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´╗┐Title: What Can She Do?
Author: Roe, Edward Payson, 1838-1888
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 "What Can She Do?" ***

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The Works of E. P. Roe

VOLUME TEN

WHAT CAN SHE DO?

ILLUSTRATED



DEDICATION

                  IF I WERE
               TO DEDICATE THIS
           BOOK IT WOULD BE TO THOSE
      GIRLS WHO RESOLVE THAT THEY WILL NOT
PLAY THE POOR ROLE OF MICAWBER, THEIR ONLY CHANCE FOR
     LIFE BEING THAT SOME ONE WILL "TURN UP"
           WHOM THEY MAY BURDEN WITH
                THEIR HELPLESS
                    WEIGHT



PREFACE



This book was not written to amuse, to create purposeless excitement,
or to secure a little praise as a bit of artistic work. It would
probably fail in all these things. It was written with a definite,
earnest purpose, which I trust will be apparent to the reader.

As society in our land grows older, and departs from primitive
simplicity, as many are becoming rich, but more poor, the changes that
I have sought to warn against become more threatening. The ordinary
avenues of industry are growing thronged, and it daily involves a more
fearful risk for a woman to be thrown out upon the world with
unskilled hands, an untrained mind, and an unbraced moral nature.
Impressed with this danger by some considerable observation, by a
multitude of facts that might wring tears from stony eyes, I have
tried to write earnestly if not wisely.

Of necessity, it touches somewhat on a subject delicate and difficult
to treat--the "skeleton in the closet" of society. But the evil exists
on every side, and at some time or other threatens every home and
life. It is my belief that Christian teachers should not timidly or
loftily ignore it, for, mark it well, the evil does not let us or ours
alone. It is my belief that it should be dealt with in a plain,
fearless, manly manner. Those who differ with me have a right to their
opinion.

There is one other thought that I wish to suggest. Much of the fiction
of our day, otherwise strong and admirable, is discouraging in this
respect. In the delineation of character, some are good, some are bad,
and some indifferent. We have a lovely heroine, a noble hero,
developing seemingly in harmony with the inevitable laws of their
natures. Associated with them are those of the commoner or baser sort,
also developing in accordance with the innate principles of their
natures. The first are presented as if created of finer clay than the
others. The first are the flowers in the garden of society, the latter
the weeds. According to this theory of character, the heroine must
grow as a moss-rose and the weed remain a weed. Credit is not due to
one; blame should not be visited on the other. Is this true? Is not
the choice between good and evil placed before every human soul, save
where ignorance and mental feebleness destroy free agency? In the
field of the world which the angels of God are to reap, is it not even
possible for the tares to become wheat? And cannot the sweetest and
most beautiful natural flowers of character borrow from the skies a
fragrance and bloom not of earth? So God's inspired Word teaches me.

I have turned away from many an exquisite and artistic delineation of
human life, sighing, God might as well never have spoken words of
hope, warning, and strength for all there is in this book. The Divine
and human Friend might have remained in the Heavens, and never come to
earth in human guise, that He might press His great heart of world-wide sympathy against the burdened, suffering heart of humanity. He
need not have died to open a way of life for all. There is nothing
here but human motive, human strength, and earthly destiny. We protest
against this narrowing down of life, though it be done with the
faultless skill and taste of the most cultured genius. The children of
men are not orphaned. Our Creator is still "Emmanuel--God with us."
Earthly existence is but the prelude of our life, and even from this
the Divine artist can take much of the discord, and give an earnest of
the eternal harmonies.

We all are honored with the privilege of "co-working with Him."

If I in my little sphere can by this book lead one father to train his
children to be more strong and self-reliant, one mother to teach her
daughters a purer, more patient, more heroic womanhood--if I have
placed one more barrier in the tempter's way, and inspired one more
wholesome fear and principle in the heart of the tempted--if, by
lifting the dark curtain a moment, I can reveal enough to keep one
country girl from leaving her safe native village for unprotected life
in some great city--if I can add one iota toward a public opinion that
will honor useful labor, however humble, and condemn and render
disgraceful idleness and helplessness, however gilded--if, chief of
all, I lead one heavy-laden heart to the only source of rest, I shall
be well rewarded, whatever is said of this volume.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I
THREE GIRLS

CHAPTER II
A FUTURE OP HUMAN DESIGNING

CHAPTER III
THREE MEN

CHAPTER IV
THE SKIES DARKENING

CHAPTER V
THE STORM THREATENING

CHAPTER VI
THE WRECK

CHAPTER VII
AMONG THE BREAKERS

CHAPTER VIII
WARPED

CHAPTER IX
A DESERT ISLAND

CHAPTER X
EDITH BECOMES A "DIVINITY"

CHAPTER XI
MRS. ALLEN'S POLICY

CHAPTER XII
WAITING FOR SOME ONE TO TURN UP

CHAPTER XIII
THEY TURN UP

CHAPTER XIV
WE CAN'T WORK

CHAPTER XV
THE TEMPTATION

CHAPTER XVI
BLACK HANNIBAL'S WHITE HEART

CHAPTER XVII
THE CHANGES OF TWO SHORT MONTHS

CHAPTER XVIII
IGNORANCE LOOKING FOR WORK

CHAPTER XIX
A FALLING STAR

CHAPTER XX
DESOLATION

CHAPTER XXI
EDITH'S TRUE KNIGHT

CHAPTER XXII
A MYSTERY

CHAPTER XXIII
A DANGEROUS STEP

CHAPTER XXIV
SCORN AND KINDNESS

CHAPTER XXV
A HORROR OF GREAT DARKNESS

CHAPTER XXVI
FRIEND AND SAVIOUR

CHAPTER XXVII
THE MYSTERY SOLVED

CHAPTER XXVIII
EDITH TELLS THE OLD, OLD STORY

CHAPTER XXIX
HANNIBAL LEARNS HOW HIS HEART CAN BE WHITE

CHAPTER XXX
EDITH'S AND ARDEN'S FRIENDSHIP

CHAPTER XXXI
ZELL

CHAPTER XXXII
EDITH BRINGS THE WANDERER HOME

CHAPTER XXXIII
EDITH'S GREAT TEMPTATION

CHAPTER XXXIV
SAVED

CHAPTER XXXV
CLOSING SCENES

CHAPTER XXXVI
LAST WORDS



CHAPTER I

THREE GIRLS



It was a very cold blustering day in early January, and even brilliant
thronged Broadway felt the influence of winter's harshest frown. There
had been a heavy fall of snow which, though in the main cleared from
the sidewalks, lay in the streets comparatively unsullied and
unpacked. Fitful gusts of the passing gale caught it up and whirled it
in every direction. From roof, ledges, and window-sills, miniature
avalanches suddenly descended on the startled pedestrians, and the air
was here and there loaded with falling flakes from wild hurrying
masses of clouds, the rear-guard of the storm that the biting
northwest wind was driving seaward.

It was early in the afternoon, and the great thoroughfare was almost
deserted. Few indeed would be abroad for pleasure in such weather, and
the great tide of humanity that must flow up and down this channel
every working day of the year under all skies had not yet turned
northward.

But surely this graceful figure coming up the street with quick,
elastic steps has not the aspect of one driven forth by grave business
cares, nor in the natural course of things would one expect so young a
lady to know much of life's burdens and responsibilities. As she
passes I am sure the reader would not turn away from so pleasant a
vision, even if Broadway were presenting all its numberless
attractions, but at such a time would make the most of the occasion,
assured that nothing so agreeable would greet his eyes again that
sombre day.

The fierce gusts make little impression on her heavy, close-fitting
velvet dress, and in her progress against the wind she appears so trim
and taut that a sailor's eye would be captivated. She bends her little
turbaned head to the blast, and her foot strikes the pavement with a
decision that suggests a naturally brave, resolute nature, and gives
abundant proof of vigor and health. A trimming of silver fox fur
caught and contrasted the snow crystals against the black velvet of
her dress, in which the flakes catch and mingle, increasing the sense
of lightness and airiness which her movements awaken, and were you
seeking a fanciful embodiment of the spirit of the snow, you might
rest satisfied with the first character that appears upon the scene of
my story.

But on nearer view there was nothing spirit-like or even spirituelle
in her aspect, save that an extremely transparent complexion was
rendered positively dazzling by the keen air and the glow of exercise;
and the face was much too full and blooming to suggest the shadowy and
ethereal.

When near Twenty-first Street she entered a fruit store and seemed in
search of some delicacy for an invalid. As her eye glanced around
among the fragrant tropical fruits that suggested lands in wide
contrast to the wintry scene without, she suddenly uttered a low
exclamation of delight, as she turned from them to old friends, all
the more welcome because so unexpected at that season. These were
nothing less than a dozen strawberries, in dainty baskets, decked out,
or more truly eked out, with a few green leaves. Three or four baskets
constituted the fruiterer's entire stock, and probably the entire
supply for the metropolis of America that day.

She had scarcely time to lift a basket and inhale its delicious aroma,
before the proprietor of the store was in bowing attendance, quite as
openly admiring her carnation cheeks as she the ruby fruit The man's
tongue was, however, more decorous than his eyes, and to her question
as to price he replied:

"_Only_ two dollars a basket, miss, and certainly they are beauties
for this season of the year. They are all I could get, and I don't
believe there is another strawberry in New York."

"I will take them all," was the brief, decisive answer, and from a
costly portemonnaie she threw down the price, a proceeding which the
man noted in agreeable surprise, again curiously scanning the fair
face as he made up the parcel with ostentatious zeal. But his customer
was unconscious, or, more truly, indifferent to his admiration, and
seemed much more interested in the samples of choice fruit arranged on
every side. From one to another of these she flitted with the delicate
sensuousness of a butterfly, smelling them and touching them lightly
with the hand she had ungloved (which was as white as the snow
without), as if they had for her a peculiar fascination.

"You seem very fond of fruit," said the merchant, his _amour propre_
pleased by her evident interest in his stock.

"I have ever had a passion for fine fruits and flowers," was the
reply, spoken with that perfect frankness characteristic of American
girls. "No, you need not send it; I prefer to take it with me."

And with a slight smile, she passed out, leaving the fruiterer
chuckling over the thought that he had probably had the pleasantest
bit of trade on Broadway that dull day.

Plunging through the drifts, our nymph of the snow resolutely crossed
the street and passed down to a flower store, but, instead of buying a
bouquet, ordered several pots of budding and blooming plants to be
sent to her address. She then made her way to Fifth Avenue and soon
mounted a broad flight of steps to one of its most stately houses. The
door yielded to her key, her thick walking boots clattered for a
moment on the marble floor, but could not disguise the lightness of
her step as she tripped up the winding stair and pushed open a
rosewood door leading into the upper hall.

"Mother, mother," she exclaimed, "here is a treat for you that will
banish nerves, headache, and horrors generally. See what I have found
for you out in the wintry snows. Now am I not a good fairy for once?"

"Oh, Edith, child, not so boisterous, please," responded a querulous
voice from a great easy-chair by the glowing grate, and a middle-aged
lady turned a white, faded face toward her daughter.

"Forgive me, mother, but my tramp in the January storm has made me
feel rampantly well. I wish you could go out and take a run every day
as I do. You would then look younger and prettier than your daughters,
as you used to."

The invalid shivered and drew her shawl closer around her,
complaining:

"I think you have brought the whole month of January in with you. You
really must show more consideration, my dear, for if I should take
cold--" and the lady ended with a weary, suggestive sigh.

In fact, Edith had entered the dim heavily-perfumed room like a gust
of wholesome air, her young blood tingling and electric with exercise,
and her heart buoyant with the thought of the surprise and pleasure
she had in store for her mother. But the manner in which she had been
received had already chilled her more than the biting blasts on
Broadway. She therefore opened her bundle and set out the little
baskets before her mother very quietly. The lady glanced at them for a
moment and then said, indifferently:

"It is very good of you to think of me, my dear; they look very
pretty. I am sorry I cannot eat them, but their acid would only
increase my dyspepsia. Those raised in winter must be very sour. Ugh!
the thought of it sets my teeth on edge," and the poor, nervous
creature shrank deeper into her wrappings.

"I am very sorry, mother, I thought they would be a great treat for
you," said Edith, quite crestfallen. "Never mind; I got some flowers,
and they will be here soon."

"Thank you, dear, but the doctor says they are not healthy in a room--Oh, dear--that child! what shall I do!"

The front door banged, there was a step on the stairs, but not so
light as Edith's had been, and a moment later the door burst open, and
"the child" rushed in like a mild whirlwind, exclaiming:

"Hurrah! hurrah! school to the shades. No more teachers and tyrants
for me," and down went an armful of books with a bang on the table.

"Oh, Zell!" cried Edith, "please be quiet; mother has a headache."

"There, there, your baby will kiss it all away," and the irrepressible
young creature threw her arms around the bundle that Mrs. Allen had
made herself into by her many wrappings, and before she ceased, the
red pouting lips left the faintest tinge of their own color on the
faded cheeks of the mother.

The lady endured the boisterous embrace with a martyr-like expression.
Zell was evidently a privileged character, the spoiled pet of the
household. But a new voice was now heard that was sharper than the
"pet" was accustomed to.

"Zell, you are a perfect bear. One would think you had learned your
manners at a boys' boarding school."

Zell's great black eyes blazed for a moment toward the speaker, who
was a young lady reclining on a lounge near the window, and who in
appearance must have been the counterpart of Mrs. Allen herself as she
had looked twenty-three years before. In contrast with her sharp,
annoyed tone, her cheeks and eyes were wet with tears.

"What are you crying about?" was Zell's brusque response. "Oh, I see;
a novel. What a ridiculous old thing you are. I never saw you shed a
tear over real trouble, and yet every few days you are dissolved in
brine over Adolph Moonshine's agonies, and Seraphina's sentiment,
which any sensible person can see is caused by dyspepsia. No such
whipped syllabub for me, but real life."

"And what does 'real life' mean for you, I would like to know, but
eating, dressing, and flirting?" was the acid retort.

"Though you call me 'child,' I have lived long enough to learn that
eating, dressing, and flirting, and while you are about it you might
as well add drinking, is the 'real life' of most of the ladies of our
set. Indeed, if my poor memory does not fail me, I have seen you
myself take a turn at these things sufficiently often to make the
sublime scorn of your tone a little inconsistent."

As these barbed arrows flew, the tears rapidly exhaled from the hot
cheeks of the young lady on the sofa. Her elegant languor vanished,
and she started up; but Mrs. Allen now interfered, and in tones harsh
and high, very different from the previous delicate murmurs,
exclaimed:

"Children, you drive me wild. Zell, leave the room, and don't show
yourself again till you can behave yourself."

Zell was now sobbing, partly in sorrow and partly in anger, but she
let fly a few more Parthian arrows over her shoulder as she passed
out.

"This is a pretty way to treat one on their birthday. I came home with
heart as light as the snowflakes around me, and now you have spoiled
everything. I don't know how it is, but I always have a good time
everywhere else, but there is something in this house that often sets
one's teeth on edge," and the door banged appropriately with a
spiteful emphasis as the last word was spoken.

"Poor child," said Edith, "it _is_ too bad that she should be so
dashed with cold water on her birthday."

"She isn't a child," said the eldest sister, rising from the sofa and
sweeping from the room, "though she often acts like one, and a very
bad one too. Her birthday should remind her that if she is ever to be
a woman, it is time to commence," and the stately young lady passed
coldly away. Edith, went to the window and looked dejectedly out into
the early gloom of the declining winter day. Mrs. Allen sighed and
looked more nervous and uncomfortable than usual.

The upholsterer had done his part in that elegant home, The feet sank
into the carpets as in moss. Luxurious chairs seemed to embrace the
form that sank into them. Everything, was padded, rounded, and
softened, except tongues and tempers. If wealth could remove the
asperities from these as from material things, it might well be
coveted. But this is beyond the upholsterer's art, and Mrs. Allen knew
little of the Divine art that can wrap up words and deeds with a
kindness softer than eider-down.

"Mother's room," instead of being a refuge and a favorite haunt of
these three girls, was a place where, as we have seen, their "teeth
were set on edge."

Naturally they shunned the place, visiting the invalid rather than
living with her; their reluctant feet impelled across the threshold by
a sense of duty rather than drawn by the cords of love. The mother
felt this in a vague, uncomfortable way, for mother love was there,
only it had seemingly turned sour, and instead of attracting her
children by sweetness and sympathy, she querulously complained to them
and to her husband of their neglect. He would sometimes laugh it off,
sometimes shrug his shoulders indifferently, and again harshly chide
the girls, according to his mood, for he varied much in this respect.
After being cool and wary all day in Wall Street, he took off the curb
at home; therefore the variations that never could be counted on. How
he would be at dinner did not depend on himself or any principle, but
on circumstances. In the main he was indulgent and kind, though quick
and passionate, brooking no opposition; and the girls were really more
attached to him and found more pleasure in his society than in their
mother's. Zelica, the youngest, was his special favorite, and he
humored and petted her at a ruinous rate, though often storming at
some of her follies.

Mrs. Allen saw this preference of her husband, and was weak enough to
feel and show jealousy. But her complainings were ineffectual, for we
can no more scold people into loving us than nature could make buds
blossom by daily nipping them with frost. And yet she made her
children uncomfortable by causing them to feel that it was unnatural
and wrong that they did not care more for their mother. This was
especially true of Edith, who tried to satisfy her conscience, as we
have seen, by bringing costly presents and delicacies that were seldom
needed or appreciated.

Edith soon became so oppressed by her mother's sighs and silence and
the heavy perfumed air, that she sprang up, and pressing a remorseful
kiss on the white thin face, said:

"I must dress for dinner, mamma: I will send your maid," and vanished
also.



CHAPTER II

A FUTURE OF HUMAN DESIGNING



The dining-room at six o'clock wore a far more cheerful aspect than
the invalid's room upstairs. It was furnished in a costly manner, but
more ostentatiously than good taste would dictate. You instinctively
felt that it was a sacred place to the master of the house, in which
he daily sacrificed to one of his chosen deities.

The portly colored waiter, in dress coat and white vest, has just
placed the soup on the table, and Mr. Allen enters, supporting his
wife. He had sort of manly toleration for all her whims and
weaknesses. He had never indulged in any lofty ideas of womanhood, nor
had any special longings for her sympathy and companionship. Business
was the one engrossing thing of his life, and this he honestly
believed woman incapable of, from her very nature. It was true of his
wife, but due to a false education rather than to any innate
difficulties, and he no more expected her to comprehend and sympathize
intelligently with his business operations, than to see her go down to
Wall Street with him wearing his hat and coat.

She had been the leading belle in his set years ago. He had admired
her immensely as a stylish, beautiful woman, and carried her off from
dozens of competitors, who were fortunate in their failure. He always
maintained a show of gallantry and deference; which, though but
veneer, was certainly better than open disregard and brutal neglect.

So now, with a good-natured tolerance and politeness, he seated the
feeble creature in a cushioned chair at the table, treating her more
like a spoiled child than as a friend and companion. The girls
immediately appeared also, for they knew their father's weakness too
well to keep him waiting for his dinner.

Zell bounded into his arms in her usual impulsive style, and the
father caressed her in a way that showed that his heart was very
tender toward his youngest child.

"And so my baby is seventeen to-day," he said. "Well, well, how fast
we are growing old."

The girl laughed; the man sighed. The one was on the threshold of what
she deemed the richest pleasures of life; the other had well-nigh
exhausted them, and for a moment realized it.

Still he was in excellent spirits, for he had been unusually fortunate
that day, and had seen his way to an "operation" that promised a
golden future. He sat down therefore to the good cheer with not a
little of the spirit of the man in the parable, whose complacent
exhortation to his soul has ever been the language of false security
and prosperity.

The father's open favoritism for Zell was another source of jealousy,
her sisters naturally feeling injured by it. Thus in this household
even human love was discordant and perverted, and the Divine love
unknown. What chance had character, that thing of slow growth, in such
an atmosphere?

The popping of a champagne cork took the place of grace at the opening
of the meal, and the glasses were filled all around. In honor of
Zell's birthday they drank to her health and happiness. By no better
form or more suggestive ceremony could this Christian (?) family wish
their youngest member "God-speed" on entering the vicissitudes of a
new year of life. But what they did was done heartily, and every glass
was drained. To them it seemed very appropriate and her father said,
glancing admiringly at her flaming cheeks and dancing eyes--
"This is just the thing to drink Zell's health in, for she is as full
of sparkle and effervescence as the champagne itself."

Had he been a wiser and more thoughtful man, he would have carried the
simile further and remembered the fate of champagne when exposed.
However piquant and pleasing Zell's sparkle might be, it would hardly
secure success and safety for life. But in his creed a girl's first
duty was to be pretty and fascinating, and he was extremely proud of
the beauty of his daughters. It was his plan to marry them to rich men
who would maintain them in the irresponsible luxury that their mother
had enjoyed.

Circumstances seemed to justify his security. The son of a rich man,
he had also inherited a taste for business and the art of making
money. Years of prosperity had confirmed his confidence, and he looked
complacently around upon his family and talked of the future in
sanguine tones.

He was a man considerably past his prime, and his florid face and
portly form indicated that he was in the habit of doing ample justice
to the good cheer before him. Intense application to business in early
years and indulgence of appetite in later life had seriously impaired
a constitution naturally good. He reminded you of a flower fully blown
or of fruit overripe.

"Since you have permitted Zell to leave school, I suppose she must
make her debut soon," said Mrs. Allen with more animation than usual
in her tone.

"Oh, certainly," cried Zell, "on Edith's birthday, in February. We
have arranged it all, haven't we, Edith?"

"Heigho! then I am to have no part in the matter," said her father.

"Yes, indeed, papa," cried the saucy girl, "you are to have no end of
kisses, and a very long bill."

This sally pleased him immensely, for it expressed his ideal of
womanly return for masculine affection, at least the bills had never
been wanting in his experience. But, mellowed by wine and elated by
the success of the day, he now prepared to give the coup that would
make a far greater sensation in the family circle than even a debut or
a birthday party. So, glancing from one eager face to another (for
between the wine and the excitement even Mrs. Allen was no longer a
colorless, languid creature, ready to faint at the embrace of her
child), he said with a twinkle in his eye--

"Well, go to your mother about the party. She is a veteran in such
matters. But let there be some limit to the length of the bill, or I
can't carry out another plan I have in view for you."

Chorus--"What is that?"

Coolly filling his glass, he commenced leisurely sipping, while
glancing humorously from one to another, enjoying their impatient
expectancy.

"If you don't tell us right away," cried Zell, bouncing up, "I'll pull
your whiskers without mercy."

"Papa, you will throw mother into a fever. See how flushed her face
is!" said Laura, the eldest daughter, speaking at the same time two
words for herself.

The face of Edith, with dazzling complexion all aglow, and large dark
eyes lustrous with excitement, was more eloquent than words could have
been, and the bon vivant drank in her expression with as much zest as
he sipped his wine. Perhaps it was well for him to make the most of
that little keen-edged moment of bright anticipation and bewildering
hope, for what he was about to propose would cost him many thousands,
and exile him from business, which to him was the very breath of life.

But Mrs. Allen's matter-of-fact voice brought things to a crisis, for
with an injured air she said:

"How can you, George, when you know the state of my nerves?"

"What I propose, mamma, will cure your nerves and everything else, for
it is nothing less than a tour through Europe."

There was a shriek of delight from the girls, in which even the
exquisite Laura joined, and Mrs. Allen trembled with excitement. Apart
from the trip itself, they considered it a sort of disgrace that a
family of their social position and wealth had never been abroad.
Therefore the announcement was doubly welcome. Hitherto Mr. Allen's
devotion to business had made it impossible, and he had given them no
hints of the near consummation of their wishes. But he had begun to
feel the need of change and rest himself, and this weighed more with
him than all their entreaties.

In a moment Zell had her arms about his neck, and her sisters were
throwing him kisses across the table. His wife, looking unusually
gratified, said:

"You are a sensible man at last," which was a great deal for Mrs.
Allen to say.

"Why, mamma," exclaimed her husband, elevating his eyebrows in comic
surprise, "that I should live to hear you say that!"

"Now don't be silly," she replied, joining slightly in the laugh at
her expense, "or we shall think that you have taken too much
champagne, and that this Europe business is all a hoax."

"Wait till you have been outside of Sandy Hook an hour, and you will
find everything real enough then. I think I see the elegant ladies of
my household about that time."

"For shame, papa! what an uncomfortable suggestion over a dinner
table!" said the fastidious Laura. "Picture the ladies of your
household in the salons of Paris. I promise we will do you credit
there."

"I hope so, for I fear I shall have need of _credit_ when you all
reach that Mecca of women."

"It's no more the Mecca of women than Wall Street is the Jerusalem of
men. What you are all going to do in Heaven without Wall Street, I
don't see."

Mr. Allen gave his significant shrug and said, "I don't meet notes
till they are due," which was his way of saying: "Sufficient unto the
day is the evil thereof."

"The salons of Paris!" said Edith, with some disdain. "Think of the
scenery, the orange-groves, and vineyards that we shall see, the
Alpine flowers--"

"I declare," interrupted Zell, "I believe that Edith would rather see
a grape-vine and orange-tree than all the toilets of Paris."

"I shall enjoy seeing both," was the reply, "and so have the advantage
of you in having two strings to my bow."

"By the way, that reminds me to ask how many beaux you now have on the
string," said the father.

Edith tossed her head with a pretty blush and said: "Pity me, my
father; you know I am always poor at arithmetic."

"You will take up with a crooked stick after all. Now Laura is a
sensible girl, like her mother, and has picked out one of the richest,
longest-headed fellows on the street."

"Indeed!" said his wife. "I do not see but you are paying yourself a
greater compliment than either Laura or me."

"Oh, no, a mere business statement. Laura means business, and so does
Mr. Goulden."

Laura looked annoyed and said:

"Pa, I thought you never talked business at home."

"Oh, this is a feminine phase that women understand. I want your
sisters to profit by your good example."

"I shall marry an Italian count," cried Zell.

"Who will turn out a fourth-rate Italian barber, and I shall have to
support you both. But I won't do it. You would have to help him
shave."

"No, I should transform him into a leader of banditti, and we would
live in princely state in the Apennines. Then we would capture you,
papa, and carry you off to the mountains, and I would be your jailer,
and give you nothing but turtle-soup, champagne, and kisses till you
paid a ransom that would break Wall Street."

"I would not pay a cent, but stay and eat you out of house and home."

"I never expect to marry," said Edith, "but some day I am going to
commence saving my money--now don't laugh, papa, for I could be
economical if I once made up my mind"--and the pretty head gave a
decisive little nod.

"I am going to save my money and buy a beautiful place in the country
and make it as near like the garden of Eden as possible."

"Snakes will get into it as of old," was Mrs. Allen's cynical remark.

"Yes, that is woman's experience with a garden," said her husband with
a mock sigh.

Popping off the cork of another bottle, he added, "I have got ahead of
you, Edith. I own a place in the country, much as I dislike that kind
of property. I had to take it to-day in a trade, and so am a
landholder in Pushton--prospect, you see, of my becoming a rural
gentleman (Squire is the title, I believe), and of exchanging stock in
Wall Street for the stock of a farm. Here's to my estate of three
acres with a story and a half mansion upon it! Perhaps you would
rather go up there this summer than to Paris, my dear?" to his wife.

Mrs. Allen gave a contemptuous shrug as if the jest were too
preposterous to be answered, but Edith cried:

"Fill my glass; I will drink to your country place. I know the cottage
is a sweet rustic little box, all smothered with vines and roses like
one I saw last June." Then she added in sport, "I wish you would give
it to me for my birthday present. It would make such a nice porter's
lodge at the entrance to my future Eden."

"Are you in earnest?" asked the father suddenly.

Both were excited by the wine they had drunk. She glanced at her
father, and saw that he was in a mood to say yes to anything, and,
quick as thought, she determined to get the place if possible.

"Of course I am. I would rather have it than all the jewelry in New
York." She was over-supplied with that style of gift.

"You shall have it then, for I am sure I don't want it, and am
devoutly thankful to be rid of it."

Edith clapped her hands with a delight scarcely less demonstrative
than that of Zell in her wildest moods.

"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Allen; "the idea of giving a young lady such an
elephant!"

"Bat remember," continued her father, "you must manage it yourself,
pay the taxes, keep it repaired, insured, etc. There is a first-class
summer hotel near it. Next year, after we get back from Europe, we
will go up there and stay awhile. You shall then take possession,
employ an agent to take care of it, who by the way will cheat you to
your heart's content. I will wager you a box of gloves that, before a
year passes, you will try to sell the ivy-twined cottage for anything
you can get, and will be thoroughly cured of your mania for country
life."

"I'll take you up," said Edith, in great excitement, "but remember, I
want my deed on my birthday."

"All right," said Mr. Allen, laughing. "I will transfer it to you to-morrow, while I think of it. But don't try to trade it off to me
before next month for a new dress."

Edith was half wild over her present. Many and varied were her
questions, but her father only said:

"I don't know much about it. I did not listen to half the man said,
but I remember he stated there was a good deal of fruit on the place,
for it made me think of you at the time. Bless you, I could not stop
for such small game. I am negotiating a large and promising operation
which you understand about as well as farming. It will take some time
to carry it through, but when finished we will start for the 'salons
of Paris.'"

"I half believe," said Laura, with a covert sneer, "that Edith would
rather go up to her farm of three acres."

"I am well satisfied as papa has arranged it," said the practical
girl. "Everything in its place, and get all out of life you can, is my
creed."

"That means, get all out of me you can, don't it, sly puss?" laughed
the father, well pleased, though, with the worldly wisdom of the
speech.

"Kisses, kisses, unlimited kisses, and consider yourself well repaid,"
was the arch rejoinder; and not a few, looking at her as she then
appeared, would have coveted such bargains. So her father seemed to
think as he gazed admiringly at her.

But something in Zell's pouting lips and vexed expression caught his
eye, and he said good-naturedly:

"Heigho, youngster, what has brought a thunder-cloud across your saucy
face?"

"In providing for birthdays to come, I guess you have forgotten your
baby's birthday present."

"Come here, you envious elf," said her father, taking something from
his pocket. Like light she flashed out from under the cloud and was at
his side in an instant, dimpling, smiling, and twinkling with
expectation, her black eyes as quick and restless as her father was
deliberate and slow in undoing a dainty parcel.

"Oh, George, do be quick about it, or Zell will explode. You both make
me nervous," said Mrs. Allen fretfully.

Suddenly pressing open a velvet casket, Mr. Allen hung a jewelled
watch with a long gold chain about his favorite's neck, while she
improvised a hornpipe around his chair.

"There," said he, "is something that is worth more than Edith's farm,
tumble-down cottage, roses, and all. So remember that those lips were
made to kiss, not to pout with."

Zell put her lips to proper uses to that extent that Mrs. Allen began
to grow jealous, nervous, and out of sorts generally, and having
finished her chocolate, rose feebly from the table. Her husband
offered his arm and the family dinner party broke up.

And yet, take it altogether, each one was in higher spirits than
usual, and Zell and Edith were in a state of positive delight. They
had received costly gifts that specially gratified their peculiar
tastes, and these, with the promise of a grand party and a trip to
Europe, youthful buoyancy, and champagne, so dilated their little
feminine souls that Mrs. Allen's fears of an explosion of some kind
were scarcely groundless. They dragged their stately sister Laura, now
unwontedly bland and affable, to the piano, and called for the
quickest and most brilliant of waltzes, and a moment later their lithe
figures flowed away in a rhythm of motion, that from their exuberance
of feeling, was as fantastic as it was graceful.

Mr. Allen assisted his wife to her room and soon left her in an
unusually contented frame of mind to develop strategy for the coming
party. Mrs. Allen's nerves utterly incapacitated her for the care of
her household, attendance upon church, and such humdrum matters, but
in view of a great occasion like a "grand crush ball," where among the
luminaries of fashion she could become the refulgent centre of a
constellation which her fair daughters would make around her, her
spirit rose to the emergency. When it came to dress and dressmakers
and all the complications of the campaign now opening, notwithstanding
her nerves, she could be quite Napoleonic.

Her husband retired to the library, lighted a choice Havana, skimmed
his evening papers, and then as usual went to his club.

This, as a general thing, was the extent of the library's literary
uses. The best authors in gold and Russia smiled down from the black
walnut shelves, but the books were present rather as furniture than
from any intrinsic value in themselves to the family. They were given
prominence on the same principle that led Mrs. Allen to give a certain
tone to her entertainments by inviting many literary and scientific
men. She might be unable to appreciate the works of the _savants_, but
as they appreciated the labors of her masterly French cook, many
compromised the matter by eating the _petits soupers_ and shrugging
their shoulders over the entertainers.

And yet the Allens were anything but vulgar upstarts. Both husband and
wife were descended from old and wealthy New York families. They had
all the polish which life-long association with the fashionable world
bestows. What was more, they were highly intelligent, and, in their
own sphere, gifted people. Mr. Allen was a leader in business in one
of the chief commercial centres, and to lead in legitimate business in
our day requires as much ability, indeed we may say genius, as to lead
in any order department of life. He would have shown no more ignorance
in the study, studio, and laboratory, than their occupants would have
shown in the counting-room. That to which he devoted his energies he
had become a master in. It is true he had narrowed down his life to
little else than business. He had never acquired a taste for art and
literature, nor had he given himself time for broad culture. But we
meet narrow artists, narrow clergymen, narrow scientists just as
truly. If you do not get on their hobby and ride with them, they seem
disposed to ride over you. Indeed, in our brief life with its fierce
competitions, few other than what are known as "one idea" men have
time to succeed. Even genius must drive with tremendous and
concentrated energy, to distance competitors. Mr. Allen was quite as
great in his department as any of the lions that his wife lured into
her parlors were in theirs.

Mrs. Allen was also a leader in her own chosen sphere, or rather in
the one to which she had been educated. Given _carte-blanche_ in the
way of expense, she would produce a brilliant entertainment which few
could surpass. The coloring and decorations of her rooms would not be
more rich, varied, or in better taste, than the diversity, and yet
harmony of the people she would bring together by her adroit
selections. She had studied society, and for it she lived, not to make
it better, not to elevate its character, and tone down its
extravagances, but simply to shine in it, to be talked about and
envied.

Both husband and wife had achieved no small success, and to succeed in
such a city as New York in their chosen departments required a certain
amount of genius. The _savants_ had a general admiration for Mrs.
Allen's style and taste, but found that she had nothing to offer on
the social exchange of her parlors but fashion's smallest chit-chat.
They had a certain respect for Mr. Allen's wealth and business power,
but, having discussed the news of the day, they would pass on, and the
people during the intervals of dancing drifted into congenial schools
and shoals, like fish in a lake. Mr. and Mrs. Allen had a vague
admiration for the learning of the scholars and the culture of the
artists, but would infinitely prefer marrying their daughters to
downtown merchant princes.

Take the world over, perhaps all classes of people are despising
others quite as much as they are despised themselves.

But when the French cook appeared upon the scene, then was produced
your true democracy. Then was shown a phase of life into which all
entered with a zest that proved the common tie of humanity.



CHAPTER III

THREE MEN



While Mrs. Allen was planning the social pyrotechnics that should
dazzle the fashionable world, Edith and Zell were working off their
exuberant spirits in the manner described in the last chapter, which
was as natural to their city-bred feet as a wild romp is to a country
girl.

The brilliant notes of the piano and the rustle of their silks had
rendered them oblivious to the fact that the door-bell had rung twice,
and that three gentlemen were peering curiously through the half-open
door. They were evidently frequent and favored visitors, and had
motioned the old colored waiter not to announce them, and he
reluctantly obeyed.

For a moment they feasted their eyes on the scene, as the two girls,
with twining arms and many innovations on the regular step, whirled
through the rooms, and then Zell's quick eye detected them.

Pouncing upon the eldest gentleman of the party, she dragged him from
his ambush, while the others also entered. The youngest approached the
blushing, panting Edith with an almost boyish confidence of manner, as
if assured of a welcome, while the remaining gentleman, who was
verging toward middle age, quietly glided to the piano and gave his
hand to Laura, who greeted him with a cordiality scarcely to be
expected from so stately a young lady.

The laws of affinity and selection were evidently in force here, and
as the reader must surmise, long acquaintance had led to the present
easy and intimate relations.

"What do you mean," cried Zell, dragging under the gaslight her
cavalier, who assumed much penitence and fear, "by thus rudely and
abruptly breaking in upon the retirement of three secluded young
ladies?"

"At their devotions," added the cynical voice of the gentleman at the
piano, who was no other than Mr. Goulden, Laura's admirer.

Zell's attendant threw himself in the attitude of a suppliant and said
deprecatingly:

"Nay, but we are astronomers."

"That's a fib, and not a very white one either," she retorted. "I
don't believe you ever look toward heaven for anything."

"What need of looking thither for heavenly bodies?" he replied in a
low, meaning tone, regarding with undisguised admiration her glowing
cheeks. "Moreover, I don't like telescopic distances," he continued,
with a half-made motion to put his arm around her waist.

"Come," she said, pirouetting out of his reach, "remember I am no
longer a child, I am seventeen to-day."

"Would that you might never be a day older in appearance and
feelings!"

"Are you willing to leave me so far behind?" she asked with some
maliciousness.

"No, but you would make me a boy again. If old Ponce de Leon had met a
Miss Zell, he would soon have forsaken the swamps and alligators of
Florida." "Oh, what a watery, scaly compliment! Preferred to swamps
and alligators! Who would have believed it?"

"I am not blind to your pretty, wilful blindness. You know I likened
you to something too divine and precious to be found on earth."

"Which is still true in the carrying out of your marvellously mixed
metaphors. I must lend you my rhetoric book. But as your meaning dawns
on me, I see that you are symbolized by old Ponce. I shall look in the
history for the age of the ancient Spaniard to-morrow, and then I
shall know how old you are, a thing I could never find out."

As with little jets of silvery laughter and with butterfly motion she
hovered round him, the very embodiment of life and beautiful youth,
she would have made, to an artist's eye, a very true realization of
the far-famed mythical fountain.

And yet, as a moment later she confidingly took his arm and strolled
toward the library, it was evident that all her flutter and hesitancy,
her seeming freedom and mimic show of war, were like those of some
bright tropical bird fascinated by a remorseless serpent whose intent
eyes and deadly purpose are creating a spell that cannot be resisted.

Mr. Van Dam, upon whose arm she was leaning, was one of the worst
products of artificial metropolitan life. He had inherited a name
which ancestry had rendered honorable, but which he to the utmost
dishonored, and yet so adroitly, so shrewdly respecting fashion's
code, though shunning nothing wrong, that he did not lose the _entree_
of the gilded homes of those who called themselves "the best society."

True, it was whispered that he was rather fast, that he played heavily
and a trifle too successfully, and that he lived the life of anything
but a saint at his luxurious rooms. "But then," continued society,
openly and complacently, "he is so fine-looking, so courtly and
polished, so well connected, and what is still more to the point, my
dear, he is reputed to be immensely wealthy, so we must not heed these
rumors. After all, it is the way of these young men of the world."

Thus "the best society" that would have politely frozen out of its
parlors the Chevalier Bayard, _sans peur et sans reproche_, had he not
appeared in the latest style, with golden fame rather than golden
spurs, welcomed Mr. Van Dam. Indeed, not a few forced exotic belles,
who had prematurely developed in the hothouse atmosphere of wealth and
extravagance, regarded him as a sort of social lion; and his
reticence, with a certain mystery in which he shrouded his evil life,
made him all the more fascinating. He was past the prime of life,
though exceedingly well preserved, for he was one of those cool,
deliberate votaries of pleasure that reduce amusement to a science,
and carefully shun all injurious excess. While exceedingly deferential
toward the sex in general, and bestowing compliments and attentions as
adroitly as a financier would place his money, he at the same time
permitted the impression to grow that he was extremely fastidious in
his taste, and had never married because it had never been his fortune
to meet the faultless being who could satisfy his exacting eyes. Any
special and continued admiration on his part therefore made its
recipient an object of distinction and envy to very many in the unreal
world in which he glided serpent-like, rather than moved as a man. To
morbid minds his rumored evil deeds became piquant eccentricities, and
the whispers of the oriental orgies that were said to take place in
his bachelor apartments made him an object of a curious interest, and
many sighed for the opportunity of reforming so distinguished a
sybarite.

On Edith's entrance into society he had been much impressed by her
beauty, and had gradually grown quite attentive, equally attracted by
her father's wealth. But she, though with no clear perception of his
character, and with no higher moral standard than that of her set,
instinctively shrank from the man. Indeed, in some respects, they were
too much alike for that mysterious attraction that so often occurs
between opposites. Not that she had his unnatural depravity, but like
him she was shrewd, practical, resolute, and was controlled by her
judgment rather than by her impulses. Her vanity, of which she had no
little share, led her to accept his attentions to a certain point, but
the keen man of the world soon saw that his "little game," as in his
own vernacular he styled it, would not be successful, and he was the
last one to sigh in vain or mope an hour in lovelorn melancholy. While
ceasing to press his suit, he continued to be a frequent and familiar
visitor at the house, and thus his attention was drawn to Zell, who,
though young, had developed early in the stimulating atmosphere in
which she lived. At first he petted and played with ner as a child, as
she wilfully flitted in and out of the parlors, whether her sisters
wanted her or not. He continually brought her _bon-bons_ and like
fanciful trifles, till at last, in jest, the family called him Zell's
"ancient beau."

But during the past year it had dawned on him that the child he petted
on account of her beauty and sprightliness, was rapidly becoming a
brilliant woman, who would make a wife far more to his taste than her
equally beautiful but matter-of-fact sister. Therefore he warily, so
as not to alarm the jealous father, but with all the subtle skill of
which he was master, sought to win her affections, knowing that she
would have her own way when she knew what way she wanted.

For Zell this unscrupulous man had a peculiar fascination. He petted
and flattered her to her heart's content, and thus made her the envy
of her young acquaintances, which was incense indeed to her vain
little soul. He never lectured or preached to her on account of her
follies and nonsense, as her elderly friends usually did, but gave to
her wild, impulsive moods free rein. Where a true friend would have
cautioned and curbed, he applauded and incited, causing Zell to
mistake extravagance in language and boldness in manner for spirit and
brilliancy. Laura and Edith often remonstrated with her, but she did
not heed them. Indeed, she feared no one save her father, and Mr. Van
Dam was propriety itself when he was present, which was but seldom.
What with his business, and club, and Mrs. Allen's nerves, the girls
were left mainly to themselves.

What wonder that there are so many shipwrecks, when young, heedless,
inexperienced hands must steer, unguided, through the most perilous
and treacherous of seas?

Mr. Allen's elegant, costly home was literally an unguarded fold, many
a laborer, living in a tenement house, doing more to shield his
daughters from the evil of the world.

To Mr. Van Dam, Zell was a perfect prize. Though he had sipped at the
cup of pleasure so leisurely and systematically, he was getting down
to the dregs. His taste was becoming palled, and satiety was burdening
him with its leaden weight. But as the child he petted developed daily
toward womanhood, he became interested, then fascinated by the
process. Her beauty was so brilliant, her excessive sprightliness so
contagious, that he felt his sluggish pulses stir and tingle with
excitement the moment he came into her presence. Her wild, varying
moods kept him constantly on the _qui vive_, and he would say in
confidence to one of his intimate cronies:

"The point is, Hal, she is such a spicy, piquant contrast to the
insipid society girls, who have no more individuality than fashion
blocks in Broadway windows."

He liked the kittenish young creature all the more because her
repartee was often a little cutting. If she had always struck him with
a velvet paw, the thing would have grown monotonous, but he
occasionally got a scratch that made him wince, cool and brazen as he
was. But, after all, he daily saw that he was gaining power over her,
and the manner in which the frank-hearted girl took his arm and leaned
upon it spoke volumes to the experienced man. While he habitually wore
a mask, Zell could conceal nothing, and across her April face flitted
her innermost thoughts.

If she had had a _mother_, she might, even in the wilderness of earth,
have become a blossom fit for heavenly gardens, but as it was, her
wayward nature, so full of dangerous beauty, was left to run wild.

Edith was beginning to be troubled at Zell's intimacy with Mr. Van
Dam, and to conceive a growing dislike for him mingled with suspicion.
As for Laura, the eldest, she was like her mother, too much wrapped up
in herself to have many thoughts for any one else, and they all
regarded Zell as a mere child still. Mr. Allen, who would have been
very anxious had Zell been receiving the attentions of some penniless
young clerk or artist, laughed at her "flirtation with old Van Dam" as
an eminently safe proceeding.

But on the present evening her sisters were too much occupied with
their own friends to give Zell or her dangerous admirer much
attention. As yet no formal engagement had bound any of them, but an
intimacy and mutual liking, tending to such a result, was rapidly
growing.

In Edith's case the attraction of contrasts was again shown. Augustus
Elliot, the youth who had approached her with such confidence and
grace, was quite as stylish a personage as herself, and that was
saying a great deal. But every line of his full handsome face, as well
as the expression of his light blue eyes, showed that he had less
decision in the whole of his luxurious nature than she in her little
finger. Self-indulgence and good-natured vanity were unmistakably his
characteristics. To yield, not for the good of others, but because not
strong enough to stand sturdily alone, was the law of his being. If he
could ever have been kept under the influence of good and stronger
natures, who would have developed his naturally kind heart and good
impulses into something like principle, he might have had a safe and
creditable career. But he was the idol of a foolish, fashionable
mother, and the pet of two or three sisters who were empty-brained
enough to think their handsome brother the perfection of mankind; and
by eye, manner, and often the plainest words, they told him as much,
and he had at last come to believe them. Why should they not? He was
faultless in his own dress, faultless in his criticism of a lady's
dress, taking the prevailing fashion as the standard. He was perfectly
versed in the polite slang of the day. He scented afar off and
announced the slightest change in the mode, so that his elegant
sisters could appear on the avenue in advance of the other fashion-plates. As they sailed away on a sunny afternoon in their gorgeous
plumage, the envy of many a competing belle, they would say:

"Isn't he a duck of a brother to give us a hint of a change so early?
After all there is no eye or taste like that of man when once
perfected."

And then they knew him to be equally _au fait_ on the flavor of wines,
the points of horses, the merits of every watering-place, and all the
other lore which in their world gave pre-eminence. They had been
educated to have no other ideal of manhood, and if an earnest,
straight forward man, with a purpose, had spoken out before them, they
would have regarded him as an uncouth monster.

Notwithstanding all his vanity, "Gus," as he was familiarly called,
was a very weak man, and though he would not acknowledge it, even to
himself, instinctively recognized the fact. He continually attached
himself to strong, resolute natures, by whom, if they were adroit, he
could easily be made a tool of. He took a great fancy to Edith from
the first hour of their acquaintance, and she soon obtained a strong
influence over him. She instinctively detected his yielding
disposition, and liked him the better for it, while his good-nature
and abundant supply of society talk made him a general favorite.

When every one whispered, "What a handsome couple they would make!"
and she found him so looked up to and quoted in the fashionable world,
she began to entertain quite an admiration as well as liking for him,
though she saw more and more clearly that there was nothing in him
that she could lean upon.

Gus's parents, who knew that the Allens were immensely wealthy, urged
on the match, but Mr. Allen, aware that the Elliots were living to the
extent of their means, discouraged it, plainly telling Edith his
reasons.

"But," said Edith, at the same time showing her heart in the practical
suggestion, "could not Gus go into business himself?"

"The worst thing he could do," said the keen Mr. Allen. "He has tried
it a few times, I have learned, but has not one business
qualification. He could not keep himself in toothpicks. His mother and
sisters have spoiled him. He is nothing but a society man. Mr. Elliot
has not a word to say at home. His business is to make money for them
to spend, and a tough time he has to keep up with them. You girls must
marry men who can take care of you, unless you wish to support your
husbands."

Mr. Allen's verdict was true, and Edith felt that it was. When a boy,
Gus could get out of lessons by running to his mother with a plea of
headache or any trifle, and in youth he had escaped business in like
manner. His father had tried him a few times in his office, but was
soon glad to fall in with his wife's opinion, that _her_ son "had
too much spirit and refinement for plodding humdrum business, that he
was a born gentleman and suited only to elegant leisure," and as his
gentleman son only did mischief downtown, the poor over-worked father
was glad to have him out of the way, for he with difficulty made both
ends meet, as it was. Hoping he would do better with strangers, he
had, by personal influence, procured him situations elsewhere, but
between the mother's weakness and the young man's confirmed habits of
idleness, it always ended by Gus saying to his employers:

"I'm going of on a little trip--by-by," at which they gave a sigh of
relief. It had at last become a recognized fact that Gus must marry an
heiress, this being about the only way for so fine a gentleman to
achieve the fortune that he could not stoop to toil for. As he admired
himself complacently in the gilded mirror that ornamented his
dressing-room, he felt that a wise selection would be his only
difficulty, and though an heiress is something of a _rara avis_,
he sternly resolved to cage one with such heavy golden plumage that
even his mother, whom no one satisfied save himself, would give a sigh
of perfect content. When at last he met Edith Allen, it seemed as if
inclination might happily blend with his lofty sense of duty, and he
soon became Edith's devoted and favored attendant. And yet, as we have
seen, our heroine was not the sentimental style of girl that falls
hopelessly and helplessly in love with a man for some occult reason,
not even known to herself, and who mopes and pines till she is
permitted to marry him, be he fool, villain, or saint. Edith was fully
capable of appreciating and weighing her father's words, and under
their influence nearly decided to chill her handsome but helpless
admirer into a mere passing acquaintance; but when he next appeared
before her in his uniform, as an officer in one of the "crack" city
regiments, her eyes, taste, and vanity, and somehow her heart, so
pleaded for him that, so far from being an icicle, she smiled on him
like a July sun.

But whenever he sought to press his suit into something definite, she
evaded and shunned the point, as only a feminine diplomatist can. In
fact, Gus, on account of his vanity, was not a very urgent suitor, as
the idea of final refusal was preposterous. He regarded himself as
virtually accepted already. Meanwhile Edith for once in her life was
playing the role of Micawber, and "waiting for something to turn up."
And something had, for this trip to Europe would put time and space
between them, and gently cure both of their folly, as she deemed it.
Folly! She did not realize that Gus regarded himself as acting on
sound business principles and a strong sense of duty, as well as
obeying the impulses of what heart he had. The sweet approval of
conscience and judgment attended his action, while both condemned her.

As Gus approached this evening, she felt a pang of commiseration that
not only were they separated by her father's and her own disapproval,
but that soon the briny ocean would also be between them, and she was
unusually kind. She decided to play with her poor little mouse till
the last, and then let absence remedy all. Her mind was quick, if not
very profound.

As Mr. Goulden leaned across the corner of the piano, and paid the
blushing Laura some delicate compliments, one could not but think of
an adroit financier, skilfully placing some money. There was nothing
ardent, nothing incoherent and lover-like, in his carefully modulated
tones, and nicely selected words that meant much or little, as he
might afterward decide. Mr. Goulden always knew what he was about, as
truly in a lady's boudoir as in Wall Street. The stately, elegant
Laura suited his tastes; her father's financial status _had_ suited
him also. But he, who through his agents knew all that was going on in
Wall Street, was aware that Mr. Allen had engaged in a very heavy
speculation, which, though promising well at the time, might, by some
unexpected turn of the wheel, wear a very different aspect. He would
see the game through before proceeding with his own, and in the
meantime, by judicious attention, hold Laura well in hand.

In that brilliantly lighted parlor none of these currents and counter
currents were apparent on the surface. That was like the ripple and
sparkle of a summer sea in the sunlight. Every year teaches us
something of what is hidden under the fair but treacherous seeming of
life.

The young ladies were now satisfied with the company they had, and the
gentlemen, as can well be understood, wished no further additions.
Therefore they agreed to retire to the library for a game of cards.

"Hannibal," said Edith, summoning the portentous colored butler who
presided over the front door and dining-room, "if any one calls, say
we are out or engaged."

That solemn dignitary bowed as low as his stiff white collar would
permit, but soliloquized:

"I guess I is sumpen too black to tell a white lie, so I'se say dey is
engaged."

As the ladies swept away, leaning heavily on the arms of their favored
gallants, he added, with a slight grin illumining the gravity of his
face, "It looks mighty like it."



CHAPTER IV

THE SKIES DARKENING



The game of cards fared indifferently, for they were all too intent on
little games of their own to give close attention. Mr. Van Dam won
when he chose, and gave the game away when he chose, but made Zell
think the skill was mainly hers.

Still, in common parlance, they had a "good time." From such clever
men the jests and compliments were rather better than the average, and
repartee from the ruby lips that smiled upon them could not seem other
than brilliant.

Edith soon added to the sources of enjoyment by ordering cake and
wine, for though not the eldest she seemed naturally to take the lead.

Mr. Goulden drank sparingly. He meant that not a film should come
across his judgment. Mr. Van Dam drank freely, but he was seasoned to
more fiery potations than sherry. Not so poor Gus, who, while he could
never resist the wine, soon felt its influence. But he had sufficient
control never to go beyond the point of tipsiness that fashion allows
in the drawing-room.

Of course through Zell's unrestrained chatter the recently made plans
soon came out.

Adroit Mr. Van Dam turned to Zell with an expression of much pleased
surprise, exclaiming:

"How fortunate I am! I had completed my plans to go abroad some little
time since."

Zell clapped her hands with delight, but an involuntary shadow
darkened. Edith's face.

Gus looked nonplussed. He knew that his father and mother with
difficulty kept pace with his home expenses and that a Continental
tour was impossible for him. Mr. Goulden looked a little thoughtful,
as if a new element had entered into the problem.

"Oh, come," laughed Zell. "Let us all be good, and go on a pilgrimage
together to Paris--I mean Jerusalem."

"I will worship devoutly with you at either shrine," said Mr. Van Dam.

"And with equal sincerity, I suppose," said Edith, rather coldly.

"I sadly fear, Miss Edith, that my sincerity will not be superior to
that of the other devotees," was the keen retort, in blandest tones.

Edith bit her lip, but said gayly, "Count me out of your pilgrim band.
I want no shrine with relics of the past. I wish no incense rising
about me obscuring the view. I like the present, and wish to see what
is beyond."

"But suppose you are both shrine and divinity yourself?" said Gus,
with what he meant for a killing look.

"Do you mean that compliment for me?" asked Edith, all sweetness.

Between wine and love Gus was inclined to be sentimental, and so in a
low, meaning tone answered:

"Who more deserving?"

Edith's eyes twinkled a moment, but with a half sigh she replied:

"I fear you read my character rightly. A shrine suggests many
offerings, and a divinity many worshippers."

Zell laughed outright, and said, "In that respect all women would be
shrines and divinities if they could."

Van Dam and Goulden could not suppress a smile at the unfortunate
issue of Elliot's sentiment, while the latter glanced keenly to see
how much truth was hinted in the badinage.

"For my part," said Laura, looking fixedly at nothing, "I would rather
have one true devotee than a thousand pilgrims who were _gushing_ at
every shrine they met."

"Brava!" cried Mr. Goulden. "That was the keenest arrow yet flown;"
for the other two men were notorious flirts.

"I do not think so. Its point was much too broad," said Zell, with a
meaning look at Mr. Goulden, that brought a faint color into his
imperturbable face, and an angry flush to Laura's.

A disconcerted manner had shown that even Gus's vanity had not been
impervious to Edith's barb, but he had now recovered himself, and
ventured again:

"I would have my divinity a patron saint sufficiently human to pity
human weakness, and so come at last to listen to no other prayer than
mine."

"Surely, Mr. Elliot, you would wish your saint to listen for some
other reason than your weakness only," said Edith.

"Come, ladies and gentlemen, I move this party breaks up, or some one
will get hurt," said Gus, with a half-vexed laugh.

"What is the matter?" asked Edith innocently.

"Yes," echoed Zell, rising, "what is the matter with _you_, Mr. Van
Dam? Are you asleep, that you are so quiet? Tell us about your
divinity."

"I am an astronomer and fire-worshipper, somewhat dazzled at present
by the nearness and brilliancy of my bright luminary."

"Nonsense! your sight is failing, and you have mistaken a will-o'-the-wisp for the sun.

"'Dancing here, dancing there, Catch it if you can and dare,'"
and she flitted away before him.

He followed with his intent eyes and graceful, serpent-like gliding,
knowing her to be under a spell that would soon bring her fluttering
back.

After circling round him a few moments she took his arm and he
commenced breathing into her ear the poison of his passion.

No woman could remain the same after being with Mr. Van Dam. Out of
the evil abundance of his heart he spoke, but the venom of his words
and manner were all the more deadly because so subtle, so minutely and
delicately distributed, that it was like a pestilential atmosphere, in
which truth and purity withered.

No parent should permit to his daughters the companionship of a
thoroughly bad man, whatever his social standing. His very tone and
glance are unconsciously demoralizing, and, even if he tries, he
cannot prevent the bitter waters overflowing from their bad source,
his heart.

Mr. Van Dam did not try. He meant to secure Zell, with or without her
father's approval, believing that when the marriage was once
consummated Mr. Allen's consent and money would follow eventually.

For some little time longer the young ladies and their favored
attendants strolled about the room in quiet tete-a-tete, and then the
gentlemen bowed themselves out.

The door-bell had rung several times during the evening, but Hannibal,
with the solemnity of a funeral, had quenched each comer by saying
with the decision of the voice of fate:

"De ladies am engaged, sah," and no Cerberus at the door, or mailed
warder of the middle ages, could have proved such an effectual barrier
against all intruders as this old negro in his white waistcoat and
stiff necktie, backed by the usage of modern society. Indeed, in some
respects he was a greater potentate than old King Canute, for he could
say to the human passions, inclinations, and desires that surged up to
Mr. Allen's front door, "Thus far and no farther."

But upon this evening there was a caller who looked with cool,
undaunted eyes upon the stiff necktie and solemn visage rising above
it, and to Hannibal's reiterated statement, "Dey _am_ engaged,"
replied in a quiet tone of command:

"Take that card to Miss Edith."

Even Hannibal's sovereignty broke down before this persistent,
imperturbable visitor, and scratching his head with a perplexed grin
he half soliloquized, half replied:

"Miss Edith mighty 'ticlar to hab her orders obeyed."

"I am the best judge in this case," was the decisive response. "You
take the card and I will be responsible."

Hannibal came to the conclusion that for some occult reason the
gentleman, who was well known to him, had a right to pronounce the
"open sesame" where the portal had been remained closed to all others,
and, being a diplomatist, resolved to know more fully the quarter of
the wind before assuming too much. But his statecraft was sorely
puzzled to know why one of Mr. Allen's under-clerks should suddenly
appear in the role of social caller upon the young ladies, for Mr.
Fox, the gentleman in question, ostensibly had no higher position. His
appearance and manner indicated a mystery. Old Hannibal's wool had not
grown white for nothing, and he was the last man in the world to go
through a mystery as a blundering bumblebee would through a spider's
web. He was for leaving the web all intact till he knew who spun it
and whom it was to catch. If it was Mr. Allen's work or Miss Edith's,
it _must_ stand; if not, he could play bumblebee with a vengeance, and
carry off the gossamer of intrigue with one sweep.

So, showing Mr. Fox into a small reception room, he made his way to
the library door with a motion that would have reminded you of a
great, stealthy cat, and called in a loud, impressive whisper:

"Miss Edith!"

Edith at once rose and went to him, knowing that her prime minister
had some important question of state to present when summoning her in
that tone.

Screened by the library door, Hannibal commenced in a deprecating way:

"I told Mr. Fox you'se engaged, but he say I must give you dis card.
He kinder acted as if he own dis niggar and de whole establishment."

A sudden heavy frown drew Edith's dark eyebrows together and she said
loud enough for Mr. Fox in his ambush to hear:

"Was there ever such impudence!" and straightway the frown passed to
the listener, intensified, like a flying cloud darkening one spot now
and another a moment later.

"Return the card, and say I am engaged," she said haughtily. "Stay,"
she added thoughtfully. "Perhaps he wished to see papa, or there is
some important business matter which needs immediate attention. If
not, dismiss him," and Edith returned to the library quite as much
puzzled as Hannibal had been. Two or three times recently she had
found Mr. Fox's card on returning from evenings out. Why had he
called? She had only a cool, bowing acquaintance with him, formed by
his coming occasionally to see her father on business, and her father
had not thought it worth while to formally introduce Mr. Fox to any of
his family at such times, but had treated him as a sort of upper
servant. Her certainly was putting on strange airs, as her old grand-vizier had intimated. But in the game of cards, and her other little
game with Grus, she soon forgot his existence.

Meantime Hannibal, reassured, was regal again, and marched down the
marble hall with something like the feeling and bearing of his great
namesake. If there were a web here, the Allens were not spinning it,
and he owed. Mr. Fox nothing but a slight grudge for his "airs."

Therefore with the manner of one feeling himself master of the
situation he said:

"Hab you a message for Mr. Allen?"

"No," replied Mr. Fox quietly.

"Den I tell you again Miss Edith _am_ engaged."

Looking straight into Hannibal's eyes, without a muscle changing in
his impassive face, Mr. Fox said in the steady tone of command:

"Say to Miss Edith I will call again," and he passed out of the door
as if _he_ were master of the situation.

Hannibal rolled up his eyes till nothing but the whites were seen, and
muttered:

"Brass ain't no name for it."

Mr. Fox's action can soon be explained. Mr. Allen, while accustomed to
operate largely in Wall Street through his brokers, was also the head
of a cloth-importing firm. This in fact had been his regular and
legitimate business, but like so many others he had been drawn into
the vortex of speculation, and after many lucky hits had acquired that
overweening confidence that prepares the way for a fall. He came to
believe that he had only to put his hand to a thing to give it the
needful impulse to success. In his larger and more exciting operations
in Wall Street he had left the cloth business mainly to his junior
partners and dependants, they employing his capital. Mr. Fox was
merely a clerk in this establishment, and not in very high standing
either. He was also another unwholesome product of metropolitan life.
As office boy among the lawyers, as a hanger-on of the criminal
courts, he had scrambled into a certain kind of legal knowledge and
had gained a small pettifogging practice when an opening in Mr.
Allen's business led to his present connection. Mr. Allen felt that in
his varied and extended business he needed a man of Mr. Fox's stamp to
deal with the legal questions that came up, look after the intricacies
of the revenue laws, and manage the immaculate saints of the custom-house. As far as the firm had dirty, disagreeable, perplexing work to
do, Mr. Fox was to do it. Whenever it came in contact with the majesty
of the law and government, Mr. Fox was to represent it. Whenever some
Israelite in whom _was_ guile sought, on varied pretext, to wriggle
out of the whole or part of a bill, the wary Mr. Fox met him on his
own plane and with his own weapons, skirmished with him, and won the
little fight.

I would not for a moment give the impression that Mr. Allen was in
favor of sharp practice. He merely wished to conduct his business on
the business principles and practice of the day, and it was not his
purpose, and certainly not his policy, to pass beyond the law. But
even the judges disagree as to what the law is, and he was dealing
with many who thrived by evading it; therefore the need of a nimble
Mr. Fox who could burrow and double on his tracks with the best of
them. All went well for years, and the firm was saved many an
annoyance, many a loss, and if this guerilla of the house, as perhaps
we may term him, had been as devoted to Mr. Allen's interests as to
his own, all might have gone well to the end. But these very sharp
tools are apt to cut both ways, and so it turned out in this case. The
astute Mr. Fox determined to serve Mr. Allen faithfully as long as he
could faithfully and pre-eminently serve himself. If he who had
scrambled from the streets to his present place of power could reach a
higher position by stepping on the great rich merchant, such power
would have additional satisfaction. He was as keen-scented after money
as Mr. Allen, only the latter hunted like a lion, and the former like
a fox. He mastered Mr. Allen's business thoroughly in all its details.
Until recently no opportunity had occurred save work which, though
useful, caused him to be half-despised by the others who would not or
could not do it. But of late he had gained a strong vantage point. He
watched with intense interest Mr. Allen's attraction toward, and
entrance upon, a speculation that he knew to be as uncertain of issue
as it was large in proportions, for, if the case ever became critical,
he was conscious of the power of introducing a very important element
into the problem.

In his care of the custom-house business he had discovered technical
violations of the revenue laws which already involved the loss to the
firm of a million dollars, and, with his peculiar loyalty to himself,
thought this knowledge ought to be worth a great deal. As Mr. Allen
went down into the deep waters of Wall Street, he saw that it might
be. In saving his employer from wreck he might virtually become
captain of the ship.

After this brief delineation of character, it would strike the reader
as very incongruous to say that Mr. Fox had fallen in love with Edith.
Mr. Fox never stumbled or fell. He could slide down and scramble up to
any extent, and when cornered could take a flying leap like that of a
cat. But he had been greatly impressed by Edith's beauty, and to win
her also would be an additional and piquant feature in the game. He
had absolute confidence in money, much of which he might have gained
from Mr. Allen himself. He knew a million of her father's money was in
his power, and this, in a certain sense, placed him in the position of
a suitor worth a million, and such he knew to be almost omnipotent on
the avenue. If this money could also be the means of causing Mr.
Allen's ruin, or saving him from it, he believed that Edith would be
his as truly as the bonds and certificates of stock that he often
counted and gloated over. Even before Mr. Allen entered on what he
called his great and final operation for the present, Mr. Fox was half
inclined to show his hand and make the most of it, but within the last
few days he had learned that perhaps a greater opportunity was opening
before him. Meantime in the full consciousness of power he had begun
to call on Edith, as we have seen, something as a cat plays around and
watches a caged bird, which it expects to have in its claws before
long.

