a woman eight years older than he, and at
least four inches taller; a silent, plain woman, of devastating common
sense, who contradicted all those femininities and soft lovelinesses so
characteristic, not only of his first wife but of pretty Molly Wharton
also.

John Blair, the father of the second Mrs. Maitland, an uneducated,
extremely intelligent man, had risen from puddling to partnership in
the Maitland Works. There had been no social relations between Mr.
Maitland, Sr., and this new member of the firm, but the older man had a
very intimate respect, and even admiration for John Blair. When he came
to die he confided his son's interests to his partner with absolute
confidence that they would be safe. "Herbert has no gumption, John," he
said; "he wants to be an 'artist.' You've got to look after him." "I
will, Mr. Maitland, I will," said John Blair, snuffling and blowing his
nose on a big red pocket-handkerchief. He did look after him. He put
Herbert's affairs ahead of his own, and he made it clear to his
daughter, who in business matters was, curiously enough, his right-hand
man, that "Maitland's boy" was always, as he expressed it, "to have the
inside track."

"I ain't bothering about you, Sally; I'll leave you enough. And if I
didn't, you could scratch gravel for yourself. But Maitland's boy ain't
our kind. He must be taken care of."

When John Blair died, perhaps a sort of faithfulness to his wishes made
his Sally "take care" of Herbert Maitland by marrying him. "His child
certainly does need a mother," she thought;--"an intelligent mother,
not a goose." By and by she told Herbert of his child's need; or at any
rate helped him to infer it. And somehow, before he knew it, he married
her. By inheritance they owned the Works between them; so really their
marriage was, as the bride expressed it, "a very sensible arrangement";
and any sensible arrangement appealed to John Blair's daughter. But
after a breathless six months of partnership--in business if in nothing
else--Herbert Maitland, leaving behind him his little two-year-old
Nannie, and an unborn boy of whose approaching advent he was ignorant,
got out of the world as expeditiously as consumption could take him.
Indeed, his wife had so jostled him and deafened him and dazed him that
there was nothing for him to do but die--so that there might be room
for her expanding energy. Yet she loved him; nobody who saw her in
those first silent, agonized months could doubt that she loved him. Her
pain expressed itself, not in moans or tears or physical prostration,
but in work. Work, which had been an interest, became a refuge. Under
like circumstances some people take to religion and some to drink; as
Mrs. Maitland's religion had never been more than church-going and
contributions to foreign missions, it was, of course, no help under the
strain of grief; and as her temperament did not dictate the other means
of consolation, she turned to work. She worked herself numb; very
likely she had hours when she did not feel her loss. But she did not
feel anything else. Not even her baby's little clinging hands, or his
milky lips at her breast. She did her duty by him; she hired a reliable
woman to take charge of him, and she was careful to appear at regular
hours to nurse him. She ordered toys for him, and as she shared the
naive conviction of her day that church-going and religion were
synonymous, she began, when he was four years old, to take him to
church. In her shiny, shabby black silk, which had been her Sunday
costume ever since it had been purchased as part of her curiously
limited trousseau she sat in a front pew, between the two children, and
felt that she was doing her duty to both of them. A sense of duty
without maternal instinct is not, perhaps, as baleful a thing as
maternal instinct without a sense of duty, but it is sterile; and in
the first few years of her bereavement, the big, suffering woman seemed
to have nothing but duty to offer to her child. Nannie's puzzles began
then. "Why don't Mamma hug my baby brother?" she used to ask the nurse,
who had no explanation to offer. The baby brother was ready enough to
hug Nannie, and his eager, wet little kisses on her rosy cheeks sealed
her to his service while he was still in petticoats. Blair was three
years old before, under the long atrophy of grief, Sarah Maitland's
maternal instinct began to stir. When it did, she was chilled by the
boy's shrinking from her as if from a stranger; she was chilled, too,
by another sort of repulsion, which with the hideous candor of
childhood he made no effort to conceal. One of his first expressions of
opinion had been contained in the single word "uggy," accompanied by a
finger pointed at his mother. Whenever she sneezed--and she was one of
those people who cannot, or do not, moderate a sneeze--Blair had a
nervous paroxysm. He would jump at the unexpected sound, then burst
into furious tears. When she tried to draw his head down upon her
scratchy black alpaca breast, he would say violently, "No, no! No, no!"
at which she would push him roughly from her knee, and fall into hurt
silence. Once, when he was five years old, she came in to dinner hot
from a morning in the Works, her moist forehead grimy with dust, and
bent over to kiss him; at which the little boy wrinkled up his nose and
turned his face aside.

"What's the matter?" his mother said; and called sharply to the nurse:
"I won't have any highfalutin' business in this boy! Get it out of
him." Then resolutely she took Blair's little chin in her hand--a big,
beautiful, powerful hand, with broken and blackened nails--and turning
his wincing face up, rubbed her cheek roughly against his. "Get over
your airs!" she said, and sat down and ate her dinner without another
word to Blair or any one else. But the next day, as if to purchase the
kiss he would not give, she told him he was to have an "allowance." The
word had no meaning to the little fellow, until she showed him two
bright new dollars and said he could buy candy with them; then his
brown eyes smiled, and he held up his lips to her. It was at that
moment that money began to mean something to him. He bought the candy,
which he divided with Nannie, and he bought also a present for his
mother,--a bottle of cologne, with a tiny calendar tied around its neck
by a red ribbon. "The ribbon is pretty," he explained shyly. She was so
pleased that she instantly gave him another dollar, and then put the
long green bottle on her painted pine bureau, between two of his
photographs.

In the days when the four children played in the orchard, and had
lessons with Miss White, in the school-room in Mr. Ferguson's garret,
and were "treated" by Blair to candy or pink ice-cream--even in those
days Mercer was showing signs of what it was ultimately to become: the
apotheosis of materialism and vulgarity. Iron was entering into its
soul. It thought extremely well of itself; when a new mill was built,
or a new furnace blown in, it thought still better of itself. It prided
itself upon its growth; in fact, its complacency, its ugliness and its
size kept pace with one another.

"Look at our output," Sarah Maitland used to brag to her general
manager, Mr. Robert Ferguson; "and look at our churches! We have more
churches for our size than any town west of the Alleghanies."

"We need more jails than any town, east or west," Mr. Ferguson
retorted, grimly.

Mrs. Maitland avoided the deduction. Her face was full of pride. "You
just wait! We'll be the most important city in this country yet,
because we will hold the commerce of the world right here in our
mills!" She put out her great open palm, and slowly closed the strong,
beautiful fingers into a gripping fist. "The commerce of the world,
right _here_!" she said, thrusting the clenched hand, that quivered a
little, almost into his face.

Robert Ferguson snorted. He was a melancholy man, with thin, bitterly
sensitive lips, and kind eyes that were curiously magnified by
gold-rimmed eyeglasses, which he had a way of knocking off with
disconcerting suddenness. He did not, he declared, trust anybody.
"What's the use?" he said; "you only get your face slapped!" For his
part, he believed the Eleventh Commandment was, "Blessed is he that
expecteth nothing, because he'll get it."

"Read your Bible!" Mrs. Maitland retorted; "then you'll know enough to
call it a Beatitude, not a Commandment."

Mr. Ferguson snorted again. "Bible? It's all I can do to get time to
read my paper. I'm worked to death," he reproached her. But in spite of
being worked to death he always found time on summer evenings to weed
the garden in his back yard, or on winter mornings to feed a flock of
Mercer's sooty pigeons; and he had been known to walk all over town to
find a particular remedy for a sick child of one of his molders. To be
sure he alleged, when Mrs. Maitland accused him of kindness, that, as
far as the child was concerned, he was a fool for his pains, because
human critters ("I'm one of 'em myself,") were a bad lot and it would
be a good thing if they all died young!

"Oh, you have a fine bark, friend Ferguson," she said, "but when it
comes to a bite, I guess most folks get a kiss from you."

"Kiss?" said Robert Ferguson, horrified; "not much!"

They were very good friends, these two, each growling at, disapproving
of, and completely trusting the other. Mrs. Maitland's chief
disapproval of her superintendent--for her reproaches about his bark
were really expressions of admiration--her serious disapproval was
based on the fact that, when the season permitted, he broke the Sabbath
by grubbing in his garden, instead of going to church. A grape-arbor
ran the length of this garden, and in August the Isabellas, filmed with
soot, had a flavor, Robert Ferguson thought, finer than could be found
in any of the vineyards lying in the hot sunshine on the banks of the
river, far out of reach of Mercer's smoke. There was a flagstone path
around the arbor, and then borders of perennials against brick walls
thick with ivy or hidden by trellised peach-trees. All summer long bees
came to murmur among the flowers, and every breeze that blew over them
carried some sweetness to the hot and tired streets outside. It was a
spot of perfume and peace, and it was no wonder that the hard-working,
sad-eyed man liked to spend his Sundays in it. But "remembering the
Sabbath" was his employer's strong point. Mrs. Maitland kept the Fourth
Commandment with passion. Her Sundays, dividing each six days of
extraordinary activity, were arid stretches of the unspeakable dullness
of idleness. When Blair grew up he used to look back at those Sundays
and shudder. There was church and Sunday-school in the morning, then a
cold dinner, for cold roast beef was Mrs. Maitland's symbol of
Sabbatical holiness. Then an endless, vacant afternoon, spent always
indoors. Certain small, pious books were permitted the two
children--_Little Henry and His Bearer, The Ministering Children_, and
like moral food; but no games, no walks, no playing in the orchard.
Silence and weary idleness and Little Henry's holy arrogances. Though
the day must have been as dreary to Mrs. Maitland as it was to her son
and daughter, she never winced. She sat in the parlor, dressed in black
silk, and read _The Presbyterian_ and the Bible. She never allowed
herself to look at her desk in the dining-room, or even at her
knitting, which on week-days when she had no work to do was a great
resource; she looked at the clock a good deal, and sometimes she
sighed, then applied herself to _The Presbyterian_. She went to bed at
half-past seven as against eleven or twelve on other nights, first
reading, with extraordinary rapidity, her "Chapter." Mrs. Maitland had
a "system" by which she was able to read the Bible through once a year.
She frequently recommended it to her superintendent; to her way of
thinking such reading was accounted to her as righteousness.

Refreshed by a somnolent Sunday, she would rush furiously into business
on Monday morning, and Mr. Robert Ferguson, who never went to church,
followed in her wake, doing her bidding with grim and admiring
thoroughness. If not "worked to death," he was, at any rate, absorbed
in her affairs. Even when he went home at night, and, on summer
evenings, fell to grubbing in his narrow back yard, where his niece
"helped" him by pushing a little wheelbarrow over the mossy
flagstones,--even then he did not dismiss Mrs. Maitland's business from
his mind. He was scrupulous to say, as he picked up the weeds scattered
from the wheelbarrow, "Have you been a good little girl to-day,
Elizabeth?" but all the while, in his own thoughts he was going over
matters at the Works. On Sundays he managed to get far enough away from
business to interrogate Miss White about his niece:

"I hope Elizabeth is behaving herself, Miss White?"

"Oh yes; she is a dear, good child."

"Well, you never can tell about children,--or anybody else. Keep a
sharp eye on her, Miss White. And be careful, please, about vanity. I
thought I saw her looking in the mirror in the hall this morning.
Please discourage any signs of vanity."

"She hasn't a particle of vanity!" Miss White said warmly.

But in spite of such assurances, Mr. Ferguson was always falling into
bleakly apprehensive thoughts of his little girl, obstinately denying
his pride in her, and allowing himself only the meager hope that she
would "turn out fairly decently." Vanity was his especial concern, and
he was more than once afraid he had discovered it: Elizabeth was not
allowed to go to dancing-school--dancing and vanity were somehow
related in her uncle's mind; so the vital, vivid little creature
expressed the rhythm that was in her by dancing without instruction,
keeping time with loud, elemental cadences of her own composing, not
always melodious, but always in time. Sometimes she danced thus in the
school-room; sometimes in Mrs. Todd's "ice-cream parlor" at the farther
end of Mercer's old wooden bridge; once--and this was one of the
occasions when Mr. Ferguson thought he had detected the vice he
dreaded--once she danced in his very own library! Up and down she went,
back and forth, before a long mirror that stood between the windows.
She had put a daffodowndilly behind each ear, and twisted a dandelion
chain around her neck. She looked, as she came and went, smiling and
dimpling at herself in the shadowy depths of the mirror, like a
flower--a flower in the wind!--bending and turning and swaying, and
singing as she danced: "Oh, isn't it joyful--joyful--joyful!"

It was then that her uncle came upon her; for just a moment he stood
still in involuntary delight, then remembered his theories; there was
certainly vanity in her primitive adornment! He knocked his glasses off
with a fierce gesture, and did his duty by barking at her,--as Mrs.
Maitland would have expressed it. He told her in an angry voice that
she must go to bed for the rest of the day! at least, if she ever did
it again, she must go to bed for the rest of the day.

Another time he felt even surer of the feminine failing: Elizabeth
said, in his presence, that she wished she had some rings like those of
a certain Mrs. Richie, who had lately come to live next door; at which
Mr. Ferguson barked at Miss White, barked so harshly that Elizabeth
flew at him like a little enraged cat. "Stop scolding Cherry-pie! You
hurt her feelings; you are a wicked man!" she screamed, and beating him
with her right hand, she fastened her small, sharp teeth into her left
arm just above the wrist--then screamed again with self-inflicted pain.
But when Miss White, dismayed at such a loss of self-control,
apologized for her, Mr. Ferguson shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't mind temper," he said; "I used to have a temper myself; but I
will _not_ have her vain! Better put some plaster on her arm.
Elizabeth, you must not call Miss White by that ridiculous name."

The remark about Mrs. Richie's rings really disturbed him; it made him
deplore to himself the advent as a neighbor of a foolish woman. "She'll
put ideas into Elizabeth's head," he told himself. In regard to the
rings, he had not needed Elizabeth to instruct him. He had noticed them
himself, and they had convinced him that this Mrs. Richie, who at first
sight seemed a shy, sad woman with no nonsense about her, was really no
exception to her sex. "Vain and lazy, like the rest of them," he said
cynically. Having passed the age when he cared to sport with Amaryllis,
he did not, he said, like women. When he was quite a young man, he had
added, "except Mrs. Maitland." Which remark, being repeated to Molly
Wharton, had moved that young lady to retort that the reason that Sarah
Maitland was the only woman he liked, was that Sarah Maitland was not a
woman! "The only feminine thing about her is her petticoats," said Miss
Wharton, daintily. For which _mot_, Robert Ferguson never forgave her.
He certainly did not expect to like this new-comer in Mercer, this Mrs.
Richie, but he had gone to see her. He had been obliged to, because she
wished to rent a house he owned next door to the one in which he lived.
So, being her landlord, he had to see her, if for nothing else, to
discourage requests for inside repairs. He saw her, and promised to put
up a little glass house at the end of the back parlor for a plant-room.
"If she'd asked me for a 'conservatory,'" he said to himself, "I
wouldn't have considered it for a moment; but just a few sashes--I
suppose I might as well give in on that? Besides, if she likes flowers,
there must be something to her." All the same, he was conscious of
having given in, and to a woman who wore rings; so he was quite gruff
with Mrs. Richie's little boy, whom he found listening to an harangue
from Elizabeth. The two children had scraped acquaintance through the
iron fence that separated the piazzas of the two houses. "I," Elizabeth
had announced, "have a mosquito-bite on my leg; I'll show it to you,"
she said, generously; and when the bite on her little thigh was
displayed, she tried to think of other personal matters. "My mother's
dead. And my father's dead."

"So's mine," David matched her, proudly. "I'm an adopted child."

"I have a pair of red shoes with white buttons," she said. David,
unable to think of any possession of his own to cap either bite or
boots, was smitten into gloomy silence.

In spite of the landlord's disapproval of his tenant's rings, the
acquaintance of the two families grew. Mr. Ferguson had to see Mrs.
Richie again about those "sashes," or what not. His calls were always
on business--but though he talked of greenhouses, and she talked of
knocking out an extra window in the nursery so that her little boy
could have more sunshine, they slipped after a while into
personalities: Mrs. Richie had no immediate family; her--her husband
had died nearly three years before. Since then she had been living in
St. Louis. She had come now to Mercer because she wanted to be nearer
to a friend, an old clergyman, who lived in a place called Old Chester.

"I think it's about twenty miles up the river," she said. "That's where
I found David. I--I had lost a little boy, and David had lost his
mother, so we belonged together. It doesn't make any difference to us,
that he isn't my own, does it, David?"

"Yes'm," said David,

"David! Why won't you _ever_ say what is expected of you? We don't know
anybody in Mercer," she went on, with a shy, melancholy smile, "except
Elizabeth." And at her kind look the little girl, who had tagged along
behind her uncle, snuggled up to the maternal presence, and rubbed her
cheek against the white hand which had the pretty rings on it. "I am so
glad to have somebody for David to play with," Mrs. Richie said,
looking down at the little nestling thing, who at that moment stopped
nestling, and dropping down on toes and finger-tips, loped up--on very
long hind-legs, to the confusion of her elders, who endeavored not to
see her peculiar attitude--and, putting a paw into David's pocket,
abstracted a marble. There was an instant explosion, in which David,
after securing his property through violent exertions, sought, as a
matter of pure justice, to pull the bear's hair. But when Mrs. Richie
interfered, separating the combatants with horrified apologies for her
young man's conduct, Elizabeth's squeals stopped abruptly. She stood
panting, her eyes still watering with David's tug at her hair; the
dimple in her right cheek began to lengthen into a hard line.

"You are very naughty, David," said Mrs. Richie, sternly; "you must beg
Elizabeth's pardon at once!" At which Elizabeth burst out:

"Stop! Don't scold him. It was my fault. I did it--taking his marble.
I'll--I'll bite my arm if you scold David!"

"Elizabeth!" protested her uncle; "I'm ashamed of you!"

But Elizabeth was indifferent to his shame; she was hugging David
frantically. "I hate, I hate, I _hate_ your mother--if she does have
rings!" Her face was so convulsed with rage that Mrs. Richie actually
recoiled before it; Elizabeth, still clamoring, saw that involuntary
start of horror. Instantly she was calm; but she shrank away almost out
of the room. It seemed as if at that moment some veil, cold and
impenetrable, fell between the gentle woman and the fierce, pathetic
child--a veil that was not to be lifted until, in some mysterious way,
life should make them change places.

The two elders looked at each other, Robert Ferguson with meager
amusement; Mrs. Richie still grave at the remembrance of that furious
little face. "What did she mean about 'biting her arm'?" she asked,
after Elizabeth had been sent home, the bewildered David being told to
accompany her to the door.

"I believe she bites herself when she gets angry," Elizabeth's uncle
said; "Miss White said she had quite a sore place on her arm last
winter, because she bit it so often. It's of no consequence," he added,
knocking his glasses off fiercely. Again Mrs. Richie looked shocked.
"She is my brother's child," he said, briefly; "he died some years ago.
He left her to me." And Mrs. Richie knew instinctively that the bequest
had not been welcome. "Miss White looks after her," he said, putting
his glasses on again, carefully, with both hands; "she calls her her
'Lamb,' though a more unlamblike person than Elizabeth I never met. She
has a little school for her and the two Maitland youngsters in the top
of my house. Miss White is otherwise known as Cherry-pie. Elizabeth, I
am informed, loves cherry-pie; also, she loves Miss White: ergo!" he
ended, with his snort of a laugh. Then he had a sudden thought: "Why
don't you let David come to Miss White for lessons? I've no doubt she
could look after another pupil."

"I'd be delighted to," Mrs. Richie said, gratefully. So, through the
good offices of Mr. Ferguson, the arrangement was made. Mr. Ferguson
did not approve of Mrs. Richie's rings, but he had no objection to
helping her about David.

And that was how it happened that these four little lives were thrown
together--four threads that were to be woven into the great fabric of
Life.



CHAPTER II

On the other side of the street, opposite the Maitland house, was a
huddle of wooden tenements. Some of them were built on piles, and
seemed to stand on stilts, holding their draggled skirts out of the mud
of their untidy yards: some sagged on rotting sills, leaning shoulder
to shoulder as if to prop one another up. From each front door a shaky
flight of steps ran down to the unpaved sidewalk, where pigs and
children and hens, and the daily tramp of feet to and from the Maitland
Works, had beaten the earth into a hard, black surface--or a soft,
black surface, when it rained. These little huddling houses called
themselves Maitland's Shantytown, and they looked up at the Big House,
standing in melancholy isolation behind its fence of iron spears, with
the pride that is common to us all when we find ourselves in the
company of our betters. Back of the little houses was a strip of waste
land, used for a dump; and beyond it, bristling against the sky, the
long line of Mercer's stacks and chimneys.

In spite of such surroundings, the Big House, even as late as the early
seventies, was impressive. It was square, with four great chimneys, and
long windows that ran from floor to ceiling. Its stately entrance and
its two curving flights of steps were of white marble, and so were the
lintels of the windows; but the stone was so stained and darkened with
smoky years of rains and river fogs, that its only beauty lay in the
noble lines that grime and time had not been able to destroy. A gnarled
and twisted old wistaria roped the doorway, and, crawling almost to the
roof, looped along the eaves, in May it broke into a froth of exquisite
purple and faint green, and for a week the garland of blossoms,
murmurous with bees, lay clean and lovely against the narrow, old
bricks which had once been painted yellow. Outside, the house had a
distinction which no superficial dilapidation could mar; but inside
distinction was almost lost in the commonplace, if not in actual
ugliness. The double parlors on the right of the wide hall had been
furnished in the complete vulgarity of the sixties; on the left was the
library, which had long ago been taken by Mrs. Maitland as a bedroom,
for the practical reason that it opened into the dining-room, so her
desk was easily accessible at any time of night, should her passion for
toil seize her after working-hours were over. The walls of this room
were still covered with books, that no one ever read. Mrs. Maitland had
no time to waste on reading; "I _live_," she used to say; "I don't read
about living!" Except the imprisoned books, the only interesting things
in the room were some _cartes-de-visite_ of Blair, which stood in a
dusty row on the bureau, one of them propped against her son's first
present to her--the unopened bottle of Johann Maria Farina. When Blair
was a man, that bottle still stood there, the kid cap over the cork
split and yellow, the ribbons of the little calendar hanging from its
green neck, faded to streaky white.

The office dining-room, about which Blair had begun to be impertinent
when he was eight years old, was of noble proportions and in its day
must have had great dignity; but in Blair's childhood its day was over.
Above the dingy white wainscoting the landscape paper his grandfather
had brought from France in the thirties had faded into a blur of blues
and buffs. The floor was uncarpeted save for a Persian rug, whose
colors had long since dulled to an even grime. At one end of the room
was Mrs. Maitland's desk; at the other, filing cases, and two smaller
desks where clerks worked at ledgers or drafting. The four French
windows were uncurtained, and the inside shutters folded back, so that
the silent clerks might have the benefit of every ray of daylight
filtering wanly through Mercer's murky air. A long table stood in the
middle of the room; generally it was covered with blue-prints, or the
usual impedimenta of an office. But it was not an office table; it was
of mahogany, scratched and dim to be sure, but matching the ancient
claw-footed sideboard whose top was littered with letter files, silver
teapots and sugar-bowls, and stacks of newspapers. Three times a day
one end of this table was cleared, and the early breakfast, or the noon
dinner, or the rather heavy supper eaten rapidly and for the most part
in silence. Mrs. Maitland was silent because she was absorbed in
thought; Nannie and Blair were silent because they were afraid to talk.
But the two children gave a touch of humanness to the ruthless room,
which, indeed, poor little Blair had some excuse for calling a "pigsty."

"When I'm big," Blair announced one afternoon after school, "I'll have
a bunch of flowers on the table, like your mother does; you see if I
don't! I like your mother, David."

"_I_ don't; _very_ much," Elizabeth volunteered. "She looks out of her
eyes at me when I get mad."

"I don't like to live at my house," Blair said, sighing.

"Why don't you run away?" demanded Elizabeth; "I'm going to some day
when I get time."

"Where would you run to?" David said, practically. David was always
disconcertingly practical.

But Elizabeth would not be pinned down to details. "I will decide that
when I get started."

"I believe," Blair meditated, "I will run away."

"I'll tell you what let's do," Elizabeth said, and paused to pick up
her right ankle and hop an ecstatic yard or two on one foot; "I tell
you what let's do: let's all run away, _and get married!_"

The other three stared at her dumfounded. Elizabeth, whirling about on
her toes, dropped down on all--fours to turn a somersault of joy; when
she was on her feet she said, "Oh, _let's_ get married!" But it took
Blair, who always found it difficult to make up his mind, a few moments
to accept the project.

They had planned to devote that afternoon to playing bury-you-alive
under the yellow sofa in Mrs. Richie's parlor, but this idea of
Elizabeth's made it necessary to hide in the "cave"--a shadowy spot
behind the palmtub in the greenhouse--for reflection. Once settled
there, jostling one another like young pigeons, it was David who, as
usual, made the practical objections:

"We haven't any money."

"I suppose we could get all the money we want out of my mother's
cash-box," Blair admitted, wavering.

"That's stealing," Elizabeth said.

"You can't steal from your mother," Nannie defended her brother.

"I'll marry you, Elizabeth," Blair said, with sudden enthusiastic
decision.

But David demurred: "I think _I'd_ like Elizabeth. I'm not sure I want
to marry Nannie."

"You said Nannie's hair was the longest, only yesterday!" Blair said,
angrily.

"But I like Elizabeth's color of hair. Nannie, do you think I'd like
you to marry best, or Elizabeth?"

"I don't believe the color of hair makes any difference in being
married," Nannie said, kindly. "And anyway, you'll have to marry me,
David, 'cause Blair can't. He's my brother."

"He's only your half-brother," David pointed out.

"You can have Nannie," said Blair, "or you can stay out of the play."

"Well, I'll marry Nannie," David said, sadly; and Blair proceeded to
elaborate the scheme. It was very simple: the money in Mrs. Maitland's
cash-box would pay their fare to--"Oh, anywhere," Blair said, then
hesitated: "The only thing is, how'll we get it?"

"I'll get it for you," Nannie said, shuddering.

"Wouldn't you be scared?" Blair asked doubtfully. Everybody knew poor
Nannie was a 'fraid-cat.

"Little people," somebody called from the parlor, "what are you
chattering about?"

The children looked at one another in a panic, but Blair called back
courageously, "Oh, nothing."

"Perhaps," said Mrs. Richie, smiling at Mr. Robert Ferguson, who had
dropped in to find Elizabeth--"perhaps you didn't know that my
conservatory was a Pirates' Cave?"

There was a sort of hesitant intimacy now between these two people, but
it had never got so far as friendship. Mrs. Richie's retreating shyness
was courteous, but never cordial; Robert Ferguson's somber egotism was
kind, but never generous. Yet, owing no doubt to their two children,
and to the fact that Mr. Ferguson was continually bringing things over
from his garden borders, to transplant into hers--it improves the
property, he told her briefly--owing to the children and the flowers,
the landlord and the tenant saw each other rather frequently. On this
especial afternoon, though Mr. Ferguson had found Elizabeth, he still
lingered, perhaps to tell the story of some extraordinary thing Mrs.
Maitland had done that day at the Works. "She's been the only man in
the family since old John died," he ended; "and, judging from Blair, I
guess she'll continue to be."

"She is wonderful!" Mrs. Richie agreed; "but she's lovable, too, which
is more important."

"I should as soon say a locomotive was lovable," he said; "not that
that's against her. Quite the contrary."

The pretty woman on the yellow damask sofa by the fireside flushed with
offense. The fact was, this dry, dogmatic man, old at thirty-six, lean,
and in a time of beards clean-shaven, with gray hair that stood
fiercely up from a deeply furrowed brow, and kind, unhappy eyes
blinking behind the magnifying lenses of his gold-rimmed glasses, this
really friendly neighbor, was always offending her--though he was
rather nice about inside repairs. "Why do I endure him?" Mrs. Richie
said to herself sometimes. Perhaps it was because, in spite of his
manners, and his sneer that the world was a mighty mean place to live
in, and his joyless way of doing his duty to his little niece, he
certainly did see how good and sweet her David was. She reminded
herself of this to check her offense at his snub about Mrs. Maitland;
and all the while the good, sweet David was plotting behind the green
tub of the palm-tree in the conservatory. But when Mr. Ferguson called
to Elizabeth to come home with him, and then bent over and fussed about
the buttons on her jacket, and said, anxiously, "Are you warm enough,
Pussy?" Mrs. Richie said to herself: "He _is_ good! It's only his
manners that are bad."

Robert Ferguson went out into the brown November dusk with his little
girl clinging to his hand, for so he understood his duty to his niece;
and on their own doorstep Elizabeth asked a question:

"Uncle, if you get married, do you have to stay married?"

He looked down at her with a start. "_What?_" he said.

"If you don't like being married, do you have to stay?"

"Don't ask foolish questions!" he said; "of course you have to."

Elizabeth sighed. As for her uncle, he was disturbed to the point of
irritation. He dropped her hand with a gesture almost of disgust, and
the lines in his forehead deepened into painful folds. After supper he
called Elizabeth's governess into the library, and shut the door.

"Miss White," he said, knocking his glasses off, "Elizabeth is getting
to be a big girl; will you kindly make a point of teaching her--things?"

"I will do so immejetly, sir," said Miss White. "What things?"

"Why," said Robert Ferguson, helplessly, "why--general morals." He put
his glasses on carefully, with both hands. "Elizabeth asked me a very
improper question; she asked me about divorce, and--"

"_Divorce_!" exclaimed Miss White, astounded; "I have been at my post
for eight years, sir, and I am positive that that word has never been
used in Elizabeth's presence!"

He did not explain. "Teach her," he said, harshly, "that a woman has
got to behave herself."

Blair having once decided upon it, clung to his purpose of running
away, with a persistency which was his mother's large determination in
little; but the double elopement was delayed for two days because of
the difficulty of securing the necessary funds. The dining-room, where
Mrs. Maitland "kept all her money," was rarely entirely deserted. In
those brief intervals when the two clerks were not on hand, Harris
seemed to be possessed of a clean devil, and spent an unusual amount of
time "redding up"; or when Harris was in the kitchen, and Blair,
dragging the reluctant Nannie, had peered into the room, he had been
confronted by his mother. She never saw him--sometimes she was writing;
sometimes talking to a foreman; sometimes knitting, for when Sarah
Maitland had nothing else to do, she made baby socks for the missionary
barrel; once when Blair came to the door, she was walking up and down
knitting rapidly, thinking out some project; her ball of zephyr had
fallen on the floor, and dragging along behind her, unwinding and
unwinding, had involved her hurrying tramp in a grimy, pink tangle.

Each time Blair had looked into the room it was policed by this
absorbed presence. "We'll _never_ get married!" he said in despair. The
delay had a disastrous effect upon romance, for David, with the
melancholy candor of a reasoning temperament, was continually saying
that he doubted the desirability of Nannie as a wife; and Elizabeth was
just as hesitant about Blair.

"Suppose I took a hate to you for a husband? Uncle Robert says if you
don't like being married, you can't stop."

"You won't want to stop. Married people don't have to go to school!"

Elizabeth sighed. "But I don't know but what maybe I'd like David for a
husband?"

"He doesn't have but ten cents a week allowance, and I have a dollar,"
Blair reminded her.

"Well, I don't believe I like being married, anyway," she fretted; "I
like going out to the toll-house for ice-cream better."

Her uncertainty made Blair still more impatient to finance his journey;
and that day, just after dinner, he and Nannie stood quaking at the
dining-room door. "I-I-I'll do it," Blair gasped, with trembling valor.
He was very little, and his eyes were dilating with fright. "I'll do
it," he said, chattering. Nannie rushed into the breach; Nannie never
pretended to be anything but a 'fraid-cat except in things that
concerned Blair; she said now, boldly:

"I'm the oldest, so I ought to."

She crept across the floor, stopping at every step to listen
breathlessly; nothing stirred, except her own little shadow crouching
at her heels.

"Grab in the top drawer," Blair hissed after her; and she put a
shrinking hand into the japanned box, and "grabbed" all the bills she
could hold; then, not waiting to close the drawer, she fled back to
Blair. Up-stairs in her room, they counted the money.

"We can travel all round the world!" Blair whispered, thrilled at the
amount of their loot. But at the last moment there was a
defection--Elizabeth backed out. "I'd rather go out to the toll-house
for ice-cream," she said; "ice-cream at Mrs. Todd's is nicer than being
married. David, don't you go, either. Let Blair and Nannie go. You stay
with me."

But David was not to be moved. "I like traveling; I've traveled a good
deal all my life; and I want to go round the world with Blair."

Elizabeth gave him a black look. "You like Blair better 'an me," she
said, the tears hot in her amber eyes. A minute later she slipped away
to hide under the bed in her own room, peering out from under a lifted
valance for a hoped-for pursuer. But no one came; the other three were
so excited that her absence was hardly noticed.

How they started, the adventurous ones, late that afternoon--later, in
fact, than they planned, because Blair insisted upon running back to
give Harris a parting gift of a dollar; "'Cause, poor Harris! _he_
can't go traveling"--how they waited in the big, barn-like, foggy
station for what Blair called the "next train," how they boarded it for
"any place"--all seemed very funny when they were old enough to look
back upon it. It even seemed funny, a day or two afterward, to their
alarmed elders. But at the time it was not amusing to anybody. David
was gloomy at being obliged to marry Nannie; "I pretty near wish I'd
stayed with Elizabeth," he said, crossly. Nannie was frightened,
because, she declared, "Mamma'll be mad;--now I tell you, Blair, she'll
be mad!" And Blair was sulky because he had no wife. Yet, in spite of
these varying emotions, pushed by Blair's resolution, they really did
venture forth to "travel all around the world!"

As for the grown people's feelings about the elopement, they ran the
gamut from panic to amusement.... At a little after five o'clock, Miss
White heard sobbing in Elizabeth's room, and going in, found the little
girl blacking her boots and crying furiously. "Elizabeth! my lamb! What
is the matter?"

"I have a great many sorrows," said Elizabeth, with a hiccup of despair.

"But what _are_ you doing?"

"I am blacking my red shoes," Elizabeth wailed; and so she was, the
blacking-sponge on its shaky wire dripping all over the carpet. "My
beautiful red shoes; I am blacking them; and now they are spoiled
forever."

"But why do you want to spoil them?" gasped Miss White, struggling to
take the blacking-bottle away from her. "Elizabeth, tell me immejetly!
What has happened?"

"I didn't go on the journey," said Elizabeth; "and David wouldn't stay
at home with me; he liked Blair and Nannie better 'an me. He hurt my
feelings; so pretty soon right away I got mad--mad--mad--to think he
wouldn't stay with me. I always get mad if my feelings are hurt, and
David Richie is always hurting 'em. I despise him for making me mad! I
despise him for treating me so--_hideous_! And so I took a hate to my
shoes." The ensuing explanation sent Miss White, breathless, to tell
Mrs. Richie; but Mrs. Richie was not at home.

When David did not appear that afternoon after school, Mrs. Richie was
disturbed. By three o'clock she was uneasy; but it was nearly five
before the quiver of apprehension grew into positive fright; then she
put on her things and walked down to the Maitland house.

"Is David here?" she demanded when Harris answered her ring; "please go
up-stairs and look, Harris; they may be playing in the nursery. I am
worried."

Harris shuffled off, and Mrs. Richie, following him to the foot of the
stairs, stood there gripping the newel-post.

"They ain't here," Harris announced from the top landing.

Mrs. Richie sank down on the lowest step.

"Harris!" some one called peremptorily, and she turned to see Robert
Ferguson coming out of the dining-room: "Oh, you're here, Mrs. Richie?
I suppose you are on David's track. I thought Harris might have some
clue. I came down to tell Mrs. Maitland all we could wring from
Elizabeth."

Before she could ask what he meant, Blair's mother joined them. "I
haven't a doubt they are playing in the orchard," she said.

"No, they're not," her superintendent contradicted; "Elizabeth says
they were going to 'travel'; but that's all we could get out of her."

"'Travel'! Oh, what does she mean?" Mrs. Richie said; "I'm so
frightened!"

"What's the use of being frightened?" Mrs. Maitland asked, curiously;
"it won't bring them back if they are lost, will it?"

Robert Ferguson knocked his glasses off fiercely. "They couldn't be
lost in Mercer," he reassured David's mother.

"Well, whether they've run away or not, come into my room and talk
about it like a sensible woman," said Mrs. Maitland; "what's the use of
sitting on the stairs? Women have such a way of sitting on stairs when
things go wrong! Suppose they are lost. What harm's done? They'll turn
up. Come!" Mrs. Richie came. Everybody "came" or went, or stood still,
when Mrs. Maitland said the word! And though not commanded, Mr.
Ferguson came too.

In the dining-room Mrs. Maitland took no part in the perplexed
discussion that followed. At her desk, in her revolving chair, she had
instinctively taken up her pen; there was a perceptible instant in
which she got her mind off her own affairs and put it on this matter of
the children. Then she laid the pen down, and turned around to face the
other two; but idleness irritated her, and she reached for a ball of
pink worsted skewered by bone needles. She asked no questions and made
no comments, but knitting rapidly, listened, until apparently her
patience came to an end; then with a grunt she whirled round to her
desk and again picked up her pen. But as she did so she paused, pen in
air; threw it down, and pounding the flat of her hand on her desk,
laughed loudly:

"I know! I know!" And revolving back again in leisurely relief to face
them, she said, with open amusement: "When I came home this afternoon,
I found this drawer half open and the bills in my cash-box disturbed.
They've"--her voice was suddenly drowned in the rumble of a train on
the spur track; the house shook slightly, and a gust of black smoke was
vomited against the windows;--"they've helped themselves and gone off
to enjoy it! We'll get on their trail at the railroad station. That's
what Elizabeth meant by 'traveling.'"

Mrs. Richie turned terrified eyes toward Mr. Ferguson.

"Why, of course!" he said, "the monkeys!"

But Mrs. Richie seemed more frightened than ever. "The
railroad!--_Oh_--"

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Maitland; "they're all right. The ticket-agent
will remember them. Mr. Ferguson, telegraph to their destination,
wherever it is, and have them shipped back. No police help at this end
yet, if you please."

Robert Ferguson nodded. "Of course everything is all right," he said.
"I'll let you know the minute I find traces of them, Mrs. Richie." When
he reached the door, he came back. "Now don't you worry; I could thrash
those boys for bothering you!" At which she tried to smile, but there
was a quiver in her chin.

"Harris!" Mrs. Maitland broke in, "supper! Mrs. Richie, you are going
to have something to eat."

"Oh, I can't--"

"What? You are not saying _can't?_ 'Can't' is a 'bad word,' you know."
She got up--a big, heavy woman, in a gray bag of a dress that only
reached to the top of her boots--and stood with her hands on her hips;
her gray hair was twisted into a small, tight knot at the back of her
head, and her face looked like iron that had once been molten and had
cooled into roughened immobility. It was not an unamiable face; as she
stood there looking down at Mrs. Richie she even smiled the half-amused
smile one might bestow on a puppy, and she put a kindly hand on the
other mother's shoulder. "Don't be so scared, woman! They'll be found."

"You don't think anything could have happened to him?" Mrs. Richie
said, trembling; "you don't think he could have been run over, or--or
anything?" She clutched at the big hand and clung to it.

"No," Mrs. Maitland said, dryly; "I don't think anything has happened
to him."

Mrs. Richie had the grace to blush. "Of course I meant Blair and
Nannie, too," she murmured.

"You never thought of 'em!" Mrs. Maitland said, chuckling; "now you
must have some supper."

They were in the midst of it when a note came from Mr. Ferguson to say
that he was on the track of the runaways. He had sent a despatch that
would insure their being returned by the next train, and he was himself
going half-way up the road to meet them. Then a postscript: "Tell Mrs.
Richie not to worry."

"Doesn't seem much disturbed about my worry," said Mrs. Maitland,
jocosely significant; then with loud cheerfulness she tried to rally
her guest: "It's all right; what did I tell you? Where's my knitting?
Come; I'll go over to the parlor with you; we'll sit there."

Mrs. Maitland's parlor was not calculated to cheer a panic-stricken
mother. It was a vast room, rather chilly on this foggy November
evening, and smelling of soot. On its remote ceiling was a design in
delicate relief of garlands and wreaths, which the dingy years had not
been able to rob of its austere beauty. Two veined black-marble columns
supported an arch that divided the desert of the large room into two
smaller rooms, each of which had the center-table of the period, its
bleak white-marble top covered with elaborately gilded books that no
one ever opened. Each room had, too, a great cut-glass chandelier,
swathed in brown paper-muslin and looking like a gigantic withered
pear. Each had its fireplace, with a mantelpiece of funereal marble to
match the pillars. Mrs. Maitland had refurnished this parlor when she
came to the old house as a bride; she banished to the lumber-room, or
even to the auctioneer's stand, the heavy, stately mahogany of the
early part of the century, and purchased according to the fashion of
the day, glittering rosewood, carved and gilded and as costly as could
be found. Between the windows at each end of the long room were mirrors
in enormous gilt frames; the windows themselves, topped with cornices
and heavy lambrequins, were hung with crimson brocade; a grand piano,
very bare and shining, sprawled sidewise between the black columns of
the arch, and on the wall opposite the fireplaces were four large
landscapes in oil, of exactly the same size. "Herbert likes pictures,"
the bride said to herself when she purchased them. "That goose Molly
Wharton wouldn't have been able to buy 'em for him!" The only pleasant
thing in the meaningless room was Nannie's drawing-board, which
displayed the little girl's painstaking and surprisingly exact copy in
lead-pencil, of some chromo--"Evangeline" perhaps, or some popular
sentimentality of the sixties. In the ten years which had elapsed since
Mrs. Maitland had plunged into her debauch of furnishing--her one
extravagance!--of course the parlors had softened; the enormous roses
of the carpets had faded, the glitter of varnish had dimmed; but the
change was not sufficient to blur in Mrs. Maitland's eyes, all the
costly and ugly glory of the room. She cast a complacent glance about
her as she motioned her nervous and preoccupied guest to a chair. "How
do you like Mercer?" she said, beginning to knit rapidly.

"Oh, very well; it is a little--smoky," Mrs. Richie said, glancing at
the clock.

Mrs. Maitland grunted. "Mercer would be in a bad way without its smoke.
You ought to learn to like it, as I do! I like the smell of it, I like
the taste of it, I like the feel of it!"

"Really?" Mrs. Richie murmured; she was watching the clock.

"That smoke, let me tell you Mrs. Richie is the pillar of cloud, to
this country! (If you read your Bible, you'll know what that means.) I
think of it whenever I look at my stacks."

Mrs. Maitland's resentment at her guest's mild criticism was obvious;
but Mrs. Richie did not notice it. "I think I'll go down to the station
and meet the children," she said, rising.

"I'm afraid you are a very foolish woman," Sarah Maitland said;--and
Mrs. Richie sat down. "Mr. Ferguson will bring 'em here. Anyway, this
clock is half an hour slow. They'll be here before you could get to the
station." She chuckled, slyly. Her sense of humor was entirely
rudimentary, and never got beyond the practical joke. "I've been
watching you look at that clock," she said; then she looked at it
herself and frowned. She was wasting a good deal of time over this
business of the children. But in spite of herself, glancing at the
graceful figure sitting in tense waiting at the fireside, she smiled.
"You are a pretty creature," she said; and Mrs. Richie started and
blushed like a girl. "If Robert Ferguson had any sense!" she went on,
and paused to pick up a dropped stitch. "Queer fellow, isn't he?" Mrs.
Richie had nothing to say. "Something went wrong with him when he was
young, just after he left college. Some kind of a crash. Woman scrape,
I suppose. Have you ever noticed that women make all the trouble in the
world? Well, he never got over it. He told me once that Life wouldn't
play but one trick on him. 'We're always going to sit down on a
chair--and Life pulls it from under us,' he said. 'It won't do that to
me twice.' He's not given to being confidential, but that put me on the
track. And now he's got Elizabeth on his hands."

"She's a dear little thing," Mrs. Richie said, smiling; "though I
confess she always fights shy of me; she doesn't like me, I'm afraid."

Mrs. Maitland lifted an eyebrow. "She's a corked-up volcano. Robert
Ferguson ought to get married, and give her an aunt to look after her."
She glanced at Mrs. Richie again, with appraising eyes; "pity he hasn't
more sense."

"I think I hear a carriage," Mrs. Richie said, coldly. Then she forgot
Mrs. Maitland, and stood waiting and trembling. A minute later Mr.
Ferguson ushered the three sleepy, whimpering children into the room,
and Mrs. Richie caught her grimy, crying little boy in her arms and
cried with him. "Oh, David, oh, David--my darling! How could you
frighten mother so!"

She was on her knees before him, and while her tears and kisses fell on
his tousled thatch of yellow hair, he burrowed his dirty little face
among the laces around her white throat and bawled louder than ever.
Mrs. Maitland, her back to the fireplace, her hands on her hips, stood
looking on; she was very much interested. Blair, hungry and sleepy and
evidently frightened, was nuzzling up against Mrs. Richie, catching at
her hand and trying to hide behind her skirts; he looked furtively at
his mother, but he would not meet her eye.

"Blair," she said, "go to bed."

"Nannie and me want some supper," said Blair in a whisper.

"You won't get any. Boys that go traveling at supper-time can get their
own suppers or go hungry."

"It's my fault, Mamma," Nannie panted.

"No, it ain't!" Blair said quickly, emerging from behind Mrs. Richie;
"it was me made her do it."

"Well, clear out, clear out! Go to bed, both of you," Mrs. Maitland
said. But when the two children had scuttled out of the room she struck
her knee with her fist and laughed immoderately.

The next morning, when the two children skulked palely into the
dining-room, they were still frightened. Mrs. Maitland, however, did
not notice them. She was absorbed in trying in the murky light to read
the morning paper, propped against the silver urn in front of her.

"Sit down," she said; "I don't like children who are late for
breakfast. Bless, O Lord, we beseech Thee, these things to our use, and
us to Thy service and glory. Amen!--Harris! Light the gas."

Mercer's daylight was always more or less wan; but in the autumn the
yellow fogs seemed to press the low-hanging smoke down into the great
bowl of the hills at the bottom of which the town lay, and the wanness
scarcely lightened, even at high noon. On such days the gas in the
dining-room--or office, if one prefers to call it so--flared from
breakfast until dinner time. It flared now on two scared little faces.
Once Blair lifted questioning eyebrows at Harris, and managed when the
man brought his plate of porridge to whisper, "mad?" At which the
sympathetic Harris rolled his eyes speechlessly, and the two children
grew perceptibly paler. But when, abruptly, Mrs. Maitland crumpled her
newspaper together and threw it on the floor, her absorbed face showed
no displeasure. The fact was, she had forgotten the affair of the night
before; it was the children's obvious alarm which reminded her that the
business of scolding and punishing must be attended to. She got up from
the table and stood behind them, with her back to the fire; she began
to nibble the upper joint of her forefinger, wondering just how to
begin. This silent inspection of their shoulders made the little
creatures quiver. Nannie crumbled her bread into a heap, and Blair
carried an empty spoon to his mouth with automatic regularity; Harris,
in the pantry, in a paroxysm of sympathy, stretched his lean neck to
the crack of the half-open door.

"Children!"

"Yes, ma'am," Nannie quavered.

"Turn round."

They turned. Nannie began to cry. Blair twisted a button on his coat
with a grip that made his fingers white.

"Come into my room."

The children gasped with dismay. Mrs. Maitland's bedroom was a
nightmare of a place to them both. It was generally dark, for the lower
halves of the inside shutters were apt to be closed; but, worse than
that, the glimmering glass doors of the bookcases that lined the walls
held a suggestion of mystery that was curiously terrifying. Whenever
they entered the room, the brother and sister always kept a frightened
eye on those doors. This dull winter morning, when they came quaking
along behind their mother into this grim place, it was still in the
squalor of morning confusion. Later, Harris would open the shutters and
tidy things up; he would dust the painted pine bureau and Blair's
photographs and the slender green bottle of German cologne on which the
red ribbons of the calendar were beginning to fade; now everything was
dark and bleak and covered with dust. Mrs. Maitland sat down; the
culprits stood hand in hand in front of her.

"Blair, don't you know it's wrong to take what doesn't belong to you?"

"I took it," said the 'fraid-cat, faintly; she moved in front of her
brother as though to protect him.

"Blair told you to," his mother said.

"Yes," Blair blurted out, "it was me told her to."

"People that take things that don't belong to them go to hell," Mrs.
Maitland said; "haven't you learned that in Sunday-school?"

Silence.

"You ought to be punished very severely, Blair--and Nannie, too. But I
am very busy this morning, so I shall only say"--she hesitated; what on
earth should she say! "that--that you shall lose your allowance for
this week, both of you."

One of them muttered, "Yes'm."

Mrs. Maitland looked as uncomfortable as they did. She wondered what to
do next. How much simpler a furnace was than a child! "Well," she said,
"that's all--at present"; it had suddenly occurred to her that
apprehension was a good thing; "_at present_," she repeated darkly;
"and Blair, remember; thieves go to hell." She watched them with
perplexed eyes as they hurried out of the room; just as they reached
the door she called: "Blair!"

The child stopped short in his tracks and quivered.

"Come here." He came, slowly, his very feet showing his reluctance.
"Blair," she said--in her effort to speak gently her voice grated; she
put out her hand as if to draw him to her, but the child shivered and
moved aside. Mrs. Maitland looked at him dumbly; then bent toward him,
and her hands, hanging between her knees, opened and closed, and even
half stretched out as if in inarticulate entreaty. Nannie, in the
doorway, sobbing under her breath, watched with frightened,
uncomprehending eyes. "My son," Sarah Maitland said, with as much
mildness as her loud voice could express, "what did you mean to do when
you ran away?" She smiled, but he would not meet her eyes. "Tell me, my
boy, why did you run away?"

Blair tried to speak, cleared his throat, and blurted out four husky
words: "Don't like it here."

"Don't like what? Your home?"

Blair nodded.

"Why not?" she asked, astonished.

"Ugly," Blair said, faintly.

"Ugly! What is ugly?"

Blair, without looking up, made a little, swift gesture with his hand.
"This," he said; then suddenly he lifted his head, gave her a sidewise,
shrinking look, and dropped his eyes. The color flew into Mrs.
Maitland's face; with an ejaculation of anger, she got on her feet.
"You are a very foolish and very bad little boy," she said; "you don't
know what you are talking about. I had meant to increase your
allowance, but now I won't do it. Listen to me; it is no matter whether
a house, or a--a person, is what you call 'ugly.' What matters is
whether they are useful. Everything in the world ought to be
useful--like our Works. If I ever hear you saying you don't like a
thing because it's ugly, I shall--I shall not give you any money at
all. Money!" she burst out, suddenly fluent, "money isn't _pretty_!
Dirty scraps of paper, bits of silver that look like lead--perhaps you
call money 'ugly,' too?"

Her vehemence was a sort of self-defense; it was a subtle confession
that she felt in this little repelling personality the challenge of an
equal; but Blair only gaped at her in childish confusion; and instantly
his mother was herself again. "Clear out, now; and be a good boy." When
she was alone, she sat at her desk in the dining-room for several
minutes without taking up her pen. Her face burned from the slap of the
child's words; but below the scorch of anger and mortification her
heart was bruised. He did not like her to put her arm about him! She
drew a long breath and began to read her letters; but all the while she
was thinking of that scene in the parlor the night before: Blair
crouching against Mrs. Richie, clinging to her white hand;--voluntarily
Sarah Maitland looked at her own hand; "I suppose," she said to
herself, "he thinks hers is 'pretty'! Where does he get such notions? I
wonder what kind of a woman she is, anyway; she never says anything
about her husband."



CHAPTER III

There came a day when Miss White's little school in the garret was
broken up. Mr. Ferguson declared that David and Blair needed a boot
instead of a petticoat to teach them their Latin--and a few other
things, too! He had found Mrs. Richie in tears because, under the big
hawthorn in her own back yard, David had blacked Blair's eye, and had
himself achieved a bloody nose. Mrs. Richie was for putting on her
things to go and apologize to Mrs. Maitland, and was hardly restrained
by her landlord's snort of laughter.

"Next time I hope he'll give him two black eyes, and Blair will loosen
one of his front teeth!" said Mr. Ferguson.

David's mother was speechless with horror.

"That's the worst of trusting a boy to a good woman," he barked,
knocking off his glasses angrily; "but I'll do what I can to thwart
you! I'll make sure there isn't any young-eyed cherubin business about
David. He has got to go to boarding-school, and learn something besides
his prayers. If somebody doesn't rescue him from apron-strings, he'll
be a 'very, very good young man'--and then may the Lord have mercy on
his soul!"

"I didn't know anybody could be too good," Mrs. Richie ventured.

"A woman can't be too good, but a man oughtn't to be," her landlord
instructed her.

David's mother was too bewildered by such sentiments to
protest--although, indeed, Mr. Ferguson need not have been quite so
concerned about David's "goodness." This freckled, clear-eyed
youngster, with straight yellow hair and good red cheeks, was just an
honest, growly boy, who dropped his clothes about on the floor of his
room, and whined over his lessons, and blustered largely when out of
his mother's hearing; furthermore, he had already experienced his first
stogie--with a consequent pallor about the gills that scared Mrs.
Richie nearly to death. But Robert Ferguson's jeering reference to
apron-strings resulted in his being sent to boarding school. Blair went
with him, "rescued" from the goodwoman regime of Cherry-pie's
instruction by Mr. Ferguson's advice to Mrs. Maitland; "although,"
Robert Ferguson admitted, candidly, "he doesn't need it as poor David
does; his mother wouldn't know how to make a Miss Nancy of him, even if
she wanted to!" Then, with a sardonic guess at Mrs. Richie's unspoken
thought, he added that Mrs. Maitland would not dream of going to live
in the town where her son was at school. "She has sense enough to know
that Blair, or any other boy worth his salt, would hate his mother if
she tagged on behind," said Mr. Ferguson; "of course you would never
think of doing such a thing, either," he ended, ironically.

"Of course not," said Mrs. Richie, faintly. So it was that, assisted by
her landlord, David's mother thrust her one chicken out into the world
unprotected by her hovering wing. About the time Miss White lost her
two masculine pupils, the girls began to go to a day-school in Mercer,
Cherry-pie's entire deposition as a teacher being brought about
because, poor lady! she fumbled badly when it came to a critical moment
with Elizabeth. It all grew out of one of the child's innumerable
squabbles with David--she got along fairly peaceably with Blair. She
and Nannie had been comparing pigtails, and David had asserted that
Elizabeth's hair was "the nicest"; which so gratified her that she
first hugged him violently, and then invited him to take her out rowing.

"I'll pay for the boat!" she said, and pirouetted around the room,
keeping time with:

  "'Oh, that will be joyful, joyful, joyful!
  Oh, that will be--'

"Uncle gave me a dollar yesterday," she interrupted herself,
breathlessly.

To this David, patiently straightening his collar after that ecstatic
embrace, objected; but his magnanimity was lessened by his explanation
that he wasn't going to have any _girl_ pay for him! This ruffled
Elizabeth's pride for a moment; however, she was not averse to saving
her dollar, so everything was arranged. David was to row her to
Willis's, a country tavern two miles down the river, where, as all
middle-aged Mercer will remember, the best jumbles in the world could
be purchased at the agreeable price of two for a cent. Elizabeth, who
was still congratulating herself on having "nicer hair than Nannie,"
and who loved the river (and the jumbles), was as punctual as a clock
in arriving at the covered bridge where at the toll-house wharf they
were to meet and embark. She had even been so forehanded as to bargain
with Mrs. Todd for the hire of the skiff, in which she immediately
seated herself, the tiller-ropes in her hands, all ready for David to
take the oars. "And I've waited, and waited, and waited!" she told
herself angrily, as she sat there in the faintly rocking skiff. And
after an hour of waiting, what should she see but David Richie racing
on the bridge with Blair Maitland! He had just simply forgotten his
engagement! (Elizabeth was so nearly a young lady that she said
"engagement.")

"I'll never forgive him," she said, and the dimple hardened in her
cheek. Sitting in the boat, she looked up at the two boys, David in
advance, a young, lithe figure, in cotton small-clothes and jersey,
leaping in great, beautiful strides, on and on and on, his face
glowing, his eyes like stars; then, alas, he gave a downward glance and
there was Elizabeth, waiting fiercely in the skiff! His "engagement"
came back to him; there was just one astonished, faltering instant; and
in it, of course, Blair shot ahead! It must be confessed that in his
rage at being beaten David promptly forgot Elizabeth again, for though
she waited still a little longer for him and his apology, no David
appeared, he and Blair being occupied in wrangling over their race. She
went home in a slowly gathering passion. _David had forgotten her!_ "He
likes Blair better than me; he'd rather race with another boy than go
out in a boat with me; and I said I'd pay for it--and I've only got one
dollar in the whole world!" At that stab of self-pity a tear ran down
the side of her nose (and she was still a whole block away from home!);
when it reached her lip, she was obliged to put her tongue out
furtively and lick it away. But repression made the outbreak, when it
came, doubly furious. She burst in upon Miss White, her dry eyes
blazing with rage.

"He made me wait; he didn't come; I hate him. I'll never speak to him
again. He hurt my feelings. He is a beast."

"Elizabeth! You mustn't use such unladylike words! When I was a young
lady I never even heard such words. Oh, my lamb, if you don't control
your temper, something dreadful will happen to you some day!"

"I hope something dreadful will happen to him some day," said
Elizabeth. And with that came the tears--a torrential rain, through
which the lightning played and the thunder crashed. Miss White in real
terror, left her, to get some smelling-salts, and the instant she was
alone Elizabeth ran across the room and stood before her mirror; then
she took a pair of scissors in her shaking hand and hacked off lock
after lock, strand after strand, of her shining hair. When it was done,
she looked at the russet stubble that was left with triumphant rage.
"There, now! I guess he won't think my hair is nicer than Nannie's any
more. I _hate_ him!" she said, and laughed out loud, her vivid face wet
and quivering.

Miss White, hurrying in, heard the laugh, and stood transfixed:
"Elizabeth!" The poor, ugly, shorn head, the pile of gleaming hair on
the bureau, the wicked, tear-stained, laughing face brought the poor
lady's heart into her throat. "Elizabeth!" she faltered again; and
Elizabeth ran and flung her arms about her neck.

"David forgot all about me," she sobbed. "He is always hurting my
feelings! And I can't _bear_ to have my feelings hurt. Oh, Cherry-pie,
kiss me! Kiss me!"

That was the end of the outburst; the ensuing penitence was unbridled
and temporary. The next morning she waylaid David to offer him some
candy, which he took with serene unconsciousness of any bad behavior on
his part.

"Awfully sorry I forgot about Willis's," he said casually; and took a
hearty handful of candy.

Elizabeth, looking into the nearly empty box, winced; then said,
bravely, "Take some more." He took a good deal more.

"David, I--I'm sorry I cut my hair."

"Why, I didn't notice," David said, wrinkling up his freckled nose and
glancing at her with some interest. "It looks awfully, doesn't it?"

"David, don't tell your mother, will you? She looks so sort of
horrified when I've been provoked. It almost makes me mad again,"
Elizabeth said, candidly.

"Materna thinks it's dreadful in you."

"Do you mind about my hair?" Elizabeth asked.

David laughed uproariously. "Why on earth should _I_ mind? If I were a
girl, you bet I'd keep my hair cut."

"Do you forgive me?" she said, in a whisper; "if you don't forgive me,
I shall die."

"Forgive you?" said David, astonished, his mouth full of candy; "why,
it's nothing to me if you cut off your hair. Only I shouldn't think
you'd want to look so like 'Sam Hill.' But I tell you what, Elizabeth;
you're too thin-skinned. What's the use of getting mad over every
little thing?"

"It wasn't so very little, to be forgotten."

"Well, yes; I suppose you were disappointed, but--"

Elizabeth's color began to rise. "Oh, I wasn't so terribly
disappointed. You needn't flatter yourself. I simply don't like to be
insulted."

"Ah, now, Elizabeth," he coaxed, "there you go again!"

"No, I don't. I'm _not_ angry. Only--you went with Blair; you didn't
want--" she choked, and flew back into the house, deaf to his clumsy
and troubled explanations.

In Miss White's room, Elizabeth announced her intention of entering a
convent, and it was then that Cherry-pie fumbled: she took the convent
seriously! The next morning she broke the awful news to Elizabeth's
uncle. It was before breakfast, and Mr. Ferguson--who had not time to
read his Bible for pressure of business--had gone out into the
grape-arbor in his narrow garden to feed the pigeons. There was a crowd
of them about his feet, their rimpling, iridescent necks and soft gray
bosoms pushing and jostling against one another, and their pink feet
actually touching his boots. When Miss White burst out at him, the
pigeons rose in startled flight, and Mr. Ferguson frowned.

"And she says," Miss White ended, almost in tears--"she says she is
going to enter a convent immejetly!"

"My dear Miss White," said Elizabeth's uncle, grimly, "there's no such
luck."

Miss White positively reeled. Then he explained, and Cherry-pie came
nearer to her employer in those ten minutes than in the ten years in
which she had looked after his niece. "I don't care about Elizabeth's
temper; she'll get over that. And I don't care a continental about her
hair or her religion; she can wear a wig or be a Mohammedan if it keeps
her straight. She has a bad inheritance, Miss White; I would be only
too pleased to know that she was shut up in a convent, safe and sound.
But this whim isn't worth talking about."

Miss White retired, nibbling with horror, and that night Robert
Ferguson went in to tell his neighbor his worries.

"What _am_ I to do with her?" he groaned. "She cut off her hair?" Mrs.
Richie repeated, astounded; "but why? How perfectly irrational!"

"Don't say 'how irrational'; say 'how Elizabeth.'"

"I wish she would try to control her temper," Mrs. Richie said,
anxiously.

But Mr. Ferguson was not troubled about that. "She's vain; that's what
worries me. She cried all afternoon about her hair."

"She needs a stronger hand than kind Miss White's," Mrs. Richie said;
"why not send her to school?" And the harassed uncle sighed with relief
at the idea, which was put into immediate execution.

With growing hair and the wholesome companionship of other girls, of
course the ascetic impulse died a natural death; but the temper did not
die. It only hid itself under that sense of propriety which is
responsible for so much of our good behavior. When it did break loose,
the child suffered afterward from the consciousness of having made a
fool of herself--which is a wholesome consciousness so far as it
goes--but it did not go very far with Elizabeth; she never suffered in
any deeper way. She took her temper for granted; she was not complacent
about it; she did not credit it to "temperament," she was merely matter
of fact; she said she "couldn't help it." "I don't want to get mad,"
she used to say to Nannie; "and of course I never mean any of the
horrid things I say. I'd like to be good, like you; but I can't help
being wicked." Between those dark moments of being "wicked" she was a
joyous, unself-conscious girl of generous loves, which she expressed as
primitively as she did her angers; indeed, in the expression of
affection Elizabeth had the exquisite and sometimes embarrassing
innocence of a child who has been brought up by a sad old bachelor and
a timid old maid. As for her angers, they were followed by irrational
efforts to "make up" with any one she felt she had wronged. She spent
her little pocket-money in buying presents for her maleficiaries, she
invented punishments for herself; and generally she confessed her sin
with humiliating fullness. Once she confessed to her uncle, thereby
greatly embarrassing him:

"Uncle, I want you to know I am a great sinner; probably the chief of
sinners," she said, breathing hard. She had come into his library after
supper, and was standing with a hand on the back of his chair; her eyes
were bright with unshed tears.

"Good gracious!" said Robert Ferguson, looking at her blankly over his
glasses, "what on earth have you been doing now?"

"I got mad, and I chopped up the feather in Cherry-pie's new bonnet,
and I told her she was a hideous, monstrous old donkey-hag."

"Elizabeth!"

"I did."

"Have you apologized?"

"Yes," said Elizabeth; "but what's the good of 'pologizing? _I said
it._ 'Course I 'pologized; and I kissed her muddy rubbers when she
wasn't looking; and I gave her all my money for a new feather"--she
stopped, and sighed deeply; "and here is the money you gave me to go to
the theater. So now I haven't any money at all, in the world."

Poor Robert Ferguson, with a despairing jerk at the black ribbon of his
glasses, leaned back in his chair, helpless with perplexity. Why on
earth did she give him back his money? He could not follow her mental
processes. He said as much to Mrs. Richie the next time he went to see
her. He went to see her quite often in those days. For the convenience
of David and Elizabeth, a doorway had been cut in the brick wall
between the two gardens, and Mr. Ferguson used it frequently. In their
five or six years of living next door to each other the acquaintance of
these two neighbors had deepened into a sort of tentative intimacy,
which they never quite thought of as friendship, but which permitted
many confidences about their two children.

And when they talked about their children, they spoke, of course, of
the other two, for one could not think of David without remembering
Blair, or talk of Elizabeth without contrasting her with Nannie. Nannie
had none of that caroling vitality which made the younger girl an acute
anxiety and a perpetual delight. She was like a little plant growing in
the shade--a gently good child, who never gave anybody any trouble; she
continued to be a 'fraid-cat, and looked under the bed every night for
a burglar. With Blair at boarding-school her life was very solitary,
for of course there was no intimacy between her and her stepmother.
Mrs. Maitland was invariably kind to her, and astonishingly patient
with the rather dull little mind--one of those minds that are like
softly tangled skeins of single zephyr; if you try to unwind the mild,
elusive thoughts, they only knot tightly upon themselves, and the
result is a half-frightened and very obstinate silence. But Mrs.
Maitland never tried to unwind Nannie's thoughts; she used to look at
her sometimes in kindly amusement, as one might look at a kitten or a
canary; and sometimes she said to Robert Ferguson that Nannie was like
her own mother;--"but Blair has brains!" she would say, complacently.
School did not give the girl the usual intense friendships, and except
for Elizabeth, she had no companions; her one interest was Blair, and
her only occupation out of school hours was her drawing--which was
nothing more than endless, meaningless copying. It was Nannie's
essential child-likeness that kept her elders, and indeed David and
Blair too, from understanding that she and Elizabeth were no longer
little girls. Perhaps the boys first realized Elizabeth's age when they
simultaneously discovered that she was pretty....

Elizabeth's long braids had been always attractive to the masculine
eye; they had suggested jokes about pigtails, and much of that peculiar
humor so pleasing to the young male; but the summer that she "put up
her hair," the puppies, so to speak, got their eyes open. When the boys
saw those soft plaits, no longer hanging within easy reach of a rude
and teasing hand, but folded around her head behind her little ears;
when they saw the small curls breaking over and through the brown
braids that were flecked with gilt, and the stray locks, like feathers
of spun silk, clustering in the nape of her neck; when David and Blair
saw these things--it was about the time their voices were showing
amazing and ludicrous register--something below the artless brutalities
of the boys' sense of humor was touched. They took abruptly their first
perilous step out of boyhood. Of course they did not know it.... The
significant moment came one afternoon when they all went out to the
toll-house for ice-cream. There was a little delay at the gate, while
the boys wrangled as to who should stand treat. "I'll pull straws with
you," said Blair; Blair's pleasant, indolent mind found the appeal to
chance the easiest way to settle things, but he was always good-natured
when, as now, the verdict was against him. "Come on," he commanded,
gayly, "I'll shell out!" Mrs. Todd, who had begun to dispense pink and
brown ice-cream, for them when they were very little children, winked
and nodded as they all came in together, and made a jocose remark about
"handsome couples"; then she trundled off to get the ice-cream, leaving
them in the saloon. This "saloon" was an ell of the toll-house; it
opened on a little garden, from which a flight of rickety steps led
down to a float where half a dozen skiffs were tied up, waiting to be
hired. In warm weather, when the garden was blazing with fragrant
color, Mrs. Todd would permit favored patrons to put their small tables
out among the marigolds and zinnias and sit and eat and talk. The
saloon itself had Nottingham-lace window-curtains, and crewel texts
enjoining remembrance of the Creator, and calling upon Him to "bless
our home." The tables, with marble tops translucent from years of
spilled ice cream, had each a worsted mat, on which was a glass vase
full of blue paper roses; on the ceiling there was a wonderful star of
scalloped blue tissue-paper--ostensibly to allure flies, but hanging
there winter and summer, year in and year out. Between the windows that
looked out on the river stood a piano, draped with a festooning scarf
of bandanna handkerchiefs. These things seemed to Blair, at this stage
of his esthetic development, very satisfying, and part of his pleasure
in "treating" came from his surroundings; he used to look about him
enviously, thinking of the terrible dining-room at home; and on sunny
days he used to look, with even keener pleasure, at the reflected
ripple of light, striking up from the river below, and moving endlessly
across the fly-specked ceiling. Watching the play of moving light, he
would put his tin spoon into his tumbler of ice-cream and taste the
snowy mixture with a slow prolongation of pleasure, while the two girls
chattered like sparrows, and David listened, saying very little and
always ready to let Elizabeth finish his ice-cream after she had
devoured her own.

It was on one of these occasions that Blair, watching that long ripple
on the ceiling, suddenly saw the sunshine sparkle on Elizabeth's hair,
and his spoon paused midway to his lips. "Oh, say, isn't Elizabeth's
hair nice?" he said.

David turned and looked at it. "I've seen lots of girls with hair like
that," he said; but he sighed, and scratched his left ankle with his
right foot. Blair, smiling to himself, put out a hesitating finger and
touched a shimmering curl; upon which Elizabeth ducked and laughed, and
dancing over to the old tin pan of a piano pounded out "Shoo Fly" with
one finger. Blair, watching the lovely color in her cheek, said in
honest delight: "When your face gets red like that, you are awfully
good-looking, Elizabeth."

"Good-looking"; that was a new idea to the four friends. Nannie gaped;
Elizabeth giggled; David "got red" on his own account, and muttered
under his breath, "Tell that to the marines!" But into Blair's face had
come, suddenly, a new expression; his eyes smiled vaguely; he came
sidling over to Elizabeth and stood beside her, sighing deeply:
"Elizabeth, you are an awful nice girl."

Elizabeth shrieked with laughter. "Listen to Blair--he's spoony!"

Instantly Blair was angry; "spooniness" vanished in a flash; he did not
speak for fully five minutes. Just as they started home, however, he
came out of his glumness to remember Miss White. "I'm going to take
Cherry-pie some ice-cream," he said; and all the way back he was so
absorbed in trying--unsuccessfully--to keep the pallid pink contents of
the mussy paper box from dripping on his clothes that he was able to
forget Elizabeth's rudeness. But childhood, for all four of them, ended
that afternoon.

When vacation was over, and they were back in the harness again, both
boys forgot that first tremulous clutch at the garments of life; in
fact, like all wholesome boys of fifteen or sixteen, they thought
"girls" a bore. It was not until the next long vacation that the old,
happy, squabbling relationship began to be tinged with a new
consciousness. It was the elemental instinct, the everlasting human
impulse. The boys, hobbledehoys, both of them, grew shy and turned red
at unexpected moments. The girls developed a certain condescension of
manner, which was very confusing and irritating to the boys. Elizabeth,
as unaware of herself as the bud that has not opened to the bee, sighed
a good deal, and repeated poetry to any one who would listen to her.
She said boys were awfully rough, and their boots had a disagreeable
smell, "I shall never get married," said Elizabeth; "I hate boys."
Nannie did not hate anybody, but she thought she would rather be a
missionary than marry;--"though I'm afraid I'd be afraid of the
savages," she confessed, timorously.

David and Blair were confidential to each other about girls in general,
and Elizabeth in particular; they said she was terribly stand-offish.
"Oh, well, she's a girl," said David; "what can you expect?"

"She's darned good-looking," Blair blurted out. And David said, with
some annoyance, "What's that amount to?" He said that, for his part, he
didn't mean to fool around after girls. "But I'm older than you, Blair;
you'll feel that way when you get to be my age; it's only when a man is
very young that he bothers with 'em."

"That's so," said Blair, gloomily. "Well, I never expect to marry."
Blair was very gloomy just then; he had come home from school the
embodiment of discontent. He was old enough now to suffer agonies of
mortification because of his mother's occupation. "The idea of a lady
running an Iron Works!" he said to David, who tried rather
half-heartedly to comfort him; David was complacently sure that _his_
mother wouldn't run an Iron Works! "I hate the whole caboodle," Blair
said, angrily. It was his old shrinking from "ugliness." And everything
at home was ugly;--the great old house in the midst of Maitland's
Shantytown; the darkness and grime of it; the smell of soot in the
halls; Harris's slatternly ways; his mother's big, beautiful, dirty
fingers. "When she sneezes," Blair said, grinding his teeth, "I
could--swear! She takes the roof off." He grew hot with shame when Mrs.
Richie, whom he admired profoundly, came to take supper with his mother
at the office table with its odds and ends of china. (As the old Canton
dinner service had broken and fire-cracked, Harris had replenished the
shelves of the china-closet according to his own taste limited by Mrs.
Maitland's economic orders.) Blair found everything hideous, or vulgar,
or uncomfortable, and he said so to Nannie with a violence that
betrayed real suffering. For it is suffering when the young creature
finds itself ashamed of father or mother. Instinctively the child is
proud of the parent, and if youth is wounded in its tenderest point,
its sense of conventionality--for nothing is as conventional as
adolescence--that natural instinct is headed off, and of course there
is suffering. Mrs. Maitland, living in her mixture of squalor and
dignity, had no time to consider such abstractions. As for there being
anything unwomanly in her occupation, such an idea never entered her
head. To Sarah Maitland, no work which it was a woman's duty to do
could be unwomanly; she was incapable of consciously aping masculinity,
but to earn her living and heap up a fortune for her son, was, to her
way of thinking, just the plain common sense of duty. But more than
that, the heart in her bosom would have proved her sex to her; how she
loved to knit the pink socks for dimpled little feet! how she winced
when her son seemed to shrink from her; how jealous she was still of
that goose Molly,--who had been another man's wife for as many years as
Herbert Maitland had been in his grave. But Blair saw none of these
things that might have told him that his mother was a very woman.
Instead, his conventionality was insulted at every turn; his love of
beauty was outraged. As a result a wall was slowly built between the
mother and son, a wall whose foundations had been laid when the little
boy had pointed his finger at her and said "uggy."

Mrs. Maitland was, of course, perfectly unconscious of her son's hot
misery; she was so happy at having him at home again that she could not
see that he was unhappy at being at home. She was pathetically eager to
please him. Her theory--if in her absorbed life she could be said to
have a theory--was that Blair should have everything he wanted, so that
he should the sooner be a man. Money, she thought, would give him
everything. She herself wanted nothing money could give, except food
and shelter; the only use she had for money was to make more money; but
she realized that other people, especially young men, like the things
it would buy. Twice during that particular vacation, for no cause
except to gratify herself, she gave her son a wickedly large check; and
once, when Nannie told her that he wanted to pay for some painting
lessons, though she demurred just for a moment, she paid the bill so
that his own spending-money should not be diminished.

"What on earth does a man who is going to run an Iron Works want with
painting lessons?" she said to the entreating sister. But even while
she made her grumbling protest, she wrote a check.

As for Blair, he took the money, as he took everything else that she
gave him of opportunity and happiness, and said, "Thank you, mother;
you are awfully good"; but he shut his eyes when he kissed her. He was
blind to the love, the yearning, the outstretched hands of
motherhood,--not because he was cruel, or hard, or mean; but because he
was young, and delighted in beauty.

Of course his wretchedness lessened after a fortnight or so--habit does
much to reconcile us to unpleasantness; besides that, his painting was
an interest, and his voice began to be a delight to him; he used to
sing a good deal, making Nannie play his accompaniments, and sometimes
his mother, working in the dining-room, would pause a moment, with
lifted head, and listen and half smile--then fall to work again
furiously.

But the real solace to his misery and irritation came to him--a boy
still in years--in the sudden realization of _Elizabeth!_



CHAPTER IV

"I am going to have a party," Blair told Nannie; "I've invited David
and Elizabeth, and four fellows; and you can ask four girls."

Nannie quaked. "Do you mean to have them come to supper?"

"You can call it 'supper'; I call it dinner."

"I'm afraid Mamma won't like it; it will disturb the table."

"I'm not going to have it in that hole of a dining-room; I'm going to
have it in the parlor. Harris says he can manage perfectly well. We'll
hang a curtain across the arch and have the table in the back parlor."

"But Harris can't wait on us in there, and on Mamma in the
dining-room," Nannie objected.

"We shall have our dinner at seven, after Harris has given mother her
supper on that beautiful table of hers."

"But--" said Nannie.

"You tell her about it," Blair coaxed; "she'll take anything from you."

Nannie yielded. Instructed by Blair, she hinted his purpose to Mrs.
Maitland, who to her surprise consented amiably enough.

"I've no objections. And the back parlor is a very sensible
arrangement. It would be a nuisance to have you in here; I don't like
to have things moved. Now clear out! Clear out! I must go to work." A
week later she issued her orders: "Mr. Ferguson, I'll be obliged if
you'll come to supper to-morrow night. Blair has some kind of a bee in
his bonnet about having a party. Of course it's nonsense, but I suppose
that's to be expected at his age."

Robert Ferguson demurred. "The boy doesn't want me; he has asked a
dozen young people."

Mrs. Maitland lifted one eyebrow. "I didn't hear about the dozen young
people; I thought it was only two or three besides David and Elizabeth;
however, I don't mind. I'll go the whole hog. He can have a dozen, if
he wants to. As for his not wanting you, what has that got to do with
it? I want you. It's my house, and my table; and I'll ask who I please.
I've asked Mrs. Richie," she ended, and gave him a quick look.

"Well," her superintendent said, indifferently, "I'll come; but it's
hard on Blair." When he went home that night, he summoned Miss White.
"I hope you have arranged to have Elizabeth look properly for Blair's
party? Don't let her be vain about it, but have her look right." And on
the night of the great occasion, just before they started for Mrs.
Maitland's, he called his niece into his library, and knocking off his
glasses, looked her over with grudging eyes: "Don't get your head
turned, Elizabeth. Remember, it isn't fine feathers that make fine
birds," he said; and never knew that he was proud of her!

Elizabeth, bubbling with laughter, holding her skirt out in small,
white-gloved hands, made three dancing steps, dipped him a great
courtesy, then ran to him, and before he knew it, caught him round the
neck and kissed him. "You dear, darling, _precious_ uncle!" she said.

Mr. Ferguson, breathless, put his hand up to his cheek, as if the
unwonted touch had left some soft, fresh warmth behind it.

Elizabeth did not wait to see the pleased and startled gesture she
gathered up her fluffy tarlatan skirt, dashed out into the garden,
through the green gate in the wall, and bursting into the house next
door, stood in the hall and called up-stairs: "David! Come! Hurry!
Quick!" She was stamping her foot with excitement.

David, who had had a perspiring and angry quarter of an hour with his
first white tie, came out of his room and looked over the banisters,
both hands at his throat. "Hello! What on earth is the matter?"

"David--see!" she said, and stood, quivering and radiant, all her
whiteness billowing about her.

"See what?" David said, patiently.

"A long dress!"

"A _what_?" said David; then looking down at her, turning and twisting
and preening herself in the dark hall like some shining white bird, he
burst into a shout of laughter.

Elizabeth's face reddened. "I don't see anything to laugh at."

"You look like a little girl dressed up!"

"Little girl? I don't see much 'little girl' about it; I'm nearly
sixteen." She gathered her skirt over her arm again, and retreated with
angry dignity.

As for David, he went back to try a new tie; but his eyes were dreamy.
"George! she's a daisy," he said to himself.

When, the day before, Mrs. Richie had told her son that she had been
invited to Blair's party, he was delighted. David had learned several
things at school besides his prayers, some of which caused Mrs. Richie,
like most mothers of boys, to give much time to her prayers. But as a
result, perhaps of prayers as well as of education, and in spite of Mr.
Ferguson's misgivings as to the wisdom of trusting a boy to a "good
woman," he was turning out an honest young cub, of few words, defective
sense of humor, and rather clumsy manners. But under his speechlessness
and awkwardness, David was sufficiently sophisticated to be immensely
proud of his pretty mother; only a laborious sense of propriety and the
shyness of his sex and years kept him from, as he expressed it,
"blowing about her." He blew now, however, a little, when she said she
was going to the party: "Blair'll be awfully set up to have you come.
You know he's terribly mashed on you. He thinks you are about the best
thing going. Materna, now you dress up awfully, won't you? I want you
to take the shine out of everybody else. I'm going to wear my dress
suit," he encouraged her. "Why, say!" he interrupted himself, "that's
funny--Blair didn't tell me he had asked you."

"Mrs. Maitland asked me."

"Mrs. Maitland!" David said, aghast; "Materna, you don't suppose
_she's_ coming, do you?"

"I'm sure I hope so, considering she invited me."

"Great Casar's ghost!" said David, thoughtfully; and added, under his
breath, "I'm betting on his not expecting her. Poor Blair!"

Blair had need of sympathy. His plan for a "dinner" had encountered
difficulties, and he had had moments of racking indecision; but when,
on the toss of a penny, 'heads' declared for carrying the thing
through, he held to his purpose with a perseverance that was amusingly
like his mother's large and unshakable obstinacies. He had endless
talks with Harris as to food; and with painstaking regard for artistic
effect and as far as he understood it, for convention, he worked out
every detail of service and arrangement. His first effort was to make
the room beautiful; so the crimson curtains were drawn across the
windows, and the cut-glass chandeliers in both rooms emerged glittering
from their brown paper-muslin bags. The table was rather overloaded
with large pieces of silver which Blair had found in the big
silver-chest in the garret; among them was a huge center ornament,
called in those days an epergne--an extraordinary arrangement of
prickly silver leaves and red glass cups which were supposed to be
flowers. It was black with disuse, and Blair made Harris work over it
until the poor fellow protested that he had rubbed the skin off his
thumb--but the pointed leaves of the great silver thistle sparkled like
diamonds. Blair was charmingly considerate of old Harris so long as it
required no sacrifice on his own part, but he did not relinquish a
single piece of silver because of that thumb. With his large allowance,
it was easy to put flowers everywhere--the most expensive that the
season afforded. When he ordered them, he bought at the same time a
great bunch of orchids for Miss White. "I can't invite her," he
decided, reluctantly; "but her feelings won't be hurt if I send her
some flowers." As for the menu, he charged the things he wanted to his
mother's meager account at the grocery-store. When he produced his list
of delicacies, things unknown on that office-dining-room table, the
amazed grocer said to himself, "Well, _at last_ I guess that trade is
going to amount to something! Why, damn it," he confided to his
bookkeeper afterward, "I been sendin' things up to that there house for
seventeen years, and the whole bill ain't amounted to shucks. That
woman could buy and sell me twenty times over. Twenty times? A hundred
times! And I give you my word she eats like a day-laborer. Listen to
this"--and he rattled off Blair's order. "She'll fall down dead when
she sees them things; she don't even know how to spell 'em!"

Blair had never seen a table properly appointed for a dinner-party; but
Harris had recollections of more elaborate and elegant days, a
recollection, indeed, of one occasion when he had waited at a
policemen's ball; and he laid down the law so dogmatically that Blair
assented to every suggestion. The result was a humorous compound of
Harris's standards and Blair's aspirations; but the boy, coming in to
look at the table before the arrival of his guests, was perfectly
satisfied.

"It's fine, Harris, isn't it?" he said. "Now, light up all the burners
on both chandeliers. Harris, give a rub to that thistle leaf, will you?
It's sort of dull." Harris looked at his swollen thumb. "Aw', now, Mr.
Blair," he began. "Did you hear what I said?" Blair said, icily--and
the leaf was polished! Blair looked at it critically, then laughed and
tossed the old man a dollar. "There's some sticking-plaster for you.
And Harris, look here: those things--the finger-bowls; don't go and get
mixed up on 'em, will you? They come last." Harris put his thumb in his
mouth; "I never seen dishes like that," he mumbled doubtfully; "the
police didn't have 'em."

"It's the fashion," Blair explained; "Mrs. Richie has them, and I've
seen them at swell hotels. Most people don't eat in an office," he
ended, with a curl of his handsome lip.

It was while he was fussing about, whistling or singing, altering the
angle of a spoon here or the position of a wine-glass there, that his
mother came in. She had put on her Sunday black silk, and she had even
added a lace collar and a shell cameo pin; she was knitting busily, the
ball of pink worsted tucked under one arm. There was a sort of grim
amusement, tempered by patience, in her face. To have supper at seven
o'clock, and call it "dinner"; to load the table with more food than
anybody could eat, and much of it stuff that didn't give the stomach
any honest work to do--"like that truck," she said, pointing an amused
knitting-needle at the olives--was nonsense. But Blair was young; he
would get over his foolishness when he got into business. Meantime, let
him be foolish! "I suppose he thinks he's the grand high cockalorum!"
she told herself, chuckling. Aloud she said, with rough jocosity:

"What in the world is the good of all those flowers? A supper table is
a place for food, not fiddle-faddle!"

Blair reddened sharply. "There are people," he began, in that voice of
restrained irritation which is veiled by sarcastic politeness--"there
are people, my dear mother, who think of something else than filling
their stomachs." Mrs. Maitland's eye had left the dinner table, and was
raking her son from head to foot. He was very handsome, this
sixteen-year-old boy, standing tall and graceful in his new clothes,
which, indeed, he wore easily, in spite of his excitement at their
newness.

"Well!" she said, sweeping him with a glance. Her face glowed; "I wish
his father could have lived to see him," she thought; she put out her
hand and touched his shoulder. "Turn round here till I look at you!
Well, well! I suppose you're enjoying those togs you've got on?" Her
voice was suddenly raucous with pride; if she had known how, she would
have kissed him. Instead she said, with loud cheerfulness: "Well, my
son, which is the head of the table? Where am I to sit?"

"_Mother!_" Blair said. He turned quite white. He went over to the
improvised serving-table, and picked up a fork with a trembling hand;
put it down again, and turned to look at her. Yes; she was all dressed
up! He groaned under his breath. The tears actually stood in his eyes.
"I thought," he said, and stopped to clear his voice, "I didn't know--"

"What's the matter with you?" Mrs. Maitland asked, looking at him over
her spectacles.

"I didn't suppose you would be willing to come," Blair said, miserably.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said, kindly; "I'll stick it out for an hour."

Blair ground his teeth. Harris, pulling on a very large pair of white
cotton gloves--thus did he live up to the standards of the policemen's
ball--came shuffling across the hall, and his aghast expression when he
caught sight of Mrs. Maitland was a faint consolation to the despairing
boy.

"Here! Harris! have you got places enough?" Mrs. Maitland said. "Blair,
have you counted noses? Mrs. Richie's coming, and Mr. Ferguson."

"Mrs. Richie!" In spite of his despair, Blair had an elated moment. He
was devoted to David's mother, and there was some consolation in the
fact that she would see that he knew how to do things decently! Then
his anger burst out. "I didn't ask Mrs. Richie," he said, his voice
trembling.

"What time is supper?" his mother interrupted, "I'm getting hungry!"
She took her place at the head of the table, sitting a little sidewise,
with one foot round the leg of her chair; she looked about impatiently,
striking the table softly with her open hand--a hand always beautiful,
and to-night clean. "What nonsense to have it so late!"

"It isn't supper," Blair said; "it's dinner; and--" But at that moment
the door-bell saved the situation. Harris, stumbling with agitation,
had retreated to his pantry, so Mrs. Maitland motioned to Blair. "Run
and open the door for your friends," she said, kindly.

Blair did not "run," but he went; and if he could have killed those
first-comers with a glance, he would have done so. As for Mrs.
Maitland, still glowing with this new experience of taking part in her
son's pleasure, she tramped into the front room to say how do you do
and shake hands with two very shy young men, who were plainly awed by
her presence. As the others came in, it was she who received them,
standing on the hearth-rug, her back to the empty fireplace which Blair
had filled with roses, all ready to welcome the timid youngsters, who
in reply to her loud greetings stammered the commonplaces of the
occasion.