The next morning at breakfast Edith mentioned Mr. Fox's recent calls.

"What is he coming here for?" growled Mr. Allen, looking with a frown
at his daughter.

"I'm sure I don't know."

"I hope you don't see him."

"Certainly not. I was out the first two times, and last night sent
word that I was engaged. But he insisted on his card being given to me
and put on airs generally, so Hannibal seems to think."

That dignitary gave a confirming and indignant grunt.

"He said he would call again, didn't he, Hannibal?"

"Yes'm," blurted Hannibal, "and he looked as if de next time he'd put
us all in his breeches pocket and carry us off."

"What's Fox up to now?" muttered Mr. Allen, knitting his brows. "I
must look into this."

But even within a few hours the cloud land of Wall Street had changed
some of its aspects. The serenity of the preceding day was giving
place to indications of a disturbance in the financial atmosphere. He
had to buy more stock to keep the control he was gaining on the
market, and things were not shaping favorably for its rise. He was
already carrying a tremendous load, and even his herculean shoulders
began to feel the burden. In the press and rush of business he forgot
about Fox's social ambition in venturing to call where such men as Van
Dam and Gus Elliot had undisputed rights.

Those upon whom society lays its hands are orthodox of course.

The wary Fox was watching the stock market as closely as Mr. Allen,
and chuckled over the aspect of affairs; and he concluded to keep
quietly out of the way a little longer, and await further
developments.

Things moved rapidly as they usually do in the maelstrom of
speculation. Though Mr. Allen was a trained athlete in business, the
strain upon him grew greater day by day. But true to his promise, and
in accordance with his habit of promptness, he transferred the deed
for the little place in the country to Edith, who gloated over its dry
technicalities as if they were full of romantic hope and suggestion to
her.

One day when alone with Laura, Mr. Allen asked her suddenly:

"Has Mr. Goulden made any formal proposal yet?"

With rising color Laura answered:

"No."

"Why not? He seems very slow about it."

"I hardly know how you expect me to reply to such a question," said
Laura, a little haughtily.

"Is he as attentive as ever?"

"Yes, I suppose so, though he has not called quite so often of late."

"Humph!" ejaculated Mr. Allen meditatively, adding after a moment,
"Can't you make him speak out?"

"You certainly don't mean me to propose to him?" asked Laura,
reddening.

"No, no, no!" said her father with some irritation, "but any clever
woman can make a man who has gone as far as Mr. Goulden commit himself
whenever she chooses. Your mother would have had the thing settled
long ago, or else would have enjoyed the pleasure of refusing him."

"I am not mistress of that kind of finesse," said Laura coldly.

"You are a woman," replied her father coolly, "and don't need any
lessons. It would be well for us both if you would exert your native
power in this case."

Laura glanced keenly at her father and asked quickly:

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I say. A word to the wise is sufficient."

Having thus indicated to his daughter that phase of Wall Street
tactics and principles that could be developed on the avenue, he took
himself off to the central point of operations.



CHAPTER V

THE STORM THREATENING



Laura had a better motive than that suggested by her father for
wishing to lead Mr. Goulden to commit himself, for as far as she could
love any one beyond herself she loved him, and she also realized fully
that he could continue to her all that her elegant and expensive
tastes craved. Notwithstanding her show of maidenly pride and reserve,
she was ready enough to do as she had been bidden. Mr. Allen guessed
as much. Indeed, as was quite natural, his wife was the type of the
average woman to his mind, only he believed that she was a little
cleverer in these matters than the majority. The manner in which she
had "hooked" him made a deep and lasting impression on his memory.

But Mr. Goulden was a wary fish. He had no objection to being hooked
if the conditions were all right, and until satisfied as to these he
would play around at a safe distance. As he saw Mr. Allen daily
getting into deeper water, he grew more cautious. His calls were not
quite so frequent. He managed never to be with Laura except in company
with others, and while his manner was very complimentary it was never
exactly lover-like. Therefore, all Laura's feminine diplomacy was in
vain, and that which a woman can say frankly the moment a man speaks,
she could scarcely hint. Moreover, Mr. Goulden was adroit enough to
chill her heart while he flattered her vanity. There was something
about his manner she could not understand, but it was impossible to
take offence at the polished gentleman.

Her father understood him better. He saw that Mr. Goulden had resolved
to settle the question on financial principles only.

As the chances diminished of securing him indirectly through Laura as
a prop to his tottering fortunes, he at last came to the conclusion to
try to interest him directly in his speculation, feeling sure if he
could control only a part of Mr. Goulden's large means and credit, he
could carry his operation through successfully.

Mr. Goulden warily listened to the scheme, warily weighed it, and
concluded within the brief compass of Mr. Allen's explanation to have
nothing to do with it. But his outward manner was all deference and
courteous attention.

At the end of Mr. Allen's rather eager and rose-colored statements, he
replied in politest and most regretful tones that he "was very sorry
he could not avail himself of so promising an opening, but in fact, he
was 'in deep' himself--carrying all he could stand up under very well,
and was rather in the borrowing than in the lending line at present."

Keen Mr. Allen saw through all this in a moment, and his face flushed
angrily in spite of his efforts at self-control. Muttering something
to the effect:

"I thought I would give you a chance to make a good thing," he bade a
rather abrupt "good-morning."

As the pressure grew heavier upon him he was led to do a thing the
suggestion of which a few weeks previously he would have regarded as
an insult. Mrs. Allen had a snug little property of her own, which had
been secured to her on first mortgages, and in bonds that were quiet
and safe. These her husband held in trust for her, and now pledged
them as collateral on which to borrow money to carry through his
gigantic operation. In respect to part of this transaction, Mrs. Allen
was obliged to sign a paper which might have revealed to her the
danger involved, but she languidly took the pen, yawned, and signed
away the result of her father's long years of toil without reading a
line.

"There," she said, "I hope you will not bother me about business
again. Now in regard to this party--" and she was about to enter into
an eager discussion of all the complicated details, when her husband,
interrupting, said:

"Another time, my dear--I am very much pressed by business at
present."

"Oh, business, nothing but business," whined his wife. "You never have
time to attend to me or your family."

But Mr. Allen was out of hearing of the querulous tones before the
sentence was finished.

Of course he never meant that his wife should lose a cent, and to
satisfy his conscience, and impressed by his danger, he resolved that
as soon as he was out of this quaking morass of speculation he would
settle on his wife and each daughter enough to secure them in wealth
through life, and arrange it in such a way that no one could touch the
principal.

The large sum that he now secured eased up matters and helped him
greatly, and affairs began to wear a brightening aspect. He felt sure
that the stock he had invested in was destined to rise in time, and
indeed it already gave evidences of buoyancy. He noticed with an
inward chuckle that Mr. Goulden began to call a little oftener. He was
the best financial barometer in Wall Street.

But the case would require the most adroit and delicate management for
weeks still, and this Mr. Allen could have given. Success also
depended on a favorable state of the money market, and a good degree
of stability and quietness throughout the financial world. Political
changes in Europe, a war in Asia, heavy failures in Liverpool, London,
or Paris, might easily spoil all. Reducing Mr. Allen's vast
complicated operation to its final analysis, he had simply bet several
millions--all he had--that nothing would happen throughout the world
that could interfere with a scheme so problematical that the chances
could scarcely be called even.

But gambling is occasionally successful, and it began to look as if
Mr. Allen would win his bet; and so he might had nothing happened. The
world was quiet enough, remarkably quiet, considering the
superabundance of explosive elements everywhere.

The financial centres seethed on as usual, like a witch's caldron, but
there were no infernal ebullitions in the form of "Black Fridays." The
storm that threatened to wreck Mr. Allen was no wide, sweeping
tempest, but rather one of those little local whirlwinds that
sometimes in the west destroy a farm or township.

For the last few weeks Mr. Fox had quietly watched the game, matured
his plans, and secured his proof in the best legal form. He now
concluded it was time to act, as he believed Mr. Allen to be in his
power. So one morning he coolly walked into that gentleman's office,
closed the door, and took a seat. Mr. Allen looked up with an
expression of surprise and annoyance on his face. He instinctively
disliked Mr. Fox, as a lion might be irritated by a cat, and the
instinctive enmity was all the stronger because of a certain family
likeness. But Mr. Allen's astuteness had nothing mean or cringing in
it, while Mr. Fox heretofore had been a sort of Uriah Heep to him.
Therefore his surprise and annoyance at his new role of cool
confidence.

"Well, sir," said he, rather impatiently, returning to his writing, as
a broad hint that communications must be brief if made at all.

"Mr. Allen," said Mr. Fox, in that clear-cut, decisive tone, that
betokens resolute purpose, and a little anger also "I must request you
to give me your undivided attention for a little time, and surely what
I am about to say is important enough to make it worth the while."

Though Mr. Allen flushed angrily, he knew that his clerk would not
employ such a tone and manner without reason, so he raised his head
and looked steadily at his unwelcome visitor and again said briefly:

"Well, sir?"

"I wish, in the first place," said Mr. Fox, thinking to begin with the
least important exaction, and gradually reach, a climax in his
extortion, "I wish permission to pay my addresses to your daughter
Miss Edith."

Knowing nothing of a father's pride and affection, he had unwittingly
brought in the climax first.

The angry flush deepened on Mr. Allen's face, but he still managed to
control himself, and to remember that the father of three pretty
daughters must expect some scenes like these, and that the only thing
to do was to get rid of the objectionable suitors as civilly as
possible. He was also too much of an American to put on any of the
high-stepping airs of the European aristocracy. Here it is simply one
sovereign proposing for the daughter of another, and generally the
young people practically arrange it all before asking any consent in
the case. After all, Mr. Fox had only paid his daughter the highest
compliment in his power, and if any other of his clerks had made a
similar request he would probably have given as kind and delicate a
refusal as possible. It was because he disliked Mr. Fox, and
instinctively gauged his character, that he said with a short, dry
laugh:

"Come, Mr. Fox, you are forgetting yourself. You have been a useful
employe" in my store. If you feel that you should have more salary,
name what will satisfy you, and I will consult my partners, and try
and arrange it."--"There," thought he, "if he can't take that hint as
to his place, I shall have to give him a kick." But both surprise and
anger began to get the better of him when Mr. Fox replied:

"I must really beg your closer attention; I said nothing of increased
salary. You will soon see that is no object with me now. I asked your
permission to pay my addresses to your daughter."

"I decline to give it," said Mr. Allen, harshly, "and if I hear any
more of this nonsense I will discharge you from my employ."

"Why?" was the quiet response, yet spoken with the intensity of
passion.

"Because I never would permit my daughter to marry a man in your
circumstances, and, if you will have it, you are not the style of a
man I would wish to take into my family."

"If a man who was worth a million asked for your daughter's hand would
you answer him in this manner?"

"Perhaps not," said Mr. Allen, with another of his short, dry laughs,
which expressed little save irritation, "but you have my answer as
respects yourself."

"I am not so sure of that," was the bold retort. "I am practically
worth a million--indeed several millions to you, as you are now
situated. You have talked long enough in the dark, Mr. Allen. For some
time back there have been in your importations violations of the
revenue laws. I have only to give the facts in my possession to the
proper authorities and the government would legally claim from you a
million of dollars, of which I should get half. So you see that I am
positively worth five hundred thousand, and to you I am worth a
million with respect to this item alone."

Mr. Allen sprang excitedly to his feet. Mr. Fox coolly got up and
edged toward the door, which he had purposely left unlatched.

"Moreover," continued Mr. Fox, in his hard metallic voice, "in view of
your other operations in Wall Street, which I know all about, the loss
of a million would involve the loss of all you have."

Mr. Fox now had his hand on the door-knob, and Mr. Allen was glaring
at him as if purposing to rush upon him and rend him to pieces.

Standing in the passageway, Mr. Fox concluded, in a low, meaning tone:

"You had better make terms with me within twenty-four hours."

And the door closed sharply, reminding one of the shutting of a steel
trap.

Mr. Allen sank suddenly back in his chair and stared at the closed
door, looking as if he were a prisoner and all escape cut off.

He seemed to be in a lethargy or under a partial paralysis; he slowly
and weakly rubbed his head with his hand, as if vaguely conscious that
the trouble was there.

Gradually the stupor began to pass off, his blood to circulate, and
his mind to realize the situation.

Rising feebly, as if a sudden age had fallen, on him, he went to the
door and gave orders that he must not be disturbed, and then sat down
to think. Half an hour later he sent for his lawyer, stated the case
to him, enjoined secrecy, and asked him to see Fox, hoping that it
might be a case of mere blackmailing bravado. Keen as Mr. Allen's
lawyer was, he had more than his match in the astute Mr. Fox. Moreover
the latter had everything in his favor. There had been a slight
infringement of the revenue laws, and though involving but small loss
to the government, the consequences were the same. The invoice would
be confiscated as soon as the facts were known. Mr. Fox had secured
ample proof of this.

Mr. Allen might be able to prove that there was no intention to
violate the law, as indeed there had not been. In fact, he had left
those matters to his subordinates, and they had been a little
careless, averaging matters, contenting themselves with complying with
the general intent of the law, rather than, with painstaking care,
conforming to its letter. Bat the law is very matter-of-fact, and can
be excessively literal when money is to be made by those who live by
enforcing or evading it, as may suit them. Mr. Fox could carry his
case, if he pressed it, and secure his share of the plunder. On
account of a very slight loss, Mr. Allen might be compelled to lose a
million.

Before the day's decline the lawyer had asked Mr. Fox to take no
further steps, stating vaguely that Mr. Allen would look into the
matter, and would not be unreasonable.

A sardonic grin gave a momentary lurid hue to Mr. Fox's sallow face.
Knowing the game to be in his own hands, he could quietly bide his
time; so, assuming a tone of much moderation and dignity, he replied,
he had no wish to be hard, and could be reasonable also. "But," added
he, in a meaning tone, "there must be no double work in this matter.
Mr. Allen must see what I am worth to him--nothing could be plainer.
His best policy now is to act promptly and liberally toward me, for I
pledge you my word that if I see any disposition to evade my
requirements I will blow out the bottom of everything," and a snaky
glitter in his small black eyes showed how remorselessly he could
scuttle the ship bearing Mr. Allen's fortunes.

A speedy investigation showed Mr. Fox's fatal power, and Mr. Allen's
partners were for paying him off, but when they found that he exacted
an interest in the business that quite threw them into the background,
they were indignant and inclined to fight it out. Mr. Allen could not
tell them that he was in no condition to fight. If his financial
status had been the same as some weeks previously, he would rather
have lost the million than have listened one moment to Mr. Fox's
repulsive conditions, but now to risk litigation and commercial
reputation on one hand, and total ruin on the other, was an abyss from
which he shrank back appalled.

His only resource was to temporize, both with his partners and Mr.
Fox, and so gain time, hoping that the Wall Street scheme, that had
caused so much evil, might also cure it. Of course he could not tell
his partners how he was situated. The slightest breath of suspicion
might cause the evenly balanced scales in which hung all chances to
hopelessly decline. The speculation now promised well.

If he could only keep things quiet a little longer--

Edith must help him. Calling her into the library after dinner, he
asked:

"Has Mr. Fox called lately?"

"No, sir, not for some little time."

"Will you oblige me by seeing him and being civil if he calls again?"
"Why, papa, I thought you did not wish me to see him."

"Circumstances have altered since then. Is he very disagreeable to
you?"

"Well, papa, I have scarcely thought of him, but to tell you the truth
when he has been here on business I have involuntarily thought of a
mousing cat, or the animal he is named after on the scent of a hen-roost. But of course I can be civil or even polite to him if you wish
it."

A spasm of pain crossed her father's face and he put his hand hastily
to his head, a frequent act of late. He rose and took a few turns up
and down the room, muttering:

"Curse it all, I must tell her. Half knowledge is always dangerous,
and is sure to lead to blunders, and there must be no blunders now."

Stopping abruptly before his daughter, he said, "He has proposed for
your hand."

An expression of disgust flitted across Edith's face, and she replied
quickly:

"We both have surely but one answer to such a proposition from
_him_."

"Edith, you seem to have more sense in regard to business and such
matters than most young ladies. I must now test you, and it is for you
to show whether you are a woman or a shallow-brained girl. I am sorry
to tell you these things. They are not suited to your age or sex, but
there is no help for it," and he explained how he was situated.

Edith listened with paling cheek, dilating eyes, and parting lips, but
still with rising courage and a growing purpose to help her father.

"I do not wish you to marry this villain," he continued. "Heaven
forbid!" (Not that Mr. Allen referred this or any other matter to
Heaven; it was only a strong way of expressing his own disapproval.)
"But we must manage to temporize and keep this man at bay till I can
extricate myself from my difficulties. As soon as I stand on firm
ground I will defy him."

To Edith, with her standard of morality, the course indicated by her
father seemed eminently filial and praiseworthy. The thought of
marrying Mr. Fox made her flesh creep, but a brief flirtation was
another affair. She had flirted not a little in her day for the mere
amusement of the thing, and with the motives her father had presented
she could do it in this case as if it were an act of devotion. Of the
pure and lofty morality of the Bible she had as little idea as a
Persian houri, and rugged Roman virtue could not develop in the social
atmosphere in which the Allens lived. It was with a clear conscience
that she resolved to beguile Mr. Fox, and signified as much to her
father.

"Play him off," said this model father, "as Mr. Goulden does Laura.
Curse him!--how I would like to slam the front door in his face. But
my time may come yet," he added with set teeth.

That morning Mr. Allen sent for Mr. Fox, as he dared brave him no
longer without some definite show of yielding, in order to keep back
his fatal disclosures. With a dignity and formality scarcely in
keeping with his fear and the import of his words, he said:

"I have considered your statements, sir, and admit their weight. As I
informed you through my lawyer, I wish to be reasonable and hope you
intend to be the same, for these are very grave matters. In regard to
my daughter, you have my permission to call upon her as do her other
gentleman friends, and she will receive you. In this land, that is all
the vantage-ground a _gentleman_ asks, as indeed it is all that can be
granted. I am not the King of Dahomey or the Shah of Persia, and able
to give my daughters where interest may dictate. A lady's inclination
must be consulted. But I give you the permission you ask; you may pay
your addresses to my daughter. You could scarcely ask a father to say
more."

"It matters little to me what you or others say, but much what they
do. My action shall be based upon yours and Miss Edith's. I have
learned in your employ the value of promptness in all business
matters. I hope you understand me."

"I do, sir, but there can be no indecent haste in these matters. In
gaining the important position--in assuming the relations you desire--there should be some show of dignity, otherwise society would be
disgusted, and you would lose the respect which should follow such
vast acquirements."

"Where I can secure the whole cloth, I shall not worry about the
selvage of etiquette and passing opinion," was Mr. Fox's cynical
reply.

Mr. Allen could not prevent an expression of intense disgust from
coming out upon his face, and he replied with some heat:

"Well, sir, something is due to my own position, and I cannot treat my
daughter like a bale of cloth, as you suggest in your figurative
speech. However," he added, warily, "I will take the necessary steps
as soon as possible, and will trespass upon your time no longer."

As Mr. Fox glided out of the office with his sardonic smile, Mr. Allen
felt for the moment that he would rather become bankrupt than make
terms with him.

Meanwhile the month of February was rapidly passing, though each day
was an age of anxiety and suspense to Mr. Allen. The tension was too
much for him, and he evidently aged and failed under it. He drank more
than he ate, and his temper was very variable. From his wife he only
received chidings and complaints that in his horrid "mania for
business" he was neglecting her and his family in general. She could
never get him to sit down and talk sensibly of the birthday and debut
party that was now so near. He would always say, testily, "Manage it
to suit yourselves."

Laura and Zell were too much wrapped up in their own affairs to give
much thought to anything else. But Edith, of late, understood her
father and felt deeply for him. One evening finding him sitting
dejectedly alone in the library after dinner, she said:

"Why go on with this party, papa? I am sure I am ready to give it up
if it will be any relief to you."

The heart of this strong, confident man of the world was sore and
lonely. For perhaps the first time he felt the need of support and
sympathy. He drew his beautiful daughter, whom thus far he had
scarcely more than admired, down upon his lap and buried his face upon
her shoulder. A breath of divine impulse swept aside for a moment the
stifling curtains of his sordid life, and he caught a glimpse of the
large happy realm of love.

"And would you really give up anything for the sake of your old
father?" he asked in a low tone.

"Everything," cried Edith, much moved by the unusual display of
affection and feeling on the part of her father.

"The others would not," said he bitterly.

"Indeed, papa, I think they would if they only knew. We would all do
anything to see you your old jovial self again. Give up this wretched
struggle; tell Mr. Fox to do his worst. I am not afraid of being poor;
I am sure we could work up again."

"You know nothing about poverty," sighed her father. "When you are
down, the world that bowed at your feet will run over and trample on
you. I have seen it so often, but never thought of danger to me and
mine."

"But this party," said the practical Edith, "why not give this up? It
will cost a great deal."

"By no means give it up," said her father. "It may help me very much.
My credit is everything now. The appearance of wealth which such, a
display insures will do much to secure the wealth. I am watched day
and night, and must show no sign of weakness. Go on with the party and
make it as brilliant as possible. If I fail, two or three thousand
will make no difference, and it may help me to succeed. Whatever
strengthens my credit for the next few days is everything to me. My
stock is rising, only it is too slow. Things look better--if I could
only gain time. But I am very uneasy--my head troubles me," and he put
his hand to his head, and Edith remembered how often, she had seen him
do that of late.

"By the way," said he, abruptly, "tell me how you get on with Mr.
Fox."

"Oh, never mind about that now; do rest a little, mind and body."

"No, tell me," said her father sharply, showing how little control he
had over himself.

"Well, I think I have beaten him so far. He is very demonstrative, and
acts as if I belonged to him. Did I not manage to always meet him in
company with others, he would come at once to an open declaration. As
it is, I cannot prevent it much longer. He is coming this evening, and
I fear he will press matters. He seems to think that the asking is a
mere form, and that our extremity will leave no choice."

"You must avoid him a little longer. Come, we will go to the theatre,
and then you might be sick for a few days."

In a few minutes they were off, and were scarcely well away when Mr.
Fox, dressed in more style than he could carry gracefully, appeared.

"Miss Edith am out," said Hannibal loftily.

"I half believe you lie," muttered Mr. Fox, looking very black.

"Sarch de house, sah. It am a berry gentlemanly proceeding."

"Where has she gone? and whom did she go with?"

"I hab no orders to say," said Hannibal, looking fixedly at the
ceiling of the vestibule.

The knightly suitor turned on his heel, muttering, "They are playing
me false."

'Twas a pity, and he so true.

The next day Edith was sick and Mr. Allen's stock was rising. Hannibal
again sent Mr. Fox baffled away, but with a dangerous gleam in his
eyes.

On the following morning Mr. Allen found a note on his desk. His face
grew livid as he read it, and he often put his hand to his head. He
sat down and wrote to this effect, however:

"I am arranging the partnership matter as rapidly as possible. In
regard to my daughter you will ruin all if you show no more
discretion. I cannot compel her to marry you. You may make it
impossible to influence her in your favor. You have been well
received. What more can you ask? A matter of this kind must be
arranged delicately."

Mr. Fox pondered over this with a peculiarly foxy expression. "It
sounds plausible. If I only thought he was true," soliloquized this
embodiment of truth.

Mr. Allen's stock was higher, and Mr. Fox watched the rise grimly, but
he saw Edith, who was all smiles and graciousness, and gave him a
verbal invitation to her birthday-party which was to take place early
in the following week.

The fellow had not a little vanity, and was insnared, his suspicions
quieted for the time. Valuing money himself supremely, it seemed most
rational that father and daughter should regard him as the most
eligible young man in the city.

Edith's friends, and Gus in particular, were rather astonished at the
new-comer. Laura was frigid and remonstrant, Zell and Mr. Van Dam
satirical, but Edith wilfully tossed her head and said he was clever
and well off, and she liked him well enough to talk to him a little.
Society had made her a good actress. Meanwhile on the Tuesday
following (and this was Friday) the long expected party would take
place.



CHAPTER VI

THE WRECK



On Saturday Mr. Allen's stock was rising, and he ventured to sell a
little in a quiet way. If he "unloaded" rapidly and openly, he would
break down the market.

Mr. Fox watched events uneasily. Mr. Goulden grew genial and more
pronounced in his attentions. Gus, on Saturday, showed almost as much
solicitude for a decisively favorable answer as did Mr. Fox, if the
language of his eyes meant anything; but Edith played him and Mr. Fox
off against each other so adroitly that they were learning to hate
each other as cordially as they agreed in admiring her. Though she
inclined in her favor to Mr. Fox, he was suspicious from nature, and
annoyed at never being able to see her alone.

As before, they were at cards together in the library, and Edith went
for a moment into the parlor to get something. With the excuse of
obtaining it for her, Mr. Fox followed, and the moment they were alone
he seized her hand and pressed a kiss upon it. An angry flush came
into her face, but by a great effort she so far controlled herself as
to put her finger to her lips and point to the library, as if her
chief anxiety was that the attention of its occupants should not be
excited. Mr. Fox was delighted, though the angry flush was a little
puzzling. But if Edith permitted that she would permit more, and if
her only shrinking was lest others should see and know at present,
that could soon be overcome. These thoughts passed through his mind
while the incensed girl hastily obtained what she wished. But she,
feeling that her cheeks were too hot to return immediately to the
critical eyes in the library, passed out through the front parlor,
that she might have time to be herself again when she appeared. On
what little links destiny sometimes hangs!

That which changed all her future and that of others--that involving
life and death--occurred in the half moment occupied in her passing
out of the front parlor. The consequences she would feel most keenly,
terribly indeed at times, though she might never guess the cause. Her
act was a simple, natural one under the circumstances, and yet it told
Mr. Fox, in his cat-like watchfulness, that with all his cunning he
was being made a fool of. The moment Edith had passed around the
sliding door and thought herself unobserved, an expression of intense
disgust came out upon her expressive face, and with her lace
handkerchief she rubbed the hand he had kissed, as if removing the
slime of a reptile; and the large mirror at the further end of the
room had faithfully reflected the suggestive little pantomime. He saw
and understood all in a flash.

No words could have so plainly told her feeling toward him, and he was
one of those reptiles that could sting remorselessly in revenge. The
nature of the imposition practiced upon him, and the fact that it was
partially successful and might have been wholly so, cut him in the
sorest spot. He who thought himself able to cope with the shrewdest
and most artful had been overreached by a girl, and he saw at that
moment that her purpose to beguile him long enough for Mr. Allen to
extricate himself from his difficulties might have been successful. He
had had before an uneasy consciousness that he ought to act
decisively, and now he knew it.

"I'm a fool--a cursed fool," he muttered, speaking the truth for once,
"but it's not too late yet."

His resolution was taken instantly, but when Edith appeared after a
moment in the library, smiling and affable again, lie seemed in good
spirits also, but there was a steely, serpent-like glitter in his
eyes, that made him more repulsive than ever. But he stayed as late as
the others, knowing that it might be his last evening at the Allens'.
For Edith had said as part of her plan for avoiding Mr. Fox:

"We shall be too busy to see any company till Tuesday evening, and
then we hope to see you all."

Her sisters had assented, expecting that it would be the case.

With a refinement of malice, Mr. Fox sought to give general annoyance,
by a polite insolence toward the others, which they with difficulty
ignored, and a lover-like gallantry toward Edith, which was like
nettles to Gus, and nauseating to her; but she did not dare resent it.
He could at least torment her a little longer.

At last all were gone, and her father coming in from his club said,
drawing her aside:

"All right yet?"

"Yes, but I hope the ordeal will be over soon, or I shall die with
disgust, or, like some I have read of in fairy stories, be killed by a
poisonous breath."

"Keep it up a little longer, that is a good, brave girl. I think that
by another week we shall be able to defy him," said her father in
cheerful tones. "If my stock rises as much in the next few days as of
late, I shall soon be on _terra firma_."

If he had known that the mine beneath his feet was loaded, and the
fuse fired, his full face would have become as pale as it was florid
with wine and the dissipation of the evening.

Monday morning came--all seemed quiet. His stock was rising so rapidly
that he determined to hold on a little longer.

Goulden met and congratulated him, saying that he had bought a little
himself, and would take more if Mr. Allen would sell, as now he was
easier in funds than when spoken to before on the subject.

Mr. Allen replied rather coldly that he would not sell any stock that
day.

Mr. Fox kept out of the way, and quietly attended to his routine as
usual, but there was a sardonic smile on his face, as if he were
gloating over some secret evil.

Tuesday, the long-expected day that the Allens believed would make one
of the most brilliant epochs in their history, dawned in appropriate
brightness. The sun dissipated the few opposing clouds and declined in
undimmed splendor, and Edith, who alone had fears and forebodings,
took the day as an omen that the storm had passed, and that better
days than ever were coming.

Invitations by the hundred, with imposing monogram and coat-of-arms,
had gone out, and acceptances had flowed back in full current. All
that lavish expenditure could secure in one of the most luxurious
social centres of the world had been obtained without stint to make
the entertainment perfect.

But one knew that it might become like Belshazzar's feast.

The avalanche often hangs over the Alpine passes so that a loud word
will bring it whirling down upon the hapless traveller. The avalanche
of ruin, impending over Mr. Allen, was so delicately poised that a
whisper could precipitate its crushing weight, and that whisper had
been spoken.

All the morning of Tuesday his stock was rising, and he resolved that
on the morning after the party he would commence selling rapidly, and,
so far from being bankrupt, he would realize much of the profit that
he had expected.

But a rumor was floating through the afternoon papers that a well-known merchant, eminent in financial and social circles, had been
detected in violating the revenue laws, and that the losses which such
violation would involve to him would be immense. The stock market,
more sensitive than a belle's vanity, paused to see what it meant. One
of Mr. Allen's partners of the cloth house brought a paper to him. He
grew pale as he read it, put his hand suddenly to his head, but after
a moment seemingly found his voice and said:

"Could Fox have been so dastardly?"

His partner shrugged his shoulder as much as to say, "Fox could do
anything in that line."

Mr. Allen sent for Fox, but he could not be found. In the meantime the
stock market closed and the rise of his stock was evidently checked
for the moment.

By reason of the party, Mr. Allen had to return uptown, but he
arranged with his partner to remain and if anything new developed to
send word by special messenger.

By eight o'clock the Allen mansion on Fifth Avenue was all aglow with
light. By nine, carriages began to roll up to the awning that
stretched from the heavy arched doorway across the sidewalk, and
ladies that would soon glide through the spacious rooms in elegant
drapery, now seemed misshapen bundles in their wrapping, and gathered
up dresses as they hurried out of the publicity of the street. The
dressing-rooms where the spheroidal bundles were undergoing
metamorphose became buzzing centres of life.

Before the long pier glasses there was a marshalling of every charm,
real or borrowed (more correctly bought), in view of the hoped-for
conquests of the evening, and it would seem that not a few went on the
military maxim that success is often secured by putting on as bold a
front, and making as great and startling display, as possible. But as
fragrant, modest flowers usually bloom in the garden with gaudy,
scentless ones, so those inclined to be _bizarre_ made an excellent
foil for the refined and elegant, and thus had their uses. There is
little in the world that is not of value, looking at it from some
point of view.

In another apartment the opposing forces, if we may so style them,
were almost as eagerly investing themselves in--shall we say charms
also? or rather with the attributes of manhood? At any rate the
glasses seem quite as anxiously consulted in that room as in the
other. One might almost imagine them the magic mirrors of prophecy in
which anxious eyes caught a glimpse of coming fate. There were certain
youthful belles and beaux who turned away with open complacent smiles,
vanity whispering plainly to them of noble achievement in the parlors
below. There were others, perhaps not young, who turned away with
faces composed in the rigid and habitual lines of pride. They were
past learning anything from the mirror, or from any other source that
might reflect disparagingly upon them. Prejudice in their own favor
surrounded their minds as with a Chinese wall. Conceit had become a
disease with them, and those faculties that might have let in
wholesome, though unwelcome, truth were paralyzed.

But the majority turned away not quite satisfied--with an inward
foreboding that all was not as well as it might be--that critical eyes
would see ground for criticism. Especially was this true of those whom
Time's interfering fingers had pulled somewhat awry, even beyond the
remedy of art, and of those whose bank account, jewels, silks, etc.,
were not quite up to the standard of some others who might jostle them
in the crush. Realize, my reader, the anguish of a lady compelled to
stand by another lady wearing larger diamonds than her own, or more
point lace, or a longer train. What _will_ the world think, as under
the chandelier this painful contrast comes out? Such moments of deep
humiliation cause sleepless nights, and the next day result in bills
that become as crushing as criminal indictments to poor overworked
men. Under the impulse of such trying scenes as these, many a matron
has gone forth on Broadway with firm lips and eyes in which glowed
inexorable purpose, and placed the gems that would be mill-stones
about her husband's neck on the fat arms or fingers that might have
helped him forward. There are many phases of heroism, but if you
want your breath quite taken away, go to Tiffany's, and see some
large-souled woman, who will not even count the cost or realize the
dire consequences--see her, like some martyr of the past, who would
show to the world the object of his faith though the heavens fell,
march to the counter, select the costliest, and say in tones of
majesty:

"Send the bill to my husband!"

Oh, acme of faith! The martyrs knew that the Almighty was equal to
the occasion. She knows that her husband is not; yet she trusts, or,
what is the same thing here, gets trusted. Men allied to such women
are soon lifted up to--attics. It is still true that great deeds bring
humanity nearer heaven!

Therefore, my reader, deem it not trivial that I have paused so long
over the Allens' party. It is philosophical to trace great events and
phenomenal human action to their hidden causes.

There were also diffident men and maidens who descended into the
social arena of Mrs. Allen's parlors, as awkward swimmers venture into
deep water, but this is fleeting experience in fashionable life. And
we sincerely hope that some believed that the old divine paradox, "It
is more blessed to give than to receive," is as true in the drawing-room as when the contribution-box goes round, and proposed to enjoy
themselves by contributing to the enjoyment of others, and to see
nothing that would tempt to heroic conduct at Tiffany's the next day.

When the last finishing touches had been given, and maids and
hairdressers stood around in rapt politic breathlessness, and were
beginning to pass into that stage in which they might be regarded as
exclamation points, Mrs. Allen and her daughters swept away to take
their places at the head of the parlors in order to receive. They
liked the prelude of applause upstairs well enough, but then it was
only like the tuning of the instruments before the orchestra fairly
opens.

Mrs. Allen, as she majestically took her position, evidently belonged
to that class whom pride petrifies. Her self-complacency on such an
occasion was habitual, her coolness and repose those of a veteran. A
nervous creature upstairs with her family, excitement made her, under
the eye of society, so steady and self-controlled that she was like
one of the old French marshals who could plan a campaign under the
hottest fire. Her blue eyes grew quite brilliant and seemed to take in
everything. Some natural color shone where the cosmetics permitted,
and her form seemed to dilate with something more than the mysteries
of French modistes. Her manner and expression said:

"I am Mrs. Allen. We are of an old New York family. We are very, very
rich. This entertainment is immensely expensive and perfect in kind. I
defy criticism. I expect applause."

Of course this was all veiled by society's completest polish; but
still by a close observer it could be seen, just as a skilful sculptor
drapes a form, but leaves its outlines perfect.

Laura was the echo of her mother, modified by the element of youth.

Zell fairly blazed. What with sparkling jewelry, flaming cheeks,
flashing eyes, and words thrown off like scintillating sparks, she
suggested an exquisite July firework, burning longer than usual and
surprising every one. Admiration followed her like a torrent, and her
vanity dilated without measure as attention and compliments were
almost forced upon her, and yet it was frank, good-natured vanity, as
naturally to be expected in her case as a throng of gaudy poppies
where a handful of seed had been dropped. Zell's nature was a soil
where good or bad seed would grow vigorously.

Mr. Van Dam was never far off, and watched her with intent, gloating
eyes, saying in self-congratulation:

"What a delicious morsel she will make!" and adding his mite to the
general chorus of flattery by mild assertions like the following:

"Do you know that there is not a lady present that for a moment can
compare with you?"

"How delightfully frank he is!" thought Zell of her distinguished
admirer, who was as open as a quicksand that can swallow up anything
and leave not a trace on its surface. Edith was quite as beautiful as
Zell, but far less brilliant and pronounced. Though quiet and
graceful, she was not stately like Laura. Her full dark eyes were
lustrous rather than sparkling, and they dwelt shrewdly and
comprehendingly on all that was passing, and conveyed their
intelligence to a brain that was judging quite accurately of men and
things at a time when so many people "lose their heads."

Zell was intoxicated by the incense she received. Laura offered
herself so much that she was enshrouded in a thick cloud of
complacency all the time. Edith was told by the eyes and manner of
those around her that she was beautiful and highly favored by wealth
and position generally. But she knew this, as a matter of fact,
before, and did not mean to make a fool of herself on account of it.
These points thoroughly settled and quietly realized, she was in a
condition to go out of herself and enjoy all that was going on.

She was specially elated at this time also, as she had gathered from
her father's words that his danger was nearly over and that before the
week was out they could defy Mr. Fox, look forward to Europe and
bright voyaging generally.

Mr. Allen did not tell her his terrible fear that Mr. Fox had been a
little too prompt, and that crushing disaster might still be
impending. He had said to himself, "Let her and all of them make the
most of this evening. It may be the last of the kind that they will
enjoy."

The spacious parlors filled rapidly. If lavish expenditure and a large
brilliant attendance could insure their enjoyment, it was not wanting.
Flowers in fanciful baskets on the tables and in great banks on the
mantels and in the fireplaces deservedly attracted much attention and
praise, though the sum expended on their transient beauty was
appalling. Their delicious fragrance mingling with perfumes of
artificial origin suggested a like intermingling of the more delicate,
subtile, but genuine manifestations of character, and the graces of
mind and manner borrowed for the occasion.

The scene was very brilliant. There were marvellous toilets--dresses
not beginning as promptly as they should, perhaps, but seemingly
seeking to make up for this deficiency by elegance and costliness,
having once commenced. There was no economy in the train, if there had
been in the waist. Therefore gleaming shoulders, glittering diamonds,
the soft radiance of pearls, the sheen of gold, and lustrous eyes
aglow with excitement, and later in the evening, with wine, gave a
general phosphorescent effect to the parlors that Mrs. Allen
recognized, from long experience, as the sparkling crown of success.
So much elegance on the part of the ladies present would make the
party the gem of the season, and the gentlemen in dark dress made a
good black enamel setting.

There was a confused rustle of silks and a hum of voices, and now and
then a silvery laugh would ring out above these like the trill of a
bird in a breezy grove. Later, light airy music floated through the
rooms, followed by the rhythmic cadence of feet. A thinly clad
shivering little match-girl stopped on her weary tramp to her cellar
and caught glimpses of the scene through the oft-opening door and
between the curtains of the windows. It seemed to her that those
glancing forms were in heaven. Alas for this earthly paradise!

Mr. Fox, with characteristic malice, had managed that Mr. Allen and
perhaps the family should have, as his contribution to the
entertainment, the sickening dread which the news in the afternoon
papers would occasion. As the evening advanced he determined to accept
the invitation and watch the effect. He avoided Mr. Allen, and soon
gathered that Edith and the rest knew nothing of the impending blow.
Edith smiled graciously on him; she felt that, like the sun, she could
shine on all that night. But as, in his insolence, his attentions grew
marked, she soon shook him off by permitting Gus Elliot to claim her
for a waltz.

Mr. Fox glided around, Mephistopheles-like, gloating on the sinister
changes that he would soon occasion. He was to succeed even better
than he dreamed.

The evening went forward with music and dancing, discussing,
disparaging, flirting, and skirmishing, culminating in numbers and
brilliancy as some gorgeous flower might expand; and seemingly it
would have ended by the gay company's rustling departure like the
flower, as the varied colored petals drop away from the stem, had not
an event occurred which was like a rude hand plucking the flower in
its fullest bloom and tearing the petals away in mass.

The magnificent supper had just been demolished. Champagne had foamed
without stint, cause and symbol of the increasing but transient
excitement of the occasion. More potent wines and liquors, suggestive
of the stronger and deeper passions that were swaying the mingled
throng, had done their work, and all, save the utterly _blase_,
had secured that noble elevation which it is the province of these
grand social combinations to create. Even Mr. Allen regained his
habitual confidence and elevation as his waist-coat expanded under, or
rather over, those means of cheer and consolation which he had so long
regarded as the best panacea for earthly ills. The oppressive sense of
danger gave place to a consciousness of the warm, rosy present. Mr.
Fox and the custom-house seemed but the ugly phantoms of a past dream.
Was he not the rich Mr. Allen, the owner of this magnificent mansion,
the cornerstone of this superb entertainment? If by reason of wine he
saw a little double, he only saw double homage on every side. He heard
in men's tones, and saw in woman's glances, that any one who could pay
for his surroundings that night was no ordinary person. His wife
looked majestic as she swept through the parlors on the arm of one of
his most distinguished fellow-citizens. Through the library door he
could see Mr. Goulden leaning toward Laura and saying something that
made even her pale face quite peony-like. Edith, exquisite as a moss-rose, was about to lead off in the German in the large front parlor.
Zell was near him, the sparkling centre of a breezy, merry little
throng that had gathered round her. It seemed that all that he loved
and valued most was grouped around him in the guise most attractive to
his worldly eyes. In this moment of unnatural elation hope whispered,
"To-morrow you can sell your stock, and, instead of failing, increase
your vast fortune, and then away to new scenes, new pleasures, free
from the burden of care and fear." It was at that moment of false
confidence and pride, when in suggestive words descriptive of the
ancient tragedy of Belshazzar he "had drank wine and praised the gods
of gold and of silver" which he had so long worshipped, and which had
secured to him all that so dilated his soul with exultation, that he
saw the handwriting, not of shadowy fingers "upon the wall," but of
his partner, sent, as agreed, by a special messenger. With revulsion
and chill of fear he tore open the envelope and read:

"Pox has done his worst. We are out for a million--All will be in the
morning papers."

Even his florid, wine-inflamed cheeks grew pale, and he raised his
hand tremblingly to his head, and slowly lifted his eyes like a man
who dreads seeing something, but is impelled to look. The first object
they rested on was the sardonic, mocking face of Mr. Fox, who, ever on
the alert, had seen the messenger enter, and guessed his errand. The
moment Mr. Allen saw this hated visage, a sudden fury took possession
of him. He crushed the missive in his clenched fist, and took a hasty
stride of wrath toward his tormentor, stopped, put his hand again to
his head, a film came over his eyes, he reeled a second, and then fell
like a stone to the floor. The heavy thud of the fall, the clash of
the chandelier overhead, could be heard throughout the rooms above the
music and hum of voices, and all were startled. Edith in the very act
of leading off in the dance stood a second like an exquisite statue of
awed expectancy, and then Zell's shriek of fear and agony, "Father!"
brought her to the spot, and with wild, frightened eyes, and blanched
faces, the two girls knelt above the unconscious man, while the
startled guests gathered round in helpless curiosity.

The usual paralysis following sudden accident was brief on this
occasion, for there were two skilful physicians present, one of them
having long been the family attendant. Mrs. Allen and Laura, in a
half-hysterical state, stood clinging to each other, supported by Mr.
Goulden, as the medical gentlemen made a slight examination and
applied restoratives. After a moment they lifted their heads and
looked gravely and significantly at each other; then the family
adviser said:

"Mr. Allen had better be carried at once to his room, and the house
become quiet."

An injudicious guest asked in a loud whisper, "Is it apoplexy?"

Mrs. Allen caught the word, and with a stifled cry fainted dead away,
and was borne to her apartment in an unconscious state. Laura, who had
inherited Mrs. Allen's nervous nature, was also conveyed to her room,
laughing and crying in turns beyond control. Zell still knelt over her
father, sobbing passionately, while Edith, with her large eyes dilated
with fear, and her cheeks in wan contrast with the sunset glow they
had worn all the evening, maintained her presence of mind, and asked
Mr. Goulden, Mr. Van Dam, and Gus Elliot, to carry her father to his
room. They, much pleased in thus being singled out as special friends
of the family, officiously obeyed.

Poor Mr. Allen was borne away from the pinnacle of his imaginary
triumph as if dead, Zell following, wringing her hands, and with
streaming eyes; but Edith reminded one of some wild, timid creature of
the woods, which, though in an extremity of danger and fear, is alert
and watchful, as if looking for some avenue of escape. Her searching
eyes turned almost constantly toward the family physician, and he as
persistently avoided meeting them.



CHAPTER VII

AMONG THE BREAKERS



After another brief but fuller examination of Mr. Allen in the privacy
of his own room, Dr. Mark went down to the parlors. The guests were
gathered in little groups, talking in low, excited whispers; those who
had seen the reading of the note and Mr. Allen's strange action
gaining brief eminence by their repeated statements of what they had
witnessed and their varied surmises. The role of commentator, if
mysterious human action be the text, is always popular, and as this
explanatory class are proverbially gifted in conjecture, there were
many theories of explanation. Some of the guests had already the good
taste to prepare for departure, and when Dr. Mark appeared from the
sick room, and said:

"Mr. Allen and the family will be unable to appear again this evening.
I am under the painful necessity of saying that this occasion, which
opened so brilliantly, must now come to a sad and sudden end. I will
convey your adieux and expressions of sympathy to the family"--there
was a general move to the dressing-rooms. The doctor was overwhelmed
for a moment with expressions of sympathy, that in the main were felt,
and well questioned by eager and genuine curiosity, for Fox had
dropped some mysterious hints during the evening, which had been
quietly circulating. But Dr. Mark was professionally non-committal,
and soon excused himself that he might attend to his patient.

The house, that seemingly a moment before was ablaze with light and
resounding with fashionable revelry, suddenly became still, and grew
darker and darker, as if the shadowing wings of the dreaded angel were
drawing very near. In the large, elegant rooms, where so short a time
before gems and eyes had vied in brightness, old Hannibal now walked
alone with silent tread and a peculiarly awed and solemn visage. One
by one he extinguished the lights, leaving but faint glimmers here and
there, that were like a few forlorn hopes struggling against the
increasing darkness of disaster. Under his breath he kept repeating
fervently, "De Lord hab mercy," and this, perhaps, was the only
intelligent prayer that went up from the stricken household in this
hour of sudden danger and alarm. Though we believe the Divine Father
sees the dumb agony of His creatures, and pities them, and often when
they, like the drowning, are grasping at straws of human help and
cheer, puts out His strong hand and holds them up; still it is in
accordance with His just law that those who seek and value His
friendship find it and possess it in adversity. The height of the
storm is a poor time and the middle of the angry Atlantic a poor place
in which to provide life-boats.

The Allens had never looked to Heaven, save as a matter of form. They
had a pew in a fashionable church, but did not very regularly occupy
it, and such attendance had done scarcely anything to awaken or
quicken their spiritual life. They came home and gossiped about the
appearance of their "set," and perhaps criticised the music, but one
would never have dreamed from manner or conversation that they had
gone to a sacred place to worship God in humility. Indeed, scarcely a
thought of Him seemed to have dwelt in their minds. Religious faith
had never been of any practical help, and now in their extremity it
seemed utterly intangible, and in no sense to be depended on.

When Mrs. Allen recovered from her swoon, and Laura had gained some
self-control, they sent for Dr. Mark, and eagerly suggested both their
hope and fear.

"It's only a fainting fit, doctor, is it not? Will he not soon be
better?"

"My dear madam, we will do all we can," said the doctor, with that
professional solemnity which might accompany the reading of a death
warrant, "but it is my painful duty to tell you to prepare for the
worst. Your husband has an attack of apoplexy."

He had scarcely uttered the words before she was again in a swoon, and
Laura also lost her transient quietness. Leaving his assistant and
Mrs. Allen's maid to take care of them, he went back to his graver
charge.

Mr. Allen lay insensible on his bed, and one could hardly realize that
he was a dying man. His face was as flushed and full as it often
appeared on his return from his club. To the girls' unpracticed ears,
his loud, stentorous breathing only indicated heavy sleep. But neither
they nor the doctor could arouse him, and at last the physician met
Edith's questioning eyes, and gravely and significantly shook his
head. Though she had borne up so steadily and quietly, he felt more
for her than for any of the others.

"Oh, doctor! can't you save him?" she pleaded.

"You must save him," cried Zell, her eyes flashing through her tears,
"I would be ashamed, if I were a physician, to stand over a strong
man, and say helplessly, 'I can do nothing.' Is this all your boasted
skill amounts to? Either do something at once or let us get some one
who will."

"Your feelings to-night, Miss Zell," said the doctor quietly, "will
excuse anything you say, however wild and irrational. I am doing
all--"

"I am not wild or unreasonable," cried Zell. "I only demand that my
father's life be saved." Then starting up she threw off a shawl and
stood before Dr. Mark in the dress she had worn in the evening, that
seemed a sad mockery in that room of death. Her neck and arms were
bare, and even the cool, experienced physician was startled by her
wonderful beauty and strange manner. Her white throat was convulsed,
her bosom heaved tumultuously, and on her face was the expression that
might have rested on the face of a maiden like herself centuries
before, when shown the rack and dungeon, and told to choose between
her faith and her life.

But after a moment she extended her white rounded arm toward him and
said steadily:

"I have read that if the blood of a young, vigorous person is infused
into another who is feeble and old, it will give renewed strength and
health. Open a vein in my arm. Save his life if you take mine."

"You are a brave, noble girl," said Dr. Mark, with much emotion,
taking the extended hand and pressing it tenderly, "but you are asking
what is impossible in this case. Do you not remember that I am an old
friend of your father's? It grieves me to the heart that his attack is
so severe that I fear all within the reach of human skill is vain."

Zell, who was a creature of impulse, and often of noblest impulse, as
we have seen, now reacted into a passion of weeping, and sank
helplessly on the floor. She was capable of heroic action, but she had
no strength for woman's lot, which is so often that of patient
endurance.

Edith came and put her arms around her, and with gentle, soothing
words, as if speaking to a child, half carried her to her room, where
she at last sobbed herself asleep.

For another hour Edith and the doctor watched alone, and the dying man
sank rapidly, going down into the darkness of death without word or
sign.

"Oh that he would speak once more!" moaned Edith.

"I fear he will not, my dear," said the doctor, pitifully.

A little later Mr. Allen was motionless, like one who has been touched
in unquiet sleep and becomes still. Death had touched him, and a
deeper sleep had fallen upon him.

One of the great daily bulletins will go to press in an hour. A
reporter jumps into a waiting hack and is driven rapidly uptown.

While the city sleeps preparations must go on in the markets for
breakfast, and in printing rooms for that equal necessity in our day,
the latest news. Therefore all night long there are dusky figures
flitting hither and thither, seeing to it that when we come down in
gown and slippers, our steak and the world's gossip be ready.

The breakfast of the Gothamites was furnished abundantly with _sauce
piquante_ on the morning of the last day of February, for Hannibal
had shaken his head ominously, and wiped away a few honest tears,
before he could tremulously say to the eager reporter:

"Mr. Allen--hab--just--died."

Gathering what few particulars he could, and imagining many more, the
reporter was driven back even more rapidly, full of the elation of a
man who has found a good thing and means to make the most of it. Mr.
Allen himself was not of importance to him, but news about him was.
And this fact crowning the story of his violation of the revenue law
and his prospective loss of a million, would make a brisk breeze in
the paper to which he was attached, and might waft him a little
further on as an enterprising news-gatherer.

It certainly would be the topic of the day on all lips, and poor Mr.
Allen might have plumed himself on this if he had known it, for few
people, unless they commit a crime, are of sufficient importance to be
talked of all day In large, busy New York. In the world's eyes Mr.
Allen had committed a crime. Not that they regarded his stock gambling
as such. Multitudes of church members in good and regular standing
were openly engaged in this. Nor could the slight and unintentional
violation of the revenue law be regarded as such, though so grave in
its consequences. But he had faltered and died when he should not have
given way. What the world demands is success: and sometimes a devil
may secure this where a true man cannot. The world regarded Mr. Van
Dam and Mr. Goulden as very successful men.

Mr. Fox also had secured success by one adroit wriggle--we can
describe his mode of achieving greatness by no better phrase. He was
destined to receive half a million for his treachery to his employers.
During the war, when United States securities were at their worst;
when men, pledged to take them, forfeited money rather than do so, Mr.
Allen had lent the government millions, because he believed in it,
loved it, and was resolved to sustain it. That same government now
rewards him by putting it in the power of a dishonest clerk to ruin
him, and gives him $500,000 for doing so. Thus it resulted; for we are
compelled to pass hastily over the events immediately following Mr.
Allen's death. His partners made a good fight, showed that there was
no intention to violate the law, and that it was often difficult to
comply with it literally--that the sum claimed to be lost to the
government was ridiculously disproportionate to the amount
confiscated. But it was all in vain. There was the letter of the law,
and there were Mr. Fox and his associates in the custom-house, "all
honorable men," with hands itching to clutch the plunder.

But before this question was settled the fate of the stock operation
in Wall Street was most effectually disposed of. As soon as Mr.
Goulden heard of Mr. Allen's death, he sold at a slight loss all he
had; but his action awakened suspicion, and it was speedily learned
that the rise was due mainly to Mr. Allen's strong pushing, and the
inevitable results followed. As poor Mr. Allen's remains were lowered
into the vault, his stock in Wall Street was also going down with a
run.

In brief, in the absence of the master's hand, and by reason of his
embarrassments, there were general wreck and ruin in his affairs; and
Mrs. Allen was soon compelled to face the fact, even more awful to her
than her husband's death, that not a penny remained of his colossal
fortune, and that she had yawningly signed away all of her own means.
But she could only wring her hands in view of these blighting truths,
and indulge in half-uttered complaints against her husband's "folly,"
as she termed it. From the first her grief had been more emotional
than deep, and her mind, recovering in part its usual poise, had begun
to be much occupied with preparations for a grand funeral, which was
carried out to her taste. Then arose deeply interesting questions as
to various styles of mourning costume, and an exciting vista of
dressmaking opened before her. She was growing into quite a serene and
hopeful frame when the miserable and blighting facts all broke upon
her. When there was little of seeming necessity to do, and there were
multitudes to do for her, Mrs. Allen's nerves permitted no small
degree of activity. But now, as it became certain that she and her
daughters must do all themselves, her hands grew helpless. The idea of
being poor was to her like dying. It was entering on an experience so
utterly foreign and unknown that it seemed like going to another world
and phase of existence, and she shrank in pitiable dread from it.

Laura had all her mother's helpless shrinking from poverty, but with
another and even bitterer ingredient added. Mr. Goulden was extremely
polite, exquisitely sympathetic, and in terms as vague as elegantly
expressed had offered to do anything (but nothing in particular) in
his power to show his regard for the family and his esteem for his
departed friend. He was very sorry that business would compel him to
leave town for some little time--

Laura had the spirit to interrupt him saying, "It matters little, sir.
There are no further Wall Street operations to be carried on here.
Invest your time and friendship where it will pay."

Mr. Goulden, who plumed himself that he would slip out of this bad
matrimonial speculation with such polished skill that he would leave
only flattering regret and sighs behind, under the biting satire of
Laura's words suddenly saw what a contemptible creature is the man
whom selfish policy, rather than honor and principle, governs. He had
brains enough to comprehend himself and lose his self-respect then and
there, as he went away tingling with shame from the girl whom he had
wronged, but who had detected his sordid meanness. Sigh after him! She
would ever despise him, and that hurt Mr. Goulden's vanity severely.
He had come very near loving Laura Allen, about as near perhaps as he
ever would come to loving any one, and it had cost him a little more
to give her up than to choose between a good and a bad venture on the
Street. With compressed lips he had said to himself--"No gushing
sentiment. In carrying out your purpose to be rich you must marry
wealth." Therefore he had gone to make what he meant to be his final
call, feeling quite heroic in his steadfastness--his loyalty to
purpose, that is, himself. But as he recalled during his homeward walk
her glad welcome, her wistful, pleading looks, and then, as she
realized the truth, her pain, her contempt, and her meaning words of
scorn, his miserable egotism was swept aside, and for the first time
the selfish man saw the question from her standpoint, and as we have
said he was not so shallow but that he saw and loathed himself. He
lost his self-respect as he never had done before, and therefore to a
certain extent his power ever to be happy again.

Small men, full of petty conceit, can recover from any wounds upon
their vanity, but proud and large-minded men have a self-respect, even
though based upon questionable foundation. It is essential to them,
and losing it they are inwardly wretched. As soldiers carry the
painful scars of some wounds through life, so Mr. Goulden would find
that Laura's words had left a sore place while memory lasted.

Mr. Van Dam quite disarmed Edith's suspicions and prejudices by being
more friendly and intimate with Zell than ever, and the latter was
happy and exultant in the fact, saying, with much elation, that her
friend was "not a mercenary wretch, like Mr. Goulden, but remained
just as true and kind as ever."

It was evident that this attention and show of kindness to the warm-hearted girl made a deep impression and greatly increased Mr. Van
Dam's power over her. But Edith's suspicion and dislike began to
return as she saw more of the manner and spirit of the man. She
instinctively felt that he was bad and designing.

One day she quite incensed Zell, who was chanting his praises, by
saying:

"I haven't any faith in him. What has he done to show real friendship
for us? He comes here only to amuse himself with you; Gus Elliot is
the only one who has been of any help."

But Edith had her misgivings about Gus also. Now, in her trouble and
poverty, his weakness began to reveal itself in a new and repulsive
light. In fact, that exquisitely fine young gentleman loved Edith well
enough to marry her, but not to work for her. That was a sacrifice
that he could not make for any woman. Though out of his natural
kindness and good-nature he felt very sorry for her, and wanted to
help and pet her, he had been shown his danger so clearly that he was
constrained and awkward when with her, for, to tell the truth, his
father had taken him aside and said:

"Look here, Gus. See to it that you don't entangle yourself with Miss
Allen, now her father has failed. She couldn't support you now, and
you never can support even yourself. If you would go to work like a
man--but one has got to be a man to do that. It seems true, as your
mother says, that you are of too fine clay for common uses. Therefore,
don't make a fool of yourself. You can't keep up your style on a
pretty face, and you must not wrong the girl by making her think you
can take care of her. I tell you plainly, I can't bear another ounce
added to my burden, and how long I shall stand up under it as it is, I
can't tell."

Gus listened with a sulky, injured air. He felt that his father never
appreciated him as did his mother and sisters, and indeed society at
large. Society to Gus was the ultra-fashionable world of which he was
one of the shining lights. The ladies of the family quite restored his
equanimity by saying:

"Now see here, Gus, don't dream of throwing yourself away on Edith
Allen. You can marry any girl you please in the city. So, for Heaven's
sake" (though what Heaven had to do with their advice it is hard to
say), "don't let her lead you on to say what you would wish unsaid.
Remember they are no more now than any other poor people, except that
they are refined, etc., but this will only make poverty harder for
them. Of course we are sorry for them, but in this world people have
got to take care of themselves. So we must be on the lookout for some
one who has money which can't be sunk in a stock operation as if
thrown into the sea."

After all this sound reason, poor, weak Grus, vaguely conscious of his
helplessness, as stated by his father, and quite believing his
mother's assurance that "he could marry any girl he pleased," was in
no mood to urge the penniless Edith to give him her empty hand, while
before the party, when he believed it full, he was doing his best to
bring her to this point, though in fact she gave him little
opportunity.

Edith detected the change, and before very long surmised the cause. It
made the young girl curl her lip, and say, in a tone of scorn that
would have done Gus good to hear:

"The idea of a _man_ acting in this style."

But she did not care enough about him to receive a wound of any depth,
and with a good-natured tolerance recognized his weakness, and his
genuine liking for her, and determined to make him useful.

Edith was very practical, and possessed of a brave, resolute nature.
She was capable of strong feelings, but Gus Elliot was not the man to
awaken such in any woman. She liked his company, and proposed to use
him in certain ways. Under her easy manner Gus also became at ease,
and, finding that he was not expected to propose and be sentimental,
was all the more inclined to be friendly.

"I want you to find me books, and papers also, if there are any, that
tell how to raise fruit," she said to him one day.

"What a funny request! I should as soon expect you would ask for
instruction how to drive four-in-hand."

"Nothing of that style, henceforth. I must learn something useful now.
Only the rich can afford to be good-for-nothing, and we are not rich
now."

"For which I am very sorry," said Gus, with some feeling.

"Thank you. Such disinterested sympathy is beautiful," said Edith
dryly.

Gus looked a little red and awkward, but hastened to say, "I will hunt
up what you wish, and bring it as soon as possible."

"Four are very good. That is all at present," said Edith, in a tone
that made Gus feel that it was indeed all that it was in his power to
do for her at that time, and he went away with a dim perception that
he was scarcely more than her errand boy. It made him very
uncomfortable. Though he wished her to understand he could not marry
her now, he wished her to sigh a little after him. Gus's vanity rather
resented that, instead of pining for him, she should with a little
quiet satire set him to work. He had never read a romance that ended
so queerly. He had expected that they might have a little tender scene
over the inexorable fate that parted them, give and take a memento,
gasp, appeal to the moon, and see each other's face no more, she going
to the work and poverty that he could never stoop to from the innate
refinement and elegance of his being, and he to hunt up the heiress to
whom he would give the honor of maintaining him in his true sphere.

But his little melodrama was entirely spoiled by her matter-of-fact
way, and what was worse still he felt in her presence as if he did not
amount to much, and that she knew it; and yet, like the poor moth that
singes its wings around the lamp, he could not keep away.

The prominent trait of Gus's character, as of so many others in our
luxurious age of self-pleasing, was weakness; and yet one must be
insane with vanity to be at ease if he can do nothing resolutely and
dare nothing great. He is a cripple, and, if not a fool, knows it.

During the eventful month that followed Mr. Allen's death, Mrs. Allen
and her daughters led what seemed to them a very strange life. While
in one sense it was real and intensely painful, in another the
experiences were so new and strange that it all seemed an unreal
dream, a distressing nightmare of trouble and danger, from which they
might awaken to their old life.

Mrs. Allen, from her large circle of acquaintances, had numerous
callers, many coming from mere morbid curiosity, more from mingled
motives, and not a few from genuine tearful sympathy. To these "her
friends," as she emphatically called them, she found a melancholy
pleasure in recounting all the recent woes, in which she ever appeared
as chief sufferer and chief mourner, though her husband seemed among
the minor losses, and thus most of her time was spent daring the last
few weeks at her old home. Her friends appeared to find a melancholy
pleasure in listening to these details and then in recounting them
again to other "friends" with a running commentary of their own, until
that little fraction of the feminine world acquainted with the Allens
had sighed, surmised, and perhaps gossiped over the "afflicted family"
so exhaustively that it was really time for something new. The men and
the papers downtown also had their say, and perhaps all tried, as far
as human nature would permit, to say nothing but good of the dead and
unfortunate.

Laura, after the stinging pain of each successive blow to her
happiness, sank into a dreary apathy, and did mechanically the few
things Edith asked of her.

Zell lived in varied moods and conditions, now weeping bitterly for
her father, again resenting with impotent passion the change in their
fortunes, but ending usually by comforting herself with the thought
that Mr. Van Dam was true to her. He was as true and faithful as an
insidious, incurable disease when once infused into the system. His
infernal policy now was to gradually alienate her interest from her
family and centre it in him. Though promising nothing in an open,
manly way, he adroitly made her believe that only through him, could
she now hope to reach brighter days again, and to Zell he seemed the
one means of escape from a detested life of poverty and privation. She
became more infatuated with him than ever, and cherished a secret
resentment against Edith because of her distrust and dislike of him.

The Allens had but few near relatives in the city at this time, and
with these they were not on very good terms, nor were they the people
to be helpful in adversity. Mr. Allen's partners were men of the world
like himself, and they were also incensed that he should have been
carrying on private speculations in Wall Street to the extent of
risking all his capital. His fatal stock operation, together with the
government confiscation, had involved them also in ruin; and they had
enough to do to look after themselves. They were far more eager to
secure something out of the general wreck than to see that anything
remained for the family. The Allens were left very much to themselves
in their struggle with disaster, securing help and advice chiefly as
they paid for it.

Mr. Allen was accustomed to say that women were incapable of business,
and yet here are the ladies of his own household compelled to grapple
with the most perplexing forms of business or suffer aggravated
losses. Though all of his family were of mature years, and thousands
had been spent on their education, they were as helpless as four
children in dealing with the practical questions that daily came to
them for decision. At first all matters were naturally referred to the
widow, but she would only wring her hands and say:

"I don't know anything about these horrid things. Can't I be left
alone with my sorrow in peace a few days? Go to Edith."

And to Edith at last all came till the poor girl was almost
distracted. It was of no use to go to Laura for advice, for she would
only say in dreary apathy:

"Just as you think best. Anything you say."

She was indulging in unrestrained wretchedness to the utmost.
Luxurious despair is so much easier than painful perplexing action.