"How are you, Elizabeth? What! a long dress? Well, well, you _are_
getting to be a big girl! How are you, David? And so you have a
swallowtail, too? Glad to see you, Mrs. Richie. Who's this? Harry
Knight? Well, Harry, you are quite a big boy. I knew your stepmother
when she was Molly Wharton, and not half your age."

Harry, who had a sense of humor, was able to laugh, but David was red
with wrath, and Elizabeth tossed her head. As for Blair, he grew paler
and paler.

Yet the dreadful dinner went off fairly smoothly. Mrs. Maitland sat
down before anybody else. "Come, good people, come!" she said, and
began her rapid "Bless, O Lord," while the rest of the company were
still drawing up their chairs. "Amen, soup, Mrs. Richie?" she said,
heartily. The ladling out of the soup was an outlet for her energy; and
as Harris's ideals put all the dishes on the table at once, she was
kept busy carving or helping, or, with the hospitable insistence of her
generation, urging her guests to eat. Blair sat at the other end of the
table in black silence. Once he looked at Mrs. Richie with an agonized
gratitude in his beautiful eyes, like the gratitude of a hurt puppy
lapping a friendly and helping hand; for Mrs. Richie, with the gentlest
tact, tried to help him by ignoring him and talking to the young people
about her. Elizabeth, too, endeavored to do her part by assuming (with
furtive glances at David) a languid, young-lady-like manner, which
would have made Blair chuckle at any less terrible moment. Even Mr.
Ferguson, although still a little dazed by that encounter with his
niece, came to the rescue--for the situation was, of course,
patent--and talked to Mrs. Maitland; which, poor Blair thought, "at
least shut her up"!

Mrs. Maitland was, of course perfectly unconscious that any one could
wish to shut her up; she did not feel anything unusual in the
atmosphere, and she was astonishingly patient with all the stuff and
nonsense. Once she did strike the call-bell, which she had bidden
Harris to bring from the office table, and say, loudly: "Make haste,
Harris! Make haste! What is all this delay?" The delay was Harris's
agitated endeavor to refresh his memory about "them basins."

"Is it _now_?" he whispered to Blair, furtively rubbing his thumb on
the shiny seam of his trousers. Blair, looking a little sick, whispered
back:

"Oh, throw 'em out of the window."

"Aw', now, Mr. Blair," poor Harris protested, "I clean forgot; is it
with these here tomatoes, or with the dessert?"

"Go to the devil!" Blair said, under his breath. And the finger-bowls
appeared with the salad.

"What's this nonsense?" Mrs. Maitland demanded; then, realizing Blair's
effort, she picked up a finger-bowl and looked at it, cocking an amused
eyebrow. "Well, Blair," she said, with loud good nature, "we are
putting on airs!"

Blair pretended not to hear. For the whole of that appalling experience
he had nothing to say--even to Elizabeth, sitting beside him in the new
white dress, the spun silk of her brown hair shimmering in the amazing
glitter of the great cut-glass chandelier. The other young people,
glancing with alarmed eyes now at Blair, and now at his mother,
followed their host's example of silence. Mrs. Maitland, however, did
her duty as she saw it; she asked condescending questions as to "how
you children amuse yourselves," and she made her crude jokes at
everybody's expense, with side remarks to Robert Ferguson about their
families: "That Knight boy is Molly Wharton's stepson; he looks like
his father. Old Knight is an elder in The First Church; he hands round
the hat for other people to put their money in--never gives anything
himself. I always call his wife 'goose Molly.' ... Is that young
Clayton, Tom Clayton's son? He looks as if he had some gumption; Tom
was always Mr. Doestick's friend. ... I suppose you know that that West
boy's grandmother wasn't sure who his grandfather was? ... Mrs.
Richie's a pretty woman, Friend Ferguson; where are your eyes!" ...

When it was over, that terrible thirty minutes--for Mrs. Maitland drove
Harris at full speed through all Blair's elaborations--it was Mrs.
Richie who came to the rescue.

"Mrs. Maitland," she said, "sha'n't you and I and Mr. Ferguson go and
talk in your room, and leave the young people to amuse themselves?" And
Mrs. Maitland's quick agreement showed how relieved she was to get
through with all the "nonsense."

When their elders had left them, the "young people" drew a long breath
and looked at one another. Nannie, almost in tears, tried to make some
whispered explanation to Blair, but he turned his back on her. David,
with a carefully blase air, said, "Bully dinner, old man." Blair gave
him a look, and David subsided. When the guests began a chatter of
relief, Blair still stood apart in burning silence. He wished he need
never see or speak to any of them again. He hated them all; he
hated--But he did not finish this, even in his thoughts.

When the others had recovered their spirits, and Nannie had begun to
play on the piano, and somebody had suggested that they should all
sing--"And then let's dance!" cried Elizabeth--Blair disappeared. Out
in the hall, standing with clenched hands in the dim light, he said to
himself he wished they would all clear out! "I am sick of the whole
darned business; I wish they'd clear out!"

It was there that Elizabeth found him. She had forgotten her
displeasure at David, and was wildly happy; but she had missed Blair,
and had come, in a dancing whirl of excitement, to find him. "What are
you doing? Come right back to the parlor!"

Blair, turning, saw the smooth cheek, pink as the curve of a shell, the
soft hair's bronze sheen, the amber darkness of the happy eyes. "Oh,
Elizabeth!" he said, and actually sobbed.

"Blair! What _is_ the matter?"

"It was disgusting, the whole thing."

"What was disgusting?"

"That awful dinner--"

"Awful? You are perfectly crazy! It was lovely! What are you talking
about?" In her dismayed defense of her first social function, she put
her hands on his arm and shook it. "Why! It is the first dinner I ever
went to in all my life; and look: six-button gloves! What do you think
of that? Uncle told Cherry-pie I could have whatever was proper, and I
got these lovely gloves. They are awfully fashionable!" She pulled one
glove up, not only to get its utmost length, but also to cover that
scar which her fierce little teeth had made so long ago. "Oh, Blair, it
really was a perfectly _beautiful_ dinner," she said, earnestly.

She was so close to him that it seemed as if the color on her cheek
burned against his, and he could smell the rose in her brown hair. "Oh,
Elizabeth," he said, panting, "you are an angel!"

"It was simply lovely!" she declared. In her excitement she did not
notice that new word. Blair trembled; he could not speak. "Come right
straight back!" Elizabeth said; "please! Everybody will have a
perfectly splendid time, if you'll just come back. We want you to sing.
Please!" The long, sweet corners of her eyes implored him.

"Elizabeth," Blair whispered, "I--I love you."

Elizabeth caught her breath; then the exquisite color streamed over her
face. "Oh!" she said faintly, and swerved away from him. Blair came a
step nearer. They were both silent. Elizabeth put her hand over her
lips, and stared at him with half-frightened eyes. Then Blair:

"Do you care, a little, Elizabeth?"

"We must go back to the parlor," she said, breathing quickly.

"Elizabeth, _do_ you?"

"Oh--Blair!"

"Please, Elizabeth," Blair said; and putting his arms round her very
gently, he kissed her cheek.

Elizabeth looked at him speechlessly; then, with a lovely movement,
came nestling against him. A minute later they drew apart; the girl's
face was quivering with light and mystery, the young man's face was
amazed. Then amazement changed to triumph, and triumph to power, and
power to something else, something that made Elizabeth shrink and utter
a little cry. In an instant he caught her violently to him and kissed
her--kissed the scar on her upraised, fending arm, then her neck, her
eyes, her mouth, holding her so that she cried out and struggled; and
as he let her go, she burst out crying. "Oh--oh--_oh_--" she said; and
darting from him, ran up-stairs, stumbling on the unaccustomed length
of her skirt and catching at the banisters to keep from falling. But at
the head of the stairs she paused; the tears had burned off in flashing
excitement. She hesitated; it seemed as if she would turn and come back
to him. But when he made a motion to bound up after her, she smiled and
fled, and he heard the door of Nannie's room bang and the key turn in
the lock.

Blair Maitland stood looking after her; in that one hot instant
boyishness had been swept out of his face.



CHAPTER V

"They have all suddenly grown up!" Mrs. Richie said, disconsolately.
She had left the "party" early, without waiting for her carriage,
because Mrs. Maitland's impatient glances at her desk had been an
unmistakable dismissal.

"I will walk home with you," Robert Ferguson said.

"Aren't you going to wait for Elizabeth?"

"David will bring her home."

"He'll be only too glad of the chance; how pretty she was to-night! You
must have been very proud of her."

"Not in the least. Beauty isn't a thing to be proud of. Quite the
contrary."

Mrs. Richie laughed: "You are hopeless, Mr. Ferguson! What is a girl
for, if not to be sweet and pretty and charming? And Elizabeth is all
three."

"I would rather have her good."

"But prettiness doesn't interfere with goodness! And Elizabeth is a
dear, good child."

"I hope she is," he said

"You _know_ she is," she declared.

"Well, she has her good points," he admitted; and put his hand up to
his lean cheek as if he still felt the flower-like touch of Elizabeth's
lips.

"But they have all grown up," Mrs. Richie said. "Mr. Ferguson, David
wants to smoke! What shall I do?"

"Good heavens! hasn't he smoked by this time?" said Robert Ferguson,
horrified. "You'll ruin that boy yet!"

"Oh, when he was a little boy, there was one awful day, when--" Mrs.
Richie shuddered at the remembrance; "but now he wants to really smoke,
you know."

"He's seventeen," Mr. Ferguson said, severely. "I should think you
might cut the apron-strings by this time."

"You seem very anxious about apron-strings for David," she retorted
with some spirit. "I notice you never show any anxiety about Blair."

At which her landlord laughed loudly: "I should say not! He's been
brought up by a man--practically." Then he added with some generosity,
"But I'm not sure that an apron-string or two might not have been a
good thing for Blair."

Mrs. Richie accepted the amend good-naturedly. "My tall David is very
nice, even if he does want to smoke. But I've lost my boy."

"He'll be a boy," Robert Ferguson said, "until he makes an ass of
himself by falling in love. Then, in one minute, he'll turn into a man.
I--" he paused, and laughed: "I was twenty, just out of college, when I
made an ass of myself over a girl who was as vain as a peacock. Well,
she was beautiful; I admit that."

"You were very young," Mrs. Richie said gravely; the emotion behind his
careless words was obvious. They walked along in silence for several
minutes. Then he said, contemptuously:

"She threw me over. Good riddance, of course."

"If she was capable of treating you badly, of course it was well to
have her do so--in time," she agreed; "but I suppose those things cut
deep with a boy," she added gently. She had a maternal instinct to put
out a comforting hand, and say "never mind." Poor man! because, when he
was twenty a girl had jilted him, he was still, at over forty,
defending a sensitive heart by an armor of surliness. "Won't you come
in?" she said, when they reached her door; she smiled at him, with her
pleasant leaf-brown eyes,--eyes which were less sad, he thought, than
when she first came to Mercer. ("Getting over her husband's death, I
suppose," he said to himself. "Well, she has looked mournful longer
than most widows!")

He followed her into the house silently, and, sitting down on her
little sofa, took a cigar out of his pocket. He began to bite off the
end absently, then remembered to say, "May I smoke?"

The room was cool and full of the fragrance of white lilies. Mr.
Ferguson had planted a whole row of lilies against the southern wall of
Mrs. Richie's garden. "Such things are attractive to tenants; I find it
improves my property," he had explained to her, when she found him
grubbing, unasked, in her back yard. He looked now, approvingly at the
jug of lilies that had replaced the grate in the fireplace; but Mrs.
Richie looked at the clock. She was tired, and sometimes her good
neighbor stayed very late.

"Poor Blair!" she said. "I'm afraid his dinner was rather a
disappointment. What charming manners he has," she added, meditatively;
"I think it is very remarkable, considering--"

Mr. Ferguson knocked off his glasses. "Mrs. Maitland's manners may not
be as--as fine-ladyish as some people's, I grant you," he said, "but I
can tell you, she has more brains in her little finger than--"

"Than I have in my whole body?" Mrs. Richie interrupted gaily; "I know
just what you were going to say."

"No, I wasn't," he defended himself; but he laughed and stopped barking.

"It is what you thought," she said; "but let me tell you, I admire Mrs.
Maitland just as much as you do."

"No, you don't, because you can't," he said crossly; but he smiled. He
could not help forgiving Mrs. Richie, even when she did not seem to
appreciate Mrs. Maitland--the one subject on which the two neighbors
fell out. But after the smile he sighed, and apparently forgot Mrs.
Maitland. He scratched a match, held it absently until it scorched his
fingers; blew it out, and tossed it into the lilies; Mrs. Richie
winced, but Mr. Ferguson did not notice her; he leaned forward, his
hands between his knees, the unlighted cigar in his fingers: "Yes; she
threw me over."

For a wild moment Mrs. Richie thought he meant Mrs. Maitland; then she
remembered. "It was very hard for you," she said vaguely.

"And Elizabeth's mother," he went on, "my brother Arthur's wife, left
him. He never got over the despair of it. He--killed himself."

Mrs. Richie's vagueness was all gone. "Mr. Ferguson!"

"She was bad--all through."

"Oh, _no_!" Helena Richie said faintly.

"She left him, for another man. Just as the girl I believed in left me.
I would have doubted my God, Mrs. Richie, before I could have doubted
that girl. And when she jilted me, I suppose I did doubt Him for a
while. At any rate, I doubted everybody else. I do still, more or less."

Mrs. Richie was silent.

"We two brothers--the same thing happened to both of us! It was worse
for him than for me; I escaped, as you might say, and I learned a
valuable lesson; I have never built on anybody. Life doesn't play the
same trick on me twice. But Arthur was different. He was of softer
stuff. You'd have liked my brother Arthur. Yes; he was too good to
her--that was the trouble. If he had beaten her once or twice, I don't
believe she would have behaved as she did. Imagine leaving a good
husband, a devoted husband--"

"What I can't imagine," Helena Richie said, in a low voice, "is leaving
a living child. _That_ seems to me impossible."

"The man married her after Arthur--died," he went on; "I guess she paid
the piper in her life with him! I hope she did. Oh, well; she's dead
now; I mustn't talk about her. But Elizabeth has her blood in her; and
she is pretty, just as she was. She looks like her, sometimes.
There--now you know. Now you understand why I worry so about her. I
used to wish she would die before she grew up. I tried to do my duty to
her, but I hoped she would die. Yet she seems to be a good little
thing. Yes, I'm pretty sure she is a good little thing. To-night,
before we went to the dinner, she--she behaved very prettily. But if I
saw her mother in her, I would--God knows what I would do! But except
for this fussing about clothes, she seems all right. You know she
wanted a locket once? But you think that is only natural to a girl? Not
a vanity that I need to be anxious about? Her mother was vain--a
shallow, selfish theatrical creature!" He looked at her with worried
eyes. "I am dreadfully anxious, sometimes," he said simply.

"There's nothing to be anxious about," she said, in a smothered voice,
"nothing at all."

"Of course I'm fond of her," he confessed, "but I am never sure of her."

"You ought to be sure of her," Mrs. Richie said; "her little
vanities--why, it is just natural for a girl to want pretty dresses!
But to think--Poor little Elizabeth!" She hid her face in her hands;
"and poor bad mother," she said, in a whisper.

"Don't pity _her_! She was not the one to pity. It was Arthur who--" He
left the sentence unfinished; his face quivered.

"Oh," she cried, "you are all wrong. She is the one to pity, I don't
care how selfish and shallow she was! As for your brother, he just
died. What was dying, compared to living? Oh, you don't understand.
Poor bad women! You might at least be sorry for them. How can you be so
hard?"

"I suppose I am hard," he said, half wonderingly, but very meekly;
"when a good woman can pity Dora--that was her name; who am I to judge
her? I'll try not to be so hard," he promised.

He had risen. Mrs. Richie tried to speak, but stopped and caught her
breath at the bang of the front door.

"It's David!" she said, in a terrified voice. Her face was very pale,
so pale that David, coming abruptly into the room, stood still in his
tracks, aghast.

"Why, Materna! What's up? Mother, something is the matter!"

"It's my fault, David," Robert Ferguson said, abashed. "I was telling
your mother a--a sad story. Mrs. Richie, I didn't realize it would pain
you. Your mother is a very kind woman, David; she's been sympathizing
with other people's troubles."

David, looking at him resentfully, came and stood beside her, with an
aggressively protecting manner. "I don't see why she need bother about
other people's troubles. Say, Materna, I--I wouldn't feel badly. Mr.
Ferguson, I--you--" he blustered; he was very much perturbed.

The fact was David was not in an amiable humor; Elizabeth had been very
queer all the way home. "High and mighty!" David said to himself;
treating him as if he were a little boy, and she a young lady! "And I'm
seventeen--the idea of her putting on such airs!" And now here was her
uncle making his mother low-spirited. "Materna, I wouldn't bother," he
comforted her.

Mrs. Richie put a soothing hand on his arm. "Never mind," she said; she
was still pale, "Yes, it was a sad story. But I thank you for telling
me, Mr. Ferguson."

He tried awkwardly to apologize for having distressed her, and then
took himself off. When he opened his own door, even before he closed it
again, he called out, "Miss White!"

"Yes, sir?" said the little governess, peering rabbit-like from the
parlor.

"Miss White, I've been thinking; I'm going to buy Elizabeth a piece of
jewelry; a locket, I think. You can tell her so. Mrs. Richie says she's
quite sure she isn't really vain in wanting such things."

"I have been at my post, sir, since Elizabeth was three years old,"
Miss White said with spirit, "and I have frequently told you that she
was not vain. I'll go and tell her what you say, immejetly!"

But when Cherry-pie went to carry the great news she found Elizabeth's
door locked.

"What? Uncle is going to give me a locket?" Elizabeth called out in
answer to her knock. "Oh, joy! Splendid!"

"Let me in, and I'll tell you what he said," Miss White called back.

"No! I can't!" cried the joyous young voice. "I'm busy!"

She was busy; she was holding a lamp above her head, and looking at
herself in the mirror over the mantelpiece. Her hair was down, tumbling
in a shining mass over her shoulders, her eyes were like stars, her
cheeks rose-red. She was turning her white neck from side to side,
throwing her head backward, looking at herself through half-shut eyes;
her mouth was scarlet. "Blair is in love with me!" she said to herself.
She felt his last kiss still on her mouth; she felt it until it seemed
as if her lip bled.

"David Richie needn't talk about 'little girls' any more. _I'm
engaged!_" She put the lamp down on the mantelpiece, shook her mane of
hair back over her bare shoulders, and then, her hands on her hips, her
short petticoat ruffling about her knees, she began to dance. "Somebody
is in love with me!

    "'Oh, isn't it joyful, joyful, joyful--'"

[Illustration: "BLAIR IS IN LOVE WITH ME!"]



CHAPTER VI

When the company had gone,--"I thought they never _would_ go!" Nannie
said--she rushed at her brother. "Blair!"

The boy flung up his head proudly. "She told you, did she?"

"You're engaged!" cried Nannie, ecstatically.

Blair started. "Why!" he said. "So I am! I never thought of it." And
when he got his breath, the radiant darkness of his eyes sparkled into
laughter. "Yes, _I'm engaged!_" He put his hands into his pockets and
strutted the length of the room; a minute later he stopped beside the
piano and struck a triumphant chord; then he sat down and began to play
uproariously, singing to a crashing accompaniment:

  "'... lived a miner, a forty-niner,
  With his daughter Clementine!
  Oh my darling, oh my _darling_--'"

--the riotous, beautiful voice rang on, the sound overflowing through
the long rooms, across the hall, even into the dining-room. Harris,
wiping dishes in the pantry, stopped, tea-towel in hand, and listened;
Sarah Maitland, at her desk, lifted her head, and the pen slipped from
her fingers. Blair, spinning around on the piano-stool, caught his
sister about her waist in a hug that made her squeak. Then they both
shrieked with laughter.

"But Blair!" Nannie said, getting her breath; "shall you tell Mamma
to-night?"

Blair's face dropped. "I guess I won't tell anybody yet," he faltered;
"oh, that awful dinner!"

As the mortification of an hour ago surged back upon him, he added to
the fear of telling his mother a resentment that would retaliate by
secrecy. "I won't tell her at all," he decided; "and don't you, either."

"I!" said Nannie. "Well, I should think not. Gracious!"

But though Blair did not tell his mother, he could not keep the great
news to himself; he saw David the next afternoon, and overflowed.

David took it with a gasp of silence, as if he had been suddenly hit
below the belt; then in a low voice he said, "You--_kissed_ her. Did
she kiss you?"

Blair nodded. He held his head high, balancing it a little from side to
side; his lips were thrust out, his eyes shone. He was standing with
his feet well apart, his hands deep in his pockets; he laughed,
reddening to his forehead, but he was not embarrassed. For once David's
old look of silent, friendly admiration did not answer him; instead
there was half-bewildered dismay. David wanted to protest that it
wasn't--well, it wasn't _fair_. He did not say it; and in not saying it
he ceased to be a boy.

"I suppose it was when you and she went off after dinner? You needn't
have been so darned quiet about it! What's the good of being so--mum
about everything? Why didn't you come back and tell? You're not ashamed
of it, are you?"

"A man doesn't tell a thing like that," Blair said scornfully.

"Well!" David snorted, "I suppose some time you'll be married?"

Blair nodded again. "Right off."

"Huh!" said David; "your mother won't let you. You are only sixteen.
Don't be an ass."

"I'll be seventeen next May."

"Seventeen! What's seventeen? I'm pretty near eighteen, and I haven't
thought of being married;--at least to anybody in particular."

"You couldn't," Blair said coldly; "you haven't got the cash."

David chewed this bitter fact in silence; then he said, "I thought you
and Elizabeth were kind of off at dinner. You didn't talk to each other
at all. I thought you were both huffy; and instead of that--" David
paused.

"That damned dinner!" Blair said, dropping his love-affair for his
grievance. Blair's toga virilis, assumed in that hot moment in the
hall, was profanity of sorts. "David, I'm going to clear out. I can't
stand this sort of thing. I'll go and live at a hotel till I go to
college; I'll--"

"Thought you were going to get married?" David interrupted him
viciously.

Blair looked at him, and suddenly understood,--David was jealous!
"Gorry!" he said blankly. He was honestly dismayed. "Look here," he
began, "I didn't know that _you_--"

"I don't know what you're talking about," David broke in
contemptuously; "if you think _I_ care, one way or the other, you're
mistaken. It's nothing to me. 'By"; and he turned on his heel.

It was a hot July afternoon; the sun-baked street along which they had
been walking was deep with black dust and full of the clamor of
traffic. Four big gray Flemish horses, straining against their
breastplates, were hauling a dray loaded with clattering iron rods; the
sound, familiar enough to any Mercer boy, seemed to David at that
moment intolerable. "I'll get out of this cursed noise," he said to
himself, and turned down a narrow street toward the river. It occurred
to him that he would go over the covered bridge, and maybe stop and get
a tumbler of ice-cream at Mrs. Todd's. Then he would strike out into
the country and take a walk; he had nothing else to do. This vacation
business wasn't all it was cracked up to be; a man had better fun at
school; he was sick of Mercer, anyhow.

He had reached Mrs. Todd's saloon by that time, and through the white
palings of the fence he had glimpses of happy couples sitting at
marble-topped tables among the marigolds and coreopsis, taking slow,
delicious spoonfuls of ice-cream, and gazing at each other with
languishing eyes. David felt a qualm of disgust; for the first time in
his life he had no desire for ice-cream. A boy like Blair might find it
pleasant to eat ice-cream with a lot of fellows and girls out in the
garden of a toll-house, with people looking in through the palings; but
he had outgrown such things. The idea of Blair, at his age, talking
about being in love! Blair didn't know what _love_ meant. And as for
Elizabeth, how could she fall in love with Blair? He was two months
younger than she, to begin with. "No woman ought to marry a man younger
than she is," David said; he himself, he reflected, was much older than
Elizabeth. That was how it ought to be. The girl should always be
younger than the fellow. And anyway, Blair wasn't the kind of man for a
girl like Elizabeth to marry. "He wouldn't understand her. Elizabeth
goes off at half-cock sometimes, and Blair wouldn't know how to handle
her. I understand her, perfectly. Besides that, he's too selfish. A
woman ought not to marry a selfish man," said David. However, it made
no difference to him whom she married. If Elizabeth liked that sort of
thing, if she found Blair--who was only a baby anyhow--the kind of man
she could love, why then he was disappointed in Elizabeth. That was
all. He was not jealous, or anything like that; he was just
disappointed; he was sorry that Elizabeth was that kind of girl. "Very,
very sorry," David said to himself; and his eyes stung.... (Ah, well;
one may smile; but the pangs are real enough to the calf! The trouble
with us is we have forgotten our own pangs, so we doubt his.) ... Yes,
David was sorry; but the whole darned business was nothing to him,
because, unlike Blair, he was not a boy, and he could not waste time
over women; he had his future to think of. In fact, he felt that to
make the most of himself he must never marry.

Then suddenly these bitter forecastings ceased. He had come upon some
boys who were throwing stones at the dust-grimed windows of an unused
foundry shed. Along the roof of the big, gaunt building, dilapidated
and deserted, was a vast line of lights that had long been a target for
every boy who could pick up a pebble. Glass lay in splinters on the
slope of sheet-iron below the sashes, and one could look in through
yawning holes at silent, shadowy spaces that had once roared with light
from swinging ladles and flowing cupolas; but there were a few whole
panes left yet. At the sound of crashing glass, David, being a human
boy, stopped and looked on, at first with his hands in his pockets;
then he picked up a stone himself. A minute later he was yelling and
smashing with the rest of them; but when he had broken a couple of
lights, curiously enough, desire failed; he felt a sudden distaste for
breaking windows,--and for everything else! It was a sort of spiritual
nausea, and life was black and bitter on his tongue. He was conscious
of an actual sinking below his breast-bone. "I'm probably coming down
with brain fever," he told himself; and he had a happy moment of
thinking how wretched everybody would be when he died. Elizabeth would
be _very_ wretched! David felt a wave of comfort, and on the impulse of
expected death, he turned toward home again.... However, if he should
by any chance recover, marriage was not for him. It occurred to him
that this would be a bitter surprise to Elizabeth, whose engagement
would of course be broken as soon as she heard of his illness; and
again he felt happier. No, he would never marry. He would give his life
to his profession--it had long ago been decided that David was to be a
doctor. But it would be a lonely life. He looked ahead and saw himself
a great physician--no common doctor, like that old Doctor King who came
sometimes to see his mother; but a great man, dying nobly in some awful
epidemic. When Elizabeth heard of his magnificent courage, she'd feel
pretty badly. Rather different from Blair. How much finer than to be
merely looking forward to a lot of money that somebody else had made!
But perhaps that was why Elizabeth liked Blair; because he was going to
have money? And yet, how could she compare Blair with,--well, _any_
fellow who meant to work his own way? Here David touched bottom
abruptly. "How can a fellow take money he hasn't earned?" he said to
himself. David's feeling about independence was unusual in a boy of his
years, and it was not altogether admirable; it was, in fact, one of
those qualities that is a virtue, unless it becomes a vice.

When he was half-way across the bridge, he stopped to look down at the
slow, turbid river rolling below him. He stood there a long time,
leaning on the hand-rail. On the dun surface a sheen of oil gathered,
and spread, and gathered again. He could hear the wash of the current,
and in the railing under his hand he felt the old wooden structure
thrill and quiver in the constant surge of water against the pier below
him. The sun, a blood-red disk, was slipping into the deepening haze,
and on either side of the river the city was darkening into dusk. All
along the shore lights were pricking out of the twilight and sending
wavering shafts down into the water. The coiling smoke from furnace
chimneys lay level and almost motionless in the still air; sometimes it
was shot with sparks, or showed, on its bellying black curves, red
gleams from hidden fires below.

David, staring at the river with absent, angry eyes, stopped his
miserable thoughts to watch a steamboat coming down the current. Its
smoke-stacks were folded back for passing under the bridge, and its
great paddlewheel scarcely moved except to get steerageway. It was
pushing a dozen rafts, all lashed together into a spreading sheet. The
smell of the fresh planks pierced the acrid odor of soot that was
settling down with the night mists. On one of the rafts was a shanty of
newly sawed pine boards; it had no windows, but it was evidently a
home, for a stove-pipe came through its roof, and there was a woman
sitting in its little doorway, nursing her baby. David, looking down,
saw the downy head, and a little crumpled fist lying on the white, bare
breast. The woman, looking up as they floated below him, caught his
eye, and drew her blue cotton dress across her bosom. David suddenly
put his hand over his lips to hide their quiver. The abrupt tears were
on his cheeks. "Oh--_Elizabeth_!" he said. The revolt, the anger, the
jealousy, were all gone. He sobbed under his breath. He had forgotten
that he had said it made no difference to him,--"not the slightest
difference." It did make a difference! All the difference in the
world.... "Oh, Elizabeth!"... The barges had slid farther and farther
under the bridge; the woman and the child were out of sight; the
steamboat with its folded smoke-stacks slid after them, leaving a wake
of rocking, yellow foam; the water splashed loudly against the piers.
It was nearly dark there on the footpath, and quite deserted. David put
his head down on his arms on the railing and stood motionless for a
long moment.

When he reached home, he found his mother in the twilight, in the
little garden behind the house. David, standing behind her, said
carelessly, "I have some news for you, Materna."

"Yes?" she said, absorbed in pinching back her lemon verbena.

"Blair is--is spoony over Elizabeth. Here, I'll snip that thing for
you."

Mrs. Richie faced him in amazement. "What! Why, but they are both
children, and--" she stopped, and looked at him. "Oh--_David!_" she
said.

And the boy, forgetting the spying windows of the opposite houses,
dropped his head on her shoulder. "Materna--Materna," he said, in a
stifled voice.



CHAPTER VII

Nobody except David took the childish love-affair very seriously, not
even the principals--especially not Elizabeth. . . .

David did not see her for a day or two, except out of the corner of his
eye when, during the new and still secret rite of shaving--for David
was willing to shed his blood to prove that he was a man--he looked out
of his bedroom window and saw her down in the garden helping her uncle
feed his pigeons. He did not want to see her. He was younger than his
years, this honest-eyed, inexpressive fellow of seventeen, but for all
his youth he was hard hit. He grew abruptly older that first week; he
didn't sleep well; he even looked a little pale under his freckles, and
his mother worried over his appetite. When she asked him what was the
matter, he said, listlessly, "Nothing." They were very intimate friends
these two, but that moment on the bridge marked the beginning of the
period--known to all mothers of sons--of the boy's temporary retreat
into himself. . . . When a day or two later David saw Elizabeth, or
rather when she, picking a bunch of heliotrope in her garden, saw him
through the open door in the wall, and called to him to come "right
over! as fast as your legs can carry you!"--he was, she thought, "very
queer." He came in answer to the summons, but he had nothing to say.
She, however, was bubbling over with talk. She took his hand, and,
running with him into the arbor, pulled him down on the seat beside her.

"David! Where on earth have you been all this time? David, _have you
heard?_"

"I suppose you mean--about you and Blair?" he said. He did not look at
her, but he watched a pencil of sunshine, piercing the leaves overhead,
faintly gilding the bunches of green grapes that had a film of soot on
their greenness, and then creeping down to rest on the heliotrope in
her lap.

"Yes!" said Elizabeth. "Isn't it the most exciting thing you ever
heard? David, I want to show you something." She peered out through the
leaves to make sure that they were unobserved. "It's a terrific
secret!" she said, her eyes dancing. Her fingers were at her throat,
fumbling with the fastening of her dress, which caught, and had to be
pulled open with a jerk; then she drew half-way from her young bosom a
ring hanging on a black silk thread. She bent forward a little, so that
he might see it. "I keep it down in there so Cherry-pie won't know,"
she whispered. "_Look!_"

David looked--and looked away.

Elizabeth, with a blissful sigh, dropped the ring back again into the
warm whiteness of that secret place. "Isn't it perfectly lovely? It's
my engagement ring! I'm so excited!"

David was silent.

"Why, David Richie! You don't care a bit!"

"Why, yes, I do," he said. He took a grape from a bunch beside him,
rubbed the soot off on his trousers, and ate it; then blinked wryly.
"Gorry, that's sour."

"You--don't--like--my engagement!" Elizabeth declared slowly.
Reproachful tears stood in her eyes; she fastened her dress with
indignant fingers. "I think you are perfectly horrid not to be
sympathetic. It's very important to a girl to get engaged and have a
ring."

"It's very pretty," David managed to say.

"Pretty? I should say it was pretty! It cost fifty dollars! Blair said
so. David, what on earth is the matter! Don't you like me being
engaged?"

"Oh, it's all right," he evaded. He shut his eyes, which were still
watering from that sour grape, but even with closed eyes he saw again
that soft place where Blair's ring hung, warm and secret; the pain
below his own breast-bone was very bad for a minute, and the hot
fragrance of the heliotrope seemed overpowering. He swallowed hard,
then looked at one of Mr. Ferguson's pigeons, walking almost into the
arbor. The pigeon stopped, hesitated, cocked a ruby eye on the two
humans on the wooden seat, and fluttered back into the sunny garden.

"Why, you _mind_!" Elizabeth said, aghast.

"Oh, it's nothing to me," David managed to say; "course, I don't care.
Only I didn't know you liked Blair so much; so it was a--a surprise,"
he said miserably.

Elizabeth's consternation was beyond words. There was a perceptible
moment before she could find anything to say. "Why, I never dreamed
you'd mind! David, truly, I like you best of any boy I know;--only, of
course now, being engaged to Blair, I have to like him best?"

"Yes that's so," David admitted.

"Truly, I like you dreadfully, David. If I'd supposed you'd mind--But,
oh, David, it's so interesting to be engaged. I really can't stop. I'd
have to give him back my ring!" she said in an agonized voice. She
pressed her hand against her breast, and poor David's eyes followed the
ardent gesture.

"It's all right," he said with a gulp.

Elizabeth was ready to cry; she dropped her head on his shoulder and
began to bemoan herself. "Why on earth didn't you _say_ something? How
could I know? How stupid you are, David! If I'd known you minded, I'd
just as lief have been engaged to--" Elizabeth stopped short. She sat
up very straight, and put her hand to the neck of her dress to make
sure it was fastened. At that moment a new sense was born in her; for
the first time since they had known each other, her straightforward
eyes--the sexless eyes of a child--faltered, and refused to meet
David's. "I think maybe Cherry-pie wants me now," she said shyly, and
slipped away, leaving David mournfully eating green grapes in the
arbor. This was the last time that Elizabeth, uninvited, put her head
on a boy's shoulder.

A week later she confided to Miss White the great fact of her
engagement; but she was not so excited about it by that time. For one
thing, she had received her uncle's present of a locket, so the ring
was not her only piece of jewelry; and besides that, since her talk
with David, being "engaged" had seemed less interesting. However, Miss
White felt it her duty to drop a hint of what had happened to Mr.
Ferguson: had it struck him that perhaps Blair Maitland was--was
thinking about Elizabeth?

"Thinking what about her?" Mr. Ferguson said, lifting his head from his
papers with a fretted look.

"Why," said Miss White, "as I am always at my post, sir, I have
opportunities for observing; in fact, I shouldn't wonder if they
were--attached." Cherry-pie would have felt that a more definite word
was indelicate. "Of course I don't exactly _know_ it," said Miss White,
faithful to Elizabeth's confidence, "but I recall that when I was a
young lady, young gentlemen did become attached--to other young ladies."

"Love-making? At her age? I won't have it!" said Robert Ferguson. The
old, apprehensive look darkened in his face; his feeling for the child
was so strangely shadowed by his fear that "Life would play another
trick on him," and Elizabeth would disappoint him some way, that he
could not take Cherry-pie's information with any appreciation of its
humor. "Send her to me," he said.

"Mr. Ferguson," poor old Miss White ventured, "if I might suggest, it
would be well to be very kind, because--"

"Kind?" said Robert Ferguson, astonished; he gave an angry thrust at
the black ribbon of his glasses that brought them tumbling from his
nose. "Was I unkind? I will see her in the library after supper."

Miss White nibbled at him speechlessly. "If he is severe with her, I
don't know what she _won't_ do," she said to herself.

But Mr. Ferguson did not mean to be severe. When Elizabeth presented
herself in his library, the interview began calmly enough. Her uncle
was brief and to the point, but he was not unkind. She and Blair were
too young to be engaged,--"Don't think of it again," he commanded.

Elizabeth looked tearful, but she did not resent his dictum;--David's
lack of sympathy had been very dampening to romance. It was just at the
end that the gunpowder flared.

"Now, remember, I don't want you to be foolish Elizabeth."

"I don't think being in love is foolish, Uncle."

"Love! What do you know about love? You are nothing but a silly little
girl."

"I don't think I'm very little; and Blair is in love with me."

"Blair is as young and as foolish as you are. Even if you were older, I
wouldn't allow it. He is selfish and irresponsible, and--"

"I think," interrupted Elizabeth, "that you are very mean to abuse
Blair behind his back. It isn't fair." Her uncle was perfectly
dumfounded; then he went into harsh reproof. Elizabeth grew whiter and
whiter and the dimple in her cheek lengthened into a long, hairline. "I
wish I didn't live with you. I wish my mother were alive. _She_ would
be good to me!"

"Your mother?" said Robert Ferguson; his involuntary grunt of cynical
amusement touched the child like a whip. Her fury was appalling. She
screamed at him that she hated him! She loved her mother! She was going
to marry Blair the minute she was grown up! Then she whirled out of the
room, almost knocking over poor old Miss White, whose "post" had been
anxiously near the key-hole.

Up-stairs, her rage scared her governess nearly to death: "My lamb!
You'll get overheated, and take cold. When I was a young lady, it was
thought unrefined to speak so--emphatically. And your dear uncle didn't
mean to be severe; he--"

'"Dear uncle'?" said Elizabeth, "dear devil! He hurt my feelings. He
made fun of my mother!" As she spoke, she leaped at a photograph of
Robert Ferguson which stood on her bureau, and, doubling her hand,
struck the thin glass with all her force. It splintered, and the blood
spurted from her cut knuckles on to her uncle's face.

Miss White began to cry. "Oh, my dear, my dear, try to control
yourself, or you'll do something dreadful some day!" Cherry-pie's
efforts to check Elizabeth's temper were like the protesting
twitterings of a sparrow in a thunder-storm. When she reproved her now,
the furious little creature, wincing and trying to check the bleeding
with her handkerchief, did not even take the trouble to reply. Later,
of course, the inevitable moment of penitence came; but it was not
because she had lost her temper; loss of temper was always a trifling
matter to Elizabeth; it was because she had been disrespectful to her
uncle's picture. That night, when all the household was in bed, she
slipped down-stairs, candle in hand, to the library. On the mantelpiece
was a photograph of herself; she took it out of the frame, tore it into
little bits, stamped on it, grinding her heel down on her own young
face; then she took off the locket Mr. Ferguson had given her,--a most
simple affair of pearls and turquoise; kissed it with passion, and
looked about her: where should it be offered up? The ashes in the
fireplace? No; the house-maid would find it there. Then she had an
inspiration--the deep well of her uncle's battered old inkstand! Oh, to
blacken the pearls, to stain the heavenly blue of the turquoise! It was
almost too frightful. But it was right. She had hurt his feelings by
saying she wished she didn't have to live with him, and she had
insulted his dear, dear, _dear_ picture! So, with a tearful hiccup, she
dropped the locket into the ink-pot that stood between the feet of a
spattered bronze Socrates, and watched it sink into a black and
terrible grave. "I'm glad not to have it," she said, and felt that she
had squared matters with her conscience.

As for Robert Ferguson, he did not notice that the photograph had
disappeared, nor did he plunge his pen deep enough to find a pearl, nor
understand the significance of the bound-up hand, but the old worry
about her came back again. Her mother had defended her own wicked
love-affair, with all the violence of a selfish woman; and in his panic
of apprehension, poor little Elizabeth's defense of Blair seemed to be
of the same nature. He was so worried over it that he was moved to do a
very unwise thing. He would, he said to himself, put Mrs. Maitland on
her guard about this nonsense between the two children.

The next morning when he went into her office at the Works, he found
the place humming with business. As he entered he met a foreman, just
taking his departure with, so to speak, his tail between his legs. The
man was scarlet to his forehead under the lash of his employer's
tongue. It had been administered in the inner room; but the door was
open into the large office, and as Mrs. Maitland had not seen fit to
modulate her voice, the clerks and some messenger-boys and a couple of
traveling-men had had the benefit of it. Ferguson, reporting at that
open door, was bidden curtly to come in and sit down. "I'll see you
presently," she said, and burst out into the large office. Instantly
the roomful of people, lounging about waiting their turn, came to
attention. She rushed in among them like a gale, whirling away the
straws and chaff before her, and leaving only the things that were
worth while. She snapped a yellow envelope from a boy's hand, and even
while she was ripping it open with a big forefinger, she was reading
the card of an astonished traveling-man: "No, sir; no, sir; your bid
was one-half of one per cent, over Heintz. Your people been customers
so long that they thought that I--? I never mix business and
friendship!" She stood still long enough to run her eye over the
drawing of a patent, and toss it back to the would-be inventor. "No, I
don't care to take it up with you. Cast it for you? Certainly. I'll
cast anything for anybody"; and the man found his blueprint in his hand
before he could begin his explanation. "What? Johnson wants to know
where to get the new housing to replace the one that broke yesterday?
Tell Johnson that's what I pay him to decide. I have no time to do his
business for him--my own is all I can attend to! Mr. Ferguson!" she
called out, as she came banging back into the private office, "what
about that ore that came in yesterday?" She sat down at her desk and
listened intently to a somewhat intricate statement involving
manufacturing matters dependent upon the quality of certain shipments
of ore. Then, abruptly she gave her orders.

Robert Ferguson, making notes as rapidly as he could, smiled with
satisfaction at the power of it all. It was as ruthless and as
admirable as a force of nature. She would not pause, this woman, for
flesh and blood; she was as impersonal as one of her own great shears
that would bite off a "bloom" or a man's head with equal precision, and
in doing so would be fulfilling the law of its being. Assuredly she
would stop Blair's puppy-love in short order!

Business over, Sarah Maitland leaned back in her chair and laughed.
"Did you hear me blowing Dale up? I guess he'll stay put for a while
now! But I'm afraid I was angry," she confessed sheepishly; "and there
is nothing on earth so foolish as to be angry at a fool."

"There is nothing on earth so irritating as a fool," he said.

"Yes, but it's absurd to waste your temper on 'em. I always say to
myself, 'Sarah Maitland, if he had your brains, he'd have your job.'
That generally keeps me cool; but I'm afraid I shall never learn to
suffer Mr. Doestick's friends, gladly. Read your Bible, and you'll know
where that comes from! I tell you, friend Ferguson, you ought to thank
God every day that you weren't born a fool; and so ought I. Well what
can I do for you?"

"I am bothered about Elizabeth and Blair."

She looked at him blankly for a moment. "Elizabeth? Blair? What about
Elizabeth and Blair?"

"It appears," Robert Ferguson said, and shoved the door shut with his
foot, "it appears that there has been some love-making."

"Love-making?" she repeated, bewildered.

"Blair has been talking to Elizabeth," he explained. "I believe they
call themselves engaged."

Mrs. Maitland flung her head back with a loud laugh. At the shock of
such a sound in such a place, one of the clerks in the other room spun
round on his stool, and Mrs. Maitland, catching sight of him through
the glass partition, broke the laugh off in the middle. "Well, upon my
word!" she said.

"Of course it's all nonsense, but it must be stopped."

"Why?" said Mrs. Maitland. And her superintendent felt a jar of
astonishment.

"They are children."

"Blair is sixteen," his mother said thoughtfully; "if he thinks he is
in love with Elizabeth, it will help to make a man of him. Furthermore,
I'd rather have him make love than make pictures;--that is his last
fancy," she said, frowning. "I don't know how he comes by it. Of
course, my husband did paint sometimes, I admit; but he never wanted to
make a business of it. He was no fool, I can tell you, if he did make
pictures!"

Robert Ferguson said dryly that he didn't think she need worry about
Blair. "He has neither industry nor humility," he said, "and you can't
be an artist without both of 'em. But as for this love business, they
are children!"

Mrs. Maitland was not listening. "To be in love will be steadying him
while he's at college. If he sticks to Elizabeth till he graduates, I
sha'n't object."

"I shall object."

But she did not notice his protest.

"She has more temper than is quite comfortable," she ruminated; "but,
after all, to a young man being engaged is like having a dog; one dog
does as well as another; one girl does as well as another. And it isn't
as if Blair had to consider whether his wife would be a 'good manager,'
as they say; he'll have enough to waste, if he wants to. He'll have
more than he knows what to do with!" There was a little proud bridling
of her head. She, who had never wasted a cent in her life, had made it
possible for her boy to be as wasteful as he pleased. "Yes," she said,
with the quick decision which was so characteristic of her, "yes, he
can have her."

"No, he can't," said Elizabeth's uncle.

"What?" she said, in frank surprise.

"Blair will have too much money. Inherited wealth is the biggest
handicap a man can have."

"Too much money?" she chuckled; "your bearings are getting hot, ain't
they? Come, come! I'm not so sure you need thank God. How can a man
have too much money? That's nonsense!" She banged her hand down on the
call-bell on her desk. "Evans! Bring me the drawings for those
channels."

"I tell you I won't have it," Robert Ferguson repeated.

"I mean the blue-prints!" Mrs. Maitland commanded loudly; "you have no
sense, Evans!" Ferguson got up; she had a way of not hearing when she
was spoken to that made a man hot along his backbone. Robert Ferguson
was hot, but he meant to have the last word; he paused at the door and
looked back.

"I shall not allow it."

"Good-day, Mr. Ferguson," said his employer, deep in the blue-prints.



CHAPTER VIII

Elizabeth's uncle need not have concerned himself so seriously about
the affairs of Elizabeth's heart. The very next day the rift between
the lovers began:

"What on earth have you done to your hand?" asked Blair.

"I cut it. I was angry at Uncle, and broke his picture, and--"

Blair shouted with laughter. "Oh, Elizabeth, what a goose you are!
That's just the way you used to bite your arm when you were mad. You
always did cut off your nose to spite your face! Where is your locket?"

"None of your business!" said Elizabeth savagely. It was easy to be
savage with Blair, because David's lack of interest in her affairs had
taken the zest out of "being engaged" in the most surprising way. But
she had no intention of not being engaged! Romance was too flattering
to self-love to be relinquished; nevertheless, after the first week or
two she lapsed easily, in moments of forgetfulness, into the old
matter-of-fact squabbling and the healthy unreasonableness natural to
lifelong acquaintance. The only difference was that now, when she and
Blair squabbled, they made up again in new ways; Blair, with gusts of
what Elizabeth, annoyed and a little disgusted, called "silliness";
Elizabeth, with strange, half-scared, wholly joyous moments of
conscious power. But the "making-up" was far less personal than the
fallings-out; these, at least, meant individual antagonisms, whereas
the reconciliations were something larger than the girl and
boy--something which bore them on its current as a river bears straws
upon its breast. But they played with that mighty current as
thoughtlessly as all young creatures play with it. Elizabeth used to
take her engagement ring from the silk thread about her neck, and,
putting it on her finger, dance up and down her room, her right hand on
her hip, her left stretched out before her so that she could see the
sparkle of the tiny diamond on her third finger. "I'm engaged!" she
would sing to herself.

"'Oh, isn't it joyful, joyful, joyful!'

"Blair's in love with me!" The words were so glorious that she rarely
remembered to add, "I'm in love with Blair." The fact was, Blair was
merely a necessary appendage to the joy of being engaged. When he
irritated her by what she called "silliness," she was often frankly
disagreeable to him.

As for Blair, he, too, had his ups and downs. He swaggered, and threw
his shoulders back, and cast appraising eyes on women generally, and
thought deeply on marriage. But of Elizabeth he thought very little.
Because she was a girl, she bored him quite as often as he bored her.
It was because she was a woman that there came those moments when he
offended her; and in those moments she had but little personality to
him. In fact, their love-affair, so far as they understood it, apart
from its elemental impulses which they did not understand, was as much
of a play to them as the apple-tree housekeeping had been.

So Mr. Ferguson might have spared himself the unpleasant interview with
Blair's mother. He recognized this himself before long, and was even
able to relax into a difficult smile when Mrs. Richie ventured a mild
pleasantry on the subject. For Mrs. Richie had spoken to Blair, and
understood the situation so well that she could venture a pleasantry.
She had sounded him one evening in the darkness of her narrow garden.

David was not at home, and Blair was glad of the chance to wait for
him--so long as Mrs. Richie let him lounge on the grass at her feet.
His adoration of David's mother, begun in his childhood, had
strengthened with his years; perhaps because she was all that his own
mother was not.

"Blair," she said, "of course you and I both realize that Elizabeth is
only a child, and you are entirely too wise to talk seriously about
being engaged to her. She is far too young for that sort of thing. Of
course _you_ understand that?"

And Blair, feeling as though the sword of manhood had been laid on his
shoulder, and instantly forgetting the smaller pride of being
"engaged," said in a very mature voice, "Oh, certainly _I_ understand."

If, in the dusk of stars and fireflies, with the fragrance of white
stocks blossoming near the stone bench that circled the old
hawthorn-tree in the middle of the garden--if at that moment Mrs.
Richie had demanded Elizabeth's head upon a charger, Blair would have
rejoiced to offer it. But this serene and gentle woman was far too wise
to wring any promise from the boy, although, indeed, she had no
opportunity, for at that moment Mr. Ferguson knocked on the green door
between the two gardens and asked if he might come in and smoke his
cigar in his neighbor's garden. "I'll smoke the aphids off your
rose-bushes," he offered. "You are very careless about your roses!"

"A 'bad tenant'?" said Mrs. Richie, smiling. And poor Blair picked
himself up, and went sulkily off.

But Mrs. Richie's flattering assumption that Blair and she looked at
things in the same way, and David's apparent indifference to
Elizabeth's emotions, made the childish love-affair wholesomely
commonplace on both sides. By mid-September it was obvious that the
prospect of college was attractive to Blair, and that the moment of
parting would not be tragic to Elizabeth. The romance did not come to a
recognized end, however, until a day or two before Blair started East.
The four friends, and Miss White, had gone out to Mrs. Todd's, where
David had stood treat, and after their tumblers of pink and brown and
white ice-cream had been emptied, and Mrs. Todd had made her usual joke
about "good-looking couples," they had taken two skiffs for a slow
drift down the river to Willis's.

When they were rowing home again, the skiffs at first kept abreast, but
gradually, in spite of Miss White's desire to be "at her post," and
David's entire willingness to hold back, Blair and Elizabeth
appropriately fell behind, with only a little shaggy dog, which
Elizabeth had lately acquired, to play propriety. In the yellow
September afternoon the river ran placidly between the hills and
low-lying meadows; here and there, high on a wooded hillside, a maple
flamed among the greenness of the walnuts and locusts, or the chestnuts
showed the bronze beginnings of autumn. Ahead of them the sunshine had
melted into an umber haze, which in the direction of Mercer deepened
into a smudge of black. Elizabeth was twisting her left hand about to
get different lights on her ring, which she had managed to slip on her
finger when Cherry-pie was not looking. Blair, with absent eyes, was
singing under his breath:

   "'Oh! I came to a river, an' I couldn't get across;
    Sing "Polly-wolly-doodle" all the day!
   An' I jumped upon a nigger, an' I thought he was a hoss;
    Sing Polly-wolly--'

"Horrid old hole, Mercer," he broke off, resting on his oars and
letting the boat slip back on the current.

"I like Mercer!" Elizabeth said, ceasing to admire the ring. "Since
you've come home from boarding-school you don't like anything but the
East." She began to stroke her puppy's head violently. Blair was
silent; he was looking at a willow dipping its swaying finger-tips in
the water.

"Blair! why don't you answer me?"

Blair, plainly bored, said, "Well, I don't like hideousness and dirt."

"David likes Mercer."

"I bet Mrs. Richie doesn't," Blair murmured, and began to row lazily.

"Oh, Mrs. Richie!" cried Elizabeth; "you think whatever she thinks is
about perfect."

"Well, isn't it?"

Elizabeth's lip hardened. "I suppose you think she's perfect too?"

"I do," Blair said.

"She thinks I'm dreadful because, sometimes, I--get provoked,"
Elizabeth said angrily.

"Well, you are," Blair agreed calmly.

"If I am so wicked, I wonder you want to be engaged to me!"

"Can't I like anybody but you?" Blair said, and yawned.

"You can like everybody, for all I care," she retorted. Blair whistled,
upon which Elizabeth became absorbed in petting her dog, kissing him
ardently between his eyes.

"I hate to see a girl kiss a dog," Blair observed;

"'Sing Polly-wolly-doo--'"

"Don't look, then," said Elizabeth, and kissed Bobby again.

Blair sighed, and gave up his song. Bobby, obviously uncomfortable,
scrambled out of Elizabeth's lap and began to stretch himself on the
uncertain floor of the skiff.

"Lie down!" Blair commanded, and poked the little creature, not
ungently, with his foot. Bobby yelped, gave a flying nip at his ankle,
and retreated to the shelter of his mistress's skirts. "Confound that
dog!" cried Blair.

"You are a horrid boy!" she said, consoling her puppy with frantic
caresses. "I'm glad he bit you!"

Blair, rubbing his ankle, said he'd like to throw the little wretch
overboard.

Well, of course, Elizabeth being Elizabeth, the result was inevitable.
The next instant the ring lay sparkling in the bottom of the boat. "I
break my engagement! Take your old ring! You are a cruel, wicked boy,
and I hate you--so there!" "I must say I don't see why you should
expect me to enjoy being bitten," Blair said hotly. "Well, all right;
throw me over, if you want to. I shall never trust a woman again as
long as I live!" He began to row fiercely. "I only hope that darned pup
isn't going mad."

"I hope he _is_ going mad," said Elizabeth, trembling all over, "and I
hope you'll go mad, too. Put me on shore this instant!"

"Considering the current, I fear you will have to endure my society for
several instants," Blair said.

"I'd rather be drowned!" she cried furiously, and as she spoke, even
before he could raise his hand to stop her, with Bobby in her arms she
sprang lightly over the side of the boat into the water. There was a
terrific splash--but, alas! Elizabeth, in preferring death to Blair's
society, had not calculated upon the September shallows, and even
before the horrified boy could drop his oars and spring to her
assistance, she was on her feet, standing knee-deep in the muddy
current.

The water completely extinguished the fires of wrath. In the hubbub
that followed, the ejaculations and outcries, Nannie's tears, Miss
White's terrified scolding, Blair's protestations to David that it
wasn't his fault--through it all, Elizabeth, wading ashore, was silent.
Only at the landing of the toll-house, when poor distracted Cherry-pie
bade the boys get a carriage, did she speak:

"I won't go in a carriage. I am going to walk home."

"My lamb! you'll take cold! You mustn't!"

"You look like the deuce," Blair told her anxiously; and David blurted
out, "Elizabeth, you can't walk home; you're a perfect object!"
Elizabeth, through the mud trickling over her eyes, flashed a look at
him:

"_That's_ why I'm going to walk!" And walk she did--across the bridge,
along the street, a dripping little figure stared at by passers-by, and
followed by the faithful but embarrassed four--by five, indeed, for
Blair had fished Bobby out of the water, and even stopped, once in a
while when no one was looking, to give the maker of all this trouble a
furtive and apologetic pat. At Elizabeth's door, in a very scared frame
of mind lest Mr. Ferguson should come out and catch him, Blair
attempted to apologize.

"Don't be silly," Elizabeth said, muddy and shivering, but just; "it
wasn't your fault. But we're not engaged any more." And that was the
end of the love-story!

Elizabeth told Cherry-pie that she had "broken with Blair Maitland
_forever!_" Miss White, when she went to make her report of the
dreadful event to Mr. Ferguson, added that she felt assured the young
people had got over their foolishness. Elizabeth's uncle, telling the
story of the ducking to David's horrified mother, said that he was
greatly relieved to know that Elizabeth had come to her senses.

But with all the "tellings" that buzzed between the three households,
nobody thought of telling Mrs. Maitland. Why should they? Who would
connect this woman of iron and toil and sweat, of noise and motion,
with the sentimentalities of two children? She had to find it out for
herself.

At breakfast on the morning of the day Blair was to start East, his
mother, looking over the top of her newspaper at him, said abruptly:

"Blair, I have something to say to you before you go. Be at my office
at the Works at ten-fifteen." She looked at him amiably, then pushed
back her chair. "Nannie! Get my bonnet. Come! Hurry! I'm late!"

Nannie, running, brought the bonnet, a bunch of rusty black crepe, with
strings frayed with many tyings. "Oh, Mamma," she said softly, "do let
me get you a new bonnet?"

But Mrs. Maitland was not listening. "Harris!" she called loudly, "tell
Watson to have those roller figures for me at eleven. And I want the
linen tracing--Bates will know what I mean--at noon without fail.
Nannie, see that there's boiled cabbage for dinner."

A moment later the door banged behind her. The abrupt silence was like
a blow. Nannie and Harris caught their breaths; it was as if the oxygen
had been sucked out of the air; there was a minute before any one
breathed freely. Then Blair flung up his arms in a wordless protest; he
actually winced with pain. He glanced around the unlovely room; at the
table, with its ledgers and clutter of unmatched china--old Canton, and
heavy white earthenware, and odd cups and saucers with splashing
decorations which had pleased Harris's eye; at the files of newspapers
on the sideboard, the grimy walls, the untidy fireplace. "Thank Heaven!
I'm going off to-day. I wish I need never come back," he said.

"Oh, Blair, that is a dreadful thing to say!"

"It may be dreadful, but that's the way I feel. I can't help my
feelings, can I? The further mother and I are apart, the better we love
each other. Well! I suppose I've got to go and see her bossing a lot of
men, instead of sitting at home, like a lady;--and I'll get a dreadful
blowing up. Of course she knows about the engagement now, thanks to
Elizabeth's craziness."

"I don't believe she knows anything about it," Nannie tried to
encourage him.

"Oh, you bet old Ferguson has told her," Blair said, gloomily. "Say,
Nannie, if Elizabeth doesn't look out she'll get into awful hot water
one of these days with her devil of a temper--and she'll get other
people into it, too," he ended resentfully. Blair hated hot water, as
he hated everything that was unbeautiful. "Mother is going to take my
head off, of course," he said.

But Sarah Maitland, entirely ignorant of what had happened, had no such
intention; she had gone over to her office in a glow of personal
pleasure that warmed up the details of business. She intended to take
Blair that morning through the Works,--not as he had often gone before,
tagging after her, a frightened child, a reluctant boy--but as the
prince, formally looking over the kingdom into which he was so soon to
come! He was in love: therefore he would wish to be married; therefore
he would be impatient to get to work! It was all a matter of logical
and satisfactory deduction. How many times in this hot summer, when
very literally she was earning her son's bread by the sweat of her
brow, had she looked at Elizabeth and Blair, and found enjoyment in
these deductions! Nobody would have imagined it, but the big, ungainly
woman _dreamed!_ Dreamed of her boy, of his business success, of his
love, of his wife,--and, who knows? perhaps those grimy pink baby socks
began to mean something more personal than the missionary barrel. It
was her purpose, on this particular morning, to tell him, after they
had gone through the Works, just where, when he graduated, he was to
begin. Not at the bottom!--that was Ferguson's idea. "He ought to start
at the bottom, if he is ever to get to the top," Ferguson had barked.
No, Blair need not start at the bottom; he could begin pretty well up
at the top; and he should have a salary. What an incentive that would
be! First she would tell him that now, when he was going to college,
she meant to increase his allowance; then she would tell him about the
salary he would have when he got to work. How happy he would be! For a
boy to be in love, and have all the pocket-money he wanted, and a great
business to look forward to; to have work--work! the finest thing in
the world!--all ready to his hand,--what more could a human being
desire? At the office, she swept through the morning business with a
speed that took her people off their feet. Once or twice she glanced at
the clock; Blair was always unpunctual. "He'll get _that_ knocked out
of him when he gets into business," she thought, grimly.

It was eleven before he came loitering across the Yards. His mother,
lifting her head for a moment from her desk, and glancing impatiently
out of the dirt-begrimed office window, saw him coming, and caught the
gleam of his patent-leather shoes as he skirted a puddle just outside
the door. "Well, Master Blair," she said to herself, flinging down her
pen, "you'll forget those pretty boots when you get to walking around
your Works!"

Blair, dawdling through the outer office, found his way to her sanctum,
and sat down in a chair beside her desk. He glanced at her shrinkingly,
and looked away. Her bonnet was crooked; her hair was hanging in wisps
at the back of her neck; her short skirt showed the big, broad-soled
foot twisted round the leg of her chair. Blair saw the muddy sole of
that shoe, and half closed his eyes. Then remembering Elizabeth, he
felt a little sick; "she's going to row about it!" he thought, and
quailed.

"You're late," she said; then, without stopping for his excuses, she
proceeded with the business in hand. "I'm going to increase your
allowance."

Blair sat up in astonishment.

"I mean while you're at college. After that I shall stop the allowance
entirely, and you will go to work. You will go on a salary, like any
other man." Her mouth clicked shut in a tight line of satisfaction.

The color flew into Blair's face. "Why!" he said. "You are awfully
good, Mother. Really, I--"

"I know all about this business of your engagement to Elizabeth," Mrs.
Maitland broke in, "though you didn't see fit to tell me about it
yourself." There was something in her voice that would have betrayed
her to any other hearer; but Blair, who was sensitive to Mrs. Richie's
slightest wish, and careful of old Cherry-pie's comfort, and generously
thoughtful even of Harris--Blair, absorbed in his own apprehensions,
heard no pain in his mother's voice. "I know all about it," Mrs.
Maitland went on. "I won't have you call yourselves engaged until you
are out of college, of course. But I have no objection to your looking
forward to being engaged, and married, too. It's a good thing for a
young man to expect to be married; keeps him clean."

Blair was struck dumb. Evidently, though she did not know what had
happened, she did know that he had been engaged. Yet she was not going
to take his head off! Instead she was going to increase his allowance
because, apparently, she approved of him!

"So I want to tell you," she went on, "though you have not seen fit to
tell me anything, that I'm willing you should marry Elizabeth, as soon
as you can support her. And you can do that as soon as you graduate,
because, as I say, when you are in the Works, I shall pay you"--her
iron face lighted--"I shall pay you _a salary!_ a good salary."

More money! Blair laughed with satisfaction; the prospect soothed the
sting of Elizabeth's "meanness"--which was what he called it, when he
did not remember to name it, darkly, "faithlessness." He was so
comforted that he had, for the first time in his life, an impulse to
confide in his mother; "Elizabeth got provoked at me"--there was a
boyish demand for sympathy in his tone; "and--"

But Mrs. Maitland interrupted him. "Come along," she said, chuckling.
She got up, pulled her bonnet straight, and gave her son a jocose
thrust in the ribs that made him jump. "I can't waste time over lovers'
quarrels. Patch it up! patch it up! You can afford to, you know, before
you get married. You'll get your innings later, my boy!" Still
chuckling at her own joke, she slammed down the top of her desk and
tramped into the outer office.

Blair turned scarlet with anger. The personal familiarity extinguished
his little friendly impulse to blurt out his trouble with Elizabeth, as
completely as a gust of wind puts out a scarcely lighted candle. He got
up, his teeth set, his hands clenched in his pockets, and followed his
mother through the Yards--vast, hideous wastes, scorching in the
September heats, full of endless rows of pig, piles of scrap, acres, it
seemed to Blair, of slag. The screeching clamor of the place reeked
with the smell of rust and rubbish and sour earth, and the air was
vibrant with the clatter of the "buggies" on the narrow-gauge tracks
that ran in a tangled network from one furnace to another. Blair,
trudging along behind his mother, cringing at the ugliness of
everything about him, did not dare to speak; he still felt that dig in
the ribs, and was so angry he could not have controlled his voice.

Mrs. Maitland walked through her Iron Works as some women walk through
a garden:--lovingly. She talked to her son rapidly; this was so and so;
there was such and such a department; in that new shed she meant to put
the draftsmen; over there the timekeeper;--she paused. Blair had left
her, and was standing in an open doorway of the foundry, watching,
breathlessly, a jibcrane bearing a great ladle full of tons of liquid
metal that shimmered above its white-hot expanse with the shifting blue
flames of escaping gas. Seething and bubbling, the molten iron slopped
in a flashing film over the side of the caldron, every drop, as it
struck the black earth, rebounding in a thousand exploding points of
fire. Above the swaying ladle, far up in the glooms under the roof, the
shadows were pierced by the lurching dazzle of arc-lamps; but when the
ladle tipped, and with a crackling roar the stream of metal flowed into
a mold, the sizzling violet gleam of the lamps was abruptly
extinguished by the intolerable glare of light.

"Oh," Blair said breathlessly, "how wonderful!"

"It _is_ wonderful," his mother said. "Thomas, here, can move the lever
that tips the ladle with his two fingers--and out comes the iron as
neatly as cream out of a jug!"

Blair was so entirely absorbed in the fierce magnificence of light, and
in the glowing torsos of the molders, planted as they were against the
profound shadows of the foundry, that when she said, "Come on!" he did
not hear her. Mrs. Maitland, standing with her hands on her hips, her
feet well apart, held her head high; she was intensely gratified by his
interest. "If his father had only lived to see him!" she said to
herself. In her pride, she almost swaggered; she nodded, chuckling, to
the molder at her elbow:

"He takes to it like a duck to water, doesn't he, Jim?" "And," said
Jim, telling the story afterward, "I allowed I'd never seen a young
feller as knowing about castings as him. She took it down straight. You
can't pile it on too thick for a woman, about her young 'un."

"Somebody ought to paint it," Blair said, under his breath.

Mrs. Maitland's face glowed; she came and stood beside him a moment in
silence, resting her big, dirty hand on his shoulder. Then she said,
half sheepishly, "I call that ladle the 'cradle of civilization.' Think
what's inside of it! There are rails, that will hold New York and San
Francisco together, and engines and machines for the whole world; there
are telegraph wires that will bring--think of all the kinds of news
they will bring, Blair,--wars, and births of babies! There are bridges
in it, and pens that may write--well, maybe love-letters," she said,
with sly and clumsy humor, "or even write, perhaps, the liberty of a
race, as Lincoln's pen wrote it. Yes!" she said, her face full of
luminous abstraction, "the cradle of civilization!"

He could hardly hear her voice in the giant tumult of exploding metal
and the hammering and crashing in the adjacent mill; but when she said
that, he looked round at her with the astonishment of one who sees a
familiar face where he has supposed he would see a stranger. He forgot
his shame in having a mother who ran an iron-mill; he even forgot that
impudent thrust in the ribs; a spark of sympathy leaped between them as
real in its invisibility as the white glitter of the molten iron
sputtering over their heads. "Yes," he said, "it's all that, and it is
magnificent, too!"

"Come on!" she said, with a proud look. Over her shoulder she flung
back at him figures and statistics; she told him of the tons of bridge
materials on the books; the rail contract she had just taken was a big
thing, very big! "We've never handled such an order, but we can do it!"

They were walking rapidly from the foundry to the furnaces; Sarah
Maitland was inspecting piles of pig, talking to puddlers, all the
while bending and twisting between her strong fingers, with their
blackened nails, a curl of borings, perhaps biting on it, thoughtfully,
while she considered some piece of work, then blowing the crumbs of
iron out from between her lips and bursting into quick directions or
fault-finding. She stood among her men, in her short skirt, her gray
hair straggling out over her forehead from under her shabby bonnet, and
gave her orders; but for the first time in her life she was
self-conscious--Blair was looking on! listening! thinking, no doubt,
that one of these days he would be doing just what she was doing! For
the moment she was as vain as a girl; then, abruptly, her happy
excitement paused. She stood still, flinching and wincing, and putting
a hand up to her eye.

"Ach!" she said; "a filing!" she looked with the other sympathetically
watering eye at her son. "Here, take this thing out."

"_I_?" Blair said, dismayed. "Oh, I might hurt you." Then, in his
helplessness and concern--for, ignorant as he was, he knew enough of
the Works to know that an iron filing in your eye is no joke--he
turned, with a flurried gesture, to one of the molders. "Get a doctor,
can't you? Don't stand there staring!"

"Doctor?" said Mrs. Maitland. She gave her son a look, and laughed.
"He's afraid he'll hurt me!" she said, with a warm joyousness in her
voice; "Jim, got a jack-knife? Just dig this thing out." Jim came,
dirty and hesitating, but prepared for a very common emergency of the
Works. With a black thumb and forefinger he raised the wincing lid, and
with the pointed blade of the jack-knife lifted, with delicacy and
precision, the irritating iron speck from the eyeball. "'Bliged," Mrs.
Maitland said. She clapped a rather grimy handkerchief over the poor
red eye, and turned to Blair. "Come on!" she said, and struck him on
the shoulder so heartily that he stumbled. Her cheek was blackened by
the molder's greasy fingers, and so smeared with tears from the still
watering eye that he could not bear to look at it. He hesitated, then
offered her his handkerchief, which at least had the advantage of being
clean. She took it, glanced at its elaborate monogram, and laughed;
then she dabbed her eye with it. "I guess I'll have to put some of that
cologne of yours on this fancy thing. Remember that green bottle with
the calendar and the red ribbons on it, that you gave me when you were
a little fellow? I've never had anything of my own fine enough to use
the stuff on!"

When they got back to the office again she was very brief and
business-like with him. She had had a fine morning, but she couldn't
waste any more time! "You can keep all this that you have seen in your
mind. I don't know just where I shall put you. If you have a
preference, express it." Then she told him what his salary would be
when he got to work, and what allowance he was to have for the present.

"Now, clear out, clear out!" she said; "good-by"; and turned her cheek
toward him for their semi-annual parting. Blair, with his eyes shut,
kissed her.

"Good-by, Mother. It has been awfully interesting. And I am awfully
obliged to you about the allowance." On the threshold of the office he
halted. "Mother," he said,--and his voice was generous even to
wistfulness; "Mother, that cradle thing was stunning."

Mrs. Maitland nodded proudly; when he had gone, she folded his
handkerchief up, and with a queer, shy gesture, slipped it into the
bosom of her dress. Then she rang her bell. "Ask Mr. Ferguson to step
here." When her superintendent took the chair beside her desk, she was
all business; but when business was over and he got up, she stopped
him: "Tell the bookkeeper to double Blair's allowance, beginning
to-day."

Ferguson made a memorandum.

"And Mr. Ferguson, I have told Blair that I consent to his engagement
with Elizabeth, and I shall make it possible for them to be married as
soon as he graduates--"

"But--"

"I do this," she went on, her satisfaction warm in her voice, "because
I think he needs the incentive that comes to a young man when he wants
to get married. It is natural and proper. And I will see that things
are right for them."

"In the first place," said Robert Ferguson, "I would not permit
Elizabeth to marry Blair; but fortunately we need not discuss that.
They have quarreled, and there is no longer any question of such a
thing."

"Quarreled! but only this morning, not an hour ago, he let me
suppose--" She paused. "Well, I'm sorry." She paused again, and made
aimless marks with her pen on the blotter. "That's all this morning,
Mr. Ferguson." And though he lingered to tell her, with grim amusement,
of Elizabeth's angry bath, she made no further comment.

When he had left the office she got up and shut the door. Then she went
back to her chair, and leaning an elbow on her desk, covered her lips
with her hand. After she had sat thus for nearly ten minutes, she
suddenly rang for an office-boy. "Take this handkerchief up to the
house to my son," she said; "he forgot it."



CHAPTER IX

For the next five or six years Blair was not often at home. At the end
of his freshman year he was conditioned, and found a tutor and the
seashore and his sketching--for he painted with some enthusiasm just at
that time--much more attractive than his mother and Mercer. After that
he went to Europe in the long vacations.

"How much vacation have I had since I began to run his business for
him?" his mother said once in answer to Nannie's intercession that he
might be allowed to travel. But she let him go. She did not know how to
do anything else; she always let him do what he pleased, and have what
he wanted; she gave him everything, and she exacted no equivalent,
either in scholarship or conduct. It never occurred to her to make him
appreciate his privileges by paying for them, and so, of course, she
pauperized him.

"Blair likes Europe," she said one Sunday afternoon to David Richie,
who had come in to see Nannie, "but as for me, I wouldn't take an hour
of my good time, or spend a dollar of my good money, to see the best of
their cathedrals and statues and things. Do you mean to say there is a
cathedral in the world as handsome as my new foundry?"

"Well," David said modestly, "I haven't seen any cathedrals, you know,
Mrs. Maitland."

"It's small loss to you, David," she said kindly. "But I wish I'd
thought to invite you to go along with Blair last summer. You might
have liked it, though you are a pretty sensible fellow in most things."
"Oh, I can't go to Europe till I can earn enough to pay my own way,"
David replied, and added with a quick look at Nannie, "besides, I like
being in Mercer."

"Blair has no need to earn money," said Mrs. Maitland carelessly; then
she blew out her lips in a bubbling sigh. "And he would rather see a
cathedral than his mother."

The pathos of that pricked even the pleasant egotism of youth; David
winced, and Nannie tried to murmur something of her brother's needing
the rest.

Mrs. Maitland gave her grunt of amusement. "Rest! What's he ever done
to tire him? Well! Clear out, clear out, you two,--if you're going to
take a walk. I'm glad _you_ came back for your vacation, David, at any
rate. Nannie needs shaking up. She sticks at home here with me, and a
girl ought to see people once in a while." She glanced at the two young
creatures shrewdly. "Why not?" she reflected. She had never thought of
it before, but "why not?" It would be a very sensible arrangement. The
next moment she had decided that it should be! Nannie's money would be
a help to the boy, and he needn't depend on his doctoring business. "I
must put it through," she said to herself, just as she might have said
that she should put through a piece of work in the office.

This match-making purpose made her invite David to supper very
frequently, and every time he came she was apt, after he had taken his
departure, to tramp into Nannie's parlor in the hope of being told that
the "sensible arrangement" had been made. When she found them together,
and caught a word or two about Elizabeth, she had no flash of insight.
But, except to her, the situation as regarded David and Elizabeth was
perfectly clear.

When, seven years before, the two boys had gone off together to
college, Blair had confided to his friend that his faith in women was
forever destroyed, "Though I shall love Elizabeth, always," he said.

"Maybe she'll come round?" David tried to comfort him.

"If she doesn't, I shall never love another woman," Blair said darkly.

David was silent. But as he and Blair were just then in the Damon and
Pythias stage, and had sworn to each other that "no woman should ever
come between them," he gave a hopeless shrug. "That dishes me," he said
to himself; "so long as he will never love any other girl, I can't cut
in."

It would have been rather a relief to Mrs. Richie to know that her son
had reached this artless conclusion, for the last thing she desired was
that David's calflove should harden into any real purpose.
Elizabeth--sweet-hearted below the careless selfishness of a temper
which it never occurred to her must be controlled--was a most kissable
young creature to her elders, and Mrs. Richie was heartily fond of her;
but all the same she did not want a daughter-in-law with a temper!
Elizabeth, on her part, repelled by David's mother's unattainable
perfections, never allowed the older woman to feel intimate with her.
That first meeting so many years ago, when they had each recoiled from
the other, seemed to have left a gulf between them, which had never
quite closed up. So Mrs. Richie was just as well pleased that in the
next few years David, for one reason or another, did not see his old
neighbor very often. By the time he was twenty-four, and well along in
his course at the medical school, she had almost forgotten her vague
apprehensions. The pause in the intimacy of the mother and son--the
inevitable pause that comes between the boy's seventeenth and twentieth
years--had ended, and David and his mother were frank and confidential
friends again; yet, though she did not know it, one door was still
closed between them: "He's forgotten all about it," Mrs. Richie told
herself comfortably; and never guessed that in silence he remembered.
Of course David's boyish idea of honor was no longer subject to the
claim of friendship, for Blair had entirely recovered from his first
passion. The only thing he feared now was his own unworth. After all,
what had a dumb fellow like himself to offer such a radiant being?

For indeed she was radiant. The girl he had known nearly all his life,
impetuous, devoid of self-consciousness, giving her sweet, sexless love
with both generous hands, had vanished with the old frank days of
dropping an uninvited head on a boy's shoulder. Now, though she was
still impetuous, still unconscious of self, she was glowing with
womanhood, and ready to be loved. She was not beautiful, except in so
far as she was young, for youth is always beautiful; she was tall, of a
sweet and delicate thinness, and with the faint coloring of a
blush-rose; her dimple was exquisite; her brows were straight and fine,
shading eyes wonderfully star-like, but often stormy--eyes of clear,
dark amber, which, now that David had come home, were full of dreams.

Before her joyous personality, no wonder poor inarticulate David was
torn with apprehensions! He did not share them with his mother, who,
with more or less misgiving, began to guess how things were for
herself; he knew instinctively that Mrs. Richie's gentle, orderly mind
could not possibly understand Elizabeth, still less appreciate the
peculiar charm to his inherent reasonableness of her sweet, stormy,
undisciplined temperament. Nannie Maitland could not understand either,
and yet it was to Nannie--kind, literal little Nannie, who never
understood anything abstract, that David revealed his heart. She was
intensely sympathetic, and having long ago relinquished the
sister-in-law dream, encouraged him to rave about Elizabeth to his
heart's content; in fact, for at least a year before Mrs. Maitland had
evolved that "sensible arrangement" for her stepdaughter, David,
whenever he was at home, used to go to see Nannie simply to pour out
his hopes or his dismays. It was mostly dismays, for it seemed to him
that Elizabeth was as uncertain as the wind! "She does--she doesn't,"
he used to say to himself; and then he would question Nannie, who,
having received certain confidences from the other side, would reassure
him so warmly that he would take heart again.

At the time that he finally dared to put his fate to the touch, Mrs.
Maitland's match-making intentions for Nannie had reached a point where
she had made up her mind to put the matter through without any more
delay. "I'll speak to Mrs. Richie about it, and get the thing settled,"
she said to herself; "no use dawdling along this way!" But just the day
before she found time to speak to Mrs. Richie--it was in David's
midwinter recess--something happened.

Elizabeth had accepted--not too eagerly, of course--an invitation to
walk with him; and off they went, down Sandusky Street to the river and
across the old covered bridge. They stopped to say how do you do to
Mrs. Todd, who was peering out from behind the scarlet geraniums in the
window of the "saloon." Elizabeth took the usual suggestive joke about
a "pretty pair" with a little hauteur, but David beamed, and as he left
the room he squeezed Mrs. Todd suddenly round her fat waist, which made
her squeak but pleased her very much. "Made for each other!" she
whispered wheezily; and David slipped a bill into her hand through
sheer joy.

"Better have some ice-cream," the old lady wheedled; "such hot blood
needs cooling."

"Oh, Mrs. Todd, _she_ is so cool, I don't need ice-cream," the young
fellow mourned in her motherly ear.

"Get out with ye! Ain't you got eyes? She's waitin' to eat you up,--and
starvin' for ye!" And David hurried after Elizabeth, who had reached
the toll-gate and was waiting, if not to eat him, at any rate for his
company.

"She's a dear old soul!" he said joyfully.

"I believe you gave her a kiss," Elizabeth declared.

"I gave her a hug. She said things I liked!"

Elizabeth, guessing what the things might have been, swerved away from
the subject, and murmured how pretty the country looked. There had been
a snow-storm the night before, and the fields were glistening, unbroken
sheets of white; the road David chose was followed by a brook, that ran
chuckling between the agate strips of ice along its banks; here and
there a dipping branch had been caught and was held in a tinkling
crystal prison, and here and there the ice conquered the current, and
the water could be heard gurgling and complaining under its snowy
covering. David thought that all the world was beautiful,--now that
Mrs. Todd had bidden him use his eyes!

"Remember when we used to sled down this hill, Elizabeth?"

She turned her cool, glowing face toward him and nodded. "Indeed I do!
And you used to haul my sled up to the top again."

"I don't think I have forgotten anything we did."

Instantly she veered away from personalities. "Isn't it a pity Blair
dislikes Mercer so much? Nannie is dreadfully lonely without him."

"She has you; I don't see how she can be lonely."

"Oh, I don't count for anything compared to Blair." Her breath carried
quickly. The starry light was in her eyes, but he did not see it. He
was not daring to look at her.

"You count for everything to me," he said, in a constrained voice.

She was silent.

"Elizabeth...do you think you could--care? a little?"

She looked away from him without a word. David trembled; "It's all
up--" he said to himself; and even as he said it, a small, cold hand
was stretched out to him,--a hand that trembled:

"David, I am not good enough. Truly, I'm not."

The very shock of having his doubts and fears crumble so suddenly, made
him stand stock-still; he turned very white. "What!" he said, in a low
voice, "You--_care_? Oh no, you don't! You can't. I can't believe it."

Upon which Elizabeth was instantly joyous again. "Well, I won't, if you
don't want me to," she said gaily, and walked on, leaving him standing,
amazed, in the snow. Then she looked back at him over her shoulder. At
that arch and lovely look he bounded to her, stammering something, he
did not know what himself; but she laughed, glowing and scolding,
swerving over to the other side of the path. "David! We are on a public
road. Stop! Please!"

"To think of your caring," he said, almost in a whisper. His face, with
its flash of ecstasy, was like wine to her; all her soul spoke
fearlessly in her eyes: "Care? Why, David, I was only so awfully afraid
you weren't going to ask me!"

His lip trembled. He was quite speechless. But Elizabeth was bubbling
over with joy; then suddenly, her exhilaration flagged. "What will your
mother say? She doesn't like me."

"Elizabeth! she loves you! How could she help it? How could anybody
help it?"

"It's my temper," she said, sighing; "my wicked temper. Of course I
never mean anything I say, and I can't imagine why people mind; but
they do. Last week I made Cherry-pie cry. Of course she oughtn't to
have been hurt;--she knows me. You see I am really a devil, David, to
make dear, old Cherry-pie unhappy! But I don't believe I will ever lose
my temper again as long as I live. I am going to be good, like your
mother." The tears stood in her eyes. "Mrs. Richie is so simply perfect
I am sort of afraid of her. I wish she had ever been wicked, like me.
David, what shall we do if she won't consent?"

"She'll consent all right," he said, chuckling; and added with the
sweet and trusting egotism of youth: "the only thing in the world
Materna wants, you know, is my happiness. But do you suppose it would
make any difference if she didn't consent? You are for me," he said
with an abrupt solemnity that was almost harsh. "Nothing in the world
can take you from me."

And she whispered, "Nothing."

Then David, like every lover who has ever loved, cast his challenge
into the grinning face of Fate: "This is forever, Elizabeth."

"Forever, David."

On their way home, as they passed the toll-house, he left her and ran
up the path to tap on the window; when Mrs. Todd beamed at him through
the geraniums, "_I've got her!_" he cried. And the gay old voice called
back, "Glory be!"

On the bridge in the gathering dusk they stood for some time without
speaking, looking down at the river. Once or twice a passer-by glanced
at the two figures leaning there on the hand-rail, and wondered at the
foolishness of people who would stand in the cold and look at a river
full of ice; but David and Elizabeth did not see the passing world. The
hurrying water ran in a turbulent, foam-streaked flood; great sheets of
ice, rocking and grinding against one another, made a continuous soft
crash of sound. Sometimes one of them would strike the wooden casing of
a pier, and then the whole bridge jarred and quivered, and the cake of
ice, breaking and splintering, would heap itself on a long white spit
that pushed up-stream through the rushing current. The river was yellow
with mud torn up by a freshet back among the hills, but the last rays
of the sun,--a disk of copper sinking into the brown haze behind the
hills,--caught on the broken edges of the icy snow, and made a sudden
white glitter almost from shore to shore.

"Elizabeth," David said, "I want to tell you something. I stood right
here, and looked at a raft coming down the river, the evening that
Blair told me that you and he--"

"Don't!" she said, shivering.

"I won't," he told her tenderly; "you were only a child; it didn't mean
anything. Don't you suppose I understand? But I wanted you to know that
it was then, nearly eight years ago, when I was just a boy, that I
realized that _I_--" he paused.

She looked at him silently; her lip quivered and she nodded.

"And I have never changed since," he said. "I stood just here, leaning
on this railing, and I was so wretched!" he laughed under his breath;
"I didn't know what was the matter with me! I was only a cub, you know.
But"--he spoke very softly--"all of a sudden I knew. Elizabeth, a woman
on the raft looked up at me. There was a little baby. . . . Dear, it
was then that I knew I loved you."

At those elemental words her heart came up into her throat. She could
not speak, but suddenly she stooped and kissed the battered hand-rail
where he said his hands had rested.

David, horrified, glancing right and left in the dusk and seeing no
one, put a swift arm about her in which to whisper a single word. Then,
very softly, he kissed her cheek. For a moment she seemed to ebb away
from him; then, abruptly, like, the soft surge of a returning wave, she
sank against his breast and her lips demanded his. . . .

That night David told his mother. He had been profoundly shaken by
Elizabeth's lovely unexpected motion there in the twilight on the
bridge; it was a motion so divinely unconscious of the outside world,
that he was moved to the point of finding no words to say how moved he
was. But she had felt him tremble from head to foot when her lips
burned against his,--so she needed no words. His silence still lasted
when, after an hour next door with her, he came home and sat down on
the sofa beside his mother. He nuzzled his blond head against hers for
a moment; then slipped an arm round her waist.

"It's all right, Materna," he said, with a sort of gasp.

"What is, dear?"

"Oh, mother, the idea of asking! The only thing in the world."

"You mean--you and Elizabeth?"

"Yes," he said.

She was silent for a moment; when she spoke her voice broke a little.
"When was it, dear?"

"This afternoon," he said. And once started, he overflowed: "I can't
get my breath yet, though I've known it since a quarter past four!"

Mrs. Richie laughed, and then sighed. "David, of course I'm happy, if
you are; but--I hope she's good enough for you, dear." She felt him
stiffen against her shoulder.

"Good enough? for _me!_ Materna, she is perfect! Don't you suppose I
know? I've know her nearly all my life, and I can say she is perfect.
She is as perfect as you are; she said you were perfect this afternoon.
Yes; I never supposed I could say that any woman was as good, and
lovely, and pure, as you--"

"David, _please_ don't say such things."

David was not listening. "But I can say it of Elizabeth! Oh, what a
lucky fellow I am! I always thought Blair would get her. He's such a
mighty good fellow,--and so darned good-looking, confound him!" David
ruminated affectionately. "And he can talk; he's not bottled up, like
me. To think she would look at me, when she could have had him,--or
anybody else! It seems kind of mean to cut Blair out, when he isn't
here. He hasn't seen her, you know, for about two years."

"Perhaps you would like to call it off until he gets home, and give him
a chance?"

David grinned. "No, thank you. Oh, Materna, she is, you know, really,
so--so sort of wonderful! Some time I want to talk to you about her. I
don't believe anybody quite understands Elizabeth but me. But to think
of her caring for me! To think of my having two such women to care for
me." He took her hand gently and kissed it. "Mother," he said--he spoke
with almost painful effort; "Mother, I want to tell you something. I
want to tell you, because, being what you are, you can't in the least
understand what it means; but I do want you to know: I've never kissed
any woman but you, Materna, until I kissed--_Her_."

"Oh," said Helena Richie, in a stifled voice, "don't, David, don't; I
can't bear it! And if she doesn't make you happy--"

"Make me happy?" David said. He paused; that unasked kiss burned once
more against his lips; he almost shivered at the pang of it. "Materna,"
he said hoarsely, "if she or I were to die to-night, I, at any rate,
have had happiness enough in these few hours to have made it worth
while to have lived."

"Love doesn't mean just happiness," she said.

David was silent for a moment; then he said, very gently, "You are
thinking of--of your little boy, who died?"

"Yes; and of my marriage; it was not happy, David."

He pressed his cheek against hers, without speaking. The grief of an
unhappy marriage he had long ago guessed, and in this moment of his own
happiness the remembrance of it was intolerable to him. As for the
other grief: "when I think of the baby," he said, softly, "I feel as if
that little beggar gave me my mother. I feel as if I had his job; and
if I am not a good son--" he stopped, and looked at her, smiling; but
something in her face--perhaps the pitiful effort to smile back through
the tears of an old, old sorrow, gave him a sudden, solemn thrill; the
race pain stirred in him; he seemed to see his own child, dead, in
Elizabeth's arms.

"Mother!" he said, thickly, and caught her in his arms. She felt his
heart pounding heavily in his side, but she smiled. "Yes," she said,
"my little boy gave me another son, though I didn't deserve him! No,
no, I didn't," she insisted, laying her soft mother-hand over his
protesting lips; "I used to wonder sometimes, David, why God trusted
you to me, instead of to a--a better woman--" again she checked his
outburst that God had never made a better woman! "Hush, dear, hush. But
I didn't mean that love might mean sorrow. There are worse things in
the world than sorrow," she ended, almost in a whisper.

"Yes, there are worse things," he said quietly; "of course I know that.
But they are not possible things where Elizabeth is concerned. There is
only one thing that can hurt us: Death."

"Oh, my dear, my dear! Life can hurt so much more than death! So _much_
more."

But David had nothing more to say of life and love. He retreated
abruptly to the matter of fact; he had gone to his limit, not only of
expression, but of that modesty of soul which forbids exposure of the
emotions, and is as exquisite in a young man as physical modesty is in
a girl. He was unwilling, indeed he was unable, to show even to his
mother, even, perhaps, to Elizabeth, the speechless depths that had
been stirred that afternoon by the first kiss of passion, and stirred
again that night by the sight of tears for a baby,--a baby dead for
almost a quarter of a century! He got up, thrust his hands into his
pockets, and whistled. "Heaven knows how long it will be before we can
be married! How soon do you think I can count on getting patients
enough to get married?"

Mrs. Richie laughed, though there was still a break of pain in her
voice. "My dear boy, when you leave the medical school I mean to give
you an allowance which,--"

"No, Maternal" he interrupted her; "I am going to stand on my own
legs!" David's feeling about self-support gave him a satisfaction out
of all proportion to the pain it sometimes gave his mother. She winced
now, as if his words hurt her.

"David! All that I have is yours."

"No," he said again. "I couldn't accept anything. I believe if a man
can't take care of his wife himself, he has no business to have a wife.
It's bad enough for you to be supporting a big, hungry medical student;
but I swear you sha'n't feed his wife, too. I can't be indebted, even
to you!" he ended, with the laughing cock-sureness of high-minded youth.

"Indebted? Oh, David!" she said. For a moment his words wounded her;
but when he had left her to go back to Elizabeth again, and she sat
alone by her fireside, she forgot this surface wound in some deeper
pain. David had said he had never kissed any woman but her, until he
kissed _Her_. He had said that the things that were "worse than death"
were not possible to Elizabeth. For a moment this soft mother felt a
stab of something like jealousy; then her thought went back to that
deeper pain. He had not supposed anybody could be as "perfect" as his
mother. Helena Richie cowered, as if the sacred words were whips; she
covered her face with her hands, and sat a long time without moving.
Perhaps she was thinking of a certain old letter, locked away in her
desk, and in her heart,--for she knew every word of it: "My child, your
secret belongs to your Heavenly Father. It is never to be taken from
His hands, except for one reason: to save some other child of His.
Never for any smaller reason of peace of mind to yourself."

When she lifted her bowed head from her hands the fire was out. There
were tears upon her face.



CHAPTER X

It was the very next afternoon that Mrs. Maitland found time to look
after Nannie's matrimonial interests. In the raw December twilight she
tramped muddily into Mrs. Richie's firelit parlor, which was fragrant
with hyacinths blossoming on every window-sill. Mr. Ferguson had
started them in August in his own cellar, for, as any landlord will
tell you, it is the merest matter of business to do all you can for a
good tenant. Mrs. Maitland found her superintendent and Mrs. Richie
just shaking hands on David's luck, Mrs. Richie a little tremulous, and
Robert Ferguson a little grudging, of course.

"Well, I hope they'll be happy," he said, sighing; "I suppose some
marriages _are_ happy, but--"

"Oh, Mr. Ferguson, you are delightful!" Mrs. Richie said; and it was at
that moment that Mrs. Maitland came tramping in. Instantly the large,
vital presence made the charming room seem small and crowded. There
were too many flowers, too many ornaments, too many photographs of
David. Mrs. Maitland sat down heavily on a gilded chair, that creaked
so ominously that she rose and looked at it impatiently.

"Foolish sort of furniture," she said; "give me something solid,
please, to sit on. Well, Mrs. Richie! How do you do?"

"Nannie has told you our great news?" Mrs. Richie inquired.

"Oh, so it's come to a head, has it?" Mrs. Maitland said, vastly
pleased. "Of course I knew what was in the wind, but I didn't know it
was settled. Fact is, I haven't seen her, except at breakfast, and then
I was in too much of a hurry to think of it. Well, well, nothing could
be better! That's what I came to see you about; I wanted to hurry
things along. What do you say to it, Mr. Ferguson?"

Mrs. Maitland looked positively benign. She was sitting, a little
gingerly, on the edge of the yellow damask sofa at one side of the
fireplace, her feet wide apart, her skirt pulled back over her knees,
so that her scorching petticoat was somewhat liberally displayed. Her
big shoes began to steam in the comfortable heat of a soft-coal fire
that was blazing and snapping between the brass jambs.

Mrs. Richie had drawn up a chair beside her, and Robert Ferguson stood
with his elbow on the mantelpiece looking down at them. Even to Mr.
Ferguson Mrs. Maitland's presence in the gently feminine room was
incongruous. There was a little table at the side of the sofa, and Mrs.
Maitland, thrusting out a large, gesticulating hand, swept a silver
picture-frame to the floor; in the confusion of picking it up and
putting it into a safer place the little emotional tension of the
moment vanished. Mrs. Richie winked away a tear, and laughed, and said
it was too absurd to think that their children were men and women, with
their own lives and interests and hopes--and love-affairs!

"But love-making is in the air, apparently," she said; "young Knight is
going to be married."

"What, Goose Molly's stepson?" Mrs. Maitland said. "She used to make
sheep's-eyes at--at somebody I knew. But she didn't get him! Well, I
must give the boy a present."

"And the next thing," Mrs. Richie went on, "will be Nannie's
engagement. Only it will be hard to find anybody good enough for
Nannie!"

"_Nannie_?" said Mrs. Maitland blankly. "She is to be Elizabeth's
bridesmaid, of course,--unless she gets married before our wedding
comes off. A young doctor has to have patients before he can have a
wife, so I'm afraid the chances are Elizabeth will be Nannie's
bridesmaid."

She was so full of these maternal and womanly visions that the sudden
slight rigidity of Mrs. Maitland's face did not strike her.

"Nannie has been so interested," Mrs. Richie went on. "David will
always be grateful to her for helping his cause. I don't know what he
would have done without Nannie to confide in!"

Mrs. Maitland's face relaxed. So Nannie had not been slighted? She
herself, Nannie's mother, had made a mistake; that was all. Well, she
was sorry; she wished it had been Nannie. Poor 'thing, it was lonely
for her, in that big, empty house! But these two people, patting
themselves on the back with their personal satisfaction about their
children, they must not guess her wish. There was no resentment in her
mind; it was one of the chances of business. David had chosen
Elizabeth,--more fool David! "for Nannie'll have--" Mrs. Maitland made
some rapid calculations; "but it's not my kettle of fish," she
reflected; and hoisted herself up from the low, deeply cushioned sofa.

"I hope Elizabeth will put her mind on housekeeping," she said. "A
young doctor has to get all the pork he can for his shilling! He needs
a saving wife."

"She'll have to be a saving wife, I'm afraid," Mrs. Richie said, with
rueful pride, "for that foolish boy of mine declines, if you please, to
be helped out by an allowance from me."

"Oh, he'll have more sense when he's more in love," Mrs. Maitland
assured her easily. "I never knew a man yet who would refuse honest
money when it was offered to him. Well, Mrs. Richie, with all this
marrying going on, I suppose the next thing will be you and friend
Ferguson." Even as she said it, she saw in a flash an inevitable
meaning in the words, and she gave a great guffaw of laughter. "Bless
you! I didn't mean _that_! I meant you'd be picking up a wife
somewhere, Mr. Ferguson, and Mrs. Richie, here, would be finding a
husband. But the other way would be easier, and a very sensible
arrangement."

The two victims of her peculiar sense of humor held themselves as well
as they could. Mrs. Richie reddened slightly, but looked blank. Robert
Ferguson's jaw actually dropped, but he was able to say casually that
of course it would be some time before the young people could be
married.

"Well, give my love to Elizabeth," Mrs. Maitland said: "tell her not to
jump into the river if she gets angry with David. Do you remember how
she did that in one of her furies at Blair, Mr. Ferguson?" She gave a
grunt of a laugh, and took herself off, pausing at the front door to
call back, "Don't forget my good advice, you people!"

Robert Ferguson, putting on his hat with all possible expedition, got
out of the house almost as quickly as she did. "I'd like to choke her!"
he said to himself. He felt the desire to choke Mrs. Maitland several
times that evening as he sat in his library pretending to read his
newspaper. "She ought to be ashamed of herself! Mrs. Richie will think
I have been--heaven knows what she will think!"

But the truth was, Mrs. Richie thought nothing at all; she forgot the
incident entirely. It was Robert Ferguson who did the embarrassed
thinking.

As for Mrs. Maitland, she went home through Mercer's mire and fog, her
iron face softening into almost feminine concern. She was saying to
herself that if Nannie didn't care, why, she didn't care! "But if she
hankers after him"--Mrs. Maitland's face twinged with annoyance; "if
she hankers after him, I'll make it up to her in some way. I'll give
her a good big check!" But she must make sure about the "hankering." It
would not be difficult to make sure. In these silent years together,
the strong nature had drawn the weak nature to it, as a magnet draws a
speck of iron. Nannie, timid to the point of awe, never daring even in
her thoughts to criticize the powerful personality that dominated her
daily life, nestled against it, so to speak, with perfect content.
Sarah Maitland's esthetic deficiencies which separated her so
tragically from her son, did not alienate Nannie. The fact that her
stepmother was rich, and yet lived in a poverty-stricken locality; that
the inconvenience of the old house amounted to squalor; that they were
almost completely isolated from people of their own class;--none of
these things disturbed Nannie. They were merely "Mamma's ways," that
was all there was to say about them. She was not confidential with Mrs.
Maitland, because she had nothing to confide. But if her stepmother had
ever asked any personal question, she would have been incapable of not
replying. Mrs. Maitland knew that, and proposed to satisfy herself as
to the "hankering."

Supper was on the table when she got home, and though while bolting her
food she glanced at Nannie rather keenly, she did not try to probe her
feelings. "But she looks down in the mouth," Sarah Maitland thought.
There must have been delicacy somewhere in the big nature, for she was
careful not to speak of Elizabeth's engagement before Harris, for fear
the girl might, by some involuntary tremor of lip or eyelid, betray
herself.

"I'll look in on you after supper," she said.

Nannie, with a start, said, "Oh, thank you, Mamma."

When Mrs. Maitland, with her knitting and a fistful of unopened
letters, came over to the parlor, she had also, tucked into her belt, a
check.

It had never occurred to Nannie, in all these years and with a very
liberal allowance, to mitigate her parlor. It was still a place of
mirrors, grown perhaps a little dim; of chandeliers in balloons of
brown paper-muslin, which, to be sure, had split here and there with
age, so that a glimmer of cut glass sparkled dimly through the cracks;
a place of marble-topped tables, and crimson brocade curtains dingy
with age and soot; a place where still the only human thing was
Nannie's drawing-board. She was bending over it now, copying with a
faithful pencil a little picture of a man and a maid, and a dove and a
Love. She was going to give the drawing to Elizabeth; in fact, she had
begun it several days ago with joyous anticipation of this happy
happening. But now, as she worked, her hand trembled. She had had a
letter from Blair, and all her joyousness had fled:

"_The Dean is an ass, of course; but mother'll get excited about it,
I'm afraid. Do smooth her down, if you can._"

No wonder Nannie's hand trembled!

Mrs. Maitland, putting her letters on the table, sat down heavily and
began to knit. She glanced at Nannie over her spectacles. "Better get
through with it," she said to herself. Then, aloud, "Well, Nannie, so
David and Elizabeth have made a match of it?"

For a minute Nannie's face brightened. "Yes! Isn't it fine? I'm so
pleased. David has been crazy about her ever since he was a boy."

Well! She was heart-whole! There was no doubt of that; Mrs. Maitland,
visibly relieved, dismissed from her mind the whole foolish business of
love-making. She began to read her letters, Nannie watching her
furtively. When the third letter was taken up--a letter with the seal
of the University in the upper left-hand corner of the
envelope--Blair's sister breathed quickly. Mrs. Maitland, ripping the
envelope open with a thrust of her forefinger, read it swiftly; then
again, slowly. Then she said something under her breath and struck her
fist on the table. Nannie's fingers whitened on her pencil. Sarah
Maitland got up and stood on the hearth-rug, her back to the fire.

"I'll have to go East," she said, and began to bite her forefinger.

"Oh, Mamma," Nannie broke out, "I am sure there isn't anything really
wrong. Perhaps he has been--a little foolish. Men are foolish in
college. David got into hot water lots of times. But Blair hasn't done
anything really bad, and--"

Mrs. Maitland gave her a somber look. "He wrote to you, did he?" she
said. And Nannie realized that she had not advanced her brother's
cause. Mrs. Maitland picked up her letters and began to sort them out.
"When is he going to grow up?" she said. "He's twenty-four; and he's
been dawdling round at college for the last two years! He's not bad; he
hasn't stuff enough in him to be bad. He is just lazy and useless; and
he's had every chance young man could have!"

"Mamma!" Nannie protested, "it isn't fair to speak that way of Blair,
and it isn't true, not a word of it!" Nannie, the 'fraid-cat of twenty
years ago,--afraid still of thunder-storms and the dark and Sarah
Maitland, and what not,--Nannie, when it came to defending Blair, had
all the audacious courage of love. "He is not lazy, he is not useless;
he is--he is--" Nannie stammered with angry distress; "he is dear, and
good, and kind, and never did any harm in his life. Never! It's
perfectly dreadful, Mamma, for you to say such things about him!"

"Well, well!" said Sarah Maitland, lifting an amused eyebrow. It was as
if a humming-bird had attacked a steel billet. Her face softened into
pleased affection. "Well, stick up for him," she said; "I like it in
you, my dear, though what you say is foolish enough. You remind me of
your mother. But your brother has brains. Yes, I'll say that for
him,--he's like me; he has brains. That's why I'm so out of patience
with him," she ended, lapsing into moody displeasure again. "If he was
a fool, I wouldn't mind his behaving like a fool. But he has brains."
Then she said, briefly, "'Night," and tramped off to the dining room.

The next morning when Nannie, a little pale from a worried night, came
down to breakfast, her stepmother's place was empty.

"Yes," Harris explained; "she went off at twelve, Miss Nannie. She
didn't let on where. She said you'd know."

"I know," poor Nannie said, and turned paler than ever.



CHAPTER XI

After Mrs. Maitland had had an interview with the Dean, she went off
across the yard, under the great elms dripping in the rainy January
thaw. Following his directions, she found her way through the corridors
of a new building whose inappropriate expensiveness was obvious at
every turn. Blair had rooms there, as had most of the sons of rich
fathers. The whole place smelt of money! In Blair's apartment money was
less obvious than beauty--but it was expensive beauty. He had a few
good pictures, and on one wall a wonderful tapestry of forest foliage
and roebucks, that he had picked up in Europe at a price which added to
the dealer's affection for traveling Americans. The furnishing was in
quiet and, for that period, remarkably good taste; masculine enough to
balance a certain delicacy of detail--exquisite Tanagra figures,
water-colors and pastels of women in costumes of rose and violet gauze,
incense smoldering in an ivory jar, and much small bijouterie that
meant an almost feminine appreciation of exquisite and costly
prettiness.

Mrs. Maitland came tramping down the hall, her face set and stern; but
suddenly, almost at Blair's door, she paused. Some one was singing; she
knew the voice--beautiful, joyous, beating and pulsating with life:

  "Drink to me only with thine eyes,
  And I will pledge with mine."

She moved over to a window that lit the long corridor, and listened:

  "Or leave a kiss . . ."

Sarah Maitland stared out into the rain; the bare branches of the trees
whipped against one another in the wind, but she did not see them. She
leaned her forehead on the glass, listening to the golden voice. A warm
wave seemed to rise in her breast, a wave of cosmic satisfaction in
this vitality that was _hers_, because he was hers! Her eyes blurred so
with emotion that she did not see the rocking branches in the rain. All
the hardness of her face melted, under those melting cadences into
exultant maternity:

  "Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
  And I'll not look for wine;
  The thirst that from the soul--"

She smiled, then turned and knocked peremptorily at her son's door.

Blair, pausing in his song to comment on a thirst that rises otherwhere
than in the soul, roared out a jolly command to "come in!" but for an
instant he did not realize who stood on the threshold; nor was his
mother able to distinguish him in the group of men lounging about a
room dim with tobacco smoke. He was standing with his back to the door,
pulling a somewhat reluctant cork from a bottle of sherry gripped
between his knees.

Blair was immensely popular at college, not only because of the easy
generosities of his wealth,--which were often only a pleasant form of
selfishness that brought the fellows about him as honey brings flies,
but because of a certain sympathetic quality of mind, a genius for
companionship that was almost a genius for friendship. Now, his room
was full of men. One of his guests was sitting on the window-sill,
kicking his heels and swaying rhythmically back and forth to the twang
of his banjo. One had begun to read aloud with passionate emphasis a
poem, of which happily Mrs. Maitland did not catch the words; all of
them were smoking. The door opened, but no one entered. One of the
young men, feeling the draught, glanced languidly over his
shoulder,--and got on his feet with extraordinary expedition! He said
something under his breath. But it was the abrupt silence of the room
that made Blair turn round. It did not need his stammering dismay, his
half-cringing--"Clear out, will you, you fellows "--to get the men out
of the room. They did not know who she was, but they knew she was
Somebody. She did not speak, but the powerful personality seemed to
sweep in and clear the atmosphere of its sickly triviality. She stood
blocking up the doorway, looking at them; they were mostly Seniors, but
there was not a man among them who did not feel foolish under that
large and quiet look. Then she stepped a little aside. The movement was
unmistakable. They jostled one another like a flock of sheep in their
effort to get away quickly. Somebody muttered, "Good afternoon--" but
the others were speechless. They left a speechless host behind them.

Mrs. Maitland, her rusty bonnet very much on one side, watched them go;
then she closed the door behind them, and stood looking at her son who
was still holding the corkscrew in his hands. Her feet were planted
firmly wide apart, her hands were on her hips; her eyebrow was lifting
ominously. "Well?" she said; with the echo of that golden voice still
in her ears, her own voice was, even to herself, unexpectedly mild.

"I didn't expect you," Blair managed to say.

"I inferred as much," she said dryly; "so this is the way you keep up
with your classes?"

"There are no lectures at this time of day," he said. "If you had been
so kind, my dear mother, as to let me know you were coming"--he spoke
with that exaggerated and impertinent politeness that confesses fright;
"I would have met you. Instead of that, you--you--you burst in--" he
was getting whiter and whiter. The thought that the men had seen the
unkempt figure, the powerful face, the straggling locks of hair, the
bare hands,--seen, in fact, the unlovely exterior of a large and
generous nature, a nature which, alas, he, her son, had never seen;
that they had seen her, and guessed, of course, that she was his
mother, was positively unendurable to Blair. He tried to speak, but his
voice shook into silence. His dismay was not entirely ignoble; the
situation was excruciating to a man whose feeling for beauty was a form
of religion; his mortification had in it the element of horror for a
profaned ideal; his mother was an esthetic insult to motherhood.

"I've no fault to find with your friends being here, if they don't
interfere with your studies," Mrs. Maitland said.

"Oh," he said rather blankly; then his shame of her stung him into
fury: "why didn't you tell me that you--"

"I've been to see the Dean," she said; "sit down there and listen to
me. Here, give me a chair; not that pincushion thing! Give me a chair
fit for a man to sit on,--if you've got one in this upholstery shop."

Blair, with trembling hands, pushed a mahogany chair to her side. He
did not sit down himself. He stood with folded arms and downcast eyes.

She was not unkind; she was not even ungentle. She was merely explicit:
_he was a fool_. All this business,--she pointed to the bottle and the
empty glasses; all this business was idiotic, it was a boy's
foolishness. "It shows how young you are, Blair," she said kindly,
"though the Lord knows you are old enough in years to have some sense!"
But if he kept the foolishness up, and this other tomfoolery on account
of which she had had to leave the Works and spend her valuable time
talking to the Dean, why, he might be expelled. He would certainly be
suspended. And that would put off his getting into business for still
another year. "And you are twenty-four!" she said.

While she talked she looked about her, and the mother-softness began to
die out of her eyes. Sarah Maitland had never seen her son's room; she
saw, now, soft-green hangings, great bowls of roses, a sideboard with
an array of glasses, a wonderfully carved ivory jar standing on a
teak-wood table whose costliness, even to her uneducated eyes, was
obvious. Suddenly she put on her spectacles, and still talking, rose,
and walked slowly about the room glancing at the water-colors. By and
by, just at the end of her harangue,--to which Blair had listened in
complete silence,--she paused before a row of photographs on the
mantelpiece; then, in the midst of a sentence, she broke off with an
exclamation, leaned forward, and seizing a photograph, tore it in two,
across the smiling face and the bare bosom, across the lovely, impudent
line of the thigh, and flung it underfoot. "Shame on you! to let your
mother see a thing like that!"

"I didn't ask my mother to see it."

"If you have thoughts like this," she said, "Elizabeth did well to
throw you over for David."

Blair lifted one eyebrow with a glimmer of interest. "Oh, David has got
her, has he?"

"At any rate, he's a _man!_ He doesn't live like this"--she made a
contemptuous gesture; "muddling with silks and paintings, and pictures
of bad women! What kind of a room is this for a man? Full of flowers
and stinking jars, and cushions, and truck? It's more fit for a--a
creature like that picture"--she set her heel on the smiling face;
"than for a man! I ought never to have sent you here. I ought to have
put you to puddling." She looked at him in growing agitation. "My God!
Blair, what are you--living this way, with silks and perfumery and clay
baby dolls? You've got no guts to you! I didn't mind your making a fool
of yourself; that's natural; nobody can get to be a man till he's been
a fool; but this--" She stood there, with one hand on the mantelpiece
beside the row of photographs and bits of carving and little silver
trinkets, and looked at him in positive fright. "And you are _my_ son,"
she said.

The torrent of her angry shame suddenly swept Blair's manhood of
twenty-four years away; her very power stripped him bare as a baby; it
almost seemed as if she had sucked his masculinity out of him and
incorporated it into herself. He stood there like a cringing schoolboy
expecting to be whipped. "One of the men gave me that picture; I--"

"You ought to have slapped his face! Listen to me: you are going to be
looked after,--do you hear me? You are going to be watched. Do you
understand?" She gathered up the whole row of photographs, innocent and
offensive together, and threw them into the fire. "You are going to
walk straight, or you are coming home, and going to work."

It was a match to gunpowder; in an instant Blair's temper, the terrific
temper of the uniformly and lazily amiable man, flashed into furious
words.

Stammering with rage, he told her what he thought of her; to record his
opinion is not for edification. Even Sarah Maitland flinched before it.
She left him with a bang. She saw the Dean again, and her
recommendations of espionage were so extreme and so unwise that he
found himself taking Blair's part in his effort to save the young man
from the most insolent intrusion upon his privacy. She went back to
Mercer in a whirl of anger but in somber silence. She had scorched and
stung under the truths her son told her about herself; she had bled
under the lies she had told him as to her feeling for him. She looked
ten years older for that hour in his room. But she had nothing to say.
She told poor, frightened Nannie that she had "seen Master Blair"; she
added that he was a fool. To Robert Ferguson she was a little more
explicit:

"Blair has not been behaving himself; he's in debt; he has been
gambling. See that all these bills are paid. Tell Watson to give him a
hundred dollars more a month; I won't have him running in debt in this
way. Now what about the Duluth order?"



CHAPTER XII

Mr. Ferguson made no protest in regard to Blair's increased allowance.
"If his mother wants to ruin him, it isn't my business," he said. The
fact was, he had not recovered from his astonished resentment at Sarah
Maitland's joke in Mrs. Richie's parlor. He thought about it
constantly, and asked himself whether he did not owe his neighbor an
apology of some kind. The difficulty was to know what kind, for after
all _he_ was perfectly innocent! "Such an idea never entered my head,"
he thought angrily; "but of course, if there has been anything in my
conduct to put it into Mrs. Maitland's head, I ought to be thrashed!
Perhaps I'd better not go in next door more than two or three times a
week?" So, for once, Robert Ferguson was distinctly out with his
employer, and when she told him to see that Blair had a hundred dollars
more a month, he said, in his own mind, "be hanged to him! What
difference does it make to me if she ruins him?" and held his
tongue--until the next day. Then he barked out a remonstrance: "I
suppose you know your own business, but if _I_ had a boy I wouldn't
increase his allowance because he was in debt."

"I want to keep him from getting in debt again," she explained, her
face falling into troubled lines.

"If you will allow me to say so--having been a boy myself, that's not
the way to do it."

Sarah Maitland flung herself back in her chair, and struck the desk
with her fist. "I am at my wit's end to know what to do about him! My
idea has been to make a man of him, by giving him what he wants, not
making him fuss over five-cent pieces. He's had everything; he's never
heard '_no_' in his life. And yet--look at him!"

"That's the trouble with him. He's had too much. He needs a few no's.
But he's like most rich boys; there isn't one rich man's son in ten who
is worth his salt. If he were _my_ boy," said Robert Ferguson, with
that infallibility which everybody feels in regard to the way other
people's children should be brought up, "if he were my son, I'd put him
to work this summer."

Mrs. Maitland blew her lips out in a great sigh; then nibbled her
forefinger, staring with blank eyes straight ahead of her. She was
greatly perplexed. "I'll think it over," she said; "I'll think it over.
Hold on; what's your hurry? I want to ask you something: your neighbor
there, Mrs. Richie, seems to be a very attractive woman; 'fair and
forty,' as the saying is--only I guess she's nearer fifty? But she's
mighty good-looking, whatever her age is."

The color came into Robert Ferguson's face; this time he was really
offended. Mrs. Maitland was actually venturing--"I have never noticed
her looks," he said stiffly, and rose.

"It just struck me when I caught you in there the other day," she
ruminated; "what do you know about her?" Buried deep in the casual
question was another question, but Robert Ferguson did not hear it; she
was _not_ going to venture! He was so relieved, that he was instantly
himself again. He told her briefly what little he knew: Mrs. Richie was
a widow; husband dead many years. "I have an idea he was a crooked
stick,--more from what she hasn't said than what she has said. There's
a friend of hers I meet once in a while at her house, a Doctor King,
and he intimated to me that her husband was a bad lot. It appears he
hurt their child, when he was drunk. She never forgave him. I don't
blame her, I'm sure; the baby died. It was after the death of the
husband that she adopted David. She has no relations apparently; some
friends in Old Chester, I believe; this Doctor King is one of 'em."

"Is she going to marry him?" Mrs. Maitland said.

"There might be objections on the part of the present incumbent," he
said, with his meager smile.

Mrs. Maitland admitted that the doctor's wife presented difficulties;
"but perhaps she'll die," she said, cheerfully; "I'm interested to know
that Mrs. Richie has friends; I was wondering--" She did not say what
she wondered. "She's a nice woman, Robert Ferguson, and a good woman,
_and_ a good-looking woman, too; 'fair and'--well, say 'fifty'! And if
you had any sense--"

But this time Robert Ferguson really did get out of the office.

His advice about Blair, however, seemed superfluous. So far as behavior
went, Mrs. Maitland had no further occasion to increase his allowance.
His remaining months in the university were decorous enough, though his
scholarship was no credit to him. He "squeaked through," as he
expressed it to his sister, gaily, when she came east to see him
graduate, three years behind the class in which he had entered college.
But as to his conduct, that domiciliary visit had hardened him into a
sort of contemptuous common sense. And his annoyed and humiliated
manhood, combined with his esthetic taste, sufficed, also, to keep
things fairly peaceful when he was at home, which was rarely for more
than a week or two at a time. Quarrels with his mother had become
excruciating experiences, like discords on the piano; they set his
teeth on edge, though they never touched his heart. To avoid them, he
would, he told Nannie, chuckling at her horror,--"lie like the devil!"
His lying, however, was nothing more serious than a careful and
entirely insincere politeness; but it answered his purpose, and "rows,"
as he called them, were very rare; although, indeed, his mother did her
part in avoiding them, too. To Sarah Maitland, a difference with her
son meant a pang at the very center of her being--her maternity; her
heart was seared by it, but her taste was not offended because she had
no taste. So, for differing reasons, peace was kept. The next fall,
after a summer abroad, Blair went back to the university and took two
or three special courses; also he began to paint rather seriously; all
of which was his way of putting off the evil day of settling down in
Mercer.

Meantime, life grew quite vivid to his sister. Elizabeth had once said
that Nannie was "born an old maid"; and certainly these tranquil,
gently useless years of being very busy about nothing, and living quite
alone with her stepmother, had emphasized in her a simplicity and
literalness of mind that was sometimes very amusing to the other three
friends. At any rate, hers was a pallid little personality--perhaps it
could not have been anything else in the household of a woman like
Sarah Maitland, with whom, domestically, it was always either peace, or
a sword! Nannie was incapable of anything but peace. "You are a
'fraid-cat," Elizabeth used to tell her, "but you're a perfect dear!"
"Nannie is unscrupulously good," Blair said once; and her soft
stubbornness in doing anything she conceived to be her duty, warranted
his criticism. But during the first year that David and Elizabeth were
engaged, her stagnant existence in the silent old house began to stir;
little shocks of reality penetrated the gentle primness of her thought,
and she came creeping out into the warmth and sunshine of other
people's happiness; indeed, her shy appreciation of the lovers'
experiences became almost an experience of her own, so closely did she
nestle to all their emotions! It was a real blow to her when it was
decided that David should enter a Philadelphia hospital as an interne.
"Won't he be at home even for the long vacations?" Nannie asked,
anxiously; when she was told that hospitals did not give "vacations,"
her only consolation was that she would have to console Elizabeth.

But when Robert Ferguson heard what was going to happen, he had nothing
to console him. "I'll have a love-sick girl on my hands," he complained
to Mrs. Richie. "You'll have to do your share of it," he barked at her.
He had come in through the green door in the garden wall, with a big
clump of some perennial in his hands, and a trowel under one arm.
"Peonies have to be thinned out in the fall," he said grudgingly, "and
I want to get rid of this lot. Where shall I put 'em?"

It was a warm October afternoon, and Mrs. Richie, who had been sitting
on the stone bench under the big hawthorn in her garden, reading, until
the dusk hid her page, looked up gratefully. "You are robbing yourself;
I believe that is your precious white peony!"

"It's only half of it, and I get as much good out of it here as in my
own garden," he grunted (he was sitting on his heels digging a hole big
enough for a clump of peonies with a trowel, so no wonder he grunted);
"besides, it improves my property to plant perennials; my next tenant
may appreciate flowers," he ended, with the reproving significance
which had become a joke between them.

"Oh," said Mrs. Richie, sighing, "I don't like to think of that 'next
tenant.'"

He looked up at her a little startled. "What do you mean? You are not
going to Philadelphia with David next April?"

"Why, you didn't suppose I would let David go alone?"

"What! You will leave Mercer?" he said. In his dismayed astonishment he
dropped his trowel and stood up. "Will you please tell me why I should
stay in Mercer, when David is in Philadelphia?"

Robert Ferguson was silent; then he tramped the earth in around the
roots of the white peony, and said, sullenly, "It never occurred to me
that you would go, too."

"You'll have to be extra nice to Elizabeth when we are not here," Mrs.
Richie instructed him. David's mother was very anxious to be nice to
Elizabeth herself; which was a confession, though she did not know it,
of her old misgivings as to David's choice.

"Be nice? _I_?" said Mr. Ferguson, and snorted; "did you ever know me
'nice'?"

"Always," she said, smiling.

But he would not smile; he went back to his garden for some more roots;
when he returned with a wedge taken from his bed of lemon-lilies, he
said crossly, "David can manage his own affairs; he doesn't need
apron-strings! I think I've mentioned that to you before?"

"I think I recall some such reference," she admitted, her voice
trembling with friendly amusement.

But he went on growling and barking: "Foolish woman! to try the
experiment at your age, of living in a strange place!"

At that she laughed outright: "That is the nicest way in the world to
tell a friend you will miss her."

Robert Ferguson did not laugh. In fact, as the winter passed and the
time drew near for the move to be made, nobody laughed very much.
Certainly not the two young people; since David had left the medical
school he had worked in Mercer's infirmary, and now they both felt as
if the world would end for them when they ceased to see each other
several times a day. David did his best to be cheerful about it; in
fact, with that common sense of his which his engagement had
accentuated, he was almost too cheerful. The hospital service would be
a great advantage, he said, So great that perhaps the three years'
engagement to which they were looking forward,--because David's
finances would probably not be equal to a wife before that; the three
years might be shortened to two. But to be parted for two years--it was
"practically parting," for visits don't amount to anything; "it's
tough," said David. "It's _terrific!_" Elizabeth said.

"Oh, well," David reminded her, "two years is a lot better than three."

It was curious to see how Love had developed these two young creatures:
Elizabeth had sprung into swift and glowing womanhood; with triumphant
candor her conduct confessed that she had forgotten everything but
Love. She showed her heart to David, and to her little world, as freely
as a flower that has opened overnight--a rose, still wet with dew, that
bares a warm and fragrant bosom to the sun. David had matured, too; but
his maturity was of the mind rather than the body; manhood suddenly
fell upon him like a cloak, and because his sense of humor had always
been a little defective, it was a somewhat heavy cloak, which hid and
even hampered the spontaneous freedom of youth. He was deeply and
passionately in love, but his face fell into lines of responsibility
rather than passion; lines, even, of care. He grew markedly older; he
thought incessantly of how soon he would be able to marry, and always
in connection with his probable income and his possible expenses.
Helena Richie was immensely proud of this sudden, serious manhood; but
Elizabeth's uncle took it as a matter of course:--had he not, himself,
ceased to be an ass at twenty? Why shouldn't David Richie show some
sense at twenty-five!

As for Elizabeth, she simply adored. Perhaps she was, once in a while,
a little annoyed at the rather ruthless power with which David would
calmly override some foolish wish of hers; and sometimes there would be
a gust of temper,--but it always yielded at his look or touch. When he
was not near her, when she could not see the speechless passion in his
eyes, or feel the tremor of his lips when they answered the demand of
hers, then the anger lasted longer. Once or twice, when he was away
from home, his letters, with their laconic taking of her love for
granted, made her sharply displeased; but when he came back, and kissed
her, she forgot everything but his arms. Curiously enough, the very
completeness of her surrender kept him so entirely reverent of her that
people who did not know him might have thought him cold--but Elizabeth
knew! She knew his love, even when, as she fulminated against the
misery of being left alone, David merely said, briefly, "Oh, well, two
years is a lot better than three."

The two years of absence were to begin in April. It was in February
that Robert Ferguson was told definitely just when his tenant would
terminate her lease; he received the news in absolute silence. Mrs.
Richie's note came at breakfast; he read it, then went into his library
and shut the door. He sat down at his writing-table, his hands in his
pockets, an unlighted cigar between his teeth. He sat there nearly an
hour. Then, throwing the cigar into his waste-basket, he knocked his
glasses off with a bewildered gesture; "Well, I'll be hanged," he said,
softly. It was at that moment that he forgave Mrs. Maitland her
outrageous joke of more than a year before. "I've always known that
woman was no fool," he said, smiling ruefully at the remembrance of his
anger at Sarah Maitland's advice. "It was darned good advice!" he said;
but he looked positively dazed. "And I've always said I wouldn't give
Life the chance to play another trick on me!" he reflected; "well, I
won't. This is no silly love-affair; it's good common sense." Ten
minutes later, as he started for his office, he caught sight of his
face in the mirror in the hall. He had lifted one hand to take his hat
from the rack, but as he suddenly saw himself, he stood stock-still,
with upraised arm and extended fingers; Robert Ferguson had probably
not been really aware of his reflection in a looking-glass for
twenty-five years. He saw now a lean, lined, sad face, a morose droop
of thin and bitter lips; he saw gray hair standing up stiffly above a
careworn forehead; he saw kind, troubled eyes. And as he looked, he
frowned. "I'm an ugly cuss," he said to himself, sighing; "and I look
sixty." In point of fact, he was nearly fifty. "But so is she," he
added, defiantly, and took down his hat. "Only, _she_ looks forty." And
then he thought of Mrs. Maitland's "fair and fifty," and smiled, in
spite of himself. "Yes, she is rather good-looking," he admitted.

And indeed she was; Mrs. Richie's quiet life with her son had kept her
forehead smooth, and her eyes--eyes the color of a brook which loiters
in shady places over last year's leaves--softly clear. There was a
gentle placidity about her; the curious, shy hesitation, the deep,
half-frightened sadness, which had been so marked when her landlord
knew her first, had disappeared; sometimes she even showed soft
gaieties of manner or speech which delighted her moody neighbor to the
point of making him laugh. And laughing had all the charm of novelty to
poor Robert Ferguson. "I never dreamed of her going away," he said to
himself. Well, yes; certainly Mrs. Maitland had some sense, after all.
When, a week later, blundering and abrupt, he referred to Mrs.
Maitland's "sense," Mrs. Richie could not at first understand what he
was talking about. "She 'knew more than you gave her credit for'? I
thought you gave her credit for knowing everything! Oh, you don't want
me to leave Mercer? I don't see the connection. _I_ don't know
everything! But you are very flattering, I'm sure. I am a 'good
tenant,' I suppose?"

"Please don't go." She laughed at what she thought was his idea of a
joke; then said, with half a sigh, that she did not know any one in
Philadelphia; "when David isn't at home I shall be pretty lonely," she
said.

"Please don't go," he said again, in a low voice. They were sitting
before the fire in Mrs. Richie's parlor; the glass doors of the
plant-room were open,--that plant-room, which had been his first
concession to her; and the warm air of the parlor was fragrant with
blossoming hyacinths. There was a little table between them, with a
bowl of violets on it, and a big lamp. Robert Ferguson rose, and stood
with his hands behind him, looking down at her. His hair, in a stiff
brush above his forehead, was quite gray, but his face in its unwonted
emotion seemed quivering with youth. He knocked off his glasses
irritably. "I never know how to say things," he said, in a low voice;
"but--please don't go."

Mrs. Richie stared at him in amazement.

"I think we'd better get married," he said.

"_Mr. Ferguson!_"

"I think I've cared about you ever since you came here, but I am such a
fool I didn't know it until Mrs. Maitland said that absurd thing last
fall."

"I--I don't know what you mean!" she parried, breathlessly; "at any
rate, please don't say anything more about it."

"I have to say something more." He sat down again with the air of one
preparing for a siege. "I've got several things to say. First, I want
to find out my chances?"

"You haven't any."

His face moved. He put on his glasses carefully, with both hands. "Mrs.
Richie, is there any one else? If so, I'll quit. I know you will answer
straight; you are not like other women. _Is there anybody else?_
That--that Old Chester doctor who comes to see you once in a while, I
understand he's a widower now; wife's just died; and if--"

"There is nobody; _never_ anybody."

"Ah!" he said, triumphantly; then frowned: "If your attachment to your
husband makes you say I haven't any chance--but it can't be that."

Her eyes suddenly dilated. "Why not? Why do you say it can't be that?"
she said in a frightened voice.

"I somehow got the impression--forgive me if I am saying anything I
oughtn't to; but I had kind of an idea that you were not especially
happy with him."

She was silent.

"But even if you were," he went on, "it is so many years; I don't mean
to offend you, but a woman isn't faithful to a memory for so many
years!" he looked at her incredulously; "not even you, I think."

"Such a thing is possible," she told him coldly; she had grown very
pale. "But it is not because of--of my husband that I say I shall never
marry again."

He interrupted her. "If it isn't a dead man nor a live man that's ahead
of me, then it seems to me you can't say I haven't any chance--unless I
am personally offensive to you?" There was an almost child-like
consternation in his eyes; "am I? Of course I know I am a bear."

"Oh, please don't say things like that!" she protested. "A bear? You?
Why, you are just my good, kind friend and neighbor; but--"

"Ah!" he said, "that scared me for a minute! Well, when I understood
what was the matter with me (I didn't understand until about a week
ago), I said to myself, 'If there's nobody ahead of me, that woman
shall be my wife.' Of course, I am not talking sentimentalities to you;
we are not David and Elizabeth! I'm fifty, and you are not far from it.
But I--I--I'm hard hit, Mrs. Richie;" his voice trembled, and he
twitched off his glasses with more than usual ferocity.

Mrs. Richie rose; "Mr. Ferguson," she said, gently, "I do appreciate
the honor you do me, but--"

"Don't say a thing like that; it's foolish," he interrupted, frowning;
"what 'honor' is it, to a woman like you, to have an ugly, bad-mannered
fellow like me, want you for a wife? Why, how could I help it! How
could any man help it? I don't know what Dr. King is thinking of, that
he isn't sitting on your doorsteps waiting for a chance to ask you! I
ought to have asked you long ago. I can't imagine why I didn't, except
that I supposed we would go on always living next door to each other.
And--and I thought anything like _this_, was over for me. . . . Mrs.
Richie, please sit down, and let me finish what I have to say."

"There is no use, Mr. Ferguson," she said; but she sat down, her face
falling into lines of sadness that made her look curiously old.

"There isn't anybody ahead of me: so far, so good. Now as to my
chances; of course I realize that I haven't any,--to-day. But there's
to-morrow, Mrs. Richie; and the day after to-morrow. There's next week,
and next year;--and I don't change. Look how slow I was in finding out
that I wanted you; it's taken me all these years! What a poor, dull
fool I am! Well, I know it now; and you know it; and you don't
personally dislike me. So perhaps some day," his harsh face was
suddenly almost beautiful; "some day you'll be--_my wife!_" he said,
under his breath. He had no idea that he was "talking
sentimentalities"; he would have said he did not know how to be
sentimental. But his voice was the voice of youth and passion.

She shook her head. "No," she said, quietly; "I can't marry you, Mr.
Ferguson."

"But you are generally so reasonable," he protested, astonished and
wistful; "why, it seems to me that you _must_ be willing--after a
while? Here we are, two people getting along in years, and our children
have made a match of it; and we are used to each other, that's a very
important thing in marriage. It's just plain common sense, after David
is on his own legs in the hospital, for us to join forces. Perhaps in
the early summer? I won't be unreasonably urgent. Surely"--he was
gaining confidence from his own words--"surely you must see how
sensible--"

Involuntarily, perhaps through sheer nervousness, she laughed. "Mrs.
Maitland's 'sensible arrangement'? No, Mr. Ferguson; please let us
forget all about this--"

He gave his snort of a laugh. "Forget? Now _that_ isn't sensible. No,
you dear, foolish woman; whatever else we do, we shall neither of us
forget this. This is one of the things a man and woman don't forget;"
in his earnestness he pushed aside the bowl of violets on the table
between them, and caught her hand in both of his. "I'm going to get you
yet," he said, he was as eager as a boy.

Before she could reply, or even draw back, David opened the parlor
door, and stood aghast on the threshold. It was impossible to mistake
the situation. The moment of sharp withdrawal between the two on either
side of the table announced it, without the uttering of a word; David
caught his breath. Robert Ferguson could have wrung the intruder's
neck, but Mrs. Richie clutched at her son's presence with a gasp of
relief: "Oh--David! I thought you were next door!"

"I was," David said, briefly; "I came in to get a book for Elizabeth."

"We were--talking," Mrs. Richie said, trying to laugh. Mr. Ferguson,
standing with his back to the fire, was slowly putting on his glasses.
"But we had finished our discussion," she ended breathlessly.

"For the moment," Mr. Ferguson said, significantly; and set his jaw.

"Well, David, have you and Elizabeth decided when she is to come and
see us in Philadelphia?" Mrs. Richie asked, her voice still trembling.

"She says she'll come East whenever Mr. Ferguson can bring her," David
said, rummaging among the books on the table. "But it's a pity to wait
as long as that," he added, and the hint in his words was inescapable.

Robert Ferguson did not take hints. "I think I can manage to come
pretty soon," he retorted.



CHAPTER XIII

When Mr. Ferguson said good night, David, apparently unable to find the
book he had promised to take in to Elizabeth, made no effort to help
his mother in her usual small nightly tasks of blowing out the lamps,
tidying the table, folding up a newspaper or two. This was not like
David, but Mrs. Richie was too absorbed to notice her son's absorption.
Just as she was starting up-stairs, he burst out: "Materna--"

"Yes? What is it?"

He gave her a keenly searching look; then drew a breath of relief, and
kissed her. "Nothing," he said.

But later, as he lay on his back in bed, his hands clasped behind his
head, his pipe between his teeth, David was distinctly angry. "Of
course she doesn't care a hang for him," he reflected; "I could see
that; but I swear I'll go to Philadelphia right off." Before he slept
he had made up his mind that was the best thing to do. That old man,
gray and granite-faced, and silent, "that old codger," said the
disrespectful cub of twenty-six, "should take advantage of friendship
to be a nuisance,--confound him!" said David. "The idea of his daring
to make love to her! I wanted to show him the door." As for his mother,
even if she didn't "care a hang," he was half shocked, half hurt; he
felt, as all young creatures do, a curious repulsion at the idea of
love-making between people no longer young. It hurt his delicacy, it
almost hurt his sense of reverence for his mother, to think that she
had been obliged to listen to any words of love. "It's offensive," he
said angrily; "yes; we'll clear out! We'll go to Philadelphia the first
of March, instead of April."

The next morning he suggested his plan to his mother. "Could you pack
up in three weeks, Materna?" he said; "I think I'd like to get you
settled before I go to the hospital." Mrs. Richie's instant acceptance
of the change of date made him more annoyed than ever. "He has worried
her!" he thought angrily; "I wonder how long this thing has been going
on?" But he said nothing to her. Nor did he mean to explain to
Elizabeth just why he must shorten their last few weeks of being
together. It would not be fair to his mother to explain, he said to
himself;--he did not think of any unfairness to the "old codger." He
was, however, a little uneasy at the prospect of breaking the fact of
this earlier departure to Elizabeth without an explanation. Elizabeth
might be hurt; she might say that he didn't want to stay with her. "She
knows better!" he said to himself, grinning. The honest truth was, and
he faced it with placidity, that if things were not explained to
Elizabeth, she might get huffy,--this was David's word; but David knew
how to check that "huffiness"!

They were to walk together that afternoon, and he manoeuvered for a few
exquisite minutes alone before they went out. At first the moments were
not very exquisite.

"Well! What happened to you last night? I thought you were going to
bring me that book!"

"I couldn't. I had to stay at home."

"Why?"

"Well; Materna wanted me."

Elizabeth murmured a small, cold "Oh." Then she said, "Why didn't you
send the book in by Uncle?"

"I didn't think of it," David said candidly.

Elizabeth's dimple straightened. "It would have been polite to have
sent me a message."

"I took it for granted you'd know I was detained."

"You take too much for--" she began, but before she could utter the
sharp words that trembled on her lips, he caught her in his arms and
kissed her; instantly the little flame of temper was blown out.

"That's the worst of walking," David said, as she let him draw her down
on the sofa beside him; "I can't kiss you on the street."

"Heavens, I should hope not!" she said. Then, forgetting what she
thought was his forgetfulness, she relaxed within his arms, sighing
with bliss. "'Oh, isn't it joyful,--joyful,--joyful--'" she hummed
softly. "I do love to have you put your arms around me, David! Isn't it
wonderful to love each other the way we do? I feel so sorry for other
girls, because they aren't engaged to you; poor things! Do you suppose
anybody in the world was ever as happy as I am?"

"_You?_" said David, scornfully; "you don't count at all, compared to
me!" Then they both laughed for the sheer foolishness of that
"joyfulness," which was so often on Elizabeth's lips. But David sighed.
"Three years is a devilish long time to wait."

"Maybe it will be only two!" she whispered, her soft lips against his
ear. But this was one of David's practical and responsible moments, so
he said grimly, "Not much hope of that."

Elizabeth, agreeing sadly, got up to straighten her hat before the
mirror over the mantelpiece. "It's hideously long. Oh, if I were only a
rich girl!"

"Thank Heaven you are not!" he said, with such sudden cold incisiveness
that she turned round and looked at him. "Do you think I'd marry a rich
woman, and let her support me?"

"I don't see why she shouldn't, if she loved you," Elizabeth said
calmly; "I don't see that it matters which has the money, the man or
the girl."

"I see," David said; "I've always felt that way--even about mother.
Materna has wanted to help me out lots of times, and I wouldn't let
her. I could kick myself now when I think how often I have to put my
hand in her pocket."

"I think," cried Elizabeth, "a man might love a girl enough to live on
her money!"

"I don't," David said, soberly.

"Well," said Elizabeth, "don't worry. I haven't a cent, so you can't
put your hand in my pocket! Come, we must start. I want to go and see
Nannie for a minute, and Cherry-pie says I must be in before dark,
because I have a cold."

"I like sitting here best," David confessed, but pulled himself up from
the sofa, and in another minute Miss White, peering from an upper
window, saw them walking off. "Made for each other!" said Cherry-pie,
nibbling with happiness.

They had almost reached Nannie's before David said that--that he was
afraid he would have to go away a month before he had planned. When he
was most in earnest, his usual brevity of speech fell into a curtness
that might have seemed, to one who did not know him, indifference.
Elizabeth did know him, but even to her the ensuing explanation, which
did not explain, was, through his very anxiety not to offend her,
provokingly laconic.

"But you don't go on duty at the hospital until April," she said hotly.
"Why do you leave Mercer the first of March?"

"Materna wants time to get settled."

"Mrs. Richie told me only yesterday that she was going to a hotel,"
Elizabeth said; "she said she wasn't going to look for a house until
the fall, because she will be at the seashore this summer. It certainly
doesn't take a month to find a hotel."

"Well, the fact is, there are reasons why it isn't pleasant for Materna
to be in Mercer just now."

"Not pleasant to be in Mercer! What on earth do you mean?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you. It's her affair."

"Oh, I didn't mean to intrude," Elizabeth said coldly.

"Now, Elizabeth," he protested, "that isn't a nice thing to say."

"Do you think _you've_ been saying nice things? I am perfectly certain
that you would never hesitate to tell your mother any of my reasons for
doing things!"

"Elizabeth, I wouldn't leave Mercer a minute before the first of April,
if I wasn't sure it was best for Materna. You know that."

"Oh, go!" she said; "go, and have all the secrets you want. _I_ don't
care."

"Elizabeth, be reasonable; I--"

But she had left him; they had reached the Maitland house, and, pushing
aside his outstretched hand, she opened the iron gate herself, slammed
it viciously, and ran up the curving steps to the door. As she waited
for Harris to answer her ring, she looked back: "I think you are
reasonable enough for both of us; please don't let me ever interfere
with your plans!" She paused a minute in the hall, listening for a
following step;--it did not come. "Well, if he's cross he can stay
outside!" she told herself, and burst into the parlor. "Nannie!" she
began,--"Oh, I beg your pardon!" she said. Blair was standing on the
hearth-rug, talking vehemently to his sister; at the sound of the
opening door he wheeled around and saw her, glowing, wounded, and
amazingly handsome. "Elizabeth!" he said, staring at her. And he kept
on staring while they shook hands. They were a handsome pair, the tall,
dark, well-set-up man, and the girl almost as tall as he, with brown,
gilt-flecked hair blowing about a vivid face which had the color, in
the sharp February afternoon, of a blush-rose.

"Where's David?" Nannie said.

[Illustration: 'I THINK YOU ARE REASONABLE ENOUGH FOR BOTH OF US']

"I left him at the gate. He's coming in in a minute," Elizabeth said;
and turned to Blair: "I didn't know you had come home."

Blair explained that he was only in Mercer for a day. "I'm in a hole,"
he said drolly, "and I've come home to have Nannie get me out."

"Nannie is always ready to get people out of holes;" Elizabeth said,
but her voice was vague. She was listening for David's step, her cheeks
beginning to burn with mortification, at his delay.

"Where _is_ David?" Nannie demanded, returning from a fruitless search
for him in the hall.

"He's a lucky dog," Blair said, looking at the charming, angry face
with open and friendly admiration.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know about his luck. By the
way, he is going to Philadelphia the first of March, Nannie," she said
carelessly.

"I thought he didn't have to go until April?" Nannie sympathized.

"So did I. Perhaps he'll tell you why he has changed his mind. He
hasn't deigned to give me his reasons yet."

And Blair, watching her, said to himself, "Same old Elizabeth!" He
began to talk to her in his gay, teasing way, but she was not
listening; suddenly she interrupted him, saying that she must go home.
"I thought David was coming in, but I suppose he's walking up and down,
waiting for me."

"If he doesn't know which side his bread is buttered, I'll walk home
with you," Blair said; "and Nancy dear, while I'm gone, you see Mother
and do your best, won't you?"

"Yes," poor Nannie sighed, "but I do wish--"

Blair did not wait to hear what she wished; he had eyes only for this
self-absorbed young creature who would not listen when he spoke to her.
At the gate she hesitated, looked hurriedly about her, up and down the
squalid street; she did not answer, did not apparently hear, some
question that he asked. Blair glanced up and down the street, too.
"David doesn't appreciate his opportunities," he said.

Elizabeth's lip tightened, and she flung up her head; the rose in her
cheeks was drowned in scarlet. She came out of her absorption, and
began to sparkle at her companion; she teased him, but not too much;
she flattered him, very delicately; she fell into half-sentimental
reminiscences that made him laugh, then stabbed him gently with an
indifferent word that showed how entirely she had forgotten him. And
all the time her eyes were absent, and the straight line in her cheek
held the dimple a prisoner. Blair, who had begun with a sort of
good-natured, rather condescending amusement at his old playmate, found
himself, to his surprise, on his mettle.

"Don't go home yet," he said; "let's take a walk."

"I'd love to!"

"Mercer seems to be just as hideous as ever," Blair said; "suppose we
go across the river, and get away from it?"

She agreed lightly: "Horrid place." At the corner, she flashed a glance
down the side street; David was not to be seen.

"Will David practise here, when he is ready to put out his shingle?"

"I'm sure I don't know. I can't keep track of David's plans."

"He is just as good as ever, I suppose?" Blair said, and watched her
delicate lip droop.

"Better, if anything." And in the dusk, as they sauntered over the old
bridge, she flung out gibe after gibe at her lover. Her cheeks grew
hotter and hotter; it was like tearing her own flesh. The shame of it!
The rapture of it! It hurt her so that the tears stood in her eyes; so
she did it again, and yet again. "I don't pretend to live up to David,"
she said.

Blair, with a laugh, confessed that he had long ago given up any such
ambition himself. On the bridge they stopped, and Blair looked back at
the town lying close to the water. In the evening dusk lights were
pricking out all along the shore; the waste-lands beyond the furnaces
were vague with night mists, faintly amethyst in the east, bronze and
black over the city. Here and there in the brown distances flames would
suddenly burst out from unseen stacks, then sink, and the shadows close
again.

"I wish I could paint it," Blair said dreamily; "Mercer from the
bridge, at twilight, is really beautiful."

"I like the bridge," Elizabeth said, "for sentimental reasons. (Now,"
she added to herself, "now, I am a bad woman; to speak of _that_ to
another man is vile.) David and I," she said, significantly,--and
laughed.

Even Blair was startled at the crudeness of the allusion. "I didn't
suppose David ever condescended to be spoony," he said, and at the same
instant, to his absolute amazement, she caught his arm and pulled his
hand from the railing.

"Don't touch that place!" she cried; Blair, amused and cynical, laughed
under his breath.

"I see; this is the hallowed spot where you made our friend a happy
man?"

"We'll turn back now, please," Elizabeth said, suddenly trembling. She
had reached the climax of her anger, and the reaction was like the
shock of dropping from a dizzy height. During the walk home she
scarcely spoke. When he left her at her uncle's door, she was almost
rude. "Goodnight. No; I'm busy. I'd rather you didn't come in." In her
own room, without waiting to take off her things, she ran to her desk;
she did not even pause to sit down, but bent over, and wrote, sobbing
under her breath:

"DAVID: I am just as false as I can be. I ridiculed you to Blair. I
lied and lied and lied--because I was angry. I hated you for a little
while. I am low, and vulgar, and a blasphemer. _I told him about the
bridge._ You see how vile I am? But don't--don't give me up, David.
Only--understand just how base I am, and then, if you possibly can,
keep on loving me. E.

"P. S. I am not worth loving."

    * * * * *

When David read that poor little letter, his face quivered for an
instant, then he smiled. "Materna," he said--they were sitting at
supper; "Materna, she certainly is perfect!"

His mother laughed, and put out her hand. But he shook his head. "Not
even you!" he said.

When he went to see Elizabeth that evening, he found her curiously
broken. "David, how could I do it? I made _fun_ of you! Do you
understand? Yes; I truly did. Oh, how vile I am! And I knew I was vile
all the time; that's the queer part of it. But I piled it on! And all
the time it seemed as if I was just bleeding to death inside. But I
kept on doing it. I loved being false. I loved to blacken myself." She
drew away from him, shivering. "No; don't touch me; don't kiss me; I am
not worthy. Oh, David, throw me over! Don't marry me, I am not fit--"
And as he caught her in his arms, she said, her voice smothered against
his breast, "You see, you didn't come in at Nannie's. And it looked as
if--as if you didn't care. It was humiliating, David. And last night
you didn't bring me the book, or even send any message; and that was
sort of careless. Yes, I really think you were a little horrid, David.
So I was hurt, I suppose, to start with; and you know, when I am
hurt--Oh, yes; it was silly; but--"

He kissed her again, and laughed. "It was silly, dear."

"Well, but listen: I am not excusing myself for this afternoon, but I
do want you to understand how it started. I was provoked at your not
explaining to me why you go away a whole month earlier than you need; I
think any girl would be a little provoked, David. And then, on top of
it, you let Blair and Nannie see that you didn't care to walk home with
me, and--"

"But good gracious!" said David, amused and tender, "I thought you
didn't want me! And it would have been rather absurd to hang round, if
I wasn't wanted."

"Oh," she cried, sharply, lifting her wet face from his breast, "don't
you see? _I want you to be absurd!_ Can't you understand how a girl
feels?" She stopped, and sighed. "After all, why should you show Nannie
and Blair that you care? Why should you wait? I am not worth caring
for, or waiting for, anywhere, any time! Oh, David, my temper--my
dreadful temper!"

He lifted her trembling hand and kissed the scar on her left wrist
silently.

"I ought not to see you to-night, just to punish myself," she said
brokenly. "You don't know how crazy I was when I was talking to Blair.
I was _crazy!_ Oh, why, when I was a child, didn't they make me control
my temper? I suppose I'm like--my mother," she ended in a whisper. "And
I can't change, now; I'm too old."

David smiled. "You are terribly old," he said. Like everybody else,
save Mrs. Richie, David accepted Elizabeth's temper as a matter of
course. "She doesn't mean anything by it," her little world had always
said; and put up with the inconvenience of her furies, with the
patience of people who were themselves incapable of the irrationalities
of temper. "Oh, you are a hardened sinner," David mocked.

"You do forgive me?" she whispered.

At that he was grave. "There is nothing I wouldn't forgive, Elizabeth."

"But I have stabbed you?"

"Yes; a little; but I am yours to stab."

Her eyes filled. "Oh, it is so wonderful, that you go on loving me,
David!"

"You go on loving me," he rallied her; "in spite of my dullness and
slowness, and all that."

But Elizabeth was not listening. "Sometimes it frightens me to get so
angry," she said, with a somber look. "It was just the same when I was
a little girl; do you remember the time I cut off my hair? I think you
had hurt my feelings; I forget now what you had done. I was always
having my feelings hurt! Of course I was awfully silly. It was a relief
then to spoil my body, by cutting off my hair. This afternoon it was a
relief to put mud on my soul."

He looked at her, trying to find words tender enough to heal the wounds
she had torn in her own heart; not finding them, he was silent.

"Oh, we must face it," she said; "_you_ must face it. I am not a good
girl; I am not the kind of girl you ought to marry, I'm perfectly sure
your mother thinks so. She thinks a person with a temper can't love
people."

"I'll not go away in March!" David interrupted her passionately;--of
course it might be pleasanter for Materna to get away from old
Ferguson; but what is a man's mother, compared with his girl!
Elizabeth's pain was intolerable to him. "I won't leave you a day
before I have to!"

For a moment her wet eyes smiled. "Indeed you shall; I may be
wicked--oh, I am! but I am not really an idiot. Only, David, _don't_
take things so for granted, dear; and don't be so awfully sensible,
David."



CHAPTER XIV

When the door closed behind Blair and Elizabeth, Nannie set out to do
that "best," which her brother had demanded of her. She went at once
into the dining-room; but before she could speak, her stepmother called
out to her:

"Here! Nannie! You are just the person I want--Watson's late again, and
I'm in a hurry. Just take these letters and sign them 'S. Maitland per
N. M.' They must be posted before five. Sit down there at the table."

Nannie could not sign letters and talk at the same time. She got pen
and ink and began to write her stepmother's name, over and over,
slowly, like a little careful machine: "S. Maitland," "S. Maitland." In
her desire to please she discarded her own neat script, and reproduced
with surprising exactness the rough signature which she knew so well.
But all the while her anxious thoughts were with her brother. She
wished he had not rushed off with Elizabeth. If he had only come
himself into the detested dining-room, his mother would have bidden him
sign the letters; he might have read them and talked them over with
her, and that would have pleased her. Nannie herself had no ambition to
read them; her eye caught occasional phrases: "Shears for--," "new
converter," etc., etc. The words meant nothing to Nannie, bending her
blond head and writing like a machine, "S. Maitland," "S. Maitland," ...

"Mamma," she began, dipping her pen into the ink, "Blair has bought a
rather expensive--"

Mrs. Maitland came over to the table and picked up the letters. "That's
all. Now clear out, clear out! I've got a lot to do!" Then her eye fell
on one of the signatures, and she gave her grunt of a laugh. "If you
hadn't put 'Per N. M.,' I shouldn't have known that I hadn't signed 'em
myself ... Nannie."

"Yes, Mamma?"

"Is Blair going to be at home to supper?"

"I think not. But he said he would be in this evening. And he wanted me
to--to ask--"

"Well, perhaps I'll come over to your parlor to see him, if I get
through with my work. I believe he goes East again to-morrow?"

"Yes," Nannie said. Mrs. Maitland, at her desk, had begun to write.
Nannie wavered for a minute, then, with a despairing look at the back
of her stepmother's head, slipped away to her own part of the house.
"I'll tell her at supper," she promised herself. But in her own room,
as she dressed for tea, panic fell upon her. She began to walk
nervously about; once she stopped, and leaning her forehead against the
window, looked absently into the dusk. At the end of the cinder path,
the vast pile of the foundry rose black against the fading sky; on the
left the open arches of the cast-house of the furnace glowed with
molten iron that was running into pigs on the wide stretch of sand. The
spur track was banked with desolate wastes of slag and rubbish; beyond
them, like an enfolding arm, was the river, dark in the darkening
twilight. From under half-shut dampers flat sheets of sapphire and
orange flame roared out in rhythmical pulsations, and above them was
the pillar of smoke shot through with flying billions of sparks; back
of this monstrous and ordered confusion was the solemn circling line of
hills. It was all hideous and fierce, yet in the clear winter dusk it
had a beauty of its own that held Nannie Maitland, even though she was
too accustomed to it to be conscious of its details. As she stared out
at it with troubled eyes, there was a knock at her door; before she
could say "Come in," her stepmother entered.

"Here!" Mrs. Maitland said, "just fix this waist, will you? I can't
seem to--to make it look right." There was a dull flush on her cheek,
and she spoke in cross confusion. "Haven't you got a piece of lace, or
something; I don't care what. This black dress seems--" she broke off
and glanced into the mirror; she was embarrassed, but doggedly
determined. "Make me look--somehow," she said.

Nannie, assenting, and rummaging in her bureau drawer, had a flash of
understanding. "She's dressing up for Blair!" She took out a piece of
lace, and laid it about the gaunt shoulders; then tucked the front of
the dress in, and brought the lace down on each side. The soft old
thread seemed as inappropriate as it would have been if laid on a
scarcely cooled steel "bloom."

"Well, pin it, can't you?" Mrs. Maitland said sharply; "haven't you got
some kind of a brooch?" Nannie silently produced a little amethyst pin.

"It doesn't just suit the dress, I'm afraid," she ventured.

But Mrs. Maitland looked in the glass complacently. "Nonsense!" she
said, and tramped out of the room. In the hall she threw
back,"--bliged."

"Oh, _poor_ Mamma!" Nannie said. Her sympathy was hardly more than a
sense of relief; if her mother was dressing up for Blair, she must be
more than usually good-natured. "I'll tell her at supper," Nannie
decided, with a lift of courage.

But at supper, in the disorderly dining-room, with the farther end of
the table piled with ledgers, Mrs. Maitland was more unapproachable
than ever. When Nannie asked a timid question about the evening, she
either did not hear, or she affected not to. At any rate, she
vouchsafed no answer. Her face was still red, and she seemed to hide
behind her evening paper. To Nannie's gentle dullness this was no
betrayal; it merely meant that Mrs. Maitland was cross again, and her
heart sank within her. But somehow she gathered up her courage:

"You won't forget to come into the parlor, Mamma? Blair wants to talk
to you about something that--that--"

"I've got some writing to do. If I get through I'll come. Now clear
out, clear out; I'm too busy to chatter."

Nannie cleared out. She had no choice. She went over to her vast,
melancholy parlor, into which it seemed as if the fog had penetrated,
to await Blair. In her restless apprehension she sat down at the piano,
but after the first bar or two her hands dropped idly on the keys. Then
she got up and looked aimlessly about. "I'd better finish that
landscape," she said, and went over to her drawing-board. She stood
there for a minute, fingering a lead pencil; her nerves were tense, and
yet, as she reminded herself, it was foolish to be frightened. His
mother loved Blair; she would do anything in the world for him--Nannie
thought of the lace; yes, anything! Blair was only a little
extravagant. And what did his extravagance matter? his mother was so
very rich! But oh, why did they always clash so? Then she heard the
sound of Blair's key in the lock.

"Well, Nancy!" he said gaily, "she's a charmer."

"Who?" said Nannie, bewildered; "Oh, you mean Elizabeth?"

"Yes; but there's a lot of gunpowder lying round loose, isn't there?
She was out with David, I suppose because he didn't show up. In fact,
she was so mad she was perfectly stunning. Nancy! I think I'll stick it
out here for two or three days; Elizabeth is mighty good fun, and David
is in town; we might renew our youth, we four; what do you say? Well!"
he ended, coming back to his own affairs, "what did mother say?"

"Oh, Blair, I couldn't!"

"What! you haven't told her?"

"Blair dear, I did my best; but she simply never gave me a chance.
Indeed, I tried, but I couldn't. She wouldn't let me open my lips in
the afternoon, and at supper she read the paper every minute--Harris
will tell you."

Blair Maitland whistled. "Well, I'll tell her myself. It was really to
spare her that I wanted you to do it. I always rile her, somehow, poor
dear mother. Nannie, this house reeks of cabbage! Does she live on it?"
Blair threw up his arms with a wordless gesture of disgust.

"I'm so sorry," Nannie said; "but don't tell her you don't like it."

The door across the hall opened, and there was a heavy step. The
brother and sister looked at each other.

"Blair, _be nice!_" Nannie entreated; her soft eyes under the meekly
parted blond hair were very anxious.

He did not need the caution; whenever he was with his mother, the mere
instinct of self-preservation made him anxious to "be nice." As Mrs.
Maitland had her instinct of self-preservation, too, there had been, in
the last year, very few quarrels. Instead there was, on his part, an
exaggerated politeness, and on her part, a pathetic effort to be
agreeable. The result was, of course, entire absence of spontaneity in
both of them.

Mrs. Maitland, her knitting in her hands, came tramping into the
parlor; the piece of thread lace was pushed awry, but there had been
further preparation for the occasion: at first her son and daughter did
not know what the change was; then suddenly both recognized it, and
exchanged an astonished glance.

"Mother!" cried Blair incredulously, "_earrings!_"

The dull color on the high cheek-bones deepened; she smiled sheepishly.
"Yes; I saw 'em in my bureau drawer, and put 'em on. Haven't worn 'em
for years; but Blair, here, likes pretty things." (Her son, under his
breath, groaned: "pretty!") "So you are off tomorrow, Blair?" she said,
politely; she ran her hand along the yellowing bone needles, and the
big ball of pink worsted rolled softly down on to the floor. As she
glanced at him over her steel-rimmed spectacles, her eyes softened as
an eagle's might when looking at her young. "I wish his father could
see him," she thought. "Next time you come home," she said, "it will be
to go to work!"

"Yes," Blair said, smiling industriously.

"Pity you have to study this summer; I'd like to have you in the office
now."

"Yes; I'm awfully sorry," he said with charming courtesy, "but I feel I
ought to brush up on one or two subjects, and I can do it better abroad
than here. I'm going to paint a little, too. I'll be very busy all
summer."

"Why don't you paint our new foundry?" said Mrs. Maitland. She laughed
with successful cheerfulness; Blair liked jokes, and this, she thought,
complacently, was a joke. "Well, _I_ shall manage to keep busy, too!"
she said.

"I suppose so," Blair agreed.

He was lounging on the arm of Nannie's chair, and felt his sleeve
plucked softly. "Now," said Nannie.

But Blair was not ready. "You are always busy," he said; "I wish I had
your habit of industry."

Mrs. Maitland's smile faded. "I wish you had."

"Oh, well, you've got industry enough for this family," Blair declared.
But the flattery did not penetrate.

"Too much, maybe," she said grimly; then remembered, and began to
"entertain" again: "I had a compliment to-day."

Blair, with ardent interest, said, "Really?"

"That man Dolliver in our office--you remember Dolliver?" Blair nodded.
"He happened to say he never knew such an honest man as old Henry B.
Knight. Remember old Mr. Knight?" She paused, her eyes narrowed into a
laugh. "He married Molly Wharton. I always called her 'goose Molly.'
She used to make eyes at your father; but she couldn't get him--though
she tried to hard enough, by telling him, so I heard, that the 'only
feminine thing about me was my petticoats.' A very coarse remark, in my
judgment; and as for being feminine,--when you were born, I thought of
inviting her to come and look at you so she could see what a baby was
like! She never had any children. Well, old Knight was elder of the
Second Church. Remember?"

"Oh yes," Blair said vaguely.

"Dolliver said Knight once lost a trade by telling the truth, 'when he
might have kept his mouth shut'--that was Dolliver's way of putting it.
'Well,' I said, 'I hope you think that our Works are just as honestly
conducted as the Knight Mills'; fact was, I knew a thing or two about
Henry B. And what do you suppose Dolliver said? 'Oh, yes,' he said,
'you are honest, Mrs. Maitland, but you ain't damn-fool honest.'" She
laughed loudly, and her son laughed too, this time in genuine
amusement; but Nannie looked prim, at which Mrs. Maitland glanced at
Blair, and there was a sympathetic twinkle between them which for the
moment put them both really at ease. "I got on to a good thing last
week," she said, still trying to amuse him, but now there was reality
in her voice.

"Do tell me about it," Blair said, politely.

"You know Kraas? He is the man that's had a bee in his bonnet for the
last ten years about a newfangled idea for making castings of steel. He
brought me his plans once, but I told him they were no good. But last
month he asked me to make some castings for him to go on his
contrivance. Of course I did; we cast anything for anybody--provided
they can pay for it. Well, Kraas tried it in our foundry; no good, just
as I said; the metal was full of flaws. But it occurred to me to
experiment with his idea on my own hook. I melted my pig, and poured it
into his converter thing; but I added some silvery pig I had on the
Yard, made when No. 1 blew in, and the castings were as sound as a nut!
Kraas never thought of that." She twitched her pink worsted and gave
her grunt of a laugh. "Master Kraas hasn't any caveat, and he can't get
one on that idea, so of course I can go ahead."

"Oh, Mamma, how clever you are!" Nannie murmured, admiringly.

"Clever?" said Blair; Nannie shook his arm gently, and he recollected
himself. "Well, I suppose business is like love and war. All's fair in
business."

Mrs. Maitland was silent. Then she said: "Business is war. But--fair?
It is a perfectly legal thing to do."

"Oh, legal, yes," her son agreed significantly; the thin ice of
politeness was beginning to crack. It was the old situation over again;
he was repelled by unloveliness; this time it was the unloveliness of
shrewdness. For a moment his disgust made him quite natural. "It is
_legal_ enough, I suppose," he said coldly.

Mrs. Maitland did not lift her head, but with her eyes fixed on her
needles, she suddenly stopped knitting. Nannie quivered.

"Mamma," she burst in, "Blair wanted to tell you about something very
beautiful that he has found, and--" Her brother pinched her, and her
voice trailed into silence.

"Found something beautiful? I'd like to hear of his finding something
useful!" The ice cracked a little more. "As for your mother's honesty,
Blair, if you had waited a minute, I'd have told you that as soon as I
found the idea was practical I handed it over to Kraas. _I'm_ damn-fool
honest, I suppose." But this time she did not laugh at her joke. Blair
was instant with apologies; he had not meant--he had not intended--"Of
course you would do the square thing," he declared.

"But you thought I wouldn't," she said. And while he was making polite
exclamations, she changed the subject for something safer. She still
tried to entertain him, but now she spoke wearily. "What do you suppose
I read in the paper to-night? Some man in New York--named Maitland,
curiously enough; 'picked up' an old master--that's how the paper put
it; for $5,000. It appears it was considered 'cheap'! It was 14x18
inches. _Inches_, mind you, not feet! Well, Mr. Doestick's friends are
not all dead yet. Sorry anybody of our name should do such a thing."

Nannie turned white enough to faint.

"Allow me to say," said Blair, tensely, "that an 'old master' might be
cheap at five times that price!"

"I wouldn't give five thousand dollars for the greatest picture that
was ever painted," his mother announced. Then, without an instant's
warning, her face puckered into a furious sneeze. "God bless us!" she
said, and blew her nose loudly. Blair jumped.

"_I_ would give all I have in the world!" he said.

"Well," his mother said, ramming her grimy handkerchief into her
pocket, "if it cost all _you_ have in the world, it would certainly be
cheap; for, so far as I know, you haven't anything." Alas! the ice had
given way entirely.

Blair pushed Nannie's hand from his arm, and getting up, walked over to
the marble-topped centre-table; he stood there slowly turning over the
pages of _The Poetesses of America_, in rigid determination to hold his
tongue. Mrs. Maitland's eyebrow began to rise; her fingers tightened on
her hurrying needles until the nails were white. Nannie, looking from
one to the other, trembled with apprehension. Then she made an excuse
to take Blair to the other end of the room.

"Come and look at my drawing," she said; and added under her breath:
"Don't tell her!"

Blair shook his head. "I've got to, somehow." But when he came back and
stood in front of his mother, his hands in his pockets, his shoulder
lounging against the mantelpiece, he was apparently his careless self
again. "Well," he said, gaily, "if I haven't anything of my own, it's
your fault; you've been too generous to me!"

The knitting-needles flagged; Nannie drew a long breath.

"Yes, you are too good to me," he said; "and you work so hard! Why do
you work like a--a man?" There was an uncontrollable quiver of disgust
in his voice.

His mother smiled, with a quick bridling of her head--he was
complimenting her! The soreness from his thrust about legality
vanished. "Yes; I do work hard. I reckon there's no man in the iron
business who can get more pork for his shilling than I can!"

Blair cast an agonized look at Nannie; then set himself to his task
again--in rather a roundabout way: "Why don't you spend some of your
money on yourself, Mother, instead of on me?"

"There's nothing I want."

"But there are so many things you could have!"

"I have everything I need," said Mrs. Maitland; "a roof, a bed, a
chair, and food to eat. As for all this truck that people spend their
money on, what use is it? that's what I want to know! What's it worth?"

Blair put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a small beautifully
carved jade box; he took off the lid delicately, and shook a scarab
into the palm of his hand. "I'll tell you what _that_ is worth," he
said, holding the dull-blue oval between his thumb and finger; then he
mentioned a sum that made Nannie exclaim. His mother put down her
knitting, and taking the bit of eternity in her fingers, looked at it
silently. "Do you wonder I got that box, which is a treasure in itself,
to hold such a treasure?" Blair exulted.

Mrs. Maitland, handing the scarab back, began to knit furiously.
"That's what it's worth," he said; he was holding the scarab in his
palm with a sort of tenderness; his eyes caressed it. "But it isn't
what I paid. The collector was hard up, and I made him knock off
twenty-five per cent, of the price."

"Hah!" said Mrs. Maitland; "well; I suppose 'all's fair in love and
collections'?"

"What's unfair in that?" Blair said, sharply; "I buy in the cheapest
market. You do _that_ yourself, my dear mother." When Blair said "my
dear mother," he was farthest from filial affection. "Besides," he
said, with strained self-control, "besides, I'm like you, I'm not
'damn-fool honest'!"

"Oh, I didn't say you weren't honest. Only, if I was going to take
advantage of anybody, I'd do it for something more important than a
blue china beetle." "The trouble with you, Mother, is that you don't
see anything but those hideous Works of yours!" her son burst out.

"If I did, you couldn't pay for your china beetles. Beetles? You
couldn't pay for the breeches you're sitting in!"

"Oh, Mamma! oh, Blair!" sighed poor Nannie.

There was a violent silence. Suddenly Mrs. Maitland brought the flat of
her hand furiously down on the table; then, without a word, got on her
feet, pulled at the ball of pink worsted which had run behind a chair
and caught under the caster; her jerk broke the thread. The next moment
the parlor door banged behind her.

Nannie burst out crying. Blair opened and closed his lips, speechless
with rage.

"What--what made her so angry?" Nannie said, catching her breath. "Was
it the beetle?"

"Don't call it that ridiculous name! I'll have to borrow the $5,000.
And where the devil I'll get it I don't know. Nannie, 'goose Molly'
wasn't an entire fool, after all!"

"Blair!" his sister protested, horrified. But Blair was too angry to be
ashamed of himself. He could not see that his mother's anger was only
the other side of her love. In Sarah Maitland, not only maternity, but
pride, the peculiar pride engendered in her by her immense
business--pride and maternity together, demanded such high things of
her son! Not finding them, the pain of disappointment broke into
violent expression. Indeed, had this charming fellow, handsome,
selfish, sweet-hearted, been some other woman's son, she would have
been far more patient with him. Her very love made her abominable to
him. She was furiously angry when she left him there in Nannie's
parlor; all the same he did not have to borrow the $5,000.

The next morning Sarah Maitland sent for her superintendent. "Mr.
Ferguson," she said--they were in her private office, and the door was
shut; "Mr. Ferguson, I think--but I don't know--I think Blair has been
making an idiot of himself again. I saw in the paper that somebody
called Maitland had been throwing money away on a picture. I don't know
what it was, and I don't want to know. It was 14x18 inches; not feet.
That was enough for me. Why, Ferguson, those big pictures in my parlor
(I bought them when I was going to be married; a woman is sort of
foolish then; I wouldn't do such a thing now), those four pictures are
4x6 feet each; and they cost me $400; $100 apiece. But this New York
man has paid $5,000 for one picture 14x18 inches! If it was Blair--and
it came over me last night, all of a sudden, that it was; he hasn't got
any $5,000 to pay for it. I don't want to go into the matter with him;
we don't get along on such subjects. But I want you to ask him about
it; maybe he'll speak out to you, man fashion. If this 'Maitland' is
just a fool of our name so much the better; but if it is Blair, I've
got to help him out, I suppose. I want you to settle the thing for me.
I--can't." Her voice broke on the last word; she coughed and cleared
her throat before she could speak distinctly. "I haven't the time," she
said.

Robert Ferguson listened, frowning. "You'll give him money to spend in
ways you don't approve of?"

She nodded sullenly. "I have to."

"You don't have to!" he broke out; "for God's sake, Mrs. Maitland,
_stop!_"

"What do you mean, sir?"

"I mean . . . this isn't my business, but I can't see you--Mrs.
Maitland, if I get to talking on this subject, we'll quarrel."

The glare of anger in her face died out. She leaned back in her chair
and looked at him. "I won't quarrel with you. Go on. Say what you
think. I won't say I'll take your advice, but I'll listen to it."

"It's what I have always told you. You are squeezing the life out of
Blair by giving him money. You've always done it, because it was the
easy thing to do. Let up on him! Give him a chance. Let him earn his
money, or go without. Talk about making him independent--you've made
him as dependent as a baby! I don't know my Bible as well as you do,
but there is a verse somewhere--something about 'fullness of bread and
abundance of idleness.' That's what's the trouble with Blair. 'Fullness
of bread and abundance of idleness.'"

"But he's been at college; he couldn't work while he was at college,"
she said, with honest bewilderment.

"Of course he couldn't. But why did you let him dawdle round at
college, pretending to special, for a year after he graduated? Of
course he _won't_ work so long as he doesn't have to. The boy wouldn't
be human if he did! You never made him feel he had to get through and
to go to work. You've given him everything he wanted, and you've
exacted nothing in return; not scholarship, nor even decent behavior.
He's gambled, and gone after women, and bought everything on earth he
wanted--the only thing he knows how to do is to spend money! He has
never done a hand's turn of work in his life. He is just as much a dead
beat as any beggar who gets his living out of other people's pockets.
That he gets it out of your pocket doesn't alter that; that he doesn't
wear rags and knock at back doors doesn't alter it. He's a dead beat!
Any man is, who takes and doesn't give anything in return. It's queer
you can't see that, Mrs. Maitland."

She was silent.

"Why, look here: I've heard you say, many a time, that the best part of
your life was when you had to work hardest. Isn't that so?" She nodded.
"Then why in thunder won't you let Blair work? Let him work, or go
without!"

Again she did not speak.

"For Heaven's sake, give him a chance, before it's too late!"

Mrs. Maitland got up, and stood with her back to him, looking out of
the smoke-grimed window. Presently she turned round. "Well, what would
you do now--supposing he did buy the picture?"

"Tell him that he has overdrawn his allowance, and that if he wants the
picture he must earn the money to pay for it. Say you'll advance it, if
instead of going to Europe this summer he'll stay at home and go to
work. Of course he can't earn five thousand dollars. I doubt if he can
earn five thousand cents! But make up a job--just for this once; and
help him out. I don't believe in made-up jobs, on principle; but
they're better than nothing. If he won't work, darn the picture! It can
be resold."

She blew her lips out in a bubbling sigh, and began to bite her
forefinger. Robert Ferguson had said his say. He gathered his papers
together and got on his feet.

"Mr. Ferguson ..." He waited, his hand on the knob.

"Yes?"

"'Bliged to you. But for the present--"

"Very well," Robert Ferguson said shortly.

"Just put through the business of the picture. Hereafter--"

Ferguson shrugged his shoulders.



CHAPTER XV

After his first spasm of angry disgust, when he declared he would go
East the next morning, Blair's fancy for "hanging round Mercer"
hardened into purpose; but he did not "hang round" his mother's house.
"The hotel is pretty bad," he told Nannie, "but it's better than
_this_." So he took the most expensive suite in the big, dark old River
House that in those days was Mercer's best hotel. Its blackened facade
and the Doric columns of its entrance gave it a certain exterior
dignity; and its interior comfort, combined with the reviving
associations of youth, lengthened Blair's two or three days to a week,
then to a fortnight.

The day after that distressing interview with his mother, he went gaily
round to Mrs. Richie's to pound David on the back, and say
"Congratulations, old fellow! Why in thunder," he complained, "didn't I
come back before? You've cut me out, you villain!"

David grinned.

   "'Before the devil could come back,
   The angel had the inside track,'"

he admitted.

"Well, if you'll take my advice, you won't be too angelic," Blair said
a little dryly. "She always had a touch of the other thing in her, you
know."

"You think I'd better cultivate a few vices?" David inquired amiably;
"I'm obliged for an example, anyhow!"

But Blair did not keep up the chaffing. The atmosphere of Mrs. Richie's
house dominated him as completely as when he was a boy. He looked at
her serene face, her simple, feminine parlor, the books and flowers and
pictures,--and thought of his mother and his mother's house. Then,
somehow, he was ashamed of his thoughts, because this dear lady said in
her gentle way:

"How happy your mother must be to have you at home again, Blair. You
won't rush right off and leave us, will you?"

"Well," he hesitated, "of course I don't want to"--he was surprised at
the ring of truth in his voice; "but I am going to paint this summer. I
am going to be in one of the studios in Paris."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said simply. And Blair had an instant of
uncertainty, although a moment before his "painting" had seemed to him
necessary, because it facilitated another summer away from home; and
after the interview with his mother's general manager, a summer away
from home was more than ever desirable.

Mr. Ferguson had handed over the five thousand dollars, and then freed
his mind. Blair listened. He heard that he was a sucker, that he was a
poor stick, that he wasn't fit to black his mother's boots. "They need
it," he said, chuckling; and Robert Ferguson nearly burst with anger!

Yet when the check was on its way to New York, and the picture had been
shipped to Mercer, Blair still lingered at the River House. The idea of
"renewing their youth" had appealed to all four friends. In the next
two or three weeks they were constantly together at either one house or
the other, or at some outside rendezvous arranged by Blair--a drive
down to Willis's, a theater party and supper, a moonlight walk. Once
David suggested "ice-cream at Mrs. Todd's." But this fell through;
Blair said that even his sentimentality could not face the blue paper
roses, and when David urged that the blue paper roses were part of the
fun, Blair said, "Well, _I'll_ match you for it. All important
decisions ought to be left to chance, to avoid the burden of
responsibility!" A pitched penny favored Blair, and Mrs. Todd did not
see the 'handsome couples.' It was at the end of the first week, when
they were all dining with Mrs. Richie--the evening meal was beginning
to be called dinner nowadays in Mercer; that Mrs. Richie's soft eyes,
which took duty and energy and ability so sweetly and trustingly for
granted,--Mrs. Richie's believing eyes did for Blair what Robert
Ferguson's vociferating truthfulness had not been able to accomplish.
It was after dinner, and she and Blair had gone into the little
plant-room, where the air was sweet with hyacinths and the moist
greenness of ferns.

"Blair," she said, putting her soft hand on his arm; "I want to say
something. You won't mind?"

"Mind anything _you_ say? I should think not!"

"It is only that I want you to know that, when the time comes, I shall
think it very fine in you, with your tastes and temperament, to buckle
down at the Works. I shall admire you very much then, Blair."

He gave her a droll look. "Alas, dear Mrs. Richie," he began; but she
interrupted him.

"Your mother will be so proud and happy when you get to work; and I
wanted you to know that I, too--"

He took her hand from his arm and lifted it to his lips; there was a
courtliness about Blair, and a certain gravity, which at moments gave
him positive distinction. "If there is any good in me," he said, "you
would bring it out." Then he smiled. "But probably there isn't any."

"Nonsense!" she cried, and hesitated; he saw that her leaf-brown eyes
were wet. "You must make your life worth while, Blair. You must! It
would be such a dreadful failure if you didn't do anything but enjoy
yourself." He was keenly touched. He did not kiss her hand again; he
just put his arm around her, as David might have done, and gave her a
hug. "Mrs. Richie! I--I _will_ brace up!"