Zell was still "the child" and entirely occupied with Mr. Van Dam. So
Edith had to bear the brunt of everything. She did not do this in
uncomplaining sweetness, like an angel, but scolded the others soundly
for leaving all to her. They whined back that they "couldn't do
anything, and didn't know how to do anything."

"You know as much as I do," retorted Edith.

And this was true. Had not Edith possessed a practical resolute
nature, that preferred any kind of action to apathetic inaction and
futile grieving, she would have been as helpless as the rest.

Do you say then that it was a mere matter of chance that Edith should
be superior to the others, and that she deserved no credit, and they
no blame? Why should such all-important conditions of character be the
mere result of chance and circumstance? Would not Christian education
and principle have vastly improved the Edith that existed? Would they
not have made the others helpful, self-forgetting, and sympathetic?
Why should the world be full of people so deformed, or morally feeble,
or so ignorant, as to be helpless? Why should the naturally strong
work with only contempt and condemnation for the weak? While many say,
"Stand aside, I am holier than thou," perhaps more say, "Stand aside,
I am wiser--stronger than thou," and the weak are made more hopelessly
discouraged. This helplessness on one hand, and arrogant fault-finding
strength on the other, are not the result of chance, but of an
imperfect education. They come from the neglect and wrong-doing of
those whose province it was to train and educate.

If we find among a family of children reaching maturity one helpless
from deformity, and another from feebleness, and are told that the
parents, by employing surgical skill, might have removed the
deformity, and overcome the weakness by tonic treatment, but had
neglected to do so, we should not have much to say about chance. I
know of a poor man who spent nearly all that he had in the world to
have his boy's leg straightened, and he was called a "good father."
What are these physical defects compared with the graver defects of
character?

Even though Mr. Allen is dead, we cannot say that he was a good
father, though he spent so many thousands on his daughters. We
certainly cannot call Mrs. Allen a good mother, and the proof of this
is that Laura is feeble and selfish, Zell deformed through lack of
self-control, and Edith hard and pitiless in her comparative strength.
They were unable to cope with the practical questions of their
situation. They had been launched upon the perilous, uncertain voyage
of life without the compass of a true faith or the charts of principle
to guide them, and they had been provided with no life-boats of
knowledge to save them in case of disaster. They are now tossing among
the breakers of misfortune, almost utterly the sport of the winds and
waves of circumstances. If these girls never reached the shore of
happiness and safety, could we wonder?

How would your daughter fare, my reader, if you were gone and she were
poor, with her hands and brain to depend on for bread, and her heart
culture for happiness? In spite of all your providence and foresight,
such may be her situation. Such becomes the condition of many men's
daughters every day.

But time and events swept the Allens forward, as the shipwrecked are
borne on the crest of a wave, and we must follow their fortunes.
Hungry creditors, especially the petty ones uptown, stripped them of
everything they could lay their hands on, and they were soon compelled
to leave their Fifth Avenue mansion. The little place in the country,
given to Edith partly in jest by her father as a birthday present, was
now their only refuge, and to this they prepared to go on the first of
April. Edith, as usual, took the lead, and was to go in advance of the
others with such furniture as they had been able to keep, and prepare
for their coming. Old Hannibal, who had grown gray in the service of
the family, and now declined to leave it, was to accompany her. On a
dark, lowering day, symbolic of their fortunes, some loaded drays took
down to the boat that with which they would commence the meagre
housekeeping of their poverty. Edith went slowly down the broad steps
leading from her elegant home, and before she entered the carriage
turned for one lingering, tearful look, such as Eve may have bent upon
the gate of Paradise closing behind her, then sprang into the
carriage, drew the curtains, and sobbed all the way to the boat.
Scarcely once before, during that long, hard month, had she so given
way to her feelings. But she was alone now and none could see her
tears and call her weak. Hannibal took his seat on the box with the
driver, and looked and felt very much as he did when following his
master to Greenwood.



CHAPTER VIII

WARPED



It is the early breakfast hour at a small frame house, situated about
a mile from the staid but thriving village of Pushton. But the
indications around the house do not denote thrift. Quite the reverse.
As the neighbors expressed it, "there was a screw loose with Lacey,"
the owner of this place. It was going down hill like its master. A
general air of neglect and growing dilapidation impressed the most
casual observer. The front gate hung on one hinge; boards were off the
shackly barn, and the house had grown dingy and weather-stained from
lack of paint. But as you entered and passed from the province of the
master to that of the mistress a new element was apparent, struggling
with, but unable to overcome, the predominant tendency to unthrift and
seediness. But everything that Mrs. Lacey controlled was as neat as
the poor overworked woman could keep it.

At the time our story becomes interested in her fortunes, Mrs. Lacey
was a middle-aged woman, but appeared older than her years warranted,
from the long-continued strain of incessant toil, and from that which
wears much faster still, the depression of an unhappy, ill-mated life.
Her face wore the pathetic expression of confirmed discouragement. She
reminded one of soldiers fighting when they know that it is of no use,
and that defeat will be the only result, but who fight on
mechanically, in obedience to orders.

She is now placing a very plain but wholesome and well-prepared
breakfast on the table, and it would seem that both the eating and
cooking were carried on in the same large living-room. Her daughter, a
rosy-cheeked, half-grown girl of fourteen, was assisting her, and both
mother and daughter seemed in a nervous state of expectancy, as if
hoping and fearing the result of a near event. A moment's glance
showed that this event related to a lad of about seventeen, who was
walking about the room, vainly trying to control the agitation which
is natural even to the cool and experienced when feeling that they are
at one of the crises of life.

It could not be expected of Arden Lacey at his age to be cool and
experienced. Indeed his light curling hair, blue eyes, and a mobile
sensitive mouth, suggested the reverse of a stolid self-poise, or
cheerful endurance. Any one accustomed to observe character could see
that he was possessed of a nervous, fine-fibred nature capable of
noble achievement under right influences, but also easily warped and
susceptible to sad injury under brutal wrong. He was like those
delicate and somewhat complicated musical instruments that produce the
sweetest harmonies when in tune and well played upon, but the most
jangling discords when unstrung and in rough, ignorant hands. He had
inherited his nervous temperament, his tendency to irritation and
excess, from the diseased, over-stimulated system of his father, who
was fast becoming a confirmed inebriate, and who had been poisoning
himself with bad liquors all his life. From his mother he had obtained
what balance he had in temperament, but he owed more to her daily
influence and training. It was the one struggle of the poor woman's
life to shield her children from the evil consequences of their
father's life. For her son she had special anxiety, knowing his
sensitive, high-strung nature, and his tendency to go headlong into
evil if his self-respect and self-control were once lost. His
passionate love for her had been the boy's best trait, and through
this she had controlled him thus far. But she had thought that it
might be best for him to be away from his father's presence and
influence if she could only find something that accorded with his
bent. And this eventually proved to be a college education. The boy
was of a quick and studious mind. From earliest years he had been fond
of books, and as time advanced, the passion for study and reading grew
upon him. He had a strong imagination, and his favorite styles of
reading were such as appealed to this. In the scenes of history and
romance he escaped from the sordid life of toil and shame to which his
father condemned him, into a large realm that seemed rich and
glorified in contrast. When he was but fourteen the thought of a
liberal education fired his ambition and became the dream of his life.
He made the very most of the district school to which he was sent in
winter. The teacher happened to be a well-educated man, and took pride
in his apt, eager scholar. Between the boy's and the mother's savings
they had obtained enough to secure private lessons in Latin and Greek,
and now at the age of seventeen he was tolerably well prepared for
college.

But the father had no sympathy at all with these tastes, and from the
incessant labor he required of his son, and the constant interruptions
he occasioned in his studies even in winter, he had been a perpetual
bar to all progress.

On the day previous to the scene described in the opening of this
chapter, the winter term had closed, and Mr. Rule, the teacher, had
declared that Arden could enter college, and with natural pride in his
own work as instructor, intimated that he would lead his class if he
did.

Both mother and son were so elated at this that they determined at
once to state the fact to the father, thinking that if he had any of
the natural feelings of a parent he would take some pride in his boy,
and be willing to help him obtain the education he longed for.

But there is little to be hoped from a man who is completely under the
influence of ignorance and rum. Mr. Lacey was the son of a small
farmer like himself, and never had anything to recommend him but his
fine looks, which had captivated poor Mrs. Lacey to her cost. Unlike
the majority of his class, who are fast becoming a very intelligent
part of the community, and are glad to educate their children, he
boasted that he liked the "old ways," and by these he meant the worst
ways of his father's day, when books and schools were scarce, and few
newspapers found their way to rural homes. He was, like his father
before him, a graduate of the village tavern, and had imbibed bad
liquor and his ideas of life at the same time from that objectionable
source. With the narrow-mindedness of his class, he had a prejudice
against all learning that went beyond the three R's, and had watched
with growing disapprobation his son's taste for books, believing that
it would spoil him as a farm hand, and make him an idle dreamer. He
was less and less inclined to work himself as his frame became
diseased and enfeebled from intemperance, and he determined now to get
as much work as possible out of that "great hulk of a boy," as he
called Arden. He had picked up some hints of the college hopes, and
the very thought angered him. He determined that when the boy broached
the subject he would give him such a "jawing" (to use his own
vernacular) "as would put an end to that nonsense." Therefore both
Arden and his mother, who were waiting as we have described in such a
perturbed anxious state for his entrance, were doomed to bitter
disappointment. At last a heavy red-faced man entered the kitchen,
stalking in on the white floor out of the drizzling rain with his
muddy boots leaving tracks and blotches in keeping with his character.
But he had the grace to wash his grimy hands before sitting down to
the table. He was always in a bad humor in the morning, and the chilly
rain had not improved it. A glance around showed him that something
was on hand, and he surmised that it was the college business. He at
once thought within himself:

"I'll squelch the thing now, once for all."

Turning to his son, he said, "Look here, youngster, why hain't you
been out doing your chores? D'ye expect me to do your work and mine,
too?"

"Father," said the impulsive boy with a voice of trembling eagerness,
"if you will let me go to college next fall, I'll do my work and yours
too. I'll work night and day--"

"What cussed nonsense is this?" demanded the man harshly, clashing
down his knife and fork and turning frowningly toward his son.

"No, but father, listen to me before you refuse. Mr. Rule says I'm fit
to enter college and that I can lead my class too. I've been studying
for this three years. I've set my heart upon it," and in his
earnestness, tears gathered in his eyes.

"The more fool you, and old Rule is another," was the coarse answer.

The boy's eyes flashed angrily, but the mother here spoke.

"You ought to be proud of your son, John; if you were a true father
you would be. If you'd encourage and help him now, he'd make a man
that--"

"Shut up! little you know about it. He'd make one of your snivelling
white-fingered loafers that's too proud to get a living by hard work.
Perhaps you'd like to make a parson out of him. Now look here, old
woman, and you, too, my young cock, I've suspicioned that something of
this kind was up, but I tell you once for all it won't go. Just as
this hulk of a boy is gettin' of some use to me, you want to spoil him
by sending him to college. I'll see him hanged first," and the man
turned to his breakfast as if he had settled it. But he was startled
by his son's exclaiming passionately:

"I will go."

"Look here, what do _you_ mean?" said the father, rising with a black
ugly look.

"I mean I've set my heart on going to college and I will go. You and
all the world shan't hinder me. I won't stay here and be a farm drudge
all my life."

The man's face was livid with anger, and in a low, hissing tone he
said:

"I guess you want taking down a peg, my college gentleman. Perhaps you
don't know I'm master till you're twenty-one," and he reached down a
large leather strap.

"You strike me if you dare," shouted the boy.

"If I dare! haw! haw! If I don't cut the cussed nonsense out of yer
this morning, then I never did," and he took an angry stride toward
his son, who sprang behind the stove.

The wife and mother had stood by growing whiter and whiter, and with
lips pressed closely together. At this critical moment she stepped
before her infuriated husband and seized his arm, exclaiming:

"John, take care. You have reached the end."

"Stand aside," snarled the man, raising the strap, "or I'll give you a
taste of it, too."

The woman's grasp tightened on his arm, and in a voice that made him
pause and look fixedly at her, she said:

"If you strike me or that boy I'll take my children and we will leave
your roof this hateful day never to return."

"Hain't I to be master in my own house?" said the husband sullenly.

"You are not to be a brute in your own house. I know you've struck me
before, but I endured it and said nothing about it because you were
drunk, but you are not drunk now, and if you lay a finger on me or my
son to-day, I will never darken your doors again."

The unnatural father saw that he had gone too far. He had not expected
such an issue. He had long been accustomed to follow the lead of his
brutal passions, but had now reached a point where he felt he must
stop, as his wife said. Turning on his heel, he sullenly took his
place at the table, muttering:

"It's a pretty pass when there's mutiny in a man's own house." Then to
his son, "You won't get a d--n cent out of me for your college
business, mind that."

Rose, the daughter, who had been crying and wringing her hands on the
door-step, now came timidly in, and at a sign from her mother she and
her brother went into another room.

The man ate for a while in dogged silence, but at last in a tone that
was meant to be somewhat conciliatory said:

"What the devil did you mean by putting the boy up to such
foolishness?"

"Hush!" said his wife imperiously, "I'm in no mood to talk with you
now."

"Oh, ah, indeed, a man can't even speak in his own house, eh? I guess
I'll take myself off to where I can have a little more liberty," and
he went out, harnessed his old white horse, and started for his
favorite groggery in the village.

His father had no sooner gone than Arden came out and said
passionately:

"It's no use, mother, I can't stand it; I must leave home to-day. I
guess I can make a living; at any rate I'd rather starve than pass
through such scenes."

The poor, overwrought woman threw herself down in a low chair and
sobbed, rocking herself back and forth.

"Wait till I die, Arden, wait till I die. I feel it won't be long.
What have I to live for but you and Rosy? And if you, my pride and
joy, go away after what has happened, it will be worse than death,"
and a tempest of grief shook her gaunt frame.

Arden was deeply moved. Boylike he had been thinking only of himself,
but now as never before he realized her hard lot, and in his warm,
impulsive heart there came a yearning tenderness for her such as he
had never felt before. He took her in his arms and kissed and
comforted her, till even her sore heart felt the healing balm of love
and ceased its bitter aching. At last she dried her eyes and said with
a faint smile: "With such a boy to pet me, the world isn't all flint
and thorns yet."

And Rosy came and kissed her too, for she was an affectionate child,
though a little inclined to be giddy and vain.

"Don't worry, mother," said Arden. "I will stay and take such good
care of you that you will have many years yet, and happier ones, too,
I hope," and he resolved to keep this promise, cost what it might.

"I hardly think I ought to ask it of you, though even the thought of
your going away breaks my heart." "I will stay," said the boy, almost
as passionately as he had said, "I will go." "I now see how much you
need a protector."

That night the father came home so stupidly drunk that they had to
half carry him to bed where he slept heavily till morning, and rose
considerably shaken and depressed from his debauch. The breakfast was
as silent as it had been stormy on the previous day. After it was
over, Arden followed his father to the door and said:

"I was a boy yesterday morning, but you made me a man, and a rather
ugly one too. I learned then for the first time that you occasionally
strike my mother. Don't you ever do it again, or it will be worse for
you, drunk or sober. I am not going to college, but will stay at home
and take care of her. Do we understand each other?"

The man was in such a low, shattered condition that his son's bearing
cowed him, and he walked off muttering:

"Young cocks crow mighty loud," but from that time forward he never
offered violence to his wife or children.

Still his father's conduct and character had a most disastrous effect
upon the young man. He was soured, because disappointed in his most
cherished purpose at an age when most youths scarcely have definite
plans. Many have a strong natural bent, and if turned aside from this,
they are more or less unhappy, and their duties, instead of being
wings to help life forward, become a galling yoke.

This was the case with Arden. Farm work, as he had learned it from his
father, was coarse, heavy drudgery, with small and uncertain returns,
and these were largely spent at the village rum shops in purchasing
slow perdition for the husband, and misery and shame for his wife and
children. In respectable Pushton, a drunkard's family, especially if
poor, had a very low social status. Mrs. Lacey and her children would
not accept of bad associations, so they had scarcely any. This
ostracism, within certain limits, is perhaps right. The preventive
penalties of vice can scarcely be too great, and men and women must be
made to feel that wrong-doing is certain to be followed by terrible
consequences. The fire is merciful in that it always burns, and sin
and suffering are inseparably linked. But the consequences of one
person's sin often blight the innocent. The necessity of this from our
various ties should be a motive, a hostage against sinning, and
doubtless restrains many a one who would go headlong under evil
impulses. But multitudes do slip off the paths of virtue, and helpless
wives, and often helpless husbands and children, writhe from wounds
made by those under sacred obligations to shield them. Upon the
families of criminals, society visits a mildew of coldness and scorn
that blights nearly all chance of good fruit. But society is very
unjust in its discriminations, and some of the most heinous sins in
God's sight are treated as mere eccentricities, or condemned in the
poor, but winked at in the rich. Gentlemen will admit to their parlors
men about whom they know facts which if true of a woman would close
every respectable door against her, and God frowns on the Christian
(?) society that makes such arbitrary and unjust distinctions. Cast
both out, till they bring forth fruits meet for repentance.

But we hope for little of a reformative tendency from the selfish
society of the world. Changing human fashion rules it, rather than the
eternal truth of the God of love. The saddest feature of all is that
the shifting code of fashion is coming more and more to govern the
church. Doctrine may remain the same, profession and intellectual
belief the same, while practical action drifts far astray. There are
multitudes of wealthy churches, that will no more admit associations
with that class among which our Lord lived and worked, than will
select society. They seem designed to help only respectable, well-connected sinners, toward heaven.

This tendency has two phases. In the cities the poor are practically
excluded from worshipping with the rich, and missions are established
for them as if they were heathen. There can be no objection to costly,
magnificent churches. Nothing is too good to be the expression of our
honor and love of God. But they should be like the cathedrals of
Europe, where prince and peasant may bow together on the same level
they have in the Divine presence. Christ made no distinction between
the rich and poor regarding their spiritual value and need, nor should
the Christianity named after Him. To the degree that it does, it is
not Christianity. The meek and lowly Nazarene is not its inspiration.
Perhaps the personage He told to get behind Him when promising the
"kingdoms of the world and the glory of them" has more to do with it.

The second phase of this tendency as seen in the country, is kindred
but unlike. Poverty may not be so great a bar, but moral delinquencies
are more severely visited, and the family under a cloud, through the
wrong-doing of one or more of its members, is treated very much as if
it had a perpetual pestilence. The highly respectable keep aloof. Too
often the quiet country church is not a sanctuary and place of refuge
for the victims either of their own or another's sin, a place where
the grasp of sympathy and words of encouragement are given; but rather
a place where they meet the cold critical gaze of those who are hedged
about with virtues and good connections. I hope I am wrong, but how is
it where you live, my reader? If a well-to-do thriving man of
integrity takes a fine place in your community, we all know how church
people will treat him. And what they do is all right. But society--the
world--will do the same. Is Christianity--are the followers of the
"Friend of publicans and sinners"--to do no more?

If in contrast a drunken wretch like Lacey with his wife and children
come in town on top of a wagon-load of shattered furniture, and all
are dumped down in a back alley to scramble into the shelter of a
tenement house as best they can, do you call upon them? Do you invite
them to your pew? Do you ever urge and encourage them to enter your
church? and do you make even one of its corners homelike and inviting?

I hope so; but, alas! that was not the general custom in Pushton, and
poor Mrs. Lacey had acquired the habit of staying at home, her
neighbors had become accustomed to call her husband a "dreadful man,"
and the family "very irreligious," and as the years passed they seemed
to be more and more left to themselves. Mr. Lacey had brought his wife
from a distant town where he had met and married her. She was a timid,
retiring woman, and time and kindness were needed to draw her out. But
no one had seemingly thought it worth while, and at the time our story
takes an interest in their affairs, there was a growing isolation.

All this had a very bad effect upon Arden. As he grew out of the
democracy of boyhood he met a certain social coldness and distance
which he learned to understand only too early, and soon returned this
treatment with increased coldness and aversion. Had it not been for
the influence of his mother and the books he read, he would have
inevitably fallen into low company. But he had promised his mother to
shun it. He saw its result in his father's conduct, and as he read,
and his mind matured, the narrow coarseness of such company became
repugnant. From time to time he was sorely tempted to leave the home
which his father made hateful in many respects, and try his fortunes
among strangers who would not associate him with a sot; but his love
for his mother kept him at her side, for he saw that her life was
bound up in him, and that he alone could protect her and his sister
and keep some sort of a shelter for them. In his unselfish devotion to
them his character was noble. In his harsh cynicism toward the world
and especially the church people, for whom he had no charity whatever
--in his utter hatred and detestation of his father--it was faulty,
though allowance must be made for him. He was also peculiar in other
respects, for his unguided reading was of a nature that fed his
imagination at the expense of his reasoning faculties. Though he
drudged in a narrow round, and his life was as hard and real as
poverty and his father's intemperance could make it, he mentally lived
and found his solace in a world as large and unreal as an uncurbed
fancy could create. Therefore his work was hurried through
mechanically in the old slovenly methods to which he had been
educated, he caring little for the results, as his father squandered
these; and when the necessary toil was over, he would lose all sense
of the sordid present in the pages of some book obtained from the
village library. As he drove his milk cart to and from town he would
sit in the chill drizzling rain, utterly oblivious of discomfort, with
a half smile upon his lips, as he pictured to himself some scene of
sunny aspect or gloomy castellated grandeur of which his own
imagination was the architect. The famous in history, the heroes and
heroines of fiction, and especially the characters of Shakespeare were
more familiar to him than the people among whom he lived. From the
latter he stood more and more aloof, while with the former he held
constant intercourse. He had little in common even with his sister,
who was of a very different temperament. But his tenderness toward his
mother never failed, and she loved him with the passionate intensity
of a nature to which love was all, but which had found little to
satisfy it on earth, and was ignorant of the love of God.

And so the years dragged on to Arden, and hiss twenty-first birthday
made him free from his father's control as he practically long had
been, but it also found him bound more strongly than ever by his
mother's love and need to his old home life.



CHAPTER IX

A DESERT ISLAND



The good cry that Edith indulged in on her way to the boat was a
relief to her heart, which had long been overburdened. But the
necessity of controlling her feelings, and the natural buoyancy of
youth, enabled her by the time they reached the wharf to see that the
furniture and baggage were properly taken care of. No one could detect
the traces of grief through her thick veil, or guess from her firm,
quiet tones, that she felt somewhat as Columbus might when going in
search of a new world. And yet Edith had a hope from her country life
which the others did not share at all.

When she was quite a child her feeble health had induced her father to
let her spend an entire summer in a farmhouse of the better class,
whose owner had some taste for flowers and fruit. These she had
enjoyed and luxuriated in as much as any butterfly of the season, and
as she romped with the farmer's children, roamed the fields and woods
in search of berries, and tumbled in the fragrant hay, health came
tingling back with a fullness and vigor that had never been lost. With
all her subsequent enjoyment, that summer still dwelt in her memory as
the halcyon period of her life, and it was with the country she
associated it. Every year she had longed for July, for then her father
would break away from business for a couple of months and take them to
a place of resort. But the fashionable watering-places were not at all
to her taste as compared with that old farmhouse, and whenever it was
possible she would wander off and make "disreputable acquaintances,"
as Mrs. Allen termed them, among the farmers' and laborers' families
in the vicinity of the hotel. But by this means she often obtained a
basket of fruit or bunch of flowers that the others were glad to share
in.

In accordance with her practical nature she asked questions as to the
habits, growth, and culture of trees and fruits, so that few city
girls situated as she had been knew as much about the products of the
garden. She had also haunted conservatories and green-houses as much
as her sisters had frequented the costly Broadway temples of fashion,
where counters are the altars to which the women of the city bring
their daily offerings; and as we have seen, a fruit store was a place
of delight to her.

The thought that she could now raise without limit fruit, flowers, and
vegetables on her own place was some compensation even for the trouble
they had passed through and the change in their fortunes.

Moreover she knew that because of their poverty she would have to
secure from her ground substantial returns, and that her gardening
must be no amateur trifling, but earnest work. Therefore, having found
a seat in the saloon of the boat, she drew out of her leather bag one
of her garden-books and some agricultural papers, and commenced
studying over for the twentieth time the labors proper for April.
After reading a while, she leaned back and closed her eyes and tried
to form such crude plans as were possible in her inexperience and her
ignorance of a place that she had not even seen.

Opening her eyes suddenly she saw old Hannibal sitting near and
regarding her wistfully.

"You are a foolish old fellow to stay with us," she said to him. "You
could have obtained plenty of nice places in the city. What made you
do it?"

"I'se couldn't gib any good reason to de world, Miss Edie, but de one
I hab kinder satisfies my ole black heart."

"Your heart isn't black, Hannibal."

"How you know dat?" he asked quickly.

"Because I've seen it often and often. Sometimes I think it is whiter
than mine. I now and then feel so desperate and wicked, that I am
afraid of myself."

"Dere now, you'se worried and worn-out and you tinks dat's bein'
wicked."

"No. I'm satisfied it is something worse than that. I wonder if God
does care about people who are in trouble, I mean practically, so as
to help them any?"

"Well, I specs he does," said Hannibal vaguely. "But den dere's so
many in trouble dat I'm afeard some hab to kinder look after
demselves." Then as if a bright thought struck him, he added, "I specs
he sorter lumps 'em jes as Massa Allen did when he said he was sorry
for de people burned up in Chicago. He sent 'em a big lot ob money and
den seemed to forget all about 'em."

Hannibal had never given much attention to religion, and perhaps was
not the best authority that Edith could have consulted. But his
conclusion seemed to secure her consent, for she leaned back wearily
and again closed her eyes, saying:

"Yes, we are mere human atoms, lost sight of in the multitude."

Soon her deep regular breathing showed that she was asleep, and
Hannibal muttered softly:

"Bress de child, dat will do her a heap more good dan askin' dem deep
questions," and he watched beside her like a large faithful
Newfoundland dog.

At last he touched her elbow and said, "We get off at de next landin',
and I guess we mus' be pretty nigh dere."

Edith started up much refreshed and asked, "What sort of an evening is
it?"

"Well, I'se sorry to say it's rainin' hard and berry dark."

To her dismay she also found that it was nearly nine o'clock. The boat
had been late in starting, and was so heavily laden as to make slow
progress against wind and tide. Edith's heart sank within her at the
thought of landing alone in a strange place that dismal night. It was
indeed a new experience to her. But she donned her waterproof, and the
moment the boat touched the wharf, hurried ashore, and stood under her
small umbrella, while her household gods were being hustled out into
the drenching rain. She knew the injury that must result to them
unless they could speedily be carried into the boat-house near. At
first there seemed no one to do this save Hannibal, who at once set to
work, but she soon observed a man with a lantern gathering up some
butter-tubs that the boat was landing, and she immediately appealed to
him for help.

"I'm not the dock-master," was the gruff reply.

"You are a man, are you not? and one that will not turn away from a
lady in distress. If my things stand long in this rain they will be
greatly injured."

The man thus adjured turned his lantern on the speaker, and while we
recognize the features of our acquaintance, Arden Lacey, he sees a
face on the old dock that quite startles him. If Edith had dropped
down with the rain, she could not have been more unexpected, and with
her large dark eyes flashing suddenly on him, and her appealing yet
half-indignant voice breaking in upon the waking dream with which he
was beguiling the outward misery of the night, it seemed as if one of
the characters of his fancy had suddenly become real. He who would
have passed Edith in surly unnoting indifference on the open street in
the garish light of day, now took the keenest interest in her. He had
actually been appealed to, as an ancient knight might have been, by a
damsel in distress, and he turned and helped her with a will, which,
backed by his powerful strength, soon placed her goods under shelter.
The lagging dock-master politicly kept out of the way till the work
was almost done and then bustled up and made some show of assisting in
time for any fees, if they should be offered, but Arden told him that
since he had kept out of sight so long, he might remain invisible,
which was the unpopular way the young man had.

When the last article had been placed under shelter Edith said:

"I appreciate your help exceedingly. How much am I to pay you for your
trouble?"

"Nothing," was the rather curt reply.

The appearance of a lady like Edith, with a beauty that seemed weird
and strange as he caught glimpses of her face by the fitful rays of
his lantern, had made a sudden and strong impression on his morbid
fancy and fitted the wild imaginings with which he had occupied the
dreary hour of waiting for the boat. The presence of her sable
attendant had increased these impressions. But when she took out her
purse to pay him his illusions vanished. Therefore the abrupt tone in
which he said "Nothing," and which was mainly caused by vexation at
the matter-of-fact world that continually mocked his unreal one.

"I don't quite understand you," said Edith. "I had no intention of
employing your time and strength without remuneration."

"I told you I was not the dock-master," said Arden rather coldly.
"He'll take all the fees you will give him. You appealed to me as a
man, and said you were in distress. I helped you as a man. Good-evening."

"Stay," said Edith hastily. "You seem not only a man, but a gentleman,
and I am tempted, in view of my situation, to trespass still further
on your kindness," but she hesitated a moment.

It perhaps had never been intimated to Arden before that he was a
gentleman, certainly never in the tone with which Edith spoke, and his
fanciful, chivalric nature responded at once to the touch of that
chord. With the accent of voice he ever used toward his mother, he
said:

"I am at your service."

"We are strangers here," continued Edith. "Is there any place near the
landing where we can get safe, comfortable lodging?"

"I am sorry to say there is not. The village is a mile away."

"How can we get there?"

"Isn't the stage down?" asked Arden of the dock-master.

"No!" was the gruff response.

"The night is so bad I suppose they didn't come. I would take you
myself in a minute if I had a suitable wagon."

"Necessity knows no choice," said Edith quickly. "I will go with you
in any kind of a wagon, and I surely hope you won't leave me on this
lonely dock in the rain."

"Certainly not," said Arden, reddening in the darkness that he could
be thought capable of such an act. "But I thought I could drive to the
village and send a carriage for you."

"I would rather go with you now, if you will let me," said Edith
decidedly.

"The best I have is at your service, but I fear you will be sorry for
your choice. I've only a board for a seat, and my wagon has no
springs. Perhaps I could get a low box for you to sit on."

"Hannibal can sit on the box. With your permission I will sit with
you, for I wish to ask you some questions."

Arden hung his lantern on a hook in front of his wagon, and helped or
partly lifted Edith over the wheel to the seat, which was simply a
board resting on the sides of the box. He turned a butter-tub upside
down for Hannibal, and then they jogged out from behind the boat-house
where he had sheltered his horses.

This was all a new experience to Arden. He had, from his surly
misanthropy, little familiarity with society of any kind, and since as
a boy he had romped with the girls at school he had been almost a
total stranger to all women save those in his own home. Most young men
would have been awkward louts under the circumstances. But this was
not true of Arden, for he had daily been holding converse in the books
he dreamed over with women of finer clay than he could have found at
Pushton. He would have been excessively awkward in a drawing-room or
any place of conventional resort, or rather he would have been sullen
and bearish, but the place and manner in which he had met Edith
accorded with his romantic fancy, and the darkness shielded his rough
exterior from observation.

Moreover, the presence of this flesh-and-blood woman at his side gave
him different sensations from the stately dames, or even the most
piquant maidens that had smiled upon him in the shadowy scenes of his
imagination; and when at times, as the wagon jolted heavily, she
grasped his arm for a second to steady herself, it seemed as if the
dusky little figure at his side was a sort of human electric battery
charged with that subtile fluid which some believe to be the material
life of the universe. Every now and then as they bounced over a stone,
the lantern would bob up and throw a ray on a face like those that had
looked out upon him from those plays of Shakespeare the scenes of
which are laid in Italy.

Thus the dark, chilly, rainy night was becoming the most luminous
period of his life. Reason and judgment act slowly, but imagination
takes fire.

But to poor Edith all was real and dismal enough, and she often sighed
heavily. To Arden each sigh was an appeal for sympathy. He had driven
as rapidly as he dared in the darkness to get her out of the rain, but
at last she said, clinging to his arm:

"Won't you drive slowly? The jolting has given me a pain in my side."

He was conscious of a new and peculiar sensation there also, though
not from jolting. He had been used to that in many ways all his life,
but thereafter they jogged forward on a walk through the drizzling
rain, and Edith, recovering her breath, and a sense of security, began
to asked the questions.

"Do you know where the cottage is that was formerly owned by Mr.
Jenks?"

"Oh, yes, it's not far from our house--between our house and the
village." Then as if a sudden thought struck him he added quickly, "I
heard it was sold; are you the owner?"

"Yes," said Edith a little coolly. She had expected to question and
not to be questioned. And yet she was very glad she had met one who
knew about her place. But she resolved to be non-committal till she
knew more about him.

"What sort of a house is it?" she asked after a moment. "I have never
seen it."

"Well, it's not very large, and I fear it is somewhat out of repair--at least it looks so, and I should think a new roof was needed."

Edith could not help saying pathetically, "Oh, dear! I'm so sorry."

Arden then added hastily, "But it's a kind of a pretty place too--a
great many fruit-trees and grapevines on it."

"So I've been told," said Edith. "And that will be its chief
attraction to me."

"Then you are going to live there?"

"Yes."

Arden's heart gave a sudden throb. Then he would see this mysterious
stranger often. But he smiled half bitterly in the darkness as he
queried, "What will she appear like in the daylight?"

Her next question broke the spell he was under utterly. They were
passing through the village and the little hotel was near, and she
naturally asked:

"To whom am I indebted for all this kindness? I am glad to know so
much as that you are my neighbor."

Suddenly and painfully conscious of his outward life and surroundings,
he answered briefly:

"My name is Arden Lacey. We have a small farm a little beyond your
cottage."

Wondering at his change of tone and manner, Edith still ventured to
ask:

"And do you know of any one who could bring my furniture and things up
to-morrow?"

As he sometimes did that kind of work, an impulse to see more of her
impelled him to say:

"I suppose I can do it. I work for a living."

"I am sure that is nothing against you," said Edith kindly.

"You will not live long in Pushton before learning that there is
something against us," was the bitter reply. "But that need not
prevent my working for you, as I do for others. If you wish, I will
make a fire in your house early, to take off the chill and dampness,
and then go for your furniture. The people here will send you out in a
carriage." "I shall be greatly obliged if you will do so and let me
pay you."

"Oh, certainly, I will charge the usual rates."

"Well, then, how much for to-night?" said Edith as she stood in the
hotel door.

"To-night is another affair," and he jumped into his wagon and rattled
away in the darkness, his lantern looking like a "will-o'-the-wisp"
that might vanish altogether.

The landlord received Edith and her attendant with a gruff civility,
and gave her in charge of his wife, who was a bustling red-faced woman
with a sort of motherly kindness about her.

"Why, you poor child," she said to Edith, turning her round before the
light, "you're half drowned. You must have something hot right away,
or you'll take your death o' cold," and with something of her
husband's faith in whiskey, she soon brought Edith a hot punch that
for a few moments seemed to make the girl's head spin, but as it was
followed by strong tea and toast, she felt none the worse, and danger
from the chill and wet was effectually disposed of.

As she sat sipping her tea before a red-hot stove, she told, in answer
to the landlady's questions, how she had got up from the boat.

"Who is this Lacey, and what is there against them?" she asked
suddenly.

The hostess went across the hall, opened the bar-room door, and
beckoned Edith to follow her.

In a chair by the stove sat a miserable bloated wreck of a man,
drivelling and mumbling in a drunken lethargy.

"That's his father," said the woman in a whisper. "When he gets as bad
as that he comes here because he knows my husband is the only one as
won't turn him out of doors."

An expression of intense disgust flitted across Edith's face, and by
the necessary law of association poor Arden sank in her estimation
through the foulness of his father's vice.

"Is there anything against the son?" asked Edith in some alarm. "I've
engaged him to bring up my furniture and trunks. I hope he's honest."

"Oh, yes, he's honest enough, and he'd be mighty mad if anybody
questioned that, but he's kind o' soured and ugly, and don't notice
nobody nor nothing. The son and Mrs. Lacey keep to themselves, the man
does as you see, but the daughter, who's a smart, pretty girl, tries
to rise above it all, and make her way among the rest of the girls;
but she has a hard time of it, I guess, poor child."

"I don't wonder," said Edith, "with such a father."

But between the punch and fatigue, she was glad to take refuge from
the landlady's garrulousness, and all her troubles in quiet sleep.

The next morning the storm was passing away in broken masses of cloud,
through which the sun occasionally shone in April-like uncertainty.

After an early breakfast she and Hannibal were driven in an open wagon
to what was to be her future home--the scene of unknown joys and
sorrows.

The most memorable places, where the mightiest events of the world
have transpired, can never have for us the interest of that humble
spot where the little drama of our own life will pass from act to act
till our exit.

Most eagerly did Edith note everything as revealed by the broad light
of day. The village, though irregular, had a general air of
thriftiness and respectability. The street through which she was
riding gradually fringed off, from stores and offices, into neat
homes, farmhouses, and here and there the abodes of the poor, till at
last, three-quarters of a mile out, she saw a rather quaint little
cottage with a roof steeply sloping and a long low porch.

"That's your place, miss," said the driver.

Edith's intent eyes took in the general effect with something of the
practiced rapidity with which she mastered a lady's toilet on the
avenue.

In spite of her predisposition to be pleased, the prospect was
depressing. The season was late and patches of discolored snow lay
here and there, and were piled up along the fences. The garden and
trees had a neglected look. The vines that clambered up the porch had
been untrimmed of the last year's growth, and sprawled in every
direction. The gate hung from one hinge, and many palings were off the
fence, and all had a sodden, dingy appearance from the recent rains.
The house itself looked so dilapidated and small, in contrast with
their stately mansion on Fifth Avenue, that irrepressible tears came
into her eyes, as she murmured:

"It will kill mother just to see it."

Old Hannibal said in a low, encouraging tone, "It'll look a heap
better next June, Miss Edie."

But Edith dropped her veil to hide her feelings, and shook her head.

They got down before the rickety gate, took out the basket of
provisions which Hannibal had secured, paid the driver, who splashed
away through the mud as a boat might that had landed and left two
people on a desert island. They walked up the oozy path with hearts
about as chill and empty as the unfurnished cottage before them.

But utter repulsiveness had been taken away by a bright fire that
Arden had kindled on the hearth of the largest room; and when lighting
it he had been so romantic as to dream of the possibility of kindling
a more sacred fire in a heart that he knew now to be as cold to him as
the chilly room in which he shivered.

Poor Arden! If he could have seen the expression on Edith's face the
night previous, as she looked on his besotted father, he would have
cursed more bitterly than ever what he termed the blight of his life.



CHAPTER X

EDITH BECOMES A "DIVINITY"



As the wrecked would hasten up the strand and explore eagerly in
various directions in order to gain some idea of the nature and
resources of the place where they might spend months and even years,
so Edith hurriedly passed from one room to another, looking the house
over first, as their place of refuge and centre of life, and then went
out to a spot from which she could obtain a view of the garden, the
little orchard, and the pasture field.

The house had three rooms on the first floor, as many on the second,
and a very small attic. There was also a pretty good cellar, though it
looked to Edith like a black, dismal hole, and was full of rubbish and
old boxes.

The entrance of the house was at the commencement of the porch, which
ran along under the windows of the large front room. Back of this was
one much smaller, and doors opened from both the apartments named into
a long and rather narrow room running the full depth of the house, and
which had been designed as the kitchen. With the families that would
naturally occupy a house of this character, it would have been the
general living-room. To Edith's eyes, accustomed to magnificent spaces
and lofty ceilings, these apartments seemed stifling dingy cells. The
walls were broken in places and discolored by smoke. With the
exception of the large room there were no places for open fires, but
only holes for stovepipes.

"How can such a place as this ever look homelike?"

The muddy garden, with its patches of snow, its forlorn and neglected
air, its spreading vines and the thickly standing stalks of last
year's weeds, was even less inviting. Edith had never seen the country
in winter, and the gardens of her experience were full of green,
beautiful life. The orchard looked not only gaunt and bare, but very
untidy. The previous year had been most abundant in fruit, and the
trees were left to bear at will. Therefore many of the limbs were
wholly or partly broken off, and lay scattered where they fell, or
still hung by a little of the woody fibre and bark.

Edith came back to the fire from the survey of her future home, not
only chilled in body by the raw April winds, but more chilled in
heart. Though she had not expected summer greenness and a sweet
inviting home, yet the reality was so dreary and forbidding, from its
necessary contrast with the past, that she sank down on the floor, and
buried her head in her lap in an uncontrollable passion of grief.
Hannibal was out gathering wood to replenish the fire, and it was a
luxury to be alone a few minutes with her sorrow.

But soon she had the consciousness that she was not alone, and looking
up, saw Arden in the door, with a grave troubled face. Hastily turning
from him, and wiping away her tears, she said rather coldly:

"You should have knocked. The house is my home, if it is empty."

His face changed instantly to its usual hard sullen aspect, and he
said briefly:

"I did knock."

"The landlady has told her all about us," he thought, "and she rejects
sympathy and fellowship from such as we are."

But Edith's feeling had only been annoyance that a stranger had seen
her emotion, so she said quickly, "I beg your pardon. We have had
trouble, but I don't give way in this manner often. Have you brought a
load?"

"Yes. If your servant will help me I will bring the things in."

As he and Hannibal carried in heavy rolls of carpet and other
articles, Edith removed as far as possible the traces of her grief,
and soon began to scan by the light of day with some curiosity her
acquaintance of the previous evening. He was the very opposite to
herself in appearance. Her eyes were large and dark. He had a rather
small but piercing blue eye. His locks were light and curly, and his
beard sandy. Her hair was brown and straight. He was fully six feet
tall, while she was only of medium height. And yet Edith was not a
brunette, but possessed a complexion of transparent delicacy which
gave her the fragile appearance characteristic of so many American
girls. His face was much tamed by exposure to March winds, but his
brow was as white as hers. In his morbid tendency to shun every one,
he usually kept his eyes fixed on the ground so as to appear not to
see people, and this, with his habitual frown, gave a rather heavy and
repelling expression to his face.

"He would make a very good representative of the laboring classes,"
she thought, "if he hadn't so disagreeable an expression."

It had only dimly dawned upon poor Edith as yet that she now belonged
to the "laboring classes."

But her energetic nature soon reacted against idle grieving, and her
pale cheeks grew rosy, and her face full of eager life as she assisted
and directed.

"If I only had one or two women to help me we could soon get things
settled," she said, "and I have so little time before the rest come."

Then she added suddenly to Arden, "Haven't you sisters?"

"My sister does not go out to service," said Arden proudly.

"Neither do I," said the shrewd Edith, "but I would be willing to help
any one in such an emergency as I am in," and she glanced keenly to
see the effect of this speech, while she thought, "What airs these
people put on!"

Arden's face changed instantly. Her words seemed like a ray of
sunlight falling on a place before shadowed, for the sullen frowning
expression passed into one almost of gentleness, as he said:

"That puts things in a different light. I am sure Rose and mother both
will be willing to help you as neighbors," and he started for another
load, going around by the way of his home and readily obtaining from
his mother and sister a promise to assist Edith after dinner.

Edith smiled to herself and said, "I have found the key to his surly
nature already." She had, and to many other natures also. Kindness and
human fellowship will unbar and unbolt where all other forces may
clamor in vain.

Arden went away in a maze of new sensations. This one woman of all the
world beside his mother and sister that he had come to know somewhat
was to him a strange, beautiful mystery. Edith was in many respects
conventional, as all society girls are, but it was the conventionality
of a sphere of life that Arden knew only through books, and she seemed
to him utterly different from the ladies of Pushton as he understood
them from his slight acquaintance. This difference was all in her
favor, for he cherished a bitter and unreasonable prejudice against
the young girls of his neighborhood as vain, shallow creatures who
never read, and thought of nothing save dress and beaux. His own
sister in fact had helped to confirm these impressions, for while he
was fond of her and kind, he had no great admiration for her, saying
in his sweeping cynicism, "She is like the rest of them." If he had
met Edith only in the street and in conventional ways, stylishly
dressed, he would scarcely have noticed her. But her half-indignant,
half-pathetic appeal to him on the dock, the lonely ride in which she
had clung to his arm for safety, her tears, and the manner in which
she had last spoken to him, had all combined to pierce thoroughly his
shell of sullen reserve; and, as we have said, his vivid imagination
had taken fire.

Edith and Hannibal worked hard the rest of the forenoon, and her
experienced old attendant was invaluable. Edith herself, though having
little practical knowledge of work of any kind, had vigor and natural
judgment, and her small white hands accomplished more than one would
suppose.

So Arden wonderingly thought on his return with a second load, as he
saw her lift and handle things that he knew to be heavy. Her short,
close-fitting working-dress outlined her fine figure to advantage, and
with complexion bright and dazzling with exercise, she seemed to him
some frail fairylike creature doomed by a cruel fate to unsuited toil
and sorrows. But Edith was very matter-of-fact, and had never in all
her life thought of herself as a fairy.

Arden went home to dinner, and by one o'clock Edith said to Hannibal:

"There is one good thing about the place if no other. It gives one a
savage appetite. What have you got in the basket?"

"A scrumptious lunch, Miss Edie. I told de landlady you'se used to
havin' things mighty nice, and den I found a hen's nest in de barn dis
mornin'."

"I hope you didn't take the eggs, Hannibal," said Edith slyly.

"Sartin I did, Miss Edie, cause if I didn't de rats would."

"Perhaps the landlady would also if you had shown them to her."

"Miss Edie," said Hannibal solemnly, "findin' a hen's nest is like
findin' a gold mine. It belongs to de one dat finds it."

"I am afraid that wouldn't stand in law. Suppose we were arrested for
robbing hens' nests. That wouldn't be a good introduction to our new
neighbors."

"Now, Miss Edie," said Hannibal, with an injured air, "you don't spec
I do a job like dat so bungly as to get cotched at it?"

"Oh, very well," said Edith, laughing, "since you have conformed to
the morality of the age, it must be all right, and a fresh egg would
be a rich treat now that it can be eaten with a clear conscience. But,
Hannibal, I wish you would find a gold mine out in the garden."

"I guess you'se find dat with all your readin' about strawberries and
other yarbs."

"I hope so," said Edith with a sigh, "for I don't see how we are going
to live here year after year."

"You'se be rich again. De men wid de long pusses ain't agoin' to look
at your black eyes for nothin'," and Hannibal chuckled knowingly.

The color faintly deepened in Edith's cheeks, but she said with some
scorn, "Men with long purses want girls with the same. But who are
these?"

Coming up the path they saw a tall middle-aged woman, and by her side
a young girl of about eighteen who was a marked contrast to her in
appearance.

"Dey's his moder and sister. You will drive tings dis arternoon."

Mrs. Lacey and her daughter entered with some little hesitancy and
embarrassment, but Edith, with the poise of an accomplished lady, at
once put them at ease by saying:

"It is exceedingly kind of you to come and help, and I appreciate it
very much."

"No one should refuse to be neighborly," said Mrs. Lacey quietly.

"And to tell the truth I was delighted to come," said Rose, "the
winter has been so long and dull."

"Oh, dear!" thought Edith, "if you find them so, what will be our
fate?"

Mrs. Lacey undid a bundle and took out a teapot from which the steam
yet oozed faintly, and Rose undid another containing some warm
buttered biscuits, Mrs. Lacey saying, "I thought your lunch might seem
a little cold and cheerless, so I brought these along."

"Now that _is_ kind," said Edith, so cordially that their faces
flushed with that natural pleasure which we all feel when our little
efforts for others are appreciated. To them it was intensified, for
Edith was a grand city lady, and the inroads that she made on the
biscuits, and the zest with which she sipped her tea, showed that her
words had the ring of truth.

"Do sit down and eat, while things are nice and warm," she said to
Hannibal. "There's no use in our putting on airs now," but Hannibal
insisted on waiting upon her as when he was butler in the great
dining-room on the avenue, and when she was through, carried the
things off to the empty kitchen, and took his "bite" on a packing box,
prefacing it as his nearest approach to grace by an indignant grunt
and profession of his faith.

"Dis ole niggah eat before her? Not much! She's quality now as much as
eber."

But the world and Hannibal were at variance on account of a sum of
subtraction which had taken away from Edith's name the dollar symbol.

Edith set to work, her helpers now increased to three, with renewed
zest, and from time to time stole glances at the mother and daughter
to see what the natives were like.

They were very different in appearance: the mother looking prematurely
old, and she also seemed bent and stooping under the heavy burdens of
life. Her dark blue eyes had a weary, pathetic look, as if some sorrow
was ever before them. Her cheek bones were prominent and her cheeks
sunken, and the thin hair, brushed plainly under her cap, was streaked
with gray. Her quietness and reserve seemed rather the result of a
crushed, sad heart than of natural lack of feeling.

The daughter was in the freshest bloom of youth, and was not unlike
the flower she was named after, when, as a dewy bud, it begins to
develop under the morning sun. Though not a beautiful girl, there was
a prettiness, a rural breeziness about her, that would cause any one
to look twice as she passed. The wind ever seemed to be in her light
flaxen curls, and her full rounded figure suggested superabundant
vitality, an impression increased by her quick, restless motions. Her
complexion reminded you of strawberries and cream, and her blue eyes
had a slightly bold and defiant expression. She felt the blight of her
father's course also, but it acted differently on her temperament.
Instead of timidly shrinking from the world like her mother, or
sullenly ignoring it like her brother, she was for going into society
and compelling it to recognize and respect her.

"I have done nothing wrong," she said; "I insist on people treating me
in view of what I am myself," and in the sanguine spirit of youth she
hoped to carry her point. Therefore her manner was a little self-asserting, which would not have been the case had she not felt that
she had prejudice to overcome. Unlike her brother, she cared little
for books, and had no ideal world, but lived vividly in her immediate
surroundings. The older she grew, the duller and more monotonous did
her home life seem. She had little sympathy from her brother; her
mother was a sad, silent woman, and her father a daily source of
trouble and shame. Her education was very imperfect, and she had no
resource in this, while her daily work seemed a tiresome round that
brought little return. Her mother attended to the more important
duties and gave to her the lighter tasks, which left her a good deal
of leisure. She had no work that stimulated her, no training that made
her thorough in any department of labor, however humble. From a
friend, a dressmaker in the village, she obtained a little fancy work
and sewing, and the proceeds resulting, and all her brother gave her,
she spent in dress. The sums were small enough in all truth, and yet
with the marvellous ingenuity that some girls, fond of dress, acquire,
she made a very little go a great way, and she would often appear in
toilets that were quite effective. With those of her own age and sex
in her narrow little circle, she was not a special favorite, but she
was with the young men, for she was bright, chatty, and had the knack
of putting awkward fellows at ease. She kept her little parlor as
pretty and inviting as her limited materials permitted, and with a
growing imperiousness gave the rest of the family, and especially her
father, to understand that this parlor was her domain, and that she
would permit no intrusion. Clerks from the village and farmers' sons
would occasionally drop in of an evening, though they preferred taking
her out to ride where they could see her away from her home. But the
more respectable young men, with anxious mothers and sisters, were
rather shy of poor Rose, and none seemed to care to go beyond a mild
flirtation with a girl whose father was "on the rampage," as they
expressed it, most of the time. On one occasion, when she had two
young friends spending the evening, her father came home reckless and
wild with drink, and his language toward the young men was so
shocking, and his manner in general so outrageous, that they were glad
to get away. If Arden had not come home and collared his father,
carrying him off to his room by his almost irresistible strength,
Rose's parlor might have become a sad wreck, literally as well as
socially. As it was, it seemed deserted for a long time, and she felt
very bitter about it. In her fearless frankness, her determination not
to succumb to her sinister surroundings (and perhaps from the lack of
a sensitive delicacy), she reproached the same young men when she met
them for staying away, saying, "It's a shame to treat a girl as if she
were to blame for what she can't help."

But Rose's ambition had put on a phase against which circumstances
were too strong, and she was made to feel in her struggle to gain a
social footing that her father's leprosy had tainted her, and her
brother's "ugly, sullen disposition," as it was termed, was a
hindrance also. She had an increasing desire to get away among
strangers, where she could make her own way on her own merits, and the
city of New York seemed to her a great Eldorado, where she might find
her true career. Some very showily dressed, knowing-looking girls,
that she had met at a picnic, had increased this longing for the city.
Her mother and brother thought her restless, vain, and giddy, but she
was as good and honest a girl at heart as breathed, only her vigorous
nature chafed at repression, wanted outlets, and could not settle down
for life to cook, wash, and sew for a drunken father, a taciturn
brother, or even a mother whose companionship was depressing, much as
she was loved.

Rose welcomed the request of her brother, as helping Edith would cause
a ripple in the current of her dull life, and give her a chance of
seeing one of the grand city ladies, without the dimness and vagueness
of distance, and she scanned Edith with a stronger curiosity than was
bestowed upon herself. The result was rather depressing to poor Rose,
for, having studied with her quick nice eye Edith's exquisite manner
and movements, she sighed to herself:

"I'm not such a lady as this girl, and perhaps never can be."

While Edith was very kind and cordial to the Laceys, she felt, and
made them feel, that there was a vast social distance between them.
Even practical Edith had not yet realized her poverty, and it would
take her some time to doff the manner of the condescending lady.

They accomplished a great deal that afternoon, but it takes much time
and labor to make even a small empty house look home-like. Edith had
taken the smallest room upstairs, and by evening it was quite in order
for her occupation, she meaning to take Zell in with her. Work had
progressed in the largest upper room, which she designed for her
mother and Laura. Mrs. Lacey and Hannibal were in the kitchen getting
that arranged, they very rightly concluding that this was the
mainspring in the mechanism of material living, and should be put in
readiness at once. Arden had been instructed to purchase and bring
from the village a cooking-stove, and Hannibal's face shone with
something like delight, as by five o'clock he had a wood fire
crackling underneath a pot of water, feeling that the terra firma of
comfort was at last reached. He could now _soak_ in his favorite
beverage of tea, and make Miss Edie quite "pertlike" too when she was
tired.

Mrs. Lacey worked silently. Rose was inclined to be chatty and draw
Edith out in regard to city life. She responded good-naturedly as long
as Rose confined herself to generalities, but was inclined to be
reticent on their own affairs.

Before dark the Laceys prepared to return, the mother saying gravely:

"You may feel it too lonely to stay by yourself. Our house is not very
inviting, and my husband's manner is not always what I could wish, but
such as it is, you will be welcome in it till the rest of your family
comes."

"You are very kind to a stranger," said Edith, heartily, "but I am not
a bit afraid to stay here since I have Hannibal as protector," and
Hannibal, elated by this compliment, looked as if he might be a very
dragon to all intruders. "Moreover," continued Edith, "you have helped
me so _splendidly_ that I shall be very comfortable, and they will be
here to-morrow night."

Mrs. Lacey bowed silently, but Rose said in her sprightly voice, from
the doorway:

"I'll come and help you all day to-morrow."

Arden was still to bring one more load. The setting sun, with the
consistency of an April day, had passed into a dark cloud which soon
came driving on with wind and rain, and the thick drops dashed against
the windows as if thrown from a vast syringe, while the gutter gurgled
and groaned with the sudden rush of water.

"Oh, dear! how dismal!" sighed Edith, looking out in the gathering
darkness. Then she saw that the loaded wagon had just stopped at the
gate, and in dim outline Arden sat in the storm as if he had been a
post. "It's too bad," she said impatiently, "my things will all get
wet." After a moment she added: "Why don't he come in? Don't he know
enough to come in out of the rain?"

"Well, Miss Edie, he's kind o' quar," said Hannibal, "I'se jes done
satisfied he's quar."

But the shower ceased suddenly, and Arden dismounted, secured his
horses, and soon appeared at the door with a piece of furniture.

"Why, it's not wet," said Edith with surprise.

"I saw appearances of rain, and so borrowed a piece of canvas at the
dock."

"But you didn't put the canvas over yourself," said Edith, looking at
his dripping form, grateful enough now to bestow a little kindness
without the idea of policy. "As soon as you have brought in the load I
insist on your staying and taking a cup of tea."

He gave his shoulders an indifferent shrug, saying, "A little cold
water is the least of my troubles." Then he added, stealing a timid
glance at her, "But you are very kind. People seldom think of their
teamsters."

"The more shame to them then," said Edith. "I at least can feel a
kindness if I can't make much return. It was very good of you to
protect my furniture, and I appreciate your care. Besides your mother
and sister have been helping me all the afternoon, and I am oppressed
by my obligations to you all."

"I am sorry you feel that way," he said briefly, and vanished in the
darkness after another load.

Soon all was safely housed, and he said, about to depart, "There is
one more load; I will bring that to-morrow."

From the kitchen she called, "Stay, your tea will be ready in a
moment."

"Do not put yourself to that truble," he answered, at the same time
longing to stay. "Mother will have supper ready for me." He was so
diffident that he needed much encouragement, and moreover he was
morbidly sensitive.

But as she turned she caught his wistful glance, and thought to
herself, "Poor fellow! he's cold and hungry." With feminine shrewdness
she said, "Now, Mr. Lacey, I shall feel slighted if you don't take a
cup of my tea, for see, I have made it myself. It's the one thing
about housekeeping that I understand. Your mother brought me a nice
cup at noon, and I enjoyed it very much. I am going to pay that debt
now to you."

"Well--if you really wish it"--said Arden hesitatingly, with another
of his bright looks, and color even deeper than the ruddy firelight
warranted.

"My conscience!" thought Edith, "how suddenly his face changes. He is
'quar,' as Hannibal says." But she settled matters by saying, "I shall
feel hurt if you don't. You must let there be at least some show of
kindness on my part, as well as on yours and your friends'."

There came in again a delicate touch of that human fellowship which he
had never found in the world, and had seemingly repelled, but which
his soul was thirsting for with an intensity never so realized before,
and this faintest semblance of human companionship and sympathy seemed
inexpressibly sweet to his sore and lonely heart.

He took the cup from her as if it had been a sacrament, and was about
to drink it standing, but she placed a chair at the table and said:

"No, sir, you must sit down there in comfort by the fire."

He did so as if in a dream. The whole scene was taking a powerful hold
on his imagination.

"Hannibal," she cried, raising her voice in a soft, bird-like call,
and from the dim kitchen whence certain spluttering sounds had
preceded him, Hannibal appeared with a heaping plate of buttered
toast.

"With your permission," she said, "I will sit down and take a cup of
tea with you, in a neighborly way, for I wish to ask you some more
questions, and tea, you know, is a great incentive to talk," and she
took a chair on the opposite side of the table, while Hannibal stood a
little in the background to wait on them with all the formality of the
olden time.

The wood fire blazed and crackled, and threw its flickering light over
Edith's fair face, and intensified her beauty, as her features gleamed
out, or faded, as the flames rose and fell. Hannibal stood motionless
behind her chair as if he might have been an Ethiopian slave attendant
on a young sultana. To Arden's aroused imagination, it seemed like one
of the scenes of his fancy, and he was almost afraid to move or speak,
lest all should vanish, and he find himself plodding along the dark
muddy road.

"What is the matter?" she asked curiously. "Why don't you drink your
tea?"

"It all seems as strange and beautiful as a fairy tale," he said,
looking at her earnestly.

Her hearty laugh and matter-of-fact tone dispelled his illusion, as
she said:

"It's all dreadfully real to me. I feel as if I had done more work to-day than in all my life before, and we have only made a beginning. I
want to ask you about the place and the garden, and how to get things
done," and she plied him well with the most practical questions.

Sometimes he answered a little incoherently, for through them all he
saw a face full of strange weird beauty, as the firelight flickered
upon it, and gave a star-like lustre to the large dark eyes.

Hannibal, in the background, grinned and chuckled silently, as he saw
Arden's dazed, wondering admiration, saying to himself, "Dey ain't
used to such young ladies as mine, up here--it kind o' dazzles 'em."

At last, as if breaking away from the influence of a spell, Arden
suddenly rose, turning upon Edith one of those warm, bright looks that
he sometimes gave his mother, and said, "You have been very kind;
good-night," and was gone in a moment. But the night was luminous
about him. Along the muddy road, in the old barn as he cared for his
horses, in his poor little room at home, to which he soon retired, he
saw only the fair face of Edith, with the firelight playing upon it,
with the vividness of one looking directly upon an exquisite cabinet
picture, and before that picture his heart was inclined to bow, in the
most devoted homage.

Edith's only comment was, "He is 'quar,' Hannibal, as you said."

Wearied with the long day's work, she soon found welcome and dreamless
rest.



CHAPTER XI

MRS. ALLEN'S POLICY



True to her promise, Rose helped Edith all the next day, and while she
worked, the frank-hearted girl poured out the story of her troubles,
and Edith came to have a greater respect and sympathy for her "kind
and humble neighbors" as she characterized them in her own mind. Still
with her familiarity with the farming class, kept up since her summer
in the country as a child, she made a broad distinction between them
and the mere laborer. Moreover, the practical girl wished to
conciliate the Laceys and every one else she could, for she had a
presentiment that there were many trials before them, and that they
would need friends. She said in answer to Rose:

"I never realized before that the world was so full of trouble. We
have seen plenty of late."

"One can bear any kind of trouble better than a daily shame," said
Rose bitterly.

For some unexplained reason Edith thought of Zell and Mr. Van Dam with
a sudden pang.

Arden brought his last load and watched eagerly for her appearance,
fearing that there might be some great falling off in the vision of
the past evening.

But to his eyes the girl he was learning to glorify presented as fair
an exterior in the garish day, and the reality of her beauty became a
fixed fact in his consciousness, and his fancy had already begun to
endow her with angelic qualities. With all her vanity, even sorrowful
Edith would have laughed heartily at his ideal of her. It was one of
the hardest ordeals of his life to take the money she paid him, and
she saw and wondered at his repugnance.

"You will never get rich," she said, "if you are so prodigal in work,
and so spare in your charges."

"I would rather not take anything," he said dubiously, holding the
money, as if it were a coal of fire, between his thumb and finger.

"Then I must find some one who will do business on business
principles," she said coldly. "If the fellow has any sentimental
nonsense about him, I'll soon cure that," she thought.

Arden colored, thrust his money carelessly into his pocket as if it
were of no account, and said briefly, "Good-morning."

But when alone he put the money in the innermost part of his
pocketbook, and when his father asked him for some of it, he sternly
answered:

"No, sir, not a cent." Nor did he spend it himself; why he kept it
could scarcely have been explained. He was simply acting according to
the impulses of a morbid romantic nature that had been suddenly and
deeply impressed. The mother's quick eye detected a change in him and
she asked:

"What do you think of our new neighbor?"

"Mother," said he fervently, "she is an angel."

"My poor boy," said she anxiously, "take care. Don't let your fancy
run away with you."

"Oh," said he with assumed indifference, "one can have a decided
opinion of a good thing as well as a bad thing, without making a fool
of one's self."

But the mother saw with a half-jealous pang that her son's heart was
awaking to a new and stronger love than her own.

Mrs. Allen with Zell and Laura was to come by the boat that evening,
and Edith's heart yearned after them as her kindred. Now that she had
had a little experience of loneliness and isolation, she deeply
regretted her former harshness and impatience, saying to herself, "It
is harder for them than for me. They don't like the country, and don't
care anything about a garden," and she purposed to be very gentle and
long-suffering.

If good resolutions were only accomplished certainties as soon as
made, how different life would be!

Arden had ordered a close carriage that she might go down and meet
them, and had agreed to bring up their trunks and boxes in his large
wagon.

The boat fortunately landed under the clear starlight on this
occasion, and feeble Mrs. Allen was soon seated comfortably in the
carriage. But her every breath was a sigh, and she regarded the
martyrs as a favored class in comparison with herself. Laura still had
her look of dreary apathy; but Zell's face wore an expression of
interest in the new scenes and experiences, and she plied Edith with
many questions as she rode homeward. Mrs. Allen brought a servant up
with her who was condemned to ride with Arden, much to their mutual
disgust.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Edith as they rode along. "It's a dreadful come-down for us all and I don't know how you are going to stand it,
mother."

Mrs. Allen's answer was a long inarticulate sigh.

When she reached the house and entered the room where supper was
awaiting them, she glanced around as a prisoner might on being thrust
into a cell in which years must be spent, and then she dropped into a
chair, sobbing--

"How different--how different from all my past!" and for a few moments
they all cried together. As with Edith at first, so now again the new
home was baptized with tears as if dedicated to sorrow and trouble.

Edith then led them upstairs to take off their things, and Mrs. Allen
had a fresh outburst of sorrow as she recognized the contrast between
this bare little chamber and her luxurious sleeping-apartment and
dressing-room in the city. Laura soon regained her air of weary
indifference, but Zell, hastily throwing off her wraps, came down to
explore, and to question Hannibal.

"Bress you, chile, it does my eyes good to see you all, ony you'se
musn't take on as if we'se all dyin' with slow 'sumption."

Zell put her hand on the black's shoulder and looked up into his face
with a wonderfully gentle and grateful expression, saying:

"You are as good as gold Hannibal. I am so glad you stayed with us,
for you seem like one of the best bits of our old home. Never mind,
I'll have a grander house again soon, and you shall have a stiffer
necktie and higher collar than ever."