"You are a dear fellow," she said, and kissed him. Then they went back
to the other three, to find Elizabeth in a gale of teasing merriment
because, she said, David was so "terribly talkative"!

"He has sat there like a bump on a log for fifteen minutes," she
complained. "Say something, dummy!" she commanded.

David only chuckled, and pulled Blair into a corner to talk. "You girls
keep on your own side; don't interrupt serious conversation," he said.
"Blair, I want to ask you--" And in a minute the two young men were
deep in their own affairs. It was amusing to see how quickly all four
of them fell back into the comfortable commonplace of old friendship,
the men roaring over some college reminiscences, and the two girls
grumbling at being left out. "Really," said Mrs. Richie, "I should
think none of you were more than fifteen!"

That night, when he took his sister home, Blair was very silent. Her
little trickle of talk about David and Elizabeth was apparently
unheard. As they turned into their own street, the full moon, just
rising out of the river mists, suddenly flooded the waste-lands beyond
the Works; the gaunt outlines of the Foundry were touched with ethereal
silver, and the Maitland house, looming up in a great black mass, made
a gulf of shadow that drowned the dooryard and spread half-way across
the squalid street. Beyond the shadow, Shantytown, in the quiet
splendor of the moon, seemed as intangible as a dream.

"Beautiful!" Blair said, involuntarily. He stood for a silent moment,
drinking the beauty like wine, perhaps it was the exhilaration of it
that made him say abruptly: "Perhaps I'll not go abroad. Perhaps I'll
pitch in."

Nannie fairly jumped with astonishment. "Blair! You mean to go into the
Works? This summer? Oh, how pleased Mamma would be! It would be
perfectly splendid. _Oh_!" Nannie gave his arm a speechless squeeze.

"If I do, it will be because Mrs. Richie bolstered me up. Of course I
would hate it like the devil; but perhaps it's the decent thing to do?
Oh, well; don't say anything about it. I haven't made up my mind--this
is an awful place!" he said, with a shiver, looking across at
Shantytown and remembering what was hidden under the glamor of the
moon. "The smell of it! Democracy is well enough, Nancy--until you
smell it."

"But you could live at the hotel," Nannie reminded him, as he pulled
out his latch-key.

"You bet I would," her brother said, laughing. "My dear, not even your
society could reconcile me to the slums. But I don't know whether I can
screw myself up to the Works, anyhow. David won't be in town, and that
would be a nuisance. Well, I'll think it over; but if I do stay, I tell
you what it is!--you two girls will have to make things mighty
agreeable, or I'll clear out."

He did think it over; but Blair had never been taught the one regal
word of life, he had never learned to say "I _ought_." Therefore it
needed more talks with Mrs. Richie, more days with Elizabeth--David,
confound him! wouldn't come, because he had to pack, but Nannie tagged
on behind; it needed the "bolstering up" of much approval on the part
of the onlookers, and much self-approval, too, before the screwing-up
process reached a point where he went into his mother's office in the
Works and told her that if she was ready to take him on, he was ready
to go to work.

Mrs. Maitland was absolutely dumb with happiness. He wanted to go to
work! He asked to be taken on! "What do you say _now_, friend
Ferguson?" she jeered; "you thought he was going to play at his
painting for another year, and you wanted me to put his nose to the
grindstone, and make him earn the money to pay for that fool picture.
Isn't it better to have him come to it of his own accord? I'd pay for
ten pictures, if they made him want to go to work. As for his painting,
it will be his father over again. My husband had his fancies about it,
too, but he gave it all up when he married me; marriage always gives a
man common sense,--marriage and business. That's how it's going to be
with Blair," she ended complacently. "Blair has brains; I've always
said so."

Robert Ferguson did not deny the brains, but he was as astonished as
she.

"I believe," he challenged Mrs. Richie, "_you_ put him up to it? You
always could wind that boy round your finger."

"I did talk to him," she confessed; it was their last interview, for
she and David were starting East that night, and Mr. Ferguson had come
in to say good-by. "I talked to him--a little. Mrs. Maitland's
disappointment about him went to my heart. Besides, I am very fond of
Blair; there is a great deal of good in him. You are prejudiced."

"No I'm not. I admit that as his mother says, 'he's no fool'; but that
only makes his dilly-dallying so much the worse. Still, I believe that
if she were to lose all her money, and he were to fall very much in
love and be refused, he might amount to something. But it would need
both things to make a man of him."

Robert Ferguson sighed, and Mrs. Richie left the subject of the
curative effect of unsuccessful love, with nervous haste. "I am going
to charge Elizabeth and Nannie to do all they can to make it pleasant
for him, so that he won't find the Works too terrible," she said. At
which reflection upon the Works, Mr. Ferguson barked so fiercely that
she felt quite at ease with him. But his barking did not prevent her
from telling the girls that business would be very hard for Blair, and
they must cheer him up: "Do try to amuse him! You know it is going to
be very stupid for him in Mercer."

Nannie, of course, needed no urging; as for Elizabeth, she was a little
contemptuous. Oh yes; she would do what she could, she said. "Of
course, I'm awfully fond of Blair, but--"

The fact was, she was contrasting in her own mind the man who had to be
"amused" to keep him at his work, with David--"working himself to
death!" she told Nannie, proudly. And Nannie, quick to feel the slur in
her words, said:

"Yes, but it is quite different with Blair. Blair doesn't _have_ to do
anything, you know."

Still, thanks to Mrs. Richie, he was at least going to pretend to do
something. And so, at a ridiculously high salary, he entered, as he
told Elizabeth humorously, "upon his career." The only thing he did to
make life more tolerable for himself was to live in the hotel instead
of in his mother's house. But it was characteristic of him that he left
the wonderful old canvas--the "fourteen by eighteen inch" picture,
hanging on the wall in Nannie's parlor. "You ought to have something
fit for a civilized eye to rest upon," he told her, "and I can see it
when I come to see you." If his permanent departure for the River House
wounded his mother, she made no protest; she only lifted a pleased
eyebrow when he dropped in to supper, which, she noticed, he was apt to
do whenever Elizabeth happened to take tea with Nannie. When he did
come, Sarah Maitland used to look about the dining-room table, with its
thick earthenware dishes--the last of the old Canton service had found
its way to the ash-barrel; she used to glance at the three young people
with warm satisfaction. "Like old times!" she would say kindly; "only
needs David to make it complete."

Mrs. Maitland was sixty-two that spring, but there was no stoop of the
big shoulders, no sign of that settling and shrinking that age brings.
She was at the full tide of her vigor, and her happiness in having her
son beside her in the passion of her life, which was second only to her
passion for him, showed itself in clumsy efforts to flaunt her
contentment before her world. Every morning, with varying
unpunctuality, Blair came into her office at the Works where she had
had a desk placed for him. He was present, because she insisted that he
should be, at the regular conferences which she held with the heads of
departments. She made a pretense of asking his advice, which was as
amusing to Mr. Ferguson and the under-superintendents as it was
tiresome to Blair. For after his first exhilaration in responding to
Mrs. Richie's high belief in him, the mere doing of duty began
gradually to pall. Her belief helped him through the first four or five
months, then the whole thing became a bore. His work was ludicrously
perfunctory, and his listlessness when in the office was apparent to
everybody. At the bottom of her heart, Sarah Maitland must have known
that it was all a farce. Blair was worth nothing to the business; his
only relation to it was the weekly drawing of an unearned "salary."
Perhaps if Mrs. Richie had been in Mercer, to make again and again the
appeal of confident expectation, that little feeble sense of duty which
had started him upon his "career," might have struck a root down
through feeling, into the rock-bed of character. But as it was, not
even the girls' obedience to her order, "to amuse Blair," made up for
the withdrawal of her own sustaining inspiration.

But at least Nannie and Elizabeth kept him fairly contented out of
business hours; and so long as he was contented, things were smooth
between him and his mother. There was, as Blair expressed it, "only one
rumpus" that whole summer, and it was a very mild one, caused by the
fact that he did not go to church. On those hot July Sunday mornings,
his mother in black silk, and Nannie in thin lawn, sat in the family
pew, fanning themselves, and waiting; Nannie, constantly turning to
look down the aisle; Sarah Maitland intent for a familiar step and a
hand upon the little baize-lined door of the pew. The "rumpus" came
when, on the third Sunday, Blair was called to account.

It was after supper, in the hot dusk in Nannie's parlor; Elizabeth was
there, and the two girls, in white dresses, were fanning themselves
languidly; Blair, at the piano, was playing the Largo, with much
feeling. The windows were open. It was too warm for lamps, and the room
was lighted only by the occasional roar of flames, breaking fan-like
from the tops of the stacks in the Yards. Suddenly, in the midst of
their idle talk, Mrs. Maitland came in; she paused for a moment before
the dark oblong of canvas on the wall beside the door. Of course, in
the half-light, the little dim Mother of God--immortal
maternity!--could scarcely be seen.

"Umph," she said, "a dirty piece of canvas, at about twenty dollars a
square inch!" No one spoke. "Let's see;" she calculated;--"ore is $10 a
ton; 20 tons to a car; say one locomotive hauls 25 cars. Well, there
you have it: a trainload of iron ore, to pay for _this_!" she snapped a
thumb and finger against the canvas. Blair jumped--then ran his right
hand up the keyboard in a furious arpeggio. But he said nothing. Mrs.
Maitland, moving away from the picture, blew out her lips in a loud
sigh. "Well," she said; "tastes differ, as the old woman said when she
kissed her cow."

Still no one spoke, but Elizabeth rose to offer her a chair. "No," she
said, coming over and resting an elbow on the mantelpiece, "I won't sit
down. I'm going in a minute."

As she stood there, unrest spread about her as rings from a falling
stone spread on the surface of a pool. Blair yawned, and got up from
the piano; Elizabeth fidgeted; Nannie began to talk nervously.

"Blair," said his mother, her strident voice over-riding the girls'
chatter, "why don't you come to church?"

His answer was perfectly unevasive and entirely good-natured. "Well,
for one thing, I don't believe the things the church teaches."

"What do you believe?" she demanded. And he answered carelessly, that
really, he hardly knew.

It was, of course, the old difference of the generations; but it was
more marked because these two generations had never spoken the same
language, therefore quiet, sympathetic disagreement was impossible. It
was impossible, too, because the actual fact was that neither her
belief nor his disbelief were integral to their lives. Her creed was a
barbarous anthropomorphism, which had created an offended and puerile
god--a god of foreign missions and arid church-going and eternal
damnation. The fear of her god (such as he was) would, no doubt, have
protected her against certain physical temptations, to which, as it
happened, her temperament never inclined; but he had never safeguarded
her from the temptation of cutthroat competition, or even of business
shrewdness which her lawyer showed her how to make legal. Blair, on the
contrary, had long ago discarded the naive brutalities of
Presbyterianism; church-going bored him, and he was not interested in
saving souls in Africa. But, like most of us--like his mother, in fact,
he had a god of his own, a god who might have safeguarded him against
certain intellectual temptations; cheating at cards, or telling the
truth, if the truth would compromise a woman. But as he had no desire
to cheat at cards, and the women whom he might have compromised did not
need to be lied about, his god was of as little practical value to him
as his mother's was to her. So they were neither of them speaking of
realities when Mrs. Maitland said: "What do you believe? What have you
got instead of God?"

"Honor," Blair said promptly. "What do you mean by honor?" she said,
impatiently.

"Well," her son reflected, "there are things a man simply can't do;
that's all. And that's honor, don't you know. Of course, religion is
supposed to keep you from doing things, too. But there's this
difference: religion, if you pick pockets--I speak metaphorically;
threatens you with hell. Honor threatens you with yourself." As he
spoke he frowned, as if a disagreeable idea had occurred to him.

His mother frowned, too. That hell and a man's self might be the same
thing had never struck Sarah Maitland. She did not understand what he
meant, and feeling herself at a disadvantage, retaliated with the
reproof she might have administered to a boy of fifteen: "You don't
know what you are talking about!"

The man of twenty-five laughed lazily. "Your religion is very amusing,
my dear mother."

Her face darkened. She took her elbow from the mantelpiece, and seemed
uncertain what to do. Blair sprang to open the door, but she made an
irritated gesture. "I know how to open doors," she said. She threw a
brief "good-night" to Elizabeth, and turned a cheek to Nannie for the
kiss that had fallen there, soft as a little feather, in all the nights
of all the years they had lived together. "'Night, Blair," she said
shortly; then hesitated, her hand on the door-knob. There was an
instant when the command _"Go to church!"_ trembled upon her lips, but
it was not spoken. "I advise you," she said roughly, "to get over your
conceit, and try to get some religion into you. Your father and your
grandfather didn't think they could get along without it; they went to
church! But you evidently think you are so much better than they were
that you can stay away."

The door slammed behind her. Blair whistled. "Poor dear mother!" he
sighed; and turned round to listen to the two girls. "Can you be ready
to start on the first?" Elizabeth was asking Nannie, evidently trying
to cover up the awkwardness of that angry exit.

"Start where?" Blair asked.

"Why, East! You know. I told you ages ago," Nannie explained.
"Elizabeth and I are going to stay with Mrs. Richie at the seashore."

"You never said a word about it," Blair said disgustedly. His annoyance
knew no disguise. "I call it pretty shabby for you two to go off!
What's going to happen to me?"

"Business, Blair, business!" Elizabeth mocked. But Nannie was plainly
conscience-stricken. "I'll not go, if you'd rather I didn't, Blair."

"Nonsense!" her brother said shortly, "of course you must go, but--" He
did not finish his thought, whatever it was; he went back to the piano
and began to drum idly. His face was sharply annoyed. That definition
of his god which he had made to his mother, had aroused a nameless
uneasiness. It occurred to him that perhaps he was "picking a pocket,"
in finding such emphatic satisfaction in Elizabeth's society. Now,
abruptly, at the news of her approaching absence, the uneasiness
sharpened into faintly recognizable outlines.

He struck a jarring chord on the piano, and told himself not to be a
fool. "She's mighty good fun. Of course I shall miss her or any other
girl, in this Godforsaken hole! That's all it amounts to. Anyhow, she's
dead in love with David." Sitting there in the hot dusk, listening to
the voices of the girls, Blair felt suddenly irritated with David.
"Darn him, why does he go off and leave her in this way? Not but what
it is all right so far as I am concerned; only--" Then, wordlessly, his
god must have accused him, for he winced. "I am _not_, not in the
least!" he said. The denial confessed him to himself, and there was an
angry bang of discordant octaves. The two girls called out in dismay.

"Oh, _do_ stop!" Elizabeth said. Blair got up from the piano-stool and
came over to them silently. His thoughts were in clamoring confusion.
"I am _not_," he said again to himself. "I like her, but that's all."
There was a look of actual panic on his lazily charming face. He
glanced at Elizabeth, who, her head on Nannie's shoulder, was humming
softly: "'Oh, won't it be joyful--joyful-joyful--'" and clenched his
hands.

He was very silent as he walked home with her that night. When they
reached her door, Elizabeth looked up at the closed shutters of Mrs.
Richie's house, and sighed. "How dreary a closed house looks!" she
said. "I almost wish Uncle would rent it, but he won't. _I_ think he is
keeping it for Mrs. Richie to live in when David and I settle down in
Philadelphia."

Blair was apparently not interested in Mrs. Richie's future. "I wish,"
he said, "that I'd gone to Europe this summer."

"Well, that's polite, considering that Nannie and I have spent our time
making it agreeable for you."

"I stayed in Mercer because I thought I'd like a summer with Nannie,"
he defended himself; he was just turning away at the foot of the steps,
but he stopped and called back: "with Nannie-_and you."_

Elizabeth, from the open door, looked after him with frank
astonishment. "How long since Nannie and I have been so much
appreciated?"

"I think I began to appreciate you a good while ago, Elizabeth," he
said, significantly; but she did not hear him. "Perhaps it's just as
well she's going," he told himself, as he went slowly back to the
hotel. "Not that I'm smitten; but I might be. I can see that I might
be, if I should let myself go." But he was confident that allegiance to
his god would keep him from ever letting himself go.

The girls went East that week, and when they did, Blair took no more
meals in the office-dining-room.

It was a very happy time that the inland girls spent with Mrs. Richie,
in her small house on the Jersey shore. It happened that neither of
them had ever seen the ocean, and their first glimpse of it was a great
experience. Added to that was the experience, new to both of them, of
daily companionship with a serene nature. Mrs. Richie was always a
little remote, a little inclined to keep people at arm's-length; there
were undercurrents of sadness in her talk, and she was perhaps rather
absorbed in her own supreme affair, maternal love. Also, her calm
outlook upon heavenly horizons made the affairs of the girls seem
sometimes disconcertingly small, and to realize the smallness of one's
affairs is in itself an experience to youth. But in spite of the
ultimate reserves they felt in her, Mrs. Richie was sympathetic, and
full of soft gaieties, with endless patience for people and events.
Elizabeth's old uneasy dislike of her had long since yielded to the
fact that she was David's mother, and so must be, and in theory was,
loved. But the love was really only a faint awe at what she still
called "perfection"; and during the two months of living under the same
roof with her, Elizabeth felt at times a resentful consciousness that
Mrs. Richie was afraid of that ungovernable temper, which, the girl
used to say, impatiently, "never hurts anybody but myself!" Like most
high-tempered people, Elizabeth, though penitent and more or less
mortified by her outbursts of fury, was always a little astonished when
any one took them seriously; and Mrs. Richie took them very seriously.

Nannie, being far simpler than Elizabeth, was less impressed by Mrs.
Richie than by her surroundings;--the ocean, the whole gamut of marine
sights and happenings; Mrs. Richie's housekeeping; the delicate food
and serving (what would Harris have thought of that table!)-all these
things, as well as David's fortnightly visits, and Elizabeth's ardors
and gay coldnesses, were delights to Nannie. Both girls had an
absorbingly good time, and when the last day of the last week finally
arrived, and Mr. Robert Ferguson appeared to escort them home, they
were both of them distinctly doleful.

"Every perfect thing stops!" Elizabeth sighed to David. They had left
the porch, and gone down on to the sands flooded with moonlight and
silence. The evening was very still and warm, and the full blue pour of
the moon made everything softly unreal, except the glittering path of
light crossing the breathing, black expanse of water. David had
hesitated when she had suggested leaving the others and coming down
here by themselves,--then he had looked at Nannie, sitting between
Robert Ferguson and his mother, and seemed to reassure himself; but he
was careful to choose a place on the beach where he could keep an eye
on the porch. He was talking to Elizabeth in his anxious way, about his
work, and how soon his income would be large enough for them to marry.
"The minus sign expresses it now," he said; "I could kick myself when I
think that, at twenty-six, my mother has to pay my washwoman!" Their
engagement had continued to accentuate the difference in the
development of these two; David's manhood was more and more of the
mind; Elizabeth's womanhood was most exquisitely of the body. When he
spoke of his shame in being supported by his mother, she leaned her
cheek on his shoulder, careless of the three spectators on the porch,
and said softly, "David, I love you so that I would like to scrub
floors for you." He laughed; "I wouldn't like to have you scrub floors,
thank you! Why in thunder don't I get ahead faster," he sighed. Then he
told her that the older men in the profession were "so darned mean,
even the big fellows, 'way up," that they kept on practising when they
could just as well sit back on their hind legs and do nothing, and give
the younger men a chance.

"They are nothing but money-grabbers," Elizabeth agreed, burning with
indignation at all successful physicians. "But David, we can live on
very little. Corn-beef is very cheap, Cherry-pie says. So's liver."

Up on the porch the conversation was quite as practical as it was down
by the moonlit water:

"Elizabeth is to have a little bit of money handed over to her on her
next birthday," Mr. Ferguson was saying; then he twitched the black
ribbon of his glasses and brought them tumbling from his nose; "it's an
inheritance from her father."

"Oh, how exciting!" said Nannie. "Will it make it possible for them to
be married any sooner?"

"They can't marry on the interest on it," he said, with his meager
laugh; "it's only a nest-egg."

Mrs. Richie sighed. "Well, of course they must be prudent, but I am
sorry to have them wait. It will be some time before David's practice
is enough for them to marry on. He is so funny in planning their
housekeeping expenses," she said, with that mother-laugh of mockery and
love. "You should hear the economies they propose!" And she told him
some of them. "They make endless calculations as to how little they can
possibly live on. You would never suppose they _could_ be so ignorant
as to the cost of things! Of course I enlighten them when they deign to
consult me. I do wish David would let me give him enough to get married
on," she ended, a little impatiently.

"I think he's right not to," Robert Ferguson said.

"David is so queer about money," Nannie commented; and rose, saying she
wanted to go indoors to the lamplight and her book.

"Pity Blair hasn't some of David's 'queerness,'" Mr. Ferguson barked,
when she had vanished into the house.

Mrs. Richie looked after her uneasily, missing her protecting presence.
But in Mr. Ferguson's matter-of-fact talk he seemed just the same
harsh, kind, unsentimental neighbor of the last seventeen years; "he's
forgotten his foolishness," she thought, and resigned herself,
comfortably, to Nannie's absence. "Does Elizabeth know about the
legacy?" she asked.

"No, she hasn't an idea of it. I was bound that the expectation of
money shouldn't spoil her."

"Well," she jeered at him, "I do hope you are satisfied _now_, that she
is not spoiled by money or anything else! How afraid you were to let
yourself really love the child--poor little Elizabeth!"

"I had reason," he insisted doggedly. "Life had played a trick on me
once, and I made up my mind not to build on anybody again, until I was
sure of them." Then, without looking at her, he said, as if following
out some line of thought, "I hope you have come to feel that you will
marry me, Mrs. Richie?"

"_Oh!_" she said, in dismay.

"I don't see why you can't make up your mind to it," he continued,
frowning; "I know"--he stopped, and put on his glasses carefully with
both hands--"I know I am a bear, but--"

"You are not!"

"Don't interrupt. I am. But not at heart. Listen to me, at my age,
talking about 'hearts'!" They both laughed, and then Mr. Ferguson gave
a snort of impatience. "Look at those two youngsters down there,
engaged to be married, and swearing by the moon that nobody ever loved
as they do. How absurd it is! A man has to be fifty before he knows
enough about love to get married."

"Nonsense!"

"I cannot take youth seriously," he ruminated; "its behavior, yes; that
may be serious enough! Youth is always firing the Ephesian dome; but
youth itself, and its opinions, always seem to me a little ridiculous.
Yet those two infants seem to think that they have discovered love!
Well," he interrupted himself, in sudden somber memory, "I felt that
way once myself. And yet _now_, I know--"

Mrs. Richie said hurriedly something about its being too damp for
Elizabeth on the sand. "Do call them in!"

He laughed. "No; you don't need 'em. I won't say any more--to-night."

"Here they come!" Mrs. Richie said in a relieved voice.

A minute before, David, looking up at the porch, and discovering
Nannie's absence, had said, "Let's go in." "Oh, must we?" Elizabeth
said, reluctantly. "I'd so much rather sit down here and have you kiss
me." But she came, perforce, for David, in his anxiety not to leave his
mother alone with Mr. Ferguson, was already halfway up the beach.

"Do tell Elizabeth about the money now," Mrs. Richie said.

"I will," said Robert Ferguson; but added, under his breath, "I sha'n't
give up, you know." Mrs. Richie was careful not to hear him.

"Elizabeth!" she said, eagerly. "Your uncle has some news for you." And
Mr. Ferguson told his niece briefly, that on her birthday in December
she would come into possession of some money left her by her father.

"Don't get up your expectations, it's not much," he said, charily, "but
it's something to start on."

"Oh, Uncle! how splendid!" she said, and caught David's hand in both of
hers. "David!"--her face was radiantly unconscious of the presence of
the others: "perhaps we needn't wait two years?"

"I'm afraid it won't make much difference." David spoke rather grimly;
"I must be able to buy your shoestrings myself, you know, before we can
be married."

Elizabeth dropped his hand, and the dimple straightened in her cheek.

Mrs. Richie smiled at her. "Young people have to be prudent, dear
child."

"How much money shall I have, Uncle?" Elizabeth asked coldly.

He told her. "Not a fortune; but David needn't worry about your
shoestrings."

"Yes, I will," he broke in, with a laugh. "She'll have to go barefoot,
if I can't get 'em for her!"

Elizabeth exclaimed, with angry impatience, and Robert Ferguson,
chuckling, struck him lightly on the shoulder. "Look out you don't fall
over backward trying to stand up straight!" he said.

The possibility of an earlier wedding-day was not referred to again.
The next morning they all went up to town together in the train, and
Elizabeth, who had recovered from her momentary displeasure, did no
more than cast glowing looks at David--lovely, melting looks of
delicate passion, as virginal as an opening lily--looks that said, "I
wish we did not have to wait!" For her part, she would have been glad
"to go barefoot," if only they might the sooner tread the path of life
together.

When they got into Mercer, late in the evening, who should meet them at
the station but Blair. Robert Ferguson, with obvious relief,
immediately handed his charges over to the young man with a hurried
explanation that he must see some one on business before going to his
own house. "Take the girls home, will you, Blair?" Blair said that that
was what he was there for. His method of taking them home was to put
Nannie into one carriage, and get into another with Elizabeth, who, a
little surprised, asked where Nannie was.

"It would delay you to go round to our house first," Blair explained.
"You forget we live in the slums. And Nannie's in a hurry, so I sent
her directly home. She doesn't mind going by herself, you know. Look
here, you two girls have been away an abominably long time! I've been
terribly lonely--without Nannie."

He had indeed been lonely "without Nannie." In these empty, meaningless
weeks at the Works, Blair Maitland had suddenly stumbled against the
negations of life. Hitherto, he had known only the easy and delightful
assents of Fate; this was his first experience with the inexorable
_No_. A week after the girls went East, he admitted to himself that,
had David been out of the way, he would undoubtedly have fallen in love
with Elizabeth. "As it is, of course I haven't," he declared. Night
after night in those next weeks, as he idled moodily about Mercer's
streets, or, lounging across the bridge, leaned on the handrail and
watched the ashes from his cigar flicker down into the unseen current
below, he said the same thing: "I am not in love with her, and I
sha'n't allow myself to be. I won't let it go any farther. But David is
no man for a girl like Elizabeth to marry." Then he would fall to
thinking just what kind of man Elizabeth ought to marry. Such
reflections proved, so he assured himself, how entirely he knew that
she belonged to David. Sometimes he wondered sullenly whether he had
not better leave Mercer before she came back? Perhaps it was his god
who made this suggestion; if so, he did not recognize a divine voice.
He always decided against such a course. It would be cowardly, he told
himself, to keep away from Elizabeth. "I will see her when she gets
home, just as usual. To stay away might make her think that I
was--afraid. And I am not in the least, because I am not in love with
her, and I shall not allow myself to be." He was perfectly sure of
himself, and perfectly sincere, too; what lover has ever understood
that love has nothing to do with volition!

Now, alone with her in the old depot carriage, his sureness permitted
him to say, significantly,

``I have been terribly lonely--without Nannie.''

``I thought you were absorbed in business cares,'' she told him drolly.
``How do you like business, Blair, really?''

``Loathe it,'' he said succinctly. ``Elizabeth, come and take dinner
with us to-morrow evening?''

``Oh, Nannie's had enough of me. She's been with me for nearly two
months.''

``I haven't been with you for two months. Be a good girl, and do some
missionary work. Slumming is the fashion, you know. Come and cheer me
up. It's been fiendishly stupid without you.''

She laughed at his sincerely gloomy voice.

``Come,'' he urged; ``we'll have dinner in the back parlor. Do you
remember that awful dinner-party?'' He laughed as he spoke, but--being
'sure';--in the darkness of the shabby hack he looked at her intently.
. . . Oh, if David were only out of the way!

``Remember it? I should think I did!'' There was no telltale flicker on
her smooth cheek; even in the gloom of the carriage he could see that
the dark amber of her eyes brimmed over with amusement, and the dimple
deepened entrancingly. ``How could I forget it? Didn't I wear my first
long dress to that dinner-party--oh, and my six-button gloves?''

``I--'' said Blair, and paused. ``I remember other things than the
gloves and long dress, Elizabeth.'' (Why shouldn't he say as much as
that? He was certain of himself, and David was certain of her, so why
not speak of what it gave him a rapturous pang to remember?)

But at his words the color whipped into her cheek; her clear brows drew
together into a slight frown. ``How is your mother, Blair?'' she said
coldly. "Oh, very well. Can you imagine Mother anything but well? The
heat has nearly killed me, but Mother is iron."

"She's perfectly wonderful!"

"Yes; wonderful woman," he agreed carelessly. "Elizabeth, promise
you'll come to-morrow evening?"

"Cherry-pie would think it was horrid in me not to stay with her, when
I've been away so long."

"I think it's horrid in you not to stay with me."

She laughed; then sighed. "David is working awfully hard, Blair."

"Darn David!" he retorted, laughing. "So am I, if that's any reason for
your giving a man your society."

"You! You couldn't work hard to save your life."

"I could, if I had somebody to work for, as David has."

"You'd better get somebody," she said gaily.

"I don't want any second-bests," he declared.

"Donkey!" Elizabeth said good-naturedly. But she was a little
surprised, for whatever else Blair was, he was not stupid--and such
talk is always stupid. That it had its root in anything deeper than
chaffing never occurred to her. They were at her own door by this time,
and Blair, helping her out of the carriage, looked into her face, and
his veins ran hot.

The next morning, when he went to see Nannie, he was absorbed and
irritable. "Girls are queer," he told her; "they marry all kinds of
men. But I'll tell you one thing: David is the last man for a girl like
Elizabeth. He is perfectly incapable of understanding her."

That was the first day that he did not assure himself that he "was not
in love."



CHAPTER XVII

That autumn, with its heats and brown fogs and sharp frosts, was the
happiest time in Sarah Maitland's life--the happiest time, at least,
since those brief months of marriage;--_Blair was in the Business!_ "If
only his father could see him!" she used to say to herself. Of course,
she had moments of disappointment; once or twice moments of anger,
even; and once, at any rate, she had a moment of fright. She had
summoned her son peremptorily to go with her to watch a certain
experiment. Blair appeared, shrinking, bored, absent-minded, nearly an
hour later than the time she had set. That put her in a bad humor to
start with; but as they were crossing the Yards, her irritation
suddenly deepened into dismay: Blair, his lip drooping with disgust at
the sights and sounds about him, his hands in his pockets, was lounging
along behind her, and she, realizing that he was not at her side,
stopped and looked back. He was standing still, looking up, his eyes
radiant, his lips parted with delight.

"What is it?" she called. He did not hear her; he stood there, gazing
at three white butterflies that were zigzagging into a patch of pale
blue sky. How they had come into this black and clamorous spot, why
they had left their fields of goldenrod and asters farther down the
river, who can say? But here they were, darting up and up, crossing,
dipping, dancing in the smoky sunshine that flooded thinly the noisy
squalor of the Yards. Blair, looking at them, said, under his breath,
in pure delight, "Yes, just like the high notes. A flight of violin
notes!"

"Blair!" came the impatient voice; "what's the matter with you?"

"Nothing, nothing."

"I was just going to tell you that a high silicon pig--"

"My dear mother," he interrupted wearily, "there is something else in
the world than pig. I saw three butterflies--"

"Butterflies!"

She stood in the cinder pathway in absolute consternation. Was her son
a fool? For a moment she was so startled that she was not even angry.
"Come on," she said soberly; and they went into the Works in silence.

That evening, when he dropped into supper, she watched him closely, and
by and by her face lightened a little. Of course, to stop and gape up
into the air was silly; but certainly he was talking intelligently
enough now,--though it was only to Elizabeth Ferguson, who happened to
be taking supper with them. Yes, he did not look like a fool. "He _has_
brains," she said to herself, frowning, "but why doesn't he use 'em?"
She sighed, and called out loudly, "Harris! Corn-beef!" But as she
hacked off a slab of boiled meat, she wondered why on earth Nannie
asked Elizabeth to tea so often, and especially why she asked her on
those evenings when Blair happened to be at home. "Elizabeth is such a
little blatherskite," she reflected, good-naturedly, "the boy doesn't
get a chance to talk to me!" Then it occurred to her that perhaps he
came because Elizabeth came? for it was evident that she amused him.
Well, Sarah Maitland had no objection. To secure her son for her dingy
supper table she was willing to put up with Elizabeth or any other
girl. But certainly Nannie invited her very often. "I'll come in
to-night, if you'll invite Elizabeth," Blair would bribe her. And
Nannie, like Mrs. Maitland herself, would have invited anybody to gain
an hour of her brother's company.

Those four weeks had committed Blair Maitland to his first real
passion. He was violently in love, and now he acknowledged it. The
moment had come when his denials became absurd, even to himself, so he
no longer said he did not love her; he merely said he would never let
her know he loved her. "If she doesn't know it, I am square with
David," he argued. Curiously enough, when he said "David," he always
thought of David's mother. He was profoundly unhappy, and yet
exhilarated--there is always exhilaration in the aching melancholy of
hopeless love; but somewhere, back in his mind, there was probably the
habit of hope. He had always had everything he wanted, so why should
not fate be kind now?--of course without any questionable step on his
part. "I will never tell her," he assured himself; the words stabbed
him, but he meant them. He only wished, irrationally enough, that Mrs.
Richie might know how agonizingly honorable he was.

Elizabeth herself did not know it; she had not the slightest idea that
he was in love with her. There were probably two reasons for an
unconsciousness which was certainly rather unusual, for a woman almost
always knows. Some tentacles of the soul seem brushed by the
brutalities of the material fact, and she knows and retreats--or
advances. Elizabeth did not know, and so did not retreat. Perhaps one
reason for her naive stupidity was the commonplaceness of her relations
with Blair. She had known him all her life, and except for that one
childish playing at love, which, if she ever remembered it, seemed to
her entirely funny, she had never thought of him in any other way than
as "Nannie's brother"; and Nannie was, for all practical purposes, her
sister. Another reason was her entire absorption in her own
love-affair. Ever since she had learned of the little legacy, the
ardent thought had lurked in her mind that it might, somehow, in spite
of David's absurd theories about shoestrings, hasten her marriage.
"With all this money, why on earth should we wait?" she fretted to
Nannie.

"My dear! you couldn't live on the interest of it!"

"I don't know why not," Elizabeth said, wilfully.

"Goose!" Nannie said, much amused. "No; the only thing you could do
would be to live on your principal. Why don't you do that?"

Elizabeth looked suddenly thoughtful. When she went home she repeated
Nannie's careless words to Miss White, who nibbled doubtfully, and said
she never heard of such a thing. But after that, for days, they talked
of household economies, and with Cherry-pie's help Elizabeth managed to
pare down those estimates which had so diverted her uncle and Mrs.
Richie. With such practical preoccupations no wonder she was
unconscious of the change in Blair. Suddenly, like a stone flung
through the darkness at a comfortably lighted domestic window, she saw,
with a crash of fright, a new and unknown Blair, a man who was a
complete and dreadful stranger.

It was dusk; she had come in to see Nannie and talk over that
illuminating suggestion: _why not live on the principal?_ But Nannie
was not at home, so Elizabeth sat down in the firelight in the parlor
to wait for her. She sat there, smiling to herself, eager to tell
Nannie that she had argued Cherry-pie into admitting that the plan of
"living on the principal" was at least feasible; and also that she had
sounded her uncle, and believed that if she and David and Cherry-pie
attacked him, all together, they could make him consent!--"But of
course David will simply have to insist," she thought, a little
apprehensively, "for Uncle Robert is so awfully sensible." Then she
began to plan just how she must tell David of this brilliant idea, and
make him understand that they need not wait; "as soon as he really
understands it, he won't listen to any 'prudence' from Uncle!" she
said, her eyes crinkling into a laugh. But how should she make him
understand? She must admit at once (because he was so silly and
practical) that, of course, the interest on her money would not support
them. Then she must show him her figures--David was always crazy about
figures! Well, she had them; she had brought them with her to show
Nannie; they proved conclusively that she and David could live on her
capital for at least two years. It would certainly last as long as
that, perhaps even for two years and a half! When they had exhausted
it, why, then, David's income from his profession would be large
enough; large enough even if--she blushed nobly, sitting there alone
looking into the fire; "even if!" Thinking this all out, absorbed and
joyous, a little jealous because this practical idea had come to Nannie
and not to her, she did not hear Blair enter. He stood beside her a
moment in silence before she was aware of his presence. Then she looked
up with a start, and leaning back in her chair, the firelight in her
face, smiled at him: "Where's Nannie?"

"I don't know. Church, I think. But I am glad of it. I would
rather--see you alone." His voice trembled.

He had come in, in all the unrest of misery; he had said to himself
that he was going to "tell Nannie, anyhow." The impulse to "tell" had
become almost a physical necessity, and when he came into the room, the
whole unhappy, hopeless business was hot on his lips. The mere
unexpectedness of finding her here, alone, was like a touch against
that precariously balanced sense of honor, which was his god, and had
so far kept him, as he expressed it to himself, "square with David."

To Elizabeth, sitting there in friendly idleness by the fire, the
thrill in his voice was like some palpable touch against her breast.
Without knowing why, she put her hand up, as if warding something off.
She was bewildered; her heart began to beat violently. Instantly, at
the sight of the lovely, startled face, the rein broke. He forgot
David, he forgot his god, with whom he had been juggling words for the
last two months, he forgot everything, except the single, eternal,
primitive purpose: _there was the woman he wanted_. And all his life,
if he had wanted anything, he had had it. With a stifled cry, he caught
her hand: "Elizabeth--I love you!"

"Stop!" she said, outraged and astounded; "stop this instant!"

"I _must_ speak to you."

"You shall not speak to me!" She was on her feet, trying with trembling
fingers to put on her hat.

"Elizabeth, wait!" he panted, "wait; listen--I must speak--" And before
she knew it, he had caught her in his arms, and she felt his breath on
her mouth. She pushed him from her, gasping almost, and looking at him
in anger and horror.

"How dare you?"

"Listen; only one minute!"

"I will not listen one second. Let me out of this room--out of this
house!"

"Elizabeth, forgive me! I am mad!"

"You _are_ mad. I will never forgive you. Stand aside. Open the door."

"Elizabeth, I love you! I love you! Won't you listen--?"

But she had gone, flaming with anger and humiliation.

When Nannie came in an hour later, her brother was sitting with his
head bowed in his hands. The room was quite dark; the fire had died
down. The fire of passion had died down, too, leaving only shame and
misery and despair. His eyes, hidden in his bent arms, were wet; he was
shaken to the depths of his being. For the first time in his life he
had come against a thwarted desire. The education that should have been
spread over his whole twenty-five years, an education that would have
taught him how to meet the negations of life, of duty, of pity even,
burst upon him now in one shattering moment. He had broken his law, his
own law; and, mercifully, his law was breaking him. When he rose to his
feet as his sister came into the room, he staggered under the shock of
such concentrated education.

"Blair! What _is_ it?" she said, catching his arm.

"Nothing. Nothing. I've been a fool. Let me go."

"But tell me! I'm frightened. Blair!"

"It's nothing, I tell you. Nannie! Will she ever look at me again? Oh
no, no; she will never forgive me! Why was I such a fool?"

"What _are_ you talking about?" poor Nannie said. It came into her head
that he had suddenly gone out of his senses.

Blair sank down again in a heap on his chair.

"I've been a damned fool. I'm in love with Elizabeth, and--and I told
her so."



CHAPTER XVIII

Of course, with that scene in the parlor, all the intimacies of youth
were broken short off; although between the two girls some sort of
relationship was patched up. Nannie, thrown suddenly into the whirlpool
of her brother's emotions, was almost beside herself with distress; she
was nearly twenty-eight years old, but this was her first contact with
the primitive realities of life. With that contact,--which made her
turn away her horrified, virginal eyes; was the misery of knowing that
Blair was suffering. She was ready to annihilate David, had such a
thing been possible, to give her brother what he wanted. As David could
not be made non-existent, she did her best to comfort Blair by trying
to make Elizabeth forgive him. The very next day she came to plead that
Blair might come himself to ask for pardon. Elizabeth would not listen:

"Please don't speak of it."

"But Elizabeth--"

"I am perfectly furious, and I am very disgusted. I never want to see
Blair again!"

At which Blair's sister lifted her head.

"Of course, he ought not to have spoken to you, but I think you forget
that he loved you long before David did."

"Nonsense!" Elizabeth cried out impatiently.

But Nannie's tears touched her. "Nannie, I can't see him, and I won't;
but I'll come and see you when he is not there." At which Nannie flared
again.

"If you are angry at my brother, and can't forgive just a momentary, a
passing feeling,--which, after all, Elizabeth, _is_ a compliment; at
least everybody says it's a compliment to have a man say he loves you--"

"Not if you're engaged to another man!" Elizabeth burst in, scarlet to
her temples.

"Blair loved you before David thought of you."

"Now, Nannie, don't be silly."

"If you can't overlook it, because of our old friendship, you will have
to drop me, too, Elizabeth."

Nannie was so pitiful and trembling that Elizabeth put her arms around
her. "I'll never drop you, dear old Nannie!"

So, as far as the two girls were concerned, the habit of affection
persisted; but Mrs. Maitland was not annoyed by having Elizabeth
present when Blair came to supper.

Blair did not come to supper very often now; he did not come to the
Works. "Is your brother sick?" Sarah Maitland asked her stepdaughter
three or four days later. "He hasn't been at his desk since Monday.
What's the matter with him?"

"He is worried about something, Mamma."

"Worried? What on earth has _he_ got to worry him?" she grunted. In her
own worry she had come across the hall to speak to Nannie, and find
out, if she could, something about Blair. As she turned to go back to
the dining-room, a little more uneasy than when she came in, her eye
fell on that picture which Blair had left, a small oasis in the desert
of Nannie's parlor, and with her hand on the door-knob she paused to
look at it. The sun was lying on the dark oblong, and in those
illuminated depths maternity was glowing like a jewel. Sarah Maitland
saw no art, but she saw divine things. She bent forward and looked deep
into the picture; suddenly her eyes smiled until her whole face
softened. "Why, look at his little foot," she said, under her breath;
"she's holding it in her hand!" She was silent for a moment; then she
spoke as if to herself: "When Blair was as big as that, I bought him a
pair of green morocco slippers. I don't suppose you remember them,
Nannie? They buttoned round the ankle; they had white china buttons. He
used to try to pick the buttons off." She smiled again vaguely; then
blinked as if awakening from a dream, and blew a long bubbling sigh
through her closed lips; "I can't imagine why he doesn't come to the
office!"

In the dining-room, as she took up her pen, she frowned. "Debt again?"
she asked herself. But when, absorbed and irritable, Blair came into
her office at the Works, and sat down at his desk to write endless
letters that he tore up as soon as they were written, she did not ask
for any explanation. She merely told Robert Ferguson to tell the
bookkeeper to make a change in the pay-roll. "I'm going to raise
Blair's salary," she said. Money was the only panacea Mrs. Maitland
knew anything about.

That next fortnight left its marks on Blair Maitland. People who have
always had what they want, have a sort of irrational certainty of
continuing to have what they want. It makes them a little unhumanly
young. Blair's face, which had been as irresponsible as a young faun's,
suddenly showed those scars of thwarted desire which mean age. There
was actual agony in his sweet, shallow eyes, and with it the
half-resentful astonishment of one who, being unaccustomed to
suffering, does not know how to bear it. He grew very silent; he was
very pale; in his pain he turned to his sister with an openness of
emotion which frightened and shamed her; he had no self-control and no
dignity.

"I must see her. I must, I must! Go and ask her to see me for a moment.
I've disgusted her"--Nannie blushed; "but I'll make her forgive me."
Sometimes he burst out in rages at David: "What does _he_ know about
love? What kind of a man is he for Elizabeth? She's a girl now, but if
he gets her, God help him when she wakes up, a woman! Not that _I_ mean
to try to get her. Understand that. Nothing is farther from my mind
than that. She belongs to him; I play fair. I don't pretend to be a
saint, but I play fair. I don't cut in, when the man's my friend. No; I
just want to see her and ask her to forgive me. That's all. Nannie, for
God's sake ask her if she won't see me, just for five minutes!"

He quivered with despair. Twice he went himself to Mr. Ferguson's
house. The first time Miss White welcomed him warmly, and scuttled
up-stairs saying she would "tell Elizabeth." She came down again, very
soberly. "Elizabeth is busy, Blair, and she says she can't see you."
The next time he called he was told at the door that "Miss Elizabeth
asks to be excused." Then he wrote to her: "All I ask is that you shall
see me, so that I can implore you to pardon me."

Elizabeth tore the letter up and threw it into the fire. But she
softened a little. "Poor Blair," she said to herself, "but of course I
shall never forgive him."

She had not told David what Blair had done. "He would be furious," she
thought. "I'll tell him later--when we are married"; at the word, the
warm, beautiful wave of young love rose in her heart; "later, when I
belong to him, I will tell him everything!" She would tell him
everything just as she would give him everything; not that she had much
to give him--only herself and her little money. That blessed money, on
which he and she could live for two years,--she was going to give him
that! For she and Nannie and Cherry-pie had decided that if the money
were _his_, by a gift, then David, who was perfectly crazy and noble
about independence, would feel that he and Elizabeth were living on his
money, not hers. It was an artless and very feminine distinction, but
serious enough to the three women who were all so young--Elizabeth, in
fact, being the oldest, and Cherry-pie, at sixty-three, the youngest.
And not only had they discovered this way of overcoming David's
scruples about a shorter engagement, but Elizabeth had had another
inspiration: why not be married on the very day that the money came
into her possession? "Oh, splendid!" said Nannie; but she spoke with an
effort, remembering Blair. A little timidly, Elizabeth had told her
uncle of this wonderful plan about the money. He snorted with amusement
at her way of whipping the devil round the stump by a "gift" to David;
but after a rather startled moment, although he would not commit
himself to a date, he was inclined to think an earlier marriage
practicable. We are selfish creatures at best, all of us: Elizabeth's
way of being happy herself opened a possibility of happiness for her
uncle. "Mrs. Richie can't make David an excuse for saying 'no,' if the
boy gets a home of his own," he thought; and added to himself, "of
course, when the child's money is used up, I'll help them out." But to
his niece he only barked warningly: "Well, let's hear what David has to
say; _he_ has some sense."

"Do you think there's much doubt as to what he'll say?" Elizabeth said;
and the dimple deepened so entrancingly that Robert Ferguson gave her a
meager kiss. After securing this somewhat tentative consent, Elizabeth
and Cherry-pie decided that the next thing to do was to "make David
write to uncle, and simply _insist_ that the wedding shall be next
month!" Her plan was very simple: when David came to Mercer to spend
her birthday, he should receive, at the same moment, her money and
herself.

That future time of sacramental giving and of complete taking was in
her thoughts with tenderness and shame and glory, as it is in the
thought of every woman who loves and forgets herself. Yes, he could
have her now; but he must take her money! That was the price he had to
pay--the taking of her money. That it would be a high price to a man
with his peculiarly intense feeling about independence, Elizabeth knew;
but he would be willing to pay it! Elizabeth could not doubt that. No
price could be too high, he loved her so! She shivered with happiness
at the thought of how he loved her; some soft impulse of passion made
her lift her round wrist,--that bitten wrist! to her mouth, and kiss
it, hard. David had kissed it, many times! Yes; she was his if he would
pay the price! She was going to tell him so, and then wait, glowing,
and shrinking, and eager, for him to come and "take her."

It was so true, so limpid, this noble flame that burned in her, that
she almost forgot Blair's behavior; the only thing she thought of was
her plan, and the difficulty of putting it into the cold limits of pen
and ink! But with much joyous underlining of important words she did
succeed in stating it to him. She told him, not only the practical
details, but with a lovely, untrammelled outpouring of her soul which
was sacrificial, she told him that she wanted to be his wife. She had
no reserves; it was an elemental moment, and the matter of what is
called modesty had no place in her ardent purity. It rarely has a place
in organic impulses. In connection with death, or birth, or love,
modesty is only a rather puerile self-consciousness. So Elizabeth, who
had never been self-conscious in her life, told David, with perfect
simplicity, that she "wanted to be married." She said she had "worked
the money part of it out," and according to her latest estimate of how
much, or rather how little, they could live on, it was possible. "You
will say, we haven't even as much as this," she wrote, after she had
stated what seemed to be the minimum income; then, triumphantly: "_we
have!_ the money Uncle is going to give me on my birthday! If we live
on it, instead of hoarding it up, it will last _at least_ two years!
I've talked to Uncle about it, and I'm pretty sure he will consent; but
you'd better write and urge him,--_just insist!_" Then she approached
the really difficult matter of making David agree to live on money that
was not his. She admitted that she knew how he felt on such matters.
"And you are all wrong," she declared candidly, "wrong, and a goose.
But, so long as you do feel so, why, you needn't any longer. For I am
going to give the money to you. It is to be yours, _not mine_. You
can't refuse to use the money that is _yours_, that comes to you as a
'gift'? It will be as much _yours_ as if somebody left it to you in
their will, and you can burn it up, if you want to!" And when
"business" had been written out, her heart spoke:

"Dear" (she stopped to kiss the paper), "dear, I hope you won't burn it
up, because I am tired of waiting, and I hope you are too;"--when she
wrote those last words, she was suddenly shy; "Uncle is to give me the
money on my birthday--let us be married that day. I _want_ to be
married. I am all yours, David, all my soul, and all my mind, and all
my body. I have nothing that is not yours to take; so the money is
yours. No, I will not even give it to you! it belongs to you
already--as I do. Dear, come and take it--and me. I love you--love
you--love you. _I want you to take me_. I want to be your wife. Do you
understand? I _want_ to belong to you. I _am_ yours."

So she tried, this untutored creature, to put her soul and body into
words, to write the thing that cannot even be spoken, whose utterance
is silence. The mailing of the letter was a rite in itself; in the
dusk, as she held the green lip of the post-box open, she kissed the
envelope, as she had kissed the glowing sheet an hour before. She said
to herself that she was "too happy to live!" As she said it, a wave of
pity blotted out her usual shamed resentment at that poor mother of
hers who had not been happy;--and whose lack of self-control was,
Elizabeth believed, her legacy to her child. But her gravity was only
for a moment; forgetting Blair, and the possible chance of meeting him,
she flew down to Nannie's to tell her that the die had been cast--the
letter had been written! Nannie, sitting by herself in the parlor,
brooding over her brother's troubles, was trying to draw; but Elizabeth
brushed aside pencils and crusts of bread and india-rubbers, and flung
her arms about her, pressing her face against hers and pouring the
happy secret into her ear:

"Oh, Nannie--I've told him! We'll be married on my birthday. Go ahead
and get your dress!" she said, breathlessly, and Nannie tried her best
to be happy, too.

For the next three days Elizabeth moved about in a half-dream,
sometimes reddening suddenly; sometimes breathing a little quickly,
with a faint fright in her eyes,--had she said too much? would he
understand? Then a gush of confident love filled her like music. "I
couldn't say too much! I want him to know that I feel--that way."

When David read that throbbing letter, he grew scarlet to his temples.
There had been many moments during their engagement when Elizabeth, in
slighter ways, had bared her soul to him, and always he had had the
impulse to cover his eyes, as in a holy of holies. He had never, in
those moments, dared to take advantage of such divine nakedness, even
by a kiss. But she had never before trusted her passion to the coldness
of pen and ink; it had had the accompaniment of eyes and lips, and
eager, breaking voice. Perhaps if the letter had come at a different
moment, he could more easily have called up that voice, and those humid
eyes; he might have felt again the rose-pressure of the soft mouth. As
it was, he read it in troubled preoccupation; then reddened sharply: he
was a worthless cuss; he couldn't stand on his own legs and get married
like a man; his girl had to urge her uncle to let her support her
lover! "Damn," said David softly.

A letter is a risky thing; the writer gambles on the reader's frame of
mind. David's frame of mind when he read those words about urging
Robert Ferguson, was not hospitable to other people's generosity, for
Elizabeth's hot letter came on what had been, figuratively speaking, a
very cold day. In the morning he had been reprimanded by the House
officer for some slight forgetfulness--a forgetfulness caused by his
absorption in planning an experiment in the laboratory. At noon he made
the experiment, which, instead of crowning a series of deductions with
triumphant proof, utterly failed. Then he had had pressing reminders of
bills, still unpaid, for a pair of trousers and a case of instruments,
and he had admitted to himself that he would have to ask his mother for
the money to meet them. "I am a fizzle, all round," he had told himself
grimly. "Can't remember anything overnight. Can't count on a doggone
reaction. Can't pay for my own pants! I won't be able to marry for ten
years. If Elizabeth is wise, she will throw me over. She'll be tired of
waiting for me, before I can earn enough to buy my instruments--let
alone the shoe-strings Mr. Ferguson talked about!"

Then her letter came. It was a spur on rowelled flesh. Elizabeth _was_
tired of waiting! She said so. But she would help him; she had induced
her uncle to consent that she should "give" him money; that she should,
in fact, support him!--just as his mother had been doing all his life.
He was sore with disappointment at himself, yet, when he answered her
letter his eyes stung at the thought of the loveliness of her love! He
held her letter in his hand as he wrote, and once he put it to his
lips. All the same he wrote, as he had to write, laconically:

"DEAR ELIZABETH,--I'm sure Mr. Ferguson will agree with me that your
money cannot be mine, by any gift. Calling it so won't make it so.
Anyhow, it would not support us two years. By that time, as things look
now, I shall probably not be earning any kind of an income. I am sorry
you are tired of waiting, but I can't let you be imprudent. And apart
from prudence, I could not respect myself if you supported me. It has
been misery to me to have Materna saddled with a big, lazy brute of a
fellow like me, who ought by this time to be taking care of you both. I
am sure, if you think it over, you would be ashamed of me if I asked
your uncle to help me out by letting you marry me now. Anyhow, I should
be ashamed of myself. Well, the Lord only knows when I will come up to
time! You might as well make up your mind to it that I'm a fizzle. I am
discouraged with myself and everything else, and I see you are too;
Heaven knows I don't blame you. I know you think it is an awfully long
time to wait, but it isn't as long to you as it is to me. Dear, I love
you; I can't tell you how I love you. I haven't words, as you have, but
you know I do--and yet sometimes I feel as if I oughtn't to marry you."

Elizabeth, running down the steps to meet the postman, saw a familiar
imprint on the corner of an envelope, and drew it from the pack before
the good-natured man could hand it to her.

"Guess you don't want no Philadelphia letter?" he said slyly.

"Of course I don't!" she retorted; and the trudging postman smiled for
a whole block because of the light in her face. In the house, the
letter in her hand, she stopped to hug Miss White. "Cherry-pie! the
letter has come. I'm to be married on my birthday!"

"Oh, my lamb," said Cherry-pie, "however shall I get things ready in
time!" Elizabeth did not wait to help her in her housekeeping
anxieties. She fled singing up to her room.

  "Oh, that will be joyful, joyful, joyful,
  Oh, that will be joyful,
  To meet to part no more!"

Then she opened the letter.... She read the last lines with unseeing
eyes; the first lines were branding themselves into her soul. She
folded the brief sheet with deliberation, and slowly put it back into
the envelope. Then the color began to fall out of her face. Her eyes
smoldered, glowed, then suddenly blazed: "He is sorry I am tired
waiting."

Something warm, like a lifting tide of heat, was rising just below her
breast-bone; it rose, and rose, and surged, until she gasped, and cried
out hoarsely: "If 'I think it over,' I'll be 'ashamed,' will I?
'Couldn't respect himself? What about me respecting myself?" And the
intolerable wave of heat still rose, swelling and bursting until it
choked her; she was strangling! She clutched at her throat, then flung
out clenched hands. "He 'can't let' me marry him? It's 'a long time for
_me_ to wait'! I must 'make up my mind to it'! I hate him--I want to
kill him--I want to tear him! What did I tell him? 'to come and take
me'? And he doesn't want me! And Nannie knows I told him to come, and
Miss White and Uncle know it. And they will know he didn't want me. Oh,
how could I have told him I wanted him? I must kill him. I must kill
myself--" Her wild outpouring of words was without sense or meaning to
her. She shuddered violently, something crimson seemed to spread before
her eyes, but the pallor of her face was ghastly. She began to pace up
and down the room. Once she unfolded the letter, and glancing again at
those moderate words, laughed loudly. "'His,'" she said, "I told him I
was 'his'? I must have been out of my head. Well, I'll 'think it over!'
I'll 'think it over!'--he needn't worry about that. Oh, I could kill
myself! And I told Cherry-pie I was going to be--" she could not speak
the word. She stood still and gasped for breath.

The paroxysm was so violent, and so long in coming to its height before
there could be any ebb, that suddenly she reeled slightly. A gray mist
seemed to roll up out of the corners of the room. She sank down on the
floor, crumpling up against her bed. When she opened her eyes, the mist
had gone, and she felt very stiff and a little sick. "Why, where am I?"
she said aloud, "what's the matter with me?" Then, dully, she
remembered David's letter. "I was so angry I fainted," she thought, in
listless astonishment. For the moment she was entirely without feeling,
neither angry, nor wounded, nor ashamed. Then, little by little, the
dreadful wave, which had ebbed, began to rise again. But now it was
cold, not hot. She said to herself, quietly, that she would write to
David Richie, and tell him she _had_ 'thought it over'; and that
neither she nor her money was his, or any further concern of his. "He
needn't trouble himself; there would be no more 'imprudence.' Oh, fool!
fool! immodest fool! to have told him he 'could have her for the
taking,' and he said it was 'long' for _her_ to wait!" It was an
unbearable recollection. "His," she had said; "soul and body." She saw
again the written words that she had kissed, and she had an impulse to
tear the flesh of the lovely young body she had offered this man, and
he had--declined. "_His?_" She blushed until she had to put her cold
hands on her cheeks and forehead to ease the scorch. The modesty which
a great and simple moment had obliterated came back with intolerable
sharpness.

By and by she got on her feet and dragged herself to a chair; she
looked very wan and languid. For the moment the fire was out. It had
burned up precious things.

"I'll write to him to-morrow," she thought. And through the cold rage
she felt a hot stab of satisfaction; her letter--"a rather different
letter, this time!" would make him suffer! But not enough. Not enough.
She wished she could make him die, as she was dying. But she could not
write at that moment; the idea of taking up a pen turned her sick with
the remembrance of what her pen had written three days before. Instead
of writing, she would go out and walk, and walk, and walk, and think
how she could punish him--how she could _kill_ him! Where should she
go? Never mind! anywhere; anywhere. Just let her get out, let her be
alone, where nobody could speak to her. How could she ever speak to
people again?--to Miss White, who was down in the dining-room, now,
planning for the--wedding! To Nannie, who knew that David had been
summoned, and who must be told that he refused to come; to Blair, who
would guess--she paused, remembering that she was angry with Blair.
There was a perceptible instant before she could recollect why; when
she did, she felt a pang of relief in her agony of humiliation. Blair,
whatever else he was, was a _man_, a man who could love a woman! It
occurred to her that the girl Blair loved would not be thought immodest
if she showed him how much she loved him.

She began to put on her things to go out, and as she fastened her hat
she looked at herself in the glass. "I have a wicked sort of face," she
thought, with a curious detachment from the situation which was almost
that of an outside observer. She packed a small hand-bag, and then
opened her purse to see if she had money enough to carry out a vague
plan of going somewhere to spend the night, "to get away from people."
It was noon when she went down-stairs; in the hall she called to Miss
White that she was going out.

"But it's just dinner-time, my lamb," Miss White called back from the
dining-room; "and I must talk to you about--"

"I--I want to see Nannie," Elizabeth said, in a smothered voice. It
occurred to her that, later, she would go and tell Nannie that she had
broken her engagement; it would be a satisfaction to do that, at any
rate!

"Oh, you're going to take dinner with her?" Miss White said, peering
out into the hall; "well, tell her to come in this afternoon and let us
talk things over. There is so much to be done between now and the
wedding," Cherry-pie fretted happily.

"_Wedding!"_ Elizabeth said to herself; then slipped back the latch of
the front door: "I sha'n't come back until to-morrow."

"Oh, my lamb!" Miss White remonstrated, "I _must_ ask you some
questions about the wedding!" Then she remembered more immediate
questions: "Is your satchel packed? Have you plenty of clean
pocket-handkerchiefs? Elizabeth! be careful not to take cold, and ask
Nannie how many teaspoons she can lend us--" The door slammed. It
seemed to Elizabeth that she could never look Cherry-pie in the face
again. She had a frantic feeling that if she could not escape from that
intolerable insistence on the--the wedding, she would die. In the
street, the mere cessation of Miss White's joyous twittering was a
relief. Well, she must go where she could be alone. She walked several
blocks before she thought of Willis's; it would take at least two hours
to get there, and she could think things over without interruption. She
would think how she could save her self-respect before Miss White and
her uncle and Nannie; and she would also think of some dreadful way,
some terrible way to punish David Richie! Yes; she would walk out to
Willis's. . . .

"Elizabeth!" some one said, at her elbow, and with a start she turned
to see Blair. As they looked at each other, these two unhappy beings,
each felt a faint pity for the other. Blair's face was haggard;
Elizabeth's was white to the point of ghastliness, but there was a
smudge of crimson just below the glittering amber of her eyes.
"Elizabeth!" he said, shocked, "what is it? You are ill! What has
happened?"

"Nothing. I--am tired." She was so unconscious of everything but the
maelstrom realization that she hated David that she did not remember
that the hesitating man beside her was under the ban of her
displeasure. Her only thought was that she wished he would leave her to
herself.

"Dark day, isn't it?" Blair said; but his voice broke in his throat.

"I think we are going to have rain," Elizabeth answered, mechanically.
She was perfectly unaware of what she said, for at that moment she saw,
on the other side of the street, the friendly postman who two hours ago
had brought her David Richie's insult; now, his empty pouch over his
shoulder, he was trudging back to the post-office. Against the
clamoring fury of her thoughts and the instant vision of David's
letter, Blair's presence was no more to her than the brush of a wing
across the surface of a torrent.

As for Blair, he was dazed, and then ecstatic. She had not sent him
away! She was perfectly matter-of-fact! "'_I think we are going to have
rain_.'" She must have forgiven him! "May I walk home with you,
Elizabeth?" he said breathlessly.

"I'm not going home. I am--just walking."

"So am I," he said. He had got himself in hand by this time; every
faculty was alert; he had his chance to ask for pardon! "Come out to
Mrs. Todd's, and have some pink ice-cream. Elizabeth, do you remember
the paper roses on those dreadful marble-topped tables that were sort
of semi-transparent?"

Elizabeth half smiled. "I had forgotten them; how horrid they were!"
With the surface of her mind she was conscious that his presence was a
relief; it was like a veil between her and the flames.

Blair, watching her furtively, said: "I'll treat. Come along, let's
have a spree!"

"You always did do the treating," she said absently. Blair laughed. The
primitive emotions are always naked; but how inevitably most of us try
to cover them with the fig-leaf of trivial speech--a laugh, perhaps, or
a question about the weather; somehow, in some way, the nakedness must
be covered! So now, Love and Hate, walking side by side in Mercer's
murky noon, were for the moment hidden from each other. Blair laughed,
and said he would make her "treat" for a change, and she replied that
she couldn't afford it.

At the toll-house he urged again, with gay obstinacy. "Oh, come in! You
needn't eat the stuff, but just for the fun of the thing; Mrs. Todd
will be charmed to see us, I'm sure."

"Well," Elizabeth agreed; for a moment the vapid talk was like balm
laid upon burnt flesh. Then suddenly she remembered how David had
sprung up that snowy path to the toll-house, to knock on the window and
cry, "I've got her!" Ah, he was a little too sure; a _little_ too sure!
She was not so easy to get as all that, not so cheap as he seemed to
think--though she had offered herself; had even told him she was "tired
of waiting"! (And at home Cherry-pie was counting the teaspoons for the
wedding breakfast.)

Blair heard that fierce intake of her breath, and quivered without
knowing why. "Yes, let us go!" Elizabeth said fiercely. At least this
chuckling old woman should see that David had not "got her"; she should
see her with Blair, and know that there were men in the world who cared
for her, if David Richie did not.

Mrs. Todd was not at home; perhaps, if she had been. . . .

But instead of the big, motherly old figure, beaming at them from the
toll-house door, a slatternly maid-servant said her mistress was out.
"We ain't doin' much cream now," she said, wrapping her arms in her
apron and shivering; "it's too cold. I ain't got anything but vanilla."

"We'll have vanilla, then," Blair said, in his rather courtly way, and
the girl, opening the door of the "_saloon_," scurried off. "By Jove!"
said Blair, "I believe these are the identical blue paper roses--look
at them!"

She sat down wearily. "I believe they are," she said, and began to pull
off her gloves. Outside in the tollhouse garden the frosted stems of
last summer's flowers stood upright in the snow. She remembered that
Mrs. Todd's geraniums had been glowing in the window that winter day
when David had shouted his triumphant news. Probably they were dead
now. Everything else was dead.

"Still the tissue-paper star on the ceiling!" Blair cried, gaily, "yes,
everything is just the same!" And indeed, when the maid, glancing with
admiring eyes at the handsome gentleman and the cross-looking lady, put
down on the semi-translucent marble top of the table two tall glasses
of ice-cream, each capped with its dull and dented spoon, the past was
completely reproduced. As the frowsy little waitress left them, they
looked at the pallid, milky stuff, and then at each other, and their
individual preoccupations thinned for a moment. Blair laughed;
Elizabeth smiled faintly:

"You don't expect me to eat it, I hope?"

"I won't make you eat it. Let's talk."

But Elizabeth took up her gloves. "I must go, Blair."

He pushed the tumblers aside and leaned toward her; one hand gripped
the edge of the table until the knuckles were white: the other was
clenched on his knee. "Elizabeth," he said, in a low voice, "have you
forgiven me?"

"Forgiven you? What for?" she said absently; then remembered and looked
at him indifferently. "Oh, I suppose so. I had forgotten."

"I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't loved you. You know that."

She was silent.

"Do you hate me for loving you?" On Elizabeth's cheeks the smudge of
crimson began to flame into scarlet. "I don't hate you. I think you
were a fool to love me. I think anybody is a fool to love anybody."

In a flash Blair understood. _She had quarrelled with David!_

It seemed as if all the blood in his body surged into his throat; he
felt as if he were suffocating; but he spoke quietly. "Don't say I was
a fool; say I am a fool, if you want to. Because I love you still. I
love you now. I shall never stop loving you."

Elizabeth glanced at him with a sort of impersonal interest. So _that_
was the way a man might love? "Well, I am sorry for you, Blair. I'm
sorry, because it hurts to love people who don't love you. At least, I
should think it did. I don't love anybody, so I don't know much about
it."

"You have broken with David," he said slowly.

"How did you know?" she said, with a surprised look; then added
listlessly, "Yes; I've done with David. I hate him." She looked blankly
down at her muff, and began to stroke the fur. It occurred to her that
before going to Willis's she must see Nannie, or else she would have
told Miss White a lie; again the double working of her mind interested
her; rage, and a desire to be truthful, were like layers of thought.
She noted this, even while she was saying again, between set teeth, "I
hate him."

"He has treated you badly," Blair said.

"How did you know?" she said, startled.

"I know David. What does a man like David know about loving a woman? He
would talk his theories and standards to her, when he could be
silent--in her arms!" He flung out his hand and caught her roughly by
the wrist. "Elizabeth, for God's sake, _marry me._"

[Illustration: "ELIZABETH, MARRY ME!"]

He had risen and was leaning toward her, his fingers gripped her wrist
like a trap, his breath was hot against her neck, his eyes glowed into
hers. "Marry--me, Elizabeth."

The moment was primal; the intensity of it was like a rapier-thrust,
down through her fury to the quick of womanly consciousness; she shrank
back. "Don't," she said, faintly; "don't--" For one instant she forgot
that she hated David. Instantly he was tender.

"Dearest, dearest, I love you. Be my wife. Elizabeth, I have always
loved you, always; don't you remember?" He was kneeling beside her,
lifting the hem of her skirt and kissing it, murmuring crazy words; but
he did not touch her, which showed that the excuse of passion was not
yet complete. And indeed it was not, for somewhere in the tumult of his
mind he was defending himself--perhaps to his god: "_I have the right._
It's all over between them. Any man has the right now." Then, aloud:
"Elizabeth, I love you. I shall love you forever. Marry me. Now.
To-night." When he said that, it was as if he had struck his god upon
the mouth--for the accusing Voice ceased. And when it ceased, he no
longer defended himself. Elizabeth looked at him, dazed. "No, I know
you don't care for me, now," he said. "Never mind that! I will teach
you to care; I will teach you--" he whispered: "the meaning of love!
_He_ couldn't teach you; he doesn't know it himself; he doesn't"--he
was at a loss for a word; some instinct gave him the right one--"want
you."

It was the crack of the whip! She answered it with a look of hate. But
still she was silent.

"You love him," he flung at her.

"I do not. I hate him! hate him! hate him! I wish he were dead in this
room, so I could trample on him!" Even in the scorch of that insane
moment, Blair Maitland flinched at such a declaration of hate. Hate
like that is the left hand of Love. He had sense enough left in his
madness to know that, and he could have killed David because he was
jealous of such precious hate.

"You'll get over that," he assured her; neither of them saw in such an
assurance the confession that he knew she loved David still. And still
his smitten god was silent! "You--you hate him because he slighted
you," Blair said, stammering with passion. "But for God's sake,
Elizabeth, _show_ him that you hate him. Since he despises you, despise
him! Will you let him slap you in the face, and still love him?"

"I do not love him."

They were both standing; Elizabeth, staring at him with unseeing eyes,
seemed to be answering some fierce interrogation in her own thought:
What? was _this_ the way to kill David Richie? That it would kill her,
too, never occurred to her. If it had occurred to her, it would have
seemed worth while--well worth while!

"Then why do you let him think you love him?" Blair was insisting, in a
violent whisper, "why do you let him think you are under his heel
still? Show him you hate him--if you do hate him? Marry me, _that will
show him._"

They were standing, now, facing each other--Love and Hate. Love,
radiant, with glorious eyes, with beautiful parted lips, with
outstretched hands that prayed, and threatened, and entreated: "Come! I
must have you,--God, I _must!_" And Hate, black-browed, shaking from
head to foot, with dreadful set stare, and hands clenched and
trembling; hands that reached for a dagger to thrust, and thrust again!
Hands reaching out and finding the dagger in that one, hot, whispered
word: "Come." Yes; that would "show him"!

"When?" she said, trembling.

And he said, "Now."

Elizabeth flung up her head with a look of burning satisfaction.

"_Come!_" she said; and laughing wildly, she struck her hand into his.



CHAPTER XIX

When Robert Ferguson came in to luncheon the next day, he asked for
Elizabeth. "She hasn't come home yet from Nannie's," Miss White told
him; "I thought she would be here immejetly after breakfast. I can't
imagine what keeps her, though I suppose they have a great deal to talk
over!"

"Well, she'll have to wait for her good news," Mr. Ferguson said; and
handed a telegram to Miss White. "Despatch from David. He's bringing a
patient across the mountains to-night; says he'll turn up here for
breakfast. He'll have to go back on the ten-o'clock train, though."

Cherry-pie nibbled with excitement; "I guess he just had to come and
talk the arrangements over with her!"

"What arrangements?" Mr. Ferguson asked, vaguely; when reminded by Miss
White, he looked a little startled. "Oh, to be sure; I had forgotten."
Then he smiled:

"Well, I suppose I shall have to say 'yes.' I think I'll go East myself
next week!" he added, fatuously; but the connection was not obvious to
Miss White.

"Elizabeth got a letter from him yesterday," she said, beaming;
"they've decided on her birthday--if you are willing."

"Willing? I guess it's a case of 'he had to be resigned!'" said Robert
Ferguson--thinking of that trip East, he was positively gay. But
Cherry-pie's romance lapsed into household concerns: "We must have
something the boy likes for breakfast."

"Looking at Elizabeth will be all the breakfast he wants," Elizabeth's
uncle said, with his meager chuckle. "David's as big a donkey as any of
'em, though he hasn't the gift of gab on the subject."

When he had gone to his office, Miss White propped the telegram up on
the table, so that Elizabeth's eyes might brighten the moment she
opened the front door But to her dismay, Elizabeth did not open the
door all that afternoon. Instead came a note, plainly in her hand,
addressed to Mr. Ferguson. "Why! she is sending word that she's going
to stay all night _again_ with Nannie," Miss White thought, really
disturbed. If such a thing had been possible, Cherry-pie would have
been vexed with her beloved "lamb," for after all, Elizabeth really
ought to be at home attending to things! Miss White herself had spent
every minute since the wonderful news had been flung at her, in
attending to things. She had made a list of the people who must be
invited to the wedding, she had inspected the china-closet, she had
calculated how many teaspoons would be needed,--"Better borrow some
forks from Nannie, too," she said, beginning, like every good
housekeeper, to look careworn. "There's so much to be done!" said
Cherry-pie, excitedly. Yet this scatter-brain girl evidently meant to
stay away from home still another night. "Well, she can't, that's all
there is to it!" Miss White said, decidedly; "she must come home, so as
to be here in the morning when David arrives. Perhaps I'd better go
down to Mrs. Maitland's and take her the despatch."

She was getting ready to go, when the first rumble of the hurricane
made itself heard. Nannie dropped in, and--

"'Where's Elizabeth?' I'm sure I don't know. Isn't she at home? 'Stayed
with me last night?' Why, no, she didn't. I haven't seen Elizabeth for
two days, and--"

Nannie sprang to catch poor old Miss White, who reeled, and then tried,
as she sank into a chair, to speak: "What? _What_? Not with you last
night? Nannie! She must have been. She told me she was going--" Miss
White grew so ghastly that Nannie, in a panic, called a servant.

"Send for her uncle!" the poor lady stammered. "Send--send. Oh, what
has happened to my child?" Then she remembered the letter addressed to
Mr. Ferguson, lying on the table beside David's telegram. "Perhaps that
will say where she is. Oh, tell him to _hurry!_"

When Robert Ferguson reached home he found the two pallid, shaking
women waiting for him in the hall. Miss White, clutching that unopened
letter, tried to tell him: Elizabeth had not been at Nannie's; she had
not come home; she had--

"Give me the letter," he said. They watched him tear it open and run
his eye over it; the next instant he had gone into his library and
slammed the door in their faces.

Outside in the hall the trembling women looked at each other in
silence. Then Nannie said with a gasp, "She must have gone to--to some
friend's."

"She has no friend she would stay all night with but you."

"Well, you see she has written to Mr. Ferguson, so there can't be
anything much the matter; he'll tell us where she is, in a minute! If
he can't, I'll make Blair go and look for her. Dear, _dear_ Miss White,
don't cry!"

"There has been an accident. Oh, how shall we tell David? He's coming
to-morrow to talk over the wedding, and--"

The library door opened: "Miss White."

"Mr. Ferguson! Where--? What--?"

"Miss White, that--creature, is never to cross my threshold again. Do
you understand me? Never again. Nannie, your brother is a scoundrel.
Read that." He flung the letter on the floor between them, and went
back to his library. They heard the key turn in the lock. Miss White
stared at the shut door blankly; Nannie picked up the letter. It was
headed "The Mayor's Office," and was dated the day before; no address
was given.

"Dear Uncle Robert: I married Blair Maitland this afternoon. David did
not want me. E.F."

They read it, looked at each other with astounded eyes, then read it
again. Nannie was the first to find words:

"I--don't understand." Miss White was dumb; her poor upper lip quivered
wildly.

"She and David are to be married," Nannie stammered. "How can she
marry--anybody else? I don't understand."

Then Miss White broke out, "_I_ understand. Oh, wicked boy! My child,
my lamb! He has killed my child Elizabeth!"

"Who has? What do you mean? What _are_ you talking about!"

"He has lured her away from David," the old woman wailed shrilly.
"Nannie, Nannie, your brother is an evil, cruel man--a false man, a
false friend. Oh, my lamb! my girl!"

Nannie, staring at her with horrified eyes, was silent. Miss White sank
down on the floor, her head on the lowest step of the staircase; she
was moaning to herself: "They quarrelled about something, and this is
what she has done! Oh, she was mad, my lamb, my poor lamb! She was
crazy; David made her angry; I don't know how. And she did this
frightful thing. Oh, I always knew she would do some terrible thing
when she was angry!"

Nannie looked at the closed door of the library, then at Miss White,
lying there, crying and moaning to herself with her poor old head on
the stairs; once she tried to speak, but Miss White did not hear her;
it was intolerable to see such pain. Blair's sister, ashamed with his
shame, stammered something, she did not know what, then opening the
front door, slipped out into the dusk. The situation was so incredible
she could not take it in. Blair and Elizabeth--_married?_ She kept
saying it over and over. But it was impossible! Elizabeth was to marry
David on her birthday. "I feel as if I were going out of my mind!"
Nannie told herself, hurrying down into Mercer's black, noisy heart.
When she reached the squalor of Maitland's shantytown and saw the great
old house on the farther side of the street, looming up on its graded
embankment, black against a smoldering red sunset, she was almost
sobbing aloud, and when Harris answered her ring, she was in such
tension that she burst out at him: "Harris! where is Mr. Blair? Do you
know? Have you heard--anything?" She seized the old man's arm and held
on to it. "Where is Mr. Blair, Harris?"

"My laws, Miss Nannie! how do I know? Ain't he at the hotel? There's a
letter come for you; it come just after you went out. Looks like it was
from him. There, now, child! Don't you take on like that! I guess if
Mr. Blair can write letters, there ain't much wrong with him."

When he brought her the letter, she made him wait there in the dimly
lighted hall until she opened it, she had a feeling that she could not
read it by herself, "Oh, Harris!" she said, and began to tremble; "it's
true! He did.... They are--oh, Harris!" And while the old man drew her
into the parlor, and scuffled about to light the gas and bring her a
glass of water, she told him, brokenly--she had to tell somebody--what
had happened. Harris's ejaculations were of sheer amazement, untouched
by disapproval: "Mr. Blair? Married to Miss Elizabeth? My land! There!
He always did git in ahead!" His astounded chuckle was as confusing as
all the rest of it. Nannie, standing under the single flaring jet of
gas, read the letter again. It was, at any rate, more enlightening than
Elizabeth's to her uncle:

"Dear Nannie: Don't have a fit when I tell you Elizabeth and I are
married. She had a row with David, and broke her engagement with him.
We were married this afternoon. I'm afraid mother won't like it,
because, I admit, it's rather sudden. But really it is the easiest way
all round, especially for--other people. It's on the principle of
having your tooth pulled _quick_!--if you have to have it pulled,
instead of by degrees. I'll amount to something, now, and that will
please mother. You tell her that I will amount to something now! I want
you to tell her about it before I write to her myself--which, of
course, I shall do to-morrow--because it will be easier for her to have
it come from you. Tell her marrying Elizabeth will make a business man
of me. You must tell her as soon as you get this, because probably it
will be in the newspapers. I feel like a cur, asking you to break it to
her, because, of course, it's sort of difficult. She won't like it,
just at first; she never likes anything I do. But it will be easier for
her to hear it first from you. Oh, you dear old Nancy!--I am nearly out
of my head, I'm so happy. . . .

"P.S. We are going off for a month or so. I'll let you know where to
address us when I know myself."

Nannie dropped down into a chair, and tried to get her wits together.
If Elizabeth had broken with David, why, then, of course, she could
marry Blair; but why should she marry him right away? "It
isn't--decent!" said Nannie. And when did she break with David? Only
day before yesterday she was expecting to marry him. "It is horrible!"
said Nannie; and her recoil of disgust for a moment included Blair. But
the habit of love made her instant with excuses: "It's worse in
Elizabeth than in him. Mamma will say so, too." Then she felt a shock
of terror: "Mamma!" She smoothed out the letter, crumpled in her
shaking hand, and read it again: "'I want you to tell her--' Oh, I
_can't!_" Nannie said; "'it will be easier for her to have it come from
you--' And what about me?" she thought, with sudden, unwonted
bitterness; "it won't be 'easy' for me."

She began to take off her things; then realized that she was shivering.
The few minutes of stirring the fire which was smoldering under a great
lump of coal between the brass jambs of the grate, gave her the
momentary relief of occupation; but when she sat down in the shifting
firelight, and held her trembling hands toward the blaze, the shame and
fright came back again. "Poor David!" she said; but even as she said it
she defended her brother; "if Elizabeth had broken with him, of course
Blair had a right to marry her. But how _could_ Elizabeth! I can never
forgive her!" Nannie thought, wincing with disgust. "To be engaged to
David one day, and marry Blair the next!--Oh, Blair ought not to have
done it," she said, involuntarily; and hid her face in her hands. But
it was so intolerable to her to blame him, that she drove her mind back
to Elizabeth's vulgarity; she could bear what had happened if she
thought of Blair as a victim and not as an offender.

"I can never feel the same to Elizabeth again," she said. Then she
remembered what her brother had bidden her do, and quailed. For a
moment she was actually sick with panic. Then she, too, knew the
impulse to get the tooth pulled "quick." She got up and went swiftly
across the hall to the dining-room. It was empty, except for Harris,
who was moving some papers from the table to set it for supper.

"Oh, Harris," she said, with a gasp of relief, "she isn't here! Harris,
I have got to tell her. You don't think she'll mind much, do you?"

But by this time Harris's chuckling appreciation of Mr. Blair's
cleverness in getting in ahead had evaporated. "My, my, my, Miss
Nannie!" he said, his weak blue eyes blinking with fright, "_I_
wouldn't tell her, not if you'd gimme the Works!"

"Harris, if you were in my place, would you try to, at supper?"

"Now, Miss, how can I tell? She'll be wild; my, my; wild!"

"I don't see why. Mr. Blair had a right to get married."

"He'd ought to have let on to her about it," Harris said.

For a few minutes Nannie was stricken dumb. Then she sought
encouragement again: "Perhaps if you had something nice for supper,
she'd be--pleased, you know, and take it better?"

"There's to be cabbage. Maybe that will soften her up. She likes it;
gor, how she likes cabbage!" said Harris, almost weeping.

"Harris, how do you think she'll take it?"

"She won't take it well," the old man said. "Miss Elizabeth was Mr.
David's girl. When I come to think it over, I don't take it well
myself, Miss Nannie. Nor you don't, neither. No, she won't take it
well."

"But Miss Elizabeth had broken with Mr. David," Nannie defended her
brother; "Mr. Blair had a right--" then she shivered. "But _I've_ got
to tell her! Oh, Harris, I think she wouldn't mind so much, if he told
her himself?"

Harris considered. "Yes, Miss, she would. Mr. Blair don't put things
right to his ma. He'd say something she wouldn't like. He'd say
something about some of his pretty truck. Them things always make her
mad. That picture he bought--the lady nursin' the baby, in your parlor;
she ain't got over that yet. Oh, no, she'll take it better from you.
You be pretty with her, Miss Nannie. She likes it when you're pretty
with her. I once seen a chippy sittin' on a cowcatcher; well, it made
me think o' you and her. You be pretty to her, and then tell her, kind
of--of easy," Harris ended weakly.

Easy! It was all very well to say "_easy_"; Harris might as well say
knock her down "easy." At that moment the back door banged.

Mrs. Maitland burst into the room in intense preoccupation; the day had
been one of absorbing interest, culminating in success, and she was
alert with satisfaction. "Harris, supper! Nannie, take my bonnet! Is
your brother to be here to-night? I've something to tell him! Where's
the evening paper?"

Nannie, breathless, took the forlorn old bonnet, and said, "I--I think
he isn't coming, Mamma." Harris came running with the newspaper; they
exchanged a frightened glance, although the mistress of the house, with
one hand on the carving-knife, was already saying, "Bless, O Lord--"

At supper Mrs. Maitland, eating--as the grocer said so long ago, "like
a day-laborer"--read her paper. Nannie watching her, ate nothing at all
and said nothing at all.

When the coarse, hurried meal was at an end, and Harris, blinking with
horrified sympathy, had shut himself into his pantry, Nannie said,
faintly, "Mamma, I have something to tell you."

"I guess it will keep, my dear, I guess it will keep! I'm too busy just
now to talk to you." She crumpled up her newspaper, flung it on the
floor, and plunged over to her desk.

Nannie looked helplessly at the back of her head, then went off to her
parlor. She sat there in the firelit darkness, too distracted and
frightened to light the gas, planning how the news must be told. At
eight o'clock there was a fluttering, uncertain ring at the front door,
and Cherry-pie came quivering in: had Nannie heard anything more? Did
she know where _they_ were? "I asked her uncle to come down here and
see if Mrs. Maitland had heard anything, but--he was dreadful, Nannie,
dreadful! He said he would see the whole family in--I can't repeat
where he said he would see them!" She broke down and cried; then,
crouching at Nannie's side, she read Blair's letter by the uncertain
light of the fire. After that, except for occasional whispered
ejaculations of terror and pain, they were silent, sitting close
together like two frightened birds; sometimes a lump of coal split
apart, or a hissing jet of gas bubbled and flamed between the bars of
the grate, and then their two shadows flickered gigantic on the wall
behind them; but except for that the room was very still. When the
older woman rose to go, Nannie clung to her:

"Oh, won't you tell her? Please--please!" Poor old Miss White could
only shake her head:

"I can't, my dear, I _can't!_ It would not be fitting. Do it now, my
dear; do it immejetly, and get it over."

When Cherry-pie had wavered back into the night, Nannie gathered up her
courage to "get it over." She went stealthily across the hall; but at
the dining-room door she stood still, her hand on the knob, not daring
to enter. Strangely enough, in the midst of the absorbing distress of
the moment, some trick of memory made her think of the little
'fraid-cat, standing outside that door, trying to find the courage to
open it and get for Blair--for whose sake she stood there now--the
money for his journey all around the world! In spite of her terror, she
smiled faintly; then she opened the door and looked in. Mrs. Maitland
was still at work, and she retreated noiselessly. At eleven she tried
again.

Except for the single gas-jet under a green shade that hung above the
big desk, the room was dark. Mrs. Maitland was in her chair, writing
rapidly; she did not hear Nannie's hesitating footstep, or know that
she was in the room, until the girl put her hand on the arm of her
chair.

"Mamma."

"Yes?"

"Mamma, I have something to--to tell you."

Mrs. Maitland signed her name, put her pen behind her ear, flung a
blotter down on the heavily written page, and rubbed her fist over it.
"Well?" she said cheerfully; and glanced up at her stepdaughter over
her steel-rimmed spectacles, with kind eyes; "what are you awake for,
at this hour?" Then she drew out a fresh sheet of paper, and began to
write: "My dear Sir:--Yours received, and con--"

"Mamma . . . Blair is married."

The pen made a quick, very slight upward movement; there was a spatter
of ink; then the powerful, beautiful hand went on evenly "--tents
noted." She rubbed the blotter over this line, put the pen in a cup of
shot, and turned around. "What did you say?"

"I said . . . Blair is married."

Silence.

"He asked me to tell you."

Silence.

"He hopes you will not be angry. He says he is going to be a--a
tremendous business man, now, because he is so happy."

Silence. Then, in a loud voice: "How long has this been going on?"

"Oh, Mamma, not any time at all, truly! I am perfectly sure it--it was
on the spur of the moment."

"Married, 'on the spur of the moment'? Good God!"

"I only mean he hasn't been planning it. He--"

"And what kind of woman has married him, 'on the spur of the moment'?"

"Oh,--Mamma . . ."

Her voice was so terrified that Mrs. Maitland suddenly looked at her.
"Don't be frightened, Nannie," she said kindly. "What is it? You have
something more to tell me, I can see that. Come, out with it! Is she
bad?"

"Oh, _Mamma!_ don't! don't! It is--she is--Elizabeth--"

Then she fled.

That night, at about two o'clock, Mrs. Maitland entered her
stepdaughter's room. Nannie was dozing, but started up in her bed, her
heart in her throat at the sight of the gaunt figure standing beside
her. Blair's mother had a candle in one hand, and the other was curved
about it to protect the bending flame from the draught of the open
door; the light flickered up on her face, and Nannie was conscious of
how deep the wrinkles were on her forehead and about her mouth.