"Bress you," said Hannibal with moist eyes, "it does my ole black
heart good to hear you. But, Miss Zell, I say," he added in a loud
whisper, "when is it gwine to be?"

"Oh!" said poor Zell, asked for definiteness, "some day," and she
passed into the large room where Arden was just setting down a trunk.

"Don't leave it there in the middle of the floor," she said sharply.
"Take it upstairs."

Arden suddenly straightened himself as if he had received a slight cut
from a whip, and turned his sullen face full on Zell, and it seemed
very repulsive to the imperious little lady.

"Don't you hear me?" she asked sharply.

"Perhaps it would be well for you not to ask favors of your neighbors
in that tone," he replied curtly.

Edith, coming down, saw the situation and said with oil in her voice,
"You must excuse my sister, Mr. Lacey. She does not know who you are.
Hannibal will assist with the trunks if you will be so kind as to take
them upstairs."

"She is different from the rest," thought Arden, readily complying
with her request.

But Zell said as she turned away, loud enough for him to hear, "What
airs these common country people do put on!" Zell might have loaded
Arden's wagon with gold, and he would not have lifted a finger for her
after that. If he had known that Edith's kindness had been half
policy, his face would have been more sullen and forbidding than ever.
But she dwelt glorified and apart in his consciousness, and if she
could only maintain that ideal supremacy, he would be her slave. But
in his morbid sensitiveness she would have to be very careful. The
practical girl at this time did not dream of his fanciful imagining
about her, but she was bent on securing friends and helpers, however
humble might be their station, and she had shrewdly and quickly
learned how to manage Arden.

The next day was spent by the family in getting settled in their
narrow quarters, and a dreary time they had of it. It was a long rainy
day, the roof leaked badly, and every element of discomfort seemed let
loose upon them.

Mrs. Allen had a nervous headache, and one of her worst touches of
dyspepsia, and Zell and Laura were so weary and out of sorts that
little could be accomplished. Between the tears and sighs within, and
the dripping rain without, Edith looked back on the first two days,
when the Laceys were helping her, as bright in contrast. But Mrs.
Allen was already worrying over the Laceys' connection with their
settlement in the neighborhood.

"We shall be associated with these low people," said she to Edith
querulously. "Your first acquaintances in a new place are of great
importance."

Edith was not ready any such association, and she felt that there was
force in her mother's words. She had thought of the Laceys chiefly in
the light of their usefulness.

She was glad when the long miserable day came to a close, and she
welcomed the bright sunshine of the following morning, hoping it would
dispel some of the gloom that seemed gathering round them more thickly
than ever.

After partaking of a rather meagre breakfast, for Hannibal's materials
were running low, Edith pushed back her chair, and said:

"I move we hold a council of war, and look the situation in the face.
We are here, and we've got to live here. Now what shall we do? I
suppose we must go to work at something that will bring in money."

"Go to work, and for money!" said Mrs. Allen sharply from her
cushioned arm-chair. "I hope we haven't ceased to be ladies."

"But, mother, we can't live forever on the title. The 'butchers,
bakers, and candlestick-makers' won't supply us long on that ground.
What did the lawyer, who settled father's estate, say before you
left?"

"Well," replied Mrs. Allen vaguely, "he said he had placed to our
credit in--Bank, what there was left, and he gave me a check-book and
talked economy as men always do. Your poor father, after losing
hundreds at the club, would talk economy the next morning, in the most
edifying way. He also said that there was some of that hateful stock
remaining that ruined your father, but that it was of uncertain value,
and he could not tell how much it would realize, but he would sell it
and place the proceeds also to our credit. It will amount to
considerable, I think, and it may rise.

"Now, girls," continued Mrs. Allen, settling herself back among the
cushions, and resting the forefinger of her right hand impressively on
the palm of the left, "this is the proper line of policy for us to
pursue. I hope in all these strange changes I am still mistress of my
own family. You certainly don't think that I expect to stay in this
miserable hovel all my life. If you two girls, Laura and Edith, had
made the matches you might, we should still be living on the avenue.
But I certainly cannot permit you now to spoil every chance of getting
out of this slough. You may not be able to do as well as you could
have done, but if you are once called working-girls, what can you do?

"In the first place we must go into the best society of this town. Our
position warrants it of course. Therefore, for heaven's sake don't let
it get abroad that we are associating with these drunken Laceys."(Mrs.
Allen in her rapid generalization gave the impression that the entire
family were habitually "on the rampage," and Edith remembered with
misgivings that she had drunk tea with Arden Lacey on that very spot.)
"Moreover," continued Mrs. Allen, "there is a large summer hotel near
here, and 'my friends' have promised to come and see me this summer.
"We must try to present an air of pretty, rural elegance, and your
young gentleman friends from the city will soon be dropping in. Then
Gus Elliot and Mr. Van Dam continue very kind and cordial, I am sure.
Zell, though so young, may soon become engaged to Mr. Van Dam, and
it's said he is very rich--"

"I can't get up much faith in these two men," interrupted Edith, "and
as for Gus, he can't support himself."

"I hope you don't put Gus Elliot and my friend on the same level,"
said Zell indignantly.

"I don't know where to put 'your friend,'" said Edith curtly. "Why
doesn't he speak out? Why doesn't he do something open, manly, and
decided? It seems as if he can see nothing and think of nothing but
your pretty face. If he would become engaged to you and frankly take
the place of lover and brother, he might be of the greatest help to
us. But what has he done since father's death but pet and flatter you
like an infatuated old--"

"Hush!" cried Zell, blazing with anger and starting up; "no one shall
speak so of him. What more has Gus Elliot done?"

"He has been useful as my errand boy," said Edith contemptuously, "and
that's all he amounts to as far as I'm concerned. I am disgusted with
men. Who in all our trouble has been noble and knightly toward us?--"

"Be still, children; stop your quarrelling," broke in Mrs. Allen. "You
have got to take the world as you find it. Men of our day don't act
like knights any more than they dress like them. The point I wish you
to understand is that we must keep every hold we have on our old life
and society. Next winter some of my friends will invite you to visit
them in the city and then who knows what may happen?"--and she nodded
significantly. Then she added, with a regretful sigh, "What chances
you girls have had! There's Cheatem, Argent, Livingston, Pamby, and
last and best, Goulden, who might have been secured if Laura had been
more prompt, and a host of others. Edith had better have taken Mr.
Fox, even, than have had all this happen."

An expression of disgust came out on Edith's face, and she said, "It
seems to me that I would rather go to work than take any of them."

"You don't know anything about work," said Mrs. Allen. "It's a great
deal easier to marry a fortune than to make one, and a woman can't
make a fortune. Marrying well is the only chance you girls have now,
and it's my only chance to live again as a lady ought, and I want to
see to it that nothing is done to spoil these chances."

Laura listened with a dull assent, conscious that she would marry any
man _now_ who would give her an establishment and enable her to sweep
past Mr. Goulden in elegant scorn. Zell listened, purposing to marry
Mr. Van Dam, though Edith's words raised a vague uneasiness in her
mind, and she longed to see him again, meaning to make him more
explicit. Edith listened with a cooling adherence to this familiar
faith and doctrine of the world in which the mother had brought up her
children. She had a glimmering perception that the course indicated
was not sound in general, or best for them in particular.

"And now," continued Mrs. Allen, becoming more definite, "we must have
a new roof put on the house right away, or we shall all be drowned
out, and the house must be painted, a door-bell put in, and fences and
things generally put in order. We must fit this room up as a parlor,
and we can use the little room there as a dining and sitting-room.
Laura and I will take the chamber over the kitchen, and the one over
this can be kept as a spare room, so that if any of our city friends
come out to see us, they can stay all night."

"Oh, mother, the proposed arrangements will make us all uncomfortable,
you especially," remonstrated Edith.

"No matter, I've set my heart on our getting back to the old life, and
we must not stop at trifles."

"But are you sure we have money to spare for all these improvements?"
continued Edith anxiously.

"Oh, yes, I think so," said Mrs. Allen indefinitely. "And as your poor
father used to say, to spend money is often the best way to get
money."

"Well, mother," said Edith dubiously, "I suppose you know best, but it
doesn't look very clear to me. There seems nothing definite or certain
that we can depend on."

"Perhaps not to-day, but leave all to me. Some one will turn up, who
will fill your eye and fill your hand, and what more could you ask in
a husband? But you must not be too fastidious. These difficult girls
are sure to take up with 'crooked sticks' at last." (Mrs. Allen's
views as to straight ones were not original.) "Leave all to me. I will
tell you when the right ones turn up."



CHAPTER XII

WAITING FOR SOME ONE TO TURN UP



And so the girls were condemned to idleness and ennui, and they all
came to suffer from these as from a dull toothache, especially Laura
and Zell. Edith had great hopes from her garden, and saw the snow
finally disappear and the mud dry up, as the imprisoned inmates of the
ark might have watched the abatement of the waters.

On the afternoon of the council wherein Mrs. Allen had marked out the
family policy, Edith and Zell walked to the village, and going to one
of the leading stores, made arrangements with the proprietor to have
his wagon stop daily at their house for orders. They also asked him to
send them a carpenter. They made these requests with the manner of
olden time, when money seemed to flow from a full fountain, and the
man was very polite, thinking he had gained profitable customers.

While they were absent, Rose stepped in to see if she could be of any
further help. Mrs. Allen surmised who she was and resolved to snub her
effectually. To Rose's question as to their need of assistance, she
replied frigidly, that they had two servants now, and did not wish to
employ any more help.

Rose colored, bit her lip, then said with an open smile:

"You are under mistake. I am Miss Lacey, and helped your daughter the
first two days after she came."

"Oh! ah! Miss Lacey. I beg your pardon," said Mrs. Allen, still more
distantly. "My daughter Edith is out. Did she not pay you?"

Rose's face became scarlet, and rising hastily she said, "Either I
misunderstand, or am greatly misunderstood. Good-afternoon."

Mrs. Allen slightly inclined her head, while Laura took no notice of
her at all. When she was gone, Mrs. Allen said complacently, "I think
we will see no more of that bold-faced fly-away creature. The idea of
her thinking that we would live on terms of social equality with
them!"

Laura's only reply was a yawn, but at last she got up, put on her hat
and shawl and went out to walk a little on the porch. Arden, who was
returning home with his team, stopped a moment to inquire if there was
anything further that he could do. He hoped the lady he saw on the
porch was Edith, and the wish to see her again led him to think of any
excuse that would take him to the house.

As Laura turned to come toward him, he surmised that it was another
sister, and was disappointed and embarrassed, but it was too late to
turn back, though she scarcely appeared to heed him.

"I called to ask Miss Edith if I could do anything more that would be
of help to her," he said diffidently.

Giving him a cold, careless glance, Laura said, "I believe my sister
wants some work done around the house before long. I will tell her
that you were here looking for employment, and I have no doubt she
will send for you if she needs your services," and Laura turned her
back on him and continued her walk.

He whirled about on his heel as if she had struck him, and when he got
home his mother noted that his face looked more black and sullen than
she had ever seen it before. Rose was open and strong in her
indignation, saying:

"Fine neighbors you have introduced us to! Nice return they make for
all our kindness; not that I begrudge it. But I hate to see people get
all out of you they can, and then about the same as slap your face and
show you the door."

"Did you see Miss Edith?" asked Arden quickly.

"No, I saw the old lady and a proud pale-faced girl who took no more
notice of me than if I had come for cold victuals."

"I suppose they have heard," said Arden dejectedly.

"They have heard nothing against me, nor you, nor mother," said Rose
hotly. "If I ever see that Miss Edith again, I will give her a piece
of my mind."

"You will please do nothing of the kind," said her brother. "She has
not turned her back on you. Wait till she does. We are the last people
to condemn one for the sake of another."

"I guess they are all alike; but, as you say, it's fair to give her a
chance," answered Rose quietly.

With his habit of reticence he said nothing about his own experience.
But it was a cruel shock that those connected with the one who was
becoming the inspiration of his dreams should be so contemptible, as
he regarded them, and as we are all apt to regard those who treat us
with contempt. His faith in her was also shaken, and he resolved that
she must "send for him," feeling her need, before he would go near her
again. But, after all, his ardent fancy began to paint her more gentle
and human on the background of the narrow pride shown by the others.
He longed for some absolute proof that she was what he believed her,
but was too proud to put himself in the way of receiving it.

When Edith heard how the Lacey acquaintance had been nipped in the
bud, she said with honest shame, "It's too bad, after all their
kindness."

"It was the only thing to be done," said Mrs. Allen. "It is better for
such people to talk against you than to be claiming you as neighbors,
and all that. It would give us a very bad flavor with the best people
of the town."

"I only wish then," said Edith, "that I had never let them do anything
for me. I shall hate to meet them again," and she sedulously avoided
them.

The next day a carpenter appeared after breakfast, and seemed the most
affably suggestive man in the world. "Of course he would carry out
Mrs. Allen's wishes immediately," and he showed her several other
improvements that might be made at the same time, and which would cost
but little more while they were about it.

"But how much _will_ it cost?" asked Edith directly.

"Oh, well," said the man vaguely, "it's hard to estimate on this kind
of jobbing work." Then turning to Mrs. Allen, he said with great
deference, "I assure you, madam, I will do it well, and be just as
reasonable as possible."

"Certainly, certainly," said Mrs. Allen majestically, pleased with the
deference, "I suppose that is all we ought to ask."

"I think there ought to be something more definite as to price and
time of completing the work," still urged Edith.

"My dear," said Mrs. Allen with depressing dignity, "pray leave these
matters to me. It is not expected that a young lady like yourself
should understand them."

Mrs. Allen had become impressed with the idea that if they ever
reached the haven of Fifth Avenue again, she must take the helm and
steer their storm-tossed bark. As we have seen before, she was capable
of no small degree of exertion when the motive was to attain position
and supremacy in the fashionable world. She was great in one direction
only--the one to which she had been educated, and to which she devoted
her energies.

The man chuckled as he went away. "Lucky I had to deal with the old
fool rather than that sharp black-eyed girl. By Jove! but they are a
handsome lot though; only they look like the houses we build nowadays
--more paint and finish than solid timber."

The next day there were three or four mechanics at work, and the job
was secured. The day following there were only two, and the next day
none. Edith sent word by the grocer, asking what was the matter. The
following day one man appeared, and on being questioned, said "the
boss was very busy, lots of jobs on hand."

"Why did he take our work then?" asked Edith indignantly.

"Oh, as to that, the boss takes every job he can get," said the man
with a grin.

"Well, tell the boss I want to see him," she replied sharply.

The man chuckled and went on with his work in a snail-like manner, as
if that were the only job "the boss" had, or was like to have, and he
must make the most of it.

The house was hers, and Edith felt anxious about it, and indeed it
seemed that they were going to great expense with no certain return in
view. That night one corner of the roof was left open and rain came in
and did not a little damage.

Loud and bitter were the complaints of the family, but Edith said
little. She was too incensed to talk about it. The next day it
threatened rain and no mechanics appeared. Donning her waterproof and
thick shoes, she was soon in the village, and by inquiry found the
man's shop. He saw her coming and dodged out.

"Very well, I will wait," said Edith, sitting down on a box.

The man, finding she would not go away, soon after bustled in, and was
about to be very polite, but Edith interrupted him with a question
that was like a blow between the eyes:

"What do you mean, sir, by breaking your word?"

"Great press of work just now, Miss Allen--"

"That is not the question," interrupted Edith. "You said you would do
our work immediately. You took it with that distinct understanding;
and, because you have been false to your word, we have suffered much
loss. You knew the roof was not all covered. You knew it when it
rained last night, but the rain did not fall on you, so I suppose you
did not care. But is a person who breaks his word in that style a
gentleman? Is he even a man, when he breaks it to a lady, who has no
brother or husband to protect her interests?"

The man became very red. He was accustomed, as his workman said, to
secure every job he could, then divide and scatter his men so as to
keep everything going, but at a slow, provoking rate, that wore out
every one's patience save his own. He was used to the annual fault-finding and grumbling of the busy season, and bore it as he would a
northeast storm as a disagreeable necessity, and quite prided himself
on the good-natured equanimity with which he could stand his
customers' scoldings; and the latter had become so accustomed to being
put off that they endured it also as they would a northeaster, and
went into improvements and building as they might visit a dentist.

But when Edith turned her scornful face and large indignant eyes full
upon him, and asked practically what he meant by lying to her, and
said that to treat a woman so proved him less than a man, he saw his
habit of "putting off" in a new light. At first he was a little
inclined to bluster, but Edith interrupted him sharply:

"I wish to know in a word what you will do. If that roof is not
completed and made tight to-day, I will put the matter in a lawyer's
hands and make you pay damages."

This would place the man in an unpleasant business aspect, so he said
gruffly:

"I will send some men right up."

"And I will take no action till I see whether they come," said Edith
significantly.

They came, and in a few days the work was finished. But a bill double
the amount they expected came promptly, also. They paid no attention
to it.

In the meantime Edith had asked the village merchant, who supplied
them with provisions, and who had also become a sort of agent for
them, to send a man to plow the garden. The next day a slouchy old
fellow, with two melancholy shacks of horses that might well tremble
at the caw of a crow, was scratching the garden with a worn-out plow
when she came down to breakfast. He had already made havoc in the
flower borders, and Edith was disgusted with the outward aspect of
himself and team to begin with. But when in her morning slippers she
had picked her way daintily to a point from which she could look into
the shallow furrows, her vexation knew no bounds. She had been reading
about gardening of late, and she had carefully noted how all the
writers insisted on deep plowing and the thorough loosening of the
soil. This man's furrows did not average six inches, and with a
frowning brow, and dress gathered up, she stood perched on a little
stone, like a bird that had just alighted with ruffled plumage, while
Zell was on the porch laughing at her. The man with his gaunt team
soon came round again opposite her, with slow automatic motion as if
the whole thing were one crazy piece of mechanism. The man's head was
down, and he paid no heed to Edith. The rim of his old hat flapped
over his face, the horses jogged on with dropping head and ears, as if
unable to hold them up, and all seemed going down, save the plow. This
light affair skimmed and scratched along the ground like the sharpened
sticks of oriental tillage.

"Stop!" cried Edith sharply.

"Whoa!" shouted the man, and he turned toward Edith a pair of watery
eyes, and a face that suggested nothing but snuff.

"Who sent you here?" asked Edith in the same tone.

"Mr. Hard, mum." (Mr. Hard was the merchant who was acting as their
agent.)

"Am I to pay you for this work, or Mr. Hard?"

"I guess you be, mum."

"Who's to be suited with this work, you, Mr. Hard, or I?"

"I hain't thought nothin' about that."

"Do you mean to say that it makes no difference whether I am suited or
not?"

"What yer got agin the work?"

"I want my garden plowed, not scratched. You don't plow half deep
enough, and you are injuring the shrubs and flowers in the borders."

"I guess I know more about plowin' than you do. Gee up thar!" to the
horses, that seemed inclined to be Edith's allies by not moving.

"Stop!" she cried, "I will not pay you a cent for this work, and wish
you to leave this garden instantly."

"Mr. Hard told me to plow this garding and I'm a-goin' to plow it. I
never seed the day's work I didn't git paid for yit, and you'll pay
for this. Git up thar, you cussed old critters," and the man struck
the horses sharply with a lump of dirt. Away went the crazy rattling
old automaton round and round the garden in spite of all she could do.

She was half beside herself with vexation, which was increased by
Zell's convulsed laughter on the porch, but she stormed at the old
plowman as vainly as a robin might remonstrate with a windmill.

"Mr. Hard told me to plow it, and I'm a-goin' to plow it," said the
human part of the mechanism as it again passed, without stopping, the
place where Edith stood.

Utterly baffled, Edith rushed into the house and hastily swallowed a
cup of coffee. She was too angry to eat a mouthful.

Zell followed with her hand upon her side, which was aching from
laughter, and as soon as she found her voice said:

"It was one of the most touchingly beautiful rural scenes I ever
looked upon. I never had so close and inspiring a view of one of the
'sons of the soil' before."

"Yes," snapped Edith, "he is literally a clod."

"I can readily see," continued Zell, in a mock-sentimental tone, "how
noble and refining a sphere the 'garding' (as your friend, out there,
terms it) must be, even for women. In the first place there are your
associates in. labor--"

"Stop!" interrupted Edith sharply. "You all leave everything for me to
do, but I won't be teased and tormented in the bargain."

"But really," continued the incorrigible Zell, "I have been so much
impressed by the first scene in the creation of your Eden, which I
have just witnessed, that I am quite impatient for the second. It may
be that our sole acquaintances in this delightful rural retreat, the
'drunken Laceys,' as mother calls them, will soon insist on becoming
inspired with the spirit of the corn they raise in our arbor."

Edith sprang up from the table and went to her room.

"Shame on you, Zell," said Mrs. Allen sharply, but Laura was too
apathetic to scold.

Impulsive Zell soon relented, and when Edith came down a few moments
later in walking trim, and with eyes swollen with unshed tears, Zell
threw her arms around her neck and said:

"Forgive your naughty little sister."

But Edith repulsed her angrily, and started toward the village.

"I do hate to see people sullenly hoard up things," said Zell
snappishly. Then she dawdled about the house, yawning and saying
fretfully, "I do wish I knew what to do with myself."

Laura reclined on the sofa with a novel, but Zell was not fond of
reading. Her restless nature craved continual activity and excitement,
but it was part of Mrs. Allen's policy that they should do nothing.

"Some one may call," she said, "and we must be ready to receive them,"
but at that season of the year, when roads were muddy, there was but
little social visiting in the country.

So, consumed with ennui, Zell listened to the pounding of the
carpenters overhead, and watched the dogged old plowman go round the
small garden till it was all scratched over, and then the whole crazy
mechanism rattled off to parts unknown. The two servants did not leave
her even the recourse of housework, of which she was naturally fond.

Edith went straight to Mr. Hard, and was so provoked that she scarcely
avoided the puddles in her determined haste.

Mr. Hard looked out upon his customers with, cold, hard little eyes
that changed their expression only in growing more cold and hard. The
rest of his person seemed all bows, smirks, and smiles, but it was
noticed that these latter diminished and his eyes grew harder as he
wished to remind some lagging patron that his little account needed
settling. This thrifty citizen of Pushton was soon in polite
attendance on Edith, but was rather taken back when she asked sharply
what he meant by sending such a good-for-nothing man to plow her
garden.

"Well, Miss Allen," he said, his eyes growing harder but his manner
more polite, "old Gideon does such little jobs around, and I thought
he was just the one."

"Does he plow your garden?" asked Edith abruptly.

"I keep a gardener," said Mr. Hard with some dignity.

"I believe it would pay me to do the same," said Edith, "if I could
find one on whom I could depend. The man you sent was very impudent. I
told him the work didn't suit me--that he didn't plow half deep
enough, and that he must leave. But he just kept right on, saying you
sent him, and he would plow it, and he injured my flower borders
besides. Therefore he must look to you for payment." (Mr. Hard's eyes
grew very hard at this.) "Because I am a woman I am not going to be
imposed upon. Now do you know of a man who can really plow my garden?
If not, I must look elsewhere. I had hoped when you took our business
you would have some interest in seeing that we were well served."

Mr. Hard, with eyes like two flint pebbles, made a low bow and said
with impressive dignity:

"It is my purpose to do so. There is Mr. Skinner, he does plowing."

"I don't want Mr. Skinner," said Edith impatiently, "I don't like his
name in reference to plowing."

"Oh! ah! excellent reason; very good, Miss Allen. Well, there's Mr.
McTrump, a Scotchman, who has a small greenhouse and nursery, he looks
after gardens for some people."

"I will go and see him," said Edith, taking his address.

As she plodded off to find his place, she sighed, "Oh, dear! it's
dreadful to have no men in the family. That Arden Lacey might have
helped me so much, if mother was not so particular. I fear we are all
on the wrong track, throwing away substantial and present good for
uncertainties."

Mr. McTrump was a little man with a heavy sandy beard and such bushy
eyebrows and hair that he reminded Edith of a Scotch terrier. But her
first glance around convinced her that he was a gardener. Neatness,
order, thrift, impressed her the moment she opened his gate, and she
perceived that he was already quite advanced in his spring work.
Smooth seed-sown beds were emerging from winter's chaos. Crocuses and
hyacinths were in bloom, tulips were budding, and on a sunny slope in
the distance she saw long green rows of what seemed some growing crop.
She determined if possible to make this man her ally, or by stratagem
to gain his secret of success.

The little man stood in the door of his greenhouse with a
transplanting trowel in his hand. He was dressed in clay-colored
nankeen, and could get down in the dirt without seeming to get dirty.
His small eyes twinkled shrewdly, but not unkindly, as she advanced
toward him. He was fond of flowers, and she looked like one herself
that spring morning.

"I was directed to call upon you," she said, with conciliatory
politeness, "understanding that you sometimes assist people with their
gardens."

"Weel, noo and then I do, but I canna give mooch time with a' my ain
work."

"But you would help a lady who has no one else to help her, wouldn't
you?" said Edith sweetly.

Old Malcom was not to be caught with a sugar-plum, so he said with a
little Scotch caution:

"I canna vera weel say till I hear mair aboot it."

Edith told him how she was situated, and in view of her perplexity and
trouble, her voice had a little appealing pathos in it. Malcom's eyes
twinkled more and more kindly, and as he explained afterward to his
wife, "Her face was sae like a pink hyacinth beent doon by the storm
and a wantin' proppin' oop," that by the time she was done he was
ready to accede to her wishes.

"Weel," said he, "I canna refuse a blithe young leddy like yoursel,
but ye must let me have my ain way."

Edith was inclined to demur at this, for she had been reading up and
had many plans and theories to carry out. But she concluded to accept
the condition, thinking that with her feminine tact she would have her
own way after all. She did not realize that she was dealing with a
Scotchman.

"I'll send ye a mon as will plow the garden, and not scratch it, the
morrow, God willin'," for Mr. McTrump was a very pious man, his only
fault being that he would take a drop too much occasionally.

"May I stay here a while and watch you work, and look at things?"
asked Edith. "I don't want to go back till that hateful old fellow has
done his mischief and is gone."

"Why not?" said Malcom, "an ye don't tech anything. The woman folk
from the village as come here do pick and pull much awry."

"I promise you I will be good," said Edith eagerly.

"That's mair than ony on us can say of oursel," said Malcom, showing
the doctrinal bias of his mind, "but I ken fra' yer bonnie face ye
mean weel."

"Oh, Mr. McTrump, that is the first compliment I have received in
Pushton," laughed Edith.

"I'm a thinkin' it'll not be the last. But I hope ye mind the Scripter
where it says, 'We do all fade as a flower,' and ye will not be puffed
oop."

But Edith, far more intent on horticultural than on scriptural
knowledge, asked quickly:

"What were you going to set out with that trowel?"

"A new strawberry-bed. I ha' more plants the spring than I can sell,
sae I thought to put oot a new bed, though I ha' a good mony."

"I am so glad. I wish to set out a large bed and can get the plants of
you."

"How mony do ye want?" said Malcom, with a quick eye to business.

"I shall leave that to you when you see my ground. Now see how I trust
you, Mr. McTrump."

"An' ye'll not lose by it, though I would na like a' my coostomers to
put me sae strictly on my honesty."

Edith spent the next hour in looking around the garden and greenhouses
and watching the old man put out his plants.

"These plants are to be cooltivated after the hill seestem," he said.
"They are to stand one foot apart in the row, and the rows two feet
apart, and not a rooner or weed to grow on or near them, and it would
do your bright eyes good to see the great red berries they'll bear."

"Shall I raise mine that way?" said Edith.

"Weel, ye might soom, but the narrow row coolture will be best for ye,
I'm thinkin'."

"What's that?"

"Weel, just let the plants run togither and make a thick close row a
foot wide, an' two feet between the rows. That'll be the easiest for
ye, but I'll show ye."

"I'm so glad I found you out!" said Edith, heartily; "and if you will
let me, I want to come here often and see how you do everything, for
to tell you the truth, between ourselves, we are poor, and may have to
earn our living out of the garden, or some other way, and I would
rather do it out of the garden."

"Weel, noo, ye're a canny lass to coom and filch all old Malcom's
secrets to set oop opposition to him. But then sin' ye do it sae
openly I'll tell ye all I know. The big wourld ought to be wide enough
for a bonnie lassie like yoursel to ha' a chance in it, and though I'm
a little mon, I would na be sae mean a one as to hinder ye. Mairover
the gardener's craft be a gentle one, and I see na reason why, if a
white lily like yoursel must toil and spin, it should na be oot in
God's sunshine, where the flowers bloom, instead o' pricking the bluid
oot o' yer body, and the hope oot o' yer heart, wi' the needle's
point, as I ha' seen sae mony o' my ain coontry lassies do. Gude-by,
and may the roses in yer cheeks bloom a' the year round."

Edith felt as if his last words were a blessing, and started with her
heart cheered and hopeful; and yet beyond her garden, with its spring
promise, its summer and autumn possibilities, there was little
inspiring or hopeful in her new home.

In accordance with their mother's policy, they were waiting for
something to turn up--waiting, in utter uncertainty, and with dubious
prospects, to achieve by marriage the security and competence which
they must not work for, or they would utterly lose caste in the old
social world in which they had lived.

Be not too hasty in condemning Mrs. Allen, my reader, for you may, at
the same time, condemn yourself. Have you no part in sustaining that
public sentiment which turns the cold shoulder of society toward the
woman who works? Many are growing rich every year, but more are
growing poor. What does the "best society," in the world's estimation,
say to the daughters in these families?

"Keep your little hands white, my dears, as long as you can, because
as soon as the traces of toil are seen on them you become a working-woman, and our daughters can't associate with you, and our sons can't
think of you, that is for wives. No other than little and white hands
can enter our heaven."

So multitudes struggle to keep their hands white, though thereby the
risk that their souls will become stained and black increases daily. A
host of fair girls find their way every year to darker stains than
ever labor left, because they know how coldly society will ignore them
the moment they enlist in the army of honest workers. But you,
respectable men and women in your safe pleasant homes, to the extent
that you hold and sustain this false sentiment, to the extent that you
make the paths of labor hard and thorny, and darken them from the
approving smile of the world, you are guilty of these girls' ruin.

Christian matron, with your husband one of the pillars of church and
state, do you shrink with disgust from that poor creature who comes
flaunting down Broadway? None but the white-handed enter your parlors,
and the men (?) who are hunting such poor girls to perdition will sit
on the sofa with your daughters this evening. Be not too confident.
Your child, or one in whom your blood flows at a little later remove,
may stand just where honor to toil would save, but the practical
dishonoring of it, which you sustain, eventually blot out the light of
earth and heaven.

Mrs. Allen knew that even if her daughters commenced teaching, which,
with all the thousands spent on their education, they were incapable
of doing, their old sphere on Fifth Avenue would be as unapproachable
as the pearly gates, between which and the lost a "great gulf is
fixed."

But Mrs. Allen knew also of a very respectable way, having the full
approval of society, by which they might regain their place in the
heaven from which they had fallen. Besides it was such a simple way,
requiring no labor whatever, though a little scheming perhaps, no
amount of brains or culture worth mentioning, no heart or love, and
least of all a noble nature. A woman may sell herself, or if of a waxy
disposition, having little force, may be sold at the altar to a man
who will give wealth and luxury in return. This, society, in full
dress, smiles upon, and civil law and sacred ceremony sanction.

With the forefinger of her right hand resting impressively on the palm
of her left, Mrs. Allen had indicated this back door into the
paradise, the gates of which were guarded against poor working-women
by the flaming sword of public opinion, turning every way.

And the girls were waiting yawningly, wearily, as the long unoccupied
days passed. Laura's cheek grew paler than even her delicate style of
beauty demanded. She seemed not only a hot-house plant, but a sickly
one. The light was fading from her eye as well as the color from her
cheek, and all vigor vanishing from her languid soul and body. The
resemblance to her mother grew more striking daily. She was a
melancholy result of that artificial luxurious life by which the whole
nature is so enervated that there seems no stamina left to resist the
first cold blast of adversity. Instead of being like a well-rooted
hardy native of the soil she seemed a tender exotic that would wither
even in the honest sunlight. As a gardener would say, she needed
"hardening off." This would require the bracing of principle and the
development of work. But Mrs. Allen could not lead the way to the
former, and the latter she forbade, so poor Laura grew more sickly and
morbid every day of her weary idle waiting.

Mrs. Allen's policy bore even more heavily on Zell. We have all
thought something perhaps of the cruelty of imprisoning a vigorous
young person, abounding in animal life and spirits, in a narrow cell,
which forbids all action and stifles hope. It gives the unhappy victim
the sensation of being buried alive. There comes at last to be one
passionate desire to get out and away. Impulsive, restless, excitable
Zell, with every vein filled with hot young blood, was shut out from
what seemed to her the world, and no other world of activity was shown
to her. Her hands were tied by her mother's policy, and she sat moping
and chafing like a chained captive, waiting till Mr. Van Dam should
come and deliver her from as vile durance as was ever suffered in the
moss-grown castles of the old world. The hope of his coming was all
that sustained her. Her sad situation was the result of acting on a
false view of life from beginning to end. Any true parent would have
shuddered at the thought of a daughter marrying such a man as Van Dam,
but Zell was forbidden to do one useful thing, lest it should mar her
chance of union with this resume of all vice and uncleanness; and
though she had heard the many reports of his evil life, her moral
sense was so perverted that he seemed a lion rather than a reptile to
her. It is true, she looked upon him only in the light of her future
husband, but that she did not shrink from any relationship with such a
man shows how false and defective her education had been.

Edith had employment for mind and hand, therefore she was happier and
safer than either of her sisters. Malcom had her garden thoroughly
plowed, and helped her plant it. He gave her many flower roots and
sold others at very low prices. In the lower part of the garden, where
the ground was rather heavy and moist, he put out a large number of
raspberries; and along a stone fence, where weeds and bushes had been
usurping the ground, he planted two or three varieties of blackcaps.
He also lined another fence with Kittatinny blackberries. There were
already many currants and gooseberries on the place. These he trimmed,
and put in cuttings for new bushes. He pruned the grapevines also
somewhat, but not to any great extent, on account of the lateness of
the season, meaning to get them into shape by summer cutting. The
orchard also was made to look clean and trim, with the dead wood and
interfering branches cut away. Edith watched these operations with the
deepest interest, and when she could, without danger of being observed
from the road, assisted, though in a very dainty, amateur way. But
Malcom did not aim to put in as many hours as possible, but seemed to
do everything with a sleight of hand that made his visits appear too
brief, even though she had to pay for them. As a refuge from long idle
hours, she would often go up to Malcom's little place, and watch him
and his assistant as they deftly dealt with nature in accordance with
her moods, making the most of the soil, sunlight, and rain. Thus
Malcom came to take a great interest in her, and shrewd Edith was not
slow in fostering so useful a friendship. But in spite of all this,
there were many rainy idle days that hung like lead upon her hands,
and upon these especially, it seemed impossible to carry out her
purpose to be gentle and forbearing, and it often occurred that the
dull apathy of the household was changed into positive pain by sharp
words and angry retorts that should never have been spoken.

About the last Sabbath of April, Mrs. Allen sent for a carriage and
was driven with her daughters to the most fashionable church of
Pushton. Marshalled by the sexton, they rustled in toilets more
suitable for one of the gorgeous temples of Fifth Avenue than for even
the most ambitious of country churches. Mrs. Allen hoped to make a
profound impression on the country people, and by this one dress
parade to secure standing and cordial recognition among the foremost
families. But she overshot the mark. The failure of Mr. Allen was
known. The costly mourning suits and the little house did not accord,
the solid, sensible people were unfavorably impressed, and those of
fashionable and aristocratic tendencies felt that investigation was
needed before the strangers could be admitted within their exclusive
circles. So, though it was not a Methodist church that they attended,
the Allens were put on longer probation by all classes, when if they
had appeared in a simple unassuming manner, rating themselves at their
true worth and position, many would have been inclined to take them by
the hand.



CHAPTER XIII

THEY TURN UP



One morning, a month after the Allens had gone into poverty's exile,
Gus Elliot lounged into Mr. Van Dam's luxurious apartments. There was
everything around him to gratify the eye of sense, that is, such sense
as Gus Elliot had cultivated, though an angel might have hidden his
face. We will not describe these rooms--we had better not. It is
sufficient to say that in their decorations, pictures, bacchanalian
ornaments, and general suggestion, they were a reflex of Mr. Van Dam's
character, in the more refined and aesthetic phase which he presented
to society. Indeed, in the name of art, whose mantle, if at times
rather flimsy, is broader than that of charity, not a few would have
admired the exhibitions of Mr. Van Dam's taste.

But concerning Gus Elliot, no doubt exists in our mind. The atmosphere
of Mr. Van Dam's room was entirely adapted to his chosen direction of
development. He was a young man of leisure and fashion, and was
therefore what even the fashionable would be horrified at their
daughters ever becoming. This nice distinction between son and
daughter does not result well. It leaves men in the midst of society
unbranded as vile, unmarked so that good women may shrink in disgust
from them. It gives them a chance to prey upon the weak, as Mr. Van
Dam purposed to do, and as he intended to induce Gus Elliot to do, and
as multitudes of exquisitely dressed scoundrels are doing daily.

If Mr. and Mrs. Allen had done their duty as parents, they would have
kept the wolf (I beg the wolf's pardon) the jackal, Mr. Van Dam, with
his thin disguise of society polish, from entering their fold. Gus
Elliot was one of those mean curs that never lead, and could always be
drawn into any evil that satisfied the one question of his life, "Will
it give me what _I_ want?"

Gus was such an exquisite that the smell of garlic made him ill, and
the sight of blood made him faint, and the thought of coarse working
hands was an abomination, but in worse than idleness he could see his
old father wearing himself out, he could get "gentlemanly drunk," and
commit any wrong in vogue among the fast young men with whom he
associated. And now Mephistopheles Van Dam easily induces him to seek
to drag down beautiful Edith Allen, the woman he had meant to marry,
to a life compared with which the city gutters are cleanly.

Van Dam in slippers and silken robe was smoking his meerschaum after a
late breakfast and reading a French novel.

"What is the matter?" he said, noting Gus's expression of ennui and
discontent.

"There is not another girl left in the city to be mentioned the same
day with Edith Allen," said Gus, with the pettishness of a child from
whom something had been taken.

"Well, spooney, what are you going to do about it?" asked Mr. Van Dam
coolly.

"What is there to do about it? You know well enough that I can't
afford to marry her. I suppose it's the best thing for me that she has
gone off to the backwoods somewhere, for while she was here I could
not help seeing her, and after all it was only an aggravation."

"I can't afford to marry Zell," replied Van Dam, "but I am going up to
see her to-morrow. After being out there by themselves for a month, I
think they will be glad to see some one from the civilized world." The
most honest thing about Van Dam was his sincere commiseration for
those compelled to live in quiet country places, without experience in
the highly spiced pleasures and excitements of the metropolis. In his
mind they were associated with oxen--innocent, rural, and heavy, these
terms being almost synonymous to him, and suggestive of such a forlorn
tame condition that it seemed only vegetating, not living. Mr. Van Dam
believed in a life, like his favorite dishes, that abounded in
cayenne. Zell's letters had confirmed this opinion, and he saw that
she was half desperate with ennui and disgust at their loneliness.

"I imagine we have stayed away long enough," he continued. "They have
had sufficient of the miseries of mud, rain, and exile, not to be very
nice about the conditions of return to old haunts and life. Of course
I can't afford to marry Zell any more than you can Edith, but for all
that I expect to have her here with me before many months pass, and
perhaps weeks."

"Look here, Van Dam, you are going too far. Remember how high the
Allens once stood in society," said Gus, a little startled.

"'Once stood;' where do they stand now? Who in society has lifted, or
will lift a finger for them, and they seem to have no near relatives
to stand by them. I tell you they are at our mercy. Luxury is a
necessity, and yet they are not able to earn their bare bread.

"Let me inform you," he continued, speaking with the confidence of a
hunter, who from long experience knows just where the game is most
easily captured, "that there is no class more helpless than the very
rich when reduced to sudden poverty. They are usually too proud to
work, in the first place, and in the second, they don't know how to do
anything. What does a fashionable education fit a girl for, I would
like to know, if, as often occurs, she has to make her own way in the
world?--a smattering of everything, mistress of nothing."

"Well, Van Dam," said Gus, "according to your showing, it fits them
for little schemes like the one you are broaching."

"Precisely. Girls who know how to work and who are accustomed to it,
will snap their fingers in your face, and tell you they can take care
of themselves, but the class to which the Allens belong, unless kept
up by some rich relations, are soon almost desperate from want. I have
kept up a correspondence with Zell. They seem to have no near
relatives or friends who are doing much for them. They are doing
nothing for themselves, save spend what little there is left, and
their monotonous country life has half-murdered them already. So I
conclude I have waited long enough and will go up to-morrow. Instead
of pouting like a spoiled child over your lost Edith, you had better
go up and get her. It may take a little time and management. Of course
they must be made to think we intend to marry them, but if they once
elope with us, we can find a priest at our leisure."

"I will go up to-morrow with you any way," said Gus, who, like so many
others, never made a square bargain with the devil, but was easily
"led captive" from one wrong and villany to another.

It was the last day of April--one on which the rawness and harshness
of early spring were melting into the mildness of May. The buds on the
trees had perceptibly swollen. The flowering maple was still aflame,
the sweet centre of attraction to innumerable bees, the hum of whose
industry rose and fell on the languid breeze. The grass had the
delicate green and exquisite odor belonging to its first growth, and
was rapidly turning the brown, withered sward of winter into emerald.
The sun shone through a slight haze, but shone warmly. The birds had
opened the day with full orchestra, but at noon there was little more
than chirp and twitter, they seeming to feel something of Edith's
languor, as she leaned on the railing of the porch, and watched for
the coming of Malcom. She sighed as she looked at the bare brown earth
of the large space that she purposed for strawberries, and work there
and everywhere seemed repulsive. The sudden heat was enervating and
gave her the feeling of luxurious languor that she longed to enjoy
with a sense of security and freedom from care. But even as her
eyelids drooped with momentary drowsiness, there was a consciousness,
like a dull, half-recognized pain, of insecurity, of impending trouble
and danger, and of a need for exertion that would lead to something
more certain than anything her mother's policy promised.

She was startled from her heaviness by the sharp click of the gate
latch, and Malcom entered with two large baskets of strawberry-plants.
He had said to her:

"Wait a bit. The plants will do weel, put oot the last o' the moonth.
An ye wait I'll gie ye the plants I ha' left cover and canna sell the
season. But dinna be troobled, I'll keep it enoof for ye ony way."

By this means Edith obtained half her plants without cost, save for
Malcom's labor of transplanting them.

The weather had little influence on Malcom's wiry frame, and his
spirit of energetic, cheerful industry was contagious. Once aroused
and interested, Edith lost all sense of time, and the afternoon passed
happily away.

At her request Malcom had brought her a pair of pruning nippers, such
as she had seen him use, and she kept up a delicate show of work,
trimming the rose-bushes and shrubs, while she watched him. She could
not bring her mind to anything that looked like real work as yet, but
she had a feeling that it must come. She saw that it would help Malcom
very much if she went before and dropped the plants for him, but some
one might see her, and speak of her doing useful work. The
aristocratically inclined in Pushton would frown on the young lady so
employed, but she could snip at roses and twine vines, and that would
look pretty and rural from the road.

But it so happened that the one who caught a glimpse of her spring-day
beauty, and saw the pretty rural scene she crowned, was not the
critical occupant of some family carriage; for when, while near the
road, she was reaching up to clip off the topmost spray of a bush, her
attention was drawn by the rattle of a wagon, and in this picturesque
attitude her eyes met those of Arden Lacey. The sudden remembrance of
the unkind return made to him, and the fact that she had therefore
dreaded meeting him, caused her to blush deeply. Her feminine
quickness caught his expression, a timid questioning look, that seemed
to ask if she would act the part of the others. Edith was a society
and city girl, and her confusion lasted but a second. Policy
whispered, "You can still keep him as a useful friend, though you must
keep him at a distance, and you may need him." Some sense of gratitude
and of the wrong done him and his also mingled with these thoughts,
passing with the marvellous rapidity with which a lady's mind acts in
social emergencies. She also remembered that they were alone, and that
none of the Pushton notables could see that she was acquainted with
the "drunken Laceys." Therefore before the diffident Arden could turn
away, she bowed and smiled to him in a genial, conciliatory manner.
His face brightened into instant sunshine, and to her surprise he
lifted his old weather-stained felt hat like a gentleman. Though he
had received no lessons in etiquette, he was inclined to be a little
courtly and stately in manner, when he noticed a lady at all, from
unconscious imitation of the high-bred characters in the romances he
read. He said to himself in glad exultation:

"She is different from the rest. She is as divinely good as she is
divinely beautiful," and away he rattled toward Pushton as happy as if
his old box wagon were a golden chariot, and he a caliph of Arabian
story on whom had just shone the lustrous eyes of the Queen of the
East. Then as the tumult in his mind subsided, questioning thoughts as
to the cause of her blush came trooping through his mind, and at once
there arose a long vista of airy castles tipped with hope as with
sunlight Poor Arden! What a wild, uncurbed imagination had mastered
his morbid nature, as he lived a hermit's life among the practical
people of Pushton! If he had known that Edith, had she seen him in the
village, would have crossed the street rather than have met or
recognized him, it would have plunged him into still bitterer
misanthropy. She and his mother only stood between him and utter
contempt and hatred of his kind, as they existed in reality, and not
in his books and dreams.

She forgot all about him before his wagon turned the corner of the
road, and chatted away to Malcom, questioning and nipping with
increasing zest. As the day grew cooler, her spirits rose under the
best of all stimulants, agreeable occupation. The birds ceased at last
their nest-building, and from orchard and grove came many an inspiring
song. Edith listened with keen enjoyment, and country life and work
looked no longer as they had done in the sultry noon. She saw with
deep satisfaction the long rows of strawberry-vines increasing under
Malcom's labors. In the still humid air the plants scarcely wilted and
stood up with the bright look of those well started in life.

As evening approached, and no carriage of note had passed, Edith
ventured to get her transplanting trowel, doff her gloves, and
commence dividing her flower roots, that she might put them elsewhere.
She became so interested in her work that she was positively happy,
and soft-hearted Malcom, with his eye for the beauties of nature, was
getting his rows crooked, because of so many admiring glances toward
her as she went to and fro.

The sun was low in the west and shone in crimson through the soft
haze. But the color in her cheeks was richer as she rose from the
ground, her little right hand lost in the scraggly earth-covered roots
of some hardy phlox, and turned to meet exquisite Gus Elliot, dressed
with finished care, his hands incased in immaculate gloves. Her broad-rimmed hat was pushed back, her dress looped up, and she made a
picture in the evening glow that would have driven a true artist half
wild with admiration; but poor Gus was quite shocked. The idea of
Edith Allen, the girl he had meant to marry, grubbing in the dirt and
soiling her hands in that style! It was his impression that only Dutch
women worked in a garden; and for all he knew of its products she
might be setting out a potato plant. Quick Edith caught his
expression, and while she crimsoned with vexation at her plight, felt
a new and sudden sense of contempt for the semblance of a man before
her.

But with the readiness of a society girl she smoothed her way out of
the dilemma, saying with vivacity:

"Why, Mr. Elliot, where did you drop from? You have surprised me among
my flowers, you see."

"Indeed, Miss Edith," said Gus, in rather unhappily phrased gallantry,
"to see you thus employed makes me feel as if we both had dropped into
some new and strange sphere. You seem the lovely shepherdess of this
rural scene, but where is your flock?"

Shrewd Malcom, near by, watched this scene as the terrier he resembled
might have done, and took instant and instinctive dislike to the new-comer. With a contemptuous sniff he thought to himself, "There's
mateerial enoof in ye for so mooch toward a flock as a calf and a
donkey."

"A truce to your lame compliments," she said, concealing her vexation
under badinage. "I do not live by hook and crook yet, whatever I may
come to, and I remember that you only appreciate artificial flowers
made by pretty shop girls, and these are not in the country. But come
in. Mother and my sisters will be glad to see you."

Gus was not blind to her beauty, and while the idea of marriage seemed
more impossible than ever, now that he had seen her hands soiled, the
evil suggestion of Van Dam gained attractiveness with every glance.

Edith found Mr. Van Dam on the porch with Zell, who had welcomed him
in a manner that meant much to the wily man. He saw how necessary he
was to her, and how she had been living on the hope of seeing him, and
the baseness of his nature was such that instead of being stirred to
one noble kindly impulse toward her, he simply exulted in his power.

"Oh," said she, as with both hands she greeted him, her eyes half
filling with tears, "we have been living like poor exiles in a distant
land, and you seem as if just from home, bringing the best part of it
with you."

"And I shall carry you back to it ere long," he whispered.

Her face grew bright and rosy with the deepest happiness she had ever
know. He had never spoken so plainly before. "Edith can never taunt me
again with his silence," she thought. Though sounding well enough to
the ear, how false were his words! Zell was giving the best love of
which her heart was capable in view of her defective education and
character. In a sincere and deep affection there are great
possibilities of good. Her passion, so frank and strong, in the hands
of a true man, was a lever that might have lifted her to the noblest
life. Van Dam sought to use it only to force her down. He purposed to
cause one of God's little ones to offend.

Edith soon appeared, dressed with the taste and style of a Fifth
Avenue belle of the more sensible sort, and Gus was comforted. Her
picturesque natural beauty in the garden was quite lost on him, but
now that he saw the familiar touches of the artificial in her general
aspect, she seemed to him the peerless Edith of old. And yet his nice
eye noted that even a month of absence from the fashionable centre had
left her ignorant of some of the shadings off of one mode into
another, and the thought passed over the polished surface of his mind
(all Gus's thoughts were on the surface, there being no other
accommodation for them), "Why, a year in this out-of-the-world life,
and she would be only a country girl."

But all detracting thoughts of each other, all mean, vile, and deadly
purposes, were hidden under smiling exteriors. Mrs. Allen was the
gracious, elegant matron who would not for the world let her daughters
soil their hands, but schemed to marry one to a weak apology for a
man, and another to a villain out and out, and the fashionable world
would cordially approve and sustain Mrs. Allen's tactics if she
succeeded.

Laura brightened up more than she had done since her father's death.
Anything that gave hope of return to the city, and the possibility of
again meeting and withering Mr. Goulden with her scorn, was welcome.

And Edith, while she half despised Gus, found it very pleasant to meet
those of her old set again, and repeat a bit of the past. The young
crave companionship, and in spite of all his weakness she half liked
Elliot. With youth's hopefulness she believed that he might become a
man if he only would. At any rate, she half-consciously formed the
reckless purpose to shut her eyes to all presentiments of coming
trouble and enjoy the evening to the utmost.

Hannibal was enjoined to get up as fine a supper as possible,
regardless of cost, with Mrs. Allen's maid to assist.

In the long purple twilight, Edith and Zell, on the arms of their
pseudo lovers, strolled up and down the paths of the little garden and
dooryard. As Edith and Gus were passing along the walk that skirted
the road, she heard the heavy ramble of a wagon that she knew to be
Arden Lacey's. She did not look up or recognize him, but appeared so
intent on what Gus was saying as to be oblivious of all else, and yet
through her long lashes she glanced toward him in a rapid flash, as he
sat in his rough working garb on the old board where she, on the rainy
night of her advent to Pushton, had clung to his arm in the jolting
wagon. Momentary as the glance was, the pained, startled expression of
his face as he bent his eyes full upon her caught her attention and
remained with her.

His manner and appearance secured the attention of Gus also, and with
a contemptuous laugh he said loud enough for Arden to hear partially:

"That native comes from pretty far back, I imagine. He looks as if he
never saw a lady and gentleman before. The idea of living like such a
cabbage-head as that!"

If Gus had not been with Edith, his good clothes and good looks would
have been spoiled within the next five minutes.

Edith glanced the other way and pointed to her strawberry-bed as if
not noticing his remark or its object, saying:

"If you will come and see us a year from next June, I can give you a
dainty treat from these plants."

"You will not be here next June," said Gus tenderly. "Do you imagine
we can spare you from New York? The city has seemed dull since robbed
of the light of your bright eyes."

Edith rather liked sugar-plums of such make, even from Gus, and she,
as it were, held out her hand again by the rather sentimental remark:

"Absent ones are soon forgotten."

Gus, from much experience, knew how to flirt beautifully, and so with
some aptness and show of feeling, replied:

"From my thoughts you are never absent."

Edith gave him a quick questioning look. What did he mean? He had
avoided everything tending to commit him to a penniless girl after her
father's death. Was this mere flirtation? Or had he, in absence,
learned his need of her for happiness? and was he now willing to marry
her even though poor?

"If he is man enough to do this, he is capable of doing more," she
thought quickly, and circumstances pleaded for him. She felt so
troubled about the future, so helpless and lonely, and he seemed so
inseparably associated with her old bright life, that she was tempted
to lean on such a swaying reed as she knew Gus to be. She did not
reply, but he could see the color deepen in her cheeks even in the
fading twilight, her bosom rose and fell more quickly, and her hand
rested upon his arm with a more confiding pressure. What more could he
ask? and he exulted.

But before he could speak again they were summoned to supper. Van Dam
touched Gus's elbow as they passed in and whispered:

"Don't be precipitate. Say nothing definite to-night. I gather from
Zell that a little more of their country purgatory will render them
wholly desperate."

Edith noticed the momentary detention and whispering, and the thought
that there was some understanding between the two occurred to her. For
some undefined reason she was always inclined to be suspicious and on
the alert when Mr. Van Dam was present. And yet it was but a passing
thought, soon forgotten in the enjoyment of the evening, after so long
and dull an experience. Zell was radiant, and there was a glimmer of
color in Laura's pale cheeks.

After supper they sat down to cards. The decanter was placed on the
side table, and heavy inroads were made on Mrs. Allen's limited stock
of wine, for the gentlemen, feeling that they were off on a lark, were
little inclined to self-control. They also insisted on the ladies
drinking health with them, which foolish Zell, and more foolish Mrs.
Allen were too ready to do, and for the first time since their coming
the little cottage resounded with laughter that was too loud and
frequent to be inspired by happiness only.

If guardian angels watched there, as we believe they do everywhere,
they may well have veiled their faces in sadness and shame.

But the face of poor innocent Hannibal shone with delight, and nodding
his head toward Mr. Allen's maid with the complacency of a prophet who
saw his predictions fulfilled, he said:

"I told you my young ladies wasn't gwine to stay long in Bushtown" (as
Hannibal persisted in calling the place).

To Arden Lacey, the sight of Edith listening with glowing cheeks and
intent manner to a stranger with her hand within his arm--a stranger
too that seemed the embodiment of that conventionality of the world
which he despised and hated, was a vision that pierced like a sword.
And then Gus's contemptuous words and Edith's non-recognition, though
he tried to believe she had not seen him, were like vitriol to a
wound. At first there was a mad impulse of anger toward Elliot, and,
as we have intimated, only Edith's presence prevented Arden from
demanding instant apology. He knew enough of his fiery nature to feel
that he must get away as fast as possible, or he might forever
disgrace himself in Edith's eyes.

As he rode home his mind was in a sad chaos. He was conscious that his
airy castles were falling about him with a crash, which, though
unheard by all the world, shook his soul to the centre.

Too utterly miserable to face his mother, loathing the thought of
food, he put up his horses and rushed out into the night.

In his first impulse he vowed never to look toward Edith again, but,
before two hours of fruitless wandering had passed, a fascination drew
him toward Edith's cottage, only to hear that detested voice again,
only to hear even Edith's laugh ring out too loud and reckless to come
from the lips of the exquisite ideal of his dreams. Though the others
had spoken in thunder tones, he would have had ears for these two
voices only. He rushed away from the spot, as one might from some
torturing vision, exclaiming:

"The real world is a worse mockery than the one of my dreams. Would to
heaven I had never been born!"



CHAPTER XIV

WE CAN'T WORK



The gentlemen agreed to meet the ladies the next day at church. Mrs.
Allen insisted upon it, as she wished to show the natives of Pushton
that they were visited by people of style from the city. As yet they
had not received many calls, and those venturing had come in a
reconnoitring kind of way. She knew so little of solid country people
as to suppose that two young men, like Gus Elliot and Van Dam, would
make a favorable impression. The latter, with a shrug and grimace at
Zell, which she, poor child, thought funny, promised to do so, and
then they took leave with great cordiality.

So they were ready to hand the Allens out of their carriage the next
morning, and were, with the ladies, who were dressed even more
elaborately than on the previous Sabbath, shown to a prominent pew,
the centre of many admiring eyes, as they supposed. But where one
admired, ten criticised. The summer hotel at Pushton had brought New
York too near and made it too familiar for Mrs. Allen's tactics.
Visits to town were easily made and frequent, and by brief diversions
of their attention from the service, the good church people soon
satisfied themselves that the young men belonged to the bold fast
type, an impression strengthened by the parties themselves, who had
devotion only for Zell and Edith, and a bold stare for any pretty girl
that caught their eyes.

After church they parted with the understanding that the gentlemen
should come out toward night and spend the evening.

Mr. Van Dam and Gus Elliot dined at the village hotel, having ordered
the best dinner that the landlord was capable of serving, and a couple
of bottles of wine. Over this they became so exhilarated as to attract
a good deal of attention. A village tavern is always haunted by idle
clerks, and a motley crowd of gossips, on the Sabbath, and to these
the irruption of two young bloods from the city was a slight break in
the monotony of their slow shuffling jog toward perdition; and when
the fine gentlemen began to get drunk and noisy it was really quite
interesting. A group gathered round the bar, and through the open door
could see into the dining-room. Soon with unsteady step, Van Dam and
Elliot joined them, the latter brandishing an empty bottle, and
calling in a thick loud voice:

"Here landlord (hic) open a bottle (hic) of wine, for these poor (hic)
suckers, (hic) I don't suppose (hic) they ever tasted (hic) anything
better than corn-whiskey, (hic) But I'll moisten (hic) their gullets
to-day (hic) with a gentleman's drink."

The crowd was mean enough, as the loafers about a tavern usually are,
to give a faint cheer at the prospect of a treat, even though
accompanied by words equivalent to a kick. But one big raw-boned
fellow, who looked equal to any amount of corn-whiskey or anything
else, could not swallow Gus's insolence, and stepped up saying:

"Look here, Cap'n, I'm ready enough to drink with a chap when he asks
me like a gentleman, but I feel more like puttin' a head on you than
drinkin' with yer."

Gus had the false courage of wine and prided himself on his boxing. In
the headlong fury of drunkenness he flung the bottle at the man's
head, just grazing it, and sprang toward him, but stumbled and fell.
The man, with a certain rude sense of chivalry, waited for him to get
up, but the mean loafers who had cheered were about to manifest their
change of sentiment toward Gus by kicking him in his prostrate
condition. Van Dam, who also had drunk too much to be his cool careful
self, now drew a pistol, and with a savage volley of oaths swore he
would shoot the first man who touched his friend. Then, helping Gus
up, he carried him off to a private room, and with the skill of an old
experienced hand set about righting himself and Elliot, so that they
might be in a presentable condition for their visit at the Allens'.

"Curse it all, Gus, why can you not keep within bounds? If this gets
to the girls' ears it may spoil everything."

By five o'clock Gus had so far recovered as to venture to drive to the
Allens', and the fresh air restored him rapidly. Before leaving, the
landlord said to Van Dam:

"You had better stay out there all night. From what I hear the boys
are going to lay for you when you come home to-night. I don't want any
rows connected with my house. I'd rather you wouldn't come back."

Van Dam muttered an oath, and told the driver to go on.

As a matter of course they were received very cordially. Gus was quite
himself again. He only seemed a little more inclined than usual to be
sentimental and in high spirits.

They walked again in the twilight through the garden and under the
budding trees of the orchard. Gus assumed a caressing tone and manner,
which Edith half received and half resented. She felt that she did not
know her own mind and did not understand him altogether, and so she
took a diplomatic middle course that would leave her free to go
forward or retreat. Zell, under the influence of Mr. Van Dam's
flattering manner, walked in a beautiful but lurid dream. At last they
all gathered in the parlor and chatted and laughed over old times.

On this Sabbath evening one of the officers of the church, seeing that
the Allens had twice worshipped with them, felt that perhaps he ought
to call and give them some encouragement. As he came up the path he
was surprised at the confused sound of voices. With his hand on the
door-bell he paused, and through an opening between the curtains saw
the young men of whose bar-room performance he had happened to hear.
Not caring to meet any of their sort he went silently away, shaking
his head with ill-omened significance. Of course one good man told his
wife what sort of company their new neighbors kept, and whom didn't
she tell?

The evening grew late, but no carriage came from the village.

"It's very strange," said Van Dam.

"If it doesn't come you must stay all night," said Mrs. Allen
graciously. "We can make you quite comfortable even if we have a
little house."

Mr. Van Dam, and Gus also, were profuse in their thanks. Edith bit her
lip with vexation. She felt that she and Zell were being placed in a
false position since the gentlemen who to the world would seem so
intimate with the family in reality held no relation to them. But no
scruples of prudence occurred to thoughtless Zell. With an arch look
toward her lover she said:

"I think it threatens rain, so of course you cannot go."

"Let us go out and see," he said.

In the darkness of the porch he put his arm around the unresisting
girl and drew her to him, but he did not say like a true man:

"Zell, be my wife."

But poor Zell thought that was what all his attention and show of
affection meant.

Edith and Gus joined them, and the latter thought also to put his
regard in the form of caressing action, rather than in honest
outspoken words, but she turned and said a little sharply:

"You have no right."

"Give me the right then," he whispered.

"Whether I shall ever do that I cannot say. It depends somewhat on
yourself. But I cannot now and here."

The warning hand of Van Dam was reached through the darkness and
touched Gus's arm.

The next morning they walked back to the village, were driven two or
three miles to the nearest railway station, and took the train to the
city, having promised to come again soon.

The week following their departure was an eventful one to the inmates
of the little cottage, and all unknown the most unfavorable influences
were at work against them. The Sunday hangers-on of a tavern have
their points of contact with the better classes, and gossip is a
commodity always in demand, whatever brings it to market. Therefore
the scenes in the dining and bar rooms, in which Mrs. Allen's
"friends" had played so prominent a part, were soon portrayed in hovel
and mansion alike, with such exaggerations and distortions as a story
inevitably suffers as passed along. The part acted by the young men
was certainly bad enough, but rumor made it much worse. Then this
stream of gossip was met by another coming from the wife of the good
man who had called with the best intentions on Sunday evening, but,
pained at the nature of the Allen's associations, had gone lamenting
to his wife, and she had gone lamenting to the majority of the elder
ladies of the church. These two streams uniting, quite a tidal wave of
"I want to knows," and "painful surprises," swept over Pushton, and
the Allens suffered wofully through their friends. They had already
received some reconnoitering calls, and a few from people who wanted
to be neighborly. But the truth was the people of Pushton had been
somewhat perplexed. They did not know where to place the Allens. The
fact that Mr. Allen had been a rich merchant, and lived on Fifth
Avenue, counted for something. But then even the natives of Pushton
knew that all kinds of people lived on Fifth Avenue, as elsewhere, and
that some of the most disreputable were the richest. A clearer
testimonial than that was therefore needed. Then again there was
another puzzle. The fact that Mr. Allen had failed, and that they
lived in a little house, indicated poverty. But their style of
dressing and ordering from the store also suggested not a little
property left. The humbler portion of the community doubted whether
they were the style of people for them to call on, and the rumor of
Rose Lacey's treatment, getting abroad in spite of Arden's injunction
to the contrary, confirmed these doubts, and alienated this class. The
more wealthy and fashionably inclined doubted the grounds for their
calling, having by no means made up their minds whether they could
take the Allens into their exclusive circle. So thus far Mrs. Allen
and her daughters had given audience to a sort of middle class of
skirmishers and scouts representing no one in particular save
themselves, who from a _penchant_ in that direction went out and
obtained information, so that the more solid ranks behind could know
what to do. In addition, as we have intimated, there were a few good
kindly people who said:

"These strangers have come to live among us, and we must give them a
neighborly welcome."

But there was something in their homely honest heartiness that did not
suit Mrs. Allen's artificial taste, and she rather snubbed them.

"Heaven deliver us soon from Pushton," she said, "if the best people
have no more air of quality than these outlandish tribes. They all
look and act as if they had come out of the ark."

If the Allens had frankly and patiently accepted their poverty and
misfortunes, and by close economy and some form of labor had sought to
maintain an honest independence, they could soon, through this latter
class, have become _en rapport_ with, not the wealthy and fashionable,
but the finest people of the community; people having the refinement,
intelligence, and heart to make the best friends we can possess. It
might take some little time. It ought to. Social recognition and
esteem should be earned. Unless strangers bring clear letters of
credit, or established reputation, they must expect to be put on
probation. But if they adopt a course of simple sincerity and dignity,
and especially one of great prudence, they are sure to find the right
sort of friends, and win the social position to which they are justly
entitled. But let the finger of scandal and doubt be pointed toward
them, and all having sons and daughters will stand aloof on the ground
of self-protection, if nothing else. The taint of scandal, like the
taint of leprosy, causes a general shrinking away.

The finger of doubt and scandal in Pushton was now most decidedly
pointed toward the Allens. It was reported around:

"Their father was a Wall Street gambler who lost all in a big
speculation and died suddenly or committed suicide. They belonged to
the ultra-fast fashionable set in New York, and the events of the past
Sabbath show that they are not the persons for self-respecting people
to associate with."

Some of the rather dissipated clerks and semi-loafers of the village
were inclined to make the acquaintance of such stylish handsome girls,
but the Allens received the least advance from them with ineffable
scorn.

Thus within the short space of a month Mrs. Allen had, by her policy,
contrived to isolate her family as completely as if they had had a
pestilence.

Even Mrs. Lacey and Rose were inclined to pass from indignation to
contempt; for Mr. Lacey was present at the scene in the bar-room, and
reported that the "two young bucks were friends of their new
neighbors, the Allens, and had stayed there all Sunday night because
they darsn't go back to town."

"Well," said Rose, "with all their airs, I haven't got to keeping
company with that style of men yet."

"Cease to call yourself my sister if you ever do knowingly," said
Arden sternly. "I don't believe Edith Allen knows the character of
these men. They would not report themselves, and who is to do it?"

"Perhaps you had better," said Rose maliciously.

Arden's only answer was a dark frowning look. A severe conflict was
progressing in his mind. One impulse was to regard Edith as unworthy
of another thought. But his heart pleaded for her, and the thought
that she was different from the rest, and capable of developing a
character as beautiful as her person, grew stronger as he dwelt upon
it.

"Like myself, she is related to others that drag her down," he
thought, "and she seems to have no friend or brother to protect or
warn her. Even if this over-dressed young fool is her lover, if she
could have seen him prostrate on the bar-room floor, she would never
look at him again. If she would I would never look at her."

His romantic nature became impressed with the idea that he might
become in some sense her unknown knight and protector, and keep her
from marrying a man that would sink to what his father was. Therefore
he passed the house as often as he could in hope that there might be
some opportunity of seeing her.

To poor Edith troubles thickened fast, for, as we have seen, the brunt
of everything came on her. Early on the forenoon of Monday the
carpenter appeared, asking with a hard, determined tone for his money,
adding with satire:

"I suppose it's all right of course. People who want everything done
at once must expect to pay promptly."

"Your bill is much too large--much larger than you gave us any reason
to suppose it would be," said Edith.

"I've only charged you regular rates, miss, and you put me to no
little inconvenience besides."

"That's not the point. It's double the amount you gave us to
understand it would be, and if you should deduct the damage caused by
your delay it would greatly reduce it. I do not feel willing that this
bill should be paid as it stands."

"Very well then," said the man, coolly rising. "You threatened me with
a lawyer; I'll let my lawyer settle with you."

"Edith," said Mrs. Allen majestically, "bring my checkbook."

"Don't pay it, mother. He can't make us pay such a bill in view of the
fact that he left our roof open in the rain."

"Do as I bid you," said Mrs. Allen impressively.

"There," she said to the chuckling builder, in lofty scorn, throwing
toward him a check as if it were dirt. "Now leave the presence of
ladies whom you don't seem to know much about."

The man reddened and went out muttering that "he had seen quite as
good ladies before."

Two days later a letter from Mrs. Allen's bank brought dismay by
stating that she had overdrawn her account.

The next day there came a letter from their lawyer saying that a
messenger from the bank had called upon him--that he was sorry they
had spent all their money--that he could not sell the stock he held at
any price now--and they had better sell their house in the country and
board.

This Mrs. Allen was inclined to do, but Edith said almost fiercely:

"I won't sell it. I am bound to have some place of refuge in this
hard, pitiless world. I hold the deed of this property, and we
certainly can get something to eat off of it, and if we must starve,
no one at least can disturb us."

"What can we do?" said Mrs. Allen, crying and wringing her hands.

"We ought to have saved our money and gone to work at something,"
answered Edith sternly.

"I am not able to work," whined Laura.

"I don't know how to work, and I won't starve either," cried Zell
passionately. "I shall write to Mr. Van Dam this very day and tell him
all about it."

"I would rather work my fingers off," retorted Edith scornfully, "than
have a man come and marry me out of charity, finding me as helpless as
if I were picked up off the street, and on the street we should soon
be, without shelter or friends, if we sold this place."

And so the blow fell upon them, and such was the spirit with which
they bore it.



CHAPTER XV

THE TEMPTATION



The same mail brought them a long bill from Mr. Hard, accompanied with
a very polite but decisive note saying that it was his custom to have
a monthly settlement with his customers.

The rest of the family looked with new dismay and helplessness at
this, and Edith added bitterly:

"There are half a dozen other bills also."

"What can we do?" again Mrs. Allen cried piteously. "If you girls had
only accepted some of your splendid offers--"

"Hush, mother," said Edith imperiously. "I have heard that refrain too
often already," and the resolute practical girl went to her room and
shut herself up to think.

Two hours later she came down to lunch with the determined air of one
who had come to a conclusion.

"These bills must be met, in part at least," she said, "and the sooner
the better. After that we must buy no more than we can pay for, if
it's only a crust of bread. I shall take the first train to-morrow and
dispose of some of my jewelry. Who of you will contribute some also?
We all have more than we shall ever need."

"Pawn our jewelry!" they all shrieked.

"No, sell it," said Edith firmly.

"You hateful creature!" sobbed Zell. "If Mr. Van Dam heard it he would
never come near me again."

"If he's that kind of a man, he had better not," was the sharp retort.

"I'll never forgive you if you do it. You shall not spoil all my
chances and your own too. He as good as offered himself to me, and I
insist on your giving me a chance to write to him before you take one
of your mad steps."

They all clamored against her purpose so strongly that Edith was borne
down and reluctantly gave way. Zell wrote immediately a touching,
pathetic letter that would have moved a man of one knightly instinct
to come to her rescue. Van Dam read it with a look of fiendish
exultation, and calling on Gus said:

"We will go up to-morrow. The right time has come. They won't be nice
as to terms any longer."

It was an unfortunate thing for Edith that she had yielded at this
time to the policy of waiting one hour longer. In the two days that
intervened before the young men appeared there was time for that kind
of thought that tempts and weakens. She was in that most dangerous
attitude of irresolution. The toilsome path of independent labor
looked very hard and thorny--more than that, it looked lonely. This
latter aspect causes multitudes to shrink, where the work would not.
She knew enough of society to feel sure that her mother was right, and
that the moment she entered on bread-winning by any form of honest
labor, her old fashionable world was lost to her forever. And she knew
of no other world, she had no other friends save those of the gilded
past. She did not, with her healthful frame and energetic spirit,
shrink so much from labor as from association with the laboring
classes. She had been educated to think of them only as coarse and
common, and to make no distinctions.

"Even if a few are good and intelligent as these Laceys seem, they
can't understand my feelings and past life, so there will be no
congeniality, and I shall have to work practically alone. Perhaps in
time I shall become coarse and common like the rest," she said with a
half-shudder at the thought of old-fashioned garb, slipshod dressing,
and long monotonous hours at one employment. All these were
inseparable in her mind from poverty and labor.

Then after a long silence, during which she had sat with her chin
resting on her hands, she continued:

"I believe I could stand it if I could earn a support out of the
garden with such a man as Malcom to help me. There are variety and
beauty there, and scope for constant improvement. But I fear a woman
can't make a livelihood by such out-of-door, man-like work. Good
heavens! what would my Fifth Avenue friends say if it should get to
their ears that Edith Allen was raising cabbages for market?"

Then in contrast, as the alternative to labor, Gus Elliot continually
presented himself.

"If he were only more of a man!" she thought. "But if he loves me so
well as to marry me in view of my poverty, he must have some true
manhood about him. I suppose I could learn to love him after a
fashion, and I certainly like him as well as any one I know. Perhaps
if I were with him to cheer, incite, and scold, he might become a fair
business man after all."

And so Edith in her helplessness and fear of work was tempted to enter
on that forlorn experiment which so many energetic women of decided
character have made--that of marrying a man who can't stand alone, or
do anything but dawdle, in the hope that they may be able to infuse in
him some of their own moral and intellectual backbone.

But Gus Elliot was not man enough, had not sense enough, to give her
this poor chance of matrimonial escape from labor that seemed to her
like a giant taskmaster, waiting with grimy, horny hand to claim her
as another of his innumerable slaves. Though a life of lonely, ill-paid toil would have been better for Edith than marriage to Gus, he
was missing the one golden opportunity of his life, when he thought of
Edith Allen in other character than his wife. God uses instruments,
and she alone could give him a chance of being a man among men. In his
meditated baseness toward her, he aimed a fatal blow at his own life.

And this is ever true of sins against the human brotherhood. The
recoil of a blow struck at another's interests has often the
retributive wrath of heaven in it, and the selfish soul that would
destroy a fellow-creature for its own pleasure is itself destroyed.

False pride, false education, helpless, unskilled hands, an untaught,
unbraced moral nature, made strong, resolute, beautiful Edith Allen so
weak, so untrue to herself, that she was ready to throw herself away
on so thin a shadow of a man as Gus Elliot. She might have known,
indeed she half feared, that wretchedness would follow such a union.
It is torment to a large strong-souled woman to despise utterly the
man to whom she is chained. She revolts at his weakness and
irresolution, and the probabilities are that she will sink into that
worst phase of feminine drudgery, the supporting of a husband, who,
though able, will not work, and that she will become that social
monster of whom it is said with a significant laugh:

"She is the man of the house."

The only thing that reconciled her to the thought of marrying Gus was
the hope that she could inspire him to better things; and he seemed
the only refuge from the pressing troubles that environed her, and
from a lonely life of labor; for the thought that she could bring
herself to marry among the laboring classes had never occurred to her.

So she came to the miserable conclusion on the afternoon of the second
day:

"I'll take him if he will me, knowing how I am situated."

If Gus could have been true and manly one evening, he might have
secured a prop that would have kept him up, though it would have been
at sad cost to Edith.

On the afternoon of Friday, Zell returned from the village with
radiant face, and, waving a letter before Edith who sat moping in her
room, exclaimed with a thrill of ecstasy in her tone:

"They are coming. Help make me irresistible."

Edith felt the influence of Zell's excitement, and the mysteries of
the toilet began. Nature had done much for these girls, and they knew
how to enhance every charm by art. Edith good-naturedly helped her
sister, weaving pure shimmering pearls in the heavy braids of her
hair, whose raven hue made the fair face seem more fair. The toilet-table of a queen had not the secrets of Zell's beauty, for the most
skilful art must deal with the surface, while Zell's loveliness glowed
from within. Her rich young blood mantled her cheek with a color that
came and went with her passing thoughts, and was as unlike the
flaming, unchanging red of a painted face as sunlight that flickers
through a breezy grove is to a gas-jet. Her eyes shone with the deep
excitement of a passionate love, and the feeling that the crisis of
her life was near. Even Edith gazed with wondering admiration at her
beauty, as she gave the finishing touches to her toilet, before she
commenced her own.

Discarded Laura had a sorry part in the poor little play. She was to
be ill and unable to appear, and so resigned herself to a novel and
solitude. Mrs. Allen was to discreetly have a headache and retire
early, and thus all embarrassing third parties should be kept out of
the way.

The late afternoon of Friday (unlucky day for once) brought the
gentlemen, dressed as exquisitely as ever, but the vision on the
rustic little porch almost dazzled even their experienced eyes. They
had seen these girls more richly dressed before and more radiant.
There was, however, a delicious pensiveness hanging over them now,
like those delicate veils that enhance beauty and conceal nothing. And
there was a deep undertone of excitement that gave them a magnetic
power that they could not have in quieter moods.

Their appearance and manner of greeting caused secret exultation in
the black hearts that they expected would be offered to them that
night, but Edith looked so noble as well as beautiful that Gus rather
trembled in view of his part in the proposed tragedy. As warm and
gentle as had been her greeting, she did not appear like a girl that
could be safely trifled with. However, Gus knew his one source of
courage and kept up on brandy all day, and he proposed a heavier
onslaught than ever on poor Mrs. Allen's wine. But Edith did not bring
it out. She meant that all that was said that night should be spoken
in sober earnest.

They sat down to cards for a while after tea, during which
conversation was rather forced, consisting mainly of extravagant
compliments from the gentlemen, and tender, meaning glances which the
girls did not resent. Mrs. Allen languidly joined them for a while,
and excused herself saying:

"My poor head has been too heavily taxed of late," though how, save as
a small distillery of helpless tears, we do not remember.

The regret of the young men at being deprived of her society was quite
affecting in view of the fact that they had often wished her dead and
out of the way.

"Why should we shut ourselves up within walls this lovely spring
evening, this delicious earnest of the coming summer?" said Mr. Van
Dam to Zell. "Come, put on your shawl and show me your garden by
moonlight."

Zell exultingly complied, believing that now she would show him, not
their poor little garden, but the paradise of requited love. A moment
later her graceful form, bending like a willow toward him, vanished in
the dusky light of the rising moon, down the garden path which led to
the little arbor.

Gus, having the parlor to himself, went over to the sofa, seated
himself by the side of Edith and sought to pass his arm around her
waist. "You have no right," again said Edith with dignity, shrinking
away.

"But will you not give the right? Behold me a suppliant at your feet,"
said Gus tenderly, but comfortably keeping his seat.

"Mr. Elliot," said Edith earnestly, "do you realize that you are
asking a poor girl to marry you?"

"Your own beautiful self is beyond all gold," said Gus gushingly.

"You did not think so a month ago," retorted Edith bitterly.

"I was a fool. My friends discouraged it, but I find I cannot live
without you."

This sounded well to poor Edith, but she said half sadly:

"Perhaps your friends are right. You cannot afford to marry me."

"But I cannot give you up," said Gus with much show of feeling. "What
would my life be without you? I admit to you that my friends are
opposed to my marriage, but am I to blight my life for them? Am I, who
have seen the best of New York for years, to give up the loveliest
girl I have ever seen in it? I cannot and I will not," concluded Gus
tragically.

"And are you willing to give up all for me?" said Edith feelingly, her
glorious eyes becoming gentle and tender.

"Yes, if you will give up all for me," said Gus languishingly, taking
her hand and drawing her toward him.

Edith did not resist now, but leaned her head on his shoulder with the
blessed sense of rest and at least partial security. Her cruelly
harassed heart and burdened, threatened life could welcome even such
poor shelter as Gus Elliot offered. The spring evening was mild and
breathless, and its hush and peace seemed to accord with her feelings.
There was no ecstatic thrilling of her heart in the divine rapture of
mutual and open recognition of love, for no such love existed on her
part. It was only a languid feeling of contentment--moon-lighted with
sentiment, not sun-lighted with joy--that she had found some one who
would not leave her to labor and struggle alone.

"Gus," she said pathetically, "we are very poor; we have nothing. We
are almost desperate from want. Think twice ere you engage yourself to
a girl so situated. Are you able to thus burden yourself?"

Gus thought these words led the way to the carrying out of Van Dam's
instructions, for he said eagerly:

"I know how you are situated. I learned all from Zell's letter to Van
Dam, but our hearts only cling the closer to you, and you must let me
take care of you at once. If you will only consent to a secret
marriage I can manage it."

Edith slowly raised her head from his shoulder. Gus could not meet her
eyes, but felt them fixed searchingly on his face. There was a distant
mutter of thunder like a warning voice. He continued hurriedly:

"I think you will agree with me, when you think of it, that such a
marriage would be best. It would be hard for me to break with my
family at once. Indeed I could not afford to anger my father now. But
I would soon get established in business myself, and I would work so
hard if I knew that you were dependent on me!"

"Then you would wish me to remain here in obscurity your wife," said
Edith in a low constrained tone that Gus did not quite like.

"Oh, no, not for the world," replied Gus hurriedly. "It is because I
so long for your daily and hourly presence that I urge you to come to
the city at once."

"What is your plan then?" asked Edith in the same low tone.

"Go with me to the city, on the boat that passes here in the evening.
I will see that you are lodged where you will have every comfort, yes
luxury. We can there be quietly married, and when the right time comes
we can openly acknowledge it."

There was a tremble in Edith's voice when she again spoke, it might be
from mere excitement or anger. At any rate Gus grew more and more
uncomfortable. He had a vague feeling that Edith suspected his
falseness, and that her seeming calmness might presage a storm, and he
found it impossible to meet her full searching gaze, fearing that his
face would betray him. He was bad enough for his project, but not
quite brazen enough.

She detached herself from his encircling arm, went to a book-stand
near and took from it a richly bound Bible. With this she came and
stood before Gus, who was half trembling with fear and perplexity, and
said in a tone so grave and solemn that his weak impressible nature
was deeply moved:

"Mr. Elliot, perhaps I do not understand you. I have received several
offers before, but never one like yours this evening. Indeed I need
not remind you that you have spoken to me in a different vein. I know
circumstances have greatly altered with me. That I am no longer the
daughter of a millionaire, I am learning to my sorrow, but I am the
same Edith Allen that you knew of old. I would not like to misjudge
you, one of my oldest, most intimate friends of the happy past. And
yet, as I have said, I do not quite understand your offer. Place your
hand on this sacred book with me, and, as you hope for God's mercy,
answer me this truly. Would you wish your own sister to accept such an
offer, if she were situated like myself? Look me, an honest girl with
all my faults and poverty, in the face, and tell me as a true
brother."

Gus felt himself in an awful dilemma. Something in Edith's solemn tone
and look convinced him that both he and Van Dam had misjudged her. His
knees trembled so that he could scarcely rise. A fascination that he
could not resist drew his face, stamped with guilt, toward her, and
slowly he raised his fearful eyes and for a moment met Edith's
searching, questioning gaze, then dropped them in confusion.

"Why do you not put your hand on the book and speak?" she asked in the
low, concentrated voice of passion.

Again he looked hurriedly at her. A flash of lightning illumined her
features, and he quailed before an expression such as he had never
seen before on any woman's face.

"I--I--cannot," he faltered.

The Bible dropped from her hands, they clasped, and for a moment she
seemed to writhe in agony, and in a low, shuddering tone she said:

"There are none to trust--not one."

Then, as if possessed by a sudden fury, she seized him roughly by the
arm and said hoarsely:

"Speak, man! what then did you mean? What have all your tender
speeches and caressing actions meant?"

Her face grew livid with rage and shame as the truth dawned upon her,
while poor feeble Gus lost his poise utterly and stood like a detected
criminal before her.

"You asked me to marry you," she hissed. "Must no one ask your
immaculate sisters to do this, that you could not answer my simple
question? Or, did you mean something else? How dare you exist longer
in the semblance of a man? You have broken the sacred law of
hospitality, and here, in my little home that has sheltered you, you
purpose my destruction. You take mean advantage of my poverty and
trouble, and like a cowardly hunter must seek out a wounded doe as
your game. My grief and misfortune should have made a sanctuary about
me, but the orphaned and unfortunate, God's trust to all true men,
only invite your evil designs, because defenceless. Wretch, would you
have made me this offer if my father had lived, or if I had a
brother?"

"It's all Van Dam's work, curse him," groaned Gus, white as a ghost.

"Van Dam's work!" shrieked Edith, "and he's with Zell! So this is a
conspiracy. You both are the flower of chivalry," and her mocking,
half-hysterical laugh curdled Gus's blood, as her dress fluttered down
the path that led to the arbor.

She appeared in the doorway like a sudden, supernatural vision, Zell's
head rested on Mr. Van Dam's shoulder, and he was portraying in low,
ardent tones the pleasures of city life, which would be hers as his
wife.

"It is true," he had said, "our marriage must be secret for the
present. You must learn to trust me. But the time will soon come when
I can acknowledge you as my peerless bride."

Foolish little Zell was too eager to escape present miseries to be
nice and critical as to the conditions, and too much in love, too
young and unsuspecting, to doubt the man who had petted her from a
child. She agreed to do anything he thought best.

Then Edith's entrance and terrible words broke her pretty dream in
fragments.

Snatching her sister from Van Dam's embrace, she cried passionately:

"Leave this place. Your villany is discovered."

"Really, Miss Edith"--began Van Dam with a poor show of dignity.

"Leave instantly!" cried Edith imperiously. "Do you wish me to strike
you?"

"Edith, are you mad?" cried Zell.

"Your sister must have lost her reason," said Van Dam, approaching
Zell.

"Stand back," cried Edith sternly. "I may go mad before this hateful
night passes, but while I have strength and reason left, I will drive
the wolves from our fold. Answer me this: have you not been proposing
secret marriage to my sister?"

Her face looked spirit-like in the pale moonlight, and her eyes blazed
like coals of fire. As she stood there with her arm around her
bewildered, trembling sister, she seemed a guardian angel holding a
baffled fiend at bay.

This was literally true, for even hardened Van Dam quailed before her,
and took refuge in the usual resource of his satanic ally--lies.

"I assure you, Miss Edith, you do me great injustice. I have only
asked your sister that our marriage be private for a time--"

"The same wretched bait--the same transparent falsehood," Edith cried.
"We cannot be married openly at our own home, but must go away with
you, two spotless knights, to New York. Do you take us for silly
fools? You know well what the world would say of ladies that so
compromised themselves, and no true man would ask this of a woman he
meant to make his wife. These premises are mine. Leave them."

Van Dam was an old villain who had lived all his life in the
atmosphere of brawls and intrigue, therefore he said brazenly:

"There is no use in wasting words on an angry woman. Zell, my darling,
do me justice. Don't give me up, as I never shall you," and he
vanished on the road toward the village, where Gus was skulking on
before him.

"You weak, unmitigated fool," said he savagely, "why did I bring you?"

"Look here, Van Dam," whined Gus, "that isn't the way to speak to a
gentleman."

"Gentleman! ha, ha," laughed Van Dam bitterly.

"I be hanged if I feel like one to-night. A pretty scrape you have got
me into," snarled Gus.

"Well," said Van Dam cynically. "I thought I was too old to learn much
more, but you may shoot me if I ever go on a lark again with one of
your weak villains who is bad enough for anything, but has brains
enough only to get found out. If it hadn't been for you I would have
carried my point. And I will yet," he added with an oath. "I never
give up a game I have once started."

And so they plodded on with mutual revilings and profanity, till Gus
became afraid of Van Dam, and was silent.

The dark cloud that had risen unnoted in the south, like the slowly
gathering and impending wrath of God, now broke upon them in sudden
gusts, and then chased them, with pelting torrents of rain and
stinging hail, into the village. The sin-wrought chaos--the hellish
discord of their evil natures--seemed to have infected the peaceful
spring evening, for now the very spirit of the storm appeared abroad.
The rush and roar of the wind was so strong, the lightning so vivid,
and the crashing thunder peals overhead so terrific, that even
hardened Van Dam was awed, and Gus was so frightened and conscience-smitten that he could scarcely keep up with his companion, but
shuddered at the thought of being left alone.

At last they reached the tavern, roused the startled landlord, and
obtained welcome shelter.

"What!" he said, "are the boys after you?"

"No, no," said Van Dam impatiently; "the devil is after us in this
infernal storm. Give us two rooms, a fire, and some brandy as soon as
possible, and charge what you please."

When Grus viewed himself in the mirror, as he at once did from long
habit, his haggard face, drenched, mud-splashed form, awakened sincere
self-commiseration; and his stained, bedraggled clothes troubled him
more than his soiled character. He did not remember the time when he
had not been well dressed, and to be so was his religion--the sacred
instinct of his life. Therefore he was inexpressibly shocked, and
almost ready to cry, as he saw his forlorn reflection in the glass.
And he had no change with him. What should he do? All other phases of
the disastrous night were lost in this.

"There is nothing to be bought in this mean little town, and how can I
go to the city in this plight?" he anxiously queried.

"Go to the devil then," and the sympathetic Van Dam wrapped himself up
and went to sleep.

Gus worked fussily at his clothes till a late hour, devoutly hoping he
should meet no one whom he knew before reaching his dressing-room in
New York.



CHAPTER XVI

BLACK HANNIBAL'S WHITE HEART



Edith half led, half carried her sobbing sister to the parlor. Mrs.
Allen, no longer languid, and Laura from her exile, were already
there, and with dismayed faces drew near the sofa where Zell had been
placed.

"What has happened?" asked Mrs. Allen tremblingly.

Edith's self-control, now that her enemies were gone, gave way
utterly, and sinking on the floor, she swayed back and forth, sobbing
even more hysterically than Zell, and her mother and Laura, oppressed
with the sense of some new impending disaster, caught the contagion of
their bitter grief, and wept and wrung their hands also.

The frightened maid stood in one door, with white questioning face,
and old gray-haired Hannibal in another, with streaming eyes of honest
sympathy.

"Speak, speak, what is the matter?" almost shrieked Mrs. Allen.

Edith could not speak, but Zell sobbed, "I--don't--know. Edith--seems
to have--gone--mad."

At last, after the application of restoratives, Edith so far recovered
herself as to say brokenly:

"We've been betrayed--they're--villains. They never--meant--marriage
at all."

"That's false!" screamed Zell. "I won't believe it of my lover,
whatever may have been true of your mean little Gus Elliot. He
promised to marry me, and you have spoiled everything by your mad
folly. I'll never forgive you."--When Zell's wild fury would have
ceased, cannot be said, but a new voice startled and awed them into
silence. In the storm of sorrow and passion that raged within, the
outer storm had risen unnoted, but now an awful peal of thunder broke
over their heads and rolled away among the hills in deep
reverberations. Another and a louder crash soon followed, and a
solemn, expectant silence fell upon them akin to that when the noisy
passionate world will suddenly cease its clamor as the trump of God
proclaims the end.

"Merciful heaven! we shall be struck," said Mrs. Allen shudderingly.

"What's the use of living?" said Zell in a hard, reckless tone.

"What is there to live for?" sighed Edith, deep in her heart. "There
are none to be trusted--not one."

Instead of congratulations received with blushing happiness, and
solitaire engagement rings, thus is shown the first result of Mrs.
Allen's policy, and of society's injunction:

"Keep your hands white, my dears."

The storm passed away, and they crept off to such poor rest as they
could get, too miserable to speak, and too worn to renew the
threatened quarrel that a voice seemingly from heaven had interrupted.

The next morning they gathered at a late breakfast-table with haggard
faces and swollen eyes. Zell looked hard and sullen, Edith's face was
so determined in its expression as to be stern. Mrs. Allen lamented
feebly and indefinitely, Laura only appeared more settled in her
apathy, and, like Zell and Edith, was utterly silent through the
forlorn meal.

When it was over, Zell went up to her room and Edith followed her.
Zell had not spoken to her sister since the thunder peal had suddenly
checked her bitter words. Edith dreaded the alienation she saw in
Zell's face, and felt wronged by it, knowing that she had only acted
as truest friend and protector. But in order still to shield her
sister she must secure her confidence, or else the danger averted the
past evening would threaten as grimly as ever. She also realized how
essential Zell's help would be in the struggle for bread on which they
must enter, and wished to obtain her hearty co-operation in some plan
of work. She saw that labor now was inevitable, and must be commenced
immediately. From Laura little was to be hoped. She seemed so lacking
in mental and physical force since their troubles began, that it
appeared as if nothing could arouse her. She threatened soon to become
an invalid like her mother. The thought of help from the latter did
not even occur to her.

Edith had not slept, and as the chaos and bitterness of the past
evening's experience passed away, her practical mind began to
concentrate itself on the problem of support. Her disappointment had
not been so severe as that of Zell, by any means, and so she was in a
condition to rally much sooner. She had never much more than liked
Elliot, and now the very thought of him was sickening, and though
labor and want might be hard indeed, and regret for all they had lost
keen, still she was spared the bitterer pain of a hopeless love.

But it was just this that Zell feared, and though she repeated to
herself over and over again Van Dam's last words, "I will never give
you up," she feared that he would, or what would be equally painful,
she would be compelled to give him up, for she could not disguise from
herself that her confidence had been shaken.

But sincere love is slow to believe evil of its object. If Van Dam had
shown preference for another, Zell's jealousy and anger would have
known no bounds, but this he had never done, and she could not bring
herself to believe that the man whom she had known, since childhood,
who had always treated her with uniform kindness and most flattering
attention, who had partaken of their hospitality so often and
intimately that he almost seemed like one of the family, meditated the
basest evil against her.

"Gus Elliot is capable of any meanness, but Edith was mistaken about
my friend. And yet Edith has so insulted him that I fear he will never
come to the house again," she said with deep resentment. "If I had
declined a private marriage, I am sure he would have married me
openly."

Therefore when Edith entered their little room Zell's face was
averted, and there was every evidence of estrangement. Edith meant to
be kind and considerate, and patiently show the reasons for her
action.

She sat down and took her sister's cold, impassive hand, saying:

"Zell, did I not help you dress in this very place last evening? Did I
not wait against my judgment till Mr. Van Dam came? These things prove
to you that I would not put a straw between you and a true lover.
Surely we have trouble enough without adding the bitter one of
division and estrangement. If we don't stand by each other now what
will become of us?"

"What right had you to misjudge Mr. Van Dam by such a mean little
scamp as Gus Elliot? Why did you not give him a chance to explain
himself?"

"O Zell, Zell, how can you be so blinded? Did he not ask you to go
away with him in the night--to elope, and then submit to a secret
marriage in New York?"

"Well, he told me there were good reasons that made such a course
necessary at present."

"Are you George Allen's daughter, that you could even listen to such a
proposal? When you lived on Fifth Avenue would he have dared to even
faintly suggest such a thing? Can he be a true lover who insults you
to begin with, and, in view of your misfortunes, instead of showing
manly delicacy and desire to shield, demands not only hard but
indecent conditions? Even if he purposed to marry you, what right has
he to require of you such indelicate action as would make your name a
byword and hissing among all your old acquaintances, and a lasting
stain to your family? They would not receive you with respect again,
though some might tolerate you and point you out as the girl so
desperate for a husband that she submitted to the grossest indignity
to get one."

Zell hung her head in shame and anger under Edith's inexorable logic,
but the anger was now turning against Van Dam. Edith continued:

"A lady should be sought and won. It is for her to set the place and
time of the wedding, and dictate the conditions. It is for her to say
who shall be present and who absent, and woman, to whom a spotless
name is everything, has the right, which even savage tribes recognize,
to shield herself from the faintest imputation of immodesty by
compelling her suitor to comply with the established custom and
etiquette which are her safeguards. The daughter of a poor laborer
would demand all this as a matter of course, and shall the beautiful
Zell Allen, who has had scores of admirers, have all this reversed in
her case, and be compelled to skulk away from the home in which she
should be openly married, to hunt up a man at night who has made the
pitiful promise that he will marry her somewhere at some time or
other, on condition that no one shall know it till he is ready? Mark
it well, the man who so insults a lady and all her family never means
to marry her, or else he is so coarse and brutal in all his instincts
that no decent woman ought to marry him."

"Say no more," said Zell, in a low tone, "I fear you are right, though
I would rather die than believe it. Oh, Edith, Edith!" she cried in
sudden passionate grief. "My heart is broken. I loved him so! I could
have been so happy!"

Edith took her in her arms and they cried together. At last Zell said
languidly;

"What can we do?"

"We must go to work like other poor people. If we had only done so at
first and saved every dollar we had left, we should not now be in our
present deeply embarrassed condition. And yet, Zell, if you, with your
vigor and strength, will only stand by me, and help your best, we will
see bright days yet There must be some way by which two girls can make
a livelihood here in Pushton as elsewhere. We have at least a shelter,
and I have great hopes of the garden."

"I don't like a garden. I fear I couldn't do much there. And it seems
like man's work too. I fear I shall be too wretched and ignorant to do
anything."

"Not at all. Youth, health, and time, against all the troubles of the
world." (This was the best creed poor Edith then had.) "Now," she
continued, encouragingly, "you like housework. Of course we must
dismiss our servants, and if you did the work of the house with Laura,
so that I had all my time for something else, it would be a great
saving and help."

"Oh, dear! oh, dear! that we should ever come to this!" said Zell
despairingly.

"We have come to it, and must face the truth."

"Well, of course I'll try," said Zell with something of Laura's
apathy. Then with a sudden burst of passion she clenched her little
hands and cried:

"I hate him, the cold-hearted wretch, to treat his poor little Zell so
shamefully!" and she paced up and down the room with inflamed eyes and
cheeks. Then in equally sudden revulsion she threw herself down on the
floor with her head in her sister's lap, and murmured, "God forgive
me, I love him still--I love him with my whole heart," and sobbed till
all her strength was gone.

Edith sighed deeply. "Can she ever be depended on?" she thought. At
last she lifted the languid form on the bed, threw over her an afghan,
and bathed her head with cologne till the poor child fell asleep.

Then she went down to Laura and her mother, to whom she explained more
fully the events of last evening. Laura only muttered, "shameful," but
Mrs. Allen whined, "She could not understand it. Girls didn't know how
to manage any longer. There must be some misunderstanding, for no
young men in the city could have meant to offer such an insult to an
old and respectable family like theirs. She never heard of such a
thing. If she could only have been present--"

"Hush, mother," said Edith almost sternly. "It's all past now. I
should gladly believe that when you were a young lady such poor
villains were not in good society. Moreover, such offers are not made
to young ladies living on the avenue. This is more properly a case for
shooting than management. I have no patience to talk any more about
it. We must now try to conform to our altered circumstances, and at
least maintain our self-respect, and secure the comforts of life if
possible. But we must now practice the closest economy. Laura, you
will have to be mother's maid, for of course we can keep no servants.
I have a little money left, and will pay your maid to-day and let her
go."

"I don't see how I can get along without her," said Mrs. Allen
helplessly.

"You must," said Edith firmly. "We have no money to pay her any
longer, and your daughters will try to supply her place."

Mrs. Allen did not formally abdicate her natural position as head of
the family, but in the hour of almost shipwreck Edith took the helm
out of the feeble hands. Yet the young girl had little to guide her,
no knowledge and experience worth mentioning, and the sea was rough
and beset with dangers.

The maid had no regrets at departure, and went away with something of
the satisfaction of a rat leaving a sinking ship. But with old
Hannibal it was a different affair.

"You ain't gwine to send me away too, is you, Miss Edie?" said he,
with the accent of dismay.

"My good old friend," said Edith feelingly, "the only friend I'm sure
of in this great world full of people, I fear I must. We can't afford
to pay you even half what you are worth any longer."

"I'se sure I doesn't eat sech a mighty lot," Hannibal sniffled out.

"Oh, I hope we shan't reach starvation point," said Edith, smiling in
spite of her sore heart. "But, Hannibal, you are a valuable servant;
besides, there are plenty of rich upstarts who would give you anything
you would ask, just to have you come and give an old and aristocratic
air to their freshly-gilded mansions."

"Miss Edie, you doesn't know nothin' 'tall about my feelin's. What's
money to ole Hannibal! I'se lived 'mong de millionaires and knows all
'bout money. It only buys half of 'em a heap of trouble and doesn't
keep dar hearts from gettin' sore. When Massa Allen was a livin', he
paid me big, and guv me all de money I wanted, and if he, at last,
lost my money which he keep, it's no mo'n he did wid his own. And now,
Miss Edie, I toted you and you'se sisters roun' on my shouler when you
was babies, and I hain't got nothin' left but you, no friends, no
nothin'; and if you send me away, it's like gwine out into de
wilderness. What 'ud I do in some strange man's big house, when my
heart's here in de little house? My heart is all ole Hannibal has
left, if 'tis black, and if you send me away you break it. I'd a heap
rader stay here in Bushtown and starve to death wid you alls, dan live
in de grandest house on de avenue."

"Oh, Hannibal," said Edith, putting her hand on the old man's
shoulder, and looking at him with her large eyes dimmed with grateful
tears, "you don't know how much good you have done me. I have felt
that there were none to trust--not one, but you are as true as steel.
Your heart isn't black, as I told you before. It's whiter than mine.
Oh, that other men were like you!"

"Bress you, Miss Edie, I isn't a man, I'se only a nigger."

"You are my true and trusted friend," said Edith, "and you shall be
one of the family as long as you wish to stay with us."

"Now bress you, Miss Edie, you'se an angel for sayin' dat. Don't be
afeard, I'se good for sumpen yet, if I be old. I once work for fear in
de South; den I work for money, and now I'se gwine to work for lub,
and it 'pears I can feel my ole jints limber up at de tought. It
'pears like dat lub is de only ting dat can make one young agin. Neber
you fear, Miss Edie, we'll pull trough, and I'se see you a grand lady
yet. A true lady you'se allers be, even if you went out to scrub."

"Perhaps I'll have to, Hannibal. I know how to do that about as well
as anything else that people are willing to pay for."



CHAPTER XVII

THE CHANGES OF TWO SHORT MONTHS



At the dinner-table it was reluctantly admitted to be necessary that
Edith should go to the city in the morning and dispose of some of
their jewelry. She went by the early train, and the familiar aspects
of Fourth Avenue as she rode down town were as painful as the features
of an old friend turned away from us in estrangement. She kept her
face closely veiled, hoping to meet no acquaintances, but some whom
she knew unwittingly brushed against her. Her mother's last words
were:

"Go to some store where we are not known to sell the jewelry."

Edith's usually good judgment seemed to fail her in this case, as
generally happens when we listen to the suggestions of false pride.
She went to a jeweller downtown who was an utter stranger. The man's
face to whom she handed her valuables for inspection did not suggest
pure gold that had passed through the refiner's fire, though he
professed to deal in that article. An unknown lady, closely veiled,
offering such rich articles for sale, looked suspicious; but, whether
it was right or wrong, there was a chance for him to make an
extraordinary profit. Giving a curious glance at Edith, who began to
have misgivings from the manner and appearance of the man, he swept
the little cases up and took them to the back part of the store, on
pretence of wishing to consult his partner. He soon returned and said
rather harshly:

"I don't quite understand this matter, and we are not in the habit of
doing this kind of business. It may be all right that you should offer
this jewelry, and it may not. If we take it, we must run the risk. We
will give you"--offering scarcely half its value.

"I assure you it is all right," said Edith indignantly, at the same
time with a sickening sensation of fear. "It all belongs to us, but we
are compelled to part with it from sudden need."

"That is about the way they all talk," said the man coolly. "We will
give you no more than I said."

"Then give me back my jewelry," said Edith, scarcely able to stand,
through fear and shame.

"I don't know about that. Perhaps I ought to call in an officer any
way and have the thing investigated. But I give you your choice,
either to take this money, or go with a policeman before a justice and
have the thing explained," and he laid the money before her.

She shuddered at the thought. Edith Allen in a police court,
explaining why she was selling her jewelry, the gifts of her dead
father, followed by a rabble in the street, her name in the papers,
and she the town-talk and scandal of her old set on the avenue! How
Gus Elliot and Van Dam would exult! All passed through her mind in one
dreadful whirl. She snatched up the money and rushed out with one
thought of escape, and for some time after had a shuddering
apprehension of being pursued and arrested.

"Oh, if I had only gone to Tiffany's, where I am known!" she groaned.
"It's all mother's work. Her advice is always fatal, and I will never
follow it again. It seems as if everything and everybody were against
me," and she plunged into the sheltering throng of Broadway, glad to
be a mere unrecognized drop in its mighty tide.

But even as Edith passed out of the jeweller's store her eye rested
for a moment on the face of a man whom she thought she had seen
before, though she could not tell where, and the face haunted her,
causing much uneasiness.

"Could he have seen and known me?" she queried most anxiously.

He had done both. He was no other than Tom Crowl, a clerk in the
village at one of the lesser dry-goods stores, where the Allens had a
small account. He was one of the mean loafers who were present at the
bar-room scene, and had cheered, and then kicked Gus Elliot, and "laid
for him" in the evening with the "boys." He was one of the upper
graduates of Pushton street-corners, and having spent an idle, vicious
boyhood, truant half the time from school, had now arrived at the
dignity of clerk in a store, that thrived feebly on the scattering
trade that filtered through and past Mr. Hard's larger establishment.
He was one of the worst phases of the male gossip, and had the scent
of a buzzard for the carrion of scandal. The Allens were now the
uppermost theme of the village, for there seemed some mystery about
them. Moreover, the rural dabblers in vice had a natural jealousy of
the more accomplished rakes from the city, which took on something of
the air of virtuous indignation against them. Of course the talk about
Gus and Van Dam included the Allens; and if poor Edith could have
heard the surmises about them in the select coterie of clerks that
gathered after closing hours around Crowl, as the central fountain of
gossip, she would have felt more bitterly than ever that the spirit of
chivalry had utterly forsaken mankind.

When therefore young Crowl saw Edith get on the same train as himself,
he determined to watch her, and startle, if possible, his small squad
of admirers with a new proof of his right to lead as chief scandal-monger. The scene in the jewelry store thus became a brilliant stroke
of fortune to him, though so severe a blow to Edith. (The number of
people who are like wolves, that turn upon and devour one of their
kind when wounded, is not small.) Crowl exultingly saw himself doubly
the hero of the evening in the little room of the loft over the store,
where poor Edith would be discussed that evening over a black bottle
and sundry clay pipes.

As Edith returned up town toward the depot, the impulse to go and see
her old home was very strong. She thought her veil sufficient
protection to allow her to venture. Slowly and with heavy step she
passed up the well-known street on the opposite side, and then crossed
and passed down toward that door from which she had so often tripped
in light-hearted gayety, or rolled away in a liveried carriage, the
envied and courted daughter of a millionaire. And to-day she was
selling her jewelry for bread--to-day she had narrowly, as she
thought, escaped the police court--to-day she had no other prospect of
support save her unskilled hands, and little more than two short
months ago, that house was ablaze with light, resounding with mirth
and music, and she and her sisters were known as among the wealthiest
belles of the city. It was like a horrid dream. It seemed as if she
might see old Hannibal opening the door, and Zell come tripping out,
or Laura at the window of her room with a book, or the portly form of
her father returning from business, indeed even herself, radiant with
pride and pleasure, starting for an afternoon walk as of old. All
seemed to look the same. Why was it not? Why could she not enter and
be at home! Again she passed. A name on the door caught her eye. With
a shudder of disgust and pain, she read--

"Uriah Fox."

"So the villain lives in the home of which he robbed us," she said
bitterly. "The world seems made for such. Old Hannibal was right. God
lumps the world, but the devil seems to look after his friends and
prosper them."

She now hastened to the depot. The city had lost its attractions to
her, in view of what she had seen and suffered that day, and though
inclined to feel hard and resentful at her fate, she was sincerely
thankful that she had a quiet home in the country from which at least
the false-hearted and cruel could be kept away.

She saw during the day several faces that she knew, but none
recognized her, and she realized how soon we are forgotten by our wide
circle of friends, and how the world goes on just the same after we
have vacated the large space we suppose we occupy.

She reached home in the twilight, weary and despondent. Her mother
asked eagerly:

"Did you meet any one you knew?" as if this were the all-important
question.

"Don't speak to me," said Edith impatiently. "I'm half dead with
fatigue and trouble. Hannibal, please give me a cup of tea, and then I
will go to bed."

"But, Edith," persisted Mrs. Allen querulously, "did you see any of
our old set? I hope you didn't take the jewelry where you were known."

Edith's overtaxed nerves gave way, and she said sharply--

"No, I did not go where I was known, as I ought, and therefore have
been robbed, and might have been in jail myself to-night. I will never
follow your advice again. It has brought nothing but trouble and
disaster. I have had enough of your silly pride and its results. What
practical harm would it have done me, if I had met all the persons I
know in the city? By going where I was not known I lost half my
jewelry, and was insulted and threatened with great danger in the
bargain. If I had gone to Tiffany's, or Ball and Black's, where I am
known, I should have been treated politely and obtained the full value
of what I offered. I can't even forgive myself for being such a fool.
But I have done with your ridiculous false pride forever."

These were harsh words for a daughter to speak to her mother, under
any provocation, and even Zell said:

"Edith, you ought to be ashamed of yourself to speak to mother so."

"I think so, too," said Laura. "I'm sure she meant everything for the
best, and she took the course which is taken by the majority in like
circumstances."

"All the worse for the majority then, if they fare anything as we have
done. The division of labor in this family seems to be that I am to do
all the work, and bear the brunt of everything, and the rest sit by
and criticise, or make more trouble. You have all got to do something
now or go hungry," and Edith swallowed her tea, and went frowningly
away to her room. She was no saint, to begin with, and her overtaxed
mind and body revenged themselves in nervous irritation. But her young
and healthful nature soon found in sound sleep the needed restorative.

Mrs. Allen shed a few helpless tears, and Laura wearily watched the
faint flicker on the hearth, for the night was chilly. Zell went into
the dining-room and read for the twentieth time a letter received that
day.

Unknown to Edith, the worst disaster yet had occurred in her absence.
Zell had been to the village for the mail. She would not admit, even
to herself, that she hoped for a letter from one who had acted so poor
a part as her false lover, and yet, controlled so much more by her
feelings and impulses than by either reason or principle, it was with
a thrill of joy that she recognized the familiar handwriting. The next
moment she dropped her veil to conceal her burning blush of shame. She
hastened home with a wild tumult at heart.

"I will read it, and see what he says for himself," she said, "and
then will write a withering answer."

But as Van Dam's ardent words and plausible excuses burned themselves
into her memory, her weak foolish heart relented, and she half
believed he was wronged by Edith after all. The withering answer
became a queer jumble of tender reproaches and pathetic appeals, and
ended by saying that if he would marry her in her own home it all
might be as secret as he desired, and she would wait his convenience
for acknowledgment.

She also did another wrong and imprudent thing; for she told him to
direct his reply to another office about a mile from Pushton, for she
dreaded Edith's anger should her correspondence be discovered.

The wily, unscrupulous man gave one of his satantic leers as he read
the letter.

"The game will soon be mine," he chuckled, and he wrote promptly in
return:

"In your request and reproaches, I see the influence of another mind.
Left to yourself you would not doubt me. And yet such is my love for
you, I would comply with your request were it not for what passed that
fatal evening. My feelings and honor as a man forbid my ever meeting
your sister again till she has apologized. She never liked me, and
always wronged me with doubts. Elliot acted like a fool and a villain,
and I have nothing more to do with him. But your sister, in her anger
and excitement, classed me with him. When you have been my loved and
trusted wife for some length of time, I hope your family will do me
justice. When you are here with me you will soon see why our marriage
must be private for the present. You have known me since you were a
child. I will be true to my word and will do exactly as I agreed. I
will meet you any evening you wish on the down boat. Awaiting your
reply with an anxiety which only the deepest love can inspire, I
remain,

"Your slave, GUILLIAM VAN DAM."

Such was the false but plausible missive that was aimed as an arrow at
poor little Zell. There was nothing in her training or education, and
little in her character, to shield her. Moreover the increasing
miseries of their situation were Van Dam's allies.

Edith rose the next morning greatly refreshed, and her naturally
courageous nature rallied to meet the difficulties of their position.
But in her strength, as was too often the case, she made too little
allowance for the weakness of the others. She took the reins in her
hand in a masterful and not merciful way, and dictated to the rest in
a manner that they secretly resented.

The store wagon was a little earlier than usual that morning, and a
note from Mr. Hard was handed in, stating that he had payments to make
that day and would therefore request that his little account might be
met. Two or three other persons brought up bills from the village,
saying that for some reason or another the money was greatly needed.
Tom Crowl's gossip was doing its legitimate work.

In the post-office Edith found all the other accounts against the
family, with requests for payment, polite enough, but pressing.

She resolved to pay all she could, and went first to Mr. Hard's, That
worthy citizen's eyes grew less stony as he saw half the amount of his
bill on the counter. The rumor of Edith's visit to the city had
reached even him, and he had his fears that collecting might involve
some unpleasant business; but, however unpleasant it might be, Mr.
Hard always collected.

"I hope our method of dealing has satisfied you. Miss Allen," he
ventured politely.

"Oh, yes," said Edith dryly, "you have been very liberal and prompt
with everything, especially your bill."

At this Mr. Hard's eyes grew quite pebbly, and he muttered something
about its being the rule to settle monthly.

"Oh, certainly," said Edith, "and like most rules, no doubt, has many
exceptions. Good-morning."

She also paid something on the other bills, and found that she had but
a few dollars left. Though there was a certain sense of relief in the
feeling that she now owed much less, still she looked with dismay on
the small sum remaining. Where was more to come from? She had
determined that she would not go to New York again to sell anything
except in the direst extremity.

That evening Hannibal gave them a meagre supper, for Edith had told
him of the absolute necessity of economy. There was a little grumbling
over the fare. So Edith pushed her chair back, laid seven dollars on
the table, saying:

"That's all the money I have in the world. Who's got any more?"

They raised ten dollars among them.

"Now," said Edith, "this is all we have. Where is more coming from?"

Helpless sighs and silence were her only answers.

"There is nothing clearer in the world," continued Edith, "than that
we must earn money. What can we do?"

"I never thought I should have to work," said Laura piteously.

"But, my dear sister," said Edith earnestly, "isn't it clear to you
now that you must? You certainly don't expect me to earn enough to
support you all. One pair of hands can't do it, and it wouldn't be
fair in the bargain."

"Oh, certainly not," said Laura. "I will do anything you say as well
as I can, though, for the life of me, I don't see what I can do."

"Nor I either," said Zell passionately. "I don't know how to work. I
never did anything useful in my life that I know of. What right have
parents to bring up girls in this way, unless they make it a perfect
certainty that they will always be rich? Here we are as helpless as
four children. We have not got enough to keep us from starving more
than a week at best. Just to think of it! Men are speculating and
risking all they have every day. Ever since I was a child I have heard
about the risks of business. I knew some people whose fathers failed,
and they went away, I don't know where, to suffer as we have perhaps,
and yet girls are not taught to do a single thing by which they can
earn a penny if they need to. If anybody will pay me for jabbering a
little bad French and Italian, and strumming a few operatic airs on
the piano, I am at their service. I think I also understand dressing,
flirting, and receiving compliments very well. I had a taste for these
things, and never had any special motive given me for doing anything
else. What becomes of all the girls thus taught to be helpless, and
then tossed out into the world to sink or swim?"

"They find some self-sustaining work in it," said Edith.

"Not all of them, I guess," muttered Zell sullenly.

"Then they do worse, and had better starve," said Edith sternly.

"You don't know anything about starving," retorted Zell, bitterly. "I
repeat, it's a burning shame to bring girls up so that they don't know
how to do anything, if there's ever any possibility that they must.
And it's a worse shame that respect and encouragement are not given to
girls who earn a living. Mother says that if we become working girls,
not one of our old wealthy, fashionable set will have anything to do
with us. What makes people act so silly? Any one of them on the avenue
may be where we are in a year. I've no patience with the ways of the
world. People don't help each other to be good, and don't help others
up. Grown-up folks act like children. How parents can look forward to
the barest chance of their children being poor, and bring them up as
we were, I don't see. I'm no more fit to be poor than to be
President."

Zell never before had said a word that reflected on her father, but in
the light of events her criticism seemed so Just that no one reproved
her.

Mrs. Allen only sighed over her part of the implied blame. She had
reached the hopeless stage of one lost in a foreign land, where the
language is unknown and every sight and sound unfamiliar and
bewildering. This weak fashionable woman, the costly product of an
artificial luxurious life, seemed capable of being little better than
a millstone around the necks of her children in this hour of their
need. If there had been some innate strength and nobility in Mrs.
Allen's character it might have developed now into something worthy of
respect under this sharp attrition of trouble, however perverted
before. But where a precious stone will take lustre a pumice stone
will crumble. There is a multitude of natures so weak to begin with
that they need tonic treatment all through life. What must such become
under the influence of enervating luxury, flattery, and uncurbed
selfishness from childhood? Poor, faded, sighing, helpless Mrs. Allen,
shivering before the trouble she had largely occasioned, is the
answer.

Edith soon broke the forlorn silence that followed Zell's outburst by
saying:

"All the blame doesn't rest on the parents. I might have improved my
advantages far better. I might have so mastered the mere rudiments of
an English education as to be able to teach little children, but I can
scarcely remember a single thing now."

"I can remember one thing," interrupted Zell, who was fresh from her
books, "that there was mighty little attention given to the rudiments,
as you call them, in the fashionable schools to which I went. To give
the outward airs and graces of a fine lady seemed their whole aim.
Accomplishments, deportment were everything. The way I was hustled
over the rudiments almost takes away my breath to remember, and I have
as remote an idea of vulgar fractions as of how to do the vulgar work
before us. I tell you the whole thing is a cruel farce. If girls are
educated like butterflies, it ought to be made certain that they can
live like butterflies."

"Well, then," continued Edith, "we ought to have perfected ourselves
in some accomplishment. They are always in demand. See what some
French and music teachers obtain."

"Nonsense," said Zell pettishly, "you know well enough that by the
time we were sixteen our heads were so full of beaux, parties, and
dress, that French and music were a bore. We went through the
fashionable mills like the rest, and if father had continued worth a
million or so, no one would have found fault with our education."

"We can't help the past now," said Edith after a moment, "but I am not
so old yet but that I can choose some kind of work and so thoroughly
master it that I can get the highest price paid for that form of
labor. I wish it could be gardening, for I have no taste for the shut-up work of woman; sitting in a close room all day with a needle would
be slow suicide to me."

"Gardening!" said Zell contemptuously. "You couldn't plow as well as
that snuffy old fellow who scratched your garden about as deeply as a
hen would have done it. A woman can't dig and hoe in the hot sun, that
is, an American girl can't, and I don't think she ought."

"Nor I either," said Mrs. Allen, with some returning vitality. "The
very idea is horrid."

"But plowing, digging, and hoeing are not all of gardening," said
Edith with some irritation.

"I guess you would make a slim support by just snipping around among
the rose-bushes," retorted Zell provokingly.

"That's always the way with you, Zell," said Edith sharply, "from one
extreme to another. Well, what would you like to do?"

"If I had to work I would like housekeeping. That admits of great
variety and activity. I wish I could open a summer boarding-house up
here. Wouldn't I make it attractive!"

"Such black eyes and red cheeks certainly would--to the gentlemen,"
answered Edith satirically.

"They would be mere accessories. I think I could give to a boarding-house, that place of hash and harrowing discomfort, a dainty, homelike
air. If father, when he risked a failure, had only put aside enough to
set me up in a boarding-house, I should have been made."

"A boarding-house! What horror next?" sighed Mrs. Allen.

"Don't be alarmed, mother," said Zell bitterly. "We can scarcely start
one of the forlornest hash species on ten dollars. I admit I would
rather keep house for a good husband, and it seems to me I could soon
learn to give him the perfection of a good home," and her eyes filled
with wistful tears. Dashing them scornfully away, she added, "The idea
of a woman loving a man, and letting his home be dependent on the
cruel mercies of foreign servants! If it's a shame that girls are not
taught to make a living if they need to, it's a worse shame that they
are not taught to keep house. Half the brides I know of ought to have
been arrested and imprisoned for obtaining property on false
pretences. They had inveigled men into the vain expectation that they
would make a home for them, when they no more knew how to make a home
than a heaven. The best they can do is to go to one of those places so
satirically called an 'intelligence office,' and import them into
their elegant houses a small mob of quarrelsome, drunken, dishonest
foreigners, and then they and their husbands live on such conditions
as are permitted. I would be mistress of my house, just as a man is
master of his store or office, and I would know thoroughly how work of
all kinds was done, and see that it was done thoroughly. If they
wouldn't do it, I'd discharge them. I am satisfied that our bad
servants are the result of bad housekeepers more than anything else."

"Poor little Zell!" said Edith, smiling sadly. "I hope you will have a
chance to put your theories into most happy and successful practice."

"Little chance of it here in 'Bushtown,' as Hannibal calls it," said
Zell suddenly.

"Well," said Edith, in a kind of desperate tone, "we've got to decide
on something at once. I will suggest this. Laura must take care of
mother, and teach a few little children if she can get them. We will
give up the parlor to her at certain hours. I will put up a notice in
the post-office asking for such patronage, and perhaps we can put an
advertisement in the Pushton Recorder, if it doesn't cost too much.
Zell, you must take the housekeeping mainly, for which you have a
taste, and help me with any sewing that I can get. Hannibal will go
into the garden and I will help him there all I can. I shall go to the
village to-morrow and see if I can find anything to do that will bring
in money."

There was a silent acquiescence in Edith's plan, for no one had
anything else to offer.



CHAPTER XVIII

IGNORANCE LOOKING FOR WORK



The next day Edith went to the village, and frankly told Mr. Hard how
they were situated, mentioning that the failure of their lawyer to
sell the stock had suddenly placed them in this crippled condition.

Mr. Hard's eyes grew more pebbly as he listened. He ventured in a
constrained voice as consolation:

"That he never had much faith in stocks--No, he had no employment for
ladies in connection with his store. He simply bought and sold at a
_small_ advance. Miss Klip, the dressmaker, might have something."

To Miss Klip Edith went. Miss Klip, although an unprotected female,
appeared to be a maiden that could take care of herself. One would
scarcely venture to hinder her. Her cutting scissors seemed instinct
with life, and one would get out of their way as naturally as from a
railroad train. She gave Edith a sharp look through her spectacles and
said abruptly in answer to her application:

"I thought you was rich."

"We were," said Edith sadly, "but we must work now and are willing
to."

"What do you know about dressmaking and sewing?"

"Well, not a great deal, but I think you would find us very ready to
learn."

"Oh, bless you, I can get all my work done by thorough hands, and at
my own prices, too. Good-morning."

"But can you not tell me of some one who would be apt to have work?"

"There's Mrs. Glibe across the street. She has work sometimes. Most of
the dressmakers around here are well trained, have machines, and go
out by the day."

Edith's heart sank. What chance was there for her untaught hands among
all these "trained workers."

She soon found that Mrs. Glibe was more inclined to talk (being as
garrulous as Miss Klip was laconic) and to find out all about them
than to help her to work. Making but little headway in Edith's
confidence she at last said, "I give Rose Lacey all the work I have to
spare and it isn't very much. The business is so cut up that none of
us have much more than we can do except a short time in the busy
season. Still, those of us who can give a nice fit and cut to
advantage can make a good living after getting known. It takes time
and training you know of course."

"But isn't there work of any kind that we can get in this place?" said
Edith impatiently.

"Well, not that you' d be willing to do. Of course there's
housecleaning and washing and some plain sewing, though that is mostly
done on a machine. A good strong woman can always get day's work,
except in winter, but you ain't one of that sort," she added, looking
at Edith's delicate pink and white complexion and little white hands
in which a scrubbing-brush would look incongruous.

"Isn't there any demand for fancy work?" asked Edith.

"Mighty little. People buy such things in the city. Money ain't so
plenty in the country that people will spend much on that kind of
thing. The ladies themselves make it at home and when they go out to
tea."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Edith, as she plodded wearily homeward, "what can
we do? Ignorance is as bad as crime."

Her main hope now for immediate necessities was that they might get
some scholars. She had put up a notice in the post-office and an
advertisement in the paper. She had also purchased some rudimentary
school books, and the poor child, on her return home, soon distracted
herself by a sudden plunge into vulgar fractions. She found herself so
sadly rusty that she would have to study almost as hard as any of her
pupils, were they obtained. Laura's bookish turn and better memory had
kept her better informed. Edith soon threw aside grammars and
arithmetics, saying to Laura:

"You must take care of the school, if we get one. It would take me too
long to prepare on these things in our emergency."

Almost desperate from the feeling that there was nothing she could do,
she took a hoe that was by no means light, and loosened the ground and
cut off all the sprouting weeds around her strawberry-vines. The day
was rather cool and cloudy, and she was surprised at the space she
went over. She wore her broad-brimmed straw hat tied down over her
face, and determined she would not look at the road, and would act as
if it were not there, letting people think what they pleased. But a
familiar rumble and rattle caused her to look shyly up after the wagon
had passed, and she saw Arden Lacey gazing wonderingly back at her.
She dropped her eyes instantly as if she had not seen him, and went on
with her work. At last, thoroughly wearied, she went in and said half
triumphantly, half defiantly:

"A woman can hoe. I've done it myself."

"A woman _can_ ride a horse like a man," said Mrs. Allen, and this was
all the home encouragement poor Edith received.

They had had but a light lunch at one o'clock, meaning to have a more
substantial dinner at six. Hannibal was showing Zell and getting her
started in her department. It was but a poor little dinner they had,
and Zell said in place of dessert:

"Edith, we are most out of everything."

"And I can't get any work," said Edith despondingly. "People have got
to know how to do things before anybody wants them, and we haven't
time to learn."

"Ten dollars won't last long," said Zell recklessly.

"I will go down to the village and make further inquiries to-morrow,"
Edith continued in a weary tone. "It seems strange how people stand
aloof from us. No one calls and everybody wants what we owe them right
away. Are there not any good kind people in Pushton? I wish we had not
offended the Laceys. They might have advised and helped us, but
nothing would tempt me to go to them after treating them as we did."

There were plenty of good kind people in Pushton, but Mrs. Allen's
"policy" had driven them away as far as possible. By their course the
Allens had placed themselves, in relation to all classes, in the most
unapproachable position, and their "friends" from the city and Tom
Crowl's gossip had made matters far worse. Poor Edith thought they
were utterly ignored. She would have felt worse if she had known that
every one was talking about them.

The next day Edith started on another unsuccessful expedition to the
village, and while she was gone, Zell went to the post-office to which
she had told Van Dam to direct his reply. She found the plausible lie
we have already placed before the reader.

At first she experienced a sensation of anger that he had not complied
with her wish. It was a new experience to have gentlemen, especially
Van Dam, so long her obsequious slave, think of anything contrary to
her wishes. She also feared that Edith might be right, and that Van
Dam designed evil against her. She would not openly admit, even to
herself, that this was his purpose, and yet Edith's words had been so
clear and strong, and Van Dam's conditions placed her so entirely at
his mercy, that she shrank from him and was fascinated at the same
time.

But instead of indignantly casting the letter from her, she read it
again and again. Her foolish heart pleaded for him.

"He couldn't be so false to me, so false to his written word," she
said, and the letter was hidden away, and she passed into the
dangerous stage of irresolution, where temptation is secretly dwelt
upon. She hesitated, and, according to the proverb, the woman who does
this is lost. Instead of indignantly casting temptation from her, she
left her course open, to be decided somewhat by circumstances. She
wilfully shut her eyes to the danger, and tried to believe, and did
almost believe that her lover meant honestly by her.

And so the days passed, Edith vainly trying to find something to do,
and working hard in her garden, which as yet brought no return. She
was often very sad and despondent, and again very irritable. Laura's
apathy only deepened, and she seemed like one not yet awakened from a
dream of the past. Zell made some show of work, but after all left
almost everything for Hannibal as before, and when Edith sharply
chided her, she laughed recklessly and said:

"What's the use? If we are going to starve we might as well do so at
once and have it over with."

"I won't starve," said Edith, almost fiercely. "There must be honest
work somewhere in the world for one willing to do it, and I'm going to
find it. At any rate, can raise food in my garden before long."

"I'm afraid we shall starve before your cabbages and carrots come to
maturity, and we might as well as to try to live on such garbage.
Supplies are running low, and, as you say, the money is nearly gone."

"Yes, and people won't trust us any more. Two or three declined to in
the village to-day, and I felt too discouraged and ashamed to ask any
further. For some reason people seem afraid of us. I see persons turn
and look after me, and yet they avoid me. Two or three impudent clerks
tried to make my acquaintance, but I snubbed them in such a way that
they will let me alone hereafter. I wonder if any stories could have
got around about us? Country towns are such places for gossip."

"Have you heard of any scholars?" said Laura languidly.

"No, not one," was Edith's despondent answer. "If nothing turns up
before, I'll go to New York next Monday and sell some more things, and
I'll go where I'm known this time."

Nothing turned up, and by Sunday they had nothing in the house save a
little dry bread, which they ate moistened with wine and water. Mrs.
Allen sighed and cried all day. Laura had the strange manner of one
awaking up to something unrealized before. Restlessness began to take
the place of apathy, and her eyes often sought the face of Edith in a
questioning manner. Finding her alone in the garden, she said:

"Why, Edith, I'm hungry. I never remember being hungry before. Is it
possible we have come to this?"

Edith burst into tears, and said brokenly:

"Come with me to the arbor."

"I'm sure I'm willing to do anything," said Laura piteously, "but I
never realized we would come to this."

"Oh! how can the birds sing?" said Edith bitterly. "This beautiful
spring weather, with its promise and hopefulness, seems a mockery. The
sun is shining brightly, flowers are budding and blooming, and all the
world seems so happy, but my heart aches as if it would burst. I'm
hungry, too, and I know poor old Hannibal is faint, though he tries to
keep up whenever I am around."

"But, Edith, if people knew how we are situated they would not let us
want. Our old acquaintances in New York, or our relations even, though
not very friendly, would surely help us."

"Oh, yes, I suppose so for a little while, but I can't bring myself to
ask for charity, and no one would under take to support us. What
discourages me most is that I can't get work that will bring in money.
Between people wishing to have nothing to do with us, on one hand, and
my ignorance on the other, there seems no resource. Some of those whom
we owe seem inclined to press us. I'm so afraid of losing this place
and being out on the street. If I could only get a chance somewhere,
or get time to learn to do something well!"

Then after a moment she asked suddenly, "Where's Zell?"