"Nannie, tell me everything."

She put the candle on the table at the head of the bed, and sat down,
leaning forward a little, as if a weight were resting on her shoulders.
Her clasped hands, hanging loosely between her knees, seemed, in the
faint light of the small, pointed flame, curiously shrunken and
withered. "Tell me," she said heavily.

Nannie told her all she knew. It was little enough.

"How do you know that Elizabeth had broken with David Richie?" her
stepmother said. Nannie silently handed her Blair's letter. Mrs.
Maitland took up her candle, and holding it close to the flimsy sheet,
read her son's statement. Then she handed it back. "I see; some sort of
a squabble; and Blair--" She stopped, almost with a groan. "His
_friend,_" she said, and her chin shook; "your father's son!" she said
brokenly.

"Mamma!" Nannie protested--she was sitting up in bed, her hair in its
two braids falling over her white night-dress, her eyes, so girlish, so
frightened, fixed on that quivering iron face; "Mamma! remember, he was
in love with Elizabeth long ago, before David ever thought--"

"In love with Elizabeth? He was never in love with anybody but himself."

"Oh, Mamma, please forgive him! It's done now, and it can't be undone."

"What has my forgiveness got to do with it? It's done, as you say. It
can't be undone. Nothing can be undone. Nothing; nothing. All the years
that remain cannot undo the years that I have been building this up."

Nannie stared at her blankly. And suddenly the hard face softened. "Lie
down. Go to sleep." She put her big roughened hand gently on the girl's
head. "Go to sleep, my child." She took up her candle, and a moment
later Nannie heard the stairs creak under her heavy tread.

Sarah Maitland did not sleep that night; but after the first outburst,
when Nannie had panted out, "It is--Elizabeth," and then fled, there
had been no anger. When the door closed behind her stepdaughter,
Blair's mother put her hand over her eyes and sat perfectly still at
her desk. _Blair was married._ And he had not told her,--that was the
first thought. Then, into the pitiful, personal dismay of mortification
and wounded love, came the sword-thrust of a second thought: he had
stolen his friend's wife.

It was not a moment for nice discriminations; the fact that Elizabeth
had not been married to David seemed immaterial. This was because, to
Sarah Maitland's generation, the word, in this matter of getting
married, was so nearly as good as the bond, that a broken engagement
was always a solemn, and generally a disgraceful thing. So, when she
said that Blair had "stolen David's wife," she cringed with shame. What
would his father say to such conduct! In what had she been wanting that
Herbert's son could disgrace his father's name--and hate his mother?
For of course he must hate her to shut her out of his life, and not
tell her he was going to get married! Her mind seemed to oscillate
between the abstraction of his dishonor and a more intimate and
primitive pain,--the sense of personal slight. "Oh, my son, my son, my
son," she said. She was bending over, her elbows on her knees, her
furrowed forehead resting on her clenched hands; her whole big body
quivered. He had shut her out.... He hated her.... He had never loved
her.... "My son! my son!" Then a sharp return of memory to the shame of
his conduct whipped her to her feet and set her walking about the room.
It was long after midnight before she said to herself that the first
thing to do was to learn exactly what had happened. Nannie must tell
her. It was then that she went up to her stepdaughter's room.

When Nannie had told her, or rather when Blair's letter had made the
thing shamefully clear, she went down-stairs and faced the situation.
Who was responsible for it? Who was to blame--before she could add, in
her mind, "Elizabeth or Blair?" some trick of memory finished her
question: who was to blame--"_this man or his parents?_" The suggestion
of personal responsibility was like a blow in the face. She flinched
under it, and sat down abruptly, breathing hard. How could it be
possible that she was to blame? What had she left undone that other
mothers did? She had loved him; no mother could have loved him more
than she did!--and he had never cared for her love. In what had she
been lacking? He had had a religious bringing up; she had begun to take
him to church when he was four years old. He had had every educational
opportunity. All that he wanted he had had. She had never stinted him
in anything. Could any mother have done more? Could Herbert himself
have done more? No; she could not reproach herself for lack of love.
She had loved him, so that she had spared him everything--even desire!
All that he could want was his before he could ask for it.

In the midst of this angry justifying of herself, tramping up and down
the long room, she stopped suddenly and looked about her; where was her
knitting? Her thoughts were in such a distracted tangle that the
accustomed automatic movement of her fingers was imperative. She tucked
the grimy pink ball of zephyr under her arm, and tightening her fingers
on the bent and yellowing old needles, began again her fierce pacing up
and down, up and down. But the room seemed to cramp her, and by and by
she went across the hall into Nannie's parlor, where the fire had
sprung into cheerful flames; here she paused for a while, standing with
one foot on the fender, knitting rapidly, her unseeing eyes fixed on
the needles. Yes; Blair had had no cares, no responsibilities,--and as
for money! With a wave of resentment, she thought that she would find
out in the morning from her bookkeeper just how much money she had
given him since he was twenty-one. It was then that a bleak
consciousness, like the dull light of a winter dawn, slowly began to
take possession of her: _money_. She had given him money; but what else
had she given him? Not companionship; she had never had the time for
that; besides, he would not have wanted it; she knew, inarticulately,
that he and she had never spoken the same language. Not sympathy in his
endless futilities; what intelligent person could sympathize with a man
who found serious occupation in buying--well, china beetles? Or
pictures! She glanced angrily over at that piece of blackened canvas by
the door, its gold frame glimmering faintly in the firelight. He had
spent five thousand dollars on a picture that you could cover with your
two hands! Yes; she had given him money; but that was all she had given
him. Money was apparently the only thing they had in common.

Then came another surge of resentment,--that pitiful resentment of the
wounded heart; Blair had never cared how hard she worked to make money
for him! It occurred to her, perhaps for the first time in her life,
that she worked very hard; she said to herself that sometimes she was
tired. Yes, she had never thought of it before, but she was sometimes
very tired. But what did Blair care for that? What did he care how hard
she worked? Even as she said it, with that anger which is a confession
of something deeper than anger, her mind retorted that if he had never
cared how hard she worked for their money, she had never cared how
easily he spent it. She had been irritated by his way of spending it,
and she had been contemptuous; but she had never really cared. So it
appeared that they did not have even money in common. The earning had
been all hers; the spending had been all his. If she had liked to buy
gimcracks, they would have had that in common, and perhaps he would
have been fond of her? "But I never knew how to be a fool," she
thought, simply. Yes; she didn't know how to spend, she only knew how
to earn. Of course, if he had had to earn what he spent, they would
have had work as a bond of sympathy. Work! Blair had never understood
that work was the finest thing in the world. She wondered why he had
not understood it, when she herself had worked so hard--worked, in
fact, so that he might be beyond the need of working. As she said that,
her fingers were suddenly rigid on her needles; it seemed as if her
soul had felt a jolt of dismay; why didn't her son understand the joy
of work? Because she had spared him all necessity for it!--for the work
she had given him to do was not real, and they both knew it. Spared
him? Robbed him! "_Who hath sinned, this man or his parents?_" "This
man," her selfish, indolent, dishonorable son, or she herself, whose
hurry to possess the one thing she wanted, that finest thing in the
world, Work!--had pushed him into the road of pleasant, shameful
idleness, the road that always leads to dishonor? Good God! what a fool
she had been not to make him work.

Sarah Maitland, tramping back and forth, the ball of pink worsted
dragging behind her in a grimy tangle, thought these things with a
sledge-hammer directness that spared herself nothing. She wanted the
truth, no matter how it made her cringe to find it! She would hammer
out her very heart to find the truth. And the truth she found was that
she had never allowed Blair to meet the negations of life--to meet
those _No's_, which teach the eternal affirmations of character. He had
had everything; he had done nothing. The result was as inevitable as
the action of a law of nature! In the illuminating misery of this
terrible night, she saw that she had given her son, as Robert Ferguson
had said to her once, "fullness of bread and abundance of idleness."
And now she was learning what bread and idleness together must always
make of a man.

Walking up and down the dimly lighted room, she had a vision of her sin
that made her groan. _She_ had made Blair what he was: because it had
been easy for her to make things easy for him, she had given him his
heart's desire, and brought leanness withal to his soul. In satisfying
her own hunger for work, she had forgotten to give it to him, and he
had starved for it! She had left, by this time, far behind her the
personal affront to her of his reserves; she took meekly the knowledge
that he did not love her: she even thought of his marriage as
unimportant, or as important only because it was a symptom of a
condition for which she was responsible. And having once realized and
accepted this fact, there was only one solemn question in her mind:

"What am I going to do about it?"

For she believed, as other parents have believed before her--and
probably will go on believing as long as there are parents and
sons--she believed that she could, in some way or other, by the very
strength of her agonizing love, force into her son's soul from the
outside that Kingdom of God which must be within. "Oh, what am I going
to do?" she said to herself.

She stood still and covered her face with her hands. "God," she said,
"don't punish him! It's my fault; punish me."

Perhaps she had never really prayed before.



CHAPTER XX

Robert Ferguson, in his library, and poor Miss White in the hall,
listened with tense nerves for the wheels of the carriage that was to
bring David Richie "to breakfast."

"Send him in to me," Mr. Ferguson had said; and then had shut himself
into his library.

Miss White was quivering with terror when at last she heard the
carriage door bang. David came leaping up the steps, his face rosy as a
girl's in the raw morning air--it was a lowering Mercer morning, with
the street lamps burning at eight o'clock in a murk of smoke and fog.
He raked the windows with a smiling glance, and then stood, laughing
for sheer happiness, waiting for _her_ to open the door to him.

David had had a change of spirit, if not of mind, since he wrote his
eminently sensible letter to Elizabeth. He had been able to scrape up
enough money of his own to pay at least one of his bills, and things
had gone better with him at the hospital, so he no longer felt the
unreasonable humiliation which Elizabeth's proposal had accentuated in
him. The reproach which his mood had read into her letter had vanished
after a good night's sleep and a good day's work; now, it seemed to him
only an exquisite expression of most lovely love, which brought the
color into his face, and made his lips burn at the thought of her lips!
Of course her idea of marrying on her little money was not to be
thought of--he and Mr. Ferguson would laugh over it together; but what
an angel she was to think of it! All that night, in the journey over
the mountains, he had lain in his berth and looked out at the stars,
cursing himself joyously for a dumb fool who had had no words to tell
her how he loved her for that sweet, divinely foolish proposal, which
was "not to be thought of"! "But when I see her, I'll make her
understand; when I hold her in my arms--" he told himself, with all the
passion of twenty-six years which had no easy outlet of speech.

When Robert Ferguson's door opened, his heart was on his lips. "Eliz--"
he began, and stopped short. "Oh, Miss White. Good morning, Miss
White!" And before poor Cherry-pie knew it, he had given her a great
hug; "Where is Elizabeth? Not out of bed yet? Oh, the lazybones!" He
was so eager that, until he was fairly in the hall, with the front door
shut, and his overcoat almost off, he did not notice her silence. Then
he gave her a startled look. "Miss White! is anything the matter? Is
Elizabeth ill?"

"No; oh, no," she said breathlessly; "but--Mr. Ferguson will tell you.
No, she is not sick. Go, he will tell you. In the library."

The color dropped out of his face as a flag drops to half-mast. "She is
dead," he said, with absolute finality in his voice. "When did she
die?" He stood staring straight ahead of him at the wall, ghastly with
fright.

"No! no! She is not dead; she is well. Quite well; oh, very well. Go,
David, my dear boy--oh, my _dear_ boy! Go to Mr. Ferguson. He will tell
you. But it is--terrible, David."

He went, dazed, and saying, "Why, but what is it? If she is not--not--"

Robert Ferguson met him on the threshold of the library, drew him in,
closed the door, and looked him full in the face. "No, she isn't dead,"
he said; "I wish to God she were." Then he struck him hard on the
shoulder. "David," he said harshly, "be a man; they've played a damned
dirty trick on you. Yesterday she married Blair Maitland.... Take it
like a man, and be thankful you are rid of her." He wheeled about and
stood with his back to his niece's lover. He had guided the inevitable
sword, but he could not witness the agony of the wound. There was
complete stillness in the room; the ticking of the clock suddenly
hammered in Robert Ferguson's ears; a cinder fell softly from the
grate. Then he heard a long-drawn breath:

"Tell me, if you please, exactly what has happened."

Elizabeth's uncle, still with his back turned, told him what little he
knew. "I don't know where they are," he ended; "I don't want to know.
The scoundrel wrote to Nannie, but he gave no address. Elizabeth's
letter to me is on my table; read it."

He heard David move over to the library table; he heard the rustle of
the sheet of paper as it was drawn out of the envelope. Then silence
again, and the clamor of the clock. He turned round, in time to see
David stagger slightly and drop into a chair; perspiration had burst
out on his forehead. He was so white around his lips that Robert
Ferguson knew that for a moment his body shared the awful astonishment
of his soul. "There's some whiskey over there," he said, nodding toward
a side table. David shook his head. Then, still shuddering with that
dreadful sickness, he spoke.

"She ... has married--Blair? _Blair_?" he repeated, uncomprehendingly.
He put his hand up to his head with that strange, cosmic gesture which
horrified humanity has made ever since it was capable of feeling horror.

"Yes," Mr. Ferguson said grimly; "yes, Blair--your friend! Well, you
are not the first man who has had a sweetheart--and a 'friend.' A wife,
even--and a 'friend.' And then discovered that he had neither wife nor
friend. Damn him."

"Damn him?" said David, and burst into a scream of laughter. He was on
his feet now, but he rocked a little on his shaking legs. "Damnation is
too good for him; may God--" In the outburst of fury that followed,
even Robert Ferguson quailed and put up a protesting hand.

"David--David," he stammered, actually recoiling before that storm of
words. "David, he will get what he deserves. She was worthless!" David
stopped short. At the mention of Elizabeth, his hurricane of rage
dropped suddenly into the flat calm of absolute bewilderment. "Do not
speak of Elizabeth in that way, in my presence," he said, panting.

"She is her mother's daughter! She is bad, through and through. She--"

"Stop!" David cried, violently; "what in hell do you keep on saying
that for? I will not listen--I will not hear." . . . He was beside
himself; he did not know what he said.

But Robert Ferguson was silenced. When David spoke again, it was in
gasps, and his words came thickly as if his tongue were numb:
"What--what are we to do?"

"Do? There is nothing to do, that I can see."

"She must be taken away from him!"

"Nobody knows where they are. But if I did know, I wouldn't lift my
hand to get her away. She has made her bed--she can lie in it, so far
as I am concerned."

"But she didn't!" David groaned; "you don't understand. I am the one to
curse, not Elizabeth."

"What are you talking about?"

"I did it."

The older man looked at him with almost contemptuous incredulity. "My
dear fellow, what is the use of denying facts? You can't make black
white, can you? Day before yesterday you loved this--this," he seemed
to search for some epithet; glanced at David, and said, almost meekly:
"girl. Day before yesterday she expected to marry you. To-day she is
the wife of another man. Have you committed any crime in the last three
days which justifies that?"

"Yes," David said, in a smothered voice, "I have." Then he handed back
to the shamed and angry man the poor, pitiful little letter. "Don't you
see? She says, 'David didn't want'"--he broke off, unable to speak. A
moment later he added, "'E. _F_.' She isn't used to the--the other,
yet," he said, again with that bewildered look.

But Elizabeth's uncle was too absorbed in his own humiliation to see
confession in that tragic initial. "What is that nonsense about your
not wanting her?"

"She thought so. She had reason to think so."

"You had better explain yourself, David."

"She wrote to me," David said, after a pause; "she told me she would
have that money of hers on her birthday. She said we could be married
then." He reddened to his temples. "She asked me to marry her that day;
_asked_ me, you understand." He turned on his heel and went over to the
window; he stood there for some minutes with his back to Robert
Ferguson. The green door in the wall between the two gardens was
swinging back and forth on sagging hinges; David watched it with
unseeing eyes; suddenly a sooty pigeon came circling down and lit just
inside the old arbor, which was choked with snow shovelled from the
flagstones of the path. Who can say why, watching the pigeon's
teetering walk on the soot-specked snow, David should smell the
fragrance of heliotrope hot in the sunshine, and see Elizabeth drawing
Blair's ring from her soft young bosom? He turned back to her uncle,
with a rigid face: "Well, _I--I_ said--'no' to her letter. Do you
understand? I told her 'no.' '_No_,' to a girl like Elizabeth! Because,
in my--my filthy pride--" he paused, picked up a book, turned it over
and over, and then put it straight edge to edge with the table. His
hand was trembling violently. When he could speak again it was in a
whisper. "My cursed pride. I didn't want to marry until I could do
everything. I wasn't willing to be under obligations; I told her so. I
said--'no.' It made her angry. It would make any girl angry,--but
Elizabeth! Why, she used to bite herself when she was angry. When she
is angry, she will do--anything. _She has done it._ My God!"

Robert Ferguson could not look at him. He made a pretense of taking up
some papers from his desk, and somehow or other got himself out of the
room. He found Miss White in the hall, clasping and unclasping her
little thin old hands.

"How did he--?" she tried to say, but her poor nibbling lip could not
finish the question.

"How does a man usually take a stab in the back?" he flung at her.
"Don't be a--" He stopped short. "I beg your pardon, Miss White." But
she was too heartbroken to resent the rudeness of his suffering.

After that they stood there waiting, without speaking to each other.
Once Mr. Ferguson made as if he would go back to the library, but
stopped with his hand on the door-knob; once Miss White said brokenly,
"The boy _must_ have some breakfast"; but still they left him to
himself.

After a while, Cherry-pie sat down on the stairs and cried softly.
Robert Ferguson walked about; now out to the front door, with a feint
of looking at the thermometer in the vestibule; now the length of the
hall, into which the fog had crept until the gas burned in a hazy ring;
now into the parlor--from which he instantly fled as if a serpent had
stung him: her little basket of embroidery, overflowing with its pretty
foolishness, stood on the table.

When David Richie opened the library door and came into the hall he was
outwardly far steadier than they. "I think I'll go to the depot now,
sir. No, thank you, Miss White; I'll get something to eat there."

"Oh, but my dear boy," she said, trying to swallow her tears, "now
do--now don't--I can have your breakfast ready immejetly, and--"

"Let him alone," Mr. Ferguson said; "he'll eat when he feels like it.
David, must you go back this morning? I wish you'd stay."

"I have to go back, thank you, sir."

"You may find a letter from her at home; she didn't know you were to be
here to-day."

"I may," David said; and some dull note in his voice told Robert
Ferguson that the young man's youth was over.

"My boy," he said, "forget her! You are well rid of--" he stopped
short, with an apprehensive glance; but David made no protest;
apparently he was not listening.

"I shall take the express," he said; "I must see my mother, before I go
to the hospital to-night. She must be told. She will be--sorry."

"Your mother!" said Robert Ferguson. "Well, David, thank God you have
loved one woman who is good!"

"I have loved _two_ women who are good," David said. He turned and took
Miss White's poor old, shaking hands in his. "When she comes back--"

"Comes back?" the older man cried out, furiously; "she shall never come
back to this house!"

David did not notice him: "Miss White, listen. When you see her, tell
her I understand. Just tell her, 'David says, "I understand."' And Miss
White, say: 'He says, try to forgive him.'"

She sobbed so, that instinctively, but without tenderness, he put his
arm about her; his face was dull to the point of indifference. "Don't
cry, Miss White. And be good to her; but I know you will be good to
her!" He picked up his hat, put his coat over his arm, and stretched
out his hand to Robert Ferguson with a steady smile. "Good-by, sir."
Then the smile dropped and left the amazed and naked face quivering
before their eyes. Through the wave of merciful numbness which had
given him his hard composure, agony stabbed him. "For God's sake, don't
be hard on her. She has enough to bear! And blame me--_me_. I did it--"

He turned and fled out of the house, and the two unhappy people who
loved Elizabeth looked at each other speechlessly.



CHAPTER XXI

Except in his gust of primitive fury when he first knew that he had
been robbed, and in that last breaking down in the hall, David knew
what had happened to him only, if one may say so, with the outside of
his mind. Even while he was talking with comparative calmness to Mr.
Ferguson, his thoughts were whirling, and veering, in dizzying
circles--bewildered rage, pity, fright, revolt,--and then back again to
half-dazed fury. But each time he tried to realize exactly what had
happened, something in him seemed to swerve, like a shying horse; he
could not get near enough to the fact, to understand it. In a numb way
he must have recognized this, because in those moments by himself in
the library he deliberately shut a door upon the blasting truth. Later,
of course, he would have to open it and look in upon the ruin of his
life. Somewhere back in his thoughts he was aware that this moment of
opening the Door would come, and come soon. But while he talked to
Robert Ferguson, and tried, dully, to comfort Miss White, and even as
he went down the steps up which he had bounded not an hour before, he
was holding that moment off. His one clear feeling was a desire to be
by himself. Then, he promised himself, when he was alone, he would open
the Door, and face the Thing that lay behind it. But as he walked along
the street, the Door was closed, bolted, locked, and his back was
against it. "Elizabeth has married Blair," he said to himself, softly.
The words seemed to have no meaning. "Elizabeth has married Blair," he
insisted again; but was only cognizant that the blur of fog around a
street-lamp showed rainbow lines in a wonderful pattern. "They are all
at right angles," he said; "that's interesting," and looked ahead to
see if the next light repeated the phenomenon. Then automatically he
took out his watch: "Nine-thirty. Elizabeth has married Blair. The
train leaves at ten. I had better be going to the depot. _Elizabeth has
married Blair_." And he walked on, looking at the lamps burning in the
fog. Then suddenly, as if the closed Door showed a crack of light, he
decided that he would not go back on the express; an inarticulate
impulse pierced him to the quick,--the impulse to resist, to fight, to
save himself and her! But almost with the rending pang, the Door
slammed to again and the impulse blurred--like the street-lamps. Still,
the impetus of it was sufficient to keep him from turning toward the
railroad station.

"Hello!" some one said; Harry Knight was standing, grinning, directly
in front of him; "you needn't run down a friend of your youth, even if
you don't condescend to live in Mercer any more!"

"Oh, hello," David heard himself say.

"When did you come to town? I'd ask you to lunch with me, but I suppose
your lady-love would object. Wait till you get to be an old married man
like me; then she'll be glad to get rid of you!" David knew that he
gave the expected laugh, and that he said it was a foggy day, and
Philadelphia had a better climate than Mercer; ("he hasn't heard it
yet," he was saying to himself) "yes, dark old hole; I'm going back
to-night. Yes; awfully sorry I can't--good-by--good-by. (He'll know by
to-night.") He did not notice when Knight seemed to melt into the mist;
nor was he conscious that he had begun to walk again--on, and on, and
on. Suddenly he paused before the entrance of a saloon, which bore,
above "XXX Pale Ale," in gilt letters on the window, the sign "Landis'
Hotel."

He was aware of overpowering fatigue. Why not go in here and sit down?
He would not meet any one he knew in such a place. "Better take a room
for an hour or two," he thought. He knew that he must be alone to open
that Door, but he did not say so; instead his mind, repeating,
parrot-like, "Elizabeth has married Blair," made its arrangements for
privacy, as steadily as a surgeon might make arrangements for a mortal
operation.

As he entered the hotel, a woman on her hands and knees, slopping a wet
cloth over the black and white marble floor of the office, looked up at
him, and moved her bucket of dirty water to let him pass. "Huh! He's
got a head on him this morning," she thought knowingly. But the clerk
at the desk gave him an uneasy glance. Men with tragic faces and
bewildered eyes are not welcomed by hotel clerks.

"Say," he said, pleasantly enough, as he handed out a key, "don't you
want a pick-me-up? You're kind o' white round the gills."

David nodded. "Where's the bar?" he said thickly. He found his way to
it, and while he waited for his whisky he lifted a corkscrew from the
counter and looked at it closely. "That's something new, isn't it?" he
said to the man who was rinsing out a glass for him; "I never saw a
corkscrew (Elizabeth has married Blair) with that hook thing on the
side." He took his two fingers of whisky, and followed the bell-boy to
a room.

"I don't like that young feller's looks," the clerk told the
scrub-woman; "we don't want any more free reading notices in the papers
of this hotel being a roadhouse on the way to heaven." And when the
bell-boy who had shown the unwelcome guest to his room came back to his
bench in the office, he interrogated him, with a grin that was not
altogether facetious: "Any revolvers lyin' round up in No. 20, or any
of those knobby blue bottles?"

"Naw," said the bell-boy, disgustedly, "ner no dimes, neither."

David, in the small, unfriendly hotel bedroom that looked out upon
squalid back yards and smelled as if its one window had not been opened
for a year, was at last alone. Down in the alley, a hand-organ was
shrilling monotonously: Kafoozleum--Kafoozleum.

He looked about him for a minute, then tried to open the window, but
the sash stuck; he shook it violently, then shoved it up with such
force that a cracked pane of glass clattered out; a gust of raw air
came into the stagnant mustiness of the narrow room. After that he sat
down and drew a long breath. Then he opened the Door....

Down-stairs the clerk was sharing his uneasiness with the barkeeper.
"He came in looking like death. Wild-eyed he was. Mrs. Maloney there
will tell you. She came up to me and remarked on it. No, sir, men, like
that ain't healthy for this hotel."

"That's so," the barkeeper agreed. "Why didn't you tell him you were
full up?"

"Well, he seemed the gentleman," the clerk said. "I didn't just see my
way--"

"Huh!" the other flung back at him resentfully. "'Tain't only a poor
man that puts his hand in the till, and then hires a room in a
hotel"--he made a significant gesture and rolled up his eyes.

"He didn't register," the clerk said. "Only wanted the room for a
couple of hours."

"A couple of hours is long enough to--" said the barkeeper.

"Good idea to send a boy up to ask if he rung?"

"_I'd_ have sent him ten minutes ago," the barkeeper said scornfully.

So it was that David, staring in at his ruin, was interrupted more than
once that morning: "No, I didn't ring. Clear out." And again: "No; I'm
not waiting for anybody. Shut that door." But the third time he was
frantic: "Damn it, if you knock on my door again I'll kick you
down-stairs! Do you understand?" And at that the office subsided.

"They don't do it when they're swearing mad," the barkeeper said. "I
guess his girl has given him the mitten. You ladies are always making
trouble for us, Mrs. Maloney. You drive us to suicide for love of you!"
Mrs. Maloney simperingly admitted her baleful influence. "As for you,"
he jeered at the clerk, "you're fresh, I guess. That little affair in
18 got on your nerves."

"Well, if you'd found him as I did, I guess it would 'a' got on your
nerves," the clerk said, affrontedly; he added under his breath that
they could kill themselves all over the house, and he wouldn't lift a
finger to stop 'em. "You don't get no thanks," he told himself
gloomily. But after that, No. 20 was not disturbed.

At first, when David opened his closed Door and looked in, there had
been the shock again. He was stunned with incredulous astonishment.
Then his mind cleared. With the clearing came once more that organic
anger of the robbed man; an anger that has in it the uncontrollable
impulse to regain his property. It could not be--this thing that had
happened. It should not be!

He would see her; he would take her. As for _him_--David's sinewy
fingers closed as talons might close into the living flesh of a man's
neck. He knew the lust of murder, and he exulted in it. Yet even as he
exulted, the baseness of what Blair had done was so astounding, that,
sitting there in the dreary room, his hands clenched in his pockets,
his legs stretched out in front of him, David Richie actually felt a
sort of impersonal amazement that had nothing to do with anger. For one
instant the unbelievableness of Blair's dishonor threw him back into
that clamoring confusion from which he had escaped since he opened the
Door. Blair must have been in love with her! Had Elizabeth suspected
it? She certainly had never hinted it to him; why not? Some girlish
delicacy? But Blair--Blair, a dishonorable man? In the confounding
turmoil of this uprooting of old admirations, he was conscious of the
hand-organ down in the alley, pounding out its imbecile refrain. He
even found himself repeating the meaningless words:

   "In ancient days there lived a Turk,
   A horrid beast within the East, ......
   Oh, Kafoozleum, Kafoozleum"--

His mind righted itself; he came back to facts, and to the simple
incisive question: what must he do? It was not until the afternoon
that, by one tortuous and torturing line of reasoning after another, he
came to know that, as her uncle had said, for the present he could do
nothing.

"Nothing?" At first, David had laughed savagely; he would turn the
world upside down before he would leave her in her misery! For that she
was in misery he never doubted; nor did he stop to ask himself whether
she had repented her madness, he only groaned. He saw, or thought he
saw, the whole thing. There was not one doubt, not one poisonous
suspicion of Elizabeth herself. That she was disloyal to him never
entered his head. To David she was only in a terrible trap, from which,
at any cost, she must be rescued. That her own mad temper had brought
her to such a pass was neither here nor there; it had nothing to do
with the matter in hand, namely her rescue--and then the killing of the
man who had trapped her! It came into David's head--like a lamp moving
toward him through a mist--that perhaps she had written to him? He had
not really grasped the idea when Robert Ferguson suggested it; but now
he was suddenly certain that a letter must be awaiting him in
Philadelphia! Perhaps in it she called on him to come and help her? The
thought was like a whip. He forgot his desire to kill Blair; he leaped
to his feet, fumbling in his pocket for a time-table; then realized
that there was no train across the mountains until night. Should he
telegraph his mother to open any letter from Elizabeth, and wire him
where she was? No; even in the whirl of his perplexity, he knew he
could not let any other eyes than his own see what, in her abasement,
Elizabeth must have written. He began to pace frantically up and down;
then stood and looked out of the window, beating his mind back to
calmness,--for he must be calm. He must think what could be done. He
would get the letter as soon as he reached home; until he got it and
learned where she was, the only thing to do was to decide how she
should be saved.

And so it was that, not allowing himself to dip down into that
elemental rage of the wronged man, not even daring to think of his own
incredible blunder which had kindled her crazy anger, still less
venturing to let his thought rest on the suffering that had come to
her, he kept his mind steadily on that one imperative question: _what
was to be done?_ At first the situation seemed almost simple: she must
leave Blair instantly. "To-day!" he said to himself, striking the
rickety table before him with his fist; "to-day!" Next, the marriage
must be annulled. That was all; annulled! These were the premises from
which he started. All that long, dark morning, well into the afternoon,
he followed blind alleys of thought, ending always in the same
_impasse_--there was nothing he could do. He did not even know where
she was, until the letter in Philadelphia should tell him,--at that
thought he looked at his watch again. Oh, how many endless hours before
he could go and get that letter! And after all, she was Blair
Maitland's wife. Suppose she did leave him, would the swine give her
her freedom? Not without long, involved processes of law; he knew his
man well enough to know that. Yes, there would have to be dreadful
publicity, heart-breaking humiliation for his poor, mad darling. She
would have to face those things. Oh, if he only knew where she was, so
that he could go that moment and help her to take that first step of
flight. She must go at once to his mother. Yes, his mother would
shelter her from the beast. If he could only get word to her, to go,
_instantly_, to his mother. But he did not know where she was! He
cursed himself for not having taken the ten o'clock express! He could
have been at home that night, had her letter, and started out again to
go to her. As it was, nothing could be done until to-morrow morning.
Then he would know what to do, because then he would know where she
was. But meantime--meantime...

There is no doubt that when the frantic man realized his befogging
ignorance, and found himself involved in this dreadful delay, the hotel
clerk's apprehensions were, at least for wild moments, justified. But
only for moments--Elizabeth was to be rescued! David could not consider
escape from his own misery until that task had been accomplished. Yet
consider: his girl, his woman--another man's; and he helpless! And
suppose he did rescue her; suppose he did drag her from the arms of the
thief who had been his friend--could it ever be the same? Never. Never.
Never. His Elizabeth was dead. The woman whom he meant to have
yet--somehow, sometime, somewhere; the woman whom Blair Maitland had
filched from him, was not his Elizabeth. The rose, trampled in the
mire, may be lifted, it may be revived, it may be fragrant--but it has
known the mire!

There were, in the early darkening afternoon, crazy moments for David
Richie. Moments of murderous hate of Blair, moments of unbearable
consciousness of his own responsibility, moments of almost repulsion
for the tragic, marred creature he loved; and at this last appalling
revelation to himself of his own possibilities--moments of absolute
despair. And when one of those despairing moments came, he put his head
down on the table, on his folded arms, and cried for his mother. He
cried hard, like a child: "Materna!"

And so it was that he arose and went to his mother.



CHAPTER XXII

When, after his interview with David, Robert Ferguson went into Mrs.
Maitland's office at the Works, he looked older by twenty years than
when he had left it the night before. Sarah Maitland, sitting at her
desk, heard his step, and wheeled round to greet him.

"Better shut that door," she said briefly; and he gave the door in the
glass partition a shove with his foot. Then they looked at each other.
"Well," she said; and stretched out her hand. "We're in the same box. I
guess we'd better shake hands." She grinned with pain, but she forced
her grunt of a laugh. "What's your story? Mine is only his explanation
to Nannie."

"Mine isn't even that. She merely wrote me she had married him; that
was all. Miss White told me what he wrote to Nannie. What do you know
about it?"

"That's all I know," she said, and gave him Blair's note.

He read it, and handed it back in silence.

"Well, what are you going to do?" she asked.

"Do? There's nothing to do. I'm done with her!"

"He's my son," Sarah Maitland said. "I have got to do something."

"But there's nothing to be done," he pointed out; it was not like this
ruthless woman to waste time crying over spilt milk. "They are both of
age, and they are married; that's all there is to it. I went into the
mayor's office and found the registry. The marriage is all right so far
as that goes. As for David--men don't go out with a gun or a horsewhip
in these fine times. He won't do anything. For that matter, he is well
rid of her. I told him so. I might have added that the best thing a
jilted man can do is to go down on his knees and thank God that he's
been jilted; I know what I'm talking about! As for your son--" he
stopped.

"Yes," she said, "_my son?_" And even in his fury, Robert Ferguson felt
a pang at the sight of her torn and ravaged face that quivered so that
he turned his eyes away out of sheer decency. "I must do something for
my son. And I think I know what it will be." She bit her forefinger,
frowning with thought. "I think I know ... I have not done right by
Blair."

"No, you haven't," he said dryly. "Have you just discovered that? But I
don't see what you or I or God Almighty can do _now_! They're married."

"Oh, I can't do anything about this marriage," she said, with a gesture
of indifference; "but that's not the important thing."

"Not important? What do you mean?"

"I mean that the important thing is to know what made Blair behave in
this way; and then cure him."

"Cure him! There's no cure for rottenness." He was so beside himself
with pain that he forgot that she was a woman, and Blair's mother.

"I blame myself for Blair's conduct," she said.

"Oh, Elizabeth is as bad as he is!" But he waited for her contradiction.

It did not come. "Probably worse." Involuntarily he raised a protesting
hand.

"But I mean to forgive her," said Sarah Maitland, with cold
determination.

"Forgive Elizabeth?" he said, angrily, and his anger was the very small
end of the wedge of his own forgiveness; "forgive _her_? It strikes me
the boot is on the other leg, Mrs. Maitland."

"Oh, well," she said, "what difference does it make? I guess it's a
case of the pot and the kettle. I'm not blaming your girl overmuch;
although a bad woman is always worse than a bad man. In this case,
Elizabeth acted from hate, and Blair from love; the result is the same,
of course, but one motive is worse than the other. But never mind
that--Blair has got her, and he will be faithful to her; for a while,
anyhow. And Elizabeth will get used to him--that's Nature, and Nature
is bigger than a girl's first fancy. So if David doesn't interfere--you
think he won't? you don't know human nature, Friend Ferguson! David
isn't a saint--at least I hope he isn't; I don't care much about
twenty-seven-year-old male saints. David may not be able to interfere,
but he'll try to, somehow. You wait! As for Blair, as I say, if David
doesn't put his finger in the pie, Blair isn't hopeless."

"I'm glad you think so."

"I _do_ think so. Blair is young yet; and if she costs him something,
he may value her--and I think I can manage to make her cost him
something! A man doesn't value what comes cheap; and all his life
everything has come cheap to Blair."

"I don't see what you're driving at."

"Just this," she explained; "Blair has had everything he wanted,--oh,
yes, yes; it's my fault!" she struck an impatient fist upon the arm of
her chair. "I told you it was my fault. Don't take precious time to
argue over that. It is _all_ my fault. There! will that satisfy you?
I've given him everything. So he thought he could have everything. He
doesn't know the meaning of 'no.' He has got to learn. I shall teach
him. I have thought it all out. I'm going to make a man of him."

"How?" said Robert Ferguson.

"I haven't got the details clear in my mind yet, but this is the gist
of it: _NO money but what he earns_."

"No money?"

"After this, it will be 'root, hog, or die.'"

"But Blair can't root," her superintendent said, fair in spite of
himself. And at that her face lighted with a sort of awful purpose.

"Then he must die! Ferguson, don't you see--_he has begun to die
already?_" Again her face quivered. "Look at this business of taking
David's wife--oh, I know, they weren't married yet, but the principle
is the same; what do you call that but dying? Look at his whole life:
what has he done? Received--received! Given nothing. Ferguson, you
can't fool God: you've got to give something! A privilege means an
obligation--the obligation of sweat! Sweat of your body or your brains.
Blair has never sweated. He's always had something for nothing. That is
the one immorality that damns. It has damned Blair. Of course, I ought
to have realized it before, but I--I suppose I was too busy. Yes; I
tell you, if Blair had had to work for what he's got, as you and I have
worked for what we've got, he wouldn't be where he is to-day. You know
that! He'd have had something else to think of than satisfying his
eyes, or his stomach, or his lust. He'd have been decent."

"He might have been," Robert Ferguson said drearily, "but I doubt it.
Anyway, you can't, by making him earn or go without, or anything else,
give David's girl back to him."

"No," she said heavily, and for a moment her passion of hope flagged;
"no, I can't do that. But I shall try to make it up to David in some
way, of course. Where is he?" she broke off.

He told her briefly of David's arrival and departure. "He's gone back
to his mother," he ended; "she'll comfort him." Then, with a bark of
anger, he added, "Mrs. Richie was always saying that Elizabeth would
turn out well. I wonder what she will say now? I knew better; her
mother, my brother Arthur's wife, was--no good. Yet I let Mrs. Richie
bamboozle me into building on her. I always said Life shouldn't play
the same trick on me twice--but it has done it! It has done it. My
heart was set on Elizabeth. Yes, Mrs. Maitland, I've been fooled
again--but so have you."

"Nothing of the kind! I never was fooled before," Sarah Maitland said;
"and I sha'n't be again. I am going to make a man of my son! As for
your girl, forgive her, Ferguson. Don't be a fool; you take it out of
yourself when you refuse forgiveness."

"I'll never forgive her," said Robert Ferguson; "she's hurt the woman
I--I have a regard for; she's made David's mother suffer. I'm done with
her!"



CHAPTER XXIII

When, on drunken and then on leaden feet, there came to Elizabeth the
ruthless to-morrow of her act, her first clear thought was to kill
herself ....

After the marriage in the mayor's office--where they paused long enough
to write the two notes that were received the next day--Blair had fled
with her up into the mountains to a little hotel, where they would not,
he felt certain, encounter any acquaintances.

Elizabeth neither assented nor objected. From the moment she had struck
her hand into his, there in the tawdry "saloon" of the toll-house, and
cried out, "_Come!_" she let him do as he chose. So he had carried her
away to the city hall, where, like any other unclassed or unchurched
lovers, they were married by a hurried city official. She had had one
more crisis of rage, when in the mayor's office, as she stood at a high
wall desk and wrote with an ink-encrusted pen that brief note to her
uncle, she said to herself that, as to David Richie, he could hear the
news from her uncle--or never hear it; she didn't care which. Then for
an instant her eyes glittered again; but except for that one moment,
she seemed stunned, mind and body. To Blair, her silent acquiescences
had been signs that he had won something more than her consent to
revenge herself upon David,--and he wanted more! In all his life he had
never deeply cared for anybody but himself; but now, under the terrible
selfishness of his act, under the primitive instinct that he called
love, there was, trembling in the depths of his nature, _Love_. It had
been born only a little while ago, this new, naked baby of Love. It had
had no power and no knowledge; unaided by that silent god of his, it
had not been strong enough to save him from himself, or save Elizabeth
from him. But he did love her, in spite of his treason to her soul, for
he was tender with her, and almost humble; yet his purpose was
inflexible. It seemed to him it must find response in her. Such purpose
might strike fire from the most unbending steel--why not from this
yielding, silent thing, Elizabeth's heart? But numb and flaccid,
perfectly apathetic, stunned by that paroxysm of fury, she no more
responded to him than down would have responded to the blow of flint ...

It was their second day in the mountains. Blair, going down-stairs very
early in the morning, stopped in the office of the hotel to write a
brief but intensely polite note to his mother, telling her of his
marriage. "Nannie will have broken it to her--poor, dear old Nannie!"
he said to himself, pounding a stamp down on the envelope, "but of
course it's proper to announce it myself." Then he dropped the
"announcement" into the post-bag, and went out for a tramp in the
woods. It was a still, furtive morning of low clouds, with an
expectancy of snow in the air. But it was not cold, and when, leaving
the road and pushing aside the frosted ferns and underbrush, he found
himself in the silence of the woods, he sat down on a fallen tree trunk
to think.... The moment had come when the only god he knew would no
longer be denied.

"I might as well face it," he said; and slowly lit a cigar. But instead
of "facing it," he began to watch the first sparse and fitful
beginnings of snow--hesitant flakes that sauntered down to rest for a
crystal moment on his coat sleeve. Suddenly he caught his thoughts
together with a jerk: "I've _got_ to think it out!" he said. Curiously
enough, when he said this his thought did not turn with any especial
distinctness to David Richie.

Instead, in the next hour of reasonings and excuses, there was always,
back in his mind, one face--scornful, contemptuous even; a face he had
known only as gentle, and sometimes tender; the face of David's mother.
Once he swore at himself, to drive that face out of his mind. "What a
fool I am! Elizabeth had broken her engagement with him. I had the
right to speak before the thing was smoothed over again. Anybody would
say so, even--even Mrs. Richie if she could really understand how
things were. But of course she will only see _his_ side." All his
excuses for his conduct were in relation to David Richie; he did not
think of Elizabeth. He honestly did not know that he had wronged her.
He loved her so crazily that he could not realize his cruelty.

It was snowing steadily now; he could hear the faint patter of small,
hard flakes on the dry oak leaves over his head. Suddenly some bleached
and withered ferns in front of him rustled, and he saw wise, bright
eyes looking at him. "I wish I had some nuts for you, bunny," he
said--and the bright eyes vanished with a furry whirl through the
ferns. He picked up the empty half of a hickory-nut, and turning it
over in his fingers, looked at the white grooves left by small sharp
teeth. "You little beggars must get pretty hungry in the winter,
bunny," he said; "I'll bring a bag of nuts out here for you some day."
But while he was talking to the squirrel, he was wrestling with his
god. It was characteristic of him that never once in that struggle to
justify himself did he use the excuse of Elizabeth's consent. His code,
which had allowed him to injure a woman, would not permit him to blame
her--even if she deserved it. Instead, over and over he heaped up his
own poor defense: "If I had waited, he might have patched it up with
her." Over and over the defense crumbled before his eyes: "it was
contemptible not to give him the chance to patch it up." Then would
come his angry retort: "That's nonsense! Besides it is better,
infinitely better, for her to marry me than a poor man like him. I can
give her everything,--and love her! God, how I love her. Apart from any
selfish consideration, it is a thousand times better for her." For an
instant his marrying her seemed actually chivalrous; and at that his
god laughed. Blair reddened sharply; to recognize his hypocrisy was the
"touch on the hollow of the thigh; and the hollow of the thigh was out
of joint"! He pitched the nut away with a vicious fling, and knew,
inarticulately, that there was no use lying to himself any longer.

With blank eyes he watched the snow piling up on a withered stalk of
goldenrod. "I wish it hadn't happened in just the way it did," he
conceded;--his god was beginning to prevail!--"but if I had waited, I
might have lost her." Then a thought stabbed him: suppose that he
should lose her anyhow? Suppose that when she came to herself--the
phrase was a confession! suppose she should want to leave him? It was
an intolerable idea. "Well, she can't," he told himself, grimly, "she
can't, now." His face was dusky with shame, yet when he said that, his
lip loosened in a furtively exultant smile. Blair would have been less,
or more, than a man if, at that moment, in spite of his shame, he had
not exulted. "She's my wife!" he said, through those shamed and smiling
lips. Then his eyes narrowed: "And she doesn't care a damn for me."

So it was that as he sat there in the snow, watching the puff of white
deepen on the stalk of goldenrod, his god prevailed yet a little more,
for, so far as Elizabeth was concerned, he did not try to fool himself:
"she doesn't care a damn." But when he said that, he saw the task of
his life before him--to make her care! It was like the touch of a spur;
he leaped to his feet, and flung up his arms in a sort of challenge.
Yes; he _had_ "done the thing a man can't do." Yes; he ought not to
have taken advantage of her anger. Yes; his honor was smirched, grant
it all! grant it all! "I was mad," he said, stung by this intolerable
self-knowledge; "I was a cur. I ought to have waited; I know it. I
admit it. But what's the use of talking about it now? It's done; and by
God, she shall love me yet!"

So it was that his god blessed him, as the best that is in us, always
blesses us when it conquers us: the blessing was the revelation of his
own dishonor. It is a divine moment, this of the consciousness of
having been faithless to one's own ideals. And Blair Maitland, a false
friend, a selfish and cruel lover, was not entirely contemptible, for
his eyes, beautiful and evasive, confessed the shock of a heavenly
vision.

As he walked home, he laid his plans very carefully: he must show her
the most delicate consideration; he must avoid every possible
annoyance; he must do this, he must not do that. "And I'll buy her a
pearl necklace," he told himself, too absorbed in the gravity of the
situation to see in such an impulse the assertion that he was indeed
his mother's son! But the foundation of all his plans for making
Elizabeth content, was the determination not to admit for a single
instant, to anybody but himself, that he had done anything to be
ashamed of. Which showed that his god was not yet God.

When he got back to the hotel, he found that Elizabeth had not left her
room; and rushing up-stairs two steps at a time, he knocked at her
door. . . . She was sitting on the edge of her bed, her lips parted,
her eyes staring blindly out of the window at the snow. The flakes were
so thick now that the meadow on the other side of the road and the
mountain beyond were blurred and almost blotted out; there was a gray
pallor on her face as if the shadow of the storm had fallen on it.
Instantly Blair knew that she "had come to herself." As he stood
looking at her, something tightened in his throat; he broke out into
the very last thing he had meant to say: "Elizabeth?-forgive me!"

"I ought to die, you know," she said, without turning her eyes from the
window and the falling snow.

He came and knelt down beside her, and kissed her hand. "Elizabeth,
dearest! When I love you so?"

He kissed her shoulder. She shivered.

"My darling," he said, passionately.

She looked at him dully; "I wish you would go away."

"Elizabeth, let me tell you how I love you."

"Love me?" she said; "_me?_"

"Elizabeth!" he protested; "you are an angel, and I love you--no man
ever loved a woman as I love you."

In her abasement she never thought of reproaching him, of saying "if
you loved me, why did you betray me?" She had not gone as far as that
yet. Her fall had been so tremendous that if she had any feeling about
him, it was nothing more than the consciousness that he too, had gone
over the precipice. "Please go away," she said.

"Dearest, listen; you are my wife. If--if I hurried you too much, you
will forgive me because I loved you so? I didn't dare to wait, for
fear--" he stumbled on the confession which his god had wrung from him,
but which must not be made to her. Elizabeth's heavy eyes were suddenly
keen.

"Fear of what?"

"Oh, don't look at me that way! I love you so that it kills me to have
you angry at me!"

"I am not angry with you," she said, faintly surprised; "why should I
be angry with _you_? Only, you see, Blair, I--I can't live. I simply
can't live."

"You have got to live!--or I'll die," he said. "I love you, I tell you
I love you!" His outstretched, trembling hands entreated hers, but she
would not yield them to his touch; her shrinking movement away from
him, her hands gripped together at her throat, filled him with absolute
terror: "Elizabeth! _don't_--" She glanced at him with stony eyes.
Blair was suffering. Why should _he_ suffer? But his suffering did not
interest her. "Please go away," she said, heavily.

He went. He dared not stay. He left her, going miserably down-stairs to
make a pretense of eating some breakfast. But all the while he was
arranging entreaties and arguments in his own mind. He went to the door
of their room a dozen times that morning, but it was locked. No, she
did not want any breakfast. Wouldn't she come out and walk? No, no, no.
Please let her alone. And then in the afternoon; "Elizabeth, I _must_
come in! You must have some food."

She let him enter; but she was indifferent alike to the food and to the
fact that by this time there was, of course, a giggling consciousness
in the hotel that the "bride and groom had had a rumpus." ... "A nice
beginning for a honeymoon," said the chambermaid, "locking that pretty
young man out of her room!--and me with my work to do in there. Well,
I'm sorry for him; I bet you she's a case."

Blair, too, was indifferent to anything ridiculous in his position; the
moment was too critical for such self-consciousness. When at last he
took a little tray of food to his wife, and knelt beside her, begging
her to eat, he was appalled at the ruin in her face. She drank some tea
to please him; then she said, pitifully:

"What shall we do, Blair?" That she should say "we" showed that these
hours which had plowed her face had also sowed some seed of
unselfishness in her broken soul.

"Darling," he said, tenderly, "have you forgiven me?"

At this she meditated for a minute, staring with big, anguished eyes
straight ahead of her at nothing; "I _think_ I have, Blair. I have
tried to. Of course I know I was more wicked than you. It was more my
doing than yours. Yes. I ought to ask you if you would forgive me."

"Elizabeth! Forgive you? When you made me so happy! Am I to forgive you
for making me happy?"

"Blair," she said--she put the palms of her hands together, like a
child; "Blair, please let me go." She looked at him with speechless
entreaty. The old dominant Elizabeth was gone; here was nothing but the
weak thing, the scared thing, pleading, crouching, begging for mercy.
"Please, Blair, _please_--"

But the very tragedy of such humbleness was that it made an appeal to
passion rather than to mercy. It made him love her more, not pity her
more. "I can't let you go, Elizabeth," he said, hoarsely; "I can't; I
love you--I will never let you go! I will die before I will let you go!"

With that cry of complete egotism from him, the storm which her egotism
had let loose upon their little world broke over her own head. As the
sense of the hopelessness of her position and the futility of her
struggle dawned upon her, she grew frightened to the point of violence.
She was outrageous in what she said to him--beating against the walls
of this prison-house of marriage which she herself had reared about
them, and crying wildly for freedom. Yet strangely enough, her fury was
never the fury of temper; it was the fury of fear. In her voice there
was a new note, a note of entreaty; she demanded, but not with the old
invincible determination of the free Elizabeth. She was now only the
woman pleading with the man; the wife, begging the husband.

Through it all, her jailer, insulted, commanded, threatened, never lost
a gentleness that had sprung up in him side by side with love. It was,
of course, the gentleness of power, although he did not realize that,
for he was abjectly frightened; he never stopped to reassure himself by
remembering that, after all, rave as she might, she was his! He was
incredibly soft with her--up to a certain point: "I will never let you
go!" If his god spoke, the whisper was drowned in that gale of
selfishness. Elizabeth, now, was the flint, striking that she might
kindle in Blair some fire of anger which would burn up the whole
edifice of her despair. But he opposed to her fiercest blows of terror
and entreaty nothing but this softness of frightened love and
unconscious power. He cowered at the thought of losing her; he
entreated her pity, her mercy; he wept before her. The whole scene in
that room in the inn, with the silent whirl of snow outside the
windows, was one of dreadful abasement and brutality on both sides.

"I am a bad woman. I will not stay with you. I will kill myself first.
I am going away. I am going away to-night."


"Then you will kill me. Elizabeth! Think how I love you; think!
And--_he_ wouldn't want you, since you threw him over. You couldn't go
back to him."

"Go back to David? now? How can you say such a thing! I am dead, so far
as he is concerned. Oh--oh--oh,--why am I not dead? Why do I go on
living? I will kill myself rather than stay with you!" It seemed to
Elizabeth that she had forgotten David; she had forgotten that she had
meant to write him a terrible letter. She had forgotten everything but
the blasting realization of what had happened to her. "Do not dare to
speak his name!" she said, frantically. "I cannot bear it! I cannot
bear it! I am dead to him. He despises me, as I despise myself. Blair,
I can't--I can't live; I can't go on--"

In the end he conquered. There were two days and nights of struggle;
and then she yielded. Blair's reiterated appeal was to her sense of
justice. Curiously, but most characteristically, through all the clamor
of her despair at this incredible thing that she had done, justice was
the one word which penetrated to her consciousness. Was it fair, she
debated, numbly, in one of their long, aching silences, was it just,
that because she had ruined herself, she should ruin him?

She had locked herself in her room, and was sitting with her head on
her arms that were stretched before her on a little table. Blair had
gone out for one of his long, wretched walks through the snow;
sometimes he took the landlord's dog along for company, and on this
particular morning, a morning of brilliant sunshine and cold, insolent
wind, he had stopped to buy a bag of nuts for the hungry squirrels in
the woods. As he walked he was planning, planning, planning, how he
could make his misery touch Elizabeth's heart; he was all unconscious
that her misery had not yet touched his heart. But Elizabeth, locked in
her room, was beginning to think of his misery. Dully at first, then
with dreary concentration, she went over in her mind his arguments and
pleadings: he was satisfied to love her even if she didn't love him; he
had known what stakes he played for, and he was willing to abide by
them; she ought to do the same; she had done this thing--she had
married him, was it fair, now, to destroy him, soul and body, just
because she had acted on a moment's impulse? In a crisis of terror, his
primitive instinct of self-preservation had swept away the acquired
instinct of chivalry, and like a brutal boy, he had reminded her that
she was to blame as well as he. "You did it, too," he told her.
sullenly. She remembered that he had said he had not fully understood
that it was only impulse on her part; "I thought you cared for me a
little, or else you wouldn't have married me." In the panic of the
moment he really had not known that he lied, and in her absorption in
her own misery she did not contradict him. She ought, he said, to make
the best of the situation; or else he would kill himself. "Do you want
me to kill myself?" he had threatened. If she would make the best of
it, he would help her. He would do whatever she wished; he would be her
friend, her servant,--until she should come to love him.

"I shall never love you," she told him. "I will always love you! But I
will not make you unhappy. Let me be your servant; that's all I ask."

"I love David. I will always love him."

He had been silent at that; then broke again into a cry for mercy. "I
don't care if you do love him! Don't destroy me, Elizabeth."

He had had still one other weapon: _they were married_. There was no
getting round that. The thing was done; except by Time and the
outrageous scandal of publicity, it could not be undone. But this
weapon he had not used, knowing perfectly well that the idea of public
shame would be, just then, a matter of indifference to
Elizabeth?-perhaps even a satisfaction to her, as the sting of the
penitential whip is a satisfaction to the sinner. All he said was
summed up in three words: "Don't destroy me."

There was no reply. She had fallen into a silence which frightened him
more than her words. It was then that he went out for that walk on the
creaking snow, in the sunshine and fierce wind, taking the bag of nuts
along for the squirrels. Elizabeth, alone, her head on her arms on the
table, went over and over his threats and entreaties, until it seemed
as if her very mind was sore. After a while, for sheer weariness, she
left the tangle of motives and facts and obligations, and began to
think of David. It was then that she moaned a little under her breath.

Twice she had tried to write to him to tell him what had happened. But
each time she cringed away from her pen and paper. After all, what
could she write? The fact said all there was to say, and he knew the
fact by this time. When she said that, her mind, drawn by some horrible
curiosity, would begin to speculate as to how he had heard the fact?
Who told him? What did he say? How did he--? and here she would groan
aloud in an effort _not_ to know "how" he took it! To save herself from
this speculation which seemed to dig into a grave, and touch and handle
the decaying body of love, she would plan what she should say to him
when, after a while, "to-morrow," perhaps, she should be able to take
up her pen: "David,--I was out of my head. Think of me as if I were
dead." . . . "David,--I don't want you to forgive me. I want you to
hate me as I hate myself." . . . "David,--I was not in my right
mind--forgive me. I love you just the same. But it is as if I were
dead." Again and again she had thought out long, crying, frightened
letters to him; but she had not written them. And now she was beginning
to feel, vaguely, that she would never write them. "What is the use? I
am dead." The idea of calling upon him to come and save her, never
occurred to her. "I am dead," she said, as she sat there, her face
hidden in her arms; "there is nothing to be done."

After a while she stopped thinking of David and the letter she had not
been able to write; it seemed as if, when she tried to make it clear to
herself why she did not write to him, something stopped in her mind--a
cog did not catch; the thought eluded her. When this happened--as it
had happened again and again in these last days; she would fall to
thinking, with vague amazement, that this irremediable catastrophe was
out of all proportion to its cause. It was monstrous that a crazy
minute should ruin a whole life--two whole lives, hers and David's. It
was as if a pebble should deflect a river from its course, and make it
turn and overflow a landscape! It was incredible that so temporary a
thing as an outbreak of temper should have eternal consequences. She
gasped, with her face buried in her arms, at the realization--which
comes to most of us poor human creatures sooner or later--that sins may
be forgiven, but their results remain. As for sin--but surely that
meaningless madness was not sin? "It was insanity," she said, shivering
at the memory of that hour in the toll-house--that little mad hour,
that brought eternity with it! She had had other crazy hours, with no
such weight of consequence. Her mind went back over her engagement: her
love, her happiness--and her tempers. Well, nothing had come of them.
David always understood. And still further back: her careless, fiery
girlhood--when the knowledge of her mother's recreancy, undermining her
sense of responsibility by the condoning suggestion of heredity, had
made her quick to excuse her lack of self-control. Her girlhood had
been full of those outbreaks of passion, which she "couldn't help";
they were all meaningless, and all harmless, too; at any rate they were
all without results of pain to her.

Suddenly it seemed to her, as she looked across the roaring gulf that
separated her from the past, that all her life had been just a sunny
slope down to the edge of the gulf. All those "harmless" tempers which
had had no results, had pushed her to this result!

Her poor, bright, shamed head lay so long and so still on her folded
arms that one looking in upon her might have thought her dead. Perhaps,
in a way, Elizabeth did die then, when her heart seemed to break with
the knowledge that it is impossible to escape from yesterday. "Oh," she
said, brokenly, "why didn't somebody tell me? Why didn't they stop me?"
But she did not dwell upon the responsibility of other people. She
forgot the easy excuse of 'heredity.' This new knowledge brought with
it a vision of her own responsibility that filled her appalled mind to
the exclusion of everything else. It is not the pebble that turns the
current--it is the easy slope that invites it. All her life Elizabeth
had been inviting this moment; and the moment, when it came, was her
Day of Judgment. What she had thought of as an incredible injustice of
fate in letting a mad instant turn the scales for a whole life, was
merely an inevitable result of all that had preceded it. When this
fierce and saving knowledge came to her, she thought of Blair. "I have
spoiled my own life and David's life. I needn't spoil Blair's. He said
if I left him, it would destroy him.... Perhaps if I stay, it will be
my punishment. I can never be punished enough."

When Blair came home, she was standing with her forehead against the
window, her dry eyes watching the dazzling white world.

Coming up behind her, he took her hand and kissed it humbly. She turned
and looked at him with somber eyes.

"Poor Blair," she said.

And Blair, under his breath, said, "Thank God!"



CHAPTER XXIV

The coming back to Mercer some six weeks later was to Blair a miserable
and skulking experience. To Elizabeth it was almost a matter of
indifference; there is a shame which goes too deep for embarrassment.
The night they arrived at the River House, Nannie and Miss White were
waiting for them, tearful and disapproving, of course, but distinctly
excited and romantic. After all, Elizabeth was a "bride!" and
Cherry-pie and Nannie couldn't help being fluttered. Blair listened
with open amusement to their half-scared gossip of what people thought,
and what the newspapers had said, and how "very displeased" his mother
had been; but Elizabeth hardly heard them. At the end of the call,
while Blair was bidding Nannie tell his mother he was coming to see her
in the morning. Miss White, kissing her "lamb" good night, tried to
whisper something in her ear: "_He_ said to tell you--" "No--no--no,--I
can't hear it; I can't bear it yet!" Elizabeth broke in; she put her
hands over her eyes, shivering so that Cherry-pie forgot David and his
message, and even her child's bad behavior.

"Elizabeth! you've taken cold?"

Elizabeth drew away, smiling faintly. "No; not at all. I'm tired.
Please don't stay." And with the message still unspoken, Miss White and
Nannie went off together, as fluttering and frightened as when they
came.

The newspaper excitement which had followed the announcement of the
elopement of Sarah Maitland's son, had subsided, so there was only a
brief notice the morning after their arrival in town, to the effect
that "the bride and groom had returned to their native city for a short
stay before sailing for Europe." Still, even though the papers were
inclined to let them alone, it would be pleasanter, Blair told his
wife, to go abroad.

"Well," she said, dully. Elizabeth was always dull now. She had lifted
herself up to the altar, but there was no exaltation of sacrifice;
possibly because she considered her sacrifice a punishment for her sin,
but also because she was still physically and morally stunned.

"Of course there is nobody in Mercer for whose opinion I care a
copper," Blair said. They were sitting in their parlor at the hotel;
Elizabeth staring out of the window at the river, Blair leaning forward
in his chair, touching once in a while, with timid fingers, a fold of
her skirt that brushed his knee. "Of course I don't care for a lot of
gossiping old hens; but it will be pleasanter for you not to be meeting
people, perhaps?" he said gently.

There was only one person whom he himself shrank from meeting--his
mother. And this shrinking was not because of the peculiar shame which
the thought of Mrs. Richie had awakened in him that morning in the
woods, when the vision of her delicate scorn had been so unbearable;
his feeling about his mother was sheer disgust at the prospect of an
interview which was sure to be esthetically distressing. While he was
still absent on what the papers called his "wedding tour," Nannie had
written to him warning him what he might expect from Mrs. Maitland:

"Mamma is terribly displeased, I am afraid, though she hasn't said a
word since the night I told her. Then she said very severe things--and
oh, Blair, dear, why _did_ you do it the way you did? I think Elizabeth
was perfectly--" The unfinished sentence was scratched out. "You _must_
be nice to Mamma when you come home," she ended.

"She'll kick," Blair said, sighing; "she'll row like a puddler!" In his
own mind, he added that, after all, no amount of kicking would alter
the fact. And again the little exultant smile came about his lips. "As
for being 'nice,' Nannie might as well talk about being '_nice_' to a
circular saw," he said, gaily. His efforts to be gay, to amuse or
interest Elizabeth, were almost pathetic in their intensity. "Well! the
sooner I'll go, the sooner I'll get it over!" he said, and reached for
his hat; Elizabeth was silent. "You might wish me luck!" he said. She
did not answer, and he sighed and left her.

As he loitered down to Shantytown, lying in the muddy drizzle of a
midwinter thaw, he planned how soon he could get away from the
detestable place. "Everything is so perfectly hideous," he said to
himself, "no wonder she is low-spirited. When I get her over in Europe
she'll forget Mercer, and--everything disagreeable." His mind shied
away from even the name of the man he had robbed.

At his mother's house, he had a hurried word with Nannie in the parlor:
"Is she upset still? She mustn't blame Elizabeth! It was all my doing.
I sort of swept Elizabeth off her feet, you know. Well--it's another
case of getting your tooth pulled quickly. Here goes!" When he opened
the dining-room door, his mother called to him from her bedroom: "Come
in here," she said; and there was something in her voice that made him
brace himself. "I'm in for it," he said, under his breath.

For years Sarah Maitland's son had not seen her room; the sight of it
now was a curious shock that seemed to push him back into his youth,
and into that old embarrassment which he had always felt in her
presence. The room was as it had been then, very bare and almost
squalid; there was no carpet on the floor, and no hint of feminine
comfort in a lounge or even a soft chair. That morning the inside
shutters on the lower half of the uncurtained windows were still
closed, and the upper light, striking cold and bleak across the dingy
ceiling, glimmered on the glass doors of the bookcases behind which, in
his childhood, had lurked such mysterious terrors. The narrow iron bed
had not yet been made up, and the bedclothes were in confusion on the
back of a chair; the painted pine bureau was thick with dust; on it was
the still unopened cologne bottle, its kid cover cracked and yellow
under its faded ribbons, and three small photographs: Blair, a baby in
a white dress; a little boy with long trousers and a visored cap; a big
boy of twelve with a wooden gun. They were brown with time, and the
figures were almost undistinguishable, but Blair recognized them,--and
again his armor of courage was penetrated.

"Well, Mother," he said, with great directness and with at least an
effort at heartiness, "I am afraid you are rather disgusted with me."

"Are you?" she said; she was sitting sidewise on a wooden chair--what
is called a "kitchen chair"; she had rested her arm along its back, and
as Blair entered, her large, beautiful hand, drooping limply from its
wrist, closed slowly into an iron fist.

"No, I won't sit down, thank you," he said, and stood, lounging a
little, with an elbow on the mantelpiece. "Yes; I was afraid you would
be displeased," he went on, good-humoredly; "but I hope you won't mind
so much when I tell you about it. I couldn't really go into it in my
letter. By the way, I hope my absence hasn't inconvenienced you in the
office?"

"Well, not seriously," she said dryly. And he felt the color rise in
his face. That he was frightfully ill at ease was obvious in the
elaborate carelessness with which he began to inquire about the Works.
But her only answer to his meaningless questions was silence. Blair was
conscious that he was breathing quickly, and that made him angry. "Why
_am_ I such an ass?" he asked himself; then said, with studied
lightness, that he was afraid he would have to absent himself from
business for still a little longer, as he was going abroad.
Fortunately--here the old sarcastic politeness broke into his really
serious purpose to be respectful; fortunately he was so unimportant
that his absence didn't really matter. "You _are_ the Works, you know,
Mother."

"You are certainly unimportant," she agreed. He noticed she had not
taken up her knitting, though a ball of pink worsted and a
half-finished baby sock lay on the bureau near her; this unwonted quiet
of her hands, together with the extraordinary solemnity of her face,
gave him a sense of uneasy astonishment. He would almost have welcomed
one of those brutal outbursts which set his teeth on edge by their very
ugliness. He did not know how to treat this new dignity.

"I would like to tell you just what happened," he began, with a
seriousness that matched her own. "Elizabeth had made up her mind not
to marry David Richie. They had had some falling out, I believe. I
never asked what; of course that wasn't my business. Well, I had been
in love with her for months; but I didn't suppose I had a ghost of a
chance; of course I wouldn't have dreamed of trying to--to take her
from him. But when she broke with him, why, I felt that I had a--a
right, you know."

His mother was silent, but she struck the back of her chair softly with
her closed fist: her eyebrow began to lift ominously.

"Well; we thought--I mean I thought; that the easiest way all round was
to get married at once. Not discuss it, you know, with people; but
just--well, in point of fact, I persuaded her to run off with me!" He
tried to laugh, but his mother's face was rigid. She was looking at him
closely, but she said nothing. By this time her continued silence had
made him so nervous that he went through his explanation again from
beginning to end. Still she did not speak. "You see, Mother," he said,
reddening with the discomfort of the moment, "you see it was best to do
it quickly? Elizabeth's engagement being broken, there was no reason to
wait. But I do regret that I could not have told you first. I fear you
felt--annoyed."

"Annoyed?" For a moment she smiled. "Well, I should hardly call it
'annoyed.'" Suddenly she made a gesture with her hand, as if to say,
stop all this nonsense! "Blair," she said, "I'm not going to go into
this business of your marriage at all. It's done." Blair drew a breath
of astonished relief. "You've not only done a wicked thing, which is
bad; you've done a fool thing, which is worse. I have some sort of
patience with a knave, but a fool--'annoys' me, as you express it.
You've married a girl who loves another man. You may or may not repent
your wickedness--you and I have different ideas on such subjects; but
you'll certainly repent your foolishness. When you are eaten up with
jealousy of David, you'll wish you had behaved decently. I know what
I'm talking about"--she paused, looking down at her fingers picking
nervously at the back of the chair; "I've been jealous," she said in a
low voice. Then, with a quick breath: "However, wicked or foolish, or
both, it's _done_, and I'm not going to waste my time talking about it."

"You're very kind," he said; he was so bewildered by this unexpected
mildness that he could not think what to say next. "I very much
appreciate your overlooking my not telling you about it before I did
it. The--the fact was," he began to stammer; her face was not
reassuring; "the fact was, it was all so hurried, I--"

But she was not listening. "You say you mean to go to Europe; how?"

"How?" he repeated. "I don't know just what you mean. Of course I shall
be sorry to leave the Works, but under the circumstances--"

"It costs money to go to Europe. Have you got any?"

"My salary--"

"How can you have a salary when you don't do any work?"

Blair was silent; then he said, frowning, something about his mother's
always having been so kind--

"Kind?" she broke in, "you call it kind? Well, Blair, I am going to be
kind now--another way. So far as I'm concerned, you'll not have one
dollar that you don't earn."

He looked perfectly uncomprehending.

"I've done being 'kind,' in the way that's ruined you, and made you a
useless fool. I'm going to try another sort of kindness. You can work,
my son, or you can starve." Her face quivered as she spoke.

"What do you mean?" Blair said, quietly; his embarrassment fell from
him like a slipping cloak; he was suddenly and ruthlessly a man.

She told him what she meant. "This business of your marrying Elizabeth
isn't the important thing; that's just a symptom of your disease. It's
the fact of your being the sort of man you are, that's important."
Blair was silent. Then Sarah Maitland began her statement of the
situation as she saw it; she told him just what sort of a man he was:
indolent, useless, helpless, selfish. "Until now I've always said that
at any rate you were harmless. I can't say even that now!" She tried to
explain that when a man lives on money he has not earned, he incurs, by
merely living, a debt of honor;--that God will collect. But she did not
know how to say it. Instead, she told him he was a parasite;--which
loathsome truth was like oil on the flames of his slowly gathering
rage. He was a man, she said, whose business in life was to enjoy
himself. She tried to make clear to him that after youth,--perhaps even
after childhood,--enjoyment, as the purpose of effort, was dwarfing.
"You are sort of a dwarf, Blair," she said, with curiously impersonal
brutality. Any enjoyment, she insisted, that was worthy of a man, was
only a by-product, as you might call it, of effort for some other
purpose than enjoyment. "One of our puddlers enjoys doing a good job, I
guess;--but that isn't why he does it," she said, shrewdly. Any man
whose sole effort was to get pleasure is, considering what kind of a
world we live in, a poor creature. "That's the best that can be said
for him," she said; "as for the worst, we won't go into that. You know
it even better than I do." Then she told him that his best, which had
been harmlessness, and his worst, which they "would not go into"--were
both more her fault than his. It was her fault that he was such a poor
creature; "a pithless creature; I've made you so!" she said. She
stopped, her face moving with emotion. "I've robbed you of incentive; I
see that now. Any man who has the need of work taken away from him, is
robbed. I guess enjoyment is all that is left for him. I ask your
pardon." Her humility was pitiful, but her words were outrageous. "You
are young yet," she said; "I _think_ what I am going to do will cure
you. If it doesn't, God knows what will become of you!" It was the cure
of the surgeon's knife, ruthless, radical; it was, in fact, kill or
cure; she knew that. "Of course it's a gamble," she admitted, and
paused, nibbling at her finger; "a gamble. But I've got to take it."
She spoke of it as she might of some speculative business decision. She
looked at him as if imploring comprehension, but she had to speak as
she thought, with sledgehammer directness. "It takes brains to make
money--I know because I've made it; but any fool can inherit it, just
as any fool can accept it. I'm going to give you a chance to develop
some brains. You can work or you can starve. Or," she added simply,
"you can beg. You have begged practically all your life, thanks to me."

If only she could have said it all differently! But alas! yearning over
him with agonized consciousness of her own wrong-doing, and with
singular justice in regard to his, she approached his selfish heart as
if it were one of her own "blooms," and she a great engine which could
mold and squeeze it into something of value to the world. She flung her
iron facts at him, regardless of the bruises they must leave upon that
most precious thing, his self-respect. Well; she was going to stop her
work of destruction, she said. Then she told him how she proposed to do
it: he had had everything--and he was nothing. Now he should have
nothing, so that he might become something.

There was a day, many years ago, when this mother and son, standing
together, had looked at the fierce beauty of molten iron; then she had
told him of high things hidden in the seething and shimmering metal--of
dreams to be realized, of splendid toils, of vast ambitions. And as she
spoke, a spark of vivid understanding had leaped from his mind to hers.
Now, her iron will, melted by the fires of love, was seething and
glowing, dazzlingly bright in the white heat of complete
self-renunciation; it was ready to be poured into a torturing mold to
make a tool with which he might save his soul! But no spark of
understanding came into his angry eyes. She did not pause for that; his
agreement was a secondary matter. The habit of success made her believe
that she could achieve the impossible--namely, save a man's soul in
spite of himself; "make," as she had told Robert Ferguson, "a man of
her son." She would have been glad to have his agreement, but she would
not wait for it.

Blair listened in absolute silence. "Do I understand," he said when she
had finished, "that you mean to disinherit me?"

"I mean to give you the finest inheritance a young man can have: _the
necessity for work!_--and work for the necessity. For, of course, your
job is open to you in the office. But it will be at an honest salary
after this; the salary any other unskilled man would get."

"Please make yourself clear," he said laconically; "you propose to
leave me no money when you die?"

"Exactly."

"May I ask how you expect me to live?"

"The way most decent men live--_by work_. You can work; or else, as I
said, you can starve. There's a verse in the Bible--you don't know your
Bible very well; perhaps that's one reason you have turned out as you
have; but there's a verse in the Bible that says if a man won't work,
he sha'n't eat. That's the best political economy I know. But I never
thought of it before," she said simply; "I never realized that the
worst handicap a young man can have in starting out in life is a rich
father--or mother. Ferguson used to tell me so, but somehow I never
took it in."

"So," he said--he was holding his cane in both hands, and as he spoke
he struck it across his knees, breaking it with a splintering snap;
"so, you'll disinherit me because I married the girl I love?"

"No!" she said, eager to make herself clear; "no, not at all! Don't you
understand? (My God! how can I make him understand?) I disinherit you
to make a man of you, so that your father won't be ashamed of you--as I
am. Yes, I owe it to your father to make a man of you; if it can be
done."

She rose, with a deep breath, and stood for an instant silent, her big
hands on her hips, her head bent. Then, solemnly: "That is all; you may
go, my son."

Blair got on to his feet with a loud laugh--a laugh singularly like her
own. "Well," he said, "I _will_ go! And I'll never come back. This lets
me out! You've thrown me over: I'll throw you over. I think the law
will have something to say to this disinheritance idea of yours; but
until then--take a job in your Works? I'll starve first! So help me
God, I'll forget that you are my mother; it will be easy enough, for
the only womanly thing about you is your dress"--she winced, and flung
her hand across her face as if he had struck her. "If I can forget that
I am your son, starvation will be a cheap price. We've always hated
each other, and it's a relief to come out into the open and say so. No
more gush for either of us!" He actually looked like her, as he hurled
his insults at her. He picked up his coat and left the room; he was
trembling all over.

She, too, began to tremble; she looked after him as he slammed the
door, half rose, bent over and lifted the splintered pieces of his
cane; then sat down, as if suddenly weak. She put her hands over her
face; there was a broken sound from behind them.

That night she came into Nannie's parlor and told her, briefly, that
she meant to disinherit Blair. She even tried to explain why, according
to her judgment, she must do so. But Nannie, appalled and crying, was
incapable of understanding.

"Oh, Mamma, don't--don't say such things! Tell Blair you take it back.
You don't mean it; I know you don't! Disinherit Blair? Oh, it isn't
fair! Mamma, please forgive him, please--please--"

"My dear," said Sarah Maitland patiently, "it isn't a question of
forgiving Blair; I'm too busy trying to forgive myself." Nannie looked
at her in bewilderment. "Well, well, we won't go into that," said Mrs.
Maitland; "you wouldn't understand. What I came over to say,
especially, was that if things can go back into the old ways I shall be
glad. I reckon Blair won't want to see me for a while, but if Elizabeth
will come to the house as she used to, I sha'n't rake up unpleasant
subjects. She is your brother's wife, and shall be treated with respect
in my house. Tell her so. 'Night."

But Nannie, with a soft rush across the room, darted in front of her
and stood with her back against the door, panting. "Mamma! Wait. You
must listen to me!" Her stepmother paused, looking at her with mild
astonishment. She was like another creature, a little wild creature
standing at bay to protect its young. "You have no right," Nannie said
sternly, "you have no right, Mother, to treat Blair so. Listen to me:
it was not--not nice in him to run away with Elizabeth; I know that,
though I think it was more her fault than his. But it wasn't wicked! He
loved her."

"My dear, I haven't said it was wicked," Blair's mother tried to
explain; "in fact, I don't think it was; it wasn't big enough to be
wicked. No, it was only a dirty, contemptible trick." Nannie cringed
back, her hand gripping the knob behind her. "If Blair had been a
hard-working man, knocking up against other hard-working men, trying to
get food for his belly and clothes for his nakedness, he'd have been
ashamed to play such a trick--he'd have been a man. If I had loved him
more I'd have made a man of him; I'd have made work real to him, not
make-believe, as I did. And I wouldn't have been ashamed of him, as I
am now."

"I think," said Nannie, with one of those flashes of astuteness so
characteristic of the simple mind, "that a man would fall in love just
as much if he were poor as if he were rich; and--and you ought to
forgive him, Mamma."

Mrs. Maitland half smiled: "I guess there's no making you understand,
Nannie; you are like your own mother. Come! Open this door! I've got to
go to work."

But Nannie still stood with her hand gripping the knob. "I must tell
you," she said in a low voice: "I must not be untruthful to you, Mamma:
I will give Blair all I have myself. The money my father left me shall
be his; and--and everything I may ever have shall be his." Then she
seemed to melt away before her stepmother, and the door banged softly
between them.

"Poor little soul!" Sarah Maitland said to herself, smiling, as she sat
down at her desk in the dining-room. "Exactly like her mother! I must
give her a present."

The next day she sent for her general manager and told him what course
she had taken with her son. He was silent for a moment; then he said,
with an effort, "I have no reason to plead Blair's cause, but you're
not fair, you know."

"So Nannie has informed me," she said dryly. Then she leaned back in
her chair and tapped her desk with one big finger. "Go on; say what you
like. It won't move me one hair."

Robert Ferguson said a good deal. He pointed out that she had no right,
having crippled Blair, to tell him to run a race. "You've made him what
he is. Well, it's done; it can't be undone. But you are rushing to the
other extreme; you needn't leave him millions, of course; but leave him
a reasonable fortune."

She meditated. "Perhaps a very small allowance, in fact, to make my
will sound I may have to. I must find out about that. But while I'm
alive, not one cent. I never expected to be glad his father died before
he was born, and so didn't leave him anything, but I am. No, sir; my
son can earn what he wants or he can go without. I've got to do my best
to make up to him for all the harm I've done him, and this is the way
to do it. Now, the next thing is to make my will _sound_. He says he'll
contest it"--she gave her grunt of amusement. "Pity I can't see him do
it! I'd like the fun of it. It will be cast-iron. If there was any
doubt about it, I would realize on every security I own to-morrow and
give it all away in one lump, now, while I'm alive--if I had to go
hungry myself afterward! Will you ask Howe and Marston to send their
Mr. Marston up here to draw up a new will for me? I want to go to work
on it to-night. I've thought it out pretty clearly, but it's a big job,
a big job! I don't know myself exactly how much I'm worth--how much I'd
clean up to, at any rate. But I've got a list of charities on my desk
as long as your arm. Nannie will be the residuary legatee; she has some
money from her father, too, though not very much. The Works didn't
amount to much when my husband was alive; he divided his share between
Nannie and me; he--"; she paused, reddening faintly with that strange
delicacy that lay hidden under the iron exterior; "he didn't know Blair
was coming along. Well, I suppose Nannie will give Blair something. In
fact, she as good as warned me. Think of Nannie giving _me_ notice! But
as I say, she won't have any too much herself. And, Mr. Ferguson, I
want to tell you something: I'm going to give David some money now. I
mean in a year or two. A lot."

Robert Ferguson's face darkened. "David doesn't take money very easily."

Mrs. Maitland did not ask him to explain. She was absorbed in the most
tremendous venture of her life--the saving of her son, and her plan for
David was comparatively unimportant. She put through the business of
her will with extraordinary despatch and precision, and with a
ruthlessness toward Blair that took her lawyer's breath away; but she
would not hear one word of protest.

"Your business, sir, is to see that this instrument is unbreakable,"
she said, "not to tell me how to leave my money."

The day after the will was executed she went to Philadelphia. "I am
going to see David," she told her general superintendent; "I want to
get this affair off my mind so I can settle down to my work, but I've
got to square things up first with him. You'll have to run the shop
while I'm off!"

She had written to David briefly, without preface or apology:

"DEAR DAVID,--Come and see me at the Girard House Tuesday morning at
7.45 o'clock."



CHAPTER XXV

Nearly two months had passed since that dreadful day when David Richie
had gone to his mother to be comforted. In his journey back across the
mountains his mind and body were tense with anticipation of the letter
which he was confident was awaiting him in Philadelphia. He was too
restless to lie down in his berth. Once he went into the day coach and
wandered up and down the aisle between the rows of huddled and
uncomfortable humanity. Sometimes a sleepy passenger, hunched up on a
plush seat, would swear at him for jostling a protruding foot, and once
a drearily crying baby, propped against a fat and sleeping mother,
clutched with dirty fingers at his coat. At that little feeble pull he
stopped and looked down at the small, wabbling head, then bent over and
lifted the child, straightening its rumpled clothes and cuddling it
against his shoulder. The baby gurgled softly in his ear--and instantly
he remembered the baby he had seen on the raft the night that he first
knew he was in love with Elizabeth. When he went back to the
smoking-compartment and sat down, his hands deep in his pockets, his
head sunk between his shoulders, his hat pulled down over his eyes, he
thought of that raft baby and wondered if it were alive. But such
thoughts were only in the moments when his bruised mind could not
steady itself on what had happened to him. Most of the time he was
saying, over and over, just what he was going to do the next morning:
he would get into the station; take a cab; drive to the hospital--a
dozen times that night his thumb and finger sought his waistcoat pocket
for a bill to hasten the driver of that cab! leap out, run up the
stairs to the mail-rack beside the receiving clerk's desk, seize
Elizabeth's letter--here the pause would come, the moment when his body
relaxed, and something seemed to melt within him: suppose the letter
was not there? Very well: back to the cab! another tip; hurry! hurry!
hurry! His mother's house, the steps, his key in the lock--again and
again his fingers closed on the key-ring in his pocket! letters on the
hall table awaiting him--_her_ letter. Then again the relaxing shock:
suppose it was not there? The thought turned him sick; after the almost
physical recoil from it, came brief moments of longing for his mother's
tender arms, or the remembrance of that baby on the raft. But almost
immediately his mind would return to the treadmill of expectation; get
into the station--take a cab--rush--So it went, on and on, until,
toward dawn, through sheer exhaustion he slept.

That next day was never very clear in David's memory. Only one fact
stood out distinctly in the mists: there was no letter. Afterward, when
he tried to recall that time of discovering that she had not written,
he was confused by the vision of his mother smiling down at him from
the head of the stairs and calling to an unseen maid, "Bring the doctor
a cup of coffee, Mary!" He could remember that he stood sorting out the
letters on the hall table, running them over swiftly, then going
through them slowly, one by one, scanning each address, each post-mark;
then, with shaking hands, shuffling and sorting them like a pack of
cards, and going through them again. _She had not written_. He could
remember that he heard the blood beating in his ears, and at the same
time his mother's voice: "Bring the doctor a cup of coffee." . . . She
had not written.

For months afterward, when he tried to recall that morning, the weak
feeling in his knees, the way the letters that were not from her shook
in his hand, the sound of his mother's joyous voice--these things would
come into his mind together. They were all he could remember of the
whole day; the day when the grave closed over his youth.

After that came hours of expectation, of telegrams back and forth:
"Have you heard where they are?" And: "No news." Weeks of letters
between Robert Ferguson and his mother: "It is what I have always said,
she is her mother's daughter." And: "Oh, don't be so hard on her--and
on her poor, bad mother. Find out where she is, and go and see her."
And: "I will never see her. I'm done with her." But among all the
letters, never any letter from Elizabeth to David.

In those first days he seemed to live only when the mail arrived; but
his passion of expectation was speechless. Indeed his inarticulateness
was a bad factor when it came to recovery from the blow that had been
dealt him. At the moment when the wound was new, he had talked to his
mother; but almost immediately he retreated into silence. And in
silence the worst things in his nature began to grow. Once he tried to
write to Elizabeth; the letter commenced with frantic directions to
come to his mother "at once!" Then his pen faltered: perhaps she did
not care to come? Perhaps she did not wish to leave "him"?--and the
unfinished letter was flung into the fire. With suspicion of Elizabeth
came a contemptuous distrust of human nature in general, and a
shrinking self-consciousness, both entirely foreign to him. He was not
only crushed by loss, but he was stinging with the organic
mortification of the man who has not been able to keep his woman. It
was then that Helena Richie first noticed a harshness in him that
frightened her, and a cynical individualism that began to create its
own code of morals, or at any rate of responsibilities. But before he
shut himself into all this misery, not only of loss, but of suspicion
and humiliation, he did say one thing:

"I'm not going to howl; you needn't be afraid. I shall do my work. You
won't hear me howl." There were times when she wished he would! She
wished it especially when Robert Ferguson wrote that Elizabeth and
Blair were going to return to Mercer, that they would live at the River
House, and that it was evident that the "annulment," to which at first
David's mind had turned so incessantly, was not being thought of. "I
understand from Miss White (of course I haven't heard from or written
to Mrs. Blair Maitland) that she does not wish to take any steps for a
separation," Elizabeth's uncle wrote.

"He _must_ see her when she gets back," Helena Richie said, softly; but
David said nothing at all. At that moment his suspicion became a
certainty; yes, she had loved the fellow! It had been something else
than one of her fits of fury! It had been _love_. ... No wonder, with
this poison working in him, that he shut even his mother out of his
heart. At times the pitying tenderness of her eyes was intolerable to
him; he thought he saw the same pity in everybody's eyes; he felt sure
that every casual acquaintance was thinking of what had happened to
him: he said to himself he wished to God people would mind their
business, and let him mind his! "I'm not howling," he told himself. He
was like a man whose skin has been taken off; he winced at everything,
but all the same, he did his work in the hospital with exhausting
thoroughness; to be sure he gave his patients nothing but technical
care. Whether they lived or died was nothing to David; whether he
himself lived or died was still less to him--except, perhaps, that in
his own case he had a preference. But work is the only real sedative
for grief, and the suffering man worked himself callous, so he had dull
moments of forgetfulness, or at any rate of comparative indifference,
Yet when he received that note from Mrs. Maitland summoning him to her
hotel he flinched under the callousness. However, at a little before
eight o'clock on Tuesday morning, he knocked at her bedroom door.

The Girard House knew Sarah Maitland's eccentricities as well as her
credit; she always asked for a cheap room, and was always put up under
the roof. She had never learned to use her money for her own comfort,
so it never occurred to her to have a parlor for herself; her
infrequent callers were always shown up here to the top of the house.

On this especial morning she had come directly from the train, and when
David arrived she was pacing up and down the narrow room, haggard and
disheveled from a night in the sleeping-car; she had not even taken off
her bonnet. She turned at his step and stopped short in her tracks--he
was so thin, so grim, so old! "Well, David," she said; then hesitated,
for there was just an instant's recoil in David. He had not realized
the fury that would leap up and scorch him like a flame at the sight of
Blair's mother.

"David, you'll--you'll shake hands with me, won't you?" she said
timidly. At the sound of her voice his anger died out; only the cold
ashes of misery were left.

"Why, Mrs. Maitland!" he protested, and took her big, beautiful,
unsteady hand in both of his.

For a moment neither of them spoke. It was a dark, cold morning; far
below them stretched the cheerless expanse of snow-covered roofs; from
countless chimneys smoke was rising heavily to the lowering sky, and
soot was sifting down; the snow on the window-sill was speckled with
black. Below, in the courtyard of the hotel, ice-carts rumbled in and
out, and milk-cans were banged down on the cobblestones; a dull day, an
empty sky, a futile interview, up here in this wretched little room
under the eaves. David wondered how soon he could get away.

"David," Mrs. Maitland said, "I know I can't make it up to you in any
way. But I'd like to."

"You are very kind," he said coldly, "but we won't go into that, if you
please, Mrs. Maitland."

"No, we won't talk about it," she said, with evident relief; "but
David, I came to Philadelphia to say that I want you to let me be of
help to you in some way."

"Help to me?" he repeated, surprised. "I really don't see--"

"Why," she explained, "you want to begin to practise; you don't want to
drudge along at a hospital under some big man's thumb. I want to set
you up!"

David smiled involuntarily, "But the hospital is my greatest chance,
Mrs. Maitland. I'm lucky to have these three years there. But it's kind
in you to think of giving me a hand."

"Nonsense!" she said, quite missing the force of what he said. "You
ought to put out your own shingle. David, you can have all the money
you need; it's yours to take."

David started as if she had struck him: "_yours to take_." Oh, that had
been said to him before! "No, I can't, I couldn't take money! You don't
understand. I couldn't take money from--anybody!" he said with a gasp.

She looked at him helplessly, then stretched out her empty hands.
"David," she said pitifully, "money is all I've got. Won't you take
it?" The tears were on her cheeks and the big, empty hands shook. "I
haven't got anything but money, David," she entreated.

His face quivered; he said some broken, protesting word; then suddenly
he put his arms round her and kissed her. Her gray head, in the
battered old bonnet, rested a moment on his shoulder, and he felt her
sob. "Oh, David," she said, "what shall I do? He--he hates me. He said
the only womanly thing about me was ... Oh, can I make a man of him, do
you think?" She entirely forgot David's wrongs in her cry for comfort,
a cry that somehow penetrated to his benumbed heart, for in his effort
to comfort her he was himself vaguely comforted, For a minute he held
her tightly in his arms until he was sure he could command himself.
When he let her go, she put her hand up in a bewildered way and touched
her cheek; the boy had kissed her! But by that time she was able to go
back to the purpose that had brought her here; she told him to sit down
and then began, dogmatically, to insist upon her plan.

David smiled a little as he explained that, quite apart from any
question of income, the hospital experience was valuable to him. "I
wouldn't give it up, Mrs. Maitland, if I had a million dollars!" he
said, with a convincing exaggeration that was like the old David. "But
it's mighty kind in you. Please believe I do appreciate your kindness."

"No kindness about it," she said impatiently; "my family is in your
debt, David." At which he hardened instantly.

"Well," she said; and was silent for awhile, biting her finger and
looking down at her boots. Suddenly, with a grunt of satisfaction, she
began to hit the arm of her chair softly with her closed fist. "I've
got it!" she said. "I suppose you wouldn't refuse the trusteeship of a
fund, one of these days, to build a hospital? Near my Works, maybe? I'm
all the time having accidents. I remember once getting a filing in my
eye, and--and somebody suggested a doctor to take it out. A doctor for
a filing! I guess _you'd_ have been equal to that job--young as you
are? Still, it wouldn't be bad to have a doctor round, even if he was
young, if anything serious happened. Yes, a hospital near the
Works--first for my men and then for outsiders. It is a good idea! I
suppose you wouldn't refuse to run such a hospital, and draw your
wages, like a man?"

"Well, no, I wouldn't refuse that," he said, smiling. It was many weeks
since David had smiled so frankly. A strange thing had happened in that
moment when he had forgotten himself in trying to comfort Blair's
mother--his corroding suspicion of Elizabeth seemed to melt away! In
its place was to come, a little later, the dreadful but far more
bearable pain of enduring remorse for his own responsibility for
Elizabeth's act. But just then, when he tried to comfort that poor
mother, there was only a breaking of the ice about his own heart in a
warm gush of pity for her.... "I don't see that there's much chance of
funds for hospitals coming my way," he said, smiling.

"You never can tell," said Mrs. Maitland.



CHAPTER XXVI

The morning Blair heard his sentence from his mother, Elizabeth spent
in her parlor in the hotel, looking idly out of the window at the tawny
current of the river covered with its slipping sheen of oil. Steamboats
were pushing up and down or nosing into the sand to unload their
cargoes; she could hear the creak of hawsers, the bang of gangplanks
thrown across to the shore, the cries and songs of stevedores sweating
and toiling on the wharf that was piled with bales of cotton, endless
blue barrels of oil, and black avalanches of coal. She did not think of
Blair's ordeal; she was not interested in it. She was not interested in
anything. Sometimes she thought vaguely of the letter which had never
been and would never be written to David, and sometimes of that message
from him which she had not yet been able to hear from Miss White's
lips; but for the most part she did not think of anything. She was
tired of thinking. She sat huddled in a chair, staring dully out of the
window; she was like a captive bird, moping on its perch, its poor
bright head sinking down into its tarnished feathers. She was so
absorbed in the noise and confusion of traffic that she did not hear a
knock. When it was repeated, she rose listlessly to answer it, but
before she reached the door it opened, and her uncle entered. Elizabeth
backed away silently. He followed her, but for a moment he was silent,
too--it seemed to Robert Ferguson as if youth had been wiped out of her
face. Under the shock of the change in her, he found for a moment
nothing to say. When he spoke his voice trembled--with anger, she
thought. "Mrs. Richie wrote me that I must come and see you. I told her
I would have nothing to do with you."

Elizabeth sat down without speaking.

"I don't see what good it does to come," he said, staring at the tragic
face. "Of course you know my opinion of you." She nodded. "So why
should I come?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I--I'm here. And you may come home sometimes, if you want to.
Miss White is willing to see you, I believe."

"Thank you, Uncle Robert."

As she spoke the door of the elevator in the hall clanged shut, and the
next moment Blair entered. He carried a loose twist of white paper in
his arms, and when, at the sight of Robert Ferguson, he tossed it down
on the table it fell open, and the fragrance of roses overflowed into
the room. Raging from the lash of his mother's tongue, he had rushed
back to the hotel to tell Elizabeth what had happened, but in spite of
his haste he stopped on the way to get her some flowers. He did not
think of them now, nor even of his own wrongs, for here was Robert
Ferguson attacking her! "Mr. Ferguson," he said, quietly, but reddening
to his temples, "of course you know that in the matter of Elizabeth's
hasty marriage I am the only one to blame. But though you blame me, I
hope you will believe that I will do my best to make her happy."

[Illustration: "OF COURSE YOU KNOW MY OPINION OF YOU"]

"I believe," said Elizabeth's uncle, "that you are a damned scoundrel."
He took up his hat and began to smooth the nap on his arm; then he
turned to Elizabeth--and in his heart he damned Blair Maitland more
vigorously than before: the lovely color had all been washed away by
tears, the amber eyes were dull, even the brightness of her hair seemed
dimmed. It was as if something had breathed upon the sparkle and
clearness; it was like seeing her through a mist. So, barking fiercely
to keep his lip from shaking, he said: "And I hope you understand,
Elizabeth, I have no respect for you, either."

She looked up with faint surprise. "Why, of course not."

"I insist," Blair said, peremptorily, "that you address my wife with
respect or leave her presence."

Mr. Ferguson put his hat down on the table, not noticing that the roses
spotted it with their wet petals, and stared at him. "Well, upon my
word!" he said. "Do you think I need _you_ to instruct me in my duty to
my niece?" Then, with sudden, cruel insight, he added, "David Richie's
mother has done that." As he spoke he bent over and kissed Elizabeth.
Instantly, with a smothered cry, she clung to him. There was just a
moment when, her head on his breast, he felt her soft hair against his
cheek--and a minute later, she felt something wet on her cheek. They
had both forgotten Blair. He slunk away and left them alone.

Robert Ferguson straightened up with a jerk. "Where--where--where's my
hat!" he said, angrily; "she said I was hard. She doesn't know
everything!" But Elizabeth caught his hand and held it to her lips.

When Blair came back she was quite gentle to him; yes, the roses were
very pretty; yes, very sweet. "Thank you, Blair," she said; but she did
not ask him about his interview with his mother; she had forgotten it.
He took the stab of her indifference without wincing; but suddenly he
was comforted, for when he began to tell her what his mother was going
to do, she was sharply aroused. She lifted her head--that spirited head
which in the old days had never drooped; and looked at him in absolute
dismay. Blair was being punished for a crime that was more hers than
his!

"Oh," she said, "it isn't fair! I'm the one to blame; it isn't fair!"

The indignation in her voice made his heart leap. "Of course it isn't
fair. But Elizabeth, I would pay any price to know that you were my
wife." He tried to take her hand, but she pushed him aside and began to
pace about the room.

"It isn't right!" she said; "she sha'n't treat you so!" She was almost
like the old, furious Elizabeth in that gust of distress at her own
responsibility for an injustice to him. But Blair dared to believe that
her anger was for his sake, and to have her care that he should lose
money made the loss almost welcome. He felt, through his rage at his
mother, a thrill of purpose, a desire to amount to something, for
Elizabeth's sake--which, if she could have known it, might have
comforted Sarah Maitland, sitting in her dreary bedroom, her face
hidden in her hands.

"Dearest, what do I care for her or her money?" he cried out; "_I have
you!_"

Elizabeth was not listening to him; she was thinking what she could do
to save him from his mother's displeasure. "I'll go and see her, and
tell her it was my fault," she said to herself. She had a vague feeling
that if she could soften Mrs. Maitland she and Blair would be quits.

She did not tell him of her purpose, but the mere having a purpose made
her face alert, and it seemed to him that she identified herself with
him and his interests. His eager denial of her self-accusation that she
had injured him, his ardent impulse to protect her from any remorse, to
take all the blame of a possible "mistake" on his own shoulders,
brought an astonishing unselfishness into his face. But Elizabeth would
not let him blame himself.

"It was all my fault," she insisted. "I was out of my head!"

At that he frowned sharply--"when you are eaten up with jealousy," his
mother had said. Oh, he did not need his mother to tell him what
jealousy meant: Elizabeth would not have married him if she had not
been 'out of her head'! "She still thinks of him," he said to himself,
as he had said many, many times in these two months of marriage--months
of alternate ecstasies and angers, of hopes and despairs. As for her
indignation at the way he had been treated, it meant nothing personal,
after all. In his disappointment he went out of the room in hurt
silence and left her to her thoughts of "him." This was the way most of
their talks ended.

But Elizabeth's indignation did not end. In the next two days, while
Mrs. Maitland was in Philadelphia making her naive offer to David, she
brooded over the situation. "I won't have Blair punished for my sins,"
she said to herself; "I won't have it!" Her revolt at an injustice was
a faint echo of her old violence. She had no one to talk to about it;
Nannie was too shy to come to see her, and Miss White too tearful to be
consulted. But she did not need advice; she knew what she must do. The
afternoon following Mrs. Maitland's return from Philadelphia she went
to see her. . . . She found Nannie in the parlor, sitting forlornly at
her drawing-board. Nannie had heard, of course, from Blair, the details
of that interview with his mother, and in her scared anger she planned
many ways of "making Mamma nice to Blair," but she had not thought of
Elizabeth's assistance. She took it for granted that Elizabeth would
not have the courage to "face Mamma."

"I have come to see Mrs. Maitland," Elizabeth said. "Is she in the
dining-room?"

Nannie quailed. "Oh, Elizabeth! How do you dare? But do go; and make
her forgive him. She wouldn't listen to me. And after all, Elizabeth,
you know that _you_--"

"Yes, I'm the one," Elizabeth said, briefly; and went swiftly across
the hall. She stood for a moment by Sarah Maitland's desk unnoticed.
"Mrs. Maitland!" Elizabeth's voice was peremptory. Blair's mother put
her pen down and looked up over her spectacles. "Oh--Elizabeth?"

"Mrs. Maitland, I came to tell you that you must not be angry at Blair.
It was all my fault."

"I guess, as I told your uncle, it was the pot and the kettle,
Elizabeth."

"No, no! I was angry, and I was--willing."

"Do you think it excuses Blair if you did throw yourself at his head?"

Elizabeth, who had thought that no lesser wound than the one she had
dealt herself could hurt her, flinched. But she did not defend herself.
"I think it does excuse him to some extent, and that is why I have come
to ask you to forgive him."

"Oh," said Mrs. Maitland, and paused; then with most disconcerting
suddenness, sneezed violently and blew her nose; "bless you, I've
forgiven him."

"Then," said Elizabeth, with a gasp of relief, "you won't disinherit
him!"

"Disinherit him? What's that got to do with forgiving him? Of course I
will disinherit him,--or rather, I have. My will is made; signed,
sealed. I've left him an income of a thousand dollars a year. That will
keep you from starvation. If Blair is worth more he'll earn more. If he
isn't, he can live on a thousand dollars--as better men than he have
done. Or he can go to the workhouse;--your uncle can take care of you.
I reckon I've paid taxes in this county long enough to entitle my son
to go to the workhouse if he wants to."

"But Mrs. Maitland," Elizabeth protested, hotly, "it isn't fair, just
because I--I let him marry me, to punish him--"

Mrs. Maitland struck her fist on the arm of her chair. "You don't know
what you are talking about! I am not 'punishing' him; that's the last
thing I was thinking of. If there's any 'punishing' going on, I'm the
one that's getting it. Listen, Elizabeth, and I'll try to explain--you
look as if you had some sense, so maybe you can understand. Nannie
couldn't; she has no brains. And Blair wouldn't--I guess he has no
heart. But this is how it is: Blair has always been a loafer--that's
why he behaved as he did to you. Satan finds some mischief still, you
know! So I'm cutting off his allowance, now, and leaving him
practically penniless in my will, to stop his loafing. To make him
work! He'll have to work, to keep from starving; and work will make a
man of him. As for you, you've done an abominable thing, Elizabeth; but
it's _done_! Now, turn to, and pay for your whistle: do your duty! Use
your influence to induce Blair to work. That's the best way to make up
for the injury you've done him. As for the injury he's done you, I hope
the Lord will send you some children to make up for that. Now, my--my
dear, clear out! clear out! I've got my work to do."

Elizabeth went back to Nannie's parlor, stinging under her
mother-in-law's candor. That she was able to feel it showed that her
apathy was wearing off. At any rate, the thought of the "injury" she
had done Blair, which she took to be the loss of fortune, strengthened
her sometimes wavering resolution to stay with him. She did not tell
him of this interview, or of its effect upon her, but she told her
uncle--part of it. She went to him that night, and sitting down on a
hassock at his feet, her head against his knee, she told him how Blair
was to be punished for her crime--she called it a crime. Then, in a low
voice, she told him, as well as she could, just how the crime had been
committed.

"I guessed how it was," he said. And they were silent for a while. Then
he broke out, huskily: "I don't care a hang about Blair or his mother's
will. He deserves all he gets--or won't get, rather! But, Elizabeth,
if--if you want to be free--"

"Uncle Robert, what I want isn't of any importance any more."

"I talked it over as a supposititious case with Howe the other day, and
he said that if Blair would agree, possibly--mind you, only
_possibly_;--a divorce could be arranged."

She sunk her head in her hands; then answered in a whisper: "Uncle, I
did it. I've got to see it through."

After a minute's silence he put his hand on her soft hair. "Bully for
you, Elizabeth," he said, brokenly. Then, to escape from the emotional
demand of the moment, he began to bark: "You are outrageously careless
about money. How on earth a girl, who has been brought up by a man, and
so might be expected to have some sense in such matters, can be so
careless, I don't understand! You've never asked me about that legacy.
I've put the money in the bank. Your bank-book is there on my table."

Elizabeth was silent. That money! Oh, how could she ever touch it? But
in view of Mrs. Maitland's decision it was perfectly obvious that
ultimately she would have to touch it. "Blair can live on it." she
thought--it was a relief to her to stab herself with words;--"_Blair_
'can live on it for two years.'"



CHAPTER XXVII

Of course, after a while, as time passed, all the people who had been
caught in the storm the two reckless creatures had let loose, shook
down again into their grooves, and the routine of living went on. There
are few experiences more bewildering to the unhappy human heart than
this of discovering that things do go on. Innumerable details of the
unimportant flood in and fill up the cracks and breaches that grief has
made in the structure of life; we continue to live, and even to find
life desirable!

Miss White had been the first to realize this; her love for Elizabeth,
being really (poor old maid!) maternal, was independent of respect, so
almost the next day she had been able to settle down with complete
happiness into the old habit of loving. Blair's mother was the next to
get into the comfortable track of routine; the very day after she came
back from that trip to Philadelphia she plunged into business. She did,
however, pause long enough to tell her superintendent how she was going
to "even things up with David."

"I am going to give him a lot of money for a hospital," she said. "I'm
not going to leave it to him; I'm only sixty-two, and I don't propose
to die yet awhile. When I do Blair will probably contest the will. He
can't break it. It's cast-iron. But I don't want David to wait until
I'm dead and gone, and Blair has given up trying to break my will, and
the estate is settled. I'm going to give it to him before I die. In a
year or two, maybe. I'm realizing on securities now--why don't I give
him the securities? My dear sir, what does a doctor know about
securities? Doctors have no more financial sense than parsons--at
least, not much more," she added, with relenting justice. "No; David is
to have his money, snug in the bank--that new bank, on Federal Street.
I told the president I was rolling up a nest-egg for somebody--I could
see he thought it was for Blair! I didn't enlighten him, because I
don't want the thing talked about. When I get the amount I want, I'll
hand Master David a bank certificate of deposit, and with all his airs
about accepting money, he won't be able to help himself! He'll have to
build his hospital, and draw his wages. It will make him independent of
his outside customers, you see. Yes, I guess I can whip the devil round
the stump as well as the next person!" she said, bridling with
satisfaction. So, with an interest and a hope, Sarah Maitland, like
Miss White, found life worth living.

With David's mother the occupation of trying to help David made living
desirable. It also made her a little more remote from other people's
interests. Poor Robert Ferguson discovered this to his cost: it had
occurred to him that now, when they were all so miserable, she might
perhaps "be willing." But she was not. When, a day or two after he had
gone to see Elizabeth, he went to Philadelphia, Mrs. Richie was
tremulously glad to see him, so that she might pour out her fears about
David and ask advice on this point and that. "Being a man, you
understand better than I do," she acknowledged meekly; then broke down
and cried for her boy's pain. And when the kind, barking old friend,
himself blinking behind misty spectacles, said, "Oh, now, my dear,
don't cry," she was so comforted that she cried some more, and for a
single minute found her head most unexpectedly on his shoulder. But all
the same, she was not "willing."

"Don't ask me, dear Mr. Ferguson," she said, wiping her eyes. "We are
such good friends, and I'm so fond of you, don't let's spoil it all."

"I believe you are fond of me," he said, "and that is why it's so
unreasonable in you not to marry me. I don't ask--impossibilities. But
you do like me; and I love you, you dear, good, foolish woman;--so good
that you couldn't see badness when it lived next door to you!"

"Don't be so hard on people who do wrong," she pleaded; "you make me
afraid of you when you are so hard."

"I'm not hard; Elizabeth is her mother's daughter; that's all." "Oh!"
she cried, with sudden passion, "that poor mother! Can't you forgive
her?"

"No," he said; "I can't."

"You ought to forgive Elizabeth, at any rate," she insisted, faintly;
"and you ought to go and see her."

"Have you forgiven her?" he parried.

She hesitated. "I think I have. I've tried to; but I don't understand
her. I can understand doing something--wicked, for love; but not for
hate."

He gave his meager laugh. "If forgiveness was a question of
understanding, I'm afraid you'd be as hard on her mother as I am."

"On the contrary," she said, vehemently, "if I forgive Elizabeth, it is
for her mother's sake." Then she broke out, almost with tears: "Oh, how
can you be so unkind as not to go and see the child? The time we need
our friends most is when we have done wrong!"

He was silent.

"Sometimes," she said, "sometimes I wish you would do something wrong
yourself, just to learn to be pitiful!"

"You wish I would do wrong? I'm _always_ doing wrong! I did wrong when
I growled so. But--" he paused; "I believe I _have_ seen Elizabeth," he
said sheepishly; "I believe we kissed and made up." At which even poor,
sad Helena laughed.

But these two old friends discovered, just as Miss White and Blair's
mother had discovered, that life was not over for them, because the
habit of friendship persisted. And by and by, nearly a year later,
David--even David! began to find a reason for living, in his
profession. The old, ardent interest which used to make his eyes dim
with pity, or his heart leap with joy at giving help, was gone; he no
longer cared to cuddle the babies he might help to bring into the
world; and a death-bed was an irritating failure rather than any more
human emotion. So far as other people's hopes and fears went, he was
bitter or else callous, but he began to forget his humiliation, and he
lost his self-consciousness in the serious purpose of success. He did
not talk to his mother of the catastrophe of his life; but he did talk
of other things, and with the old friendly intimacy. She was his only
intimate friend.

Thus, gradually, the little world that loved Elizabeth and Blair fell
back, after the storm of pain and mortification, into the merciful
commonplace of habit and of duty to be done.

But for Elizabeth and Blair there was no going back; they had indeed
fired the Ephesian dome! The past now, to Elizabeth, meant David's
message,--to which, finally, she had been able to listen: "Tell her I
understand; ask her to forgive me." In Blair's past there was nothing
real to which he could return; for him the reality of life had begun
with Love; and notwithstanding the bite of shame, the battle with his
sense of chivalry, that revolted (now and then) at the thought of
holding an unwilling woman as his wife, and the constant dull ache of
jealousy, he had madly happy moments that first year of his marriage.
Elizabeth was his! That was enough for him. His circumstances, which
would have caused most men a good deal of anxiety, were, thanks to his
irresponsibility, very little in his thought. There was still a balance
at his bank which made it possible, without encroaching on Elizabeth's
capital--which he swore he would not do--to live at the old River House
"fairly decently." He was, however, troubled because he could not
propitiate Elizabeth with expensive gifts; and almost immediately after
that interview with his mother, he began to think about an occupation,
merely that he might have more money to spend on his wife. "If I could
only buy her some jewels!" he used to say to himself, with a worried
look. "I want to get you everything you want, my darling," he told her
once.

She made no answer; and he burst out in sudden angry pain: "You don't
care what I do!" Still she did not speak. "You--you are thinking of him
still," he said between set teeth. This constant corroding thought did
not often break through his studied purpose to win her by his
passionately considerate tenderness; when it did, it always ended in
bitterness for him.

"Of course I am thinking of him," she would say, dully; "I never stop
thinking of him."

"I believe you would go back to him now!" he flung at her

"Go back to him? I would go back to him on my hands and knees if he
would take me."

Words like that left him speechless with misery; and yet he was
happy--she was his wife!

When his bank account began to dwindle, he found it easy to borrow; the
fact that he was the son of his mother (and consequently his bills had
always been paid) was sufficient collateral. That he borrowed at a
ruinous interest was a matter of indifference to a man who, having
never earned a dollar, had not the slightest idea of the value of a
dollar. At the end of the first year of his marriage, jewels for
Elizabeth seemed less important to him than her bread and butter; and
it was then that with real anxiety he tried to find something to do.
Again "Sarah Maitland's son" found doors open to him which the ordinary
man, inexperienced and notoriously idle, would have found closed; but
none of them offered what he thought a sufficient salary; and by and by
he realized that very soon he would be obliged, as he expressed it, "to
sponge on Elizabeth"; for, reckless as he was, he knew that his
borrowing capacity must come to an end. When the "sponging" finally
began, he was acutely uncomfortable, which was certainly to his credit.
At any rate, it proved that he was enough of a man to be miserable
under such conditions. When a husband who is young and vigorous lives
idly on his wife's money one of two things happens: he is miserable, or
he degenerates into contentment. Blair was not
degenerating--consequently he was honestly wretched.

His attempts to find something to do were not without humor to his
mother, who kept herself informed, of course, of all his "business"
ventures. "What! he wants the Dalzells to take him on? What for?
Errand-boy? That's all he's good for. But I'm afraid two dollars and a
half a week won't buy him many china beetles!" When Blair essayed a
broker's office she even made an ancient joke to her superintendent:
"If Blair could buy himself for what he is worth to Haines, and sell
himself for what he thinks he's worth, he might make a fair
profit,--and pick up some more old masters."

But she was impatient for him to get through with all this nonsense of
dilly-dallying at making a living by doing things he knew nothing
about! How soon would he get down to hard-pan and knock at her door at
the Works and ask for a job, man-fashion? "That's what I want to know!"
she used to tell Mr. Ferguson, who was silent. He did not want to know
anything about Blair; all he cared for was to help his girl bear the
burden of her folly. He called it "folly" now, and Miss White used to
nod her old head in melancholy agreement. It was only to Robert
Ferguson that Mrs. Maitland betrayed her constant anxiety about her
son; and it was that anxiety which made her keenly sensitive to
Elizabeth's deepening depression. For as the excitement of sacrifice
and punishment wore off, and the strain of every-day living began to
tell, Elizabeth's depression was very marked. She was never angry
now--she had not the energy for anger; and she was never unkind to
Blair; perhaps her own pain made her pitiful of his. But she was
always, as Cherry-pie expressed it, "under a cloud." Mrs. Maitland,
watching her, wondered if she was moody because funds were getting low.
How intensely she hoped that was the reason! "I reckon that money of
hers is coming to an end," she used to think, triumphantly--for she had
known, through Nannie, just when Blair had reached the point at which
he had been obliged to use his wife's capital. Whenever she saw
Elizabeth--who for want of anything better to do came constantly to see
Nannie: she would drop a word or two which she thought might go back to
her son: "We need an extra hand in the office." Or: "How would Blair
like to travel for the Works? We can always take on a traveling man."

She never had the chance to drop her hints to Blair himself. In vain
Nannie urged upon her brother her old plea: "Be nice to Mamma. Do come
and see her. Everything will be all right again if you will only come
and see her!" Nothing moved him. If his mother could be firm, so could
he; he was never more distinctly her son than in his obstinacy.

"If she alters her will," he said, briefly, "I will alter my behavior.
She's not my mother so long as she casts off her son."

Mrs. Maitland seemed to age very much that second year. Her business
was still a furious interest; she stormed her way through every trade
obstacle, occasionally bargaining with her conscience by increasing her
donations to foreign missions; but there was this change of suddenly
apparent age. Instead of the old, clear-eyed, ruthless joy in work,
there was a look of furtive waiting; an anxiety of hope deferred, that
grooved itself into her face. And somewhere in the spring of the third
year, the hoped-for moment approached--necessity began to offer its
beneficent opportunity to her son. In spite of experiments in prudence
in borrowing and in earning, the end of Elizabeth's money was in sight.
When the end was reached, there would be nothing for Blair Maitland but
surrender.

"Shall I cave in now?" he vacillated; he was wandering off alone across
the bridge, fairly aching with indecision, and brooding miserably, not
only over the situation, but over his helplessness to buy his way into
Elizabeth's affections. "She ought to have a carriage; it is
preposterous for my wife to be going round in streetcars. If I could
give her a carriage and a pair of horses!" But of course it was
ridiculous to think of things like that. He could not buy a carriage
for Elizabeth out of her own money--besides, her money was shrinking
alarmingly. It was this passionate desire to propitiate her, as well as
the recognition of approaching necessities, that brought him to the
point where he saw capitulation ahead of him. "I wish I could make up
my mind," he thought, wearily. "Well, if I don't get something to do
pretty soon, it will be made up for me,--I'll _have_ to eat crow! I'll
have to go to the Works and ask for a job. But I swear I won't speak
to--_her!_ It is damnable to have to cave in; I'd starve before I'd do
it, if it wasn't for Elizabeth."

But before the time for eating crow arrived, something happened.



CHAPTER XXVIII

Mrs. Maitland and Nannie were having their supper at the big, cluttered
office table in the shabby dining-room--shabbier now by twenty years
than when Blair first expressed his opinion of it. In the midst of the
silent meal Sarah Maitland's eye fell on her stepdaughter, and hardened
into attention. Nannie looked pale, she thought; and frowned slightly.
It occurred to her that the girl might be lonely in the long evenings
over there in the parlor, with nothing to do but read foolish little
stories, or draw foolish little pictures, or embroider foolish little
tidies and things. "What a life!" she said to herself; it was a shame
Blair did not come in and cheer his sister up. Yes; Nannie was
certainly very solitary. What a pity David Richie had no sense! "Now
that he can't get Elizabeth, nothing could be more sensible," she said
to herself; then sighed. Young men were never very sensible in regard
to matrimony. "I suppose I ought to do something myself to cheer her
up," she thought--a little impatiently, for really it was rather absurd
to expect a person of her quality to cheer Nannie! Still, she might
talk to her. Of course they had only one topic in common:

"Seen your brother lately?"

"No, Mamma. He went East day before yesterday."

"Has he found anything to do?" This was the usual weary question;
Nannie gave the usual scared answer:

"I _think_ not; not yet. He is going to look up something in New York,
Elizabeth says."

"Tell Elizabeth I will take him on at the Works, whenever he is ready
to come. His belly will bring him to it yet!" she ended, with the old,
hopeful belief that has comforted parents ever since the fatted calf
proved the correctness of the expectation. Nannie sighed. Mrs. Maitland
realized that she was not "cheering" her very much. "You ought to amuse
yourself," she said, severely; "how do you amuse yourself?"

"I--draw," Nannie managed to say; she really could not think of any
other amusement.

Then her stepmother had an inspiration: "Would you like to come over to
the furnace and see the night cast? It's quite a sight, people say."

Nannie was dumfounded at the attention. Mamma offering to take her to
the Works! To be sure, it was the last thing on earth she would choose
to do, but if her stepmother asked her, of course she could not say no.
She said "yes," reluctantly enough, but Mrs. Maitland did not detect
the reluctance; she was too pleased with herself at having thought of
some way of entertaining the girl.

"Get your bonnet on, get your bonnet on!" she commanded, in high good
humor. And Nannie, quailing at the thought of the Works at night--"it's
dreadful enough in the daytime," she said to herself--put on her hat,
in trembling obedience. "Yes," Mrs. Maitland said, as she tramped down
the cinder path toward the mills, Nannie almost running at her
heels--"yes, the cast is a pretty sight, people say. Your brother once
said that it ought to be painted. Well, I suppose there are people who
care for pictures," she said, incredulously. "I know I'm $5,000 out of
pocket on account of a picture," she ended, with a grim chuckle.

As they were crossing the Yards, the cavernous glooms of the Works,
under the vast stretch of their sheet-iron roofs, were lighted for
dazzling moments by the glow of molten metal and the sputtering roar of
flames from the stacks; a network of narrow-gauge tracks spread about
them, and the noises from the mills were deafening. Nannie clutched
nervously at Mrs. Maitland's arm, and her stepmother grunted with
amusement. "Hold on to me," she shouted--she had to shout to make
herself heard; "there's nothing to hurt you. Why, I could walk around
here with my eyes shut!"

Nannie clung to her frantically; if she protested, the soft flutter of
her voice did not reach Mrs. Maitland's ears. A few steps farther
brought them into the comparative silence of the cast-house of the
furnace, and here they paused while Sarah Maitland spoke to one of the
keepers. Only the furnace itself was roofed; beyond it the stretch of
molded sand was arched by the serene and starlit night.

"That's the pig bed out there," Mrs. Maitland explained, kindly; "see,
Nannie? Those cross-trenches in the sand they call sows; the little
hollows on the side are the pigs. When they tap the furnace, the melted
iron will flow down into 'em; understand?"

"Mamma, I'd--I'd like to go home," poor Nannie managed to say; "it
scares me!"

Mrs. Maitland looked at her in astonishment. "Scares you? What scares
you?"

"It's so--dreadful," Nannie gasped.

"You don't suppose I'd bring you anywhere where you could get hurt?"
her stepmother said, incredulously. She was astonished to the point of
being pained. How could Herbert's girl be such a fool? She remembered
that Blair used to call his sister the "'fraid-cat." "Good name," she
thought, contemptuously. She made no allowance for the effect of this
scene of night and fire, of stupendous shadows and crashing noises,
upon a little bleached personality, which for all these years, had
lived in the shadow of a nature so dominant and aggressive that, quite
unconsciously, it sucked the color and the character out of any
temperament feebler than itself. Sarah Maitland frowned, and said
roughly, "Oh, you can go home, if you want to; Mr. Parks!" she called
to the foreman; "just walk back to the house, if you please, with my
daughter;" then she turned on her heel and went up to the furnace.

Nannie, clutching Parks's hand, stumbled out into the darkness. "It's
perfectly awful!" she confided to the good-natured man, when he left
her at her back door.

"Oh, you get used to it," he said, kindly. "You'd 'a knowed," he told
one of his workmen afterward, "that there wasn't hide nor hair of her
that belonged to the Old One. A slip of a thing, and scared to death of
the noise."

The "Old One," after Nannie had gone, poked about for a moment or
two,--"she noses into things, to save two cents," her men used to say,
with reluctant admiration of the ruthless shrewdness that was instant
to detect their shortcomings; then she went down the slight incline
from the furnace hearth to the open stretch of molding-sand; there was
a pile of rusty scrap at one side, and here, in the soft April darkness
under the stars, she seated herself, looking absently at the furnace
and the black, gnome-like figures of the helpers. She was thinking just
what Parks had thought, that Nannie had none of her blood in her.
"Afraid!" said Sarah Maitland. Well, Blair had never been afraid, she
would say that for him; he was a fool, and pig-headed, and a loafer;
but he wasn't a coward. He had even thought it fine, that scene of
power, where civilization made itself before his very eyes! When would
he think it fine enough to come in and go to work? Come in, and take
his part in making civilization? Then she noticed the bending figure of
the keeper opening the notch of the furnace; instantly there was a roar
of sparks, and a blinding white gush of molten iron flowing like water
down into the sand runner. The sudden, fierce illumination drowned the
stars overhead, and brought into clear relief her own figure, sitting
there on the pile of scrap watching the flowing iron. Tiny blue flames
of escaping gas danced and shimmered on its ineffable rippling
brightness, that cooled from dazzling snow to rose, then to crimson,
and out in the sand, to glowing gray. Blair had called it "beautiful."
Well, it was a pretty sight! She wished she had told him that she
herself thought it pretty; but the fact was, it had never struck her
before. "I suppose I don't notice pretty things very much," she
thought, in some surprise. "Well, I've never had time for foolishness.
Too busy making money for Blair." She sighed; after all, he wasn't
going to have the money. She had been heaping up riches, and had not
known who should gather them. She had been too busy to see pretty
things. And why? That orphan asylums and reformatories--and David
Richie's hospital--should have a few extra thousands! A month ago the
fund she was making for David had reached the limit she had set for it,
and only to-day she had brought the bank certificate of deposit home
with her. She had felt a little glow of satisfaction when she locked it
into the safe in her desk; she liked the consciousness of a good job
finished. She was going to summon the youngster to Mercer, and tell him
how he was to administer the fund; and if he put on any of his airs and
graces about accepting money, she would shut him up mighty quick! "I'll
write him to-morrow, if I've time," she had said. At the moment, the
sense of achievement had exhilarated her; yet now, as she sat there on
the heap of scrap, bending a pliant boring between her fingers, her
pillar of fire roaring overhead from the chimneys of the furnaces, the
achievement seemed flat enough. Why should she, to build a hospital for
another woman's son, have worked so hard that she had never had time to
notice the things her own son called "pretty"? Not his china beetles,
of course, or truck like that; but the shimmering flow of her iron,--or
even that picture, for which she was out of pocket $5,000. "I can see
you might call it pretty, if it hadn't cost so much," she admitted.
Yes, she had worked, she told herself, "as hard as a man," to earn
money for Blair!--only to make him idle and to have him say that thing
about her clothes which Goose Molly had said before he was born.
"Wonder if I've been a fool?" she ruminated.

It was at that moment that she noticed, at one side of the furnace,
between two bricks of the hearth, a little puff of white vapor;
instantly she leaped, shouting, to her feet. But it was too late. The
molten iron, seeping down through some crack in the furnace, creeping,
creeping, beneath the bricks of the pavement, had reached some
moisture...The explosion, the clouds of scalding steam, the terror of
the flowing, scattering fire, drowned her voice and hid her frantic
gestures of warning....

"Killed?" she said, furiously, as some one helped her up from the
scrap-heap against which she had been hurled; "of course not! I don't
get killed." Then suddenly the appalling confusion was dominated by her
voice:

"_Look after those men._"

She stood there in the center of the horror, reeling a little once or
twice, holding her skirt up over her left arm, and shouting her quick
orders. "Hurt?" she said again to a questioning helper. "I don't know.
I haven't time to find out. That man there is alive! Get a doctor!" She
did not leave the Works until two badly burned men had been carried
away, and two dead bodies lifted out of the reek of steam and the
spatter of half-chilled metal. Then, still holding her skirt over her
arm, she went alone, in the darkness, up the path to her back door.

"No! I don't want anybody to go home with me," she said, angrily; "look
after things here. Notify Mr. Ferguson. I'll come back." When she
banged open her own door, she had only one question:
"Is--Nannie--all--right?" Harris, gaping with dismay, and stammering,
"My goodness! yes'm; yes'm!" followed her to the dining-room, where she
crashed down like a felled tree, and lay unconscious on the floor.

When she began to come to herself, a doctor, for whom Harris had fled,
was binding up her torn arm, which, covered with blood, and black with
grit and rust, was an ugly sight. "Where's Blair?" she said, thickly;
then came entirely to her senses, and demanded, sharply, "Nannie all
right?" Reassured again on this point, she looked frowningly at the
doctor. "Come, hurry! I want to get back to the Works."

"Back to the Works! To-night? Impossible! You mustn't think of such a
thing," the young man protested. Mrs. Maitland looked at him, and he
shifted from one foot to the other. "It--it won't do, really," he said,
weakly; "that was a pretty bad knock you got on the back of your head,
and your arm--"

"Young man," she said, "you patch this up, _quick_. I've got to see to
my men. That's my business. You 'tend to yours."

"But my business is to keep you here," he told her, essaying to be
humorous. His humor went out like a little candle in the wind: "Your
business is to put on bandages. That's all I pay you for."

And the doctor put on bandages with expedition. In the front hall he
spoke to Nannie. "Your mother has a very bad arm, Miss Maitland; and
that violent blow on her head may have done damage. I can't tell yet.
You must make her keep still."

"_Make!_--Mamma?" said Nannie.

"She says she's going over to the Works," said the doctor, shrugging
his shoulders; "when she comes home, get her to bed as quickly as you
can. I'll come in and see her in the morning, if she wants me. But if
she won't do what I say about keeping quiet, I'd rather you called in
other advice." When Nannie tried to "make Mamma" keep still, the only
reply she received was: "You showed your sense in going home, my dear!"
And off she went, Harris, at Nannie's instigation, lurking along behind
her. "If Herbert's girl had been hurt!" she said, aloud, staggering a
little as she walked, "my God, what would I have done?"

Afterward, they said it was astounding that she had been able to go
back to the Works that night. She must have been in very intense pain.
When she came home, the pain conquered to the extent of sending her, at
midnight, up to her stepdaughter's room; she was red with fever, and
her eyes were glassy. "Got any laudanum, or stuff of that kind?" she
demanded. And yet the next day, when the bandages had been changed and
there was some slight relief, she persisted in going to the Works
again. But the third day she gave up, and attended to her business in
the dining-room.

"If only Blair would come home," Nannie said, "I think, perhaps, she
would be nice to him. Haven't you any idea where he is, Elizabeth?"

"Not the slightest," Elizabeth said, indifferently. She herself came
every day, and performed what small personal services Mrs. Maitland
would permit. Nannie did not amount to much as a nurse, but she was
really helpful in writing letters, signing them so exactly in Sarah
Maitland's hand that her stepmother was greatly diverted at her
proficiency. "I shall have to look after my check-book," she said, with
a chuckle.

It was not until a week later that they began to be alarmed. It was
Harris who first discovered the seriousness of her condition; when he
did, the knowledge came like a blow to her household and her office. It
was late in the afternoon. Earlier in the day she had had a violent
chill, during which she sat crouching and cowering over the dining-room
fire, refusing to go to bed, and in a temper that scared Nannie and
Harris almost to death. When the chill ceased, she went, flushed with
fever, to her own room, saying she was "all right," and banging the
door behind her. At about six, when Harris knocked to say that supper
was ready, she came out, holding the old German cologne bottle in her
hand. "_He_ gave me that," she said, and fondled the bottle against her
cheek; then, suddenly she pushed it into Harris's face. "Kiss it!" she
commanded, and giggled shrilly.

Harris jumped back with a screech. _"Gor!"_ he said; and his knees hit
together. The slender green bottle fell smashing to the floor. Mrs.
Maitland started, and caught her breath; her mind cleared instantly.

"Clean up that mess. The smell of the cologne takes my breath away.
I--I didn't know I had it in my hand."

That night Elizabeth sent a peremptory letter into space, telling Blair
that his mother was seriously ill, and he really ought to be at home.
But he had left the hotel to which she sent it, without giving any
address, so it lay in a dusty pigeonhole awaiting his return a week
later.

The delirium came again the next day; then Sarah Maitland cried,
because, she said, Nannie had hidden the Noah's ark; "and Blair and I
want to play with it," she whined. But a moment afterward she looked at
her stepdaughter with kind eyes, and said, as she had said a dozen
times in the last ten days, "Lucky you went home that night, my dear."

Of course by this time the alarm was general. The young doctor was
supported, at Robert Ferguson's insistence, by an old doctor, who, if
he was awed by his patient, at least did not show it. He was even
courageous enough to bring a nurse along with him.

"Miss Baker will spare your daughter," he said, soothingly, when Sarah
Maitland, seeing the strange figure in her bedroom, had declared she
wouldn't have a fussing woman about. "Miss Nannie needs help," the
doctor said. Mrs. Maitland frowned, and yielded.

But the nurse did not have a good time. In her stiffly starched skirt,
with her little cap perched on her head, she went fluttering prettily
about, watched all the while by the somber, half-shut eyes. She moved
the furniture, she dusted the bureau, she arranged the little row of
photographs; and then she essayed to smooth Mrs. Maitland's hair--it
was the last straw. The big, gray head began to lift slowly; a
trembling finger pointed at the girl; there was only one word:

"_Stop_."

The startled nurse stopped,--so abruptly that she almost lost her
balance.

"Clear out. You can sit in the hall. When I want you, I'll let you
know."

Miss Baker fled, and Mrs. Maitland apparently forgot her. When the
doctor came, however, she roused herself to say: "I won't have that
fool girl buzzing round. I don't like all this highfalootin' business
of nurses, anyhow. They are nothing but foolish expense." Perhaps that
last word stirred some memory, for she added abruptly: "Nannie, bring
me that--that picture you have in the parlor. The Virgin Mary, you
know. Rags of popery, but I want to look at it. No; I can't pay $5,000
for 14 X 18 inches of old master, and hire nurses to curl my hair,
too!" But nobody smiled at her joke.

When Nannie brought the picture, she bade her put it on a chair by the
bedside, and sometimes the two girls saw her look at it intently. "I
think she likes the child," Elizabeth said, in a low voice; but Nannie
sighed, and said, "No; she is provoked because Blair was extravagant."
After Miss Baker's banishment, Elizabeth did most of the waiting on
her, for Nannie's anxious timidity made her awkward to the point of
being, as Mrs. Maitland expressed it, wearily, "more bother than she
was worth." Once she asked where Blair was, and Elizabeth said that
nobody knew. "He heard of some business opening, Mrs. Maitland, and
went East to see about it."

"Went East? What did he go East for? He's got a business opening at
home, right under his nose," she said, thickly.

After that she did not ask for him. But from her bed in her own room
she could see the dining-room door, and she lay there watching it, with
expectation smoldering in her half-shut eyes. Once, furtively, when no
one was looking, she lifted the hem of the sheet with her fumbling
right hand and wiped her eyes. For the next few days she gained, and
lost, and gained again. There were recurrent periods of lucidity,
followed by the terrible childishness that had been the first
indication of her condition. At the end of the next week she suddenly
said, in a loud voice, "I won't stay in bed!" And despite Nannie's
pleadings, and Miss Baker's agitated flutterings, she got up, and
shuffled into the dining-room; she stood there, clutching with her
uninjured hand a gray blanket that was huddled around her shoulders.
Her hair was hanging in limp, disordered locks about her face, which
had fallen away to the point of emaciation. She was leaning against the
table, her knees shaking with weakness. But it was evident that her
mind was quite clear. "Bed is a place to die in," she said; "I'm well.
Let me alone. I shall stay here." She managed to get over to her desk,
and sank into the revolving chair with a sigh of relief. "Ah!" she
said, "I'm getting out of the woods. Harris! Bring me something to
eat." But when the food was put before her, she could not touch it.

Robert Ferguson, who almost lived at the Maitland house that week, told
her, soothingly, that she really ought to go back to bed, at which she
laughed with rough goodnature. "Don't talk baby-talk. I'm getting well.
But I've been sick; I've had a scare; so I'm going to write a letter,
in case--Or here, you write it for me."

"To Blair?" he said, as he took his pen out of his pocket.

"Blair? No! To David Richie about that money. Don't you remember I told
you I was going to give him a lot of money for a hospital? That I was
going to get a certificate of deposit"--her voice wavered and she
seemed to doze. A moment later, when her mind cleared again, her
superintendent said, with some effort: "Aren't you going to do
something for Blair? You will get well, I'm sure, but--in case--Your
will isn't fair to the boy; you ought to do something for him."

Instantly she was alert: "I have. I've done the best thing in the world
for him; I've thrown him on his own legs! As for getting well, of
course I'm going to get well. But if I didn't, everything is closed up;
my will's made; Blair is sure of poverty. Well; I guess I won't have
you write to David to-day; I'm tired. When I'm out again, I'll tell
Howe to draw up a paper telling him just what the duties of a trustee
are.... Why don't you ... why don't you marry his mother, and be done
with it? I hate to see a man and woman shilly-shally."

"She won't have me," he said, good-naturedly; in his anxiety he was
willing to let her talk of anything, merely to amuse her.

"Well, she's a nice woman," Sarah Maitland said; "and a good woman; I
was afraid _you_ were doing the shilly-shallying. And any man who would
hesitate to take her, isn't fit to black her boots. Friend Ferguson, I
have a contempt for a man who is more particular than his Creator."
Robert Ferguson wondered what she was driving at, but he would not
bother her by a question.

"What was that I used to say about her?" the sick woman ruminated, with
closed eyes; "'fair and--What was it? Forty? No, that wasn't it."

"Fifty," he suggested, smiling.

She shook her head peevishly. "No, that wasn't it. 'Fair, and,
and'--what was it? It puts me out of patience to forget things! 'Fair
and--_frail_!' That was it; frail! 'Fair and frail.'" She did not pause
for her superintendent's gasp of protest. "Yes; first time I saw her, I
thought there was a nigger in the woodpile. She won't marry you, friend
Ferguson, because she has something on her conscience. Tell her I say
not to be a fool. The best man going is none too good for her!"

Robert Ferguson's heart gave a violent plunge in his breast, but before
his angry denial could reach her brain, her thought had wandered. "No!
no! no! I won't go to bed. Bed is where people die." She got up from
her chair, to walk about and show how well she was; but when she
reached the center of the room she seemed to crumple up, sinking and
sliding down on to the floor, her back against one of the carved legs
of the table. Once there, she would not get up. She became so violently
angry when they urged her to let them help her to her feet, that they
were obliged to yield. "We will do more harm by irritating her," the
doctor said, "than any good we could accomplish by putting her back to
bed forcibly." So they put cushions behind her, and there she sat,
staring with dim, expectant eyes at the dining room door; sometimes
speaking with stoical endurance, intelligently enough; sometimes, when
delirious, whimpering with the pain of that terrible arm, swollen now
to a monstrous mass of agony.

Late in the afternoon she said she wanted to see '"that picture"; and
Elizabeth knelt beside her, holding the little dark canvas so that she
could look at it; she sat staring into it for a long time. "Mary didn't
try to keep her baby from the cross," she said, suddenly; "well, I've
done better than that; I brought the cross to my baby." Her face fell
into wonderfully peaceful lines. Just at dusk she tried to sing.

    "'Drink to me only with thine eyes'"

she quavered; "my boy sings that beautifully. I must give him a
present. A check. I must give him a check."

But when Nannie said, eagerly, "Blair has written Elizabeth that he
will be at home to-morrow; I'll tell him you want to see him; and oh,
Mamma, won't you please be nice to him?"--she looked perfectly blank.
Toward morning she sat silently for a whole hour sucking her thumb.
When, abruptly, she came to herself and realized what she had been
doing, the shamed color rose in her face. Nannie, kneeling at her side,
caught at the flicker of intelligence to say, "Mamma, would you like to
see the Rev. Mr. Gore? He is here; waiting in the parlor. Sha'n't I
bring him in?"

Mrs. Maitland frowned. "What does he come for now? I'm sick. I can't
see people. Besides, I sent him a check for Foreign Missions last
month."

"Oh, Mamma!" Nannie said, brokenly, "he hasn't come for money; I--I
sent for him."

Sarah Maitland's eyes suddenly opened; her mind cleared instantly.
"Oh," she said; and then, slowly: "Um-m; I see." She seemed to meditate
a moment; then she said, gravely: "No, my dear, no; I won't see little
Gore. He's a good little man; a very good little man for missions and
that sort of thing. But when it comes to _this_--" she paused; "I
haven't time to see to him," she said, soberly. A minute later,
noticing Nannie's tears, she tried to cheer her: "Come, come! don't be
troubled," she said, smiling kindly, "I can paddle my own canoe, my
dear." After that she was herself for nearly half an hour. Once she
said. "My house is in order, friend Ferguson." Then she lost herself
again. To those who watched her, huddled on the heap of cushions,
mumbling and whimpering, or with a jerk righting her mind into stony
endurance, she seemed like a great tower falling and crumbling in upon
itself. At that last dreadful touch of decay, when she put her thumb in
her mouth like a baby, her stepdaughter nearly fainted.

All that night the mists gathered, and thinned, and gathered again. In
the morning, still lying on the floor, propped against all the pillows
and cushions of the house, she suddenly looked with clear eyes at
Nannie.

"Why!" she said, in her own voice, and frowning sharply, "that
certificate of deposit! I got it from the Bank the day of the accident,
but I haven't indorsed it! Lucky I've got it here in the house. Bring
it to me. It's in the safe in my desk. Take my keys."

Nannie, who for the moment was alone with her, found the key, and
opening the little iron door in the desk, brought the certificate and a
pen dipped in ink; but even in those few moments of preparation, the
mist had begun to settle again: "I told the cashier it was a present I
was going to make," she chuckled to herself; "said _he'd_ like to get a
present like that. I reckon he would. Reckon anybody would." Her voice
lapsed into incoherent murmurings, and Nannie had to speak to her twice
before her eyes were intelligent again; then she took the pen and
wrote, her lips faintly mumbling: "Pay to the order of--what's the
date?" she said, dully, her eyes almost shut. "Never mind; I don't have
to date it. But I was thinking: Blair gave me a calendar when he was a
little boy. Blair--Blair--" And as she spoke his name, she wrote it:
"_Blair Maitland_." But just as she did so, her mind cleared, and she
saw what she had written. "Blair Maitland?" she said, and smiled and
shook her head. "Oh, I've written that name too many times. Too many
times. Got the habit." She lifted her pen heavily, perhaps to draw it
through the name, but her hand sagged.

"Aren't you going to sign it, Mamma?" Nannie asked, breathlessly; and
her stepmother turned faintly surprised eyes upon her. Nannie, kneeling
beside her, urged again: "Mamma, you want to give it to Blair! Try, do
try--" But she did not hear her.

At noon that day, through the fogged and clogging senses, there was
another outburst of the soul. They had been trying to give her some
medicine, and each time she had refused it, moving her head back and
side-wise, and clenching her teeth against the spoon. Over and over the
stimulant was urged and forced upon her; when suddenly her eyes flashed
open and she looked at them with the old power that had made people
obey her all her life. The mind had been insulted by its body beyond
endurance; she lifted her big right hand and struck the spoon from the
doctor's fingers: "_I have the right to die_."

Then the flame fluttered down again into the ashes.

When Blair reached the house that afternoon, she was unconscious. Once,
at a stab of pain, she burst out crying with fretful wildness; and once
she put her thumb into her mouth.

At six o'clock that night she died.



CHAPTER XXIX

When the doctor came to tell Nannie that Sarah Maitland was dead, he
found her in the parlor, shivering up against her brother. Blair had
come to his mother's house early that afternoon; a note from Elizabeth,
awaiting him at the River House, had told him of the gravity of Mrs.
Maitland's condition, and bidden him "come instantly." As he read it,
his face grew tense. "Of course I must go," he said; but there was no
softening in his eyes. In all these months, in which his mother's
determination had shown no weakening, his anger had deepened into the
bitterest animosity. Yet curiously enough, though he hated her more, he
disliked her less. Perhaps because he thought of her as a Force rather
than as a mother; a power he was fighting--force against force! And the
mere sense of the grapple gave him a feeling of equality with her which
he had never had. Or it may have been merely that his eyes and ears did
not suffer constant offense from her peculiarities. He had not
forgotten the squalor of the peculiarities, but they did not strike him
daily in the face, so hate was not made poignant by disgust. But
neither was it lessened by the possibility of her death.

"I wonder if she has changed her will?" he said to himself, with fierce
curiosity. But whether she had done so or not, propriety demanded his
presence in her house if she were dying. As for anything more than
propriety,--well, if by destroying her iniquitous will she had showed
proper maternal affection, he would show proper filial solicitude. It
struck him, as he stepped into a carriage to drive down to Shanty town,
that such an attitude of mind on his part was pathetic for them both.
"She never cared for me," he thought; and he knew he had never cared
for her. Yes, it was pathetic; if he could have had for a mother such a
woman as--he frowned; he would not name David Richie's mother even in
his thoughts. But if he could have had a gentle and gracious woman for
a mother, how he would have loved her! He had always been motherless,
he thought; it was not today which would make him so. Still, it was
strangely shaking, this idea of her death. When Nannie came into the
parlor to greet him, he was silent while she told him, shivering and
crying, the story of the last two weeks.

"She hasn't been conscious since noon," she ended, "but she may call
for you; and oh, if she does. Blair, you will be lovely to her, won't
you?"

His grave silence seemed an assent.

"Will you go in and see her?" she said, weeping. But Blair, with the
picture she had given him of that awful figure lying on the floor,
shook his head.

"I will wait here.--I could not bear to see it," he added, shuddering.

"Elizabeth is with her," Nannie said, "so I'll stay a little while with
you. I don't believe it will be before morning."

Now and then they spoke in whispers; but for the most part they were
silent, listening to certain sinister sounds that came from the room
across the hall.

It was a warm May twilight; above the gaunt outline of the foundry, the
dim sickle of a young moon hung in a daffodil sky; the river, running
black between banks of slag and cinders, caught the sheen of gold and
was transfigured into glass mingled with fire. Through the open
windows, the odor of white lilacs and the acrid sweetness of the
blossoming plum-tree, floated into the room. The gas was not lighted;
sometimes the pulsating flames, roaring out sidewise from under the
half-shut dampers of the great chimneys, lighted the dusk with a red
glare, and showed Blair's face set in new lines. He had never been so
near the great Reality before; never been in a house where, on the
threshold, Death was standing; his personal affairs, angers or
anxieties, dropped out of his mind. So sitting and listening and not
speaking, the doctor found them.

"She has gone," he said, solemnly. Nannie began to cry; Blair stood up,
then walked to the window and looked out at the Yards. _Dead?_ For a
moment the word had no meaning. Then, abruptly, the old, elemental
meaning struck him like a blow; that meaning which the animal in us
knows, before we know the acquired meanings which grief and faith have
put into the word: his mother "was not." It was incredible! He gasped
as he stood at the window, looking out over the blossoming lilacs at
the Works, black against a fading saffron sky. Ten minutes ago his
mother was in the other room, owning those Works; now--? The sheer
impossibility of imagining the cessation of such a personality filled
him with an extraordinary dismay. He was conscious of a bewildered
inability to believe what had been said to him.

Mr. Ferguson, who had been with Sarah Maitland when the end came,
followed the doctor into the parlor; but neither he nor Blair
remembered personalities. They stood together now, listening to what
the doctor was saying; Blair, still dazed and unbelieving, put his arm
round Nannie and said, "Don't cry, dear; Mr. Ferguson, tell her not to
cry!" And the older man said, "Make her sit down, Blair; she looks a
little white." Both of them had forgotten individual resentments or
embarrassments.

When some people die, it is as if a candle flame were gently blown out;
but when, on the other side of the hall, this big woman lay dead on the
floor, it seemed to the people who stood by as if the whole machinery
of life had stopped. It was so absorbing in its astonishment that
everything else became simple. Even when Elizabeth entered, and came to
put her arms around Nannie, Blair hardly noticed her. As the doctor and
Robert Ferguson spoke together in low tones, of terrible things they
called "arrangements," Sarah Maitland's son listened, and tried to make
himself understand that they were talking of--his mother!

"I shall stay until everything has been done," Mr. Ferguson said, after
the doctor left them. "Blair, you and Elizabeth will be here, of
course, to-night? Or else I'll stay. Nannie mustn't be alone."

Blair nodded. "Of course," he said. At which Nannie, who had been
crying softly to herself, suddenly looked up.

"I would rather be by myself. I don't want any one here. Please go home
with Elizabeth, Blair. Please!"

"But Nannie dear, I want to stay," Blair began, gently; she interrupted
him, almost hysterically:

"No! _Please!_ It troubles me. I would rather you didn't. I--I want to
be alone."

"Well," Blair said, vaguely; he was too dazed to protest.

Robert Ferguson yielded too, though with a little surprise at her
vehemence. Then he turned to Blair; "I'll give you some telegrams that
must be sent," he said, in the old friendly voice. It was only when he
wrote a despatch to David's mother that the world was suddenly adjusted
to its old levels of anger and contempt. "I'll send this myself," he
said, coldly. Blair, with instant intuition, replied as coldly, "Oh,
very well."

He and Elizabeth went back to the hotel in silence, each deeply shaken
by the mere physical fact of death. When they reached the gloomy
granite columns of the old River House, Blair left his wife, saying
briefly something about "walking for a while." He wanted to be alone.
This was not because he felt any lack of sympathy in Elizabeth; on the
contrary, he was nearer to her than at any time since their marriage;
but it was a moment that demanded solitude. So he wandered about
Mercer's streets by himself until after midnight--down to the old
covered bridge, past Mrs. Todd's ice-cream saloon, out into the
country, where the wind was rising, and the tree-tops had begun to sway
against the sky.

There is a bond, it appears, between mother and child which endures as
long as they do. It is independent of love; reason cannot weaken it;
hate cannot destroy it. When a man's mother dies, something in the man
dies, too. Blair Maitland, walking aimlessly about in the windy May
midnight, standing on the bridge watching the slipping twinkle of a
star in the inky ripples below him, was vaguely conscious of this. He
thought, with a reluctance that was almost repulsion, of her will. He
did not want to think of it, it was not fitting! Yet he knew, back in
his mind, that within a few days, as soon as decency permitted, he
would take the necessary steps to contest it. Nor did he think
definitely of her; certainly not of all the unbeautiful things about
her, those acute, incessant trivialities of ugliness which had been a
veil between them all his life. Now, the veil was rent, and behind it
was a holy of holies,--the inviolable relation of the child and the
mother. It was of this that he thought, inarticulately, as he stood on
the bridge, listening to the rush of the wind; this, and the bare and
unbelievable fact that she "was not." As he struggled to realize her
death, he was aware of a curious uneasiness that was almost fright.

When he came to Nannie the next morning, he was still deeply absorbed;
and when she put something into his hands and said it was from his
mother, he suddenly wept.

    * * * * *

They had respected Nannie's desire to be alone that night, but it was
nearly twelve before she was really left to herself, and the house was
silent. Robert Ferguson had made her go up-stairs to bed, and bidden
the worn-out nurse sleep in the room next to her so that she would not
be so entirely solitary. He himself did not go home until those soft
and alien footsteps that cross our thresholds, and dare as business the
offices that Love may not essay, had at last died away. Nannie, in her
bedroom, sat wide-eyed, listening for those footsteps. Once she said to
herself: "When _they_ have gone--" and her heart pounded in her throat.
At last "they" went; she heard the front door close; then, out in the
street, another door banged softly; after that there was the sound of
wheels.

"Now!" she said to herself. But still she did not move.... Was the
nurse asleep? Was Harris up in his room in the garret? Was there any
one downstairs--except Death? Death in Mrs. Maitland's bedroom. "For
God's sake, _lock her door!_" Harris had said. And they locked it. We
generally lock it. Heaven knows why! Why do we turn the key on that
poor, broken, peaceful thing, as if it might storm out in the night,
and carry us back with it into its own silence?

It was almost dawn--the high spring dawn that in May flushes even
Mercer's skies at three o'clock in the morning, when, lamp in hand,
Nannie Maitland opened her bedroom door and peered into the upper hall.
Outside, the wind, which had begun to blow at sunset, was roaring
around the old house; it rumbled in the chimneys, and a sudden gust
tore at a loose shutter, and sent it banging back against the bricks.
But in the house everything was still. The window over the front door
was an arch of glimmering gray barred by the lines of the casement; but
toward the well of the staircase there was nothing but darkness. Nannie
put a hesitating foot across her own threshold, paused, then came
gliding out into the hall; at the head of the stairs she looked down
into a gulf of still blackness; the close, warm air of the house seemed
to press against her face. She listened intently: no sound, except the
muttering indifference of the wind about the house. Slowly, step by
step, shivering and shrinking, she began to creep down-stairs. At the
closed door of the dining-room--next to that other room which Harris
had bidden them lock up; she stood for a long time, her fingers
trembling on the knob; her lamp, shaking in her hand, cast a nimbus of
light around her small gray figure. It seemed to her as if she could
not turn that knob. Then, with gasp of effort, it was done, and she
entered. Her first look was at that place on the floor, where for the
last two days the pillows had been piled. The pillows were not there
now; the room was in new, bleak order. Instantly, after that shrinking
glance at the floor, she looked toward Mrs. Maitland's room, and her
hand went to her throat as if she could not breathe. A moment afterward
she began to creep across the floor, one terrified step dragging after
another; she walked sidewise, always keeping her head turned toward
that silent room. Just as she reached the big desk, the wind, sucking
under the locked door, shook it with sly insinuation;--instantly she
wheeled about, and stood, swaying with fright, her back against the
desk. She stood there, panting, for a full minute. The terror of that
furtively shaken door was agonizing. Then, very slowly, with a sidewise
motion so that she could look toward the room, she put her lamp down on
the top of the desk, and began, with constant bird-like glances over
her shoulder, to search.... Yes; there it was! just where she herself
had put it, slipped between the pages of a memorandum-book, so that if,
in another gleam of consciousness, Blair's mother should ask for it,
there need be no delay in getting it. When her fingers closed on it,
she turned, swiftly, so that the room might not be behind her. Always
watching the locked door, she groped for pen and ink and some sheets of
paper, which she carried over to the table. Then she drew up a chair,
folded back the sleeves of her wrapper, propped the
memorandum-book--which had on the inside page the flowing signature of
its owner--open before her. Then, slowly and steadily, she began to do
the thing she had come to do. Instantly she was calmer. When a great
gust of wind rumbled suddenly in the chimney, and a wraith of ashes
blew out of the fireplace, she did not even raise her eyes; but once
she looked over toward the room, and smiled, as if to say "It is all
right. I am making it all right!"

It took her a long time, this business that would make it "all right,"
this business that brought her, a creature who all her life had been
afraid of her own shadow, creeping down to the dining-room, creeping
past the room into which Death had been locked, creeping over to the
desk, to that unsigned indorsement which had been meant for Blair! It
took a long time. Sheet after sheet of paper was scrawled over, held up
beside the name in the notebook, then tossed into the empty grate. At
last she did it:

    _Sarah Maitland_

When she had finished, her relief, in having done what she could to
carry out the purpose of the dying hand, was so great that she was
able, without once looking over her shoulder, to put the pen and ink
back into the desk and set a match to the papers in the fireplace.
Indeed, as she took up her lamp to creep up-stairs again, she even
stopped and touched the knob of the locked door with a sort of caress.

But when, with a last breathless rush across the upper hall, she
regained her own room, she bolted her door with furious panic-stricken
hands, then sank, almost fainting, upon her bed.

[Illustration: SHE WHEELED ABOUT AND STOOD, SWAYING WITH FRIGHT]



CHAPTER XXX

The Maitland Works were still. High in the dusty gloom of the foundry,
a finger of sunshine pointing down from a grimy window touched the cold
lip of a cupola and traveled noiselessly over rows of empty molds upon
the blackened floor. The cast-house was silent. The Yards were
deserted. The pillar of fire was out; the pillar of smoke had faded
away.

In the darkened parlor of her great house, Sarah Maitland was still,
too. Lines of sunshine fell between the bowed shutters, and across them
wavering motes swam noiselessly from gloom to gloom. The marble
serenities of death were without sound; the beautiful, powerless hands
were empty, even of the soft futility of flowers; some one had placed
lilies-of-the-valley in them, but her son, with new, inarticulate
appreciation, lifted them and took them away. The only sound that broke
the dusky stillness of the room was the subdued brush of black
garments, or an occasional sigh, or the rustle of a furtively turned
page of a hymn-book. Except when, standing shoulder to shoulder in the
hall, her business associates, with hats held decorously before
whispering lips, spoke to each other of her power and her money,--who
now had neither money nor power,--the house was profoundly still. Then,
suddenly, from the head of the stairs, a Voice fell into the quietness:

_"Lord, let me know mine end and the number of my days, that I may be
certified how long I have to live. When thou with rebukes dost chasten
man for sin, thou makest his beauty to consume away, like as it were a
moth fretting a garment: every man, therefore, is vanity. For man
walketh in a vain show, and disquieteth--"_ the engine of a passing
freight coughed, and a cloud of smoke billowed against the windows; the
strips of sunshine falling between the shutters were blotted out; came
again--went again. Over and over the raucous running jolt of backing
cars, the rattling bump of sudden breaks, swallowed up the voice,
declaring the eternal silence: ". . . _glory of the celestial is one,
and the glory of the terrestrial is . . . of the sun, and another glory
of the moon, for one star differeth from . . . Dust to dust, ashes to
ashes_ . . ."

Out in the street the shadow of her house fell across the meager
dooryard, where, on its blackened stems, the pyrus japonica showed some
scattered blood-red blossoms; it fell over Shantytown, that packed the
sidewalk and stared from dingy doors and windows; it fell on her men,
standing in unrebuked idleness, their lowered voices a mutter of energy
held, for this waiting moment, in leash. A boy who had climbed up the
lamp-post announced shrilly that "It" was coming. Some girls, pressing
against the rusted iron spears of the fence, and sagging under the
weight of babies almost as big as themselves, called across the street
to their mothers, "Here she is!"

And so she came. No squalor of her surroundings could mar the pomp of
her approach. The rumble of her men's voices ceased before it;
Shantytown fell silent. Out from between the marble columns of her
doorway, out from under the twisted garland of wistaria murmurous with
bees, down the curving steps, along the path to the crowded, curious
sidewalk, she came. Out of the turmoil and the hurry of her life, out
of her triumphs and arrogances and ambitions, out of her careless
generosities and her extraordinary successes, she came. And following
her, with uncovered head, came the sign and symbol of her failure--her
only son.

Up-stairs, in the front hall, standing a little back from the wide
arched window, Nannie,--forbidden by the doctor, because of her
fatigue, to go to the grave; and Elizabeth and Miss White, who would
not leave her alone,--looked down on the slowly moving crowd. When
Sarah Maitland's men closed in behind her, nearly a thousand strong,
and the people in twos and threes began to file out of the house,
Nannie noiselessly turned a slat of the Venetian blind. Why! there were
those Maitlands from the North End. "I didn't suppose they remembered
our existence," she said, her breath still catching in a sob; "and
there are the Knights," she whispered to Elizabeth. "Do you see old
Mrs. Knight? I don't believe she's been to call on Mamma for ten years.
I never supposed she'd come."

Miss White, wiping her eyes as she peered furtively through the blinds,
said in a whisper that there was So-and-so, and that such and such a
person was evidently going out to the cemetery. "Mrs. Knight is
dreadfully lame, isn't she?" Nannie said. "Poor Mamma always called her
Goose Molly. It was nice in her to come, wasn't it?"

"Nannie," some one said, softly. And turning, she saw Mrs. Richie. "I
came on last night, Nannie dear. She was a good, kind friend to me. And
David is here, too. He hopes you will feel like seeing him. He was very
fond of her." Then she looked at Elizabeth: "How do you do? How is
Blair?" she said, calmly.

The moment was tense, yet of the four women, Elizabeth felt it least.
David was in the house! She could not feel anything else.

"Oh, Mrs. Richie--poor Mamma!" Nannie said; and with Mrs. Richie's kind
arm about her, she retreated to her own room.

Miss White went hurrying down-stairs--Elizabeth knew why! As for her,
she stood there in the empty hall, quite alone. She heard the carriage
doors closing out in the street, the sound of horses' feet, the drag of
wheels--even the subdued murmur of Shantytown looking on at the show....
David was in the house.

She went to the end of the hall and stood leaning over the banisters;
she could hear Miss White's flurried voice; then, suddenly, he spoke.
It was only some grave word,--she did not catch the sense of it, but
the sound--the sound of his voice! It turned her dizzy. Before she knew
it she sank down on the top step of the stairs, her head against the
banisters. She sat there, her face haggard with unshed tears, until
Mrs. Richie came out of Nannie's room and found her. It was then that
David's mother, who thought she had done her best in the courteous
commonplace of how-do-you-do--suddenly did better; she stooped down and
kissed Elizabeth's cheek.

"You poor child!" she said; "oh, you _poor_ child!" The pity of the
slender, crouching figure touched even Helena Richie's heart,--that
heart of passionate and resentful maternity; so she was able to kiss
her, and say, with wet eyes, "poor child!"

Elizabeth could not speak. Later, when the mother and son had left the
house, Miss White came upstairs and found her still sitting dumb and
tearless, on the top step. She clutched at Cherry-pie's skirt with
shaking hands: "Did he say--anything?"

"Oh, my poor lamb," old Miss White said, nibbling and crying, "how
could he, _here?_"

David, coming with his mother over the mountains to be present at Mrs.
Maitland's funeral, thought to himself how strange it was that it had
taken death to bring him to Mercer. In all those long months of
bewildered effort to adjust himself to the altered conditions of life,
there had been an undercurrent of purpose: _he would see Elizabeth._ He
would know from her own lips just how things were with her. It seemed
to David that if he could do that, if he could know beyond doubt--or
hope--that she was happy, he would himself be cured of the incessant,
dull ache of remorse, which quickened sometimes into the stabbing
suspicion that she had never really loved him. ... If she was happy,
then he need no longer blame himself for injuring her. The injury he
had done himself, he must bear, as men before him had borne, and as men
after him would bear, the results of their own sins and follies. He
had, of course, long since lost the wincing self-consciousness of the
jilted man, just as he had lost the expectation that she would send for
him, summon him to storm her prison and carry her away to freedom! That
was a boy's thought, anyhow. It was when that hope had completely
faded, that he began to say he must see for himself that she was happy
and that she did not wish to leave the man who had, at any rate, been
man enough to take her, and whom now, very likely, she loved. It was
the uncertainty about her happiness that was so intolerable to him. Far
more intolerable, he thought, than would be the knowledge that she was
content, for that he would deserve, and to the honest mind there is a
certain satisfaction in receiving its deserts. But his hatred of Blair
deepened a little at the mere suggestion of her contentment. Those evil
moments of suspecting her loyalty to him at the time of her marriage
were very rare now; though the evil moments of speculating as to how
God--or he himself, would finally punish Blair Maitland, were as
frequent as ever. During the last six months the desire to know how
things were with Elizabeth had been at times almost overwhelming. Once
he went so far as to buy his railroad ticket; but though his feet
carried him to the train, his mind drove him away from it, and the
ticket was not used. But when the news came of Sarah Maitland's death,
he went immediately to the station and engaged his berth. Then he went
home and asked his mother if she were going to the funeral; "I am," he
said. He spoke with affection of Mrs. Maitland, but so far as his going
to Mercer went, her funeral was entirely incidental. Her death had
ended his uncertainty: he would see Elizabeth!

"And when I see her," he said to himself, "the moment I see her,--I
will know." He debated with himself whether he should speak of the
catastrophe of their lives, or wait for her to do so. As he thought of
putting it into words, he was aware of singular shyness, which showed
him with startling distinctness how far apart he and she were. Just how
and when he would see her he had not decided; probably it could not be
on the day Mrs. Maitland was buried; but the next day? "How shall I
manage it?" he asked himself--then found that it had been managed for
him.

When they came back from the cemetery, Mrs. Richie went to Robert
Ferguson's. "You are to come home and have supper with me," he had told
her; "David can call for you when he gets through his gallivanting
about the town." (David had excused himself, on the ground of seeing
Knight and one or two of the fellows; he had said nothing of his need
to walk alone over the old bridge, out into the country, and, in the
darkness, round and round the River House.) So, in the May twilight of
Robert Ferguson's garden, the two old neighbors paced up and down, and
talked of Sarah Maitland.

"I've got to break to David that apparently he isn't going to get the
fund for his hospital," Mr. Ferguson said. "There is no mention of it
in her will. She told me once, about two years ago, that she was
putting money by for him, and when she got the amount she wanted she
was going to give it to him. But she left no memorandum of it. I'm
afraid she changed her mind." His voice, rather than his words, caught
her attention; he was not speaking naturally. He seemed to talk for the
sake of talking, which was so unlike him that Mrs. Richie looked at him
with mild curiosity. "Mrs. Maitland had a perfect right to change her
mind," she said; "and really David never counted very much on the
hospital. She spoke of it to him, I know, but I think he had almost
forgotten it--though I hadn't," she confessed, a little ruefully. She
smiled, and Robert Ferguson, fiercely twitching off his glasses, tried
to smile back; but his troubled eyes lingered questioningly on her
serene face. It was almost a beautiful face in its peace. What was it
Mrs. Maitland had said about her looks? "Fair and--" He was so angry at
remembering the word that he swore softly at himself under his breath,
and Helena Richie gave him a surprised look. He had sworn at himself
several times in these five days since Sarah Maitland, half delirious,
wholly shrewd, had said those impossible things about David's mother.
Under his concern and grief, under his solemn preoccupations, Robert
Ferguson had felt again and again the shock of the incredible
suggestion: _"something on her conscience."_ Each time the words thrust
themselves up through his absorbed realization of Mrs. Maitland's
death, he pushed them down savagely: "It is impossible!" But each time
they rose again to the surface of his mind. When they did, they brought
with them, as if dredged out of the depths of his memory, some sly
indorsement of their truth. . . . She never says anything about her
husband. "Why on earth should she? He was probably a bad egg; that
friend of hers, that Old Chester doctor, hinted that he was a bad egg.
Naturally he is not a pleasant subject of conversation for his wife." .
. . Her only friends, except in his own little circle, were two old men
(one of them dead now), in Old Chester. "Well, Heaven knows a parson
and a doctor are about as good friends as a woman can have." . . . But
no _women_ friends belonging to her past. "Thank the Lord! If she had a
lot of cackling females coming to see her, _I_ wouldn't want to!" . . .
She is always so ready to defend Elizabeth's wicked mother.

"She has a tender heart; she's not hard like the rest of her sex."

No, Life had not played another trick on him! Mrs. Maitland was out of
her head, that was all. As for him, somebody ought to boot him for even
remembering what the poor soul had said. And so, disposing of the
intolerable suspicion, he would draw a breath of relief--until the
whisper came again: _"something on her conscience?"_

He was so goaded by this fancy of a dying woman, and at the same time
so shaken by her death, that, as his guest was quick to see, he was
entirely unreal; almost--if one can say such a thing of Robert
Ferguson, artificial. He was artificial when he spoke of David and the
money he was not to have; the fact was, he did not at that moment care,
he said to himself, a hang about David, or his money either!

"You see," he said, as they came to the green door in the brick wall,
and went into the other garden, "you see, your house is still empty?"

"Dear old house!" she said, smiling up at the shuttered windows.

He looked into her face, and its entire candor made him suddenly and
sharply angry at Sarah Maitland. It was the old friendly anger, just as
if she were not dead; and he found it curiously comforting. ("She ought
to be ashamed of herself to have such an idea of Mrs. Richie. I'll tell
her so--oh, Lord! what am I saying? Well, well; she was dying; she
didn't know what she was talking about.") . . . "We could pull down
some partitions and make the two houses into one," he said, wistfully.

But she only laughed and shook her head. "I want to see if my white
peony is going to blossom; come over to the stone seat."

"You always shut me up," he said, sulkily; and in his sulkiness he was
more like himself than he had been for days. Sitting by her side on the
bench under the hawthorn, he let her talk about her peony or anything
else that seemed to her a safe subject; for himself, all he wanted was
the comfort of looking into her comforting eyes, and telling himself
that he insulted her when he even denied those poor, foolish, dying
words. When a sudden soft shower drove them indoors to his library he
came back with a sigh to Mrs. Maitland; but this time he was quite
natural: "The queer part of it is, she hadn't changed her mind about
David's money up to within two days of her death. She meant him to have
it when she spoke to me of writing to him; and her mind was perfectly
clear then; at least"--he frowned; "she did wander for a minute. She
had a crazy idea--"

"What?" said Mrs. Richie, sympathetically.

"Nothing; she was wandering. But it was only for a minute, and except
for that she was clear. When I urged her to make some provision for
Blair, she was perfectly clear. Practically told me to mind my own
business! Just like her," he said, sighing.

"It would have been a great deal of money," Mrs. Richie said; "probably
David is better off without it." But he knew she was disappointed; and
indeed, after supper, in his library, she admitted the disappointment
frankly enough. "He has changed very much; his youth is all gone. He is
more silent than ever. I had thought that perhaps the building of this
hospital would bring him out of himself. You see, he blames himself for
the whole thing."

"He is still bitter?"

"Oh, I'm afraid so. He very rarely speaks of it. But I can see that he
blames himself always. I wish he would talk freely."

"He will one of these days. He'll blurt it out and then he'll begin to
get over it. Don't stop him, and don't get excited, no matter what
absurd things he says. He'll be better when he has emptied his heart. I
was, you know, after I talked to you and told you that I'd
been--jilted."

"I'm afraid it's gone too deep for that with David," she said, sadly.

"It couldn't go deeper than it did with me, and yet you--you taught me
to forgive her. Yes, and to be glad, too; for if she hadn't thrown me
over, I wouldn't have known you."

"Now _stop!_" Mrs. Richie said, with soft impatience.

"For a meek and mild looking person," said Robert Ferguson, twitching
off his glasses, "you have the most infernally strong will. I hate
obstinacy."

"Mr. Ferguson, be sensible. Don't talk--that way. Listen: David must
see Elizabeth while he is here. This situation has got to become
commonplace. I meant to go home to-morrow morning, but if you will ask
us all to luncheon--"

"'Dinner'! We don't have your Philadelphia airs in Mercer."

"Well, 'dinner,'" she said, smiling; "we'll stay over and take the
evening train.

"I won't ask Blair!"

"I hate obstinacy," Mrs. Richie told him, drolly. "Well, I am not so
very anxious to see Blair myself. But I do want Elizabeth and David to
meet. You see, David means to practise in Mercer--"

"What! Then you will come here to live? When will you come?"

"Next spring, I hope. And it is like coming home again. The promise of
the hospital was a factor in his decision, but, even without it, I
think he will want to settle in Mercer"; she paused and sighed.

Her old landlord did not notice the sigh. "I'll get the house in order
for you right off!" he said, beaming. "I suppose you'll ask for all
sorts of new-fangled things! A tenant is never satisfied." He was so
happy that he barked and chuckled at the same time.

"I hope it's wise for him to come," Mrs. Richie said, anxiously; "I
confess I don't feel quite easy about it, because--Elizabeth will be
here; and though, of course, nobody is going to think of how things
might have been, still, it will be painful for them both just at first.
That's why I want you to invite us to dinner,--the sooner they meet,
the sooner things will be commonplace."

"When a man has once been in love with a woman," Robert Ferguson said,
putting on his glasses carefully, "he can hate her, but she can never
be commonplace to him."

And before she knew it she said, impulsively, "Please don't ever hate
me."

He laid a quick hand on hers that was resting in her lap. "I'll never
hate you and you'll never be commonplace. Dear woman--can't you?"

She shook her head; the tears stood suddenly in her leaf-brown eyes.

"Helena!" he said, and there was a half-frightened violence in his
voice; "_what_ is it? Tell me, for Heaven's sake; what is it? Do you
hate me?"

"No--no--no!"

"If you dislike me, say so! I think I could bear it better to believe
you disliked me."

"Robert, how absurd you are! You know I could never dislike you. But
our--our age, and David, and--"

He put an abrupt hand on her shoulder and looked hard into her eyes;
then for a single minute he covered his own. "Don't talk about age, and
all that nonsense. Don't talk about little things, Helena, for God's
sake! Oh, my dear--" he said, brokenly. He got up and went across the
room to a bookcase; he stood there a moment or two with his back to
her. Helena Richie, bewildered, her eyes full of tears, looked after
him in dismay. But when he took his chair again, he was "commonplace"
enough, and when, later, David came in, he was able to talk in the most
matter-of-fact way. He told the young man that evidently Mrs. Maitland
had changed her mind about a hospital. "Of course some papers may turn
up that will entitle you to your fund, but I confess I'm doubtful about
it. I'm afraid she changed her mind."

"Probably she did," David said, laconically; "well, I am glad she
thought of it,--even if she didn't do it. She was a big person, Mr.
Ferguson; I didn't half know how big a person she was!" For a moment
his face softened until his own preoccupations faded out of it.

"Nobody knew how big she was--except me," Robert Ferguson said. Then he
began to talk about her. . . . It was nearly midnight when he ended;
when he did, it was with an outburst of pain and grief: "Nobody
understood her. They thought because she ran an iron-works, that she
wasn't--a woman. I tell you she was! I tell you her heart was a woman's
heart. She didn't care about fuss and feathers, and every other kind of
tomfoolery, like all the rest of you, but she was as--as modest as a
girl, and as sensitive. You needn't laugh--"

"Laugh?" said Helena Richie; "I am ready to cry when I think how her
body misrepresented her soul!"

He nodded; his chin shook. "Big, generous, incapable of meanness,
incapable of littleness!--and now she's dead. I believe her
disappointment about Blair really killed her. It cut some spring. She
has never been the same woman since he--" He stopped short, and looked
at David; no one spoke.

Then Mrs. Richie asked some casual question about the Works, and they
began to talk of other things. When his guests said good-night, Robert
Ferguson, standing on his door-step, called after them: "Oh, hold on:
David, won't you and your mother come in to dinner to-morrow? Luncheon,
your mother calls it. She wants us to be fashionable in Mercer! Nobody
here but Miss White and Elizabeth."

"Yes, thank you; we'll come with pleasure," Mrs. Richie called back,
and felt the young man's arm grow rigid under her hand.

The mother and son walked on in silence. It had stopped raining, but
the upper sky was full of fleecy clouds laid edge to edge like a
celestial pavement; from between them sometimes a serene moon looked
down.

"David, you don't mind staying over for a day?"

"Oh no, not at all. I meant to."

"And you don't mind--seeing Elizabeth?"

"I want to see her. Will he be there?"

"Blair? No! Certainly not. It wouldn't be pleasant for--for--"

"For him?" David said, dryly. "I should think not. Still, I am sorry. I
have rather a curiosity to see Blair."

"Oh, David!" she protested, sadly.

"My dear mother, don't be alarmed. I have no intention of calling him
out. I am merely interested to know how a sneak-thief looks when he
meets--" he laughed; "the man he has robbed. However, it might not be
pleasant for the rest of you."

His mother was silent; her plan of making things "commonplace" was not
as simple as she thought.

Robert Ferguson, on his door-step, looked after them, his face falling
abruptly into stern lines. When he went back to his library he stood
perfectly still, his hands in his pockets, staring straight ahead of
him. Once or twice his whole face quivered. Suddenly he struck his
clenched fist hard on the table: "Well!" he said, aloud, violently,
"what difference does it make?" He lit a cigar and sat down, his legs
stretched out in front of him, his feet crossed. He sat there for an
hour, biting on his extinguished cigar. Then he said in an unsteady
voice, "She is a heavenly creature." The vigil in his library, which
lasted until the dawn was white above Mercer's smoke, left Robert
Ferguson shaken to the point of humility. He no longer combated Mrs.
Maitland's wandering words; they did not matter. What mattered was the
divine discovery that they did not matter! Or rather, that they opened
his eyes to the glory of the human soul. To a man of his narrow and
obstinate council of perfection, the realization, not only that it was
possible to enter into holiness through the door of sin--that low door
that bows the head that should be upright--but that his own
possibilities of tenderness were wider than he knew,--such a
realization was conversion. It was the recognition that in the matter
of forgiveness he and his Father were one. Helena might or might not
"have something on her conscience." If she had, then it proved that she
in her humility was a better woman than, with nothing on his
conscience, he in his arrogance was a man; and when he said that, he
began to understand, with shame, that in regard to other people's
wrong-doing he had always been, as Sarah Maitland expressed it, "more
particular than his Creator." He thought of her words now, and his lean
face reddened. "She hit me when she said that. I've always set up my
own Ebenezer. What a fool I must have seemed to a woman like Helena. .
. . She's a heavenly creature!" he ended, brokenly; "what difference
does it make how she became so? But if _that's_ the only reason she
keeps on refusing me--"

When Elizabeth and David met in Mr. Ferguson's library at noon the next
day, everybody was, of course, elaborately unconscious.

Elizabeth came in last. As she entered, Miss White, nibbling
speechlessly, was fussing with the fire-irons of a grate filled with
white lilacs. Mrs. Richie, turning her back upon her son, began to talk
entirely at random to Robert Ferguson, who was rapidly pulling out
books from the bookcase at the farther end of the room. David was the
only one who made no pretense. When he heard the front door close and
knew that she was in the house, he stood staring at the library door.
Elizabeth, entering, walked straight up to him, and put out her hand.

"How are you, David?" she said.

David, taking the small, cold hand in his, said, calmly, "How're you,
Elizabeth?" Then their eyes met. Hers held steadfast; it was his which
fell.

"Have you seen Nannie?" she said.

And he: "Yes; poor Nannie!"

"Hullo, Elizabeth," her uncle called out, carelessly; and Mrs. Richie
came over and kissed her.

So that first terrible moment was lived through. During luncheon, they
hardly spoke to each other. Elizabeth, with obvious effort, talked to
Mrs. Richie of Nannie and Mrs. Maitland; David talked easily and (for
him) a great deal, to Robert Ferguson; he talked politics, and
disgusted his iron-manufacturing host by denouncing the tariff; he
talked municipal affairs, and said that Mercer had a lot of private
virtue, but no public morals. "Look at your streets!" said the squirt.
In those days, the young man who criticized the existing order was a
squirt; now he is a cad; but in the nostrils of middle age, he is as
rankly unpleasant by one name as by the other. Elizabeth's uncle was so
annoyed that he forgot the embarrassment of the occasion, and said,
satirically, to Mrs. Richie: "Well, well! 'See how we apples swim'!"
which made her laugh, but did not disturb David in the least. The
moment luncheon was over, Elizabeth rose.