"In her room, I think"

"I don't like Zell's manner," said Edith, after a brief painful
revery. "It's so hard and reckless. Something seems to be on her mind.
She has long fits of abstraction as if she were thinking of something,
or weighing some plan. Could she have had any communication with that
villain Van Dam? Oh! that would be the bitterest drop of all in our
cup of sorrow. I would rather see her dead than that."

"Oh, dear!" said Laura, "it seems as if I had been in a trance and had
just awakened. Why, Edith, I must do something. It is not right to let
you bear all these things alone. But don't trouble about Zell, not one
of George Allen's daughters will sink to that."



CHAPTER XIX

A FALLING STAR



Zell slept most of the day. She had reached that point where she did
not want to think. On hearing Edith say that she would go to New York
on Monday, a sadden and strong temptation assailed her. Impulsive, but
not courageous, abounding in energy, but having little fortitude, she
found the conditions of her country life growing unendurable. Van Dam
seemed her only refuge, her only means of escape. She soon lost all
hope of their sustaining themselves by work in Pushton. Her uncurbed
nature could wait patiently for nothing, and as the long, idle days
passed, she doubted, and then despaired, of any success from Edith's
plans. She harbored Van Dam's temptation, and the consciousness of
doing this hurt her womanly nature, and her hard, reckless tone and
manner were the natural consequence. She said to herself, and tried to
believe--

"He will marry me--he has promised again and again."

Still, there was the uneasy knowledge that she was placing herself and
her reputation entirely at his mercy, and she long had known that Van
Dam was no saint. It was this lurking knowledge, shut her eyes to it
as she might, that acted on her nature like a petrifying influence.

And yet, Van Dam's temptation had more to contend with in her pride
than in her moral nature. Everything in her education had tended to
increase the former, and dwarf the latter. Her parents had taken her
to the theatre far oftener than even to the fashionable church on the
avenue. From the latter she carried away more ideas about dress than
about anything else. From a child she had been familiar with the
French school of morals, as taught by the sensational drama in New
York. Society, that will turn a poor girl out of doors the moment she
sins, will take her at the most critical age of her unformed
character, night after night, to witness plays in which the husband is
made ridiculous, but the man who destroys purity and home-happiness is
as splendid a villain as Milton's Satan. Mr. Allen himself had
familiarized Zell's mind with just what she was tempted to do, by
taking her to plays as poisonous to the soul as the malaria of the
Campagna at Rome to the body. He, though dead, had a part in the
present temptation of his child, and we unhesitatingly charge many
parents with the absolute ruin of their children, by exposing them,
and permitting them to be exposed, to influences that they know must
be fatal. No guardian of a child can plead the densest stupidity for
not knowing that French novels and plays are as demoralizing as the
devil could wish them to be; and constantly to place young, passionate
natures, just awakening in their uncurbed strength, under such
influences, and expect them to remain as spotless as snow, is the most
wretched absurdity of our day. Society brings fire to the tow, the
brand to the powder, and then lifts its hand to hurl its anathema in
case they ignite.

But Mr. Allen sinned even more grievously in permitting a man like Van
Dam to haunt his home. If now one of the lambs of his flock suffered
irretrievably, he would be as much to blame as a shepherd who daily
saw the wolf within his fold. Mr. Allen was familiar with the stories
about Van Dam, as multitudes of wealthy men are to-day with the
character of well-dressed scoundrels who visit their daughters. Some
of the worst villains in existence have the _entree_ into the "best
society." It is pretty well known among men what they are, and
fashionable mammas are not wholly in the dark. Therefore, every day,
"angels that kept not their first estate" are falling from heaven. It
may not be the open, disgraceful ruin that threatened poor Zell, but
it is ruin nevertheless.

After all, it was the undermining, unhallowed influence of long
association with Van Dam that now made Zell so weak in her first sharp
stress of temptation. Crime was not awful and repulsive to her. There
was little in her cunningly-perverted nature that revolted at it. She
hesitated mainly on the ground of her pride, and in view of the
consequences. And even these latter she in no sense realized, for the
school in which she had been taught showed only the flowery opening of
the path into sin, while its terrible retributions were kept hidden.

Therefore, as the miseries of her condition in the country increased,
Zell's pride failed her, and she began to be willing to risk all to
get away, and when she felt the pinch of hunger she became almost
desperate. As we have said, on Edith's naming a day on which she would
be absent on the forlorn mission that would only put off the day of
utter want a little longer, the temptation took definite shape in
Zell's mind to write at once to Van Dam, acceding to his shameful
conditions.

But, to satisfy her conscience, which she could not stifle, and to
provide some excuse for her action, and still more, to brace the hope
she tried to cherish that he really meant truly by her, she wrote:

"If I will meet you at the boat Monday evening, will you surely marry
me? Promise me on your sacred honor."

Van Dam muttered, with a low laugh, as he read the note:

"That's a rich joke, for her to accept such a proposition as mine,
especially after all that has happened, and still prate of 'sacred
honor.'"

But he unhesitatingly, promptly, and with many protestations assured
her that he would, and at once prepared to carry out his part of the
programme.

"What's the use of half-way lies?" he said, carelessly.

On Monday Edith again took the early train with the valuables of which
she designed to dispose. Zell had said indifferently:

"You may take anything I have left except my watch and chain."

But Laura had insisted on sending her watch, saying, "I really wish to
do something, Edith. I've left all the burden on you too long."

Mrs. Allen sighed, and said, "Take any thing you please."

So Edith carried away with her the means of fighting the wolf, hunger,
from their doors a little longer. But if she had known that a more
cruel enemy would despoil her home in her absence, she would rather
have starved than gone.

Laura was reading to her mother when Zell put her head in at the door,
saying:

"I am going for a short walk, and will be back soon."

She hastened to the office at which she had told Van Dam to address
her, and found his reply. With feverish cheeks, and eyes in which
glowed excitement rather than happiness, she read it as soon as she
was alone on the road, and returned as quickly as possible. Her mind
was in a wild tumult, but she would not allow herself one rational
thought. She spent most of the day in her room preparing for her
flight. But when she came down to see Hannibal about their meagre
lunch, he said in some surprise and alarm:

"Oh, Miss Zell, how burnin' red your cheeks be! You'se got a ragin'
feber, sure 'nuff. Go and lie right straight down, and I'se see to
eberyting. I'se been to de willage and got some tea. A man guv it to
me as a sample, and I telled him we'se like our tea mighty strong, so
you'se all hab a cup of tea to-day, and to-night Miss Edie'll come
back wid a heap of money."

"Poor old Hannibal!" said Zell, with a sudden rush of tenderness. "I
wish I were as good as you are."

"Lor bress you, Miss Zell, I isn't good. I'se kind of a heathen. But
somehow I feels dat de Lord will bress me when I steals for you alls."

"Oh, Hannibal, I wish I was dead and out of the way! Then there would
be one less to provide for."

"Dead and out of de way!" said Hannibal, half indignantly; "dat's jest
how to get into de way. I'd be afeard of seein' your spook whenever I
was alone. I had no comfort in New York arter Massa Allen died, and
was mighty glad to get away even to Bushtown. And den Miss Edie and
all would cry dar eyes out, and couldn't do nothin'. Folks is often
more in de way arter dey's dead and gone dan when livin'. Seein' your
sweet face around ebery day, honey, is a great help to ole Hannibal.
It seems only yesterday it was a little baby face, and we was all
pretty nigh crazy over you."

"I wish I had died then!" said Zell, passionately, and hurrying away.

"Poor chile, poor chile! she takes it mighty hard," said innocent
Hannibal.

She kept her room during the afternoon, pleading that she did not feel
well. It gave her pain to be with her mother and Laura, now that she
purposed to leave them so abruptly, and she wished to see nothing that
would shake her resolution to go as she had arranged. She wrote to
Edith as follows:

"I am going, Edith, to meet Mr. Van Dam, as he told me. I cannot--I
will not believe that he will prove false to me. I leave his letter,
which I received to-day. Perhaps you never will forgive me at home;
but whatever becomes of poor little Zell, she will not cease to love
you all. I should only be a burden if I stayed. There will be one less
to provide for, and I may be able to help you far more by going than
staying. Don't follow me. I've made my venture, and chosen my lot.
ZELL."

As the long twilight was deepening, Hannibal, returning from the well
with a pail of water, heard the gate-latch click, and, looking up, saw
Zell hurrying out with hat and shawl on, and having the appearance of
carrying something under her shawl. He felt a little surprise at
first, but then, Zell was so full of impulse, that he concluded:

"She's gwine to meet Miss Edie. We'se all a-lookin' and leanin' on
Miss Edie, Lor bres her."

But Zell was going to perdition.

Little later the stage brought tired Edith home, but in better spirits
than before, as she had realized a somewhat fair sum for what she had
sold, and had been treated politely.

After taking off her things, she asked, "Where's Zell?"

"Lying down, I think," said Laura. "She complained of not feeling well
this afternoon."

But Hannibal's anxious face in the door now caught her attention, and
she joined him at once.

"Didn't you meet Miss Zell?" he asked in a whisper.

"Meet her? No," answered Edith, excitedly.

"Dat's quare. She went out with hat and shawl on a little while ago.
P'raps she's come back, and gone upstairs again."

Trembling so she could hardly walk steadily, Edith hurried to her
room, and there saw Zell's note. Tearing it open, she only read the
first line, and then rushed down to her mother and Laura, sobbing:

"Zell's gone."

"Gone! Where?" they said, with dismayed faces.

Edith's only reply was to look suddenly at her watch, put on her hat,
and dart out of the door. She saw that there were still ten minutes
before the evening boat passed the Pushton landing, and remembered
that it was sometimes delayed. There was a shorter road to the dock
than the one through the village, and this she took, with flying feet,
and a white but determined face. It would have been a terrible thing
for Van Dam to have met her then. She seemed sustained by supernatural
strength, and, walking and running by turns, made the mile and a half
in an incredibly short space of time. As she reached the top of the
hill above the landing, she saw the boat coming in to the dock. Though
panting and almost spent, again she ran at the top of her speed. Half-way down she heard the plank ring out upon the wharf.

"Stop!" she called. But her parched lips uttered only a faint sound,
like the cry of one in a dream.

A moment later, as she struggled desperately forward, there came, like
the knell of hope, the command:

"All aboard!"

"Oh, wait, wait!" she again tried to call, but her tongue seemed
paralyzed.

As she reached the commencement of the long dock, she saw the lines
cast off. The great wheels gave a vigorous revolution, and the boat
swept away.

She was too late. She staggered forward a few steps more, and then all
her remaining strength went into one agonized cry:

"Zell!"

And she fell fainting on the dock.

Zell heard that cry, and recognized the voice. Taking her hand from
Mr. Van Dam's arm, she covered her face in sudden remorseful weeping.

But it was too late.

She had left the shelter of home, and ventured out into the great
pitiless world on nothing better than Van Dam's word. It was like
walking a rotten plank out into the sea.

Zell was lost!



CHAPTER XX

DESOLATION



Not only did Edith's bitter cry startle poor Zell, coming to her ear
as a despairing recall from the battlements of heaven might have
sounded to a falling angel, but Arden Lacey was as thoroughly aroused
from his painful revery as if shaken by a giant hand. He had been down
to meet the boat, with many others, and was sending off some little
produce from their place. He had not noticed in the dusk the closely-veiled lady; indeed, he rarely noticed any one unless they spoke to
him, and then gave but brief, surly attention. Only one had scanned
Zell curiously, and that was Tom Crowl. With his quick eye for
something wrong in human action, he was attracted by Zell's manner. He
could not make out through her thick veil who she was, in the
increasing darkness, but he saw that she was agitated, and that she
looked eagerly for the coming of the boat, also landward, where the
road came out on the dock, as if fearing or expecting something from
that quarter. But when he saw her join Van Dam, he recognized his old
bar-room acquaintance, and surmised that the lady was one of the Allen
family. Possessing these links in the chain, he was ready for the
next. Edith's presence and cry supplied this, and he chuckled
exultantly:

"An elopement!" and ran in the direction of the sound.

But Arden was already at Edith's side, having reached her almost at a
bound, and was gently lifting the unconscious girl, and regarding her
with a tenderness only equalled by his helplessness and perplexity in
not knowing what to do with her.

The first impulse of his great strength was to carry her directly to
her home. But Edith was anything but ethereal, and long before he
could have passed the mile and a half, he would have fainted under the
burden, even though love nerved his arms. But while he stood in
piteous irresolution, there came out from the crowd that had gathered
round, a stout, middle-aged woman, who said, in a voice that not only
betokened the utmost confidence in herself, but also the assurance
that all the world had confidence in her:

"Here, give me the girl. What do you men-folks know about women?"

"I declare, it's Mrs. Groody from the hotel," ejaculated Tom Crowl, as
this delightful drama (to him) went on from act to act.

"Standin' there and holdin' of her," continued Mrs. Groody, who was
sometimes a little severe on both sexes, "won't bring her to, unless
she fainted 'cause she wanted some one to hold her."

A general laugh greeted this implied satire, but Arden, between anger
and desire to do something, was almost beside himself. He had the
presence of mind to rush to the boat-house for a bucket of water, and
when he arrived with it a man had also procured a lantern, which
revealed to the curious onlookers who gathered round with craning
necks the pale features of Edith Allen.

"By golly, but it's one of them Allen girls," said Tom Crowl, eagerly.
"I see it all now. She's down to stop her sister, who's just run away
with one of those city scamps that was up here awhile ago. I saw her
join him and take his arm on the boat, but wasn't sure who she was
then."

"Might know you was around, Tom Crowl," said Mrs. Groody. "There's
never nothing wrong going on but you see it. You are worse than any
old woman for gossip. Why don't you put on petticoats and go out to
tea for a livin'?"

When the laugh ceased at Crowl's expense, he said:

"Don't you put on airs, Mrs. Groody; you are as glad, to hear the news
as any one. It's a pity you turned up and spoiled Mr. Lacey's part of
the play, for, if this one is anything like her sister, she, perhaps,
wanted to be held, as you--"

Tom's further utterance was effectually stopped by such a blow across
his mouth, from Lacey's hand, as brought the blood profusely on the
spot, and caused such disfigurement, for days after, that appropriate
justice seemed visited on the offending region.

"Leave this dock," said Arden, sternly; "and if I trace any slander to
you concerning this lady or myself, I will break every bone in your
miserable body."

Crowl shrank off amid the jeers of the crowd, but on reaching a safe
distance, said, "You will be sorry for this."

Arden paid no need to him, for Edith, under Mrs. Groody's treatment,
gave signs of returning consciousness. She slowly opened her eyes, and
turned them wonderingly around; then came a look of wild alarm, as she
saw herself surrounded by strange bearded faces, that appeared both
savage and grotesque in the flickering light of the lantern.

"O, Heaven! have mercy," she cried, faintly. "Where am I?"

"Among friends, I assure you, Miss Allen," said Arden, kneeling at her
side.

"Mr. Lacey! and are you here?" said Edith, trying to rise. "You surely
will protect me."

"Do not be afraid, Miss Allen. No one would harm you for the world;
and Mrs. Groody is a good kind lady, and will see you safely home, I
am sure."

Edith now became conscious that it was Mrs. Groody who was supporting
her, and regained confidence, as she recognized the presence of a
woman.

"Law bless you, child, you needn't be scared. You have only had a
faint. I'll take care of you, as young Lacey says. Seems to me he's
got wonderfully polite since last summer," she muttered to herself.

"But where am I?" asked Edith, with a bewildered air; "what has
happened?"

"Oh, don't worry yourself; you'll soon be home and safe."

But the memory of it all suddenly came to Edith, and even by the
lantern's light, Arden saw the sudden crimson pour into her face and
neck, She gave one wild, deprecating look around, and then buried her
face in her hands as if to hide the look of scorn she expected to see
on every face.

The first arrow aimed by Zell's great wrong already quivered in her
heart.

"Don't you think you could walk a little now, just enough to get into
the hack with me and go home?" asked the kind woman, in a soothing
voice.

"Yes, yes," said Edith, eagerly; "let us get away at once." And with
Mrs. Groody's and Arden's assistance, she was soon seated in the hack,
and was glad to note that there was no other passenger. The ride was a
comparatively silent one. Edith was too exhausted from her desperate
struggle to reach the boat, and her heart was too bruised and sore, to
permit on her part much more than monosyllables, in answer to Mrs.
Groody's efforts at conversation. But as they stopped at the cottage
her new friend said, cheerily:

"Don't take it so hard, my child; you ain't to blame. I'll stand by
you if no one else will. It don't take me long to know a good honest
girl when I see one, and I know you mean well. What's more, I've took
a likin' to you, and I can be a pretty fair sort of friend if I do
work for a livin'."

Mrs. Groody was good if not grammatical. She had broad shoulders, that
had borne in their day many burdens--her own and others'. She had a
strong, stout frame, in which thumped a large, kindly heart. She had
long earned her bread by callings that brought her in contact with all
classes, and had learned to know the world very thoroughly without
becoming worldly or hardened. But she had a quick, sharp tongue, and
could pay anybody off in his own coin with interest. Everybody soon
found it to his advantage to keep on the right side of Mrs. Groody,
and the old habitues of the hotel were as polite and deferential to
her as if she were a duchess. She was one of those shrewd, strong,
cheery people, who would make themselves snug, useful, and influential
in a very short time, if set down anywhere on the face of the earth.

Such a woman readily surmised the nature of Edith's trouble, and knew
well how deeply the shadow of Zell's disgrace would fall on the
family. Edith's desperate effort to save her sister, her bitter
humiliation and shrinking shame in view of the flight, all proved her
to be worthy of respect and confidence herself. When Mrs. Groody saw
that Edith lived in a little house, and was probably not in so high a
social position as to resent her patronage, her big heart yearned in
double sympathy over the poor girl, and she determined to help her in
the struggle she knew to be before her; so she said, kindly:

"If you'll wait till a clumsy old body like me can get out, I'll see
you safe into your home."

"Oh, no," said Edith, eagerly, following the strong instinct to keep a
stranger from seeing herself, her mother, and Laura in the first hour
of their shame. "You have been very kind, and I feel that I can never
repay you."

"Bless you, child, I don't expect greenbacks for all I do. I want a
little of the Lord's work to come to me, though I'm afraid I fell from
grace long ago. But a body can't be pious in a hotel. There's so many
aggravatin' people and things that you think swearin', if you darsn't
say it out. But I'm a human sort of a heathen, after all, and I feel
sorry for you. Now ain't there somethin' I can do for you?"

The driver stood with his lantern near the door, and its rays fell on
Edith's pale face and large, tearful eyes, and she turned, and for the
first time tried to see who this kind woman was, that seemed to feel
for her. Taking Mrs. Groody's hands, she said, in a voice of tremulous
pathos:

"God bless you for speaking to me at all. I didn't think any one would
again who knew. You ask if you can do anything for me. If you'll only
get me work, I'll bless you every day of my life. No one on earth or
in heaven can help me, unless I get work. I'm almost desperate for it,
and I can't seem to find any that will bring us bread, but I'll do any
honest work, no matter what, and I'll take whatever people are willing
to give for it, till I can do better." Edith spoke in a rapid manner,
but in a tone that went straight to the heart.

"Why, my poor child," said Mrs. Groody, wiping her eyes, "you can't do
work. You are pale as a ghost, and you look like a delicate lady."

"What is there in this world for a delicate lady who has no money but
honest work?" asked Edith, in a tone that was almost stern.

"I see that you are such a lady, and it seems that you ought to find
some lady-like work, if you must do it," said Mrs. Groody, musingly.

"We have tried to get employment--almost any kind. I can't think my
sister would have taken her desperate course if we could have obtained
something to do. I know she ought to have starved first. But we were
not brought up to work, and we can't do anything well enough to
satisfy people, and we haven't time to learn. Besides, before this
happened, for some reason people stood aloof from us, and now it will
be far worse. Oh, what shall we do? What shall we do?" cried Edith,
despairingly; and in her trouble she seemed to turn her eyes away from
Mrs. Groody, with wild questioning of the future.

Her new acquaintance was sniffling and blowing her nose in a manner
that betokened serious internal commotion. The driver, who would have
hustled any ordinary passenger out quickly enough, waited Mrs.
Groody's leisure at a respectful distance. He knew her potential
influence at the hotel. At last the good woman found her voice, though
it seemed a little husky:

"Lor' bless you, child! I ain't got a millstun for a heart, and if I
had, you'd turn it into wax. If work's all you want, you shall have
it. I'm housekeeper at the hotel. You come to me as soon as you are
able, and we'll find something."

"Oh, thank you, thank you!" said Edith, fervidly.

"Is dat you, Miss Edie?" called Hannibal's anxious voice.

"Good-night, my dear," said Mrs. Groody, hastily, "Don't lose courage.
I ain't on as good terms with the Lord as I ought to be. I seem too
worried and busy to 'tend to religion; but I know enough about Him to
be sure that He will take care of a poor child that wants to do
right."

"I don't understand how God lets happen all that's happened to-day.
The best I can believe is, that we are dealt with in a mass, and the
poor human atoms are lost sight of. But I am indeed grateful for your
kindness, and will come to-morrow and do anything I can. Good-by."

And the hack rumbled away, leaving her in the darkness, with Hannibal
at the gate.

"Oh, Hannibal, Hannibal," was all that Edith could say.

"Is she done gone clean away?" asked Hannibal, in an awed whisper.

"Would to heaven she had never been born!" said Edith, bitterly. "Help
me into the house, for I feel as if I should die."

Hannibal, trembling with fear himself, supported poor, exhausted Edith
to a sofa, and then disappeared into the kitchen.

Mrs. Allen and Laura came and stood with white faces by Edith's
languid, unnerved form.

There was no need of asking questions. She had returned alone, with
her fresh young face looking old and drawn in its grief.

At last Mrs. Allen said, with bitter emphasis:

"She is no child of mine, from this day forth."

Then followed such a dreary silence that it might seem that Zell had
died and was no more.

At last Hannibal bustled in, making a most desperate effort to keep up
a poor show of courage and hope. He placed on a little table before
Edith a steaming hot cup of tea, some toast, and wine, but the food
was motioned away.

"It would choke me," said Edith.

Hannibal stood before her a moment, his quaint old visage working
under the influence of emotion, almost beyond control. At last he
managed to say:

"Miss Edie, we'se all a leanin' on you. We'se nothin' but vines a
climbin' up de orange-bush. If you goes down, we all does. And now,
Miss Edie, I'd swallow pison for you. Won't you take a cup o' tea for
de sake of ole Hannibal? 'Cause your sweet face looks so pinched,
honey, dat I feels dat my ole black heart's ready to bust;" and
Hannibal, feeling that the limit of his restraint was reached,
retreated precipitately to the kitchen.

The appeal, with its element of deep affection, was more needed by
Edith in her half-paralyzed state than even the material refreshment.
She sat up instantly, and drank the tea and wine, and ate a little of
the toast. Then taking the cup and glass into the kitchen:

"There," she said, "see, I've drunk every drop. So don't worry about
me any more, my poor old Hannibal, but go to bed, after your hard
day's work."

But Hannibal would not venture out of his dark corner, but muttered,
brokenly:

"Lor--bress--you--Miss Edie--you'se an angel--I'se be better soon--I'se got--de hiccups."

Edith thought it kindness to leave the old man to recover his self-control in his own time and way, so she said:

"Good-night, my faithful old friend. You're worth your weight in
gold."

Meantime, Laura had helped Mrs. Allen to her room but now she came
running down to Edith, with new trouble in her face, saying:

"Mother's crying so, I can't do anything with her."

At first Mrs. Allen's heart seemed hardened against her erring child,
but on reaching her room she stood a few moments irresolutely, then
went to a drawer, took out an old faded picture-case and opened it.
From it Zell smiled out upon her, a little, dimpled baby. Then, as if
by a sudden impulse rare to her, she pressed her lips against the
unconscious face, and threw herself into her low chair, sobbing so
violently that Laura became alarmed.

Even in that arid place, Mrs. Allen's heart, there appeared a little
oasis of mother love, as this last and bitterest sorrow pierced its
lowest depths. She might cast out from her affection the grown,
sinning daughter, but not the baby that once slept upon her breast.

As Edith came and took her hand she said, brokenly:

"It seems--but yesterday--that she was--a wee black-eyed--little
thing--in my arms--and your father--came--and looked at her--so
proudly--tenderly--"

"Would to heaven she had died then!" said Edith, sternly.

"It would have been better if we had all died then,", said Mrs. Allen
drearily, and becoming quiet.

Edith's words fell like a chill upon her unwontedly stirred heart, and
old habits of feeling and action resumed sway.

With Mrs. Allen's words ended the miserable day of Zell's flight.
Hannibal's words were true. Zell, in her unnatural absence, would be
more in the way--a heavier burden--than if she had become a helpless
invalid upon their hands.



CHAPTER XXI

EDITH'S TRUE KNIGHT



The next morning Edith was too ill to rise. She had become chilled
after her extraordinary exertion of the previous evening, and a severe
cold was the consequence; and this, with the nervous prostration of an
over-taxed system, made her appear more seriously indisposed than she
really was. For the sake of her mother and Laura, she wished to be
present at the meagre little breakfast which her economy now
permitted, but found it impossible; and later in the day her mind
seemed disposed to wander.

Mrs. Allen and Laura were terror-stricken at this new trouble. As
Hannibal had said, they were all leaning on Edith. They had lost
confidence in themselves, and now hoped nothing from the outside
world. They had scarcely the shadow of an expectation that Van Dam
would marry Zell, and therefore they knew that worse than work would
separate them from all old connections, and they had learned to hope
nothing from the people of Pushton. Poor, feverish, wandering Edith
seemed the only one who could keep them from falling into the abyss of
utter want. They instinctively felt that total wreck was impossible as
long as she kept her hand upon the helm; but now they had all the wild
alarm of those who are drifting helplessly toward a reef, with a deep
and stormy sea on either side of it. Thus to the natural anxiety of
affection was added sickening fear.

Poor old Hannibal had no fear for himself. His devotion to Edith
reminded one of a faithful dog: it was so strong, instinctive,
unreasoning. He realized vaguely that his whole existence depended on
Edith's getting well, and yet we doubt whether he thought of himself
any more than the Newfoundland, who watches beside the bed, and then
beside the grave of a loved master, till famine, that form of pain
which humanity cannot endure, robs him of life.

"We must have a physician immediately," said Laura, with white lips.

"Oh, no," murmured Edith; "we can't afford it."

"We must," said Laura, with a sudden rush of tears. "Everything
depends on you."

Hannibal, who heard this brief dialogue, went silently downstairs, and
at once started in quest of Arden Lacey.

"If he is quar, he seemed kind o' human; and I'se believe he'll help
us now."

Arden was on the way to the barn, having just finished a farmer's
twelve o'clock dinner, when Hannibal entered the yard. An angel of
light could not have been more welcome than this dusky messenger, for
he came from the centre of all light and hope to poor Arden. Then a
feeling of alarm took possession of him. Had anything happened to
Edith? He had seen her shrinking shame. Had it led her to--and he
shuddered at the thought his wild imagination suggested. It was almost
a relief when Hannibal said:

"Oh, Mr. Lacey, I'se sure from de way you acted when we fust come, dat
you can feel for people in trouble. Miss Edie's berry sick, and I
don't know whar to go for a doctor, and she won't have any; but she
mus, and right away. Den again, I oughter not leave, for dey's all
nearly dead with trouble and cryin'."

"You are a good, faithful fellow," said Arden, heartily. "Go back and
do all you can for Miss Edith, and I'll bring a doctor myself, and
much quicker too than you could."

Before Hannibal reached home, Arden galloped past him, and the old man
chuckled:

"De drunken Laceys' mighty good neighbors when dey's sober."

As may well be imagined, recent events, as far as he understood them,
had stirred Arden's sensitive nature to the very depths. Hiding his
feelings from all save his mother, and often from her; appearing to
his neighbors stolid and sullen in the extreme, he was, in fact, in
his whole being, like a morbidly-excited nerve. He did not shrink from
the world because indifferent to it, but because it wounded him when
he came in contact with it. He seemed so out of tune with society that
it produced only jarring discord. His father's course brought him many
real slights, and these he resented as we have seen, and he resented
fancied slights quite as often, and thus he had cut himself off from
the sympathies, and even the recognition, of nearly all.

But what human soul can dwell alone? The true hermit finds in
communion with the Divine mind the perfection of companionship. But
Arden knew not God. He had heard of Him all his life; but Jove and
Thor were images more familiar to his mind than that of his Creator.
He loved his mother and sister, but their life seemed a poor, shaded
little nook, where they toiled and moped. And so, to satisfy the
cravings of his lonely heart, he had created and peopled an unreal
world of his own, in which he dwelt most of the time. As his interest
in the real world ceased, his imagination more vividly portrayed the
shadowy one, till at last, in the scenes of poetry and fiction, and
the splendid panorama of history, he thought he might rest satisfied,
and find all the society he needed in converse with those whom, by a
refinement of spiritualism, he could summon to his side from any age
or land. He secretly exulted in the still greater magic by which the
unreal creatures of poetic thought would come at his volition, and he
often smiled to think how royally attended was "old, drunken Lacey's"
son, whom many of the neighbors thought scarcely better than the
horses he drove.

Thus he lived under a spell of the past, in a world moon-lighted by
sentiment and fancy, surrounded by his ideals of those about whom he
read, and Shakespeare's vivid, life-like women were better known to
him than any of the ladies of Pushton. But dreams cannot last in our
material world, and ghosts vanish in the sunlight of fact. Woman's
nature is as beautiful and fascinating now as when the master-hand of
the world's greatest poet delineated it, and when living, breathing
Edith Allen stepped suddenly among his shadows, seemingly so luminous,
they vanished before her, as the stars pale into nothingness when the
eastern sky is aglow with morning. Now, in all his horizon, she only
shone, but the past seemed like night, and the present, day.

The circumstances under which he had met Edith had, in brief time,
done more to acquaint him with her than years might have accomplished,
and for the first time in his life he saw a superior girl with the
distorting medium of his prejudice pushed aside. Therefore she was a
sudden beautiful revelation to him, as vivid as unexpected. He did not
believe any such being existed, and indeed there did not, if we
consider into what he came to idealize Edith. But a better Edith
really lived than the unnatural paragon that he pictured to himself,
and the reality was capable of a vast improvement, though not in the
direction that his morbid mind would have indicated.

The treatment of his sister, the sudden ceasing of all intercourse,
and the appearance of Gus Elliot upon the scene, had cruelly wounded
his fair ideal, but with a lover's faith and a poet's fancy he soon
repaired the ravages of facts. He assured himself that Edith did not
know the character of the men who visited her house.

Then came Crowl's gossip, the knowledge of her poverty, and her
wretched errands to New York to dispose of the relics of the happy
past. He gathered from such observations as he could maintain without
being suspected, by every crumb of gossip that he could pick up (for
once he listened to gossip as if it were gospel), that they were in
trouble, that Edith was looking for work, and that she was so superior
to the rest of the family that they now all deferred to her and leaned
upon her. Then, to his deep satisfaction, he had seen Elliot, the
morning after his scathing repulse, going to the train, and looking
forlorn and sadly out of humor, and he was quite sure he had not been
near the little cottage since. Arden needed but little fact upon which
to rear a wondrous superstructure, and here seemed much, and all in
Edith's favor, and he longed with an intensity beyond language to do
something to help her.

Then came the tragedy of Zell's flight, Edith's heroic and almost
superhuman effort to save her, now followed by her pathetic weakness
and suffering, and no knight in the romantic age of chivalry ever more
wholly and loyally devoted himself to the high-born lady of his
choice, than did Arden to the poor sick girl at whom the finger of
scorn would now be generally pointed in Pushton.

To come back to our hero, galloping away on his old farm horse to find
a country doctor, may seem a short step down from the sublime. And so,
perhaps, it may be to those whose ideal of the sublime is only in
outward and material things. But to those who look past these things
to the passionate human heart, the same in every age, it will be
evident that Arden was animated by the same spirit with which he would
have sought and fought the traditional dragon.

Dr. Neak, a new-comer who was gaining some little name for skill and
success, and was making the most of it, was at home; but on Arden's
hurried application, ahemmed, hesitated, colored a little, and at last
said:

"Look here, Mr.---(I beg your pardon, I've not the pleasure of knowing
your name), I'm a comparative stranger in Pushton, and am just gaining
some little reputation among the better classes. I would rather not
compromise myself by attendance upon that family. If you can't get any
one else, and the girl is suffering, of course I'll try and go, but--"

"Enough," interrupted Arden, starting up blazing with wrath. "You
should spell your name with an S. I want a man as well as a
physician," and, with a look of utter contempt, he hastened away,
leaving the medical man somewhat anxious, not about Edith, but whether
he had taken the best course in view of his growing reputation.

Arden next traced out Dr. Blunt, who readily promised to come. He
attended all alike, and charged roundly also.

"Business is business," was his motto. "People who employ me must
expect to pay. After all, I'm the cheapest man in the place, for I
tell my patients the truth, and cure them as quickly as possible."

Arden's urgency soon brought him to Edith's side, and his practiced
eye saw no serious cause for alarm, and having heard more fully the
circumstances, he said:

"She will be well in a few days if she is kept very quiet, and nothing
new sets in. Of course she would be sick after last night. One might
as well put his hand in the fire and not expect it to burn him, as to
get very warm and then cool off suddenly and not expect to be ill. Her
pulse indicates general depression of her system, and need of rest.
That's all."

After prescribing remedies and a tonic, he said, "Let me know if I am
needed again," and departed in rather ill-humor.

Meeting Arden's anxious, questioning face at the gate, he said
gruffly:

"I thought from what you said the girl was dying. Used up and a bad
cold, that's all. Somewhat feverish yourself, ain't you?" he added
meaningly.

Though Arden colored under the doctor's satire, he was chiefly
conscious of a great relief that his idol was not in danger. His only
reply was the sullen, impassive expression he usually turned toward
the world.

As the doctor rode away, Hannibal joined him, saying:

"Mr. Lacey, you'se a friend in need, and if you only knowed what an
angel you'se servin', you wouldn't look so cross."

"Do I look cross?" asked Arden, his face becoming friendly in a
moment. "Well, it wasn't with you, still less with Miss Edith; for
even you cannot serve her more gladly than I will. That old doctor
r'iled me a little, though I can forgive him, since he says she is not
seriously ill."

"I'se glad you feels your privileges," said Hannibal, with some
dignity. "I'se knowed Miss Edie eber since she was a baby, and when we
lived on de avenue, de biggest and beautifullest in de city come to
our house, but none of 'em could compare wid my young lady. I don't
care what folks say, she's jes as good now, if she be poor, and her
sister hab run away, poor chile. De world don't know all;" and old
Hannibal shook his white head sadly and reproachfully.

This panegyric found strong echo in Arden's heart, but his habit of
reticence and his sensitive shrinking from any display of feeling
permitted him only to say, "I am sure every word you say is more than
true, and you will do me a great favor when you let me know how I can
serve Miss Edith."

Hannibal saw that he need waste no more ammunition on Arden, so he
pulled out the prescriptions, and said:

"The doctor guv me dese, but, Lor bress you, my ole jints is stiff,
and I'd be a week in gittin' down and back from de willage."

"That's enough," interrupted Arden. "You shall have the medicines in
half an hour;" and he kept his word.

"He is quar," muttered Hannibal, looking after him. "Neber saw a man
so 'bligin'. Folks say winegar ain't nothin' to him, but he seems
sweet on Miss Edie, sure 'nuff. What 'ud he say, 'You'se do me great
favor to tell me how I can serve Miss Edie'? I'se hope it'll last,"
chuckled Hannibal, retiring to his domain in the kitchen, "'cause I'se
gwine to do him a heap ob favors."



CHAPTER XXII

A MYSTERY



At Arden's request his mother called in the evening, and also Mrs.
Groody, from the hotel. Hannibal met them, and stated the doctor's
orders. Mrs. Allen and Laura did not feel equal to facing any one.
Though the old servant was excessively polite, the callers felt rather
slighted that they saw no member of the family. They went away a
little chilled in consequence, and contented themselves thereafter by
sending a few delicacies and inquiring how Edith was.

"If you have any self-respect at all," said Rose Lacey to her mother,
"you will not go there again till you are invited. It's rather too
great a condescension for you to go at all, after what has happened."

Arden listened with a black look, and asked, rather sharply:

"Will you never learn to distinguish between Miss Edith and the
others?"

"Yes," said Rose, dryly, "when she gives me a chance."

The doctor's view of Edith's case was correct. Her vigorous and
elastic constitution soon rallied from the shock it had received.
Hannibal had sent to the village for nutritious diet, which he knew so
well how to prepare, and, after a few days, she was quite herself
again. But with returning strength came also a sense of shame,
anxiety, and a torturing dread of the future. The money accruing from
her last sale of jewelry would not pay the debts resting on them now,
and she could not hope to earn enough to pay the balance remaining, in
addition to their support. Her mother suggested the mortgaging of her
place. She had at first repelled the idea, but at last entertained it
reluctantly. There seemed no other resource. It would put off the evil
day of utter want, and might give her time to learn something by which
she could compete with trained workers.

Then there was the garden. Might not that and the orchard, in time,
help them out of their troubles?

As the long hours of her convalescence passed, she sat at her window
and scanned the little spot with a wistfulness that might have been
given to one of Eden-like proportions. She was astonished to see how
her strawberries had improved since she hoed them, but noted in dismay
that both they and the rest of the garden were growing very weedy.

When the full knowledge of their poverty and danger dawned upon her,
she felt that it would not be right for Malcom to come any more. At
the same time she could not explain things to him; so she sent a
written request through the mail for his bill, telling him not to come
any more. This action, following the evening when Gus Elliot had
surprised her in the garden, perplexed and rather nettled Malcom, who
was, to use his own expression, "a bit tetchy." Their money had grown
so scarce that Edith could not pay the bill, and she was ashamed to go
to see him till there was some prospect of her doing so. Thus Malcom,
though disposed to be very friendly, was lost to her at this critical
time, and her garden suffered accordingly. She and Hannibal had done
what they could, but of late her illness, and the great accession of
duties resting on the old servant, had caused complete neglect in her
little plantation of fruit and vegetables. Thus, while all her crops
were growing well, the weeds were gaining on them, and even Edith knew
that the vigor of evil was in them, and that, unchecked, they would
soon make a tangled swamp of that one little place of hope. She could
not ask Hannibal to work there now, for he was overburdened already.
Laura seemed so feeble and crushed that her strength was scarcely
equal to taking care of her mother, and the few lighter duties of
housework. Therefore, though the June sunshine rested on the little
garden, and all nature seemed in the rapture of its early summer life,
poor, practical Edith saw only the pestiferous weeds that threatened
to destroy her one slender prospect of escape from environing
difficulties. At last she turned away. To the sad and suffering,
scenes most full of cheer and beauty often seem the most painful
mockery.

She brooded over her affairs most of the day, dwelling specially on
the suggestion of a mortgage. She felt extreme reluctance in perilling
her home. Then again she said to herself, "It will at least give me
time, and perhaps the place will be sold for debt, for we must live."

The next morning she slept late, her weary, overtaxed frame asserting
its need. But she rose greatly refreshed, and it seemed that her
strength had come back. With returning vigor hopefulness revived. She
felt some cessation of the weary, aching sorrow at her heart. The
world is phosphorescent to the eyes of youth, and even ingulfing waves
of misfortune will sometimes gleam with sudden brightness.

The morning light also brought Edith a pleasant surprise, for, as she
was dressing, her eyes eagerly sought the strawberry-bed. She had been
thinking, "If I only continue to gain in this style, I shall soon be
able myself to attack the weeds." Therefore, instead of a helpless
look, such as she gave yesterday, her glance had something vengeful
and threatening in it. But the moment she opened the lattice, so that
she could see, an exclamation came from her lips, and she threw back
the blinds, in order that there might be no mistake as to the wonder
that startled her. What magic had transformed the little place since,
in the twilight of the previous evening, she had given the last
discouraged look in that direction? There was scarcely a weed to be
seen in the strawberry-bed. They had not only been cut off, but raked
away, and here and there she could see a berry reddening in the
morning sun. In addition, some of her most important vegetables, and
her prettiest flower border, had been cleaned and nicely dressed. A
long row of Dan O'Rourk peas, that had commenced to sprawl on the
ground, was now hedged in by brush; and, better still, thirty cedar
poles stood tall and straight among her Lima beans, whose long slender
shoots had been vainly feeling round for a support the last few days.
Her first impulse was to clap her hands with delight and exclaim:
"How, in the name of wonder, could he do it all in a night! Oh,
Malcom, you are a canny Scotchman, but you put the 'black art' to very
white uses."

She dressed in excited haste, meaning to question Hannibal, but, as
she left her room, Laura met her, and said, in a tone of the deepest
despondency--

"Mother seems very ill. She has not felt like herself since that
dreadful night, but we did not like to tell you, fearing it would put
back your recovery."

The rift in the heavy clouds, through which the sun had gleamed for a
moment, now closed, and a deeper gloom seemed to gather round them. In
sudden revulsion Edith said, bitterly:

"Are we to be persecuted to the end? Cannot the heavy hand of
misfortune be lifted a moment?"

She found her mother suffering from a low, nervous fever, and quite
delirious.

Hannibal was at once despatched for the doctor, who, having examined
Mrs. Allen's symptoms, shook his head, saying:

"Nothing but good nursing will bring her through this."

Edith's heart sank like lead. What prospect was there for work now,
even if Mrs. Groody gave it to her, as she had promised? She saw
nothing before her but the part of a weary watcher, for perhaps
several weeks. She hesitated no longer, but resolved to mortgage her
place at once. Her mother must have delicacies and good attendance,
and she must have time to extricate herself from the difficulties into
which she had been brought by false steps at the beginning. Therefore
she told Hannibal to give her an early lunch, after which she would
walk to the village.

"You isn't able," said he earnestly.

"Oh, yes I am," she replied; "better able than to stay at home and
worry. I must have something settled, and my mind at rest, even for a
little while, or I shall go distracted." Then she added, "Did you see
Malcom here early this morning?"

"No, Miss Edie, he hasn't been here."

"Go look at the garden."

He returned with eyes dilated in wonder, and asked quickly, "Miss
Edie, when was all dat done?"

"Between dark last night and when I got up this morning. It seems like
magic, don't it? But of course it is Malcom's work. I only wish I
could see him."

But Hannibal shook his head ominously and said with emphasis, "Dat
little Scotchman couldn't scratch around like dat, even if de debil
was arter him. 'Tain't his work."

"Why, whose else could it be?" asked Edith, sipping a strong cup of
coffee, with which she was fortifying herself for the walk.

Hannibal only shook his head with a very troubled expression, but at
last he ventured:

"If 'tis a spook, I hope it won't do nothin' wuss to us."

Even across Edith's pale face a wan smile flitted at this solution of
the mystery, and she said:

"Why, Hannibal, you foolish old fellow! The idea of a ghost hoeing a
strawberry-bed and sticking in bean-poles!"

But Hannibal's superstitious nature was deeply stirred. He had been
under a severe strain himself of late, and the succession of sorrows
and strange experiences was telling on him as well as on the others.
He could not indulge in a nervous fever, like Mrs. Allen, but he had
reached that stage when he could easily see visions, and tremble
before the slightest vestige of the supernatural. So he replied a
little doggedly:

"Spooks does a heap ob quar tings, Miss Edie. I'd tink it was Massa
Allen, ony I knows dat he neber hab a hoe in his hand all his life. I
doesn't like it. I'd radder hab de weeds."

"O Hannibal, Hannibal! I couldn't believe it of you. I'll go and see
Malcom, just to satisfy you."



CHAPTER XXIII

A DANGEROUS STEP



Edith took her deed, and went first to Mr. Hard. There were both
coldness and curiosity in his manner, but he could gather little from
Edith's face through her thick veil.

She had a painful shrinking from meeting people again after what had
happened, and this was greatly increased by the curious and
significant looks she saw turned toward her as soon as it was surmised
who she was.

Mr. Hard promptly declined to lend any money. He "never did such
things," he said.

"Where would I be apt to get it?" asked Edith, despondently.

"I scarcely know. Money is scarce, and people don't like to lend it on
country mortgages, especially when there may be trouble. Lawyer Keen
might give you some information."

To his office Edith went, with slow, heavy steps, and presented her
case.

Mr. Keen was a red-faced, burly-looking man, hiding the traditional
shrewdness of a village lawyer under a bluff, outspoken manner. He had
a sort of good-nature, which, though not lending him to help others
who were in trouble, kept him from trying to get them into more
trouble, and he quite prided himself on this. He heard Edith partly
through, and then interrupted her, saying:

"Couldn't think of it, miss. Widows, orphans, and churches are
institutions on which a fellow can never foreclose. I'll give you good
advice, and won't charge you anything for it. You had better keep out
of debt."

"But I must have the money," said Edith.

"Then you have come to the wrong shop for it," replied the lawyer,
coolly. "Here's Crowl, now, he lends where I wouldn't. He's got money
of his own, while I invest mainly for other people."

Edith's attention was thus directed to another red-faced man, whom,
thus far, she had scarcely noticed, though he had been watching her
with the closest scrutiny. He was quite corpulent, past middle age,
and not much taller than herself. He was quite bald, and had what
seemed a black moustache, but Edith's quick eye noted that it was
unskilfully dyed. There seemed a wide expanse in his heavy, flabby
cheeks, and the rather puggish nose appeared insignificant between
them. A slight tobacco stain in one corner of his mouth did not
increase his attractions to Edith, and she positively shrank from the
expression of his small, cunning black eyes. He was dressed both
showily and shabbily, and a great breastpin was like a blotch upon his
rumpled shirt-bosom.

"Let me see your deed, my dear," he said, with coarse familiarity.

"My name is Miss Allen," replied Edith, with dignity.

The man paid little heed to her rebuke, but looked over the deed with
slow and microscopic scrutiny. At last he said to Edith, whom nothing
but dire necessity impelled to have dealings with so disagreeable a
person:

"Will you come with me to my office?"

Reluctantly she followed. At first she had a strong impulse to have
nothing to do with him, but then she thought, "It makes no difference
of whom I borrow the money, for it must be paid in any case, and
perhaps I can't get it anywhere else."

"Are you sure there is no other mortgage?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Edith.

"How much do you want?"

"I will try to make four hundred answer."

"I suppose you know how hard it is to borrow money now," said Mr.
Crowl, in a depressing manner, "especially in cases like this. I don't
believe you'd get a dollar anywhere else in town. Even where
everything is good and promising, we usually get a bonus on such a
loan. The best I could do would be to let you have three hundred and
sixty on such a mortgage."

"Then give me my deed. The security is good, and I'm not willing to
pay more than seven per cent."

Old Crowl looked a moment at her resolute face, beautiful even in its
pallor and pain, and a new thought seemed to strike him.

"Well, well," said he, with an awkward show of gallantry, "one can't
do business with a pretty girl as with a man. You shall make your own
terms."

"I wish to make no terms whatever," said Edith, frigidly. "I only
expect what is right and just."

"And I'm the man that'll do what's right and just when appealed to by
the fair unfortunate," said Mr. Crowl, with a wave of his hand.

Edith's only response to this sentiment was a frown, and an impatient
tapping of the floor with her foot.

"Now, see how I trust you," he continued, filling out a check. "There
is the money. I'll draw up the papers, and you may sign them at your
leisure. Only just put your name to this receipt, which gives the
nature of our transaction;" and, in a scrawling hand, he soon stated
the case.

It was with strong misgivings that Edith took the money and gave her
signature, but she did not see what else to do, and she was already
very weary.

"You may call again the first time you are in the village, and by that
time I'll have things fixed up. You see now what it is to have a
friend in need."

Edith's only reply was a bow, and she hastened to the bank. The
cashier looked curiously at her, and as he saw Crowl's check, smiled a
little significant smile which she did not like; but, at her request,
he placed the amount, and what was left from the second sale of
jewelry, to her credit, and gave her a small check-book.



CHAPTER XXIV

SCORN AND KINDNESS



Though her strength hardly seemed equal to it, she determined to go
and see Malcom, for she felt very grateful to him. And yet the little
time she had been in the village made her fear to speak to him or any
one again, and she almost felt that she would like to shrink into some
hidden place and die.

Quiet, respectable Pushton had been dreadfully scandalized by Zell's
elopement with a man who by one brief visit had gained such bad
notoriety. Those who had stood aloof, surmised, and doubted about the
Allens before, now said, triumphantly, "I told you so." Good, kind,
Christian people were deeply pained that such a thing could have
happened; and it came to be the general opinion that the Allens were
anything but an acquisition to the neighborhood.

"If they are going to bring that style of men here, the sooner they
move away the better," was a frequent remark. All save the "baser
sort" shrank from having much to do with them, and again Edith was
insulted by the bold advances of some brazen clerks and shop-boys as
she passed along. She also saw significant glances and whisperings,
and once or twice detected a pointing finger.

With cheeks burning with shame and knees trembling with weakness, she
reached Malcom's gate, to which she clung panting for a moment, and
then passed in. The little man had his coat off, and, stooping in his
strawberry-bed, he did look very small indeed. Edith approached quite
near before he noticed her. He suddenly straightened himself up almost
as a jumping-jack might, and gave her a sharp, surprised look. He had
heard the gossip in several distorted forms, but what hurt him most
was that she did not come or send to him. But when he saw her standing
before him with her head bent down like a moss-rosebud wilting in the
sun, when he met her timid, deprecating glance, his soft heart
relented instantly, and coming toward her he said:

"An' ha' ye coom to see ould Malcom at last? What ha' I dune that I
suld be sae forgotten?"

"You were not forgotten, Mr. McTrump. God knows that I have too few
friends to forget the best of them," answered Edith, in a voice of
tremulous pathos.

After that Malcom was wax in her hands, and with moistened eyes he
stood gazing at her in undisguised admiration.

"I have been through deep trouble, Mr. McTrump," continued she, "and
perhaps you, like so many others, may think me not fit to speak to you
any more. Besides, I have been very sick, and really ought not to be
out to-day. Indeed I feel very weak. Isn't there some place where I
could sit down?"

"Now God forgie me for an uncoo Highlander," cried Malcom, springing
forward, "to think that I suld let ye ston there, like a tall, white,
swayin' calla lily, in the rough wind. Take me arm till I support ye
to the best room o' me house."

Edith did take and cling to it with the feeling of one ready to fall.

"Oh, Mr. McTrump, you are too kind," she murmured.

"Why suld I not be kind?" he said, heartily, "when I see ye nipt by
the wourld's unkindness? Why suld I not be kind? Is the rose there to
blame because a weed has grown alongside? Ye could na help it that the
wild bird flitted, and I heerd how ye roon like a brave lassie to stop
her. But the evil wourld is quick to see the bad and slow to see the
gude." And Malcom escorted her like a "leddy o' high degree" to his
little parlor, and there she told him and his wife all her trouble,
and Malcom seemed afflicted with a sudden cold in his head. Then Mrs.
McTrump bustled in and out in a breezy eagerness to make her
comfortable.

"Ye're a stranger in our toon," she said, "and sae I was once mysel,
an' I ken how ye feel."

"An' the Gude Book, which I hope ye read," added the gallant Malcom,
"says hoo in entertainin' a stranger ye may ha' an angel aroond."

"Oh, Mr. McTrump," said Edith, with peony-like face, "Hannibal is the
only one who calls me that, and he doesn't know any better."

"Why suld he know ony better?" responded Malcom quickly. "I ha' never
seen an angel, na mair than I ha' seen a goolden harp, but I'm a
thinkin' a modest bonny lassie like yoursel cooms as near to ane as
anything can in this world."

"But, Mr. McTrump," said Edith, with a half-pathetic, half-comic face,
"I am in such deep trouble that I shall soon grow old and wrinkled, so
I shall not be an angel long."

"Na, na, dinna say that," said Malcom earnestly. "An ye will, ye may
keepit the angel a-growin' within ye alway, though ye live as old as
Methuselah. D'ye see this wee brown seed? There's a mornin'-glory vine
hidden in it, as would daze your een at the peep o' day wi' its gay
blossoms. An' ye see my ould gudewife there? Ah, she will daze the een
o' the greatest o' the earth in the bright springtime o' the
Resurrection; and though I'm a little mon here, it may be I'll see
o'er the heads of soom up there."

"An ye had true humeelity ye'd be a-hopin' to get there, instead of
expectin' to speir o'er the heads o' yer betters," said his wife in a
rebuking tone.

"'A-hopin' to get there'!" said Malcom with some warmth. "Why suld I
hope when 'I _know_ that my Redeemer liveth'?"

Edith's eyes filled with wistful tears, for the quaint talk of these
old people suggested a hope and faith that she knew nothing of. But,
in a low voice, she said, "Why does God let his creatures suffer so
much?"

"Bless your heart, puir child, He suffered mair than ony on us," said
Malcom tenderly. "But ye'll learn it a' soon. He who fed the famishin'
would bid ye eat noo. But wait a bit till ye see what I'll bring ye."

In a moment he was back with a dainty basket of Triomphe de Gand
strawberries, and Edith uttered an exclamation of delight as she
inhaled their delicious aroma.

"They are the first ripe the season, an' noo see what the gudewife
will do with them."

Soon their hulls were off, and, swimming in a saucer of cream, they
were added to the dainty little lunch that Mrs. McTrump had prepared.

"Oh!" exclaimed Edith, drawing a long breath, "you can't know how you
ease my poor sore heart. I began to think all the world was against
me."

At this Malcom beat such a precipitate retreat that he half stumbled
over a chair, but outside the door he ventured to say:

"An ye coom out I'll cut ye a posy before ye go." But Edith saw him
rub his rough sleeve across his eyes as he passed the window. His wife
said, in a grave gentle tone:

"Would ye might learn to know Him who said, 'Be of good cheer, I have
overcome the wourld.'"

Edith shook her head sadly, and said, "I don't understand Him, and He
seems far off."

"It's only seemin', me dear," said the old woman kindly, "but, as
Malcom says, ye'll learn it a' by and by."

Mrs. McTrump was one of those simple souls who never presume to "talk
religion" to any one. "I can ony venture what I hope'll be a 'word in
season' noo and then, as the Maister gies me a chance," she would say
to her husband.

Though she did not know it, she had spread before Edith a Gospel
feast, and her genuine, hearty sympathy was teaching more than
eloquent sermons could have done, and already the grateful girl was
questioning:

"What makes these people differ so from others?"

With some dismay she saw how late it was growing, and hastened out to
Malcom, who had cut an exquisite little bouquet for her, and had
another basket of berries for her to take to her mother.

"Mr. McTrump," said Edith, "it's time we had a settlement; your
kindness I never can repay, but I am able now to carry out my
agreement."

"Don't bother me wi' that noo," said Malcom, rather testily. "I ha' no
time to make oot your account in the height o' the season. Let it ston
till I ha' time. An' ye might help me soomtimes make up posies far the
grand folk at the hotel. But how does your garden sin ye dismissed
ould Malcom?"

"Oh, Mr. McTrump," said Edith, slyly, "do you know you almost scared
old Hannibal out of his wits by the wonders you wrought last night or
this morning in that same garden you inquire about so innocently. How
can you work so fast and hard?"

"The woonders I wrought! Indeed I've not been near the garden sin ye
told me not to coom. Ye could hardly expect otherwise of a Scotchman."

"Who, then, could it be?" said Edith, a little startled herself now,
and she explained the mystery of the garden.

He was as nonplussed as herself, but, scratching his bushy head, he
said, with a canny look, "I wud be glad if Hannibal's 'spook,' as he
ca's it, would eoom doon and hoe a bit for me," and Edith was so
cheered and refreshed that she could even join him in the laugh.

They sent her away enveloped in the fragrance of strawberries and
roses from the little basket she carried. But the more grateful aroma
of human sympathy seemed to create a buoyant atmosphere around her;
and she passed back through the village strengthened and armed against
the cold or scornful looks of those who, knowing her to be "wounded,"
had not even the grace to pass by indifferently "on the other side."



CHAPTER XXV

A HORROR OF GREAT DARKNESS



By the time Edith reached home the transient strength and transient
brightening of the skies seemed to pass away. Her mother was no better
and the poor girl saw too plainly the grisly spectres, care, want, and
shame upon her hearth, to fear any good fairy that left such traces as
she saw in her garden. But the mystery troubled her; she longed to
know who it was. As she mused upon it on her way home, Arden Lacey
suddenly occurred to her, and there was a glimmer of a smile and a
faint increase of color on her pale face. But she did not suggest her
suspicion to Hannibal, when he eagerly asked if it were Malcom.

"No, strange to say, it was not," said Edith. "Who could it have
been?"

Hannibal's face fell, and he looked very solemn. "Sumpen awful's gwine
to happen, Miss Edie," he said, in a sepulchral tone.

Edith broke into a sudden reckless laugh, and said, "I think something
awful is happening about as fast as it can. But never mind, Hannibal,
we'll watch to-night, and perhaps he will come again."

"Oh, Miss Edie, I'se hope you'll 'scuse me. I couldn't watch for a
spook to save my life. I'se gwine to bed as soon as it's dark, and
cover up my head till mornin'."

"Very well," said Edith, quietly. "I'm going to sit up with mother to-night, and if it comes again, I'll see it."

"De good Lord keep you safe, Miss Edie," said Hannibal, tremblingly.
"You'se know I'd die for you in a minit; but I'se couldn't wateh for a
spook nohow," and Hannibal crept away, looking as if the very worst
had now befallen them.

Edith was too weary and sad even to smile at the absurd superstition
of her old servant, for with her practical, positive nature she could
scarcely understand how even the most ignorant could harbor such
delusions. She said to Laura, "Let me sleep till nine o'clock, and
then I will watch till morning."

Laura did not waken her till ten.

After Edith had shaken off her lethargy, she said, "Why, Laura, you
look ready to faint!"

With a despairing little cry, Laura threw herself on the floor, and
buried her face in her sister's lap, sobbing:

"I am ready to faint--body and soul. Oh, Edie, Edie, what shall we do?
Oh, that I were sure death was an eternal sleep, as some say! How
gladly I would close my eyes to-night and never wish to open them
again! My heart is ashes, and my hope is dead. And yet I am afraid to
die, and more afraid to live. Ever since--Zell--went--the future has
been--a terror to me. Edith," she continued, after a moment, in a low
voice, that trembled and was full of dread, "Zell has not written--the
silence of the grave seems to have swallowed her. _He has not married
her!_" and an agony of grief convulsed Laura's slight frame.

Edith's eyes grew hard and tearless, and she said sternly, "It were
better the grave had swallowed her than such a gulf of infamy."

Laura suddenly became still, her sobs ceasing. Slowly she raised such
a white, terror-stricken face, that Edith was startled. She had never
seen her elder sister, once so stately and proud, then so apathetic,
moved like this.

"Edith," she said, in an awed whisper, "what is there before us?
Zell's, flight, like a flash of lightning, has revealed to me where we
stand, and ever since I have brooded over our situation, till it seems
as if I shall go mad. There's an awful gulf before us, and every day
we are being pushed nearer to it;" and Laura's large blue eyes were
dilated with horror, as if she saw it.

"Mother is going to die," she continued, in a tone that chilled
Edith's soul. "Our money will soon be gone; we then shall be driven
away even from this poor shelter, out upon the streets--to New York,
or somewhere. Edith, Oh, Edith, don't you see the gulf? What else is
before us?"

"Honest work is before me," said Edith, almost fiercely. "I will
compel the world to give me a place entitled at least to respect."

Laura shook her head despairingly. "You may struggle back and up to
where you are safe. You are good and strong. But there are so many
poor girls in the world like me, who are not good and strong!
Everything seems to combine to push a helpless, friendless woman
toward that gulf. Poor rash, impulsive Zell saw it, and could not
endure the slow, remorseless pressure, as one might be driven over a
precipice, and one she loved seemed to stand ready to break the fall.
I understand her stony, reckless face now."

"Oh, Laura, hush!" said Edith, desperately.

"I must speak," she went on, in the same low voice, so full of dread,
"or my brain will burst. I have thought and thought, and seen that
awful gulf grow nearer and nearer, till at times it seemed as if I
should shriek with terror. For two nights I have not slept. Oh! why
were we not taught something better than dressing and dancing, and
those hollow, superficial accomplishments that only mock us now? Why
were not my mind and body developed into something like strength? I
would gladly turn to the coarsest drudgery, if I could only be safe.
But after what has happened no good people will have anything to do
with us, and I am a feeble, helpless creature, that can only shrink
and tremble as I am pushed nearer and nearer."

Edith seemed turning into stone, herself paralyzed by Laura's despair.
After a moment Laura continued, with a perceptible shudder in her
voice:

"There is no one to break my fall. Oh, that I was not afraid to die!
That seems the only resource to such as I, If I could just end it all
by becoming nothing--"

"Laura, Laura," cried Edith, starting up, "cease your wild mad words.
You are sick and morbid. You are more delirious than mother is. We can
get work; there are good people who will take care of us."

"I have seen nothing that looks like it," said Laura, in the same
despairing tone. "I have read of just such things, and I see how it
all must end."

"Yes, that's just it," said Edith, impatiently. "You have read so many
wild, unnatural stories of life that you are ready to believe anything
that is horrible. Listen: I have over four hundred dollars in the
bank."

"How did you get it?" asked Laura, quickly.

"I have followed mother's suggestion, and mortgaged the place."

Laura sank into a chair, and became so deathly white that Edith
thought she would faint. At last she gasped:

"Don't you see? Even you in your strength can't help yourself. You are
being pushed on, too. You said you would not follow mother's advice
again, because it always led to trouble. You said, again and again,
you would not mortgage the place, and yet you have done it. Now it's
all clear. That mortgage will be foreclosed, and then we shall be
turned out, and then--" and she covered her face with her hands.
"Don't you see," she said, in a muffled tone, "the great black hand
reaching out of the darkness and pushing us down and nearer? Oh, that
I wasn't afraid to die!"

Edith was startled. Even her positive, healthful nature began to yield
to the contagion of Laura's morbid despair. She felt that she must
break the spell and be alone. By a strong effort she tried to speak in
her natural tone and with confidence. She tried to comfort the
desperate woman by endearing epithets, as if she were a child. She
spoke of those simple restoratives which are so often and vainly
prescribed for mortal wounds, sleep and rest.

"Go to bed, poor child," she urged. "All will look differently in the
sunlight to-morrow."

But Laura scarcely seemed to heed her. With weak, uncertain steps she
drew near the bed, and turned the light on her mother's thin, flushed
face, and stood, with clasped hands, looking wistfully at her.

"Yes, my dear," muttered Mrs. Allen in her delirium, "both your father
and myself would give our full approval to your marriage with Mr.
Goulden." The poor woman made watching doubly hard to her daughters,
since she kept recalling to them the happy past in all its minutiae.

Laura turned to Edith with a smile that was inexpressibly sad, and
said, "What a mockery it all is! There seems nothing real in this
world but pain and danger. Oh, that I was not afraid to die!"

"Laura, Laura! go to your rest," exclaimed Edith, "or you will lose
your reason. Come;" and she half carried the poor creature to her
room. "Now, leave the door ajar," she said, "for if mother is worse I
will call you."

Edith sat down to her weary task as a watcher, and never before, in
all the sad preceding weeks, had her heart been so heavy, and so
prophetic of evil, Laura's words kept repeating themselves to her, and
mingling with those of her mother's delirium, thus strangely blending
the past and the present. Could it be true that they were helpless in
the hands of a cruel, remorseless fate, that was pushing them down?
Could it be true that all her struggles and courage would be in vain,
and that each day was only bringing them nearer to the desperation of
utter want? She could not disguise from herself that Laura's dreadful
words had a show of reason, and that, perhaps, the mortgage she had
given that day meant that they would soon be without home or shelter
in the great, pitiless world. But, with set teeth and white face, she
muttered:

"Death first."

Then, with a startled expression, she anxiously asked herself: "Was
that what Laura meant when she kept saying, 'Oh, if I wasn't afraid to
die!'" She went to her sister's door and listened. Laura's movements
within seemed to satisfy her, and she returned to the sick-room and
sat down again. Putting her hand upon her heart, she murmured:

"I am completely unnerved to-night. I don't understand myself;" and
she looked almost as pale and despairing as Laura.

She was, in truth, in the midst of that "horror of great darkness"
that comes to so many struggling souls in a world upon which the
shadow of sin rests so heavily.



CHAPTER XXYI

FRIEND AND SAVIOUR



Knowing of no other source of help than an earthly one, her thoughts
reverted to the old Scotch people whom she had recently visited. Their
sunlighted garden, and happy, homely life, their simple faith, seemed
the best antidote for her present morbid tendencies.

"If the worst comes to the worst, I think they would take us in for a
little while, till some way opened," she thought. "Oh that I had their
belief in a better life! Then it wouldn't seem so dreadful to suffer
in this one. Why have I never read the 'Gude Book,' as they call it?
But I never seemed to understand it; still, I must say, that I never
really tried to. Perhaps God is angry with us, and is punishing us for
so forgetting Him. I would rather think that than to feel so forgotten
and lost sight of. It seems as if God didn't see or care. It seems as
if I could cling to the harshest father in the world, if he would only
protect and help me. A God of wrath, that I have heard clergymen
preach of, is not so dreadful to me as a God who forgets, and leaves
His creatures to struggle alone. Our minister was so cold and
philosophical, and presented a God that seemed so far off, that I felt
there could never be anything between Him and me. He talked about a
holy, infinite Being, who dwelt alone in unapproachable majesty; and I
want some one to stoop down and love and help poor little me. He
talked about a religion of purity and good works, and love to our
fellow-men. I don't know how to work for myself, much less for others,
and it seems as if nearly all my fellow-creatures hated and scorned
me, and I am afraid of them; so I don't see what chance there is for
such as we. If we had only remained rich, and lived on the avenue,
such a religion wouldn't be so hard. It seems strange that the Bible
should teach him and old Malcom so differently. But I suppose he is
wiser, and understands it better. Perhaps it's the flowers that teach
Malcom, for he always seems drawing lessons from them."

Then came the impulse to get the Bible and read it for herself. "The
impulse!" whence did it come?

When Edith felt so orphaned and alone, forgotten even of God, then the
Divine Father was nearest his child. When, in her bitter extremity, at
this lonely midnight hour she realized her need and helplessness as
never before, her great Elder Brother was waiting beside her.

The impulse was divine. The Spirit of God was leading her as He is
seeking to lead so many. It only remained for her to follow these
gentle impulses, not to be pushed into the black gulf that despairing
Laura dreaded, but to be led into the deep peace of a loving faith.

She went down into the parlor to get the Bible that in her hands had
revealed the falseness and baseness of Gus Elliot, and the thought
flashed through her mind like a good omen, "This book stood between me
and evil once before." She took it to the light and rapidly turned its
pages, trying to find some clew, some place of hope, for she was sadly
unfamiliar with it.

Was it her trembling fingers alone that turned the pages? No; He who
inspired the guide she consulted guided her, for soon her eyes fell
upon the sentence--

"Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give
you rest."

The words came with such vivid power and meaning that she was
startled, and looked around as if some one had spoken to her. They so
perfectly met her need that it seemed they must be addressed directly
to her.

"Who was it that said these words, and what right had he to say them?"
she queried eagerly, and keeping her finger on the passage as if it
might be a clew out of some fatal labyrinth, she turned the leaves
backward and read more of Him with the breathless interest that some
poor burdened soul might have felt eighteen centuries ago in listening
to a rumor of the great Prophet who had suddenly appeared with signs
and wonders in Palestine. Then she turned and read again and again the
sweet words that first arrested her attention. They seemed more
luminous and hope-inspiring every moment, as their significance dawned
upon her like the coming of day after night.

Her clear, positive mind could never take a vague, dubious impression
of anything, and with a long-drawn breath she said, with the emphasis
of perfect conviction:

"If He were a mere man, as I have been taught to believe, He had no
right to say these words. It would be a bitter, wicked mockery for man
or angel to speak them. Oh, can it be that it was God Himself in human
guise? I could trust such a God."

With glowing cheeks and parted lips, she resumed her reading, and in
her eyes was the growing light of a great hope.

The upper room of that poor little cottage was becoming a grand and
sacred place. Heaven, that honors the deathless soul above all
localities, was near. The God who was not in the vast and gold-incrusted temple on Mount Moriah sat in humble guise at "Jacob's
well," and said to one of His poor guilty creatures: "I that speak
unto thee am He." Cathedral domes and cross-tipped spires indicated
the Divine presence on every hand in superstitious Rome, but it would
seem that He was near only to a poor monk creeping up Pilate's
staircase. Though the wealth of the world should combine to build a
colossal church, filling it with every sacred emblem and symbol, and
causing its fretted roof to resound with unceasing choral service, it
would not be such a claim upon the great Father's heart as a weak,
pitiful cry to Him from the least of His children. Though Edith knew
it not, that Presence without which all temples are vain had come to
her as freely, as closely, as truly as when it entered the cottage at
Bethany, and Mary "sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word." Even to
her, in this night of trouble, in this stony wilderness of care and
fear, as to God's trembling servant of old, a ladder of light was let
down from heaven, and on it her faith would climb up to the peace and
rest that are above, and therefore undisturbed by the storms that rage
on earth.

But it is God's way to make us free through truth. Christ, when on
earth, did not deal with men's souls as with their bodies. The latter
He touched into instantaneous cure; to the former He appealed with
patient instruction and entreaty, revealing Himself by word and deed,
and saying: In view of what I prove myself to be will you trust me?
Will you follow me?

In words which, though spoken so long ago, are still the living
utterances of the Spirit to every seeking soul, He was now speaking to
Edith, and she listened with the wonder and hope that might have
stirred the heart of some sorrowing maiden like herself, when His
voice was accompanied by the musical chime of waves breaking on the
shores of Galilee, or the rustle of winds through the gray olive
leaves.

Edith came to the source of all truth with a mind as fresh and
unprejudiced as that of one who saw and heard Jesus for the first
time, as, in his mission journeys, he entered some little town of the
Holy Land. She had never thought much about Him, and had no strong
preconceived opinions. She was almost utterly ignorant of the creeds
and symbols of men, and Christ was not to her, as He is to so many,
the embodiment of a system and the incarnation of a doctrine--a vague,
half-realized truth. When she thought of Him at all, it had been as a
great, good man, the most famous religious teacher in the past, whose
life had nobly "adorned a tale and pointed a moral." But this would
not answer anymore. "What could a man, dead and buried centuries ago,
do for me now?" she asked, bitterly.

"I want one who can with right speak these words--

"'Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give
you rest.'"

And as, with finger still clinging to this passage, she read of
miracle and parable, now trembling almost under the "Sermon on the
Mount," now tearful under the tender story of the prodigal, the
feeling came in upon her soul like the rising tide, "This was not mere
man."

Then, with an awe she had never felt before, she followed him to
Gethsemane, to the High Priest's palace, to Pilate's judgment-hall,
and thence to Golgotha, and it seemed to her one long "Via Dolorosa."
With white lips she murmured, with the centurion, "Truly this man was
the Son of God."

She was reading the wonderful story for the first time in its true
connection, and the Spirit of God was her guide and teacher. When she
came to Mary "weeping without at the sepulchre," her own eyes were
streaming, and it seemed as if she were weeping there herself.

But when Jesus said, in a tone perhaps never heard before or since in
this world, "Mary," it seemed that to herself He was speaking, and her
heart responded, "Rabboni--Master."

She started up and paced the little room, thrilling with excitement.

"How blind I have been!" she exclaimed--"how utterly blind! Here I
have been struggling alone all these weary weeks, with scarcely hope
for this world and none for the next, when I might have had _such_ a
friend and helper all the time. Can I be deceived? Can this sweet way
of light out of our thick darkness be a delusion?"

She went to where her little Bible lay open at the passage, "Come unto
me," and bowing her head upon it, pleaded as simply and sincerely as
the Syro-Phoenician mother pleaded for her child in the very presence
of the human Saviour--

"O Jesus, I am heavily laden. I labor under burdens greater than I can
bear. Divine Saviour, help me."

In answer she expected some vague exaltation of soul, of an exquisite
sense of peace, as the burden was rolled away.

There was nothing of the kind, but only an impulse to go to Laura. She
was deeply disappointed. She seemed to have climbed such a lofty
height that she might almost look into heaven and confirm her faith
forever, and only a simple earthly duty was revealed to her. Her
excited mind, that had been expanding with the divinest mysteries, was
reacting into quietness, and the impression was so strong that she
must go to Laura, that she thought her sister had been calling her,
and she, in her intense preoccupation, had heard her as in a dream.

Still keeping the little Bible in her hand, she went to Laura's room.
Through the partially open door she saw, with a sudden chill of fear,
that the bed had not been slept in. Pushing the door open, she looked
eagerly around with a strange dread growing upon her. Laura was
writing at a table with her back toward the entrance. There was a
strong odor of laudanum in the room, and a horrible thought blanched
Edith's cheek. Stealing with noiseless tread across the intervening
space, with hand pressed upon her heart to still its wild throbbings,
she looked over her sister's shoulder, and followed the tracings of
her pen with dilating eyes.

"Mother, Edith, farewell! When you read these sad words I shall be
dead. I fear death--I cannot tell you how I fear it, but I fear more
that dreadful gulf which daily grows nearer. I must die. There is no
other resource for a poor, weak woman like me. If I were only strong--if I had only been taught something--but I am helpless. Do not be too
hard upon poor little Zell. Her eyes were blinded by a false love; she
did not see the black gulf as I see it. If God cares for what such
poor forlorn creatures as I do, may He forgive. I have thought till my
brain reels. I have tried to pray, but hardly knew what I was praying
to. I don't understand God--He is far off. The world scorns us. There
is none to help. There is no other remedy save the drug at my side,
which will soon bring sleep which I hope will be dreamless. Farewell!

"Your poor, trembling, despairing LAURA."

Every sentence was written with a sigh that seemed as if it might be
the last that the burdened soul could, give, and every line was
blotted with tears. Edith saw that the poor, thin face was pinched and
wan with misery, and that the pallor of death had already blanched
even her lips, and, with a shudder of horror, her eyes fell on a phial
of laudanum at Laura's left hand, from which she was partially turned
away, in the act of writing.

With an ecstatic thrill of joy, she now understood how her prayer had
been answered. How could there have been rest--how could there have
been peace--if this awful tragedy had been consummated?

With one devout, grateful glance upward, she silently took away the
fatal drug, and laid her Bible down in its place.

Laura finished her letter, leaned back, and murmured a long,
trembling, "Farewell!" that was like a low, mournful vibration of an
Aeolian harp, when the night-breeze breathes upon it. Then she pressed
her right hand over her eyes, shuddered, and tremblingly put out her
left for that which would end all. But, instead of the phial which she
had placed there but a little before, her hand rested upon a book.
Startled, she opened her eyes, and saw not the dreaded poison, but in
golden letters that seemed luminous to her dazzled sight:

HOLY BIBLE.

Though all had lasted but a brief moment, Edith's power of self-control was gone. Dashing the bottle on the floor, where it broke into
many fragments, she threw herself on her sister's neck and sobbed:

"O Laura, Laura! your hand is on a better remedy. It has saved me--it
can save you. It has shown me the Friend we need. He sent me to you;"
and she clung to her sister in a rapture of joy, murmuring, with every
breath:

"Thanks, thanks, eternal gratitude! I see how my prayer is answered
now."

Laura, in her shattered condition, was too bewildered and feeble to do
more than cling to Edith, with a blessed sense of being rescued from
some great peril. A horrid spell seemed broken, and for some reason,
she knew not why, life and hope were still possible. A torrent of
tears seemed to relieve her of the dreadful oppression that had so
long rested on her, and at last she faltered:

"Who is this strange friend?"

"His name is Jesus--Saviour," said Edith, in a low, reverential tone.

"I don't quite understand," said Laura, hesitatingly. "I can only
cling to you till I know Him."

"He knows you, Laura, and loves you. He has never forgotten us. It was
we who forgot Him. He sent me to you, just in time. Now put your hand
on this book, and promise me you will never think of such an awful
thing again."

"I promise," said Laura, solemnly; "not if I am in my right mind. I
don't understand myself. You seem to have awakened me from a fearful
dream. I will do just what you tell me to."

"Oh, Laura, let us both try to do just what our Divine Friend tells us
to do."

"Perhaps, through you, I shall learn to know Him. I can only cling to
you to-night," said Laura, wearily, "I am so tired," and her eyes
drooped as she spoke.

With a sense of security came a strong reaction in her overtaxed
nature. Edith helped her to bed as if she were a child, and soon she
was sleeping as peacefully as one.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE MYSTERY SOLVED



Edith resumed her watching in her mother's room. The invalid was still
dwelling on the past, and her delirium appeared to Edith a true emblem
of her old, unreal life. Indeed, it seemed to her that she had never
lived before. A quiet but divine exaltation filled her soul. She did
not care to read any more, but just sat still and thought, and her
spiritual light grew clearer and clearer.

Her faith was very simple, her knowledge very slight. She was scarcely
in advance of a Hebrew maiden who might have been one of the mournful
procession passing out of the gates of Nain, when a Stranger, unknown
before, revealed Himself by turning death into life, sorrow into joy.
The eye of her faith was fastened on the distinct, living, loving
personality of our human yet Divine Friend, who no longer seemed afar
off, but as near as to that other burdened one who touched the hem of
His garment.

"He does not change, the Bible says," she thought. "He cannot change.
Therefore He will help me, just as surely as He did the poor,
suffering people among whom He lived."

It was but three o'clock, and yet the eastern sky was pale with dawn.
At length her attention was gained by a faint but oft-repeated sound.
It seemed to come from the direction of the garden, and at once the
mystery that so oppressed poor Hannibal occurred to her. She rose, and
passed back to her own room, which overlooked the garden, and, through
the lattice, in the faint morning twilight, saw a tall, dusky figure,
that looked much too substantial to be any such shadowy being as the
old negro surmised, and the strokes of his hoe were too vigorous and
noisy for ghostly gardening.

"It must be Arden Lacey," thought Edith, "but I will put this matter
beyond all doubt. I don't like this night work, either; though for
different reasons than those of poor Hannibal. We have suffered enough
from scandal already, and henceforth all connected with my life shall
be as open as the day. Then, if the world believes evil of me, it will
be because it likes it best."

These thoughts passed through her mind while she hastily threw off her
wrapper and dressed. Cautiously opening the back-door, she looked
again. The nearer view and clearer light revealed to her Arden Lacey.
She did not fear him, and at once determined to question him as to the
motive of his action. He was but a little way off, and was tying up a
grape-vine that had been neglected, his back being toward her. Edith
had great physical courage and firmness naturally, and it seemed that
on this morning she could fear nothing, in the strength of her new-born enthusiasm.

With noiseless step she reached his side, and asked, almost sternly:

"Who are you, sir; and what does this action mean?"

Arden started violently, trembled like the leaves in the morning wind,
and turned slowly toward her, feeling more guilty and alarmed than if
he had been playing the part of a burglar, instead of acting as her
good genius.

"Why don't you answer?" she asked, in still more decided tones. "By
what right are you doing this work?"

Edith had lost faith in men. She knew little of Arden, and the thought
flashed through her mind, "This may be some new plot against us."
Therefore her manner was stern and almost threatening.

Poor Aden was startled out of all self-control, Edith's coming was so
sudden and unexpected, and her pale face was so spirit-like, that for
a moment he scarcely knew whether the constant object of his thoughts
was really before him, or whether his strong imagination was only
mocking him.

Edith mistook his agitation and hesitancy as evidences of guilt, and
he so far recovered himself as to recognize her suspicions.

"I will be answered. You shall speak the truth," she said,
imperiously. "By what right are you doing this work?"

Then his own proud, passionate spirit flamed up, and looking her
unblenchingly in the face, he replied:

"The right of my great love for you. Can I not serve my idol?"

An expression of deep pain and repulsion came out upon Edith's face,
and he saw it. The avowal of his love was so abrupt--indeed it was
almost stern; and, coming thus from quite a stranger, who had little
place even in her thoughts, it was so exceedingly painful that it was
like a blow. And yet she hardly knew how to answer him, for she saw in
his open, manly face, his respectful manner, that he meant no evil,
however he might err through ignorance or feeling.

He seemed to wait for her to speak again, and his face, from being
like the eastern sky, became very pale. From recent experience, and
the teachings of the Patient One, Edith's heart was very tender toward
anything that looked like suffering, and though she deemed Arden's
feeling but the infatuation of a rude and ill-regulated mind, she
could not be harsh, now that all suspicion of evil designs was
banished. Therefore she said quietly, and almost kindly:

"You have done wrong, Mr. Lacey. Remember I have no father or brother
to protect me. The world is too ready to take up evil reports, and
your strange action might be misunderstood. All transactions with me
must be like the sunlight."

With an expression of almost anguish, Arden bowed his head before her,
and groaned:

"Forgive me; I did not think."

"I am sure you meant no harm," said Edith, with real kindness now in
her tone. "You would not knowingly make the way harder for a poor girl
that has too much already to struggle against. And now, good-by. I
shall trust to your sense of honor, assured that you will treat me as
you would wish your own sister dealt with;" and she vanished, leaving
Arden so overwhelmed with contending emotions that he could scarcely
make his way home.

An hour later Edith heard Hannibal's step downstairs, and she at once
joined him. The old man had aged in a night, and his face had a more
worn and hopeless look than had yet rested upon it. He trembled at the
rustle of her dress, and called:

"Miss Edie, am dat you?"

"Yes, you foolish old fellow. I have seen your spook, and ordered it
not to come here again unless I send you for it."

"Oh, Miss Edie!" gasped Hannibal.

"It's Arden Lacey."

Hannibal collapsed. He seemed to drop out of the realm of the
supernatural to the solid ground of fact with a heavy thump.

He sank into a chair, regarding her first with a blank, vacant face,
which gradually became illumined with a knowing grin. In a low,
chuckling voice, he said:

"I jes declar to you I'se struck all of a heap. I jes done see whar de
possum is dis minute. What an ole black fool I was, sure 'nuff. I
tho't he'se de mos 'bligin man I eber seed afore," and he told her how
Arden had served her in her illness.

She was divided between amusement and annoyance, the latter
predominating. Hannibal concluded impressively:

"Miss Edie, it must be lub. Nothin' else dan dat which so limbered up
my ole jints could get any livin' man ober as much ground as he hoed
dat night."

"Hush, Hannibal," said Edith, with dignity; "and remember that this is
a secret between ourselves. Moreover, I wish you never to ask Mr.
Lacey to do anything for us if it can possibly be helped, and never
without my knowledge."

"You knows well, Miss Edie, dat you'se only to speak and it's done,"
said Hannibal, deprecatingly.

She gave him such a gentle, grateful look that the old man was almost
ready to get down on his knees before her. Putting her hand on his
shoulder, she said:

"What a good, faithful, old friend you are! You don't know how much I
love you, Hannibal;" and she returned to her mother.

Hannibal rolled up his eyes and clasped his hands, as if before his
patron saint, saying, under his breath:

"De idee of her lubing ole black Hannibal! I could die dis blessed
minute," which was his way of saying, "_Nunc dimittis_."

Laura slept quietly till late in the afternoon, and wakened as if to a
new and better life. Her manner was almost child-like. She had lost
all confidence in herself, and seemed to wish to be controlled by
Edith in all things, as a little child might be. But she was very
feeble.

As the morning advanced Edith grew exceedingly weary. Reaction from
her strong excitement seemed to bear her down in a weakness and
lethargy that she could not resist, and by ten o'clock she felt that
she must have some relief. It came from an unexpected source, for
Hannibal appeared with a face of portentous solemnity, saying that
Mrs. Lacey was downstairs, and that she wished to know if she could do
something to help.

The mother's quick eye saw that something had deeply moved and was
troubling her son. Indeed, for some time past, she had seen that into
his unreal world had come a reality that was a source of both pain and
pleasure, of fear and hope. While she followed him every hour of the
day with an unutterable sympathy, she silently left him to open his
heart to her in his own time and manner. But her tender, wistful
manner told Arden that he was understood, and he preferred this tacit
sympathy to any spoken words. But this morning the evidence of his
mental distress was so apparent that she went to him, placed her hands
upon his shoulders, and with her grave, earnest eyes looking straight
into his, asked:

"Arden, what can I do for you?"

"Mother," he said, in a low tone, "there are sickness and deep trouble
at our neighbors'. Will you go to them again?"

"Yes, my son," she replied, simply, "as soon as I can get ready."

So she arranged matters to stay if needed, and thus in Edith's
extremity she appeared. In view of Arden's words, Edith hardly knew
how to receive her or what to do. But when she saw the plain, grave
woman sitting before her in the simple dignity of patient sorrow, her
course seemed clear. She instinctively felt that she could trust this
offered friendliness, and that she needed it.

"I have heard that your mother has been sick as well as yourself,"
Mrs. Lacey said kindly but quietly. "You look very worn and weary,
Miss Allen; and if I, as a neighbor, can watch in your place for a
while, I think you can trust me to do so."

Tears sprang into Edith's eyes, and she said, with sudden color coming
into her pale face, "You take noble revenge for the treatment you have
received from us, and I gratefully submit to it. I must confess I have
reached the limit of my endurance; my sister is ill also, and yet
mother needs constant attention."

"Then I am very glad I came, and I have left things at home so I can
stay," and she laid aside her wraps with the air of one who sees a
duty plainly and intends to perform it. Edith gave her the doctor's
instructions a little incoherently in her utter exhaustion, but the
experienced matron understood all, and said:

"I think I know just what to do. Sleep till you are well rested."

Edith went to her room, and, with her face where the sweet June air
could breathe directly upon it through the open window, sleep came
with a welcome and refreshing balm that she had never known before.
Her last thought was, "He will take care of me and mine."

She had left the door leading into the sick-room open, and Mrs. Lacey
stepped in once and looked at her. The happy, trustful thought with
which she had closed her eyes had left a faint smile upon her face,
and given it a sweet spiritual beauty.

"She seems very different from what I supposed," murmured Mrs. Lacey.
"She is very different from what people are imagining her. Perhaps
Arden, poor boy, is nearer right than all of us. Oh, I hope she is
good, whether he ever marries her or not, for this love will be the
saving or ruining of him."

When Edith awoke it was dark, and she started up in dismay, for she
had meant to sleep but an hour or two. Having hastily smoothed her
hair, she went to the sick-room, and found Laura reclining on the
sofa, and talking in the most friendly manner to Mrs. Lacey. Her
mother's delirium continued, though it was more quiet, with snatches
of sleep intervening, but she noticed no one as yet. Mrs. Lacey sat
calmly in her chair, her sad, patient face making the very ideal of a
watcher, and yet in spite of her plain exterior there was a
refinement, an air of self-respect, that would impress the most casual
observer. As soon as Laura saw Edith she rose as quickly as her
feebleness permitted, and threw her arms around her sister, and there
was an embrace whose warmth and meaning none but themselves, and the
pitying eye of Him who saved, could understand. Then Edith turned and
said, earnestly:

"Truly, Mrs. Lacey, I did not intend to trespass on your kindness in
this manner. I hope you will forgive me."

"Nature knew what was best for you, Miss Allen, and have not incommoded
me at all. I made my plans to stay till nine o'clock, and then Arden
will come for me."

"Miss Edie," said Hannibal, in his loud whisper, "I'se got some supper
for you down here."

Why did Edith go to her room and make a little better toilet before
going down? She hardly thought herself. It was probably a feminine
instinct. As she took her last sip of tea there was a timid knock at
the door. "I will see him a moment," she decided.

Hannibal, with a gravity that made poor Edith smile in her thoughts,
admitted Arden Lacey. He was diffident but not awkward, and the color
deepened in his face, then left it very pale, as he saw Edith was
present. Her pale cheek also took the faintest tinge of pink, but she
rose quietly, and said:

"Please be seated, Mr. Lacey. I will tell your mother you are here."
Then, as Hannibal disappeared, she added earnestly, "I do appreciate
your mother's kindness, and--yours also. At the same time, too deep a
sense of obligation is painful; you must not do so much for us. Please
do not misunderstand me."

Arden had something of his mother's quiet dignity, as he rose and held
out to Edith a letter, saying:

"Will you please read that--you need not answer it--and then perhaps
you will understand me better."

Edith hesitated, and was reluctant.

"I may be doing wrong," continued he, earnestly and with rising color.
"I am not versed in the world's ways; but is it not my right to
explain the rash words I uttered this morning? My good name is dear to
me also. Few care for it, but I would not have it utterly blurred in
your eyes. We may be strangers after you have read it, if you choose,
but I entreat you to read it."

"You will not feel hurt if I afterward return it to you?" asked Edith,
timidly.

"You may do with it what you please."

She then took the letter, and a moment later Mrs. Lacey appeared, and
said:

"I will sit up to-morrow night, with your permission."

Edith took her hand, and replied, "Mrs. Lacey, you burden me with
kindness."

"It is not my wish to burden, but to relieve you, Miss Allen. I think
I can safely say, from our slight acquaintance, that in the case of
sickness or trouble at a neighbor's, you would not spare yourself. We
cease to be human when we leave the too heavily burdened to struggle
alone."

Edith's eyes grew moist, and she said, simply, "I cannot refuse
kindness offered in that spirit, and may God bless you for it. Good-night."

Arden's only parting was a grave, silent bow.

Edith was soon alone again, watching by her mother. With some natural
curiosity, she opened the letter that was written by one so different
from any man that she had ever known before. Its opening, at least,
was reassuring.

"MISS EDITH ALLEN--You need not fear that I shall offend again by
either writing or speaking such rash words as those which so deeply
pained you this morning. They would not have been spoken then, perhaps
never, had I not been startled out of my self-control--had I not seen
that you suspected me of evil. I was very unwise, and I sincerely ask
your pardon. But I meant no wrong, and as you referred to my sister, I
can say, before God, that I would shield you as I would shield her.

"I know little of the conventionalities of the world. I live but a
hermit's life in it, and my letter may seem to you very foolish and
romantic, still I know that my motives are not ignoble, and with this
consciousness I venture.

"Reverencing and honoring you as I do, I cannot bear that you should
think too meanly of me. The world regards me as a sullen, stolid,
bearish creature, but I have almost ceased to care for its opinion. I
have received from it nothing but coldness and scorn, and I pay my
debt in like coin. But perhaps you can imagine why I cannot endure
that you should regard me in like manner. I would not have you think
my nature a stony, sterile place, when something tells me that it is
like a garden that needs only sunlight of some kind. My life has been
blighted by the wrong of another, who should have been my best helper.
The knowledge and university culture for which I thirsted were denied
me. And yet, believe me, only my mother's need--only the absolute
necessity that she and my sister should have a daily protector--kept
me from pushing out into the word, and trying to work my way unaided
to better things. Sacred duty has chained me down to a life that was
outwardly most sordid and unhappy. My best solace has been my mother's
love. But from varied, somewhat extensive, though perhaps not the
wisest kind of reading, I came to dwell in a brave, beautiful, but
shadowy world that I created out of books. I was becoming satisfied
with it, not knowing any other. The real world mocked and hurt me on
every side. It is so harsh and unjust that I hate it. I hate it
infinitely more as I see its disposition to wound you, who have been
so noble and heroic. In this dream of the past--in this unreal world
of my own fancy--I was living when you came that rainy night. As I
learned to know you somewhat, you seemed a beautiful revelation to me.
I did not think there was such a woman in existence. My shadows
vanished before you. With you living in the present, my dreams of the
past ceased. I could not prevent your image from entering my lonely,
empty heart, and taking its vacant throne, as if by divine right. How
could I? How can I drive you forth now, when my whole being is
enslaved?

"But forgive me. Though thought and feeling are beyond control,
outward action is not. I hope never to lose a mastering grasp on the
rein of deeds and words; and though I cannot understand how the
feeling I have frankly avowed can ever change, I will try never, by
look or sign, to pain you with it again.

"And yet, with a diffidence and fear equalled only by my sincerity and
earnestness, I would venture to ask one great favor. You said this
morning that you already had too much to struggle against. The future
has its possibilities of further trouble and danger.

"Will you not let me be your humble, faithful friend, serving you
loyally, devotedly, yet unobtrusively, and with all the delicate
regard for your position which I am capable of showing, assured that
I will gratefully accept any hints when I am wrong or presumptuous?
I would gladly serve you with your knowledge and consent. But serve
you I must. I vowed it the night I lifted your unconscious form from
the wharf, and gave you into Mrs. Groody's care. There need be no
reply. You have only to treat me not as an utter stranger when we next
meet. You have only to give me the joy of doing something for you when
opportunity offers.

"ARDEN LACEY."

Edith's eyes filled with tears before she finished this most
unexpected epistle. Though rather quaint and stately in its diction,
the passion of a true, strong nature so permeated it all, that the
coldest and shallowest would have been moved. And yet a half-smile
played upon her face at the same time, like sunlight on drops of rain.

"Thank heaven!" she said, "I know of one more true man in the world,
if he is a strange one. How different he is from what I thought! I
don't believe there's another in this place who could have written
such a letter. What would a New York society man, whose compliments
are as extravagant as meaningless, think of it? Truly he doesn't know
the world, and isn't like it. I supposed him an awkward, eccentric
young countryman, that, from his very verdancy, would be difficult to
manage, and he writes to me like a knight of olden time, only such
language seems Quixotic in our day. The foolish fellow, to idealize
poor, despised, faulty Edith Allen into one of the grand heroines of
his interminable romances, and that after seeing me hoe my garden like
a Dutch woman. If I wasn't so sad and he so earnest, I could laugh
till my sides ached. There never was a more matter-of-fact creature
than I am, and yet here am I enveloped in a halo of impossible virtues
and graces. If I were what he thinks me, I shouldn't know myself.
Well, well, I must treat him somewhat like a boy, for such he really
is, ignorant of himself and all the world. When he comes to know me
better, the Edith of his imagination will vanish like his other
shadows, and he will have another revelation that I am an ordinary,
flesh-and-blood girl."

With deepening color she continued: "So it was he who lifted me up
that night. Well, I am glad it was one who pitied me, and not some
coarse, unfeeling man. It seems strange how circumstances have brought
him who shuns and is shunned by all, into such a queer relationship to
me. But heaven forbid that I should give him lessons as to the
selfish, matter-of-fact world. He will outgrow his morbidness and
romantic chivalry with the certainty of years, and seeing more of me
will banish his absurd delusions in regard to me. I need his
friendship and help--indeed it seems as if they were sent to me. It
can do him no harm, and it may give me a chance to do him good. If any
man ever needed a sensible friend, he does."

Therefore Edith wrote him--

"It is very kind of you to offer friendship and help to one situated
like myself, and I gratefully grant what you rather oddly call 'a
favor.' At the same time, if you ever find such friendliness a pain or
trouble to you in any way, I shall in no degree blame you for
withdrawing it."

The "friendship" and "friendliness" were underscored, thus delicately
hinting that this must be the only relation.

"There," she said, "all his chains will now be of his own forging, and
I shall soon demolish the paragon he is dreaming over."

She laid both letters aside, and took down her Bible with a little
sigh of satisfaction.

"His lonely, empty heart," she murmured; "ah, that is the trouble with
all. He thinks to fill his with a vain dream of me, as others do with
as vain a dream of something else. I trust I have learned of One here
who can fill and satisfy mine;" and soon she was again deep in the
wondrous story, so old, so new, so all-absorbing to those from whose
spiritual eyes the scales of doubt and indifference have fallen. As
she read she saw, not truths about Jesus, but _Him_, and at His feet
her heart bowed in stronger faith and deeper love every moment.

She had not even thought whether she was a Christian or not. She had
not even once put her finger on her spiritual pulse, to gauge the
evidences of her faith. A system of theology would have been
unintelligible to her. She could not have defined one doctrine so as
to have satisfied a sound divine. She had not even read the greater
part of the Bible, but, in her bitter extremity, the Spirit of God,
employing the inspired guide, had brought her to Jesus, as the
troubled and sinful were brought to Him of old. He had given her rest.
He had helped her save her sister, and with childlike confidence she
was just looking, lovingly and trustingly, into His divine face, and
He was smiling away all her fear and pain. She seemed to feel sure
that her mother would get well, that Laura would grow stronger, that
they would all learn to know Him, and would be taken care of.

As she read this evening she came to that passage of exquisite pathos,
where the purest, holiest manhood said to "a woman of the city, which
was a sinner."

"Thy sins are forgiven. Go in peace."

Instantly her thoughts reverted to Zell, and she was deeply moved.
Could she be forgiven? Could she be saved? Was the God of the Bible--stern, afar off, as she had once imagined--more tender toward the
erring than even their own human kindred? Could it be possible that,
while she had been condemning, and almost hating Zell, Jesus had been
loving her?

The feeling overpowered her. Closing the book, she leaned her head
upon it, and, for the first time, sobbed and mourned for Zell with a
great, yearning pity.

Every such pitiful tear, the world over, is a prayer to God. It
mingles with those that flowed from His eyes as He wept over the
doomed city that would not receive Him. It mingles with that crimson
tide which flowed from His hands and feet when He prayed--

"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."



CHAPTER XXVIII

EDITH TELLS THE OLD, OLD STORY



Mrs. Allen seemed better the next day, and Laura was able to watch
while Edith slept. After tea Mrs. Lacey appeared, with the same
subdued air of quiet self-respect and patient sorrow. She seemed to
have settled down into that mournful calm which hopes little and fears
little. She seemed to expect nothing better than to go forward, with,
such endurance as she might, into the deeper shadows of age, sickness,
and death. She vaguely hoped that God would have mercy upon her at
last, but how to love and trust Him she did not know. She hardly knew
that it was expected, or possible. She associated religion with going
to church, outward profession, and doing much good. The neighbors
spoke of her and the family as "very irreligious," and she had about
come to the conclusion that they were right. She never thought of
taking credit to herself for her devotion to her children and patience
with her husband. She loved the former, especially her son, with an
intensity that one could hardly reconcile with her grave and silent
ways. In regard to her husband, she tried to remember her first young
girlish dream--the manly ideal of character that her fond heart had
associated with the handsome young fellow who had singled her out
among the many envious maidens in her native village.

"I will try to be true to what I thought he was," she said, with
woman's pathetic constancy, "and be patient with what he is."

But the disappointment, as it slowly assumed dread certainty, broke
her heart.

Edith began to have a fellow-feeling for her. "We both have not only
our own burdens to carry, but the heavier burden of another," she
thought. "I wonder if she has ever gone to Him for the 'rest.' I fear
not, or she would not look so sad and hopeless."

Before they could go upstairs a hack from the hotel stopped at the
door, and Mrs. Groody bustled cheerily in. Laura at the same time came
down, saying that Mrs. Allen was asleep.

"Hannibal," said Edith, "you may sit on the stairs, and if she wakes,
or makes any sound, let me know," and she took a seat near the door in
order to hear.

"I've been worryin' about you every minute ever since I called, and
you was too sick to see me," said Mrs. Groody, "but I've been so busy
I couldn't get away. It takes an awful lot of work to get such a big
house to rights, and the women cleanin', and the servants are so
aggravating that I am just run off my legs lookin' after them. I don't
see why people can't do what they're told, when they're told."

"I wish I were able to help you," said Edith. "Your promise of work
has kept me up wonderfully. But before I half got my strength back
mother became very ill, and, had it not been for Mrs. Lacey, I don't
know what I should have done. It did seem as if she were sent here
yesterday, for I could not have kept up another hour."

"You poor child," said Mrs. Groody, in a tone and manner overflowing
with motherly kindness. "I just heard about it today from Arden, who
was bringin' something up to the hotel, so I said, 'I'll drop
everything to-night, and run down for a while.' So here I am, and now
what can I do for you?" concluded the warm-hearted woman, whose
invariable instinct was to put her sympathy into deeds.

"I told you that night," said Edith. "I think I could do a little
sewing or mending even now if I had it here at home. But your kindness
and remembrance do me more good than any words of mine can tell you. I
thought no one would ever speak to us again," she continued in a low
tone, and with rising color, "and I have had kind, helpful friends
sent to me already."

Wistful mother-love shone in Mrs. Lacey's large blue eyes, but Mrs.
Groody blew her nose like a trumpet, and said:

"Not speak to you, poor child! Though I ain't on very good terms with
the Lord, I ain't a Pharisee, and after what I saw of you that night,
I am proud to speak to you and do anything I can for you. It does seem
too bad that poor young things like you two should be so burdened. I
should think you had enough before without your mother gettin' sick. I
don't understand the Lord, nohow. Seems to me He might scatter His
afflictions as well as His favors a little more evenly, I've thought a
good deal about what you said that night, 'We're dealt with in
masses,' and poor bodies like you and me, and Mrs. Lacey there, that
is, 'the human atoms,' as you called 'em, are lost sight of."

Tears sprang into Edith's eyes, and she said, earnestly, "I am sorry I
ever said those words. They are not true. I should grieve very much if
my rash, desperate words did you harm after all your kindness to me. I
have learned better since I saw you, Mrs. Groody. We are not lost
sight of. It seems to me the trouble is we lose sight of Him."

"Well, well, child, I'm glad to hear you talk in that way," said Mrs.
Groody, despondently. "I'm dreadfully discouraged about it all. I know
I fell from grace, though, one awfully hot summer, when everything
went wrong, and I got on a regular rampage, and that's the reason
perhaps. A she-bear that had lost her cubs wasn't nothin' to me. But I
straightened things out at the hotel, though I came mighty near bein'
sick, but I never could get straight myself after it. I knowed I ought
to be more patient-I knowed it all the time. But human natur is human
natur, and woman natur is worse yet sometimes. And when you've got on
one hand a score to two of drinkin,' quarrelsome, thievin', and
abominably lazy servants to manage, and on the other two or three
hundred fastidious people to please, and elegantly dressed ladies who
can't manage their three or four servants at home, dawdlin' up to you
every hour in the day, say in' about the same as, Mrs. Groody,
everything ain't done in a minute--everything ain't just right. I'd
like to know where 'tis in this jumbled-up world--not where they're
housekeepers, I warrant you.

"Well, as I was telling you," continued Mrs. Groody, with a weary
sigh, "that summer was too much for me. I got to be a very dragon. I
hadn't time to read my Bible, or pray, or go to church, or scarcely
eat or sleep. I worked Sundays and week days alike, and I got to be a
sort of heathen, and I've been one ever since," and a gloom seemed to
gather on her naturally open, cheery face, as if she feared she might
never be anything else.

Mrs. Lacey gave a deep, responsive sigh, showing that her heavy heart
was akin to all other burdened souls. But direct, practical Edith said
simply and gently:

"In other words, you were laboring and heavy laden."

"Couldn't have been more so, and lived," was Mrs. Groody's emphatic
answer.

"And the memory of it seems to have been a heavy burden on your
conscience ever since, though I think you judge yourself harshly,"
continued Edith.

"Not a bit," said Mrs. Groody sturdily, "I knowed better all the
time."

"Well, be that as it may, I feel that I know very little about these
things yet. I'm sure I want to be guided rightly. But what did our
Lord mean when He said, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest'?"

Mrs. Groody gave Edith a sort of surprised and startled look. After a
moment she said, "Bless you, child, how plain you do put it! It's a
very plain text when you think of it, now, ain't it? I always tho't it
meant kind o' good, as all the Bible does."

"No, but He said them," urged Edith, earnestly. "It is a distinct,
plain invitation, and it must have a distinct, plain meaning. I have
learned to know that when you or Mrs. Lacey say a thing, you mean what
you say, and so it is with all who are sincere and true. Was He not
sincere and true? If so, these plain words must have a plain meaning.
He surely couldn't have meant them only for the few people who heard
His voice at that time."

"Of course not," said Mrs. Groody, musingly, while poor Mrs. Lacey
leaned forward with such an eager, hungry look in her poor, worn face,
that Edith's heart yearned over her. Laura came and sat on the floor
by her sister's chair, and leaning her elbow on Edith's knee, and her
face on her hand, looked up with the wistful, trustful, child-like
expression that had taken the place of her former stateliness and
subsequent apathy. Edith lost all thought of herself in her eagerness
to tell the others of the Friend and Helper she had come to know.

"He must be God, or else He had no right to say to a great, troubled,
sinning world, 'Come unto me.' The idea of a million people going at
once, with their sorrows and burdens, to one mere man, or an angel, or
any finite creature! And just think how many millions there are! If
the Bible is for all, this invitation is for all. He couldn't have
changed since then, could He? He can't be different in heaven from
what He was on earth?"

"No," said Mrs. Groody, quickly, "for the Bible says He is the same
yesterday, to-day, and forever.'"

"I never read in that place," said Edith, simply. "That makes it
clearer and stronger than ever. Please, don't think I am setting
myself up as a religious teacher. I know very little yet myself. I am
only seeking the light. But one thing is settled in my mind, and I
like to have one thing settled before I go on to anything else. This
one thing seems the foundation of everything else, and it appears as
if I could go on from it and learn all the rest. I am satisfied that
this Jesus is God, and that He said, 'Come unto me,' to poor, weak,
overburdened Edith Allen. I went to Him, just as people in trouble
used to, when He first spoke these words. And oh, how He has helped
me!" continued Edith, with tears in her eyes, but with the glad light
of a great hope again shining through them. "The world can never know
all that He has done for us, and I can't even think of Him without my
heart quivering with gratitude."

Laura had now buried her face in her sister's lap, and was trembling
like a leaf. Edith's words had a meaning to her that they could not
have for the others.

"And now," concluded Edith, "I was led to Him by these words, 'Come
unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you
rest.' I was in greater darkness than I had ever been in before. My
heart ached as if it would burst. Difficulty and danger seemed on
every side, and I saw no way out. I knew the world had only scorn for
us, and I was so bowed down with shame and discouragement that I
almost lost all hope. I had been to the village, and the people looked
and pointed at me, till I was ready to drop in the street. But I went
to Mr. McTrump's, and he and his wife were so kind to me, and
heartened me up a little; and they spoke about the 'Gude Book,' as
they call it, in such a way as made me think of it in my deep distress
and fear, as I sat alone watching with mother. So I found my neglected
Bible, and, in some way, I seemed guided to these words, 'Come unto
me'; and then, for two or three hours, I continued to read eagerly
about Him, till at last I felt that I could venture to go to Him. So,
I just bowed my head, on His own invitation; indeed, it seemed like a
tender call to a child that had been lost in the dark, and was afraid,
and I said, 'I am heavy laden, help me.' And how wonderfully He did
help me! He has been so good, so near, ever since. My weary, hopeless
heartache is gone. I don't know what is before us. I can't see the way
out of our troubles. I don't know what has become of our absent one,"
she said, in a low tone and with bowed head, "but I can leave all to
Him. He is God: He loves, and He can and will take care of us. So you
see I know very little about religion yet; just enough to trust and
keep close to Him; and I feel sure that in time He will teach me,
through the Bible, or in some way, all I ought to know."

"Bless the child, she's right, she's right," sobbed Mrs. Groody. "It
was just so at first. He came right among people, and called all sorts
to Him, and they came to Him just as they was, and stayed with Him,
and He cured, and helped, and taught 'em, till, from being the worst,
they became the best. That is the way that distressed, swearin', old
fisherman Peter became one of the greatest and best men that ever
lived; though it took a mighty lot of grace and patience to bring it
about. Now I think of it, I think he fell from grace worse than I did
that awfully hot summer. What an old fool I am! I've been readin' the
Bible all my life, and never understood it before."

"I think that if you had gone to Him that time when you were so
troubled and overburdened He would have helped you," said Edith,
gently.

"Yes, but there it is, you see," said Mrs. Groody, wiping her eyes and
shaking her head despondently; "I didn't go."

"But you are heavy laden now. I can see it. You can go now," said
Edith, earnestly.

"I'm afraid I've put it off too long," said Mrs. Groody, settling back
into something of her old gloom. "I'm afraid I've sinned away my
time."

With a strange blending of pathos and reproach in her tone, Edith
answered:

"Oh, how can YOU, with your big, kind heart, that yearned over a poor
unknown girl that dreadful night when you brought me home--how can you
think so poorly of your Saviour? Is your heart warmer--are your
sympathies larger than His? Why, He died for us, and, when dying,
prayed for those who crucified Him. Could you turn away a poor,
sorrowing, burdened creature that came pleading to you for help? You
know you couldn't. Learn from your own heart something of His. Listen,
I haven't told you all. It seems as if I never could tell all about
Him. But see how He feels about poor lost Zell, when I, her own
sister, was almost hating her," and, reaching her hand to the table,
she took her Bible and read Christ's words to "a woman of the city,
which was a sinner."

At this Mrs. Groody broke down completely, and with clasped hands and
streaming eyes, cried:

"I will go to Him; I will fear and doubt no more."

A trembling hand was now laid on Edith's shoulder, and, looking up,
she saw Mrs. Lacey standing by her side with a face so white, so
eager, so full of unutterable longing, that it might have made a
Christian artist's ideal of a soul famishing for the "Bread of Life."
In a low, timid, yet thrilling tone, she asked:

"Miss Allen, do you think He would receive such as me?"

"Yes, thus," cried Edith, as with a divine impulse and a great
yearning pity she sprang up and threw her arms around Mrs. Lacey.

Hope dawned in the poor worn face like the morning. Belief in God's
love and sympathy seemed to flow into her sad heart from the other
human heart that was pressed against it. The spiritual electric circle
was completed--Edith, with her hand of faith in God's, took the
trembling, groping hand of another and placed it there also.

Two great tears gathered in Mrs. Lacey's eyes, and she bowed her head
for a moment on Edith's shoulder, and murmured, "I'll try--I think I
may venture to Him."

Hannibal now appeared at the door, saying, rather huskily and
brokenly, considering his message:

"Miss Edie, you'se mudder's awake, an' 'd like some water."

"That's what we all have been wanting, 'water'--'the water of life,'"
said Mrs. Groody, wiping her eyes, "and never was my parched old heart
so refreshed before. I don't care how hot this summer is, or how
aggravatin' things are, I feel as if I'd be helped through it. And, my
dear, good-night. I come here to try to do you good, and you've done
me more good than I ever thought could happen again. I'm goin' to kiss
you--I can't help it. Good-by, and may the good Lord bless your sweet
face;" and Mrs. Groody, like one of old, climbed up into her chariot,
and "went on her way rejoicing."

In their close good-night embrace, Laura whispered, "I begin to
understand it a little now, Edie, but I think I see everything only
through your eyes, not my own."

"As old Malcom said to me the other day, so now I say to you, 'Ye'll
learn it a' soon.'"

Edith soon retired to rest also, and Mrs. Lacey sat at Mrs. Allen's
side, returning the sick woman's slights and scorn, somewhat as the
patient God returns ours, by watching over her.

Her eyes, no longer cast down with the pathetic discouragement of the
past, seemed looking far away upon some distant scene. She was
following in her thoughts the steps of the Magi from the East to
where, as yet far distant, the "Star of Bethlehem" glimmered with
promise and hope.



CHAPTER XXIX

HANNIBAL LEARNS HOW HIS HEART CAN BE WHITE



When Edith rose the next morning she found Laura only at her mother's
bedside. Mrs. Lacey had gone home quite early, saying that she would
soon come again. Mrs. Allen's delirium had passed away, leaving her
exceedingly weak, but the doctor said, at his morning call:

"With quiet and good nursing she will slowly regain her usual health."

After he was gone, Laura said: "Taking care of mother will now be my
work, Edie. I feel a good deal stronger. I'll doze in a chair during
the day, and I am a light sleeper at night, so I don't think we shall
need any more watchers. Poor Mrs. Lacey works hard at home, I am sure,
and I don't want to trespass on her kindness any longer. So if Mrs.
Groody sends you work you may give all your time to it."

And early after breakfast quite a bundle did come from the hotel, with
a scrawl from the housekeeper: "You may mend this linen, my dear, and
I'll send for it to-morrow night."

Edith's eyes sparkled at the sight of the work as they never had over
the costliest gifts of jewelry. Sitting down in the airy parlor, no
longer kept in state for possible callers, she put on her thimble,
and, with a courage and heroism greater than those of many a knight
drawing for the first time his ancestral sword, she took her needle
and joined the vast army of sewing-women. Lowly was the position and
work first assigned to her--only mending coarse linen. And yet it was
with a thrill of gratitude and joy, and a stronger hope than she had
yet experienced, that she sat down to the first real work for which
she would be paid, and in her exultation she brandished her little
needle at the spectres want and fear, as a soldier might his weapon.

Hannibal stood in the kitchen regarding her with moist eyes and
features that twitched nervously.

"Oh, Miss Edie, I neber tho't you'd come to dat."

"It's one of the best things I've come to yet," said Edith, cheerily.
"We shall be taken care of, Hannibal. Cheer up your faithful old
heart. Brighter days are coming."

But, for some reason, Hannibal didn't cheer up, and he stood looking
very wistfully at Edith. At last he commenced:

"It does my ole black heart good to hear you talk so, Miss Edie--"

"Why do you persist in calling your heart black? It's no such thing,"
interrupted Edith.

"Yes, 'tis, Miss Edie," said Hannibal, despondently, "I'se know 'tis.
I'se black outside, and I allers kinder feel dat I'se more black
inside. Neber felt jes right here yet, Miss Edie," said the old man,
laying his hand on his breast. "I come de nighest to't de toder day
when you said you lubbed me. Dat seemed to go down deep, but not quite
to whar de trouble stays all de time.

"But, Miss Edie," continued he in a whisper, "I'se hope you'll forgive
me, but I couldn't help listenin' to you last night. I neber heerd
such talk afore. It seemed to broke my ole black heart all up, and
made it feel like de big ribers down souf in de spring, when dey jes
oberflow eberyting. I says to myself, dat's de Friend Miss Edie say
she's gwine to tell me 'bout. And now, Miss Edie, would you mind
tellin' me little 'bout Him? Cause if He's your Friend, I'd t'ink a
heap of Him, too. Not dat I specs He's gwine to bodder wid dis ole
niggah, but den I'd jes like to hear 'bout Him a little."

Edith laid down her work, and turned her glorious dark eyes, brimming
over with sympathy, on the poor old fellow, as he stood in the doorway
fairly trembling with the excess of his feeling.

"Come and sit down here by me," she said.

"Oh, Miss Edie, I'se isn't--"

"No words--come."

Hannibal crouched down on a divan near.

"What makes you think He wouldn't bother with you?"

"Well, I'se don't know 'zactly, Miss Edie. I'se only Hannibal."

"Hannibal," said Edith, earnestly, "you are the best man I know in all
the world."

"Oh, Lor bless you, Miss Edie, how you talk! you'se jes done gone
crazy."

"No I haven't. I never spoke in more sober earnest. You are faithful
and true, unselfish and patient, and abound in the best material of
which men are made. I admit," she added, with a twinkle in her eye,
"that one very common element of manhood, as I have observed it, is
dreadfully lacking, that is conceit. I wish I were as good as you are,
Hannibal."

"Oh, Miss Edie, don't talk dat way, you jes done discourages me. If
you'd only say, Hannibal, you'se sick, but I'se got a mighty powerful
medicine for you; if you'd only say, I know you isn't good; I know
your ole heart is black, but I know a way to make it white, I'd stoop
down and kiss de ground you walks on. Dere's sumpen wrong here, Miss
Edie," said he, laying his hand on his breast again, and shaking his
head, with a tear in the corner of each eye--"I tells you dere's
sumpen wrong. I don't know jes what 'tis. My heart's like a baby a-cryin' for it doesn't know what. Den it gits jes like a stun, as hard
and as heavy. I don't understan' my ole heart; I guess it's kinder
sick and wants a doctor, 'cause it don't work right. But dere's one
ting I does understan'. It 'pears dat it would be a good heaven 'nuff
if I'se could allers be waitin' on you alls. But Massa Allen's gone;
Miss Zell, poor chile, is gone; and I'se growin' ole, Miss Edie, I'se
growin' ole. De wool is white, de jints are stiff, and de feet tired.
Dey can't tote dis ole body roun' much longer. Where am I gwine, Miss
Edie? What's gwine to become of ole Hannibal? I'se was allers afeard
of de dark. If I could only find you in de toder world and wait on
you, dat's all I ask, but I'se afeard I'll get lost, it seems such a
big, empty place."

"Poor old Hannibal! Then you are 'heavy laden' too," said Edith,
gently.

"Indeed I is, Miss Edie; 'pears as if I couldn't stan' it anoder
minute. And when I heerd you talkin' about dat Friend last night, and
tellin' how good He was to people, and He seemed to do you such a heap
of good, I thought dat I would jes like to hear little 'bout Him."
"Wait till I get my Bible," said Edith.

"Bless you, Miss Edie, you'se needn't stop your work. You can jes tell
me any ting dat come into you'se head."

"Then I wouldn't be like Him, Hannibal. He used to stop and give the
kindest and most patient attention to every one that came to Him, and,
as far as I can make out, the poorer they were, the more sinful and
despised they seemed, the more attention He gave to them."

"Dat's mighty quar," said Hannibal, musingly; "not a bit like de big
folks dat I'se seen."

"I don't understand it all myself yet, Hannibal. But the Bible tells
me that He was God come down to earth to save the world. He says to
the lost and sinful--to all who are poor and needy--in brief, to the
heavy laden, 'Come unto me.' So I went to Him, Hannibal, and you can
go just as well."

The old man's eyes glistened, but he said, doubtfully, "Yes, but den
you'se Miss Edie, and I'se only black Hannibal. I wish we'd all lived
when He was here. I might have shine His boots, and done little tings
for Him, so He'd say, 'Poor ole Hannibal, you does as well as you
knows how. I'll 'member you, and you shan't go away in de dark.'"

Edith smiled and cried at the same time over the quaint pathos of the
simple creature's words, but she said, earnestly, "You need not go
away in the dark, for He said, 'I am the light of the world,' and if
you go to Him you will always be in the light."

"I'd go in a minute," said Hannibal, eagerly, "if I only know'd how,
and wasn't afeard." Then, as if a sudden thought struck him, he asked,
"Miss Edie, did He eber hab any ting to do wid a black man?"

Edith was so unfamiliar with the Bible that she could not recall any
distinct case, but she said, with the earnestness of such full belief
on her part, that it satisfied his child-like mind, "I am sure He did,
for all kinds of people--people that no one else would touch or look
at--came to Him, or He went to them, and spoke so kindly to them and
forgave all their sins."

"Bress Him, Miss Edie, dat kinder sounds like what I wants."

Edith thought a moment, and, with her quick, logical mind, sought to
construct a simple chain of truth that would bring to the trusting
nature she was trying to guide the perfect assurance that Jesus' love
and mercy embraced him as truly as herself.

They made a beautiful picture that moment; she with her hands, that
had dropped all earthly tasks for the sake of this divine work,
clasped in her lap, her lustrous eyes dewy with sympathy and feeling,
looking far away into the deep blue of the June sky, as if seeking
some heavenly inspiration; and quaint old Hannibal, leaning forward in
his eagerness, and gazing upon her, as if his life depended upon her
next utterances.

It was a picture of the Divine Artist's own creation. He had inspired
the faith in one and the questioning unrest in the other. He, with
Edith's lips, as ever by human lips, was teaching the way of life.
Glorious privilege, that our weak voices should be as the voice of
God, telling the lost and wandering where lies the way to life and
home! The angels leaned over the golden walls to watch that scene,
while many a proud pageant passed unheeded.

"Hannibal," said Edith, after her momentary abstraction, "God made
everything, didn't He?"

"Sartin."

"Then He made you, and you are one of His creatures, are you not?"

"Sartin I is, Miss Edie."

"Then see here what is in the Bible. Almost the last thing He said to
His followers before He went up into heaven, was, 'Go ye into all the
world and preach the gospel to every creature.' Gospel means 'good
news,' and the good news was, that God had come down from heaven and
become a man, so we wouldn't be afraid of Him, and that He would take
away their sins and save all who would let Him. Now, remember, He
didn't send His preachers to the white people, nor to the black
people, but to all the world, to every creature alike, and so He meant
you and me, Hannibal, and you as much as me. I am just as sure He will
receive you as that He received me."

"Dat's 'nuff, Miss Edie. Ole Hannibal can go too. And I'se a-gwine,
Miss Edie, I'se a-gwine right to Him. Dere's only one ting dat
troubles me yet. What is I gwine to do wid my ole black heart? I know
dere's sumpen wrong wid it. It's boddered me all my life."

"Oh, Hannibal," said Edith, eagerly, "I was reading something last
night that I think will just suit you, I thought I would read a little
in the Old Testament, and I turned to a place that I didn't understand
very well, but I came to these words, and they made me think of you,
for you are always talking about your 'old black heart.'" And she
read:

"I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you;
and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them
an heart of flesh."

To Hannibal the words seemed a revelation from heaven. Standing before
her, with streaming eyes, he said:

"Oh, Miss Edie, you'se been an angel of light to me. Dat was jes de
berry message I wanted. I knowed my ole heart was nothin' but a black
stun. De Lord couldn't do nothin' wid it but trow it away. But tanks
be to His name, He says He'll give me a new one--a heart of flesh. Now
I sees dat my heart can be white like yours, Miss Edie. Bress de Lord,
I'se a-gwine, I'se a-comin'," and Hannibal vanished into the kitchen,
feeling that he must be alone in the glad tumult of his emotions.



CHAPTER XXX

EDITH'S AND ARDEN'S FRIENDSHIP



As Edith laid aside her work for a frugal dinner at one o'clock, she
heard the sound of a hoe in her garden. The thought of Arden at once
recurred to her, but looking out she saw old Malcom. Throwing a
handkerchief over her head, she ran out to him, exclaiming:

"How good you are, Mr. McTrump, to come and help me when I know you
are so very busy at home!"

"Weel, nothin' to boast on," replied Malcom; "I tho't that if ye had
na one a-lookin' after the garden save Hannibal's 'spook,' ye'd have
but a ghaistly crop. But I'm a-thinkin' there's mair than a ghaist
been here."

"It was Arden Lacey," said Edith, frankly, but with deepening color.
Malcom, in telling his wife about it, said, "She looked like the rose-bush, a' in bloom, that she was a-stonnin' beside."

Edith, seeing the mischievous twinkle in her little friend's eye,
added hastily, "Both Mrs. Lacey and her son have been very kind to us
in our sickness and trouble, as well as yourself. But, Mr. McTrump,"
she continued, anxious to change the subject, also eager to speak on
the topic uppermost in her thoughts, "I think I am beginning to 'learn
it a',' as you said, about that good Friend who suffered for us that
we might not suffer. What you and your wife said to me the other day
led me to read the 'Gude Book' after I got home. I don't feel as I did
then. I think I can trust Him now."

Malcom dropped his hoe and came over into the path beside her.

"God be praised!" he said. "I gie je the right hond o' fellowship an'
welcome ye into the kirk o' the Lord. Ye noo belong to the household
o' faith, an' God's true Israel, an' may His gude Spirit guide ye into
all truth."

The little man spoke very earnestly, and with a certain dignity and
authority that his small stature and rude working-dress could not
diminish. A sudden feeling of solemnity and awe came over Edith, and
she felt as if she were crossing the mystic threshold and entering the
one true church consisting of all believers in Christ.

For a moment she reverently bowed her head, and a sweeter sense of
security came over her, as if she were no longer an outsider, but had
been received into the household.

Malcom, "a priest unto God" through his faith, officiated at the
simple ceremony. The birds sang the choral service. The wind-shaken
roses, blooming around her, with their sweet ordos, were the censers
and incense, and the sunlighted garden, the earliest sacred place of
Bible history, where the first fair woman worshipped, was the hallowed
ground of the initiatory rite.

"Why, Mr. McTrump, I feel almost as if I had joined the church," said
Edith, after a moment.

"An' sae ye ha' afore God, an' I hope ere long ye'll openly profess
yer faith before men."

"Do you think I ought?" said Edith, thoughtfully.

"Of coorse I do, but the Gude Book'll teach a' aboot it. Ye canna gang
far astray wi' that to guide ye."

"I would like to join the church that you belong to, Mr. McTrump, as
soon as I feel that I am ready, for it was you and your good wife that
turned my thoughts in the right direction. I was almost desperate with
trouble and shame when I came to you that afternoon, and it was your
speaking of the Bible and Jesus, and especially your kindness, that
made me feel that there might be some hope and help in God."

The old man's eyes became so moist that he turned away for a moment,
but recovering himself after a little, he said:

"See, noo, our homely deeds and words can be like the seeds we drop
into the mould. Look aroon once and see how green and grand the garden
is, and a' from the wee brown seeds we planted the spring. Sae would
the garden o' the Lord bloom and floorish if a' were droppin' a 'word
in season' and a bit o' kindness here and there. But if I stay here
an' preach to ye that need na preachin', these sins o' the garden, the
weeds, will grow apace. Go you an' look in yer strawberry-bed."

With an exclamation of delight, Edith pounced upon a fair-sized red
berry, the first she had picked from her own vines. Then glancing
around, she saw one and another showing its red cheek through the
green leaves, till with a little cry of exultation she said:

"Oh, Mr. McTrump, I'll get enough for mother and Laura."

"Aye, and enoof to moisten yer own red lips wi' too, I'm a-thinkin'.
There'll be na crop the year wourth speakin' of; but next June 'twill
puzzle ye to gither them. But ye a' can ha' a dainty saucer yoursels
the season, when ye're a mind to stoop for them."

Edith soon had the pleasure of seeing her mother and Laura enjoying
some, and, as Malcom said, there were plenty for her, and they tasted
like the ambrosia of the gods. Varied experiences had so thoroughly
engrossed her thoughts and time the past few days, that she had
scarcely looked toward her garden. But with the delicious flavor of
the strawberries lingering in her mouth, and with the consciousness
that she enjoyed picking them much more than sewing, the thought of
winning her bread by the culture of the ground grew in her favor.

"Oh, how much rather would I be out there with Malcom!" she sighed.

Glancing up from her work during the afternoon, she saw Arden Lacey on
his way to the village. There was a strange mingling of hope and fear
in his mind. His mother's manner had been such as to lead him to say
when alone with her after breakfast:

"I think your watching has done you good, mother, in stead of wearying
you too much, as I feared."

She had suddenly turned and placed both her hands on his shoulders,
saying:

"Arden, I hardly dare speak of it yet. It seems too good to be true,
but a hope is coming into my heart like the dawn after night. She's
worthy of your love, however it may result, and if I find true what
she told me last night I shall have reason to bless her name forever;
but I see only a glimmer of light yet, and I rejoice with fear and
trembling." And she told him what had occurred.

He was deeply moved, but not for the same cause as his mother. His
desire and devotion went no further than Edith. "Can she have read my
letter?" he thought, and he was consumed with anxiety for some
expression of her feeling toward him. Therefore he was glad that
business called him to the village that afternoon, but his steps were
slow as he approached the little cottage, and his eyes were upon it as
a pilgrim gazes at a shrine he long has sought. He envied Malcom
working in the garden, and felt that if he could work there every day,
it would be Adam's life before he fell. Then he caught a glimpse of
Edith sewing at the window, and he dropped his eyes instantly. He
would not be so afraid of a battery of a hundred guns as of that poor
sewing-girl (for such Edith now was), stitching away on Mrs. Groody's
coarse hotel linen. But Edith had noted his timid, wistful looks, and
calling Hannibal, said:

"Please give that note to Mr. Lacey. He is just passing toward the
village."

Hannibal, with the impressive dignity he had learned in olden times,
handed the missive to Arden, saying, "Miss Edie telled me to guv you
dis 'scription."

If Hannibal had been Hebe he could not have been a more welcome
messenger.

Arden could not help his hand trembling as he took the letter, but he
managed to say, "I hope Miss Allen is well."

"Her health am berry much disproved," and Hannibal retired with a
stately bow.

Arden quickened his steps, holding the missive in his hand. As soon as
he was out of sight, he opened and devoured Edith's words. The light
of a great joy dawned in his face, and made it look noble and
beautiful, as indeed almost every human face appears when the light of
a pure love falls upon it. Where most men would have murmured at the
meagre return for their affection, he felt himself immeasurably
rewarded and enriched, and it seemed as if he were walking on air the
rest of the day. With a face set like a flint, he resolved to be true
to the condition implied in the underscored word "friendship," and
never to whisper of love to her again. But a richer experience was
still in store for him. For, on his return, in the cool of the
evening, Edith was in the garden picking currants. She saw him coming,
and thought, "If he is ever to be a friend worth the name, I must
break the ice of his absurd diffidence and formality. And the sooner
he comes to know me as I am, the sooner he will find out that I am
like other people, and he will have a new 'revelation' that will cure
him of his infatuation. I would like him for a _friend_ very much, not
only because I need his help, but because one likes a little society
now and then, and he seems so well educated, if he is 'quar,' as
Hannibal says." So she startled poor Arden almost as much as if one
of his Shakespearean heroines had called him in audible voice, by
saying, as he came opposite her:

"Mr. Lacey, won't you come in a moment and tell me if it is time to
pick my currants, and whether you think I could sell them in the
village, or at the hotel?"

This address, so matter-of-fact in tone and character, seemed to him
like the June twilight, containing, in some subtle manner, the essence
of all that was beautiful and full of promise in his heart-history. He
bowed and went toward the little gate to comply with her request, as
Adam might if he had been created outside of Eden and Eve inside, and
she had looked over a flowering hedge in the purple twilight and told
him to come in. He was not going merely to look at currants and
consider their marketable condition; he was entering openly upon the
knightly service to which he had devoted himself. He was approaching
his idol, which was not a heathen stock or stone, but a sweet little
woman. In regard to the currants, he ventured dubiously--

"They might do for pies."

In regard to herself, his eyes said, in spite of his purpose to be
merely friendly, that she was too good for the gods of Mount Olympus.
He both amused and interested Edith, whose long familiarity with
society and lack of any such feeling as swayed him made her quite at
ease. With a twinkle in her eyes, she said:

"I have thought that perhaps Mrs. Groody could help me find sale for
them at the hotel."

"I am going there to-morrow, and I will ask her for you, if you wish,"
said Arden, timidly.

"Thank you," replied Edith. "I shall be very much obliged to you if
you will. You see, I wish to sell everything out of the garden that I
can find a market for."