"I must go and see Nannie," she said; and David, opening the door for
her, said, "I'll go along with you." At which their elders exchanged a
startled look.

Out in the street they walked side by side--these two between whom
there was a great gulf fixed. By that time the strain of the occasion
had begun to show in Elizabeth's face; she was pale, and the tension of
her set lips drew the old dimple into a livid line. David was
apparently entirely at ease, speaking lightly of this or that;
Elizabeth answered in monosyllables. Once, at a crossing, he laid an
involuntary hand on her arm--but instantly lifted it as if the touch
had burnt him! "Lookout!" he said, and for the first time his voice
betrayed him. But before the clattering dray had passed, his taciturn
self-control had returned: "you can hardly hear yourself think, in
Mercer," he said. Elizabeth was silent; she had come to the end of
effort.

It was not until they reached the iron gate of Mrs. Maitland's house
that he dragged his quivering reality out of the inarticulate depths,
but his brief words were flat and meaningless to the strained creature
beside him.

"I was glad to see you to-day," he said.

And she, looking at him with hard eyes, said that it was very kind in
him and in his mother to come on to Mrs. Maitland's funeral. "Nannie
was so touched by it," she said. She could not say another word; not
even good-by. She opened the gate and fled up the steps to the front
door.

David, so abruptly deserted, stood for a full minute looking at the
dark old house, where the wistaria looping above the pillared doorway
was blossoming in wreaths of lavender and faint green.

Then he laughed aloud. "What a fool I am," he said.



CHAPTER XXXI

When Nannie Maitland, trembling very much, pressed into her brother's
hand that certificate for what was, in those days, a very considerable
fortune, Blair had been deeply moved. It came after a night, not of
grief, to be sure, but of what might be called cosmic emotion,--the
child's realization of the parent's death. When he saw the certificate,
and knew that at the last moment his mother's ruthless purpose had
flagged, her iron will had bent, a wave of something like tenderness
rose above his hate as the tide rises above wrecking rocks. For a
moment he thought that even if she had carried out her threat of
disinheriting him he would be able to forgive her. But as inevitably
the wave of feeling ebbed, and he saw again those black rocks of hate
below the moving brightness of the tide, he reminded himself that this
gift of hers was only a small part of what belonged to him. In a way it
was even a confession that she had wronged him. She had written his
name, Nannie told him with a curious tremor in her hands and face,
"just at the last. It was that last morning," Nannie said, huskily,
trying to keep her voice steady; "she hadn't time to change her will,
but this shows she was sorry she made it."

"I don't know that that follows," Blair said, gravely. It was not until
the next day that he referred to it again: "After all, Nannie, if her
will is what she said it would be, it is--outrageous, you know. This
money doesn't alter that."

Yet somehow, in those days before the funeral, whenever he thought of
breaking the will, that relenting gift seemed to stay his hand. The
idea of using her money to thwart her purpose, of taking what she had
given him, from affection and a tardy sense of justice, to insult her
memory, made him uncomfortable to the point of irritability. It was
esthetically offensive. Once he sounded Elizabeth on the subject, and
her agreeing outcry of disgust drove him into defending himself: "Of
course we don't know yet what her will is; but if she has done what she
threatened, it is abominable; and I'll break it--"

"With the money she gave you?" she said.

And he said, boldly, "Yes!"

But he was not really bold; he was perplexed and unhappy, for his hope
that his mother had not disinherited him was based on something a
little finer than his wish to come into his own; it was a real
reluctance to do violence to a relationship of which he had first
become conscious the night she died. But with that reluctance, was also
the instinct of self-defense: "I have a right to her money!"

The day after the funeral he went to Mrs. Maitland's lawyers with a
request to see the will.

"Certainly," the senior member of the firm said; "as you are a legatee
a copy has already been prepared for you. I regret, Blair, that your
mother took the course she did. I cannot help saying to you that we
ventured to advise against it.

"I was aware of my mother's purpose," Blair said, briefly; and added,
to himself, "she has done it! ... I shall probably contest the will,"
he said aloud.

Sarah Maitland's old friend and adviser looked at him sympathetically.
"No use, my boy; it's cast-iron. That was her own phrase, 'cast-iron.'"
Then, really sorry for him, he left him in the inner office so that he
might read that ruthless document alone.

Mrs. Maitland had said it was a pity she could not live to see Blair
fight her will; she "would like the fun of it." She would not have
found any food for mirth if she could have seen her son in that
law-office reading with set teeth, her opinion of himself, her
realization of her responsibility in making him what he was, and her
reason for leaving him merely a small income from a trust fund. Had it
not been for the certificate--in itself a denial of her cruel
words--lying at that moment in his breast pocket, he would have been
unable to control his fury. As it was, underneath his anger was the
consciousness that she had made what reparation she could.

When he folded the copy of the will and thrust it into his pocket his
face was very pale, but he could not resist saying to old Mr. Howe as
he passed him in the outer office, "I hope you will be pleased, sir, in
view of your protest about this will, to know that my mother regretted
her course toward me, and left a message to that effect with my sister."

"I am glad to hear it," the astonished lawyer said, "but--"

Blair did not wait to hear the end of his sentence. He said to himself
that even before he made up his mind what to do about the will he must
get possession of his money--"or the first thing I know some of their
confounded legal quibbles will make trouble for me," he said.

Certainly there was no trouble for him as yet; the process of securing
his mother's gift involved nothing more than the depositing of the
certificate in his own bank. The cashier, who knew Sarah Maitland's
name very well indeed on checks payable to her son, ventured to offer
his condolences: "Your late mother was a very wonderful woman, Mr.
Maitland. There was no better business man this side of the Alleghanies
than your mother, sir."

Blair bowed; he was too absorbed to make any conventional reply. The
will: should he or should he not contest it? His habit of indecision
made the mere question--apart from its gravity--acutely painful; not
even the probabilities of the result of such a contest helped him to
decide what to do. The probabilities were grimly clear. Blair had,
perhaps, a little less legal knowledge than the average layman, but
even he could not fail to realize that Sarah Maitland's will was, as
Mr. Howe had said, "iron." Even if it could be broken, it might take
years of litigation to do it. "And a 'bird in the hand'!" Blair
reminded himself cynically. "But," he told Nannie, a week or two later
when she was repeating nervously, for the twentieth time, just how his
mother had softened toward him,--"but those confounded orphan asylums
make me mad! If she wanted orphans, what about you and me? Charity
begins at home. I swear I'll contest the will!"

Nannie did not smile; she very rarely smiled now. Miss White thought
she was grieving over her stepmother's death; and Elizabeth said,
pityingly, "I didn't realize she was so fond of her." Perhaps Nannie
did not realize it herself until she began to miss her stepmother's
roughness, her arrogant generosity, her temper,--to miss, even, the
mere violence of her presence; then she began to grieve softly to
herself. "Oh, Mamma, I wish you hadn't died," she used to say, over and
over, as she lay awake in the darkness. She lay awake a great deal in
those first weeks.

All her life Nannie had been like a little leaf whirled along by a
great gale of thundering power and purpose which she never attempted to
understand, much less contend with; now, abruptly, the gale had
dropped, and all her world was still. No wonder she lay awake at night
to listen to such stillness! Apart from grief the mere shock of sudden
quietness might account for her nervousness, Robert Ferguson said; but
he was perplexed at her lack of interest in her own affairs. She seemed
utterly unaware of the change in her circumstances. That she was a rich
woman now was a matter of indifference to her. And she seemed equally
unconscious of her freedom. Apparently it never occurred to her that
she could alter her mode of life. Except that, at Blair's insistence,
she had a maid, and that Harris had cleared the office paraphernalia
from the dining-room table, life in the stately, dirty, melancholy old
house still ran in those iron grooves which Mrs. Maitland had laid down
for herself nearly thirty years before. Nannie knew nothing better than
the grooves, and seemed to desire nothing better. She was indifferent
to her surroundings, and what was more remarkable, indifferent to
Blair's perplexities; at any rate, she was of no assistance to him in
making up his mind about the will. His vacillations hardly seemed to
interest her. Once he said, suppose instead of contesting it, he should
go to work? But she only said, vaguely, "That would be very nice."

Curiously enough, in the midst of his uncertainties, a little certainty
had sprung up: it was the realization that work, merely as work, might
be amusing. In these months of tormenting jealousy, of continually
crushed hope that Elizabeth would begin to care for him, of occasional
shamed consciousness of having taken advantage of a woman--Blair
Maitland had had very little to amuse him. So, in those hesitating
weeks that followed his mother's death, work, which her will
necessitated, began to interest him. Perhaps the interest, if not the
amusement, was enhanced by one or two legal opinions as to the
possibility of breaking the will. Harry Knight read it, and grinned:

"Well, old man, as you wouldn't give me the case anyhow, I can afford
to be perfectly disinterested and tell you the truth. In my opinion, it
would put a lot of cash into some lawyer's pocket to contest this will;
but I bet it would take a lot out of yours! You'd come out the small
end of the horn, my boy."

But Knight was young, Blair reflected, and perhaps his opinion wasn't
worth anything. "He's 'Goose Molly's' son," he said to himself, with a
half-laugh; it was strange how easily he fell into his mother's speech
sometimes! With a distrust of Harry Knight's youth as keen as her own
might have been, Blair stated his case to a lawyer in another city.

"Before reading the will," said this gentleman, "let me inquire, sir,
whether there is any doubt in your mind of your mother's mental
capacity at the time the instrument was drawn?"

"My mother was Sarah Maitland, of the Maitland Works," said Blair,
briefly; and the lawyer's involuntary exclamation of chagrin would have
been laughable, if it had not been so significant. "But we should, of
course, be glad to represent you, Mr. Maitland," he said. Blair,
remembering Harry Knight's disinterested remark about pockets, said,
dryly, "Thanks, very much," and took his departure. "He must think I'm
Mr. Doestick's friend," he told himself. The old joke was his mother's
way of avoiding an emphatic adjective when she especially felt the need
of it; but he had forgotten that she had ever used it.

As he walked from the lawyer's office to his hotel, he was absorbed to
the point of fatigue in his effort to make up his mind, but it was
characteristic of him that even in his absorption he winced at the
sight of a caged robin, sitting, moping on its perch, in front of a
tobacconist's. He had passed the poor wild thing and walked a block,
before he turned impulsively on his heel, and came back to interview
the shopkeeper. "How much will you sell him for?" he said, with that
charming manner that always made people eager to oblige him. The robin,
looking at him with lack-luster eyes, sunk his poor little head down
into his dulled feathers; there was something so familiar in the
movement, that Blair cringed.

"I want to buy the little beggar," he said, so eagerly that the owner
mentioned a preposterous price. Blair took the money out of his pocket,
and the bird out of the cage. For a minute the captive hesitated,
clinging with terrified claws to his rescuer's friendly finger. "Off
with you, old fellow!" Blair said, tossing the bird up into the air;
and the unused wings were spread! For a minute the eyes of the two men
followed the joyous flight over the housetops; then the tobacconist
grinned rather sheepishly: "Guess you've struck oil, ain't you?--or
somebody's left you a fortune."

Blair chuckled. "Think so?" he said. But as he walked on down the
street, he sighed; how dull the robin's eyes had been. Elizabeth's eyes
looked like that sometimes. "What a donkey I am," he said to himself;
"ten dollars! Well, I'll _have_ to contest the will and get that
fortune, or I can't keep up the liberator role!" Then he fell to
thinking how he must invest what fortune he had--anything to get that
confounded robin out of his head! "I'm not going to keep all my money
in a stocking in the bank," he told himself. The idea of investment
pleased him; and when he got back to Mercer he devoted himself to
consultations with brokers. After some three months of it, he found the
'work,' as he called it, distinctly amusing. "It's mighty interesting,"
he told his wife once; "I really like it."

Elizabeth said, languidly, that she hoped he would go into business
because it would have pleased his mother. Since Mrs. Maitland's death,
Elizabeth had not seemed well; no one connected her languor with that
speechless walk with David to Nannie's door, or her look into his eyes
when she bade farewell to a hope that she had not known she was
cherishing. But the experience had been a profound shock to her. His
entire ease, his interest in other matters than the one matter of her
life, and most of all his casual "glad to see you," meant that he had
forgiven her, and so no longer loved her,--for of course, if he loved
her he would not forgive her! In these two years she had told herself
with perfect sincerity, a thousand times, that he had ceased to love
her; but now it seemed to her that, for the first time, she really knew
it. "He doesn't even hate me," she thought, bleakly. For sheer
understanding of suffering she grew a little gentler to Blair; but her
sympathy, although it gave him moments of hope, did not reach the point
of helping him to decide what to do about the will. So, veering between
the sobering reflection that litigation was probably useless, and the
esthetically repulsive idea of using his mother's confession of regret
to fight her, he reached no decision. Meantime, "investment" slipped
easily into speculation,--speculation which, by that strange tempering
of the wind that sometimes comes before the lamb is shorn, was
remarkably successful.

It was gossip about this speculation that made Robert Ferguson prick up
his ears: "Where in thunder does he get the money to monkey with the
stock-market?" he said to himself; "he hasn't any securities to put up,
and he can't borrow on his expectations any more,--everybody knows she
cut him off with a shilling!" He was concerned as well as puzzled.
"I'll have him on my hands yet," he thought, morosely. "Confound it!
It's hard on me that she disinherited him. He'll be a millstone round
my neck as long as he lives." Robert Ferguson had long ago made up his
mind--with tenderness--that he must support Elizabeth, "but I won't
supply that boy with money to gamble with! And if he goes on in this
way, of course he'll come down on me for the butcher's bill." That was
how he happened to ask Elizabeth about Blair's concerns. When he did,
the whole matter came out. It was Sunday morning. Elizabeth, starting
for church, had asked Blair, perfunctorily, if he were going. "Church?"
he said--he was sitting at his writing-table, idly spinning a penny;
"not I! I'm going to devote the Sabbath day to deciding about the
will." She had made no comment, and his lip hardened. "She doesn't care
what I do," he said to himself, gloomily; yet he believed she would be
pleased if he refused to fight. "Heads or tails," he said, listening to
her retreating step; "suppose I say 'heads, bird in the hand;--work.
Tails, bird in the bush;--fight.' Might as well decide it this way if
she won't help me."

She had never thought of helping him; instead she stopped at her
uncle's and went out into the garden with him to watch him feed his
pigeons. When that was over, they came back together to the library,
and it was while she was standing at his big table buttoning her gloves
that he asked her if Blair was speculating.

Yes; she believed he was. No; not with her money; that had been just
about used up, anyhow; although he had paid it all back to her when he
got his money. "Will you invest it for me, Uncle Robert?" she said.

"Of course; but mind," he barked, with the old, comfortable crossness,
"you won't get any crazy ten per cent out of my investments! You'll
have to go to Blair Maitland's wildcats for that. But if he isn't using
your money, how on earth can he speculate? What do you mean by 'his'
money?"

"Why," she explained, surprised, "he has all that money Mrs. Maitland
gave him the day she died."

"What!"

"Didn't you know about the check?" she said; she had not mentioned it
to him herself, partly because of their tacit avoidance of Blair's
name, but also because she had taken it for granted that he was aware
of what Mrs. Maitland had done. She told him of it now, adding, in a
smothered voice, "She forgave him for marrying me, you see, at the end."

He was silent for a few moments, and Elizabeth, glancing at the clock,
was turning to go, but he stopped her. "Hold on a minute. I don't
understand this business. Tell me all about it, Elizabeth."

She told him what little she knew, rather vaguely: Mrs. Maitland had
drawn a check--no: she believed it was called a bank certificate of
deposit. It was for a great deal of money. When she told him how much,
Robert Ferguson struck his fist on the arm of his chair. "That's it!"
he said. "That is where David's money went!"

"_David's_ money?" Elizabeth said, breathlessly.

"I see it now," he went on, angrily; "she had the money on hand; that's
why she tried to write that letter. How Fate does get ahead of David
every time!"

"Uncle! What do you mean?"

He told her, briefly, of Mrs. Maitland's plan. "She said two years ago
that she was going to give David a lump sum. I didn't know she had got
it salted down--she was pretty close-mouthed about some things; but I
guess she had. Well, probably, at the last minute, she thought she had
been hard on Blair, and decided to hand it over to him, instead of
giving it to David. She had a right to, a perfect right to. But I don't
understand it! The very day she spoke of writing to David, she told me
she wouldn't leave Blair a cent. It isn't like her to whirl about that
way--unless it was during one of those times when she wasn't herself.
Well," he ended, sighing, "there is nothing to be done about it, of
course; but I'll see Nannie, and get at the bottom of it, just for my
own satisfaction."

Elizabeth's color came and went; she reminded herself that she must be
fair to Blair; his mother had a right to show her forgiveness by
leaving the money to him instead of David. Yes; she must remember that;
she must be just to him. But even as she said so she ground her teeth
together.

"Blair did not try to influence his mother, Uncle Robert," she said,
"if that's what you are thinking of. He didn't see her while she was
sick. He has never seen her since--since--" "There are other ways of
influencing people than by seeing them. He wrote to Nannie, didn't he?"

"If I thought," Elizabeth said in a low voice, "that Blair had induced
Nannie to influence Mrs. Maitland, I would--" But she did not finish
her sentence. "Good-by, Uncle Robert. I'm going to see Nannie."

As she hurried down toward Shantytown through the Sunday emptiness of
the hot streets, she said to herself that if Nannie had made her
stepmother give the money to Blair, she, Elizabeth, would do something
about it! "I won't have it!" she said, passionately.

It had been a long time since Elizabeth's face had been so vivid. The
old sheet-lightning of anger began to flash faintly across it. She did
not know what she would do to Nannie if Nannie had induced Mrs.
Maitland to rob David, but she would do something! Yet when she reached
the house, her purpose waited for a minute; Nannie's tremor of
loneliness and perplexity was so pitifully in evidence that she could
not burst into her own perplexity.

She had been trying, poor Nannie! to make up her mind about many small,
crowding affairs incident to the situation. In these weeks since Mrs.
Maitland's death, Nannie, for the first time in her life, found herself
obliged to answer questions. Harris asked them: "You ain't a-goin' to
be livin' here, Miss Nannie; 'tain't no use to fill the coal-cellar, is
it?" Miss White asked them: "Your Mamma's clothes ought to be put in
camphor, dear child, or else given away; which do you mean to do?"
Blair asked them: "When will you move out of this terrible house, Nancy
dear?" A dozen times a day she was asked to make up her mind, she whose
mind had always been made up for her!

That hot Sunday morning when Elizabeth was hurrying down to Shantytown
with the lightning flickering in her clouded eyes, Nannie, owing to
Miss White's persistence about camphor, had gone into Mrs. Maitland's
room to look over her things.

Oh, these "things"! These pitiful possessions that the helpless dead
must needs leave to the shrinking disposal of those who are left! How
well every mourner knows them, knows the ache of perplexity and dismay
that comes with the very touch of them. It is not the valuables that
make grief shrink,--they settle themselves; such-and-such books or
jewels or pieces of silver belong obviously to this or that side of the
family. But what about the dear, valueless, personal things that
neither side of the family wants? Things treasured by the silent dead
because of some association unknown, perhaps, to those who mourn. What
about these precious, worthless things? Mrs. Maitland had no personal
possessions of intrinsic value, but she had her treasures. There was a
little calendar on her bureau; it was so old that Nannie could not
remember when it had not been there hanging from the slender neck of a
bottle of German cologne. She took it up now, and looked at the faded
red crescents of the new moon; how long ago that moon had waxed and
waned! "She loved it," Nannie said to herself, "because Blair gave it
to her." Standing on the bureau was the row of his photographs; on each
one his mother had written his age and the date when the picture had
been taken. In the disorder of the top drawer, tumbled about among her
coarse handkerchiefs, her collars, her Sunday black kid gloves, were
relics of her son's babyhood: a little green morocco slipper, with a
white china button on the ankle-band; a rubber rattle, cracked and
crumbling.... What is one to do with things like these? Burn them, of
course. There is nothing else that can be done. Yet the mourner shivers
when the flame touches them, as though the cool fingers of the dead
might feel the scorch! Poor, frightened Nannie was the last person who
could light such a holy fire; she took them up--the slipper or the
calendar, and put them down again. "Poor Mamma!" she said over and
over. Then she saw a bunch of splinters tied together with one of
Blair's old neckties; she held it in her hand for a minute before she
realized that it was part of a broken cane. She did not know when or
why it had been broken, but she knew it was Blair's, and her eyes
smarted with tears. "Oh, how she loved him!" she thought, and drew a
breath of satisfaction remembering how she had helped that speechless,
dying love to express itself.

She was standing there before the open drawer, lifting things up, then
putting them back again, unable to decide what to do with any of them,
when Elizabeth suddenly burst in:

"Nannie!"

"Oh, I am so glad you've come!" Nannie said. She made a helpless
gesture. "Elizabeth, what _shall_ I do with everything?"

Elizabeth shook her head; the question which she had hurried down here
to ask paused before such forlorn preoccupation.

"Of course her dresses Harris will give away--"

"Oh no!" Elizabeth interrupted, shrinking. "Don't give them to a
servant."

"But," poor Nannie protested, "they are so dreadful, Elizabeth. Nobody
can possibly wear them, except people like some of Harris's friends.
But things like these--what would you do with these?" She held out a
discolored pasteboard box broken at the corners and with no lid; a pair
of onyx earrings lay in the faded blue cotton. "I never saw her wear
them but once, and they are _so_ ugly," Nannie mourned.

"Nannie," Elizabeth said, "I want to ask you something. That
certificate Mrs. Maitland gave Blair: what made her give it to him?"

Nannie put the pasteboard box back in the drawer and turned sharply to
face her sister-in-law, who was sitting on the edge of Mrs. Maitland's
narrow iron bed; the scared attention of her eyes banished their
vagueness. "What made her give it to him? Why, love, of course! Don't
you suppose Mamma loved Blair better than anybody in the world, even if
he did--displease her?"

"Uncle thinks you may have influenced her to give it to him."

"I did not!"

"Did you suggest it to her, Nannie?"

"I asked her once, while she was ill, wouldn't she please be nice to
Blair,--if you call that suggesting! As for the certificate, that last
morning she sort of woke up, and told me to bring it to her to sign.
And I did."

She turned back to the bureau, and put an unsteady hand down into the
drawer. The color was rising in her face, and a muscle in her cheek
twitched painfully.

"But Nannie," Elizabeth said, and paused; the dining-room door had
opened, and Robert Ferguson was standing on the threshold of Mrs.
Maitland's room looking in at the two girls. The astonishment he had
felt in his talk with his niece had deepened into perplexity. "I guess
I'll thresh this thing out now," he said to himself, and picked up his
hat. He was hardly ten minutes behind Elizabeth in her walk down to the
Maitland house.

"Nannie," he said, kindly,--he never barked at Nannie; "can you spare
time, my dear, to tell me one or two things I want to know?" He had
come in, and found a dusty wooden chair. "Go ahead with your sorting
things out. You can answer my question in a minute; it's about that
certificate your mother gave Blair."

Nannie had turned, and was standing with her hands behind her gripping
the edge of the bureau; she gasped once or twice, and glanced first at
one inquisitor and then at the other; her face whitened slowly. She was
like some frightened creature at bay; indeed her agitation was so
marked that Robert Ferguson's perplexity hardened into something like
suspicion. "Can there be anything wrong?" he asked himself in
consternation. "You see, Nannie," he explained, gently, "I happen to
know that your mother meant it for David Richie, not Blair."

"If she did," said Nannie, "she changed her mind." "When did she change
her mind?"

"I don't know. She just told me to bring the check to her to sign,
that--that last morning."

"Was she perfectly clear mentally?"

"Yes. Yes. Of course she was! Perfectly clear."

"Did she say why she had changed her mind?"

"No," Nannie said, and suddenly fright and anger together made her
fluent; "but why shouldn't she change her mind, Mr. Ferguson? Isn't
Blair her son? Her only son! What was David to Mamma? Would you have
her give all that money to an outsider, and leave her only son
penniless? Perhaps she changed her mind that morning. I don't know
anything about it. I don't see what difference it makes when she
changed it, so long as she changed it. All I can tell you is that she
told me to bring her the check, or certificate, or whatever you call
it, out of the little safe. And I did, and she made it out to Blair. I
didn't ask her to. I didn't even know she had it; but I am thankful she
did it!"

Her eyes were dilating; she put her shaking hand up to her throat, as
if she were struggling for breath. Her statement was perfectly
reasonable and probable, yet it left no doubt in Robert Ferguson's mind
that there was something wrong,--very wrong! Even Elizabeth could see
it. They both had the same thought: Blair had in some way influenced,
perhaps even coerced his mother. How, they could not imagine, but
Nannie evidently knew. They looked at each other in dismay. Then
Elizabeth sprang up and put her arms around her sister-in-law. "Oh,
Uncle," she said, "don't ask her anything more now!" She felt the
quiver through all the terrified little figure.

"Mamma wanted Blair to have the money; it's his! No one can take it
from him!"

"Nobody wants to, Nannie, if it is his honestly," Robert Ferguson said,
gravely.

"_Honestly_?" Nannie whispered, with dry lips.

"Nannie dear, tell us the truth," Elizabeth implored her; "Uncle won't
be hard on Blair, if--if he has done wrong. I know he won't."

"Wrong?" said Nannie; "Blair done wrong?" She pushed Elizabeth's arms
away; "Blair has never done wrong in his life!" She stood there, with
her back against the bureau, and dared them. "I won't have you suspect
my brother! Elizabeth! How can you let Mr. Ferguson suspect Blair?"

"Nannie," said Robert Ferguson, "was Blair with his mother when she
signed that certificate?"

"No."

"Were you alone with her?"

Silence.

"Answer me, Nannie."

She looked at him with wild eyes, but she said nothing. Mr. Ferguson
put his hand on her shoulder. "Nannie," he said, quietly, "Blair signed
it; Blair wrote his mother's name."

"No! No! No! He did not! He did not." There was something in her
voice--a sort of relief, a sort of triumph, even, that the other two
could not understand, but which made them know that she was speaking
the truth. "He did not," Nannie said, in a whisper; "if you accuse him
of that, I'll have to tell you; though very likely you won't
understand. I did it. For Mamma."

"Did _what_?" Robert Ferguson gasped; "not--? You don't mean--? Nannie!
you don't mean that you--" he stopped; his lips formed a word which he
would not utter.

"Mamma wanted him to have the money. The day before she died she told
me she was going to give him a present. That day, that last day, she
told me to get the check. And she wrote his name on it. No one asked
her to. Not Blair. Not I. I never thought of such a thing! I didn't
even know there was a check. She wanted to do it. She wrote his name.
And then--she got weak; she couldn't go on. She couldn't sign it. So I
signed it for her...later. It was not wrong. It was right. It carried
out her wish. I am glad I did it."



CHAPTER XXXII It was not a confession; it was a statement. In the next
distressing hour, during which Robert Ferguson succeeded in drawing the
facts from Blair's sister, there was not the slightest consciousness of
wrong-doing. Over and over, with soft stubbornness, she asserted her
conviction: "It was right to do it. Mamma wanted to give the money to
Blair. But she couldn't write her name. So I wrote it for her. It was
right to do it."

"Nannie," her old friend said, in despair, "don't you know what the law
calls it, when one person imitates another person's handwriting for
such a purpose."

"You can call it anything you want to," she said, passionately. "_I_
call it carrying out Mamma's wishes. And I would do it over again this
minute."

Robert Ferguson was speechless with dismay. To find rigidity in this
meek mind, was as if, through layers of velvet, through fold on fold of
yielding dullness that gave at the slightest touch, he had suddenly, at
some deeper pressure, felt, under the velvet, granite!

"It was right," Nannie said, fiercely, trembling all over, "it was
right, because it was necessary. Oh, what do your laws amount to, when
it comes to dying? When it comes to a time like that! She was
_dying_--you don't seem to understand--Mamma was dying! And she wanted
Blair to have that money; and just because she hadn't the strength to
write her name, you would let her wish fail. Of course I wrote it for
her! Yes; I know what you call it. But what do I care what it is
called, if I carried out her wish and gave Blair the money she wanted
him to have? Now he has got it, and nobody can take it away from him."

"My dear child, if he kept it, it would be stealing."

"You can't steal from your mother," Nannie said; "Mamma would be the
first one to say so!"

Mr. Ferguson looked over at his niece and shook his head; how were they
to make her understand? "He can't keep it, Nannie. When he understands
that it isn't his, he will simply give it back to the estate, and then
it will come to you."

"To me?" she said, astounded. And he explained that she was her
stepmother's residuary legatee. She looked blank, and he told her the
meaning of the term.

"The estate is going to meet the bequests with a fair balance; and as
that balance will come to you, this money you gave to Blair will be
yours, too."

She had been standing, with Elizabeth's pitying arms about her; but at
the shock of his explanation she seemed to collapse. She sank down in a
chair, panting. "It wasn't necessary! I could have just given it to
him."

Later, when Robert Ferguson was walking home with his niece, he, too,
said, grimly: "No; it 'wasn't necessary,' as she says, poor child! She
could have given it to him; just as she will give it to him, now. Well,
well, to think of that mouse, Nannie, upsetting the lion's plans!"

Elizabeth was silent.

"What I can't understand," he ruminated, "is how that signature could
pass at the bank; a girl like Nannie able to copy a signature so that a
bank wouldn't detect it!"

"She has always copied Mrs. Maitland's writing," Elizabeth said; "that
last week Mrs. Maitland said she could not tell the difference herself."

Robert Ferguson looked perfectly incredulous. "It's astounding!" he
said; "and it would be impossible,--if it hadn't happened. Well, come
along home with me, Elizabeth. I think I'd better tell you just how the
matter stands, so that you can explain it to Blair. I don't care to see
him myself--if I can help it. But in the matter of transferring the
money to the estate, we must keep Nannie's name out of it, and I want
you to tell him how he and I must patch it up."

"When he returns it, I suppose the executors will give it at once to
David?" she said.

"Of course not. It will belong to the estate. Women have no financial
moral sense!"

"Oh!" Elizabeth said; and pondered.

Just as he was pulling out his latch-key to open his front door, she
spoke again: "If Nannie gives it back to him, Blair will have to send
it to David, won't he?"

"I can't go into Mr. Blair Maitland's ideals of honor," her uncle said,
dryly. "Legally, if Nannie chooses to make him a gift, he has a right
to keep it."

She made no reply. She sat down at the library table opposite him, and
listened without comment to the information which he desired her to
convey to Blair. But long before she got back to the hotel, Blair had
had the information.

Nannie, left to herself after that distressing interview, sat in the
dusty desolation of Mrs. Maitland's room, her face hidden in her hands.
_She needn't have done it_. That was her first clear thought. The
strain of that dreadful hour alone in the dining-room, with Death
behind the locked door, had been unnecessary! As she realized how
unnecessary, she felt a resentment that was almost anger at such a
waste of pain. Then into the resentment crept a little fright. Mr.
Ferguson's words about wrong-doing began to have meaning. "Of course it
was against the law," she told herself, "but it was not wrong,--there
is a difference." It was incredible to her that Mr. Ferguson did not
see the difference. "Mamma wouldn't have let him speak so to me, if
she'd been here," she thought, and her lip trembled; "oh, I wish she
hadn't died," she said; and cried softly for a minute or two. Then it
occurred to her that she had better go to the River House and tell her
brother the whole story. "If Mr. Ferguson is angry about it perhaps
Blair had better pay the money back right off; of course I'll give it
to him the minute it comes to me; but he will know what to do now."

She ran up-stairs to her own room, and began to dress to go out, but
she was so nervous that her fingers were all thumbs; "I don't want
Elizabeth to tell him," she said to herself; and tried to hurry,
dropping her hat-pin and mislaying her gloves; "oh, where is my veil!"
she said, frantically.

She was just leaving her room when she heard Blair's voice in the lower
hall: "Nancy! Where are you?"

"I'm coming," she called back; and came running down-stairs. "Oh, Blair
dear," she said, "I want to see you so much!" By that time she was on
the verge of tears, and the flush of worry in her cheeks made her so
pretty that her brother looked at her appreciatively.

"Black is mighty becoming to you, Nancy. Nannie dear, I have something
to tell you. Come into the parlor!" His voice, as he put his arm around
her and drew her into the room, had a ring in it which, in spite of her
preoccupation, caught her attention. "Sit down!" he commanded; and
then, standing in front of her, his handsome face alert, he told her
that he was not going to contest his mother's will. "I pitched up a
penny," he said, gaily; "I was sick and tired of the uncertainty.
'Heads, I fight; tails, I cave.' It came down tails," he said, with a
half-sheepish laugh. "Well, it will please Elizabeth if I don't fight.
I'll go into business. I can get a partnership in Haines's office. He
is a stockbroker, you know."

Nannie's attention flagged; in the nature of things she could not
understand how important this decision was, so she was not disturbed
that it should have been made by the flip of a penny. Blair was apt to
rely upon chance to make up his mind for him, and in regard to the
will, heads or tails was as good a chance as any. In her own
preoccupation, she had not realized that he had reached the reluctant
conviction that in any effort to break the will, the legal odds would
be against him. But if she had realized it she would have known that
the probable hopelessness of litigation would not have helped him much
in reaching a decision, so the penny judgment would not have surprised
her. Blair, as he told her about it, was in great spirits. He had been
entirely sincere in his reluctance to take any step which might
indicate contempt for his mother's late (if adequate) repentance; so
now, though a little rueful about the money, he was distinctly relieved
that his taste was not going to be sentimentally offended. He meant to
live on what his mother had given him until he made a fortune for
himself. For he was going to make a fortune! He was going to stand on
his own legs. He was going to buy Elizabeth's interest in him and his
affairs, buy even her admiration by making this sacrifice of not
fighting for his rights! He was full of the fervor of it all as he
stood there telling his sister of his decision. When he had finished,
he waited for her outburst of approval.

But she only nodded nervously; "Blair, Mr. Ferguson says you've got to
give back that money; Mamma's check, you know?"

"_What?_" Blair said; he was standing by the piano, and as he spoke he
struck a crashing octave; "what on earth do you mean?"

"Well, he--I--" It had not occurred to Nannie that it would be
difficult to tell Blair, but suddenly it seemed impossible. "You see,
Mamma didn't exactly--sign the check."

"What are you talking about?" Blair said, suddenly attentive.

"She wanted you to have the money," Nannie began, faintly.

"Of course she did; but what do you mean about not signing the check
'exactly'?" In his bewilderment, which was not yet alarm, he put his
arm around her, laughing: "Nancy, what is all this stuff?"

"I did for her," Nannie said.

"Did what?"

"Signed it."

"Nannie, I don't understand you; do you mean that mother made you
indorse that certificate? Nancy, do try to be clear!" He was uneasy
now; perhaps some ridiculous legal complication had arisen. "Some of
their everlasting red tape! Fortunately, I've got the money all right,"
he said to himself, dryly.

"She wrote the first part of it," Nannie began, stammering with the
difficulty of explaining what had seemed so simple; "but she hadn't the
strength to sign her name, so I--did it for her."

Her brother looked at her aghast. "Did she tell you to?"

"No; she . . . was dead."

"Good God!" he said. The shock of it made him feel faint. He sat down,
too dumfounded for speech.

"I had to, you see," Nannie explained, breathlessly; she was very much
frightened, far more frightened than when she had told Mr. Ferguson. "I
had to, because--because Mamma couldn't. She was ... not alive."

Blair suddenly put his hands over his face. "You forged mother's name!"
His consternation was like a blow; she cringed away from it: "No;
I--just wrote it."

"_Nannie!_"

"Somebody had to," she insisted, faintly.

Blair sprang to his feet and began to pace up and down the room. "This
is awful. I haven't a cent!"

"Oh," she said, with a gasp, "as far as that goes it doesn't make any
difference, except about time. Mr. Ferguson said it didn't make any
difference. I'll give it all back to you as soon as I get it. Only
you'll have to give it back first."

"Nannie," he said, "for Heaven's sake, tell me _straight_, the whole
thing."

She told him as well as she could; speaking with that minute
elaboration of the unimportant so characteristic of minds like hers and
so maddening to the listener. Blair, in a fury of anxiety, tried not to
interrupt, but when she reached Mr. Ferguson's assertion that the
certificate had been meant for David Richie, the worried color suddenly
dropped out of his face.

"For--_him?_ Nannie!"

"No, oh no! It wasn't for David, except just at first--before--not
when--" She was perfectly incoherent, "Let me tell you," she besought
him.

"If I thought she had meant it for him, I would send it to him before
night! Tell me everything," he said, passionately.

"I'm trying to," Nannie stammered, "but you--you keep interrupting me.
I'll tell you how it was, if you'll just let me, and not keep
interrupting. Perhaps she did plan to give it to David. Mr. Ferguson
said she planned to more than two years ago. And even when she was sick
Mr. Ferguson thinks she still meant to."

"I'll fight that damned will to my last breath!" he burst out.
Following the recoil of disgust at the idea of taking
anything--"anything _else_"--that belonged to David Richie, came the
shock of feeling that he had been tricked into the sentimentality of
forgiveness. "I'll break that will if I take it through every court in
the land!"

"But Blair! Mamma _didn't_ mean it for him at the last. Don't you see?
Oh, Blair, listen! Don't be so--terrible; you frighten me," Nannie
said, squeezing her hands hard together in the effort to keep from
crying. "Listen: she told me on Wednesday, the day before she died,
that she wanted to give you a present. She said, 'I must give him a
check.' You see, she was beginning to realize how wrong her will was;
but of course she didn't know she was going to die or she would have
changed it."

"That doesn't follow," Blair said.

"Then came the last day"--Nannie could not keep the tears back any
longer; "the last day; but it was too late to do anything about the
will. Why, she could hardly speak, it was so near the--the end. And
then all of a sudden she remembered that certificate. And she opened
her eyes and looked at me with such relief, as if she said to herself,
'I can give him that!' And she told me to bring it to her. And she kept
saying, 'Blair--Blair--Blair.' And oh, it was pitiful to see her
_hurry_ so to write your name! And then she wrote it; but before she
could sign her name, her hand sort of--fell. And she tried so hard to
raise it so she could sign it; but she couldn't. And she kept muttering
that she _had_ written it 'many times, many times'; I couldn't just
hear what she said; she sort of--mumbled, you know. Oh, it was
dreadful!"

"And then?" Blair said, breathlessly. Nannie was speechless.

"Then?" he insisted, trembling.

"Then . . . she died," Nannie whispered.

"But the signature! The signature! How--"

"In the night, I--" She stopped; terror spread over her face as wind
spreads over a pool. "In the night, at three o'clock, I came
down-stairs and--" She stopped, panting for breath. He put his arm
around her soothingly.

"Try and tell me, dear. I didn't mean to be savage." His face had
relaxed. Of course it was dreadful, this thing Nannie had done; but it
was not so dreadful as the thought that he had taken money intended for
David Richie. When he had quieted her, and she was able to speak again,
she told him just what she had done there in the dining-room at three
o'clock in the morning.

"But didn't you know it was wrong?" he said; "that it was a criminal
offense!" He could not keep the dismay out of his voice.

"I did it for Mamma's sake and yours," she said, quailing.

"Well," he said, and in his relief at knowing that he need not think of
David Richie, he was almost gay--"well, you mustn't tell any one else
your motive for committing a--" Nannie suddenly burst out crying.
"Mamma wouldn't say that to me," she said, "Mamma was never cross to me
in her whole life! But you and Mr. Ferguson--" she could not go on, for
tears. He was instantly contrite and tender; but even as he tried to
comfort her, he frowned; of course in the end he would suffer no loss,
but the immediate situation was delicate and troublesome. "I'll have to
go and see Mr. Ferguson, I suppose," he said. "You mustn't speak of it
to any one, dear; things really might get serious, if anybody but Mr.
Ferguson knew about it. Don't tell a soul; promise me?"

She promised, and Blair left her very soberly. The matter of the money
was comparatively unimportant; it was his, subject only to the
formality of its transfer to the estate. But that David Richie should
have been connected even indirectly with his personal affairs was
exquisitely offensive to him--and Elizabeth knew about it! "She's
probably sitting there by the window, looking like that robin, and
thinking about him," he said to himself angrily, as he hurried back to
the River House. There seemed to be no escape from David Richie. "I
feel like a dog with a dead hen hanging round his neck," he said to
himself, in grimly humorous disgust; "I can't get away from him!"

He found his wife in their parlor at the hotel, but she was not in that
listless attitude that he had grown to expect,--huddled in a chair, her
chin in her hand, her eyes watching the slow roll of the river. Instead
she was alert.

"Blair!" she said, almost before he had closed the door behind him; "I
have something to tell you."

"I know about it," he said, gravely; "I have seen Nannie."

Elizabeth looked at him in silence.

"Would you have supposed that Nannie, _Nannie_, of all people! would
have had the courage to do such a thing?" he said, nervously; it
occurred to him that if he could keep the conversation on Nannie's act,
perhaps that--that name could be avoided. "Think of the mere courage of
it, to say nothing of its criminality."

"She didn't know she was doing wrong."

"No; of course not. But it's a mighty unpleasant matter."

"Uncle says it can be arranged so that her name needn't come into it."

"Of course," he agreed.

Elizabeth did not speak, but the look in her eyes was a demand.

"It's going to be rather tough for us, to wait until she hands it over
to me," Blair said.

"To _you_?"

The moment had come! He came and knelt beside her, and kissed her; she
did not repulse him. She continued to look at him steadily. Then very
gently, she said, "And when Nannie gives it to you, what will you do
with it?"

Blair drew in his breath as if bracing himself for a struggle. Then he
got on his feet, pulled up one of the big, plush-covered arm-chairs,
took out his cigarette-case, and struck a match. His hand shook. "Do
with it? Why, invest it. I am going into business, Elizabeth. I decided
to this morning. If you would care to know why I have given up the idea
of contesting the will, I'll tell you. I don't want to bore you," he
ended, wistfully. Apparently she did not hear him.

"Did Nannie tell you that that money was meant for a hospital?"

Blair sat up straight, and the match, burning slowly, scorched his
fingers. He threw it down with an exclamation; his face was red with
his effort to speak quietly. "She told me of your uncle's
misunderstanding of the situation. There is no possible doubt that my
mother meant the money for me. If I thought otherwise--"

"If you will talk to Uncle Robert, you will think otherwise."

"Of course I'll go and see Mr. Ferguson; I shall have to, to arrange
about the transfer of the money to the estate, so that it can come back
to me through the legitimate channel of a gift from Nannie; in other
words, she will carry out my mother's purpose legally, instead--poor
old Nannie! of carrying it out criminally, as she tried to do. But I
won't go to your uncle to discuss my mother's purpose, Elizabeth. I am
perfectly satisfied that she meant to give me that money."

She was silent.

"Of course," he went on, "I will hear what Mr. Ferguson has to say
about this idea of his--and yours, too, apparently," he ended, bitterly.

"Yes," she said, "and mine." The words seemed to tingle as she spoke
them.

"Oh, Elizabeth!" he cried, "aren't you ever going to care for me? You
actually think me capable of keeping money intended for--some one else!"

His indignation was too honest to be ignored. "I suppose that you
believe it is yours," she said with an effort; "but you believe it
because you don't know the facts. When you see Uncle Robert, you will
not believe it." And with that meager acknowledgment of his honesty he
had to be content.

They did not speak of it again during that long dull Sunday afternoon,
but each knew that the other thought of nothing else. The red September
sun was sinking into a smoky haze on the other side of the river, when
Blair suddenly took up his hat and went out. It had occurred to him
that if he could correct Robert Ferguson's misapprehension, Elizabeth
would correct hers. He would not wait for business hours to clear
himself in her eyes; he would go and see her uncle at once. It was dusk
when he pushed into Mr. Ferguson's library, almost in advance of the
servant who announced him: "Mr. Ferguson!" he said peremptorily;
"Nannie has told me. And Elizabeth gave me your message. I have come to
say that the transfer shall be made at once. My one wish is that
Nannie's name may not be connected with it in any possible way--of
course she is as innocent as a child."

"It can be arranged easily enough," the older man said; he did not rise
from his desk, or offer his hand.

"But," Blair burst out, "what I came especially to say was that I hear
you are under the impression that my mother did not, at the end, mean
me to have that money?"

"I am under that impression. But," Robert Ferguson added,
contemptuously, "you need not be too upset. Nannie will give it back to
you."

"I am not in the least upset!" Blair retorted; "but whether I'm upset
or not, is not the question. The question is, did my mother change her
mind about her will, and try to make up for it in this way? I believe,
from all that I know now, that she did. But I have come to ask you
whether there is anything that I don't know; anything Nannie hasn't
told me, or that she doesn't understand, which leads you to feel as you
do?"

"You had better sit down."

"If it was just Nannie's idea, I will break the will!"

"You had better sit down," Mr. Ferguson repeated, coldly, "and I'll
tell you the whole business."

Blair sat down; his hat, which he had forgotten to take off, was on the
back of his head; he leaned forward, his fingers white on a cane
swinging between his knees; he did not look at Elizabeth's uncle, but
his eyes showed that he did not lose a word he said. At the end of the
statement--brief, fair, spoken without passion or apparent
prejudice--the tension relaxed and his face cleared; he drew a great
breath of relief.

"It seems to me," Robert Ferguson ended, "that there can be no doubt of
your mother's intention."

"I agree with you," Blair said, triumphantly, "there is no possible
doubt! She called for the certificate and wrote my name on it. What
more do you want than that to prove her intention?"

"You have a right to your opinion," Mr. Ferguson said, "and I have a
right to mine. I cannot see that either opinion affects the situation.
You will, as a matter of common honesty, return this money to the
estate. What Nannie will ultimately do with it, is not my affair. It is
between you and her. I can't see that we need discuss the matter
further." He took up his pen with a gesture of dismissal.

Blair's face reddened as if it had been slapped, but he did not rise.
"I want you to know, sir, that while my sister's act is, of course,
entirely indefensible, and I shall immediately return the money which
she tried to secure for me, I shall, nevertheless, allow her to give it
back to me, because it is my conviction that, by my dying mother's
wish, it belongs to me; not to--to any one else."

"Your convictions have always served your wishes. I will bid you
good-evening." For an instant Blair hesitated; then, still scarlet with
anger, took his departure. Mr. Ferguson's belief that he was capable of
keeping money intended for--for any one else, was an insult; "an
abominable insult!" he told himself. And it was Elizabeth's belief,
too! He drew in his breath in a groan. "She thinks I am dishonorable,"
he said. Well, certainly that sneak, Richie, would feel he was avenged
if he could know how cruel she was; "damn him," Blair said, softly.

He thought to himself that he could not go back and tell Elizabeth what
her uncle had said; he could not repeat the insult! Some time, when he
was calmer, he would tell her quietly that he had been wronged, that
she herself had wronged him. But just now he could not talk to her; he
was too angry and too miserable.

So, walking slowly in the foggy dusk that was pungent with the smoke of
bonfires on the flats, he suddenly wheeled about and went in the other
direction. "I'll go and have supper with Nannie," he thought; "I'm
afraid she is dreadfully worried and unhappy,--and all on my account,
dear old Nancy!"



CHAPTER XXXIII

"Do you think," Robert Ferguson wrote Mrs. Richie about the middle of
September--"do you think you could come to Mercer for a little while
and look after Nannie? The poor child is so unhappy and so incapable of
making up her mind about herself that I am uneasy about her."

"Of course I will go," Mrs. Richie told her son.

David had come down to the little house on the seashore to spend Sunday
with her, and in the late afternoon they were sitting out on the sand
in a sunny, sheltered spot watching the slow, smooth heave of the quiet
sea. David's shoulder was against her knee, his pipe had gone out, and
he was looking with lazy eyes at the slipping sparkle of sunshine on
the scarcely perceptible waves; sometimes he lifted his marine glasses
to follow a sail gleaming like a white wing against the opalescent east.

"I wonder why Nannie is unhappy," he ruminated; "she was never, poor
little Nannie! capable of appreciating Mrs. Maitland; so I don't
suppose she loved her?"

"She loved her as much as she could," Mrs. Richie said; "and that is
all any of us can do, David. But she misses her. If a mountain went out
of your landscape, wouldn't you feel rather blank? Well, Nannie's
mountain has gone. Yes; I'll go and stay with her, poor child, for a
while, and perhaps bring her back for a fortnight with us--if you
wouldn't mind?"

"Of course I wouldn't mind. Bring her along."

"I wonder if you could close this house for me?" she said; "I don't
like to shut it up now and leave you without a roof over your head in
case you had a chance to take a day off."

"Of course I can close it," he said; and added that if he couldn't shut
up a bandbox of a summer cottage he would be a pretty useless member of
society. "I'll come down the first chance I get in the next fortnight.
. . . Mother, I suppose you will see--_her?_"

Mrs. Richie gave him a startled look. "I suppose I shall."

He was silent for several minutes. She did not dare to help him by a
word. Then, as if he had wrenched the question up by the roots, torn it
out of his sealed heart, he said, "Do you suppose she cares for him?"

It was the first time in these later speechless months that he had
turned to her. Steadying herself on that advice of Robert Ferguson's:
'when he does blurt it out don't get excited,' she answered, calmly
enough, "I don't know."

He struck his heel down into the sand, then pulled out his knife and
began to clean the bowl of his pipe. The blade trembled in his hand.

"Until I saw her in May," he said, "I suppose I really thought--I
didn't formulate it, but I suppose I thought . . ."

"What?"

"That somehow I would get her yet."

"Oh, David!" she breathed.

He glanced at her cynically. "Don't get agitated, Materna. That May
visit cured me. I know I won't. I know she doesn't care for me. But I
can't tell whether she cares for him."

"I hope she does," she said.

At which he laughed: "Do you expect me to agree to that?"

"David, think what you are saying!"

"My dear mother, have you been under the impression that I am a saint?"
he said, dryly. "If so let me correct you. I am not. Yes, until I went
out there in May I always had the feeling that I would get her,
somehow, some time." He paused; his knife scraped the bowl of his pipe
until the fresh wood showed under the blade. "I don't know that I ever
exactly admitted it to myself; but I realize now that the feeling was
there."

"You shock me very much," she said; and leaning against her knee he
felt the quiver that ran through her.

"I have shocked myself several times in the last few years," he said,
briefly.

His mother was silent. Suddenly he began to talk:

"At first--I mean when it happened; I thought she would send for me,
and I would take her away from him, and then kill him." Her broken
exclamation made him laugh. "Don't worry; I was terribly young in those
days. I got over all that. It was only just at first; it was the
everlasting human impulse. The cave-dweller had it, I suppose, when
somebody stole his woman. But it's only the body that wants to kill.
The mind knows better. The mind knows that life can be a lot better
punishment than death. I knew he'd get his punishment and I was willing
to wait for it. I thought that when she left him, his hell would be as
hot as mine. I took it for granted that she would leave him. I thought
there would be a divorce, and then"--his voice was smothered to the
breaking-point; "then I would get her. Or I would get her without a
divorce."

"David!"

He did not seem to hear her; his elbows were on his knees, his chin on
his two fists; he spoke as if to himself; "Well; she didn't leave him.
I suppose she couldn't forgive me. Curious, isn't it? how the mind can
believe two entirely contradictory things at the same time: I realized
she couldn't forgive me,--yet I still thought I would get her, somehow.
Meantime, I consoled myself with the reflection that even if she hated
me for having pushed her into his arms, she hated him worse. I thought
that where I had been stabbed once, he would be stabbed a thousand
times." David spoke with that look of primitive joy which must have
been on the face of the cave-dweller when he felt the blood of his
enemy spurt warm between his fingers.

Helena Richie gave a little cry and shrank back. These were the
thoughts that her boy had built up between them in these silent years!
He gave her a faintly amused glance.

"Yes, I had my dreams. Bad dreams you would call them, Materna. Now I
don't dream any more. After I saw her in May, I got all over such
nonsense. I realized that perhaps she . . . loved him."

His mother was trembling. "It frightens me that you should have had
such thoughts," she said. She actually looked frightened; her
leaf-brown eyes were wide with terror.

Her son nuzzled his cheek against her hand; "Bless your dear heart! it
frightens you, because you can't understand. Materna, there are several
things you can't understand--and I shouldn't like it if you could!" he
said, his face sobering with that reverent look which a man gives only
to his mother; "There is the old human instinct, that existed before
laws or morals or anything else, the man's instinct to keep his woman.
And next to that, there is the realization that when it comes to what
you call morals, there is a morality higher than the respectability you
good people care so much about--the morality of nature. But of course
you don't understand," he said again, with a short laugh.

"I understand a good many things, David."

"Oh, well, I didn't mean to talk about it," he said, sighing; "I don't
know what started me; and--and I'm not howling, you know. I was only
wondering whether _you_ thought she had come to care for him?"

"I don't know," she said, faintly.

He snapped his knife shut. "Neither do I. But I guess she does. Nature
is a big thing, Materna. When a girl's loyalty comes up against that,
it hasn't much show; especially when nature is assisted by behavior
like mine. Yes, I guess by this time she loves him. I'll never get her."

"Oh, David," his mother said, tremulously, "if you could only meet some
nice, sweet girl, and--"

"Nice girl?" he said, smiling. "They're scarce, Materna, they're
scarce. But I mean to get married one of these days. A man in my trade
ought to be married. I sha'n't bother to look for one of those 'sweet
girls,' however. I've got over my fondness for sugar. No more
sentimentalities for me, thank you. I shall marry on strictly
common-sense principles: a good housekeeper, who has good sense, and
good looks--"

"And a good temper, I hope," Mrs. Richie said, almost with temper
herself; and who can blame her?--he had been so cruelly injured! The
sweetness, the silent, sunny honesty of the boy, the simple belief in
the goodness of his fellow-creatures, had been changed to this! Oh, she
could almost hate the girl who had done it! "A good temper is more
important than anything else," she said, hotly.

Instantly the dull cynicism of his face flashed into anger.
"Elizabeth's temper,--I suppose that is what you are referring to; her
temper was not responsible for what happened. It was my assinine
conceit."

She winced. "I didn't mean to hurt you," she said. He was silent. "But
it is terrible to have you so hard, David."

"Hard? I? I am a mush of amiability. Come now! I oughtn't to have made
you low-spirited. It's all an old story. I was only telling you how I
felt at first. As for bad thoughts,--I haven't any thoughts now, good
or bad! I am a most exemplary person. I don't know why I slopped over
to you, anyhow. So don't think of it again. Materna! Can you see that
sail?" He was looking through his glasses; "it's the eleventh since we
came out here."

"But David, that you should think--"

"Oh, but I don't think any more," he declared, watching the flitting
white gleam on the horizon; "I always avoid thinking, nowadays. That's
why I am such a promising young medical man. I'm all right and
perfectly happy. I'll hold my base, I promise you! That's a brig,
Materna. Do you know the difference between a brig and a schooner? I
bet you don't."

Apparently the moment of confidence was over; he had opened his heart
and let her see the blackness and bleakness; and now he was closing it
again. She was silent. David thrust his pipe into his pocket and turned
to help her to rise; but she had hidden her face in her hands. "It is
my fault," she said, with a gasp; "it must be my fault! Oh, David, have
I made you wicked? If you had had a different mother--" Instantly he
was ashamed of himself.

"Materna! I am a brute to you," he said. He flung his arm around her,
and pressed his face against hers; "I wish somebody would kick me. You
made me wicked? You are the only thing that has kept me anyways
straight! Mother--I've been decent; your goodness has saved me
from--several things. I want you to know that. I would have gone right
straight to the devil if it hadn't been for your goodness. As for how I
felt about Elizabeth, it was just a mood; don't think of it again."

"But you said," she whispered; "_without_ a divorce."

"Well, I--I didn't mean it, I guess," he comforted her; "anyhow, the
jig is up, dear. Even if I had a bad moment now and then in the first
year, nothing came of it. Oh, mother, what a beast I am!" He was
pressing his handkerchief against her tragic eyes. "Your fault? Your
only fault is being so perfect that you can't understand a poor critter
like me!"

"I do understand. I do understand."

In spite of himself, David laughed. "You! That's rich." He looked at
her with his old, good smile, tender and inarticulate. "What would I
have done without you? You've stood by and put up with my cussedness
through these three devilish years. It's almost three years, you know,
and yet I--I don't seem to get over it--Oh, I'm a perfect _girl_! How
can you put up with me?" He laughed again, and hugged her. "Mother,
sometimes I almost wish you weren't so good."

"David," she burst out passionately, "I am--" She stopped, trembling.

"I take it back," he apologized, smiling; "I seem bent on shocking you
to-day. You can be as good as you want. Only, once in a while you do
seem a little remote. Elizabeth used to say she was afraid of you."

"Of _me!_"

"Well, an angel like you never could quite understand her," he said,
soberly.

His mother was silent; then she said in a low voice:

"I am not an angel; but perhaps I haven't understood her. I can
understand love, but not hate. Elizabeth never loved you; she doesn't
know the meaning of love."

"You are mistaken, dear," he said, gently.

They went back to the house very silently; David's confidences were
over, but they left their mark on his mother's face. She showed the
strain of that talk even a week later when she started on her kindly
mission to cheer poor Nannie. On the hazy September morning, when
Robert Ferguson met her in the big, smoky station at Mercer, there were
new lines of care in her face. Her landlord, as he persisted in calling
himself, noticed them, and was instantly cross; crossness being his way
of expressing anxiety.

"You look tired," he scolded, as he opened the carriage door for her,
"you've got to rest at my house and have something to eat before you go
to Nannie's; besides, you don't suppose I got you on here just to cheer
her? You've got to cheer me, too! It's enough to give a man melancholia
to live next to that empty house of yours, and you owe it to me to be
pleasant--if you can be pleasant," he barked.

But his barking was strangely mild. His words were as rough as ever,
but he spoke with a sort of eager gentleness, as if he were trying to
make his voice soft enough for some unuttered pitifulness. She was so
pleased to see him, and to hear the kind, gruff voice, that for a
minute she forgot her anxiety about David, and laughed. And when her
eyes crinkled in that old, gay way, it seemed to Robert Ferguson,
looking at her with yearning, as if Mercer, and the September haze, and
the grimy old depot hack were suddenly illuminated.

"Oh, these children!" he said; "they are worrying me to death. Nannie
won't budge out of that old house; it will have to be sold over her
head, to get her into a decent locality. Elizabeth isn't well, but the
Lord only knows what's the matter with her. The doctor says she's all
right, but she's as grumpy a--her uncle; you can't get a word out of
her. And Blair has been speculating,"--he was so cross that, when at
his own door he put out his hand to help her from the carriage, she
patted his arm, and said, "Come; cheer up!"

At which, smiling all over his face, he growled at her that it was a
pretty thing to expect a man to cheer up, with an empty house on his
hands. "You seem to think I'm made of money! You take the house _now_;
don't wait till that callow doctor is ready to settle down here. If
you'll move in now, I'll cheer up--and give Elizabeth the rent for
pin-money." He was really cheerful by this time just because he was
able to scold her, but behind his scolding there was always this new
gentleness. Later, when he spoke again of the house, her face fell.

"I am doubtful about our coming to Mercer."

"Doubtful?" he said; "what's all this? There never was a woman yet who
knew her own mind for a day at a time--except Mrs. Maitland. You told
me that David was coming here next spring, and I've been keeping this
house for you; I've lost five months' rent"--there was a worried note
in his voice; "what in thunder?" he demanded.

Mrs. Richie sighed. "I don't suppose I ought to tell you, but I can't
seem to help it. I discovered the other day that David is not
heart-whole, yet. He is dreadfully bitter; dreadfully! I don't believe
it's prudent for him to live in Mercer. Do you? He would be constantly
seeing Elizabeth."

She had had her breakfast, and they had gone into Mr. Ferguson's garden
so that he might throw some crumbs to the pigeons and smoke his morning
cigar before taking her to the Maitland house. They were sitting now in
the long arbor, where the Isabella grapes were ripening sootily in the
sparse September sunshine which sifted down between the yellowing
leaves, and touched Mrs. Richie's brown hair; Robert Ferguson saw, with
a pang, that there were some white threads in the soft locks. His eyes
stung, so he barked as gruffly as he could.

"Well, suppose he does see her? You can't wrap him up in cotton batting
for the rest of his life. That's what you've always tried to do, you
hen with one chicken! For the Lord's sake, let him alone. Let him take
his medicine like any other man. After he gets over the nasty taste of
it, he'll find there's sugar in the world yet; just as I did. Only I
hope he won't be so long about it as I was."

She sighed, and her soft eyes filled. "But you don't know how he
talked. Oh, I can't help thinking it must be my fault! If he had had
another kind of a mother, if his own mother had lived--"

"Own grandmother!" said Robert Ferguson, disgustedly; "the only trouble
with you as a mother, is that you've been too good to the cub. If you'd
knocked his head against the wall once or twice, you'd have made a man
of him. My dear, you really must not be a goose, you know. It's the one
thing I can't stand. Helena," he interrupted himself, chuckling, "you
will be pleased to know that Cherry-pie (begging her pardon!) thinks
that David will ultimately console himself by falling in love with
Nannie! 'It would be very nice,' she says."

They both laughed, then David's mother sighed: "But just think how
delightful to feel that life is as simple as that," she said.

Robert Ferguson picked a grape, and took careful aim at a pigeon;
"Helena," he said, in a low voice, "before you see Nannie, perhaps I
ought to tell you something. I wouldn't, only I know she will, and you
ought to understand it. Can you keep a secret?"

"I can," Mrs. Richie said briefly.


"I believe it," he said, with a sudden dryness. Then he told her the
story of the certificate.

"What! Nannie forged? _Nannie!_"

"We don't use that word; it isn't pretty. But that's what it amounts
to, of course. And that's where David's money went."

"I suppose Mrs. Maitland changed her mind at the last," Mrs. Richie
said; "well, I'm glad she did. It would have been too cruel if she
hadn't given something to Blair."

"I don't think she did," he declared; "changing her mind wasn't her
style; she wasn't one of your weak womanish creatures. _She_ wouldn't
have said she was coming to live in Mercer, and then tried to back out
of it! No, she simply wrote Blair's name by mistake. Her mind wandered
constantly in those last days. And seeing what she had done, she didn't
indorse it."

Mrs. Richie looked doubtful. "I think she meant it for him."

Robert Ferguson laughed grimly. "_I_ think she didn't; but you'll be a
great comfort to Nannie. Poor Nannie! She is unhappy, but not in the
least repentant. She insists that she did right! Would you have
supposed that a girl of her age could be so undeveloped, morally?"

"She's only undeveloped legally," she amended; "and what can you
expect? What chance has she had to develop in any way?"

"She had the chance of living with one of the finest women I ever
knew," he said, stiffly, and paused for their usual wrangle about Mrs.
Maitland. As they rose to go indoors, he looked at his guest, and shook
his head. "Oh, Helena, how conceited you are!"

"I? Conceited?" she said, blankly.

"You think you are a better judge than I am," he complained.

"Nonsense!" she said, blushing charmingly; but she insisted on walking
down to Nannie's, instead of letting him take her in the carriage; a
carriage is not a good place to ward off a proposal.

At the Maitland house she found poor Nannie wandering vaguely about in
the garret. "I am putting away Mamma's clothes," she said, helplessly.
But a minute later she yielded, with tears of relief, to Mrs. Richie's
placid assumption of authority;

"I am going to stay a week with you, and to-morrow I'll tell you what
to do with things. Just now you must sit down and talk to me."

And Nannie sat down, with a sigh of comfort. There were so many things
she wanted to say to some one who would understand! "And you do
understand," she said, sobbing a little. "Oh, I am so lonely without
Mamma! She and I always understood each other. You know she meant the
money for Blair, don't you, Mrs. Richie? Mr. Ferguson won't believe me!"

"Yes; I am sure she did," Mrs. Richie said, heartily; "but dear, you
ought not to have--"

Nannie, comforted, said: "Well, perhaps not; considering that I can
give it to him. But I didn't know that, you know, when I did it."
Pretty much all that day, poor Nannie poured out her full little heart
to her kind listener; they sat down together at the office-dining-room
table--at the head of which stood a chair that no one ever dreamed of
occupying; and Harris shuffled about as he had for nearly thirty years,
serving coarse food on coarse china, and taking a personal interest in
the conversation. After dinner they went into Nannie's parlor that
smelt of soot, where the little immortal canvas still hung in its
gleaming gold frame near the door, and the cut glass of the great
chandeliers sparkled faintly through slits in the old brown
paper-muslin covers. Sometimes, as they talked, the house would shake,
and Nannie's light voice be drowned in the roar of a passing train
whose trail of smoke brushed against the windows like feathers of
darkness. But Nannie gave no hint that she would ever go away and leave
the smoke and noise, and just at first Mrs. Richie made no such
suggestion. She did nothing but infold the vague, frightened, unhappy
girl in her own tranquillity. Sometimes she lured her out to walk or
drive, and once she urged her to ask Elizabeth and Blair to come to
supper.

"Oh, Blair won't come while you are here!" Nannie said, simply; and the
color came into David's mother's face. "I know," Nannie went on, "that
Elizabeth thinks Mamma meant that money for David. And she is not
pleased because Mr. Ferguson won't make the executors give it to him."

Mrs. Richie laughed. "Well, that is very foolish in Elizabeth; nobody
could give your mother's money to David. I must straighten that out
with Elizabeth."

But she did not have a chance to do so; Elizabeth as well as Blair
preferred not to come to the old house while David's mother was there.
And Mrs. Richie, unable to persuade Nannie to go back to Philadelphia
with her, stayed on, in the kindness of her heart, for still another
week. When she finally fixed a day for her return, she said to herself
that at least Blair and Elizabeth would not be prevented by her
presence from doing what they could to cheer Nannie.

"But is she going to live on in that doleful house forever?" Robert
Ferguson protested.

"She's like a poor little frightened snail," Helena Richie said. "You
don't realize the shock to her of that night when she--she tried to do
what she thought Mrs. Maitland wanted to have done. She is scared
still. She just creeps in and out of that dingy front door, or about
those awful, silent rooms. It will take time to bring her into the
sunshine."

"Helena," he said, abruptly--she and Nannie had had supper with him and
were just going home; Nannie had gone up-stairs to put on her hat.
"Helena, I've been thinking a good deal about your cruelty to me."

She laughed: "Oh, you are impossible!"

"No, I'm only permanent. Don't laugh; just listen to me." He was
evidently nervous; the old friendly bullying had been put aside; he was
very grave, and was plainly finding it difficult to say what he wanted
to say: "I don't know what your reason is for refusing me, but I know
it isn't a good reason. You are fond of me, and yet you keep on saying
'no' in this exasperating way;--upon my word," he interrupted himself,
despairingly, "I could shake you, sometimes, it is so exasperating! You
like me, well enough; but you won't marry me."

"No, I won't," she assured him, gently.

"It is so unreasonable of you," he said, simply, "that it makes me
think you've got some bee in your bonnet: some silly woman-notion. You
think--Heaven knows what you think! perhaps that--that you ought not to
marry because of something--anything--" he stammered with earnestness;
"but I want you to know this: that I don't _care_ what your reason is!
You may have committed murder, for all the difference it makes to me."
The clumsy and elaborate lightness of his words trembled with the
seriousness of his voice. "You may have broken every one of the Ten
Commandments; _I_ don't care! Helena, do you understand? It's nothing
to me! You may have broken--_all of them_." He spoke with solemn
passion, holding out his hands toward her; his voice shook, but his
melancholy face was serene with knowledge and understanding. "Oh, my
dear," he said, "I love you and you are fond of me. That's all I care
about! Nothing else, nothing else."

Her start of attention, her dilating eyes, made the tears spring to his
own eyes. "Helena, you do believe me, don't you?"

She could not answer him; she had grown pale and then red, then pale
again. "Oh," she said in a whisper, "you are a good man! What have I
done to deserve such a friend? But no, dear friend, no."

He struck her shoulder heavily, as if she had been another man. "Well,
anyway," he said, "you'll remember that when you are willing, I am
waiting?"

She nodded. "I shall never forget your goodness," she said, brokenly.

He did not try to detain her with arguments or entreaties, but as she
turned toward the library door he suddenly pushed it shut, and quietly
took her in his arms and kissed her.

She went away quite speechless. She did not even remember to say
good-night and good-by to Miss White, although she was to leave Mercer
the next morning. When Blair heard that Mrs. Richie was coming to stay
with Nannie he said, briefly, "I won't come in while she is here." He
wrote to his sister during those three weeks and sent her
flowers--kindness to Nannie was a habit with Blair; and indeed he
really missed seeing her, and was glad for other reasons than his own
embarrassment when he heard that her visitor was going away. "I
understand Mrs. Richie takes the 7.30 to-night," he said to his wife.
Elizabeth was silent; it did not occur to her to mention that she had
seen Nannie and heard that Mrs. Richie had decided to stay over another
night. She rarely volunteered any information to Blair.

"Elizabeth," he said, "what do you say to going down to Willis's for
supper, and rowing home in the moonlight? We can drop in and see Nannie
on the way back to the hotel--after Mrs. Richie has gone." He saw some
listless excuse trembling on her lips, and interrupted her: "Do say
'yes'! It is months since we have been on the river."

She hesitated, then seemed to reach some sudden decision. "Yes," she
said, "I'll go."

Blair's face lighted with pleasure. Perhaps the silence which had
hardened between them since the day the question of his money had been
discussed would break now.

The late afternoon was warm with the yellow haze of October sunshine
when they walked out over the bridge to the toll-house wharf, where
Blair hired a boat. He made her as comfortable as he could in the
stern, and when he gave her the tiller-ropes she took them in a
business-like way, as if really entering into the spirit of his little
expedition. A moment later they were floating down the river; there was
nearly half a mile of furnaces and slag-banked shore before they left
Mercer's smoke and grime behind them and began to drift between
low-lying fields or through narrow reaches where the vineyard-covered
hills came down close to the water.

"Elizabeth, what do you say to going East next month?" Blair said;
"perhaps we can persuade Nannie to go, too."

She was leaning back against the cushions he had arranged for her,
holding her white parasol so that it hid her face. "I don't see," she
said, "how you can afford to travel much; where will you get the money?"

"Oh, it has all been very easily arranged; Nannie can draw pretty
freely against the estate now, and she makes me an 'allowance,' so to
speak, until things are settled; then she'll hand my principal over to
me. It's a nuisance not to have it now; but we can get along well
enough."

Then Elizabeth asked her question: "And when you get the principal,
what will you do with it?"

"Invest it; pretty tough, isn't it, when you think what I ought to have
had?"

"And when," said Elizabeth, very softly, "will you build the hospital?"
She lifted her parasol slightly, and gave him a look that was like a
knife; then lowered it again.

"Build the hospital! What hospital?"

"The hospital near the Works, that your mother put that money aside
for."

Blair's hands tightened on his oars. Instinctively he knew that a
critical moment was confronting him. He did not know just what the
danger in it was, but he knew there was danger. "My mother changed her
mind about that, Elizabeth."

She lifted the parasol again, and looked full at him; the white shadow
of the silk made the dark amber of her unsmiling eyes singularly
luminous. "No," she said; "your mother did not change her mind. Nannie
thought she did, but it was not so." She spoke with stern certainty.
"Your mother didn't mean you to have that money. She meant it for--a
hospital."

Blair stopped rowing and leaned on his oars. "Why don't you speak his
name?" he said, between his teeth.

The parasol fell back on her shoulder; she grew very white; the hard
line that used to be a dimple was like a gash in her cheek; she looked
suddenly old. "I will certainly speak his name: _David Richie_. Your
mother meant the money for David Richie."

"That," said Blair, "is a matter of opinion. You think she did. I think
she didn't. I think she meant it for the person whose name she wrote on
the certificate. That person will keep it."

Elizabeth was silent. Blair began to row again, softly. The anger in
his face died out and left misery behind it. Oh, how she hated him; and
how she loved--_him_. At that moment Blair hated David as one only
hates the human creature one has injured. They did not speak again for
the rest of the slow drift down to Willis's. Once Blair opened his lips
to bid her notice that the overhanging willows and chestnuts mirrored
themselves so clearly in the water that the skiff seemed to cut through
autumnal foliage, and the sound of the ripple at the prow was like the
rustle of leaves; but the preoccupation in her face silenced him. It
was after four when, brushing past a fringe of willows, the skiff
bumped softly against a float half hidden in the yellowing sedge and
grass at Willis's landing. Blair got out, and drawing the boat
alongside, held up his hand to his wife, but she ignored his
assistance. As she sprang lightly out, the float rocked a little and
the water splashed over the planks. There was a dank smell of wet wood
and rankly growing water-weeds. A ray of sunshine, piercing the roof of
willow leaves, struck the single blossom of a monkey-flower, that
sparkled suddenly in the green darkness like a topaz.

"Elizabeth," Blair said in a low voice--he was holding the gunwale of
the boat and he did not look at her; "Elizabeth, all I want money for
is to give you everything you want." She was silent. He made the skiff
fast and followed her up the path to the little inn on the bank. There
were some tables out under the locust-trees, and a welcoming landlord
came hurrying to meet them with suggestions of refreshments.

"What will you have?" Blair asked.

"Anything--nothing; I don't care," Elizabeth said; and Blair gave an
order he thought would please her.

Below them the river, catching the sunset light, blossomed with a
thousand stars. Elizabeth watched the dancing glitter absently; when
Blair, forgetting for a moment the depression of the last half-hour,
said impulsively, "Oh, how beautiful that is!" she nodded, and came out
of her abstraction to call his attention to the reflected gold of a
great chestnut on the other side of the stream.

"Are you warm enough?" he asked. He said to himself, with a sigh of
relief, that evidently she had dropped the dangerous subject of the
hospital. "There is a chill in these October evenings as the sun goes
down," he reminded her.

"Yes."

"Elizabeth," he burst out, "why can't we talk sometimes? Haven't we
anything in common? Can't we ever talk, like ordinary husbands and
wives? You would show more civility to a beggar!" But as he spoke the
waiter pushed his tray between them, and she did not answer. When Blair
poured out a glass of wine for her she shook her head.

"I don't want anything."

He looked at her in despair: "I love you. I suppose you wouldn't
believe me if I should try to tell you how I love you--and yet you
don't give me a decent word once a month!"

"Blair," she said, quietly, "that is final, is it--about the money? You
are going to keep it?"

"I am certainly going to keep it."

Elizabeth's eyes narrowed. "It is final," she repeated, slowly.

"You are angry," he cried, "because I won't give the money my mother
gave me, all the money I have in the world, to the man whom you threw
off like an old glove!"

"No," she said, slowly, "I don't _think_ I am angry. But it seems
somehow to be more than I can bear; a sort of last straw, I suppose,"
she said, smiling faintly. "But I'm not angry, I think. Still, perhaps
I am. I don't really know."

Blair struck a match under the table. His hand holding his cigarette
trembled. "To the best of my knowledge and belief, Elizabeth, I am
honest. I believe my mother meant me to have that money. She did not
mean to have it go to--to a hospital."


Elizabeth dug the ferrule of her parasol into the gravel at her feet.
"It is David's money. You took his wife. Now you are taking his money.
. . . You can't keep both of them." She said this very gently, so
gently that for a moment he did not grasp the sense of her words. When
he did it seemed to him that she did not herself realize what she had
said, for immediately, in the same calmly matter-of-fact way, she began
to speak of unimportant things: the river was very low, wasn't it? What
a pity they were cutting the trees on the opposite hill. "They are
burning the brush," she said; "do you smell the smoke? I love the smell
of burning brush in October." She was simpler and pleasanter than she
had been for a long time. But he could not know that it was because she
felt, inarticulately, that her burden had been lifted; she herself
could not have said why, but she was almost happy. Blair was confused
to the point of silence by her abrupt return to the commonplace. He
glanced at her with furtive anxiety. "Oh, see the moon!" Elizabeth
said, and for a moment they watched the great disk of the Hunter's moon
rising in the translucent dusk behind the hills.

"That purple haze in the east is like the bloom on a plum," Blair said.

"I think we had better go now," Elizabeth said, rising. But though she
had seemed so friendly, she did not even turn her head to see if he
were following her, and he had to hurry to overtake her as she went
down the path to the half-sunken float that was rocking slightly in the
grassy shallows. As he knelt, steadying the boat with one hand, he held
the other up to her, and this time she did not repulse him; but when
she put her hand into his, he kissed it with abrupt, unhappy
passion,--and she drew it from him sharply. When she took her place in
the stern and lifted the tiller-ropes she looked at him, gathering up
his oars, with curious gentleness. . . .

She was sorry for him, for he seemed to care so much;--and this was the
end! She had tried to bear her life. Nobody could imagine how hard she
had tried; life had been her punishment, so with all her soul and all
her body, she had tried to bear it! But this was the end. It was not
possible to try any more. "I have borne it as long as I can," she
thought. Yet as she had said, she was not angry. She wondered, vaguely,
listening to the dip of the oars, at this absence of anger. She had
been able to talk about the bonfires, and she had thought the moon
beautiful. No; she was not angry. Or if she were, then her anger was
unlike all the other angers that had scourged and torn the surface of
her life; they had been storms, all clamor and confusion and blinding
flashes, with more or less indifference to resulting ruin. But this
anger, which could not be recognized as anger, was a noiseless
cataclysm in the very center of her being; a tidal wave, that was
lifting and lifting, moving slowly, too full for sound, in the
resistless advance of an absorbing purpose of ruin. "I am not angry,"
she said to herself; "but I think I am dying."

The pallor of her face frightened Blair, who was straining at his oars
against the current: "Elizabeth! What is the matter? Shall I stop?
Shall we go ashore? You are ill!"

"No; I'm not. Go on, please."

"But there is something the matter!"

She shook her head. "Don't stop. We've gone ever so far down-stream,
just in this minute."

Blair looked at her anxiously. A little later he tried to make her
talk; asked her how she felt, and called her attention to the bank of
clouds that was slowly climbing up the sky. But she was silent. As
usual, she seemed to have nothing to say to him. He rowed steadily, in
long, beautiful strokes, and she sat watching the dark water lap and
glimmer past the side of the skiff. As they worked up-stream, the sheen
of oil began to show again in faint and rocking iridescence; once she
leaned over and touched the water with her fingers; then looked at them
with a frown.

"Look out!" Blair said; "trim a little, will you?"

She sat up quickly: "I wonder if it is easy to drown?"

"Mighty easy--if you lean too hard on the gunwale," he said,
good-naturedly.

"Does it take very long?"

"To drown? I never tried it, but I believe not; though I understand
that it's unpleasant while it lasts." He watched her wistfully; if he
could only make her smile!

"I suppose dying is generally unpleasant," she said, and glanced down
into the black oily water with a shiver.

It was quite dark by this time, and Blair was keeping close to the
shore to avoid the current narrowing between the piers of the old
bridge. When they reached Mrs. Todd's wharf Elizabeth was still staring
into the water.

"It is so black here, so dirty! I wouldn't like to have it touch me.
It's cleaner down at Willis's," she said, thoughtfully. Blair, making
fast at the landing, agreed: "Yes, if I wanted a watery grave I'd
prefer the river at Willis's to this." Then he offered her a pleading
hand; but she sat looking at the water. "How clean the ocean is,
compared to a river," she said; then noticed his hand. She took it
calmly enough, and stepped out of the boat. She had forgotten, he
thought, her displeasure about the money; there was only the usual
detachment. When he said it was too early to go to Nannie's,--"it isn't
seven yet, and Mrs. Richie won't leave the house until a quarter past;"
she agreed that they had better go to the hotel.

"What do you say to the theater to-night?" he asked. But she shook her
head.

"You go; I would rather be alone."

"I hear there's a good play in town?"

She was silent.

Blair said something under his breath with angry hopelessness. This was
always the way so far as any personal relation between them went; she
did not seem to see him; she did not even hear what he was saying. "You
always want to be alone, so far as I am concerned," he said. She made
no answer. After dinner he took himself off. "She doesn't want me
round, so I'll clear out," he said, sullenly; he had not the heart even
to go to Nannie's. "I'll drop into the theater, or perhaps I'll just
walk," he thought, drearily. He wandered out into the street, but the
sky had clouded over and there was a soft drizzle of rain, so he turned
into the first glaring entrance that yawned at him from the pavement.



CHAPTER XXXV

When Blair came home, a little after eleven, she had gone.

At first he did not grasp the significance of her absence. He called to
her from their parlor: "I want to tell you about the play; perfect
trash!" No answer. He glanced through the open door of her bedroom; not
there. He hurried to his own room, crying: "Elizabeth! Where are you?"
Then stood blankly waiting. Had she gone down-stairs? He went out into
the hall and, leaning over the banisters, listened to the
stillness--that unhuman stillness of a hotel corridor; but there was no
bang of an iron door, no clanking rumble of an ascending elevator. Had
she gone out? He looked at his watch, and his heart came up into his
throat; out--at this hour! But perhaps after he had left her, she had
suddenly decided to spend the night at her uncle's or Nannie's. In that
case she would have left word in the office. He was thrusting his arms
into his overcoat and settling his hat on his head, even while he was
dashing downstairs to inquire:

"Has Mrs. Maitland left any message for me?"

The clerk looked vague: "We didn't see her go out, sir. But I suppose
she went by the ladies' entrance. No; she didn't leave any message,
sir."

Blair suddenly knew that he was frightened. He could not have said why.
Certainly he was not conscious of any reason for fright; but some blind
instinct sent a wave of alarm all through him. His knees felt cold;
there was a sinking sensation just below his breast-bone.

"What an ass I am!" he said to himself; "she has gone to her uncle's,
of course." He said something of the kind, with elaborate carelessness,
to the clerk; "if she comes back before I do, just say I have gone out
on an errand." He was frightened, but not to the extent of letting that
inquisitive idiot behind the counter know it. "If he had been attending
to his business," he thought, angrily, "he would have seen her go, and
he could have told me when it was. I'll go to Mr. Ferguson's. Of course
she's there."

He stood on the curb-stone for a minute, looking for a carriage; but
the street was deserted. He could not take the time to go to the
livery-stable. He started hurriedly; once he broke into a run, then
checked himself with the reminder that he was a fool. As he drew near
her uncle's house, he began to defend himself against disappointment:
"She's at Nannie's. Why did I waste time coming here? I know she is at
Nannie's!"

Robert Ferguson's house was dark, except for streaks of light under the
blinds of the library windows. Blair, springing up the front steps,
rang; then held his breath to listen for some one coming through the
hall; his heart seemed smothering in his throat. "I _know_ she isn't
here; she's at Nannie's," he told himself. He was acutely conscious of
the dank smell of the frosted honeysuckle clinging limply to the old
iron trellis that inclosed the veranda; but when the door opened he was
casual enough--except for a slight breathlessness.

"Mr. Ferguson! is Elizabeth here?"

"No," Robert Ferguson said, surprised, "was she coming here?"

"She was to be here, or--or at Nannie's," Blair said, carelessly, "I
didn't know which. I'll go and get her there." His own words reassured
him, and he apologized lightly. "Sorry to have disturbed you, sir.
Good-night!" And he was gone before another question could be asked.
But out in the street he found himself running. "Of course she's at
Nannie's!" he said, panting. He even had a twinge of anger at Elizabeth
for giving him all this trouble. "She ought to have left word," he
thought, crossly. It was a relief to be cross; nothing very serious can
have happened to a person who merely makes you cross. The faint drizzle
of the early evening had turned to rain, which added to his irritation.
"She's all right; and it's confoundedly unpleasant to get soaking wet,"
he reflected. Yes; he was honestly cross. Yet in spite of the
reassurances of his mind and his temper, his body was still frightened;
he was hurrying; his breath came quickly. He dashed on, so absorbed in
denying his alarm that on one of the crossings only a quick leap kept
him from being knocked down by a carriage full of revelers. "Here, you!
Look out! What's the matter with you?" the cab-driver yelled, pulling
his horses back and sidewise, but not before the pole of the hack had
grazed Blair's shoulder. There was a screech of laughter, a woman's
vociferating fright, a whiff of cigar smoke, and a good-natured curse:
"Say, darn you, you're too happy to be out alone, sonny!" Blair did not
hear them. Shantytown, black and silent and wet, huddled before him;
from the smokestacks of the Works banners of flame flared out into the
rain, and against them his mother's house loomed up, dark in the
darkness. At the sight of it all his panic returned, and again he tried
to discount his disappointment: "She isn't here, of course; she has
gone to the hotel. Why didn't I wait for her there? What a fool I am!"
But back in his mind, as he banged the iron gate and rushed up the
steps, he was saying: "If she _isn't_ here--?"

The house was absolutely dark; the fan-light over the great door was
black; there was no faintest glimmer of light anywhere. Everybody was
asleep. Blair rang violently, and pounded on the panels of the door
with both hands. "Nannie! Elizabeth! Harris!--confound the old idiot!
why doesn't he answer the bell? Nannie--"

A window opened on the floor above. "What is it?" demanded a quavering
feminine voice. "Who's there?"

"Nannie! Darn it, why doesn't somebody answer the bell in this house?
Is Elizabeth--" His voice died in his throat.

"Oh, Blair! Is that you? You scared me to death," Nannie called down.
"What on earth is the matter?"

"Is--is Elizabeth here?"

"Elizabeth? No; of course not! Where is she?"

"If I knew, would I be asking you?" Blair called back furiously; "she
must be here!"

"Wait. I'll come down and let you in," Nannie said; he heard a muffled
colloquy back in the room, and then the window closed sharply. Far off,
a church clock struck one. Blair stood with a hand on the doorknob;
through the leaded side-windows he saw a light wavering down through
the house; a moment later Nannie, lamp in hand, shivering in her thin
dressing-gown, opened the door.

"Has she been here this evening?"

"Blair! You scare me to death! No; she hasn't been here. What is the
matter? Your coat is all wet! Is it raining?"

"She isn't at the hotel, and I don't know where she is."

"Why, she's at Mr. Ferguson's, of course!"

"No, she isn't. I've been there."

"She may be at home by this time," Nannie faltered, and Blair,
assenting, was just turning to rush away, when another voice said, with
calm peremptoriness:

"What is the matter?"

Blair turned to see Mrs. Richie. She had come quietly down-stairs, and
was standing beside Nannie. Even in his scared preoccupation, the sight
of David's mother shook him. "I--I thought," he stammered, "that you
had gone home, Mrs. Richie."

"She had a little cold, and I would not let her go until to-morrow
morning," Nannie said; "you always take more cold on those horrid
sleeping-cars." Nannie had no consciousness of the situation; she was
far too alarmed to be embarrassed. Blair cringed; he was scarlet to his
temples; yet under his shame, he had the feeling that he had when, a
little boy, he clung to David's pretty mother for protection.

"Oh, Mrs. Richie," he said, "I am so worried about Elizabeth!"

"What about her?"

"She said something this afternoon that frightened me."

"What?"

But he would not tell her. "It was nothing. Only she was very angry;
and--she will do anything when she is angry." Mrs. Richie gave him a
look, but he was too absorbed to feel its significance. "It was
something about--well, a sort of silly threat. I didn't take it in at
the time; but afterward I thought perhaps she meant something. Really,
it was nothing at all. But--" his voice died in his throat and his eyes
were terrified. There was such pain in his face that before she knew it
David's mother was sorry for him; she even put her hand on his shoulder.

"It was just a mood," she comforted him. And Blair, taking the white,
maternal hand in both of his, looked at her speechlessly; his chin
trembled. Instantly, without words of shame on one side or of
forgiveness on the other, they were back again, these two, in the old
friendship of youth and middle age. "It was a freak," said Mrs. Richie,
soothingly. "She is probably at the hotel by this time. Don't be
troubled, Blair. Go and see. If she isn't at the hotel let me know at
once."

"Yes, yes; I will," Blair said. "She must be there now, of course. I
know there's nothing the matter, but I don't like to have her out so
late by herself." He turned to open the front door, fumbling with haste
over the latch; Nannie called to him to wait and she would get him an
umbrella. But he did not hear her. He was saying to himself that of
course she was at the hotel; and he was off again into the darkness!

As the door banged behind him the two women looked at each other in
dismay. "Oh, Mrs. Richie, what can be the matter?" Nannie said.

"Just one of Elizabeth's moods. She has gone out to walk."

"At this time of night? It's after one o'clock!"

"She is probably safe and sound at the River House now."

"I wish we had one of those new telephone things," Nannie said. "Mamma
was always talking about getting one. Then Blair could let us know as
soon as he gets to the hotel." Nannie was plainly scared; Mrs. Richie
grave and a little cold. She had had, to her amazement, a wave of
tenderness for Blair; the reaction from it came in anger at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was always making trouble! "Poor Blair," she said,
involuntarily. At the moment she was keenly sorry for him; after all,
abominable as his conduct had been, love, of a kind, had been at the
root of it. "I can forgive love," Helena Richie said to herself, "but
not hate. Elizabeth never loved David or she couldn't have done what
she did.... Nothing will happen to her," she said aloud. It occurred to
this gentle woman that nothing ever did happen to the people one felt
could be spared from this world; which wicked thought made her so
shocked at herself that she hardly heard Nannie's nervous chatter: "If
she hasn't come home, Blair will be back here in half an hour; it takes
fifteen minutes to go to the hotel and fifteen minutes to come back. If
he isn't here at a quarter to two, everything is all right."

They went into the parlor and lit the gas; Nannie suggested a fire, but
Mrs. Richie said it wasn't worth while. "We'll be going up-stairs in a
few minutes," she said. She was not really worried about Elizabeth;
partly because of that faintly cynical belief that nothing could happen
to the poor young creature who had made so much trouble for everybody;
but also because she was singularly self-absorbed. Those words of
Robert Ferguson's, when he kissed her in his library, had never left
her mind. She thought of them now when she and Nannie sat down in that
silence of waiting which seems to tingle with speech. The dim light
from the gas-jet by the mantelpiece did not penetrate beyond the
dividing arch of the great room; behind the grand piano sprawling
sidewise between the black marble columns, all was dark. The shadow of
the chandelier, muffled in its balloon of brown paper muslin, made an
island of darkness on the ceiling, and the four big canvases were four
black oblongs outlined in faintly glimmering gilt.

"I remember sitting here with your mother, the night you children were
lost," Mrs. Richie said. "Oh, Nannie dear, you must move out of this
house; it is too gloomy!" But Nannie was not thinking of the house.

"Where _can_ she have gone?" she said.

Mrs. Richie could offer no suggestion. Her explanation to herself was
that Blair and Elizabeth had quarreled, and Elizabeth, in a paroxysm of
temper, had rushed off to spend the night in some hotel by herself. But
she did not want to say this to Nannie. To herself she said that things
did sometimes turn out for the best in this world, after all--if only
David could realize it! "She would have made him dreadfully unhappy,"
Helena Richie thought; "she doesn't know what love means." But alas!
David did not know that he had had an escape. She sighed, remembering
that talk on the beach, and those wicked things he had said,--things
for which she must be in some way to blame. "If he had had a different
mother," she thought, heavily, "he might not have--" A sudden shock of
terror jarred all through her--_could Elizabeth have gone to David?_
The very thought turned her cold; it was as if some slimy, poisonous
thing had touched her. Then common sense came in a wave of relief: "Of
course not! Why should she do such an absurd thing?" But in spite of
common sense, Helena Richie's lips went dry.

"It's a quarter to two," Nannie said. "He hasn't come; she must be at
the hotel."

"I'm sure she is," Mrs. Richie agreed.

"Let's wait five minutes," Nannie said; "but I'm certain it's all
right."

"Of course it's all right," Mrs. Richie said again, and got on her feet
with a shiver of relief.

"It gave me a terrible scare," Nannie confessed, and turned out the
gas. "I had a perfectly awful thought, Mrs. Richie; a wicked thought. I
was afraid she had--had done something to herself. You know she is so
crazy when she is angry, and--"

The front gate banged. Nannie gave a faint scream. "Oh, Mrs. Richie!
Oh--"

It was Helena Richie who opened the door before Blair had even reached
it. "Well? Well?"

"Not there. . . ."



CHAPTER XXXVI

All night long Elizabeth watched a phantom landscape flit past the
window of the sleeping-car. Sometimes a cloud of smoke, shot through
with sparks, brushed the glass like a billowing curtain, and sometimes
the thunderous darkness of a tunnel swept between her and spectral
trees or looming hilltops. She lay there on her pillows, looking at the
flying glimmer of the night and drawing long breaths of peace. The
steady, rhythmical pounding of the wheels, the dull, rushing roar of
the rails, the black, spinning country outside her window, shut away
her old world of miseries and shames. Behind the stiff green curtains,
that swung in and out, in and out, to the long roll of the car, there
were no distractions, no fears of interruption, no listening
apprehensions; she could relax into the wordless and exultant certainty
of her purpose.

For at last, after these long months of mere endurance, she had a
purpose.

And how calmly she was fulfilling it! "For I am not angry," she said to
herself, with the same surprise she had felt when, at Willis's that
afternoon, she had denied Blair's charge of anger. Outside in the
darkness, all the world was asleep. The level stretches of vanishing
fields, the faint glisten of roads, were empty. When the train swept
thundering through little towns, the flying station lights, the twinkle
of street lamps, even the solitary lanterns of switchmen running along
the tracks, made the sleep seem only more profound. But Elizabeth was
awake in every fiber; once or twice, for the peace of it, she closed
her eyes; but she did not mean to sleep. She meant to think out every
step that she must take; but just at first, in the content of decision,
she did not even want to think. She only wanted to feel that the end
had come.

It was during the row up the river that her purpose had cleared before
her eyes; for an instant the sight of it had startled her into that
pallor which had frightened Blair; then she accepted it with a
passionate satisfaction. It needed no argument; she knew without
reasoning about it what she must do. But the way to do it was not
plain; it was while she and Blair sat at dinner, and he read his paper
and she played with her food, that a plan grew slowly in her mind. The
carrying it out--at least to this point; the alert and trembling fear
of some obstacle, had greatly exhausted her. It had also blotted out
everything but itself. She forgot her uncle and Miss White; that she
was going to give them pain did not occur to her until safe from their
possible interference, in the dark, behind the slowly swaying curtains
of her section, her fatigue began to lessen. Then, vaguely, she thought
of them. . . . they would be sorry. She frowned, faintly troubled by
their sorrow. It was midnight before she remembered Blair: poor Blair!
he cared so much about her. How could he,--when she did not care for
him? Still, it did not follow that not being loved prevented you from
loving. David had ceased to love her, but that had not made her love
cease. Yes; she was afraid they would all be unhappy; but it would be
only for a while. She sighed; it was a peaceful sigh. Her regret for
the sorrow that she would cause was the regret of one far off, helpless
to avert the pain, who has no relation to it except that of an
observer. She said to herself, calmly, "Poor Uncle Robert."

As she grew more rested, the vagueness of her regret sharpened a
little. She realized with a pang how worried they would be--before they
began to be sorry; and worry is so hard to bear! "I wish I could have
spared Uncle Robert and Cherry-pie," she said, in real distress. It
occurred to her that she had given them many unhappy moments. "I was
always a trouble; what a pity I was ever born." She thought suddenly of
her mother, remembering how she used to excuse her temper on the ground
that her mother had had no self-control. She smiled faintly in the
darkness at the childishness of such an excuse. "She wasn't to blame. I
could have conquered it, but I didn't. I did nothing all my life but
make trouble." She thought of her life as a thing of the past. "I was a
great trial to them; it will be better for everybody this way," she
said; and nestled down into the thought of the "way," with a
satisfaction which was absolute comfort. Better; but still better if
she had never lived. Then Blair would not have been disinherited, and
by being disinherited driven into the dishonor of keeping money not
intended for him. "It's really all my fault," she reflected, and looked
out of the window with unseeing eyes. Yes; all that had happened was
her fault. Oh, how many things she had hurt and spoiled! She had
injured Blair; his mother had said so. And poor Nannie! for Nannie's
offense grew out of Elizabeth's conduct. As for David--David, who had
stopped loving her. . . .

Well, she wouldn't hurt people any more, now. Never any more.

Just then the train jarred slowly to a standstill in a vast train-shed;
up under its glass and girders, arc-lamps sent lurching shadows through
the smoke and touched the clouds of steam with violet gleams. Elizabeth
could see dark, gnome-like creatures, each with a hammer, and with a
lantern swinging from a bent elbow, crouching along by the cars and
tapping every wheel. She counted the blows that tested the trucks for
the climb up the mountains: click-click; click-click. She was glad they
were testing them; she must get across the mountains safely; there must
be no interference or delay; she had so little time! For by morning
they would guess, those three worried people--who had not yet begun to
be sorry--they would guess what she had done, and they would follow
her. She saw the gnomes slouching back past the cars, upright this
time; then she felt the enormous tug of the engine beginning the
up-grade. It grew colder, and she was glad of the blankets which she
had not liked to touch when she first lay down in her berth. Outside
there was a faint whitening along the horizon; but it dimmed, and the
black outlines of the mountains were lost, as if the retreating night
hesitated and returned; then she saw that her window was touched here
and there by slender javelins of rain. They came faster and faster,
striking on and over one another; now they turned to drops; she stopped
thinking, absorbed in watching a drop roll down the glass--pause, lurch
forward, touch another drop; then a third; then zigzag rapidly down the
pane. She found herself following the racing drops with fascinated
eyes; she even speculated as to which would reach the bottom first; she
had a sense of luxury in being able, in the fortress of her berth, to
think of such things as racing raindrops. By the time it was light
enough to distinguish the stretching fields again, it was raining hard.
Once in a while the train rushed past a farm-house, where the smoke
from the chimney sagged in the gray air until it lay like a rope of
mist along the roof. It was so light now that she could see the sodden
carpet of yellow leaves under the maples, and she noticed that the
crimson pennons of the sumacs drooped and dripped and clung together.
The monotonous clatter of the wheels had fallen into a rhythm, which
pounded out steadily and endlessly certain words which were the refrain
of her purpose: _"Afterward, they will say I had the right to see
him."_ Sometimes she reminded herself, meekly, that he no longer loved
her. But there was no trace of resentment in her mind; how could he
love her? Nor did the fact that his love had ceased make any difference
in her purpose: "Afterward, they will say I had the right to see him."

When the day broke--a bleary, gray day, cold, and with sweeping showers
of rain, she slept for a little while; but wakened with a start, for
the train was still. Had they arrived? Had she lost a moment? Then she
recognized the locality, and knew that there was an hour yet before she
could be in the same city with him; and again the wheels began their
clamorous assertion: "the right to see him; the right to see him."

Her plan was simple enough; she would go at once to Mrs. Richie's house
and ask for the doctor. "I won't detain him very long; it will only
take a little while to tell him," she said to herself. It came over her
with the shivering sense of danger escaped, that in another day she
would have been too late, his mother would be at home! "She wouldn't
let him see me," she thought, fearfully. Afterward, after she had seen
him, she would take a train to New York and cross the ferry.... "The
water is pretty clean there," she thought.

She was dressed and ready to leave the train long before the station
was reached. When the unkempt, haggard crowd swarmed off the cars and
poured its jostling, hurrying length through the train-shed dim with
puffing clouds of steam and clamorous with engines, Elizabeth was as
fresh as if she had just come from her own house. She looked at herself
in one of the big mirrors of the station dressing-room with entire
satisfaction. "I am a little pretty even yet," she told herself,
candidly. She wanted very much to be pretty now. When she went out to
the street and found it raining in a steady, gray downpour, her heart
sank,--oh, she must not get wet and draggled, now! Just for this hour
she must be the old Elizabeth, the Elizabeth that he used to love,
fresh, with starry eyes and a shell-like color in her cheeks!--and
indeed the cold rain was making her face glow like a rose; but her eyes
were solemn, not starry. As her cab jolted along the rainy streets,
past the red-brick houses with their white shutters and scoured
door-steps--houses were people were eating their breakfasts and reading
their morning papers--Elizabeth, sitting on the frayed seat of the old
hack, looked out of the window and thought how strange it all was! It
would be just like this to-morrow morning, and she would not know it.
"How queer!" she said to herself. But she was not frightened. "I
suppose at the last minute I shall be frightened," she reflected. Then,
for a moment, she forgot David and tried to realize the unrealizable:
"everything will be going on just the same, and _I_--" She could not
realize it, but she did not doubt it. When the cab drew up at Mrs.
Richie's door, she was careful to pay the man before she got out so
that her hat should not be spoiled by the rain when David saw it.

"He isn't in, miss," the maid told her in answer to her ring.

Elizabeth gasped. "What! Not here? Where is he?"

"He went down to the beach, 'm, yesterday, to see to the closing-up of
the cottage, 'm."

"When is he coming back?" she said, faintly; and the woman said,
smiling, "To-morrow, 'm."

Elizabeth stood blankly on the door-step. To-morrow? There was not
going to be any to-morrow! What should she do? Her plan had been so
definite and detailed that this interruption of his absence--a
possibility which had not entered into her calculations--threw her into
absolute confusion. He was away from home! What could she do?

Entirely forgetting the rain, she turned away and walked aimlessly down
the street. "They'll know I've come here, and they'll find me before I
can see him!" she said to herself, in terror. "I must go somewhere and
decide what to do." She went into the nearest hotel and took a room. "I
must plan; if I wait until he comes back, they'll find me!" But it was
an hour before her plan was made; when it was, she sprang up with the
old, tumultuous joyousness. Why, of course! How stupid not to have
thought of it at once! She was so entirely oblivious of everything but
her own purpose that she would have gone out of the hotel on the
moment, had not the clerk checked her with some murmur about "a little
charge." Elizabeth blushed to her temples. "Oh, I _beg_ your pardon!"
she said. In her mortification she wished that the bill had been twice
as large. But when she was out in the rain, hurrying to the station,
again she forgot everything except her consuming purpose. In the
waiting-room--there were four hours before the train started--the panic
thought took possession of her that she might miss him if she went down
to the beach. "It's raining, and he may not stay over until to-morrow;
he may be coming up this afternoon. But if I stay here they'll come and
find me!" She could not face this last alternative. "They'll find me,
and I won't be able to tell him; they'll take me home, and he will not
have been told!" Sitting on the wooden settee in the ladies'
waiting-room, she watched the clock until its gaunt white face blurred
before her eyes. How the long hand crawled! Once, in a spasm of fright,
she thought that it had stopped, and perhaps she had lost her train!

But at last the moment came; she started,--and as she drew nearer and
nearer her goal, her whole body strained forward, as a man dying of
thirst strains toward a spring gleaming in the desert distance; once
she sighed with that anticipation of relief that is a shiver. Again the
monotonous clatter of the wheels beat out the words that all night long
over the mountains had grooved themselves into her brain: "Afterward,
they will say I had the right to see him." Love, which that one mad
hour, nearly three years before, had numbed and paralyzed, was
awakening. It was as if a slowly rising torrent, dammed by some
immovable barrier, had at last reached the brim,--trembled, hesitated:
then leaped in foaming overflow into its old course! She thought of all
the things she was going to tell him (but oh, they were so many, so
many; how could she say them all?). "'I never was so true as when I was
false. I never loved you so much as when I hated you. I never longed
for your arms as I did when--' O God, give me time to tell him that!
Don't let them find me before I can tell him that. _Don't_ let him have
gone back. God, please, _please_ let me find him at the cottage so I
can tell him." She was sitting on the plush cushion of the jolting,
swaying old car, her hand on the back of the seat in front of her,
every muscle tense with readiness to spring to her feet the moment the
train stopped.

It was still raining when she got off at the little station which had
sprung up out of the sand to accommodate a summer population. It was
deserted now, and the windows were boarded over. A passer-by, under a
dripping umbrella, lounged along the platform and stopped to look at
her. "Come down to see cottages?" he inquired. She said no; but could
she get a carriage to take her over to Little Beach?

He shook his head sympathetically. "A hack? _Here?_ Lord, no! There
isn't no depot carriage running at this time of year. You'd ought to
have got off at Normans, the station above this, and then you could
have drove over; fourteen miles, though. Something of a drive on an
evening like this! But Normans is quite a place. They run two depot
carriages there all winter and a dozen in summer."

"I'll walk," she told him, briefly.

"It's more 'an three miles," he warned her; "and it's sheeting down! If
I had such a thing as an umbrella, except this one, I'd--"

But she had gone. She knew the way; she remembered the summer--oh, so
long ago!--when she and Nannie had driven over that sandy road along
the beach on their way to Mrs. Richie's house. It was so deep with mud
now that sometimes she had to walk outside the wheel-ruts into the wiry
beach-grass. The road toiled among the dunes; on the shore on her right
she could hear the creaming lap of the waves; but rain was driving in
from the sea in an impenetrable curtain, and only when in some turn of
the wind it lifted and shifted could she catch a glimpse of the scarf
of foam lying on the sands, or see the gray heave of an endless expanse
that might be water or might be sky folded down into the water. It was
growing dark; sometimes she blundered from the road to one side or the
other; sometimes she thought she saw approaching figures--a man,
perhaps, or a vehicle; but as she neared them they were only bushes or
leaning, wind-beaten pines. She was drenched and her clothes seemed
intolerably heavy. Oh, how David would laugh at her hat! She put up her
hand, in its soaked and slippery glove, and touched the roses about the
crown and laughed herself. "He won't mind," she said, contentedly. She
had forgotten that he had stopped loving her. She began to sing under
her breath the old tune of her gay, inconsequent girlhood--

    "Oh, won't it be joyful, joyful, joyful,
    Oh, won't it be joyful, to meet..."

She stopped; something warm was on her face; she had not known that she
was weeping. Suddenly, far off, she saw a glimmer of light.... Mrs.
Richie's house! Her heart rose in her throat. "David," she said aloud,
weakly, "David, I'm coming just as fast as I can."

But when she opened the door of the living-room in the little house
that sat so close to the crumpling lap and crash of the tide, and saw
him, his pipe in his hand, half rising from his chair by the fire and
turning around to see who had entered, she could hardly speak his
name--"_David_."



CHAPTER XXXVII

"... And that was Thursday; your letter had come in the first mail;
and--oh, hush, hush; it was not a wicked letter, David. Don't you
suppose I know that, now? I knew it--the next day. And I read it. I
don't know just what happened then. I can't remember very clearly. I
think I felt 'insulted.' ... It sounds so foolish to say that, doesn't
it? But I was just a girl then, and you know what girls are like....
David, I am not making any excuse. There isn't any excuse. I am
just--telling you. I have to talk slowly; I am tired. You won't mind if
I talk slowly? ... I suppose I thought I had been 'insulted'; and I
remember something seemed to flame up. You know how it always was with
me? David, I have never been able to be angry since that day. Isn't
that strange? I've never been angry since. Well, then, I went out to
walk. I remember Cherry-pie called down-stairs to know if I had a clean
pocket-handkerchief. I remember that; and yet I can't seem to remember
why I went out to walk. ... And he came up and spoke to me. Oh, I
forgot to tell you: he'd been in love with me. I meant to tell you
about that as soon as we were married.... Where was I?--Oh, yes; he
spoke to me...."

Her voice broke with exhaustion; she closed her eyes and lay back in
the big chair. David put her hand against his face, and held it there
until she opened her eyes. She looked at him dumbly for a little while;
then the slow, monotonous outpouring of all the silent months began
again: "And I said I hated you. And he said if I married him, it would
show you that I hated you. David, he was fond of me. I have to remember
that. It wouldn't be fair not to remember that, would it? I was really
the one to blame. Oh, I must be fair to him; he was fond of me.... And
all that afternoon, after he married me, I was so glad to think how
wicked I was. I knew how you would suffer. And that made me glad to be
wicked...."

There was a long pause; he pulled a little shawl across her feet, and
laid her hand over his eyes; but he was silent.

"Then," she said, in a whisper, "I died, I think. I suppose that is why
I have never been angry since. Something was killed in me.... I've
wondered a good deal about that. David, isn't it strange how part of
you can die, and yet you can go on living? Of course I expected to die.
I prayed all the time that I might. But I went on living;--you are glad
I lived?" she said, incredulously, catching some broken murmur from
behind his hands in which his face was hidden; "glad? Why, I should
have thought--Well, that was the most awful time of all. The only peace
I had, just single minutes of peace, was when I remembered that you
hated me."

He laid his face against her knee, and she felt the fierce intake of
his breath.

"You _didn't_ hate me? Oh, don't say you didn't, David. Don't! It was
the only comfort I had, to have you despise me. Although that was just
at first. Afterward, last May, when you walked down to Nannie's with me
that afternoon, and I thought you had got all over it, I...something
seemed to be eating my heart away. That seems like a contradiction,
doesn't it? I don't understand how I could feel two ways. But just at
first I wanted you to hate me. I thought you would be less unhappy if
you hated me; and besides, I wanted to feel the whips. I felt them--oh,
I felt them!...And all the time I thought that soon I would die. But
death would have been too easy. I had to go on living." There was
another long silence; he kissed her hand once; but he did not speak....
"And the days went on, and went on, and went on. Sometimes I didn't
feel anything; but sometimes it was like stringing sharp beads on a
red-hot wire. I suppose that sounds foolish? But when his mother
disinherited him, I knew I would have to go on--stringing beads.
Because it would have been mean, then, to leave him. You see that,
David? Besides, I was a spoiled thing, a worthless thing. If staying
with him would make up for the harm I had done him,--Mrs. Maitland told
me I had injured him; why of course, there was nothing else to do. I
knew you would understand. So I stayed. 'Unkind to me?'" She bent
forward a little to hear his smothered question. "Oh no; never. I used
to wish he would be. But he--loved me"--she shuddered. "Oh, David, how
I have dreamed of your arms. David . . . David . . ."

They had forgotten that each had believed love had ceased in the other;
they did not even assert that it was unchanged. Nor was there any plea
for forgiveness on either side. The moment was too great for that.

She sank back in her chair with a long breath. He rose, and kneeling
beside her, drew her against his breast. She sighed with comfort.
"_Here_! At last to be here. I never thought it would be. It is heaven.
Yes; I shall remember that I have been in heaven. But I don't think I
shall be sent to hell. No; God won't punish me any more. It will be
just sleep."

He had to bend his ear almost to her white lips to catch her whisper.
"What did I say? I don't remember exactly; I am so happy. . . . Let me
be quiet a little while. I'm pretty tired. May I stay until morning? It
is raining, and if I may stay . . . I will go away very early in the
morning." The long, rambling, half-whispered story had followed the
fierce statement, flung at him when she burst in out of the storm, and
stood, sodden with rain, trembling with fatigue and cold, and pushing
from her his alarmed and outstretched hands,--the statement that she
had left Blair! There were only a few words in the outburst of terrible
anger which had been dormant in her for all these years: "He stole your
wife. Now he is stealing your money. I told him he couldn't keep them
both. Your wife has come back to you. I have left him--"

Even while she was stammering, shrilly, the furious finality, he caught
her, swaying, in his arms. It was an hour before she could speak
coherently of the happenings of the last twenty-four hours; she had to
be warmed and fed and calmed. And it was curious how the lover in him
and the physician in him alternated in that hour; he had been instant
with the soothing commonplace of help,--her wet clothes, her chilled
body, her hunger, were his first concern. "I know you are hungry," he
said, cheerfully; but his hands shook as he put food before her. When
he drew her chair up to the fire, and kneeling down, took off her wet
shoes, he held her slender, tired feet in his hands and chafed them
gently; but suddenly laid them against his breast, warming them,
murmuring over them with a sobbing breath, as though he felt the
weariness of the little feet, plodding, plodding, plodding through the
rain to find him. The next minute he was the doctor, ordering her with
smiling words to lie back in her chair and rest; then looking at her
with a groan.

When at last she was coherent again, she began that pitiful confession,
and he listened; at first walking up and down; then coming nearer;
sitting beside her; then kneeling; then lifting her and holding her
against his breast. When, relaxing in his arms like a tired child, she
ended, almost in a whisper, with her timid plea to be allowed to stay
until morning, the tears dropped down his face.

"Until morning?" he said, with a laugh that broke into a sob--"until
death!"

Long before this his first uneasiness, at the situation--for her
sake,--had disappeared. The acquired uneasinesses of convention vanish
before the primal realities. The long-banked fire had glowed, then
broken into flames that consumed such chaff as "propriety." As he held
her in his arms after that whispered and rambling story of despair, he
trembled all over. For Elizabeth there had never been a single moment
of conventional consciousness; she was solemnly unaware of everything
but the fact that they were together for this last moment. When he said
"until death," she lifted her head and looked at him.

"Yes," she said, "_until death_."

Something in her broken whisper touched him like ice. He was suddenly
rigid. "Elizabeth, where did you mean to go to-morrow morning?" She
made no answer, but he felt that she was alert. "Elizabeth! Tell me!
what do you mean?" His loud and terrified command made her quiver; she
was bewildered by the unexpectedness of his suspicion, but too dulled
and stunned to evade it. David, with his ear close to her lips, raised
his head. "Elizabeth, don't you understand? Dear, this is life, not
death, for us both."

She drew away from him with a long sigh, struggling up feebly out of
his arms and groping for her chair; she shook her head, smiling
faintly. "I'm sorry you guessed. No, I can't go on living. There's no
use talking about it, David. I can't."

He stood looking down at her, pale from the shock of his discovery.
"Listen to me, Elizabeth: you belong to me. Don't you understand, dear?
You always have belonged to me. He knew it when he stole you from
yourself, as well as from me. You have always been mine. You have come
back to me. Do you think I will let Blair Maitland or death or God
Almighty, steal you now? Never. You belong to me! to me!"

"But--" she began.

"Oh, Elizabeth, what do we care for what they call right and wrong?
'Right' is being together!"

She frowned in a puzzled way. She had not been thinking of "right and
wrong"; her mind had been absorbed by the large and simple necessity of
death. But his inevitable reasonableness, ignoring her organic impulse,
was already splitting hairs to justify an organic impulse of his own.

"God gave you to me," he said, "and by God I'll keep you! That's what
is right; if we parted now it would be wrong."

It seemed as if the gale of passion which had been slowly rising in him
in these hours they had been together blew away the mists in which her
mind had been groping, blew away the soothing fogs of death which had
been closing in about her, and left her, shrinking, in sudden,
confusing light.

"Wrong?" she said, dazed; "I hadn't thought about that. David, I
wouldn't have come to you except--except because it was the end.
Anything else is impossible, you know."

"Why?" he demanded.

"I am married," she said, bewildered.

He laughed under his breath. "Blair Maitland will take his own
medicine, now," he said;--"you are married to _me!_"

The triumph in his voice, while it vaguely alarmed her, struck some
answering chord in her mind, for while mechanically she contradicted
him, some deeper self was saying, "yes; yes."

But aloud she said, "It can't be, David; don't you see it can't be?"

"But it _is_ already; I will never let you go. I've got you--at last.
Elizabeth, listen to me; while you've been talking, I've thought it all
out: as things are, I don't think you can possibly get a divorce from
Blair and marry me. He's 'kind' to you, you say; and he's 'decent,' and
he doesn't drink--and so forth and so forth. I know the formula to keep
a woman with a man she hates and call it being respectable. No, you
can't get a divorce from him; but he can get a divorce from you ... if
you give him the excuse to do so."

Elizabeth looked at him with perfectly uncomprehending eyes. The
innocence of them did not touch him. For the second time in her life
she was at the mercy of Love. "Blair is fond of me," she said; "he
never would give me a divorce. He has told me so a hundred times. Do
you suppose I haven't begged him to let me go? On my knees I begged
him. No, David, there is no way out except--"

"There is a way out if you love me enough to--come to me. Then," he
said in a whisper, "he will divorce you and we can be married. Oh,
Elizabeth, death is not the way out; it is _life_, dear, life! Will you
live? Will you give me life?" He was breathing as if he had been
running; he held her fingers against his lips until he bruised them.

She understood. After a minute of silence she said, faintly: "As for
me, nothing matters. Even if it is wicked--"

"It is not wicked!"

"Well, if it were, if you wanted me I would come. I don't seem to care.
Nothing seems to me wrong in the whole world. And nothing right. Do you
understand, David? I am--done. My life is worthless, anyhow. Use
it--and throw it away. But it would ruin you. No, I won't do it."

"Ruin me? It would make me! I have shriveled, I have starved, I have
frozen without you. Ask my mother if what I tell you isn't true." She
caught her breath and drew away from him. "Your mother!" she said,
faintly. But he did not notice the recoil.

"It would end your career," she said. She was confused by the mere
tumult of his words.

"Career! The only career I want is _you_. Medicine isn't the only thing
in the world, nor Philadelphia the only place to practise it. And if I
can't be a doctor, I can break stones for my wife. Elizabeth, to love
you is the only career I want. But you--can you? Am I asking more than
you can give? Do you care what people say? We may not be able to be
married for a year. Longer, perhaps; the law takes time. They will call
it disgrace, you know, the people who don't know what love means. Could
you bear that--for me? Do you love me enough for that, Elizabeth?"

His voice was hoarse with passion. He was on his knees beside her, his
face hot against hers, his arms around her. Not only his bitterly
thought-out theories of individualism, but all his years of decent
living, contributed to his overthrow at that moment. He was a man; and
here was his woman, who had been torn from him by a thief: she had come
back to him, she had toiled back through the storm, she had fought back
through cruel and imprisoning ties that had held her for nearly three
years; should he not keep her, now that she had come? The cave-dweller
in him cried out "_Yes!_" To let her go now, would be to loosen his
fingers just as they gripped the neck of the thief who had robbed him!
In the madness of that moment of hate and love, his face on hers, his
arms around her, David did not know that his tears were wet on her lips.

"Mine," he said, panting; "_mine_! my own has come back to me. Say so;
tell me so yourself. Say it! I want to hear you say it."

"Why David, I have always been yours. But I am not worth taking. I am
not--"

[Illustration: "WILL YOU LIVE? WILL YOU GIVE ME LIFE?"]

"Hush! You are mine. They shall never part us again.
Elizabeth--to-morrow we will go away." She sank against him in silence;
for a while he was silent, too. Then, in a low voice, he told her how
they must carry out a plan which had sprung, full-winged, from his
mind; "when he knows you have been here to-night," David said,--and
trembled from head to foot; "he will divorce you."

She listened, assenting, but bewildered. "I was going to die," she
said, faintly; "I don't know how to live. Oh, I think the other way
would be better."

But he did not stop to discuss it; he had put her back into the
reclining chair--once in a while the physician remembered her fatigue,
though for the most part the lover thought only of himself; he saw how
white she was, and put her in the big chair; then, drawing up a
footstool, he sat down, keeping her hand in his; sometimes he kissed
it, but all the time he talked violently of right and wrong. Elizabeth
was singularly indifferent to his distinctions; perhaps the deep and
primitive experience of looking into the face of Death made her so. At
any rate, her question was not "Is it right?" it was only "Is it best?"
Was it best for him to do this thing? Would it not injure him? David,
brushing away her objections with an exultant belief in himself, was
far less elemental. Right? What made right and wrong? Law? Elizabeth
knew better! Unless she meant God's law. As far as that went, she was
breaking it if she went on living with Blair. As for dying, she had no
right to die! She was his. Would she rob him again?

It was all the everlasting, perfectly sincere sophistry of the man who
has been swept past honor and prudence and even pity, that poured from
David's lips; and with it, love! love! love! Elizabeth, listening to
it, carried along by it, had, in the extraordinary confusion of the
moment, nothing to oppose to it but her own unworth. To this he refused
to listen, closing her lips with his own, and then going on with his
quite logical reasoning. His mind was alert to meet and arrange every
difficulty and every detail; once, half laughing, he stopped to say,
"We'll have to live on your money, Elizabeth. See what I've come to!"
The old scruples seemed, beside this new reality, merely
ridiculous--although there was a certain satisfaction in throwing
overboard that hideous egotism of his, which had made all the trouble
that had come to them. "You see," he explained, "we shall go away for a
while, until you get your divorce. And it will take time to pick up a
practice, especially, in a new place. So you will probably have to
support me," he ended, smiling. But she was too much at peace in the
haven of his clasping arms even to smile. Once, when he confessed his
shame at having doubted her--"for I did," he said; "I actually thought
you cared for him!" she roused herself: "It was my fault. I won't let
you blame yourself; it was all my fault!" she said; then sank again
into dreaming quiet.

It was midnight; the fire had died down; a stick of drift-wood on the
iron dogs, gnawed through by shimmering blue and copper flames, broke
apart, and a shower of sparks flew up, caught in the soot, and
smoldered in spreading rosettes on the chimney-back. The night,
pressing black against the windows, was full of the murmurous silence
of the rain and the soft advancing crash of the incoming tide; the man
and woman were silent, too. Sometimes he would kiss the little scar on
her wrist; sometimes press his lips into the soft cup of her palm;
there seemed no need of words. It was in one of these silences that
David suddenly raised his head and frowned.

"Listen!" he said; then a moment later: "wheels! _here?_ at this time
of night!"

Elizabeth crouched back in her chair. "It is Blair. He has followed
me--"

"No, no; it is somebody who has lost his way in the rain. Yes, I hear
him; he is coming in to ask the road."

There were hurried steps on the porch, and Elizabeth grew so deadly
white that David said again, reassuringly: "It's some passer-by. I'll
send him about his business."

Loud, vehement knocking interrupted him, and he said, cheerfully:
"Confound them, making such a noise! Don't be frightened; it is only
some farmer--"

He took up a lamp and, closing the door of the living-room behind him,
went out into the hall; some one, whoever it was, was fumbling with the
knob of the front door as if in terrible haste. David slipped the bolt
and would have opened the door, but it seemed to burst in, and against
it, clinging to the knob, panting and terrified, stood his mother.

"David! Is she--Am I too late? David! Where is Elizabeth? _Am I too
late?_"



CHAPTER XXXIII

The rainy dawn which Elizabeth had seen glimmering in the steam and
smoke of the railroad station filtered wanly through Mercer's yellow
fog. In Mrs. Maitland's office-dining-room the gas, burning in an
orange halo, threw a livid light on the haggard faces of four people
who had not slept that night.

When Blair had come frantically back from his fruitless quest at the
hotel to say, "Is she here, _now?_" Mrs. Richie had sent him at once to
Mr. Ferguson, who, roused from his bed, instantly took command.

"Tell me just what has happened, please?" he said.

Blair, almost in collapse, told the story of the afternoon. He held
nothing back. In the terror that consumed him, he spared himself
nothing; he had made Elizabeth angry; frightfully angry. But she didn't
show it; she had even said she was not angry. But she said--and he
repeated that sword-like sentence about "David's money and David's
wife." Then, almost in a whisper, he added her question
about--drowning. "She has--" he said; he did not finish the sentence.

Robert Ferguson made no comment, but his face quivered. "Have you a
carriage?" he asked, shrugging into his overcoat. Blair nodded, and
they set out.

It was after five when they came back to Mrs. Maitland's dining-room,
where the gaslight struggled ineffectually with the fog. They had done
everything which, at that hour, could be done.

"Oh, when will it ever get light!" Blair said, despairingly. He pushed
aside the food Nannie had placed on the table for them, and dropped his
face on his arms. He had a sudden passionate longing for his mother;
she would have _done_ something! She would have told these people,
these dazed, terrified people! what to do. She always knew what to do.
For the first time in his life he needed his mother.

Robert Ferguson, standing at the window, was staring out at the blind,
yellow mist. "As soon as it's light enough, we'll get a boat and go
down the river," he said, with heavy significance.

"But it is absurd to jump at such a conclusion," Mrs. Richie protested.

"You don't know her," Elizabeth's uncle said, briefly.

Blair echoed the words. "No; you don't know her."

"All the same, I don't believe it!" Mrs. Richie said, emphatically.
"For one thing, Blair says that her comb and brush are not on her
bureau. A girl doesn't take her toilet things with her when she goes
out to--"

"Elizabeth might," Mr. Ferguson said.

Blair, looking up, broke out: "Oh, that money! It's that that has made
all the trouble. Why did I say I wouldn't give it up? I'd throw it into
the fire, if it would bring her back to me!"

Mrs. Richie was silent. Her face was tense with anxiety, but it was not
the same anxiety that plowed the other faces. "Did you go to the
depot?" she said. "Perhaps she took the night train. The ticket-agent
might have seen her."

"But why should she take a night train?" Blair said; "where would she
go?"

"Why should she do a great many things she has done?" Mrs. Richie
parried; and added, softly, "I want to speak to you, Blair; come into
the parlor for a minute." When they were alone, she said,--her eyes
avoiding his; "I have an idea that she has gone to Philadelphia. To see
me."

"You? But you are here!"

"Yes; but perhaps she thought I went home yesterday; you thought so."

Blair grasped at a straw of hope. "I will telegraph--" "No; that would
be of no use. The servants couldn't answer it; and--and there is no one
else there. I will take the morning express, and telegraph you as soon
as I get home."

"But I can't wait all day!" he said; "I will wire--" he paused; it
struck him like a blow that there was only one person to whom to wire.
The blood rushed to his face. "You think that she has gone to him?"

"I think she has gone to me," she told him, coldly. "What more natural?
I am an old friend, and she was angry with you."

"Yes; she was, but--"

"As for my son," said Mrs. Richie, "he is not at home; but I assure
you,"--she stumbled a little over this; "I assure you that if he were
he would have no desire to see your wife."

Blair was silent. Then he said, in a smothered voice: "If she is at
your house, tell her I won't keep the money. I'll make Nannie build a
hospital with it; or I'll ... tell her, if she will only just come back
to me, I'll--" He could not go on.

"Blair," Robert Ferguson said, from the doorway, "it is light enough
now to get a boat."

Blair nodded. "If she has gone to you, if she is alive," he said, "tell
her I'll give him the money."

Helena Richie lifted her head with involuntary hauteur. "My son has no
interest in your money!"

"Oh," he said, brokenly, "you can't seem to think of anything but his
quarrel with me. Somehow, all that seems so unimportant now! Why, I'd
ask David to help me, if I could reach him." He did not see her
relenting, outstretched hand; for the first time in a life starved for
want of the actualities of pain, Blair was suffering; he forgot
embarrassment, he even forgot hatred; he touched fundamentals: the need
of help and the instinctive reliance upon friendship. "David would help
me!" he said, passionately; "or my mother would know what to do; but
you people--" He dashed after Mr. Ferguson, and a moment later Mrs.
Richie heard the carriage rattling down the street; the two men were
going to the river to begin their heart-sickening search.

It was then that she started upon a search of her own. She made a
somewhat lame excuse to Nannie--Nannie was the last person to be
intrusted with Helena Richie's fears! Then she took the morning express
across the mountains. She sat all day in fierce alternations of hope
and angry concern: Surely Elizabeth was alive; but suppose she was
alive--with David! David's mother, remembering what he had said to her
that Sunday afternoon on the beach, knew, in the bottom of her heart,
that she would rather have Elizabeth dead than alive under such
conditions. Her old misgivings began to press upon her: the conditions
might have held no danger for him if he had had a different mother! She
found herself remembering, with anguish, a question that had been asked
her very long ago, when David was a little boy: Can _you_ make him
brave; can _you_ make him honorable; can _you_--"I've tried, oh, I have
tried," she said; "but perhaps Dr. Lavendar ought not to have given him
to me!" It was an unendurable idea; she drove it out of her mind, and
sat looking at the mist-enfolded mountains, struggling to decide
between a hope that implied a fear and a fear that destroyed a
hope;--but every now and then, under both the hope and the fear, came a
pang of memory that sent the color into her face: Robert Ferguson's
library; his words; his kiss....

As the afternoon darkened into dusk, through sheer fatigue she relaxed
into certainty that both the hope and the fear were baseless: Elizabeth
had not gone to David; she couldn't have done such an insane thing!
David's mother began to be sorry she had suggested to Blair that his
wife might be in Philadelphia. She began to wish she had stayed in
Mercer, and not left them all to their cruel anxiety. "If she has done
what they think, I'll go back to-morrow. Robert will need me, and David
would want me to go back." It occurred to her, with a lift of joy, that
she might possibly find David at home. Owing to the bad weather, he
might not have gone down to the beach to close the cottage as he had
written her he meant to do. She wondered how he would take this news
about Elizabeth. For a moment she almost hoped he would not be at home,
so that she need not tell him. "Oh," she said to herself, "when will he
get over her cruelty to him?" As she gathered up her wraps to leave the
car, she wondered whether human creatures ever did quite "get over" the
catastrophes of life. "Have I? And I am fifty,--and it was twenty years
ago!"

When with a lurch the cab drew up against the curb, her glance at the
unlighted windows of her parlor made her sigh with relief; there was
nobody there! Yes; she had certainly been foolish to rush off across
the mountains, and leave those poor, distressed people in Mercer.

"The doctor is at Little Beach, I suppose?" she said to the woman who
answered her ring; "By-the-way, Mary, no one has been here to-day? No
lady to see me?"

"There was a lady to see the doctor; she was just possessed to see him.
I told her he was down at the beach, and she was that upset," Mary
said, smiling, "you'd 'a' thought there wasn't another doctor in
Philadelphia!" Patients were still enough of a rarity to interest the
whole friendly household.

"Who was she? What was she like? Did she give her name?" Mrs. Richie
was breathless; the servant was startled at the change in her; fear,
like a tangible thing, leaped upon her and shook her.

"Who was she?" Mrs. Richie said, fiercely.

The surprised woman, giving the details of that early call, was, of
course, ignorant of the lady's name; but after the first word or two
David's mother knew it. "Bring me a time-table. Never mind my supper! I
must see the lady. I think I know who she was. She wanted to see me,
and I must find her. I know where she has gone. Hurry! Where is the new
time-table?"

"She didn't ask for you, 'm," the bewildered maid assured her.

Mrs. Richie was not listening; she was turning the leaves of the
_Pathfinder_ with trembling fingers; the trains had been changed on the
little branch road, but somehow she must get there,--_"to-night!"_ she
said to herself. To find a train to Normans was an immense relief,
though it involved a fourteen-mile drive to Little Beach. She could not
reach them ("them!" she was sure of it now), she could not reach them
until nearly twelve, but she would be able to say that Elizabeth had
spent the night with her.

The hour before the train started for Normans seemed endless to Helena
Richie. She sent a despatch to Blair to say:

_"I have found her. Do not come for her yet. This is imperative. Will
telegraph you to-morrow."_

After that she walked about, up and down, sometimes stopping to look
out of the window into the rainswept street, sometimes pausing to pick
up a book but though she turned over the pages, she did not know what
she read. She debated constantly whether she had done well to telegraph
Blair. Suppose, in spite of her command, he should rush right on to
Philadelphia, "then what!" she said to herself, frantically. If he
found that Elizabeth had followed David down to the cottage, what would
he do? There would be a scandal! And it was not David's fault--she had
followed him; how like her to follow him, careless of everything but
her own whim of the moment! She would have recalled the despatch if she
could have done so. "If Robert were only here to tell me what to do!"
she thought, realizing, even in her cruel alarm, how greatly she
depended on him. Suddenly she must have realized something else, for a
startled look came into her eyes. "No! of course I'm not," she said;
but the color rose in her face. The revelation was only for an instant;
the next moment she was tense with anxiety and counting the minutes
before she could start for the station.

It was a great relief when she found herself at last on the little
local train, rattling out into the rainy night. When she reached
Normans it was not easy to get a carriage to go to Little Beach. No
depot hack-driver would consider such a drive on such a night. She
found her way through the rainy streets to a livery-stable, and
standing in the doorway of a little office that smelled of harnesses
and horses, she bargained with a reluctant man, who, though polite
enough to take his feet from his desk and stand up before a lady, told
her point-blank that there wasn't no money, no, nor no woman, that he'd
drive twenty-eight miles for--down to the beach and back; on no such
night as this; "but maybe one of my men might, if you'd make it worth
his while," he said, doubtfully.

"I will make it worth his while," Mrs. Richie said.

"There's a sort of inlet between us and the beach, kind of a river,
like; you'll have to ferry over," the man warned her.

"Please get the carriage at once," she said.

So the long drive began. It was very dark. At times the rain sheeted
down so that little streams of water dripped upon her from the top of
the carryall, and the side curtains flapped so furiously that she could
scarcely hear the driver grumbling that if he'd 'a' knowed what kind of
a night it was he wouldn't have undertook the job.

"I'll pay you double your price," she said in a lull of the storm; and
after that there was only the sheeting rain and the tugging splash of
mud-loaded fetlocks. At the ferry there was a long delay. "The
ferry-man's asleep, I guess," the driver told her; certainly there was
no light in the little weather-beaten house on the riverbank. The man
clambered out from under the streaming rubber apron of the carryall,
and handing the wet reins back to her to hold--"that horse takes a
notion to run sometimes," he said, casually; made his way to the
ferry-house. "Come out!" he said, pounding on the door; "tend to your
business! there's a lady wants to cross!"

The ferry-man had his opinion of ladies who wanted to do such things in
such weather; but he came, after what seemed to the shivering passenger
an interminable time, and the carryall was driven onto the
flat-bottomed boat. A minute later the creak of the cable and the slow
rock of the carriage told her they had started. It was too dark to see
anything, but she could hear the sibilant slap of the water against the
side of the scow and the brush of rain on the river. Once the dripping
horse shook himself, and the harness rattled and the old hack quivered
on its sagging springs. She realized that she was cold; she could hear
the driver and the ferryman talking; there was the blue spurt of a
match, and a whiff of very bad tobacco from a pipe. Then a dash of rain
blew in her face, and the smell of the pipe was washed out of the air.

It was after twelve when, stumbling up the path to her own house, she
leaned against the door awaiting David's answer to her knock; when he
opened it to the gust of wet wind and her drawn, white face, he was
stunned with astonishment. He never knew what answer he made to those
first broken, frantic words; as for her, she did not wait to hear his
answer. She ran past him and burst into the fire-lit silence that was
still tingling with emotion. She saw Elizabeth rising, panic-stricken,
from her chair. Clutching her shoulder, she looked hard into the
younger woman's face; then, with a great sigh, she sank down into a
chair.

"Thank God!" she said, faintly.

David, following her, stammered out, "How did you get here?" The full,
hot torrent of passion of only a moment before had come to a crashing
standstill. He could hardly breathe with the suddenness of it. His
thoughts galloped. He heard his own voice as if it had been somebody
else's, and he was conscious of his foolishness in asking his question;
what difference did it make how she got here! Besides, he knew how: she
had come over the mountains that day, taken the evening train for
Normans, and driven down here, fourteen miles--in this storm! "You must
be worn out," he said, involuntarily.

"I am in time; nothing else matters. David, go and pay the man. Here is
my purse."

He glanced at Elizabeth, hesitated, and went. The two women, alone,
looked at each other for a speechless instant.

[Illustration: CLUTCHING HER SHOULDER, SHE LOOKED HARD INTO THE YOUNGER
WOMAN'S FACE]



CHAPTER XXXIX

"You ought not to be here, you know," Helena Richie said, in a low
voice.

Elizabeth was silent.

"They are all very much frightened about you at home."

"I am sorry they are frightened."

"Your coming might be misunderstood," David's mother said; her voice
was very harsh; the gentle loveliness of her face had changed to an
incredible harshness. "I shall say I was here with you, of course; but
you are insane, Elizabeth! you are insane to be here!"

"Mother," David said, quietly, "you mustn't find fault with Elizabeth."
He had come back, and even as he spoke retreating wheels were heard.
They were alone, these three; there was no world to any of them outside
that fire-lit room, encompassed by night, the ocean, and the storm.
"Elizabeth did exactly right to come down here to--to consult me,"
David said; "but we won't talk about it now; it's too late, and you are
too tired."

Then turning to Elizabeth, he took her hand. "Won't you go up-stairs
now? You are as tired as Materna! But she must have something to eat
before she goes to bed." Still holding her hand, he opened the door for
her. "You know the spare room? I'm afraid it's rather in disorder, but
you will find some blankets and things in the closet."

Elizabeth hesitated; then obeyed him.

David was entirely self-possessed by this time; in that moment while he
stood in the rain, counting out the money from his mother's purse for
the driver, and telling the man of a short cut across the dunes, the
emotion of a moment before cooled into grim alertness to meet the
emergency: _there must be no scene_. To avoid the possibility of such a
thing, he must get Elizabeth out of the room at once. As he slipped the
bolt on the front door and hurried back to the living room, he said a
single short word between his teeth. But he was not angry; he was only
irritated--as one might be irritated at a good child whose ignorant
innocence led it into meddling with matters beyond its comprehension.
And he was not apprehensive; his mother's coming could not alter
anything; it was merely an embarrassment and distress. What on earth
should he do with her the next morning! "I'll have to lie to her," he
thought, in consternation. David had never lied to his mother, and even
in this self-absorbed moment he shrank from doing so. He was keenly
disturbed, but as the door closed upon Elizabeth he spoke quietly
enough: "You are very tired, Materna; don't let's get to discussing
things tonight. I'll bring you something to eat, and then you must go
up to your room."

"There is nothing to discuss, David," she said; "of course Elizabeth
ought not to have come down here to you. But I am here. To-morrow she
will go home with me."

She had taken off her bonnet, and with one unsteady hand she brushed
back the tendrils of her soft hair that the rain had tightened into
curls all about her temples; the glow in her cheeks from the cold air
was beginning to die out, and he saw, suddenly, the suffering in her
eyes. But for the first time in his life David Richie was indifferent
to pain in his mother's face; that calm declaration that Elizabeth
would go home with her, brushed the habit of tenderness aside and stung
him into argument--which a moment later he regretted. "You say she'll
'go home.' Do you mean that you will take her back to Blair Maitland?"

"I hope she will go to her husband."

"Why?" He was standing before her, his shoulder against the
mantelpiece, his hands in his pockets; his attitude was careless, but
his face was alert and hard; she no longer seemed a meddlesome good
child; she was his mother, interfering in what was not her business.
"Why?" he repeated.

"Because he is her husband," Helena Richie said.

"You know how he became her husband; he took advantage of an insane
moment. The marriage has ended."

"Marriage can't end, David. Living together may end; but Blair is not
unkind to Elizabeth; he is not unfaithful; he is not unloving--"

"No, my God! he is not. My poor Elizabeth!"

His mother, looking at the suddenly convulsed face before her, knew
that it was useless to pretend that this was only a matter of
preserving appearances by her presence. "David," she said, "what do you
mean by that?"

"I mean that she has done with that thief." As he spoke it flashed into
his mind that perhaps it was best to have things out with her now; then
in the morning he would arrange it, somehow, so that she and Elizabeth
should not meet;--for Elizabeth must not hear talk like this. Not that
he was afraid of its effect; certainly this soft, sweet mother of his
could not do what he had declared neither Blair Maitland, nor death,
nor God himself could accomplish! But her words would make Elizabeth
uncomfortable; so he had better tell her now, and get it over. In the
midst of his own discomfort, he realized that this would spare him the
necessity of a lie the next morning; and he was conscious of relief at
that. "Mother," he said, gently, "I was going to write to you about it,
but perhaps I had better tell you now.... She is coming to me."

"Coming to you!"

He sat down beside her, and took her hand in his; the terror in her
face made him wince. For a moment he wished he had not undertaken to
tell her; a letter would have been better. On paper, he could have
reasoned it out calmly; now, her quivering face distressed him so that
he hardly knew what he said.

"Materna, I am awfully sorry to pain you! I do wish you would realize
that things _have_ to be this way."

"What way?"

"She and I have to be together," he said, simply. "She belongs to me.
When I keep her from going back to Blair I merely keep my own. Mother,
can't you understand? there is something higher than man's law, which
ties a woman to a man she hates; there is God's law, which gives her to
the man she loves! Oh, I am sorry you came to-night! To-morrow I would
have written to you. You don't know how distressed I am to pain you,
but--poor mother!"

She had sunk back in her chair with a blanched face. She said, faintly,
"_David!_"

"Don't let's talk about it, Materna," he said, pitifully. He could not
bear to look at her; it seemed as if she had grown suddenly old; she
was broken, haggard, with appalled eyes and trembling lips. "You don't
understand," David said, greatly distressed.

Helena Richie put her hands over her face. "Don't I?" she said. There
was a long pause; he took her hand and stroked it gently; but in spite
of tenderness for her he was thinking of that other hand, young and
thrilling to his own, which he had held an hour before; his lips stung
at the memory of it; he almost forgot his mother, cowering in her
chair. Suddenly she spoke:

"Well, David, what do you propose to do? After you have seduced another
man's wife and branded Elizabeth with a--a dreadful name--"

His pity broke like a bubble; he struck the arm of his chair with a
clenched hand. "You must not use such words to me! I will not listen to
words that soil your lips and my ears! Will you leave this room or
shall I?"

"Answer my question first: what do you mean to do after you have taken
Elizabeth?"

"I shall marry her, of course. He will divorce her, and we shall be
married." He was trembling with indignation: "I will not submit to this
questioning," he said. He got up and opened the door. "Will you leave
me, please?" he said, frigidly.

But she did not rise. She was bending forward, her hands gripped
between her knees. Then, slowly, she raised her bowed head and there
was authority in her face. "Wait. You must listen. You owe it to me to
listen."

He hesitated. "I owe it to myself not to listen to such words as you
used a moment ago." He was standing before her, his arms folded across
his breast; there was no son's hand put out now to touch hers.

"I won't repeat them," she said, "although I don't know any others that
can be used when a man takes another man's wife, or when a married
woman goes away with a man who is not her husband."

"You drag me into an abominable position in making me even defend
myself. But I will defend myself. I will explain to you that, as things
are, Elizabeth cannot get a divorce from Blair Maitland. But if she
leaves him for me, he will divorce her; and we can marry."

"Perhaps he will not divorce her."

"You mean out of revenge? I doubt if even he could be such a brute as
that."

"There have been such brutes."

"Very well; then we will do without his divorce! We will do without the
respectability that you think so much of."

"Nobody can do without it very long," she said, mildly. "But we won't
argue about respectability; and I won't even ask you whether you will
marry her, if she gets her divorce."

His indignation paused in sheer amazement. "No," he said. "I should
hardly think that even you would venture to ask me such a question!"

"I will only ask you, my son, if you have thought how you would smirch
her name by such a process of getting possession of her?"

"Oh," he said, despairingly, "what is the use of talking about it? I
can't make you understand!"

"Have you considered that you will ruin Elizabeth?" she insisted.

"You may call happiness 'ruin,' if you want to, mother. We don't--she
and I."

"I suppose you wouldn't believe me if I told you it wouldn't be
happiness?"

Her question was too absurd to answer. Besides, he was determined not
to argue with her; argument would only prolong this futile and
distressing interview. So, holding in the leash of respect for her,
contempt for her opinions, he listened with strained and silent
patience to what she had to say of duty and endurance. It all belonged,
he thought, to her generation and to her austere goodness; but from his
point of view it was childish. When at last he spoke, in answer to an
insistent question as to whether Elizabeth realized how society would
regard her course, his voice as well as his words showed his entire
indifference to her whole argument. "Yes," he said; "I have pointed out
to Elizabeth the fact that though our course will be in accordance with
a Law that is infinitely higher than the laws that you think so much
of, there will be, as you say, people to throw mud at her."

"A 'higher law,'" she said, slowly. "I have heard of the 'higher law,'
David."

"That Elizabeth will obey it for me, that she is willing to expose
herself to the contempt of little minds, makes me adore her! And I am
willing, I love her enough, to accept her sacrifice--"

"Though you did not love her enough to accept the trifling matter of
her money?" his mother broke in.

Sarcasm from her was so totally unexpected that for a moment he did not
realize that his armor had been pierced. "God knows I believe it is for
her happiness," he said; then, suddenly, his face began to burn, and in
an instant he was deeply angry.

"David," she said, "you seem very sure of God; you speak His name very
often. Have you really considered Him in your plan?"

He smothered an impatient exclamation; "Mother, that sort of talk means
nothing to me; and apparently my reason for my course means nothing to
you. I can't make you understand--"

"I don't need you to make me understand," she interrupted him; "and
your reason is older than you are; I guess it is as old as human
nature: You want to be happy. That is your reason, David; nothing else."

"Well, it satisfies us," he said, coldly; "I wish you wouldn't insist
upon discussing it, mother, you are tired, and--"

"Yes, I am tired," she said, with a gasp. "David, if you will promise
me not to speak to Elizabeth of this until you and I can talk it over
quietly--"

"Elizabeth and I are going away together, to-morrow."

"You shall not do it!" she cried.

His eyes narrowed. "I must remind you," he said, "that I am not a boy.
I will do what seems to me right,--right?" he interrupted himself, "why
is it you can't see that it is right? Can't you realize that Elizabeth
is _mine?_ It is amazing to me that you can't see that Nature gives her
to me, by a Law that is greater than any human law that was ever made!"

"The animals know that law," she said. He would not hear her: "That
unspeakable scoundrel stole her; he stole her just as much as if he had
drugged her and kidnapped her. Yes; I take my own!"

His voice rang through the house; Elizabeth, in her room, shivering
with excitement, wondering what they were saying, those two--heard the
jar of furious sound, and crept, trembling, halfway down-stairs.

"I take my own," he repeated, "and I will make her happy; she belongs
in my arms, if, my God! we die the next day!"

"Oh," said Helena Richie, suddenly sobbing, "what _am_ I to do? what am
I to do?" As she spoke Elizabeth entered. David's start of dismay, his
quick protest, "Go back, dear; don't, don't get into this!" was
dominated by his mother's cry of relief; she rose from her chair and
ran to Elizabeth, holding out entreating hands. "You will not let him
be so mad, Elizabeth? You will not let him be so bad?"

"Mother, for Heaven's sake, stop!" David implored her; "this is awful!"

"He is not bad," Elizabeth said, in a low voice, passing those
outstretched hands without a look. All her old antagonism to an
untempted nature seemed to leap into her face. "I heard you talking,
and I came down. I could not let you reproach David."

"Haven't I the right to reproach him?--to save him from dishonoring
himself as well as you?"

"You must not use that word!" Elizabeth cried out, trembling all over.
"David is not dishonorable."

"Not dishonorable! Do you say there is nothing dishonorable in taking
the wife of another man?"

"Elizabeth," David said, quietly, putting his arm around her, "my
mother is very excited. We are not going to talk any more to-night. Do
go up-stairs, dear." His one thought was to get her out of the room; it
had been dreadful enough to struggle with his mother alone--power and
passion and youth, against terror and weakness. But to struggle in
Elizabeth's presence would be shocking. Not, he assured himself, that
he had the slightest misgiving as to the effect upon her of the
arguments to which he had been obliged to listen, but. . .

"Do leave us, dearest," he said, in a low voice; the misgiving which he
denied had driven the color out of his face.

His mother raised her hand with abrupt command: "No, Elizabeth must
hear what I have to say." She heard it unmoved; the entreaty not to
wound her uncle's love, and hurt Nannie's pride, and betray old Miss
White's trust, did not touch her. All she said was, "I am sorry; but I
can't help it. David wants me."

Then Helena Richie turned again to her son. "How do you mean to support
your mistress, David? Of course the scandal will end your career."

Instantly Elizabeth quivered; the apprehension in her eyes made his
words stumble: "There--there are other things than my profession. I am
not afraid that I cannot support my _wife_."

But that flicker of alarm in Elizabeth's eyes had caught Helena
Richie's attention. "Why, Elizabeth," she said, in an astonished voice.
"_You love him!_" Then she added, simply: "Forgive me." Her words were
without meaning to the other two, but they brought a burst of hope into
her entreaty: "Then you won't ruin him! I know you won't ruin my
boy--if you love him."

Elizabeth flinched: "David! I told you--that is what I--"

He caught her hand and pressed it to his mouth. "Darling, she doesn't
understand."

"I _do_ understand!" his mother said. She paused for a breathless
moment, and stood gripping the table, looking with dilating eyes and
these two, who, loving each other, were yet preparing to murder Love.
"I thank God," she said, and the elation in her face was almost joy; "I
thank God, Elizabeth, that I understand the disgrace such wickedness
will bring! No honest man will trust him; no decent woman will respect
you! And listen, Elizabeth: even _you_ will not really trust him; and
he will never entirely respect you!"

Elizabeth slowly drew her hand from David's--and instantly he knew that
she was frightened. What! Was he to lose her again? He shook with rage.
When under that panic storm of words, that menace of distrust and
disgrace, Elizabeth, in an agony of uncertainty, hid her face in her
hands, David could have killed the robber who was trying to tear her
from him. He burst into denunciation of the littleness which could
regard their course in any other way than he did himself. He had no
pity because his assailant was his mother. He gave no quarter because
she was a woman; she was an enemy! an enemy who had stolen in out of
the night to rob him of his lately won treasure. "Don't listen to her,"
he ended, hoarsely; "she doesn't know what she is talking about!"

"But, David, that was what I said. I said it would be bad for you; she
says it will ruin you--"

"It is a lie!" he said.

It was nearly three o'clock. They were all at the breaking-point of
anger and terror.

"Elizabeth," Helena Richie implored, "if you love him, are you willing
to destroy him? You could not bear to have me, his mother, speak of his
dishonor; how about letting the world speak of it--if you love him?"

"David," Elizabeth said again, her shaking hands on his arm; "you hear
what she says? Perhaps she is right. Oh, I think she is right! What
shall I do?"

The entreaty was the entreaty of a child, a frightened, bewildered
child. Helena Richie caught her breath; for a single strange moment she
forgot her agony of fear for her son; the woman in her was stronger
than the mother in her; some obscure impulse ranged her with this girl,
as if against a common enemy. "My dear, my dear!" she said, "he shall
not have you. I will save you."

But Elizabeth was not listening. "David, if I should injure you"--

"You will ruin him," his mother repeated.

David gave her a deadly look. "You will kill me, Elizabeth, unless you
come to me," he said, roughly. "Do you want to rob me again?--You've
done it once," he reminded her; love made him brutal.

There was a moment of silence. The eyes of the mother and son crossed
like swords. Elizabeth, standing between them, shivered; then slowly
she turned to David, and held out her hands, her open palms falling at
her sides with a gesture of complete and pitiful surrender. "Very well,
David. I won't do it again. I won't hurt you again. I will do whatever
you tell me."

David caught her in his arms. His mother trembled with despair; the
absolute immovability of these two was awful!

"Elizabeth, he is selfish and wicked! David, have you no manhood? Shame
on you!" Contempt seemed her last resource; it did not touch him. "Wait
two days," she implored him; "one day, even--"

"I told you we are going to-morrow," he said. He was urging Elizabeth
gently from the room, but at his mother's voice she paused.

"Suppose," Helena Richie was saying--"suppose that Blair does not give
you a divorce?"

Elizabeth looked into David's eyes silently.

"And," his mother said, "when David gets tired of you--what then?"

"Mother!"

"Men do tire of such women, Elizabeth. What then?"

"I am not afraid of that," the girl said.

The room was very still. The two looking into each other's eyes needed
no words; the battling mother had apparently reached the end of effort.
Yet it was not the end. As she stood there a slow illumination grew in
her face--the knowledge, tragic and triumphant, that if Love would save
others, itself it cannot save! . . . "I'm not afraid that he will tire
of me," Elizabeth had said; and David's mother, looking at him with
ineffable compassion, said, very gently:

"I was not afraid of that, once, myself."

That was all. She was standing up, clinging to the table; her face
gray, her chin shaking. They neither of them grasped the sense of her
words; then suddenly David caught his breath:

"What did you say?"

"I said--" She stopped. "Oh, my poor David, I wouldn't tell you if I
could help it; if only there was any other way! But there isn't. I have
tried, oh, I have tried every other way." She put her hands over her
face for an instant, then looked at him. "David, I said that _I_ was
not afraid, once, myself, that _my_ lover would tire of me." There was
absolute silence in the room. "But he did, Elizabeth. He did. He did."

Then David said, "I don't understand."

"Yes, you do; you understand that a man once talked to me just as you
are talking to Elizabeth; he said he would marry me when I got my
divorce. I think he meant it--just as you mean it, now. At any rate, I
believed him. Just as Elizabeth believes you."

David Richie stepped back violently; his whole face shuddered. "You?"
he said, "my mother? No!--no!--no!"

And his mother, gathering up her strength, cringing like some faithful
dog struck across the face, pointed at him with one shaking hand.

"Elizabeth, did you see how he looked at me? _Some day your son will
look that way at you._"



CHAPTER XL

No one spoke. The murmuring crash along the sands was suddenly loud in
their ears, but the room was still. It was the stillness of finality;
David had lost Elizabeth.

He knew it; but he could not have said why he knew it. Perhaps none of
the great decisions of passion can at the moment say "why." Under the
lash of some invisible whip, the mind leaps this way or that without
waiting for the approval of Reason. Certainly David did not wait for it
to know that all was over between him and Elizabeth. He did not
reason--he only cringed back, his eyes hidden in his bent arm, and
gasped out those words which, scourging his mother, arraigned himself.
Nor was there any reason in Elizabeth's cry of "Oh, Mrs. Richie, I love
you"; or in her run across the room to drop upon the floor beside
David's mother, clasping her and pressing her face against the older
woman's shaking knees. "I _do_ love you--" Only in Helena Richie's mind
could there have been any sort of logic. "This," her ravaged and
exalted face seemed to say, "this was why he was given to me." Once he
had told her that her goodness had saved him; that night her goodness
had not availed. And God had used her sin! Aloud, all that she said was:

"David, don't feel so badly. It isn't as if I were your own mother, you
know; you needn't be so un-happy, David." Her eyes yearned over him.
"You won't do it?" she said, in a breathless whisper.

To himself he was saying: "It makes no difference! What difference can
it possibly make? Not a particle; not a particle." Yet some deeper self
must have known that the difference was made, for at that whispered
question he seemed to shake his head. But Elizabeth, weeping, said:

"No; we won't--we won't! Dear Mrs. Richie, I love you. David! Speak to
her."

He got up with a stupid look, then his eye fell on his mother's face.
"You are worn out," he said in a dazed way, "You'll come up-stairs now?
Elizabeth, make her go up-stairs."

She was worn out; she nodded, with a sort of meek obedience, and put
out her hand to Elizabeth. David opened the door for them and followed
them up-stairs. Would his mother have this or that? Could he do
anything? Nothing, nothing. No, Elizabeth must not stay with her,
please; she would rather be alone. As he turned away she called to him,
"Elizabeth and I will take the noon train, David."

And he said, "Yes, I will have a carriage here."

The door closed; on one side of it was the mother, exhausted almost to
unconsciousness, yet elate, remembering no more the anguish for joy of
what had been born out of it. On the other side these two, still
ignorant--as the new-born always are--of the future to which that
travail had pledged them. They stood together in the narrow upper hall
and their pitiful eyes met in silence. Then David took her in his arms
and held her for a long moment. Then he kissed her. She whispered,
"Good-by, David." But he was speechless. He went with her to her own
door, left her without a word, and went down-stairs.

In the clamorous emptiness of the living-room he looked about him;
noticed that the table-cover was still crumpled from his mother's hands
and smoothed it automatically; then he sat down. He had the sensation,
spiritually, that a man might have physically whose face had been
violently and repeatedly slapped. The swiftness of the confounding
experiences of the last nine hours made him actually dizzy. His
thoughts rushed to one thing, then to another. Elizabeth? No, no; he
could not think of her yet. His mother? No, he could not think of her,
either. It occurred to him that he was cold, and getting up abruptly,
he went to the fireplace, and kicked the charred sticks of driftwood
together over a graying bed of ashes. Then he heard a chair pushed back
overhead and a soft, tired step, and he wondered vaguely if his
mother's room was comfortable. Reaching for the bellows, he knelt down
and blew the reluctant embers into a faint glow; when a hesitant
flicker of flame caught the half-burned logs he got on his feet and
stood, his fingers on the mantelpiece, his forehead on the back of his
hand, watching the fire catch and crackle into cheerful warmth. He
stood there for a long time. Suddenly his cheek grew rigid: some man,
some _beast_, had--my God! wronged Materna! It was the first really
clear thought; instantly some other thought must have sprung up to meet
it, for he said, under his breath, "No, because I didn't mean . . . it
is different with us; quite different!" The thought, whatever it was,
must have persisted, for it stung him into restless movement. He began
to walk about; once or twice he stumbled over a footstool, that his
eyes, looking blindly at the floor, apparently did not see. Once he
stood stock-still, the blood surging in his ears, his face darkly red.
But his mind was ruthlessly clear. He was remembering; he was putting
two and two together. She was a widow; he knew that. Her marriage had
been unhappy; he knew that. There had been a man--he dimly remembered a
man. He had not thought of him for twenty years! . . . "Damn him,"
David said, and the tears stood in his eyes. Then again that thought
must have come to him, for he said to himself, violently, "But I _love_
Elizabeth, it is different with me!" Perhaps that persistent inner
voice said, "In what way?" for he said again, "Entirely different! It
is the only way to make him divorce her so we can be married." Again he
stood still and stared blindly at the floor. That a man could live who
would be base enough to take advantage of--_Materna!_ Between rage and
pity, and confusion he almost forgot Elizabeth, until suddenly the
whirl of his thoughts was pierced by the poignant realization that his
outcry of dismay at his mother's confession had practically told
Elizabeth that he was willing to let her do what he found unthinkable
in his mother. His whole body winced with mortification. It was the
first prick of the sword of shame--that sword of the Lord! Even while
he reddened to his forehead the sword-thrust came again in a flash of
memory. It was only a single sentence; neither argument nor entreaty
nor remonstrance; merely the statement of a fact: "_you did not love
her enough to accept her money._" At the time those ironical words were
spoken they had scarcely any meaning to him, and what meaning they had
was instantly extinguished by anger. Now abruptly they reverberated in
his ears. He forgot his mother; he forgot the "beast," who was, after
all, only the same kind of a beast that he was himself. "You, who could
not accept a girl's money could take her good name; could urge her to a
course which in your mother overwhelms you with horror; could ask her
to give you that which ranks a man who accepted it from your mother as
a 'beast.'" David had never felt shame before; he had known
mortification, and regret, too, to a greater or less degree; and
certainly he had known remorse; he had experienced the futile rage of a
man who realizes that he has made a fool of himself; these things he
had known, as every man nearly thirty years old must know them.
Especially and cruelly he had known them when he understood the effect
of the reasoning egotism of his letter upon Elizabeth. But the
beneficent agony of shame he had never known until this moment.

In the next hour or two, while the flame of the lamp still burning on
the table, whitened in the desolating morning light that crept into the
room, David Richie did not reason things out consecutively. His
thoughts came without apparent sequence; sometimes he wondered, dully,
if it were still raining; wondered how he would get a carriage in the
morning; wondered if Elizabeth was asleep; wondered if she would go
back to Blair Maitland? "No, no, no!" he said aloud; "not that; that
can't be." Yet through all this disjointed thought his eyes, cleared by
shame, saw Reason coming slowly up to explain and confirm his
conviction that, whatever Elizabeth did or did not do, for the present
he had lost her. And Reason, showing him his likeness to that other
"beast," showing him his arrogance to his mother, his cruelty to his
poor girl, his poor, pitiful Elizabeth! showed him something else: his
assertions of his intrinsic right to Elizabeth--how much of their force
was due to love for her, how much to hatred of Blair? David's habit of
corroborating his emotions by a mental process had more than once
shackled him and kept him from those divine impetuosities that add to
the danger and the richness of life; but this time the logical habit
led him inexorably into deeper depths of humiliation. It was dawn when
he saw that he had hated Blair more than he had loved Elizabeth. This
was the most intolerable revelation of all; he had actually been about
to use Love to express Hate!

Up-stairs Elizabeth had had her own vision; it was not like David's.
There was no sense of shame. There was only Love! Love, pitiful,
heart-breaking, remorseful. When David left her she sank down on the
edge of her bed and cried--not for disappointment or dread or
perplexity, not for herself, not for David, but for Helena Richie. Once
she crept across the hall and listened at the closed door. Silence.
Then she pushed it open and listened again. Oh, to go to her, to put
her arms about her, to say, "I will be good, I will do whatever you
say, I love you." But all was still except for soft, scarcely heard,
tranquil breathing. For David's mother slept.

When Elizabeth came down the next morning it was to the crackle of
flames and the smell of coffee and the sight of David scorching his
face over toasting bread. It was so unheroic that it was almost heroic,
for it meant that they could keep on the surface of life. David said,
simply, "Did you get any sleep, Elizabeth?" and she said: "Well, not
much. Here, let me make the toast; you get something for your mother."
But when she carried a little tray of food up to Mrs. Richie, and
kneeling by the bedside took the soft mother-hand in hers, she went
below the surface.

"I am going back to him," she said; and put Mrs. Richie's hand against
her lips.

David's mother gave her a long look, but she had nothing to say.

Later, as they came down-stairs together, Elizabeth, still holding that
gentle hand in hers, felt it tremble when Helena Richie met her son.
Perhaps his trembled, too. Yet his tenderness and consideration for
her, as he told her how he had arranged for her journey to town was
almost ceremonious; it seemed as if he dared not come too near her. It
was not until he was helping her into the carriage that he made any
reference to the night before:

"I have given her up," he said, almost in a whisper, "but she can't go
back to him, you know--that can't be! Mother, that can't be?"

But she was silent. Then Elizabeth came up behind him and got into the
carriage; there were no good-bys between them.

"I shall come to town to-morrow on the noon train," he told his mother;
and she looked at him as one looks at another human creature who turns
his face toward the wilderness. There was nothing more that she could
do for him; he must hunger and know how he might be fed; he must hear
the lying whisper that if he broke the Law, angelic hands would prevent
the law from breaking him; he must see the Kingdom he desired, the
glory of it, and its easy price. He must save himself.

Elizabeth, groping for Mrs. Richie's hand, held it tightly in hers, and
the old carriage began its slow tug along the road that wound in and
out among the dunes....

The story of David and Elizabeth and Blair pauses here.

Or perhaps one might say it begins here. A decision such as was reached
in the little house by the sea is not only an end, it is also a
beginning. In their bleak certainty that they were parted, David and
Elizabeth had none of that relief of the dismissal of effort, which
marks the end of an experience. Effort was all before them; for the
decision not to change conditions did not at the moment change
character; and it never changed temperaments. Elizabeth was as far from
self-control on the morning after that decision as she had been in the
evening that preceded it. There had to be many evenings of rebellion,
many mornings of taking up her burden; the story of them begins when
she knew, without reasoning about it, that the hope of escape from them
had ceased.

Because of those gray hours of dawn and shame and self-knowledge, love
did not end in David, nor did he cease to be rational and inarticulate;
there had to be weeks of silent, vehement refusal to accept the
situation: something must be done! Elizabeth must get a divorce
"somehow"! It would take time, a long time, perhaps; but she must get
it, and then they would marry. There had to be weeks of argument: "why
should I sacrifice my happiness to 'preserve the ideal of the
permanence of marriage'?" There had to be weeks of imprisonment in
himself before a night came when his mother woke to find him at her
bedside: "Mother--mother--mother," he said. What else he said, how in
his agonizing dumbness he was able to tell her that she was the mother,
not, indeed, of his body, but of his soul--was only for her ears; what
his face, hidden in her pillow, confessed, the quiet darkness held
inviolate. This silent man's experiences of shame and courage, began
that night when, in the fire-lit room, besieged by darkness and the
storm, that other experience ended.

Blair's opportunity--the divine opportunity of sacrifice, had its
beginning in that same desolate End. But there had to be angry days of
refusing to recognize any opportunity--life had not trained him to such
courageous recognition! There had to be days when the magnanimity of
his prisoner in returning to her prison was unendurable to him. There
had to be months, before, goaded by his god, he urged his hesitating
manhood to abide by the decision of chance whether or not he should
offer her her freedom. There even had to be days of deciding just what
the chance should be!

There had to be for these three people, caught in the mesh of
circumstance, time for growth and for hope, and that is why their story
pauses just when the angel has troubled the water. All the impulses and
the resolutions that had their beginnings in that End, are like circles
on that troubled water, spreading, spreading, spreading, until they
touch Eternity. At first the circles were not seen; only the turmoil in
the pool when the angel touched it. And how dark the water was with the
sediment of doubt and fear and loss in the days that followed that
decision which was the beginning of all the circles!

Robert Ferguson and David's mother used to wonder how they could any of
them get through the next few months. "But good is going to come out of
it somehow," Helena Richie said once. "Oh, you mean 'character' and all
that sort of thing," he said, sighing. "I tell you what it is, I'm a
lot more concerned about my child's happiness than her 'character.'
Elizabeth is good enough for me as she is."

David's mother had no rebuke for him; she looked at him with pitying
eyes; he was so very unhappy in his child's unhappiness! She herself
was doing all she could for the "child"; she was in Mercer most of that
winter. "No, I won't hire the house," she told the persistent landlord;
"I can't afford it; I'm only here for a few days at a time. No, you
_sha'n't_ lower the rent! Robert, Robert, what shall I do to keep you
from being so foolish? I wouldn't live there if you gave me the house!
I want to stay at the hotel and be near Elizabeth."

In her frequent visits in those next few months she grew very near to
Elizabeth; it was a wonderfully tender relation, full of humility on
both sides.

"I never knew how good you were, Mrs. Richie," Elizabeth said.

"I never really understood you, dear child," Helena Richie confessed.
She drew near Blair, too; she knew how he had borne the story Elizabeth
told him when she came back to Mercer; she knew the recoil of anger and
jealousy, then the reaction of cringing acceptance of the fact; she
knew his passionate efforts, as the winter passed, to buy his way into
his wife's friendship by doing everything he fancied might please her.
She knew why he asked Mr. Ferguson to find a place for him in the
Works, and why he induced Nannie to take the money he believed to be
his, and build a hospital. "He is going to use the old house for it,"
Mrs. Richie told Mr. Ferguson; "well! it's one way of getting Nannie
out of it, though I'm afraid he'll have to turn the workmen in and
rebuild over her head before he can move her."

"It's the bait in the trap," Robert Ferguson said, contemptuously.
"Well, suppose it is? Can you blame him for trying to win her?"

"He'll never succeed. If he was half-way honest he would have offered
to let her go in the first place. If he expects any story-book business
of 'duty creating love' he'll come out the small end of the horn."

"I suppose he hopes," she admitted. But she sighed. She knew those
hopes would never be realized, and she felt the pain of that poor,
selfish, passionate heart until her own ached. Yes, of course he ought
to 'offer to let her go.' She knew that as well as Elizabeth's uncle
himself. "And he will," she said to herself. Then her face was softly
illuminated by the lambent flame of some inner serenity: "But she won't
go!"

Those were the days when Blair would not recognize his opportunity. It
was not because it was not pointed out to him.

"I'm certain that a divorce could be fixed up some way," Robert
Ferguson said once, "and I hinted as much to him. I told him she
couldn't endure the sight of him."

"Do you call that a hint?"

"Well, he didn't take it, anyway. Of course, if nothing moves him, I
suppose I can shoot him?"

She smiled. "You won't have to shoot him. He is very unhappy. Wait."

"For a change of heart? It will never come! No, the marriage was a
travesty from the beginning, and I ought to have pulled her out of it.
I did suggest it to her, but she said she was going to stick it out
like a man."

Blair was indeed unhappy. His god was tormenting him by contrasting
Elizabeth's generosity with his selfishness. It was then that he saw,
terror-stricken, his opportunity. He tried not to see it. He denied it,
he struggled against it; yet all the while he was drawn by an agonized
curiosity to consider it. Finally, with averted eyes, he held out
shrinking hands to chance, to see if opportunity would fall into them.
This was some six months after she had come back to him; six months on
her part of clinging to Mrs. Richie's strength; of wondering if David,
working hard in Philadelphia, was beginning to be happier; of wondering
if Blair was really any happier for her weariness of soul. Six months
on Blair's part, of futile moments of hope because Elizabeth seemed a
little kinder;--"perhaps she's beginning to care!" he would say to
himself; six months of agonizing jealousy when he knew she did not
care; of persistent, useless endeavors to touch her heart; of endless
small, pathetic sacrifices; of endless small, pathetic angers and
repentances. "Blair," she used to say, with wonderful patience, after
one of these glimmerings of hope had arisen in him because of some
careless amiability on her part, "I am sorry to be unkind; I wish you
would get over caring about me, but all I can do _ever_ is just to be
friends. No, I don't hate you. Why should I hate you? You didn't wrong
me any more than I wronged you. We are just the same; two bad people.
But I'm trying to be good, truly I am; and--and I'm sorry for you,
Blair, dear. That's all I can say."

It was after one of those miserable discussions between the husband and
wife that Blair had gone out of the hotel with violent words of
despair. He never knew just where he spent that day--certainly not in
the office at the Works; but wherever it was, it brought him face to
face with his opportunity. Should he accept it? Should he refuse it? He
said to himself that he could not decide. Perhaps he was right; he had
shirked decisions all his life; perhaps so great a decision was
impossible for him. At any rate, he thought it was. Something must
decide for him. What should it be? All that afternoon he tried to make
a small decision which should settle the great decision. Of course, he
might pitch up a penny? no, the swiftness of such judgment seemed
beyond endurance; he might say: "if it rains before noon, I'll let her
go;" then he could watch the skies, and meet the decision gradually;
no; it rained so often in March! If when he got back to the hotel he
found her wearing this piece of jewelry or that; if the grimy pigeon,
teetering up and down on the granite coping across the street, flew
away before he reached the next crossing. . . . On and on his mind
went, jibing away, terrified, from each suggestion; then returning to
it again. It was dusk when he came back to the hotel. David's mother
was sitting with Elizabeth, and they were talking, idly, of Nannie's
new house, or Cherry-pie's bad cold, or anything but the one thing that
was always on their minds, when, abruptly, Blair entered. He flung open
the door with a bang,--then stood stock-still on the threshold. He was
very pale, but the room was so shadowy that his pallor was not noticed.

"Why are you sitting here in the dark!" he cried out, violently. "Why
don't you light the gas? Good God!" he said, almost with a sob.
Elizabeth looked at him in astonishment; before she could reply that
she and Mrs. Richie liked the dusk and the firelight, he saw that she
was not alone, and burst into a loud laugh: "Mrs. Richie here? How
appropriate!" He came forward into the circle of flickering light, but
he seemed to walk unsteadily and his face was ghastly. Helena Richie
gave him a startled look. Blair's gentleness had never failed David's
mother before; she thought, with consternation, that he had been
drinking. Perhaps her gravity checked his reckless mood, for he said
more gently: "I beg your pardon; I didn't see you, Mrs. Richie. I was
startled because everything was dark. Outer darkness! Please don't
go,--it's so appropriate for you to be here!" he ended. Again his voice
was sardonic. Mrs. Richie said, coldly, that she had been just about to
return to her own room. As she left them, she said to herself,
anxiously, that she was afraid there was something the matter. She
would have been sure of it had she stayed in the twilight with the
husband and wife.

"I'll light the gas," Elizabeth said, rising. But he caught her wrist.
"No! No! there's no use lighting up now." As he spoke he pulled her
down on his knee. "Elizabeth, is there no hope?" he said; "none?
_none?_" She was silent. He leaned his forehead on her shoulder for a
moment, and she heard that dreadful sound--a man's weeping. Then
suddenly, roughly, he flung his arms about her, and kissed her
violently--her lips, her eyes, her neck; the next moment he pushed her
from his knee. "Why, why did you sit here in the dark to-night? I never
knew you to sit in the dark!" He got on his feet, leaving her, standing
amazed and offended, her hair ruffled, the lace about her throat in
disorder; at the window, his back turned to her, he flung over his
shoulder: "Look here--you can go. I won't hold you any longer. I
suppose your uncle can fix it up; some damned legal quibble will get
you out of it. I--I'll do my part."

Before she could ask him what he meant he went out. He had accepted his
opportunity!

But it was not until the next day that she really understood.

"He says," Mrs. Richie told Robert Ferguson, "that he will take Nannie
and go abroad definitely; she can call it desertion. Yes; on Nannie's
money of course; how else could he go? Oh, my poor Blair!"

"'Poor Blair'? He deserves all he gets," Elizabeth's uncle said, after
his first astonishment. Then, in spite of himself, he was sorry for
Blair. "I suppose he's hard hit," he said, grudgingly, "but as for
'poor Blair,' I don't believe it goes very deep with him. You say he
was out of temper because she had not lighted up, and told her she
could go? Rather a casual way of getting rid of a wife."

"Robert, how can you be so unjust?" she reproached him. "Oh, perhaps he
will be a man yet! How proud his mother would be."

"My dear Helena, one swallow doesn't make a summer." Then, a little
ashamed of his harshness, he added, "No, he'll never be very much of a
person; but he's his mother's son, so he can't be all bad; he'll just
wander round Europe, with Nannie tagging on behind, enjoying himself
more or less harmlessly."

"Robert," she said, softly, "I'm not sure that Elizabeth will accept
his sacrifice."

"What! Not accept it? Nonsense! Of course she'll accept it. I should
have doubts of her sanity if she didn't. If Blair had been half as much
of a man as his mother, he'd have made the 'sacrifice,' as you call it,
long ago. Helena, you're too extreme. Duty is well enough, but don't
run it into the ground."

Mrs. Richie was silent.

"Helena, you _know_ she ought to leave him!"

"If every woman left unpleasant conditions--mind, he isn't unkind or
wicked; what would become of us, Robert?"

Elizabeth's uncle would not pursue her logic; his face suddenly
softened: "Well, David will come to his own at last! I wonder how soon
after the thing is fixed up (_if_ it can be fixed up) they can marry?"

The color rose sharply in her face.

"You think they won't?" he exclaimed.

"I hope not. Oh, I hope not!"

"Why not?" he said, affronted.

"Because I don't want them, just for their own happiness, to do what
seems to me wrong."

"Wrong! If the law permits it, you can't say 'wrong.'"

"_I_ think it is," she said timidly; then tried to explain that it
seemed to her that no one, for his own happiness, had a right to do a
thing which would injure an ideal by which the rest of us live; "I
don't express it very well," she said, flushing.

Robert Ferguson snorted. "That's high talk; well enough for angels; but
no men and mighty few women are angels. I," he interrupted himself
hurriedly, "I don't like angel women myself."

She smiled a little sadly. "And besides that," she said, "it seems to
me we ought to take the consequences of our sins. I think they ought,
all three of them, to just try and make the best of things. Robert, did
it ever strike you that making the best of things was one way of
entering the Kingdom of Heaven?"

He gave her a tender look, but he shook his head. "Helena," he said,
gently, "do you mind telling me how you finally brought them to their
senses that night? Don't if you'd rather not."

Her face quivered. "I would rather. There was only one way; I ... told
them, Robert."

There was a moment of silence, then Robert Ferguson twitched his
glasses off and began to polish them. "You are an angel, after all," he
said. Then he lifted a ribbon falling from her waist, and kissed it.

"I sha'n't try to influence either David or Elizabeth," she said; "they
will do what they think right; it may not be _my_ right--"

"It won't be," he told her, dryly; "once a man is free to marry his
girl, mothers take a back seat."

She smiled wisely.

"Oh, you can smile; but, my dear Helena, the apron-string won't do for
a man who is thirty years old. Yes, they'll do as they choose, in spite
of either you or me--and _I_ know what it will be!"

"Poor Blair," she said, sighing. "Robert, if she leaves him you will be
kind to him, won't you? He's never had a chance--"

But he was not thinking of Blair; he was looking into her face, and his
own face moved with emotion: "Helena, don't be obstinate any longer. We
have so little time left! I don't ask you to love me, but just marry
me, Helena."

"Oh, my dear Robert--"

"Will you?"

"If I lived here," she said breathlessly, "my boy could not come to see
me."

"Is that the reason you won't say yes?"

She was silent.

"Will you?" he said again.

Her voice was so low he could hardly hear her answer: "No."

And at that his face glowed with sudden, amazed assurance. "Why," he
cried, "_you love me!_"

She looked at him beseechingly. "Robert, please--"

"Life has been good to me, after all," he said, joyously: "I've got
what I don't deserve!"

Helena was silent.



THE END





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