She was rather astonished at the effect of this mercenary speech, for
there was a wonderful blending of sympathy and admiration in his face
as he said:

"I am frequently going to the hotel and village, and if you will let
me know what you have to dispose of, I can find out whether it is in
demand, and carry it to market for you." He could not help adding,
with a voice trembling with feeling, "Miss Allen, I am so glad you
permit me to be of some help to you."

"Oh, dear!" thought Edith, "how can I make him understand what I
really am?" She turned to him with an expression that was both
perplexed and quizzical, and said:

"Mr. Lacey, I very frankly and gratefully accept your delicately
offered friendship (emphasizing the last word), not only because of my
need, but of yours also. If any one needs a sensible friend, I think
you do. You truly must have lived a 'hermit's life in the world' to
have such strange ideas of people. Let me tell you as a perfect
certainty, that no such person exists as the Edith Allen that you have
imagined. She is no more a reality than your other shadows, and the
more you know of me, the sooner you will find it out. I am not in the
least like a heroine in a romance. I live on the most substantial food
rather than moonlight, and usually have an excellent appetite. I am
the most practical matter-of-fact creature in existence, and you will
find no one in this place more sharp on the question of dollars and
cents. Indeed, I am continually in a most mercenary frame of mind, and
this very moment here, in the romantic June twilight, if you ransacked
history, poetry, and all the fine arts, you could not tell me anything
half so beautiful, half so welcome, as how to make money in a fair,
honorable way."

"There," thought she, "that will be another 'revelation' to him. If he
don't jump over the garden fence in his haste to escape such a
monster, I shall be glad."

But Arden's face only grew more grave and gentle as he looked down
upon her, and he asked:

"Is it because you love the money itself, Miss Allen?"

"Well, no," said Edith, somewhat taken aback. "I can never earn enough
to make it worth while to do that. Misers love to count their money,"
she added, with a little pathetic accent in her voice, "and I fear
mine will go before I can count it."

"You wish me to think less of you, then, because you are bravely, and
without thought of sparing yourself, trying to earn money to provide
home-shelter and comfort for your feeble mother and sister. You wish
me to think you commonplace because you have the heroism to do any
kind of work, rather than be helpless and dependent. Pardon me, but
for such a 'practical, matter-of-fact' lady, I do not think your logic
is good."

Edith's vexation and perplexity only increased, and she said,
earnestly, "But I wish you to understand that I am only Edith Allen,
and as poor as poverty, nothing but a sewing girl, and only hoping to
arrive at the dignity of a gardener. The majority of the world thinks
I am not even fit to speak to," she added, in a low tone.

Arden bowed his head, as if in reverence before her, and then said,
firmly:

"And I wish you to understand that I am only Arden Lacey, with a sot
for a father, and the scorn, contempt, and hatred of all the world as
my heritage. I am a slipshod farmer. Our place is heavily mortgaged,
and will eventually be sold away from us. It grows more weeds now than
anything else; and it seems that nettles have been the principal crop
that I have reaped all my life. Thus, you see, I am poorer than
poverty, and am rich only in my mother, and, eventually, I hope," he
added timidly, "in the possession of your friendship, Miss Allen; I
shall try so sincerely and hard to deserve it."

With a frown, a laugh, and a shy look of sympathy at him, Edith said,
"I don't see but you have got to find out your mistake for yourself.
Time and facts cure many follies." But she found little encouragement
in his incredulous smile.

The next moment she turned upon him so sharply that he was startled.

"I am a business woman," she said, "and conduct my affairs on business
principles. You said, I think, you would help me find a market for the
produce of my place?"

"Certainly," he replied.

"As certainly you must take fifteen per cent commission on all sales."

"Oh, Miss Allen," commenced Arden, "I couldn't--"

"There," said she, decisively, "you haven't the first idea of
business. Not a thing can you touch unless you comply with my
conditions. There is no sentiment, I assure you, connected with
currants and cabbages."

"You may be certain, Miss Allen, that I would comply with any
condition," said Arden, with the air of one who is cornered, "but let
me suggest, since we are arranging this matter so strictly on business
grounds, that ten per cent is all I should take. That is the regular
commission, and is all I pay in sending produce to New York."

"Oh, I didn't know that," said the experienced and uncompromising
woman of business, innocently. "Do you think that would pay you for
your trouble?"

"I think it would," he replied, so demurely and yet with such a
twinkle in his blue eyes, that now looked very different with the
light of hope and happiness in them, that Edith turned away with a
laugh.

But she said, with assumed sharpness, "See that you keep your accounts
straight. I shall be a very dragon over your account-book."

Thus the ice was broken, and Edith and Arden became _friends_.

The future has now been quite clearly indicated to the reader, and,
lest my story should grow wearisome as a "twice-told tale," we pass
over several subsequent months with but a few words.

It was not a good fruit year, and Edith's place had been sadly
neglected previous to her possession. Therefore, though Arden
surprised himself in the sharp business traits he developed as Edith's
salesman, the results were not very large. But still they greatly
assisted her, and amounted to more than the earnings of her unskilled
hands from other sources. She insisted on doing everything on business
principles, and made Arden take his ten per cent, which was of real
help to him in this way: he gave all the money to his mother, saying,
"_I_ couldn't spend it to save my life." Mrs. Lacey had many uses
for every penny she could obtain.

Then Edith paid old Malcom by making up bouquets for sale at the
hotel, and arranging baskets of flowers for parties there and
elsewhere, and other lighter labors. Mrs. Groody continued to send her
work; and thus during the summer and early fall she managed to make
her garden and her labor provide for all family expenses, saving what
was left of the four hundred, after paying all debts, for winter need.
Moreover, she stored away in cellar and attic enough of the products
of the garden to be of great help also.

Mrs. Allen did recover her usual health, and also her usual modes of
thought and feeling. The mental and moral habits of a lifetime are not
readily changed. Often and earnestly did Edith talk with her mother,
but with few evidences of the result she longed to see.

Mrs. Allen's condition, in view of the truth, was the most hopeless
one of all. She saw only her preconceived ideas, and not the truth
itself. One day she said, with some irritation, to Edith, who was
pleading with her:

"Do you think I am a heathen? Of course, I believe the Bible. Of
course, I believe in Jesus Christ. I have been a member of the church
ever since I was sixteen."

Edith sighed, and thought, "Only He who can satisfy her need can
reveal it to her."

Poor Mrs. Allen! With the strange infatuation of a worldly mind, she
was turning to the world, and it alone, for hope and solace. Untaught
by the wretched experience of the past, she was led to enter upon a
new and similar scheme for the aggrandizement of her family, as will
be explained in another chapter.

Laura regained her strength somewhat, and was able to relieve Edith of
the care of her mother and the lighter duties of the house. Her faith
developed like that shy, delicate blossom called the "wind-flower,"
easily shaken, and yet with a certain hardiness and power to live and
thrive in sterile places.

Edith and Mrs. Lacey were eventually received into the church that
Malcom attended, and, after the simple service, they took dinner with
the old Scotchman and his wife. Malcom seemed hardly "in the body" all
day.

"My heart's a-bloom," he said, "wi' a' the sweet posies that God ever
made blush when he looked at them the first time, an' ye seem the
sweetest o' them a', Miss Edith. Ah, but the Crude Husbandman gathered
a fair blossom the day."

"Now, Mr. McTrump," said Edith, reproachfully, but with a face like
Malcom's posies, "you shouldn't give compliments on Sunday." For Arden
and Rose were present also, and Edith thought, "Such foolish words
will only increase his infatuation."

"Weel," said Malcom, scratching his head, in his perplexed effort at
apology, "I wud na mak ye vain, nor hurt yer conscience, but it kind
o' slippit out afore I could stop it."

In the laugh that followed Malcom's explanation Edith felt that
matters had not been helped much, and she adroitly turned the
conversation.

Public opinion, from being at first very bitter and scornful against
the Allens, gradually began to soften. One after another, as they
recognized Edith's patient, determined effort to do right, began to
give her the credit and the respect to which she was entitled. Little
acts and tokens of kindly feeling became more frequent, and were like
glints of sunlight on her shadowed path. But the great majority felt
that they could have no associations with such as the Allens, and
completely ignored them.

In their relations with the church, Edith and Mrs. Lacey found
increasing satisfaction. Many of its humble, and some of its more
influential, members treated them with much kindness and sympathy, and
they realized more and more that there are good, kind people in the
world, if you look in the right way and right places for them. The
Rev. Mr. Knox was a faithful preacher and pastor, and if his sermons
were a little dry and doctrinal at times, they were as sound and sweet
as a nut. Moreover, both Edith and Mrs. Lacey were sadly deficient in
the doctrines, neither having ever had any religious instruction, and
they listened with the grave, earnest interest of those desiring to be
taught.

Mrs. Groody reconnected herself with her old church "I want to go
where I can shout 'Glory!'" she said.

Rose but faintly sympathized with her mother's feelings. Her restless,
ambitious spirit turned longingly toward the world. Its attractions
she could understand, but not those of faith. Through her father's
evil habits, and Arden's poor farming, the pressure of poverty rested
heavier and heavier on the family, and she had about resolved to go to
New York and find employment in some store.

Arden rarely went to church, but read at home. He was somewhat
sceptical in regard to the Bible, not that he had ever carefully
examined either it or its evidences, but he had read much of the
prevalent semi-infidelity, and was a little conceited over his
independent thinking. Then, in a harsh, sweeping cynicism, he utterly
detested church people, calling them the "holy sect of the Pharisees."

"Bat they are not all such," his mother would say.

"Oh, no," he would reply; "there are some sincere ones, of course; but
I think they would be better out than in such a company of
hypocrites."

But as he saw Edith's sincerity, and learned of her purpose to unite
with the church, he kept these views more and more in the background;
but he had too much respect for her and his mother's faith to go with
them to what they regarded as a sacred place, from merely the personal
motive of being near Edith.

One day Mrs. Lacey and Edith walked down to the evening prayer-meeting. Arden, who had business in the village, was to call for them
at its close; as they were walking home, Edith suddenly asked him:

"Why don't you go to church?"

"I don't like the people I meet there."

"What have you against them?"

"Well, there is Mr. Hard. He is one of the 'lights and pillars'; and
he would have sold the house over your head if you had not paid him.
He can 'devour a widow's house' as well as they of olden time."

"That is not the question," said the practical Edith, earnestly. "What
have you to do with Mr. Hard, or he with you? Does he propose--is he
able to save you? The true question is, What have you got against
Jesus Christ?"

"Well, really, Miss Edith, I can have nothing against Him. Both
history and legend unite in presenting Him as one of the purest and
noblest of men. But pardon me if I say in all honesty that I cannot
quite accept your belief in regard to Him and the Bible in general. A
man can hardly be a man without exercising the right of independent
thought. I cannot take a book called the Bible for granted."

"But," asked, Edith keenly, "are you not taking other books for
granted? Answer me truly, Mr. Lacey, have you carefully and patiently
investigated this subject, not only on the side of your sceptical
writers, but on God's side also? He has plenty of facts, as well as
the infidels, and my rich, lasting, rational, spiritual experience is
as much a fact as that stone there, and a good deal higher and better
one, I think."

Arden was silent for some little time, and they could see in the
moonlight that his face was very grave and thoughtful. At last he
said, as if it had been wrung from him:

"Miss Allen, to be honest with you and myself, I have never given the
subject such a fair examination." After a moment he continued, "Even
if I became convinced that all were true, I might still remain at
home, for I could find far more advantage in reading books, or the
Bible itself, than from Mr. Knox's dry sermons."

"I think you are wrong," said Edith, gently but firmly. "Granting the
premise you admitted a moment ago, that Christ was one of the purest
and noblest of men, you surely, with your chivalric instincts, would
say that such a man ought to be imitated."

"Yes," said Arden, "and He denounced the Pharisees."

"And He worshipped with them also," said Edith, quickly. "He went to
the temple with the others. What was there to interest Him in the
dreary forlorn little synagogue at Nazareth? and yet He was there with
the regularity of the Sabbath. It was the best form of faith and
worship then existing, and He sustained it by every means in His
power, till He could give the people something better. Suppose all the
churches in this place were closed, not one in a hundred would or
could read the books you refer to. If your example were followed they
would be closed. As far as your example goes it tends to close them. I
have heard Mr. Knox say, that wherever Christian worship and the
Christian Sabbath are not observed, society rapidly deteriorates. Is
it not true?"

They had stopped at Edith's gate. Arden averted his face for a moment,
then turning toward Edith he gave her his hand, saying:

"Yes, it is true, and a true, faithful friend you have been to me to-night. I admit myself vanquished."

Edith gave his hand a cordial pressure, saying earnestly, "You are not
vanquished by the young ignorant girl, Edith Allen, but by the truth
that will yet vanquish the world."

After that Arden went regularly with them to church, and tried to give
sincere attention to the service, but his uncurbed fancy was wandering
to the ends of the earth most of the time; or his thoughts were
dwelling in rapt attention on Edith. She, after all, was the only
object of his faith and worship, though he had a growing intellectual
conviction that her faith was true.

And so the months passed into autumn, but with the nicest sense of
honor he refrained from word or deed that would remind Edith that he
was her lover. She became greatly attached to him, and he seemed
almost like a brother to her. She found increasing pleasure in his
society, for Arden, after the restraint of his diffidence was
banished, could talk well, and he opened to her the rich treasures of
his reading, and with almost a poet's fancy and power pictured to her
the storied past.

To both herself and Mrs. Lacey, life grew sunnier and sweeter. But
they each had a heavy burden on their hearts, which they daily brought
to the feet of the Compassionate One. They united in praying for Mrs.
Lacey's husband, and for Zell; and their strong faith and love would
take no denial. But, as Laura had said, the silence of the grave
seemed to have swallowed lost Zell.



CHAPTER XXXI

ZELL



"And the silence of the grave ought to swallow such as poor Zell had
become," is, perhaps, the thought of some. All reference to her and
her class should be suppressed.

We firmly say, No! If so, the New Testament must be suppressed. The
Divine Teacher spoke plainly both of the sin and the sinner. He had
scathing denunciation for the one, and compassion and mercy for the
other. Shall we enforce His teachings against all other forms of evil,
and not against this deadliest one of all--and that, too, in the
laxity and wide demoralization of our age, when temptation lurks on
every hand, and parents are often sleepless with just anxiety?

Evil is active, alluring, suggesting, insinuating itself when least
expected, and many influences are at work, with the full approval of
society, to poison forever all pure thoughts. And temptation is sure
to come at first as an angel of light.

There is no safety save in solemn words of warning, the wholesome
terror which knowledge inspires, the bracing of principle, and the
ennobling of Christian faith. There are too many incarnate fiends who
will take advantage of the innocence of ignorance.

Zell is not in her grave. She is sinning, but more sinned against. He
who said to one like her, of old, "Her sins, which are many, are
forgiven," loves her still, and Edith is praying for her. The grave
cannot close over her yet.

But as we look upon this long-lost one, as she reclines on a sofa in
Van Dam's luxurious apartments, as we see her temples throbbing with
pain, and that her cheeks are flushed and feverish, it would seem that
the grave might soon hide her from a contemptuous and vindictive
world.

Her head does ache sadly--it seems bursting with pain; but her heart
aches with a bitterer anguish. Zell had too fine a nature to sin
brutally and unfeelingly. Her betrayer's treachery wounded her more
deeply than he could understand. Even her first strong love for him
could not bridge the chasm of guilt to which he led her, and her
passionate nature and remorse often caused her to turn upon, him with
such scathing reproaches that even he, in his hardihood, trembled.

Knowing how proud and high-strung she was, he feared to reveal his
treachery in New York, a locality with which she was familiar; so he
said that very important business called him at once to Boston, a city
where he had few acquaintances. Zell reluctantly acquiesced in this
further journey.

They jaunted about in the North and West through the summer and
autumn, and now have but recently returned to New York.

With a wild terror she saw that his passion for her was waning.
Therefore, her reproaches and threats became at times almost terrific,
and again her servile entreaties were even more pitiable and dreadful,
in view of what a true wife's position and right ought to be. He,
wearying of her fierce and alternating moods, and selfishly thinking
of his own ease and comfort, as was ever the case, had resolved to
throw her off at the first opportunity.

But retribution for both was near. The smallpox was almost epidemic in
the city: Zell's silk had swept against a beggar's infected rags, and
fourteen days later appeared the fatal symptoms.

And truly she is weary and heart-sick this afternoon. She never
remembered feeling so ill. The thought of death appalled her. She
felt, as never before, that she wanted some one to love and take care
of her.

Van Dam entered, and said, rather roughly:

"What's the matter?"

"I'm sick," said Zell, faintly.

He muttered an oath.

She arose from the sofa and tottered to his easy-chair, knelt, and
clasped his knees.

"Guilliam," she pleaded, "I am very sick. I have a feeling that I
shall die. Won't you marry me? Won't you take care of your poor little
Zell, that loved you so well as to leave all for you? Perhaps I
sha'n't burden you much longer, but, if I do get well, I will be your
patient slave, if you will only marry me;" and the tears poured over
the hot, feverish cheeks, that they could not cool.

His only reply was to ask, with some irritation:

"How do you feel?"

"Oh, my head aches, my bones ache, every part of my body aches, but my
heart aches worst of all. You can ease that, Guilliam. In the name of
God's mercy, won't you?"

A sudden thought caused the coward's face to grow white with fear. "I
must have a doctor see you," was his only reply to her appeal, and he
passed hastily out.

Zell felt that a blow would have been better than his indifference,
and she crawled back to her couch. A little later, she was conscious
that a physician was feeling her pulse, and examining her symptoms.
After he was gone she had strength enough to take off her jewelry and
rings--all, save one solitaire diamond, that her father had given her.
The rest seemed to oppress her with their weight. She then threw
herself on the bed.

She was next conscious that some one was lifting her up. She roused
for a moment, and stared around. There were several strange faces.

"What do you want? What are you going to do with me?" she asked, in a
thick voice, and in vague terror.

"I am sorry, miss," said one of the men, in an official tone; "but you
have the smallpox, and we must take you to the hospital."

She gave one shriek of horror. A hand was placed over her mouth. She
murmured faintly:

"Guilliam--help!" and then, under the effects of disease and fear,
became partially unconscious; but her hand clenched, and with some
instinct hard to understand, remained so, over the diamond ring that
was her father's gift.

She was conscious of riding in something hard over the stony street,
for the jolting hurt her cruelly. She was conscious of the sound of
water, for she tried to throw herself into it, that it might cool her
fever. She was conscious of reaching some place, and then she felt as
if she had no rest for many days, and yet was not awake. But through
it all she kept her hand closed on her father's gift. At times it
seemed to her that some one was trying to take it off, but she
instinctively struggled and cried out, and the hand was withdrawn.

At last one night she seemed to wake and come to herself. She opened
her eyes and looked timidly around the dim ward. All was strange and
unaccountable. She feared that she was in another world. But as she
raised her hand to her head, as if to clear away the mist of
uncertainty, a sparkle from the diamond caught her eye. For a long
time she stared vacantly at it, with the weak, vague feeling that in
some sense it might be a clew. Its faint lustre was like the glimmer
of a star through a rift in the clouds to a lost traveller. Its
familiar light and position remind him of home, and by its ray he
guesses in what direction to move; so the crystallized light upon her
finger threw its faint glimmer into the past, and by its help Zell's
weak mind groped its way down from the hour it was given to the moment
when she became partially unconscious in Van Dam's apartments. But the
word smallpox was burned into her brain, and she surmised that she was
in a hospital.

At last a woman passed. Zell feebly called her.

"What do you want?" said a rather gruff voice.

"I want to write a letter."

"You can't. It's against the rules."

"I must," pleaded Zell. "Oh, as you are a woman, and hope in God's
mercy, don't refuse me."

"Can't break the rules," said the woman, and she was about to pass on.

"Stop!" said Zell, in a whisper. "See there," and she flashed the
diamond upon her. "I'll give you that if you'll promise before God to
send a letter for me. It would take you many months to earn the value
of that."

The woman was a part of the city government, so she acted
characteristically. She brought Zell writing materials and a bit of
candle, saying:

"Be quick!"

With her poor, stiff, diseased hand, Zell wrote:

"Guilliam--You cannot know where I am. You cannot know what has
happened. You could not be such a fiend as to cast me off and send me
here to die--and die I shall. The edge of the grave seems crumbling
under me as I write. If you have a spark of love for me, come and see
me before I die. Oh, Guilliam, Guilliam! what a heaven of a home I
would have made you, if you had only married me! It would have been my
whole life to make you happy. I said bitter words to you--forgive
them. We both have sinned--can God forgive us? I will not believe you
know what has happened. You are grieving for me--looking for me. They
took me away while you were gone. Come and see me before I die. Good-by, I'm writing in the dark--I'm dying in the dark--my soul is in the
dark--I'm going away in the dark--where, O God, where?
      "Your poor little Zell.
      "Smallpox Hospital (I don't know date)."

Poor, poor Zell! As in the case of a tempest-tossed one of old, "sun,
moon, and stars" had long been hidden.

Almost fainting with weakness, she sealed and directed the letter,
drew off the ring, pressed it to her lips, and then turned her eyes,
unnaturally large and bright, on the woman waiting at her side, and
said:

"Look at me! Promise me you will see that this letter is delivered.
Remember, I am going to die. If you ever hope for an hour's peace,
promise!"

"I promise," said the woman solemnly, for she was as superstitious as
avaricious, and though she had no hesitancy in breaking the rules and
taking a bribe, she would not have dared for her life to have risked
treachery to a girl whom she believed dying.

Zell gave her the ring and the letter, and sank back for the time
unconscious.

The woman had her means of communication with the city, and before
many hours elapsed the letter was on its way.

Van Dam was in a state of nervous fear till the fourteen days passed,
and then he felt that he was safe. He had his rooms thoroughly
fumigated, and was reassured by his physicians saying daily: "There
was not much danger of her giving you the disease in its first stage.
She is probably dead by this time."

But the wheels of life seemed to grow heavier and more clogged every
day. He was fast getting down to the dregs, and now almost every
pleasure palled upon his jaded taste. At one time it seemed that Zell
might so infuse her vigorous young life and vivacity into his waning
years that his last days would be his best. And this might have been
the case, if he had reformed his evil life and dealt with her as a
true man. In her strong and exceptional love, considering their
difference in age, there were great possibilities of good for both.
But he had foully perverted the last best gift of his life, and even
his blunted moral sense was awakening to the truth.

"Curse it all," he muttered, late one morning, "perhaps I had better
have married her. I hoped so much from her, and she has been nothing
but a source of trouble and danger. I wonder if she is dead."

He had been out very late the night before, and had played heavily,
but not with his usual skill. He had kept muttering grim oaths against
his luck, and drinking deeper and deeper till a friend had half forced
him away. And now, much shaken by the night's debauch, depressed by
his heavy losses, conscience, that crouches like a tiger in every bad
man's soul, and waits to rush from its lair and rend, in the long
hours--the long _eternity_ of weakness and memory--already had its
fangs in his guilty heart.

Long and bitterly he thought, with a frown resting like night on his
heavy brow. The servant brought him a dainty breakfast, but he
sullenly motioned it away. He had wronged his digestive powers so
greatly the night before that even brandy was repugnant to him, and he
leaned heavily and wearily back in his chair, a prey to remorse.

He was in just the right physical condition to take a contagious
disease.

There was a knock at the door, and the servant entered, bringing him a
letter, saying, "This was just left here for ye, sir."

"A dun," thought he, languidly, and he laid it unopened on the stand
beside him.

It was; and from one whom he owed a reparation he could never make,
though he paid with his life.

With his eyes closed, he still leaned back in a dull, painful
lethargy. A faint, disagreeable odor gradually pervaded the room, and
at last attracted his attention. The luxurious sybarite could not help
the stings of conscience, the odor he might. He grew restless, and
looked around.

Zell's letter caught his attention. "Might as well see who it's from,"
he muttered. Weakness, pain, and emotion had so changed Zell's
familiar hand, that he did not recognize it.

But, as he opened and read, his eyes dilated with horror. It seemed
like a dead hand grasping him out of the darkness. But a dreadful
fascination compelled him to read every line, and re-read them, till
they seemed burned into his memory. At last, by a desperate effort, he
broke the strong spell her words had placed upon him, and, starting
up, exclaimed:

"Go to her, in that pest-house! I would see her dead a thousand times
first. I hope she is dead, for she is the torment of my life. What is
it that smells so queer?"

His eyes again rested on the letter. A suspicion crossed his mind. He
carried the letter to his nose, and then started violently, uttering
awful oaths.

"She has sent the contagion directly to me," he groaned, and he threw
poor Zell's appeal on the grate. It burned with a faint, sickly odor.
Then, as the day was raw and windy, a sudden gust down the chimney
blew it all out into the room, and scattered it in ashes, like Zell's
hopes, around his feet.

A superstitious horror that made his flesh creep and hair rise took
possession of him, and hastily gathering a few necessary things, he
rushed out into the chill air, and made his way to a large hotel. He
wanted to be in a crowd. He wanted the hard, material world's noise
and bustle around him. He wanted to hear men talking about gold and
stocks, and the gossip of the town-anything that would make living on
seem a natural, possible matter of course.

But men's voices sounded strange and unfamiliar, and the real world
seemed like that which mocks us in our dreams. Mingling with all he
saw and heard were Zell's despairing looks and Zell's despairing
words. He wrapped himself in his great coat, he drank frequent and
fiery potations, he hovered around the registers, but nothing could
take away the chill at his heart. He tossed feverishly all night. His
sudden exposure to the raw wind in his heated, excited condition
caused a severe cold. But he would not give up. He dared not stay
alone in his room, and so crept down to the public haunts of the
hotel. But his flushed cheeks and strange manner attracted attention.
As the days passed, he grew worse, and the proprietor of the house
said:

"You are ill, you must go to bed."

But he would not. There was nothing that he seemed to dread so much as
being alone. But the guests began to grow afraid of him. There was
general and widespread fear of the smallpox in the city, and for some
reason it began to be associated with his illness. As the suspicion
was whispered around, all shrank from him. The proprietor had him
examined at once by a physician. It was the fatal fourteenth day, and
the dreaded symptoms were apparent.

"Have you no friends, no home to which you can go?" he was asked.

"No," he groaned, while the thought pierced his soul. "She would have
made me one and taken care of me in it." But he pleaded, "For God's
sake, don't send me away."

"I must," said the proprietor, frightened himself. "The law requires
it, and your presence here would empty my house in an hour."

So, in the dusk, like poor Zell, he was smuggled down a back stairway,
and sent to the "pest-house" also, he groaning and crying with terror
all the way.

Zell did not die. Her vigorous constitution rallied, and she rapidly
regained strength. But with strength and power of thought came the
certainty to her mind of Van Barn's utter and final abandonment of
her. She felt that all the world would now be against her, and that
she would be driven from every safe and pleasant path. The thought of
taking her shame to her home was a horror to her, and she felt sure
that Edith would spurn her from the door. At first she wept bitterly
and despairingly, and wished she had died. But gradually she grew
hard, reckless, and cruel under her wrong, and her every thought of
Van Bam was a curse.

The woman who helped her to write the letter greatly startled her one
day by saying:

"There's a man in the men's ward who in his ravin' speaks of you."

"Could he, in just retribution, have been sent here also?" she
thought. Pleading relationship, she was admitted to see him. He
shuddered as he saw her advancing, with stony face and eyes in which
glared relentless hate.

"Curse you!" he muttered, feebly, with his parched lips. "Go away,
living or dead, I know not which you are; but I know it was through
you I came here!"

Her only answer was a mocking smile.

The doctor came and examined his symptoms.

"Will he get well?" she asked, following him away a short distance.

"No," said the physician. "He will die."

Her cheek blanched for a moment; but from her eyes glowed a deadly
gleam of satisfaction.

"What did he say?" whispered Van Dam.

"He says you will die," she answered, in a stony voice. "You see, I am
better than you were. You would not come to me for even one poor
moment. You left me to die alone; but I will stay and watch with you."

"Oh, go away!" groaned Van Dam.

"I couldn't be so heartless," she said, in a mocking tone. "You need
dying consolation, I want to tell you, Guilliam, what was in my mind
the night I left all for you. I did doubt you a little. That is where
I sinned; but I shall only suffer for that through all eternity," she
said, with a reckless laugh that chilled his soul. "But then, I hoped,
I felt almost sure, you would marry me; and, oh, what a heaven of a
home I purposed to make you! If you had only let even a magistrate
say, 'I pronounce you man and wife,' I would have been your patient
slave. I would have kissed away even your headaches, and had you ten
contagions, I would not have left you. I would have taken care of you
and nursed you back to life."

"Go away!" groaned Van Dam, with more energy.

"Guilliam," she said, taking his hand, which shuddered at her touch,
"we might have had a happy little home by this time. We might have
learned to live a good life in this world and have prepared for a
better one in the next. Little children might have put their soft arms
around your neck, and with their innocent kisses banished the memory
and the power of the evil past. Oh," she gasped, "how happy we might
have been, and mother, Edith, and Laura would have smiled upon us. But
what is now our condition?" she said, bitterly, her grip upon his hand
becoming hard and fierce. "You have made me a tigress. I must cower
and hide through life like a wild beast in a jungle. And you are dying
and going to hell," she hissed in his ear, "and by and by, when I get
to be an old ugly hag, I will come and torment you there forever and
forever."

"Curse you, go away," shrieked the terror-stricken man.

An attendant hastened to the spot; Zell was standing at the foot of
the cot, glaring at him.

"I thought you was a relation of his'n," said the man, roughly.

"So I am," said Zell, sternly. "As the one stung is related to the
viper that stung him," and with a withering look she passed away.

That night Van Dam died.

In process of time Zell was turned adrift in the city. She applied
vainly at stores and shops for a situation. She had no good clothes,
and appearances were against her. She had a very little money in her
portemonnaie when she was taken to the hospital. This was given to her
on leaving, and she made it go as far as possible. At last she went to
an intelligence office and sat among the others, who looked
suspiciously at her. They instinctively felt that she was not of their
sort.

"What can you do?" was the frequent question.

She did not know how to do a single thing, but thought that perhaps
the position of waitress would be the easiest.

"Where are your references?"

It was her one thought and effort to conceal all reference to the
past. At last the proprietor in pity sent her to a lady who had told
him to supply her with a waitress; the place was in Brooklyn, and Zell
was glad, for she had less fear there of seeing any one she knew.

The lady scolded bitterly about such an ignoramus being sent to her,
but Zell seemed so patient and willing that she decided to try her.
Zell gave her whole soul to the work, and though the place was a hard
one, would have eventually learned to fill it. The family were a
little surprised sometimes at her graceful movements, and the quick
gleams of intelligence in her large eyes as some remark was made
naturally beyond me in her sphere. One day they were trying to recall,
while at the table, the name of a famous singer at the opera. Before
she thought, the name was almost out of her lips. The poor girl tried
to disguise herself by assuming, as well as she could, the stolid,
stupid manner of those who usually blunder about our homes.

All might have gone well, and she have gained an honest livelihood,
had not an unforeseen circumstance revealed her past life. Those who
have done wrong are never safe. At the most unexpected time, and in
the most unexpected way, their sin may stand out before all and blast
them.

Zell's mistress had told her to make a little extra preparation for
she expected a gentleman to dine that evening. With some growing pride
and interest in her work, she had done her best, and even her mistress
said:

"Jane" (her assumed name), "you are improving," and a gleam of
something like hope and pleasure shot across the poor child's face. A
passionate sigh came up from her heart--

"Oh, I will try to do right if the world will let me."

But imagine her terror as she saw an old crony of Van Dam's enter the
room. The man recognized her in a moment, and she saw that he did. She
gave him an imploring glance, which he returned by one of cool
contempt. Zell could hardly get through the meal, and her manner
attracted attention. The cold-blooded fellow, whose soul was akin to
that of his dead friend, was considerate enough to his hostess not to
spoil her dinner or rob her of a waitress till it was over. But the
moment they returned to the parlor he told who Zell was, and how she
must have just come from the smallpox hospital.

The lady (?) was in a frenzy of rage and fear. She rushed down to
where Zell was panting with weakness and emotion, exclaiming:

"You shameful hussy, how dare you come into a respectable house, after
your loathsome life and loathsome disease?"

"Hear me," pleaded Zell; "the doctor said there was no danger, and I
want to do what is right."

"I don't believe a word you say. I wouldn't trust you a minute. How
much you have stolen now it will be hard to tell, and I shouldn't
wonder if we all had the smallpox. Leave the house instantly."

"Oh, please give me a chance," cried Zell, on her knees. "Indeed, I am
honest. I'll work for you for nothing, if you will let me stay."

"Leave instantly, or I will call for a policeman."

"Then pay me my week's wages," sobbed Zell.

"I won't pay you a cent, you brazen creature. You didn't know how to
do anything, and have been a torment ever since you came. I might have
known there was something wrong. Now go, take your old, pest-infected
rags out of my house, or I will have you sent to where you properly
belong. Thank Heaven, I have found you out."

A sudden change came over Zell. She sprang up, and a scowl black as
night darkened her face.

"What has Heaven to do with your sending a poor girl out into the
night, I would like to know?" she asked, in a harsh, grating voice; "I
wouldn't do it. Therefore, I am better than you are. Heaven has
nothing to do with either you or me;" and she looked so dark and
dangerous that her mistress was frightened, and ran up to the parlor,
exclaiming:

"She's an awful creature. I'm afraid of her."

Then that manly being, her husband, towered up in his wrath, saying,
majestically, "I guess I'm master in my own house yet."

He showed poor Zell the door. Her laugh rang out recklessly, as she
called--

"Good-by. May the pleasant thought that you have sent one more soul to
perdition lull you to sweet sleep."

But, for some reason, it did not. When they became cool enough to
think it over, they admitted that perhaps they had been a "little
hasty."

They had a daughter of about Zell's age. It would be a little hard if
any one should treat her so.

Zell had scarcely more than enough to pay her way to New York. It
seemed that people ought to stretch out their hands to shield her, but
they only jostled her in their haste. As she stood, with her bundle,
in the ferry entrance on the New York side, undecided where to go, a
man ran against her in his hurry.

"Get out of the way," he said, irritably.

She moved out one side into the darkness, and with a pallid face said:

"Yes, it has come to this. I must 'get out of the way' of all decent
people. There is the river on one side. There are the streets on the
other. Which shall it be?"

"Oh! it was pitiful,
 Near a whole city full,"

that no hand was stretched to her aid.

She shuddered. "I can't, I dare not die yet. It must be a little
easier here than there, where he is."

Her face became like stone. She went straight to a liquor saloon, and
drank deep of that spirit that Shakespeare called "devil," in order to
drown thought, fear, memory--every vestige of the woman.

Then--the depths of the gulf that Laura shrank from with a dread
stronger than her love of life.



CHAPTER XXXII

EDITH BRINGS THE WANDERER HOME



Mrs. Lacey and Arden, at last, in the stress of their poverty, gave
their consent that Rose should go to the city and try to find
employment in a store as a shop-girl. Mrs. Glibe, her dressmaking
friend, went with her, and though they could obtain no situation the
first day, one of Mrs. Glibe's acquaintances directed Rose where she
could find a respectable boarding-house, from which, as her home, she
could continue her inquiries. Leaving her there, Mrs. Glibe returned.

Rose, with a hope and courage not easily dampened, continued her
search the next day, and for several days following. The fall trade
had not fairly commenced, and there seemed no demand for more help.
She had thirty dollars with which to start life, but a week of
idleness took seven of this.

At last her fine appearance and sprightly manner induced the
proprietor of a large establishment to put her in the place of a girl
discharged that day, with the wages of six dollars a week.

"We give but three or four, as a general thing, to beginners," he
said.

Rose was grateful for the place, and yet almost dismayed at the
prospect before her. How could she live on six dollars? The bright-colored dreams of city life were fast melting away before the hard,
and in some instances revolting, facts of her experience. She could
have obtained situations in two or three instances at better wages, if
she had assented to conditions that sent her hastily into the street
with burning blushes and indignant tears. She knew the great city was
full of wickedness, but this rude contact with it appalled her.

After finding what she had to live on, she exchanged her somewhat
comfortable room, where she could have a fire, for a cold, cheerless
attic closet in the same house. "As I learn the business, they will
give more," she thought, and the idea of going home penniless, to be
laughed at by Mrs. Glibe, Miss Klip, and others was almost as bitter a
prospect to her proud spirit as being a burden to her impoverished
family, and she resolved to submit to every hardship rather than do
it. By taking the attic room she reduced her board to five dollars a
week.

"You can't get it for less, unless you go to a very common sort of a
place," said her landlady. "My house is respectable, and people must
pay a little for that."

In view of this fact, Rose determined to stay, if possible, for she
was realizing more every day how unsheltered and tempted she was.

Her fresh blond face, her breezy manner, and her wind-shaken curls
made many turn to look after her. Like some others of her sex, perhaps
she had no dislike for admiration, but in Rose's position it was often
shown by looks, manner, and even words, that, however she resented
them, followed and persecuted her.

As she grew to know her fellow-workers better, her heart sickened in
disgust at the conversation and the evident life of many of them, and
they often laughed immoderately at her greenness.

Alas for the fancied superiority of these knowing girls! They laughed
at Rose because she was so much more like what God meant a woman
should be than they. A weak-minded, shallow girl would have succumbed
to their ridicule, and soon have become like them, but high-spirited
Rose only despised them, and gradually sought out and found some
companionship with those of the better sort in the large store. But
there seemed so much hollowness and falsehood on every side that she
hardly knew whom to trust.

Poor Rose was quite sick of making a career for herself alone in the
city, and her money was getting very low. Shop life was hard on
clothes, and she was compelled by the rules of the store to dress
well, and was only too fond of dress herself. So, instead of getting
money ahead, she at last was reduced to her wages as support, and
nothing was said of their being raised, and she was advised to say
nothing about any increase. Then she had a week's sickness, and this
brought her in debt to her landlady.

Several times during her evening walks home Rose noticed a dark face
and two vivid black eyes, that seemed watching her; but as soon as
observed, the face vanished. It haunted her with its suggestion of
some one seen before.

She went back to her work too soon after her illness, and had a
relapse. Her respectable landlady was a woman of system and rules.
From long experience, she foresaw that her poor lodger would grow only
more and more deeply in her debt. Perhaps we can hardly blame her. It
was by no easy effort that she made ends meet as it was. She had an
application for Rose's little room from one who gave more prospect of
being able to pay, so she quietly told the poor girl to vacate it.
Rose pleaded to stay, but the woman was inexorable. She had passed
through such scenes so often that they had become only one of the
disagreeable phases of her business.

"Why, child," she said, "if I did not live up to my rule in this
respect, I'd soon be out of house and home myself. You can leave your
things here till you find some other place."

So poor Rose, weak through her sickness, more weak through terror,
found herself out in the streets of the great city, utterly penniless.
She was so unfamiliar with it that she did not know where to go, or to
whom to apply. It was her purpose to find a cheaper boarding-house.
She went down toward the meaner and poorer part of the city, and
stopped at the low stoop of a house where there was a sign, "Rooms to
let."

She was about to enter, when a hand was laid sharply on her arm, and
some one said:

"Don't go there. Come with me, quick!"

"Who are you?" asked Rose, startled and trembling.

"One who can help you now, whatever I am," was the answer. "I know you
well, and all about you. You are Hose Lacey, and you did live in
Pushton. Come with me, quick, and I will take you to a Christian lady
whom you can trust. Come."

Rose, in her trouble and perplexity, concluded to follow her. They
soon made their way to quite a respectable street, and rang the bell
at the door of a plain, comfortable-appearing house.

A cheery, stout, middle-aged lady opened it. She looked at Rose's new
friend, and reproachfully shook her finger at her, saying:

"Naughty Zell, why did you leave the Home?"

"Because I am possessed by a restless devil," was the strange answer.
"Besides, I can do more good in the streets than there. I have just
saved her" (pointing to Rose, who at once surmised that this was Zell
Allen, though so changed that she would not have known her). "Now,"
continued Zell, thrusting some money into Rose's hand, "take this and
go home at once. Tell her, Mrs. Ranger, that this city is no place for
her."

"If you have friends and a home to go to, it's the very best thing you
can do," said the lady.

"But my friends are poor," sobbed Rose.

"No matter, go to them," said Zell, almost fiercely. "I tell you there
is no place for you here, unless you wish to go to perdition. Go home,
where you are known. Scrub, delve, do anything rather than stay here.
Your big brother can and will take care of you, though he does look so
cross."

"She is right, my child; you had better go at once," said the lady,
decidedly.

"Who are you?" asked Rose of the latter speaker, with some curiosity.

"I am a city missionary," answered the lady, quietly, "and it is my
business to help such poor girls as you are. I say to you from full
knowledge, and in all sincerity, to go home is the very best thing
that you can do."

"But why is there not a chance for a poor, well-meaning girl to earn
an honest living in this great city?"

"Thousands are earning such a living, but there is not one chance in a
hundred for you."

"Why?" asked Rose, hotly,

"Do you see all these houses? They are full of people," continued Mrs.
Ranger, "and some of them contain many families. In these families
there are thousands of girls who have a home, a shelter, and
protectors here in the city. They have society in relatives and
neighbors. They have no board to pay, and fathers and mothers,
brothers and sisters, helping support them. They put all their
earnings into a common fund, and it supports the family. Such girls
can afford, and will work for two, three, four, and five dollars a
week. All that they earn makes the burden so much less on the father,
who otherwise would have supported them in idleness. Now, a homeless
stranger in the city must pay board, and therefore they can't compete
with those who live here. Wages are kept too low. Not one in a
hundred, situated as you are, can earn enough to pay board and dress
as they are required to in the fashionable stores. Have you been
able?"

"No," groaned Rose. "I am in debt to my landlady now, and I had some
money to start with."

"There it is," said Mrs. Ranger, sadly; "the same old story."

"But these stores ought to pay more," said Rose, indignantly.

"They will only pay for labor, as for everything else, the market
price, and that averages but six dollars a week, and more are working
for from three to five than for six. As I told you, there are
thousands of girls living in the city glad to get a chance at any
price."

Rose gave a weary, discouraged sigh and said, "I fear you are right, I
must go home. Indeed, after what has happened I hardly dare stay."

"Go," said Zell, "as if you were leaving Sodom, and don't look back."
Then she asked, with a wistful, hungry look, "Have you see any of--?"
She stopped--she could not speak the names of her kindred.

"Yes," said Rose, gently. (Yesterday she would have stood coldly aloof
from Zell. To-day she was very grateful and full of sympathy.) "I know
they are well. They were all sick after--after you went away. But they
got well again, and (lowering her voice) Edith prays for you night and
day."

"Oh! oh!" sobbed Zell, "this is torment, this is to see the heaven I
cannot enter," and she dashed away.

"Poor child!" said Mrs. Ranger, "there's an angel in her yet if I only
knew how to bring it out. I may see her to-morrow, and I may not for
weeks. Take the money she left with you, and here is some more. It may
help her, to think that she helped you. And now, my dear, let me see
you safely on your way home."

That night the stage left Rose at the poor dilapidated little
farmhouse, and in her mother's close embrace she felt the blessedness
of the home shelter, however poor, and the protecting love of kindred,
however plain.

"Arden is away," said the quiet woman of few words. "He is home only
twice a month. He has a job of cutting and carting wood a good way
from here. We are so poor this winter he had to take this chance. Your
father is doing better. I hope for him, though with fear and
trembling."

Then Rose told her mother her experience and how she had been saved by
Zell, and the poor woman clasped her daughter to her breast again and
again, and with streaming eyes raised toward heaven, poured out her
gratitude to God.

"Rose," said she, with a shudder, "if I had not prayed so for you
night and day, perhaps you would not have found such friends in your
time of need. Oh! let us both pray for that poor lost one, that she
may be saved also."

From this day forth Rose began to pray the true prayer of pity, and
then the true prayer of a personal faith. The rude, evil world had
shown her her own and others' need, in a way that made her feel that
she wanted the Heavenly Father's care.

In other respects she took up her life for a time where she had left
it a few months before.

Edith was deeply moved at Rose's story, and Zell's wild, wayward steps
were followed by prayers, as by a throng of reclaiming angels.

"I would go and bring her home in a moment, if I only knew where to
find her," said Edith.

"Mrs. Ranger said she would write as soon as there was any chance of
your doing so," said Rose.

About the middle of January a letter came to Edith as follows:

"Miss Edith Allen--Your sister, Zell, is in Bellevue Hospital,
Ward --. Come quickly; she is very ill."

Edith took the earliest train, and was soon following an attendant,
with eager steps, down the long ward. They came to a dark-eyed girl
that was evidently dying, and Edith closed her eyes with a chill of
fear. A second glance showed that it was not Zell, and a little
further on she saw the face of her sister, but so changed! Oh! the
havoc that sin and wretchedness had made in that beautiful creature
during a few short months! She was in a state of unconscious,
muttering delirium, and Edith showered kisses on the poor, parched
lips; her tears fell like rain on the thin, flushed face. Zell
suddenly cried, with the girlish voice of old:

"Hurrah, hurrah! books to the shades; no more teachers and tyrants for
me."

She was living over the old life, with its old, fatal tendencies.

Edith sat down, and sobbed as if her heart would break. Unnoticed, a
stout, elderly lady was regarding her with eyes wet with sympathy. As
Edith's grief subsided somewhat she laid her hand on the poor girl's
shoulder, saying:

"My child, I feel very sorry for you. For some reason I can't pass on
and leave you alone in your sorrow, though we are total strangers.
Your trouble gives you a sacred claim upon me. What can I do for you?"

Edith looked up through her tears, and saw a kind, motherly face, with
a halo of gray curls around it. With woman's intuition she trusted her
instantly, and, with another rush of tears, said:

"This is--my--poor lost-sister. I've--just found her."

"Ah!" said the lady, significantly, "God pity you both."

"Were it not--for Him," sobbed Edith, with her hand upon her aching
heart, "I believe--I should die."

The lady sat down by her, and took her hand, saying, "I will stay with
you, dear, till you feel better."

Gradually and delicately she drew from Edith her story, and her large
heart yearned over the two girls in the sincerest sympathy.

"I was not personally acquainted with your father and mother, but I
know well who they were," she said. "And now, my child, you cannot
remain here much longer; where are you going to stay?"

"I haven't thought," said Edith, sadly.

"I have," replied the lady, heartily; "I am going to take you home
with me. We don't live very far away, and you can come and see your
sister as often as you choose, within the limits of the rules."

"Oh!" exclaimed Edith, deprecatingly, "I am not fit--I have no claim."

"My child," said the lady, gently, "don't you remember what our Master
said, 'I was a stranger and ye took me in'? Is He not fit to enter my
house? Has He no claim? In taking you home I am taking Him home, and
so I shall be happy and honored in your presence. Moreover, my dear,
from what I have seen and heard, I am sure I shall love you for your
own sake."

Edith looked at her through grateful tears, and said, "It has seemed
to me that Jesus has been comforting me all the time through your
lips. How beautiful Christianity is, when it is lived out. I will go
to your house as if it were His."

Then she turned and pressed a loving kiss on Zell's unconscious face,
but her wonder was past words when the lady stooped down also, and
kissed the "woman which was a sinner." She seized her hand with both
of hers and faltered:

"You don't despise and shrink from her, then?"

"Despise her! no," said the noble woman. "I have never been tempted as
this poor child has. God does not despise her. What am I?"

From that moment Edith could have kissed her feet, and feeling that
God had sent His angel to take care of her, she followed the lady from
the hospital. A plain but elegantly-liveried carriage was waiting, and
they were driven rapidly to one of the stateliest palaces on Fifth
Avenue. As they crossed the marble threshold, the lady turned and
said:

"Pardon me, my dear, my name is Mrs. Hart. This is your home now as
truly as mine while you are with us," and Edith was shown to a room
replete with luxurious comfort, and told to rest till the six o'clock
dinner.

With some timidity and fear she came down to meet the others. As she
entered she saw a portly man standing on the rug before the glowing
grate, with a shock of white hair, and a genial, kindly face.

"My husband," said Mrs. Hart, "this is our new friend, Miss Edith
Allen. You knew her father well in business, I am sure."

"Of course I did," said the old gentleman, taking Edith's hand in both
of his, "and a fine business man he was, too. You are welcome to our
home, Miss Edith. Look here, mother," he said, turning to his wife
with a quizzical look, and still keeping hold of Edith's hand, "you
didn't bring home an 'angel unawares' this time. I say, wife, you
won't be jealous if I take a kiss now, will you--a sort of scriptural
kiss, you know?" and he gave Edith a hearty smack that broke the ice
between them completely.

With a face like a peony, Edith said, earnestly, "I am sure the real
angels throng your home."

"Hope they do," said Mr. Hart, cheerily. "My old lady there is the
best one I have seen yet, but I am ready for all the rest. Here come
some of them," he added, as his daughters entered, and to each one he
gave a hearty kiss, counting, "one, two, three, four, five--now, 'all
present or accounted for?'"

"Yes," said his wife, laughing.

"Dinner, then," and after the young ladies had greeted Edith most
cordially, he gave her his arm, as if she had been a duchess, and
escorted her to the dining-room. After being seated, they bowed their
heads in quiet reverence, and the old man, with the voice and manner
of a child speaking to a father, thanked God for His mercies, and
invoked His blessing.

The table-talk was genial and wholesome, with now and then a sparkle
of wit, or a broad gleam of humor.

"My good wife there, Miss Edith," said Mr. Hart, with a twinkle in his
eye, "is a very sly old lady. If she does wear spectacles, she sees
with great discrimination, or else the world is growing so full of
interesting saints and sinners, that I am quite in hopes of it. Every
day she has a new story about some very good person, or some very bad
person becoming good. If you go on this way much longer, mother, the
millennium will commence before the doctors of divinity are ready for
it."

"My dear," said Mrs. Hart, with a comic aside to Edith, "my husband
has never got over being a boy. When he will become old enough to
sober down, I am sure I can't tell."

"What have I to sober me, with all these happy faces around, I should
like to know?" was the hearty retort. "I am having a better time every
day, and mean to go on so _ad infinitum_. You're a good one to talk
about sobering down, when you laugh more than any of these
youngsters."

"Well," said his wife, her substantial form quivering with merriment,
"it's because you make me."

During the meal Edith had time to observe the young ladies more
closely. They were fine-looking, and one or two of them really
beautiful. Two of them were in early girlhood yet, and there was not a
vestige of the vanity and affectation often seen in those of their
position. They evidently had wide diversities of character, and
faults, but there were the simplicity and sincerity about them which
make the difference between a chaste piece of marble and a painted
block of wood. She saw about her a house as rich and costly in its
appointments as her own old home had been, but it was not so crowded
or pronounced in its furnishing and decoration. There were fewer
pictures, but finer ones; and in all matters of art, French taste was
not prominent, as had been the case in her home.

The next day she sat by unconscious Zell as long as was permitted, and
wrote fully to Laura.

The dark-eyed girl that seemed dying the day before was gone.

"Did she die?" she asked of an attendant.

"Yes."

"What did they do with her?"

"Buried her in Potter's Field."

Edith shuddered. "It would have been Zell's end," she thought, "if I
hadn't found her, and she had died here alone."

That evening Mrs. Hart, as they all sat in her own private parlor,
said to her daughters:

"Girls, away with you. I can't move a step without stumbling over one
of you. You are always crowding into my sanctum, as if there was not
an inch of room for you anywhere else. Vanish. I want to talk to
Edith."

"It's your own fault that we crowd in here, mother," said the eldest.
"You are the loadstone that draws us."

"I'll get a lot of stones to throw at you and drive you out with,"
said the old lady, with mock severity.

The youngest daughter precipitated herself on her mother's neck,
exclaiming:

"Wouldn't that be fun, to see jolly old mother throwing stones at us.
She would wrap them in eider-down first."

"Scamper; the whole bevy of you," said the old lady, laughing; and
Edith, with a sigh, contrasted this "mother's room" with the one which
she and her sisters shunned as the place where their "teeth were set
on edge."

"My dear," said Mrs. Hart, her face becoming grave and troubled,
"there is one thing in my Christian work that discourages me. We
reclaim so few of the poor girls that have gone astray. I understand,
from Mrs. Ranger, that your sister was at the Home, but that she left
it. How can we accomplish more? We do everything we can for them."

"I don't think earthly remedies can meet their case," said Edith, in a
low tone.

"I agree with you," said Mrs. Hart, earnestly, "but we do give them
religious instruction."

"I don't think religious instruction is sufficient," Edith answered.
"They need a Saviour."

"But we do tell them about Jesus."

"Not always in a way that they understand, I fear," said Edith, sadly.
"I have heard people tell about Him as they would about Socrates, or
Moses, or Paul. We don't need facts about Him so much as Jesus
Himself. In olden times people did not go to their sick and troubled
friends and tell them that Jesus was in Capernaum, and that He was a
great deliverer. They brought the poor, helpless creatures right to
Him. They laid them right at the feet of a personal Saviour, and He
helped them. Do we do this? I have thought a great deal about it,"
continued Edith, "and it seems to me that more associate the ideas of
duty, restraint, and almost impossible effort with Him, than the ideas
of help and sympathy. It was so with me, I know, at first."

"Perhaps you are right," said Mrs. Hart thoughtfully. "The poor
creatures to whom I referred seemed more afraid of God than anything
else."

"And yet, of all that ever lived, Jesus was the most tender toward
them--the most ready to forgive and save. Believe me, Mrs. Hart, there
was more gospel in the kiss you gave my sister--there was more of
Jesus Christ in it, than in all the sermons ever written, and I am
sure that if she had been conscious, it would have saved her. They
must, as it were, _feel_ the hand of love and power that lifted
Peter out of the ingulfing waves. The idea of duty and sturdy self-restraint is perhaps too much emphasized, while they, poor things, are
weak as water. They are so 'lost' that He must just 'seek and save'
them, as He said--lift them up--keep them up almost in spite of
themselves. Saved--that is the word, as the limp, helpless form is
dragged out of danger. On account of my sister I have thought a good
deal about this subject, and there seems to me to be no remedy for
this class, save in the merciful, patient, personal Saviour. He had
wonderful power over them when He was on earth, and He would have the
same now, if His people could make them understand Him."

"I think few of us understand this personal Saviour ourselves as we
ought," said Mrs. Hart, somewhat unveiling her own experience. "The
Romish Church puts the Virgin, saints, penances, and I know not what,
between the sinner and Jesus, and we put catechisms, doctrines, and a
great mass of truth about them, between Him and us. I doubt whether
many of us, like the beloved disciple, have leaned our heads on His
heart of love, and felt its throbs. Too much of the time He seems in
Heaven to me, not here."

"I never had much religious instruction," said Edith, simply. "I found
Him in the New Testament, as people of old found Him in Palestine, and
I went to Him, just as I was, and He has been such a Friend and
Helper. He lets me sit at His feet like Mary, and the words He spoke
seem said directly to poor little me."

Wistful tears came into Mrs. Hart's eyes, and she kissed Edith,
saying:

"I have been a Christian forty years, my child, but you are nearer to
Him than I am. Stay close to His side. This talk has done me more good
than I imagined possible."

"If I seem nearer," said Edith, gently, "isn't it, perhaps, because I
am weaker than you are? His 'sheep follow' Him, but isn't there some
place in the Bible about his 'carrying the lambs in His bosom'? I
think we shall find at last that He was nearer to us all than we
thought, and that His arm of love was around us all the time."

In a sudden, strong impulse, Mrs. Hart embraced Edith, and, looking
upward, exclaimed:

"Truly 'Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast
revealed them unto babes.' As my husband said, I am entertaining a
good angel."

The physician gave Edith great encouragement about Zell, and told her
that in two weeks he thought she might be moved. The fever was taking
a light form.

One evening, after listening to some superb music from Annie, the
second daughter, between whom and Edith quite an affinity seemed to
develop itself, the latter said:

"How finely you play! I think you are wonderful for an amateur."

"I am not an amateur," replied Annie, laughing. "Music is my
profession."

"I don't understand," said Edith.

"Father has made me study music as a science," explained Annie.
"I could teach it to-morrow. All of us girls are to have a profession.
Ella, my eldest sister, is studying drawing and painting. Here is a
portfolio of her sketches."

Even Edith's unskilled eyes could see that she had made great
proficiency.

"Ella could teach drawing and coloring at once," continued Annie, "for
she has studied the rules and principles very carefully, and given
great attention to the rudiments of art, instead of having a teacher
help her paint a few show-pictures. But I know very little about it,
for I haven't much taste that way. Father has us educated according to
our tastes; that is, if we show a little talent for any one thing, he
has us try to perfect ourselves in that one thing. Julia is the
linguist, and can jabber French and German like natives. Father also
insisted on our being taught the common English branches very
thoroughly, and he says he could get us situations to teach within a
month, if it were necessary."

Edith sighed deeply as she thought how superficial their education had
been, but she said rather slyly to Annie, "But you are engaged. I
think your husband will veto the music-teaching."

"Oh, well," said Annie, laughing, "Walter may fail, or get sick, or
something may happen. So you see we shouldn't have to go to the poor-house. Besides, there's a sort of satisfaction in knowing one thing
pretty well. But the half is not told you, and I suppose you will
think father and mother queer people; indeed, most of our friends do.
For mother has had a milliner come to the house, and a dressmaker, and
a hair-dresser, and whatever we have any knack at she has made us
learn well, some one thing, and some another. Wouldn't I like to dress
your long hair!" continued the light-hearted girl. "I would make you
so bewitching that you would break a dozen hearts in one evening. Then
mother has taught us how to cook, and to make bread and cake and
preserves, and Ella and I have to take turns in keeping house, and
marketing, and keeping account of the living expenses. The rest of the
girls are at school yet. Mother says she is not going to palm off any
frauds in her daughters when they get married; and if we only turn out
half as good as she is, our husbands will be lucky men, if I do say
it; and if all of us don't get any, we can take care of ourselves.
Father has been holding you up as an example of what a girl can do, if
she has to make her own way in the world."

And the sprightly, but sensible, girl would have rattled on
indefinitely, had not Edith fled to her room in an uncontrollable rush
of sorrow over the sad, sad, "It might have been."

One afternoon Annie came into Edith's room, saying, "I am going to
dress your hair. Yes, I will--now don't say a word, I want to. We
expect two or three friends in--one you'll be glad to see. No, I
won't tell you who it is. It's a surprise." And she flew at Edith's
head, pulled out the hairpins, and went to work with a dexterity and
rapidity that did credit to her training. In a little while she had
crowned Edith with nature's most exquisite coronet.

A cloud of care seemed to rest on Mr. Hart's brow as they entered the
dining-room, but he banished it instantly, and with the quaint,
stately gallantry of the old school, pretended to be deeply smitten
with Edith's loveliness. And so lovely she appeared that their eyes
continually returned, and rested admiringly on her, till at last the
blushing girl remonstrated:

"You all keep looking at me so that I feel as if I were the dessert,
and you were going to eat me up pretty soon."

"I speak for the biggest bite," cried Mr. Hart, and they laughed at
her and petted her so that she said:

"I feel as if I had known you all ten years."

But ever and anon, Edith saw traces of the cloud of care that she had
noticed at first. And so did Mrs. Hart, for she said:

"You have been a little anxious about business lately. Is there
anything new?"

"No," said Mr. Hart, who, in contrast to Mr. Allen, talked business to
his family; "things are only growing a little worse. There have been
one or two bad failures today. The worst of it all is, there seems a
general lack of confidence. No one knows what is going to happen. One
feels as if in a thunder-shower. The lightning may strike him, and it
may fall somewhere else. But don't worry, good mother, I am as safe as
a man can be. I have a round million in my safe ready for an
emergency."

The wife knew just where her husband stood that night.

At nine o'clock, Edith was talking earnestly with Mrs. Ranger, whom
she had expressed a wish to see. There were a few other people present
of the very highest social standing, and intimate friends of the
family, for her kind entertainers would not expose her to any strange
and unsympathetic eyes. Annie was flitting about, the very spirit of
innocent mischief and match-making, gloating over the pleasure she
expected to give Edith. The bell rang, and a moment later she
marshalled in Gus Elliot, as handsome and exquisitely dressed as ever.
He was as much in the dark as to whom he should see as Edith. Some one
had told Annie of his former devotedness to Edith, and so she
innocently meant to do both a kindness. Having a slight acquaintance
with Elliot, as a general society man, she invited him this evening to
"meet an old friend." He gladly accepted, feeling it a great honor to
visit at the Harts'.

He saw Edith a moment before she observed him, and had time to note
her exquisite beauty. But he turned pale with fear and anxiety in
regard to his reception.

Then she raised her eyes and saw him. The blood rushed in a hot
torrent to her face, and then left it in extreme pallor. Gus advanced
with all the ease and grace that he could command under the
circumstances, and held out his hand. "She cannot refer to the past
here before them all," he thought.

But Edith rose slowly, and fixed her large eyes, that glowed like
coals of fire, sternly upon him, and put her hand behind her back.

All held their breath in awe-struck expectation. She seemed to see
only him and the past, and to forget all the rest.

"No, sir," she said, in a low, deep voice, that curdled Gus's blood,
"I cannot take your hand. I might in pity, if you were in the depths
of poverty and trouble, as I have been, but not here and thus. Do you
know where my sister is?"

"No," faltered Gus, his knees trembling under him.

"She is in Bellevue Hospital. A poor girl was carried thence to
Potter's Field a day or two since. She might have been if I had not
found her. And," continued Edith, with her face darkening like night,
and her tone deepening till it sent a thrill of dread to the hearts of
all present, "_in_ Potter's Field _I_ might now have been if I had
listened to you."

Gus trembled before her in a way that plainly confirmed her words.

With a grand dignity she turned to Mrs. Hart, saying, "Please excuse
my absence; I cannot breathe the same air with him," and she was about
to sweep from the parlor like an incensed goddess, when Mr. Hart
sprang up, his eyes blazing with anger, and putting his arm around
Edith, said, sternly:

"I would shield this dear girl as my own daughter. Leave this house,
and never cross my threshold again."

Gus slunk away without a word. As the guilty will be at last, he was
"speechless." So, in a moment, when least expecting it, he fell from
his heaven, which was society: for the news of his baseness spread
like wildfire, and within a week every respectable door was closed
against him.

Is it cynical to say that the well-known and widely-honored Mr. Hart,
in closing his door, had influence as well as Gus's sin, in leading
some to close theirs? Motives in society are a little mixed,
sometimes.

Mr. Hart went down town the next morning, a little anxious, it is
true, on general principles, but not in the least apprehensive of any
disaster. "I may have to pay out a few hundred thousand," he thought,
"but that won't trouble me."

But the bolt of financial suspicion was directed toward him; how, he
could not tell. Within half an hour after opening, checks for twelve
hundred thousand were presented at his counter. He telegraphed to his
wife, "A run upon me." Later, "Danger!" Then came the words to the
uptown palace, "Have suspended!" In the afternoon, "The storm will
sweep me bare, but courage, God, and our right hands, will make a
place and a way for us."

The business community sympathized deeply with Mr. Hart. Hard, cool
men of Wall Street came in, and, with eyes moist with sympathy, wrung
his hand. He stood up through the wild tumult, calm, dignified,
heroic, because conscious of rectitude.

"The shrinkage in securities will be great, I fear," he said, "but I
think my assets will cover all liabilities. We will give up
everything."

When he came up home in the evening, he looked worn, and much older
than in the morning, but his wife and daughters seemed to envelop him
in an atmosphere of love and sympathy. They were so strong, cheerful,
hopeful, that they infused their courage into him. Annie ran to the
piano, and played as if inspired, saying to her father:

"Let every note tell you that we can take care of ourselves, and you
and mother too, if necessary."

The words were prophetic. The strain had been too great on Mr. Hart.
That night he had a stroke of paralysis and became helpless. But he
had trained his daughters to be the very reverse of helpless, and they
did take care of him with the most devoted love and skilled practical
energy, making the weak, brief remnant of his life not a burden, but a
peaceful evening after a glorious day. They all, except the youngest,
soon found employment, for they brought superior skill and knowledge
to the labor market, and such are ever in demand. Annie soon married
happily, and her younger sisters eventually followed her example. But
Ella, the eldest, remained single; and, though she never became
eminent as an artist, did become a very useful and respected teacher
of art, as studied in our schools for its refining influence.

To return to Edith, she felt for her kind friends almost as much as if
she were one of the family.

"Do not feel that you must go away because of what has happened," said
Mrs. Hart. "I am glad to have you with us, for you do us all good.
Indeed, you seem one of us. Stay as long as you can, dear, and God
help us both to bear our burdens."

"Dear, 'heavy-laden' Mrs. Hart," said Edith, "Jesus will bear the
burdens for us, if we will let Him."

"Bless you, child, I am sure He sent you to me."

As Edith entered the ward that day, the attendant said, "She's
herself, miss, at last."

Edith stole noiselessly to Zell's cot. She was sleeping. Edith sat
down silently and watched for her waking. At last she opened her eyes
and glanced fearfully around. Then she saw Edith, and instantly shrank
and cowered as if expecting a blow.

"Zell," said Edith, taking the poor, thin hand, "Oh, Zell, don't you
know me?"

"What are you going to do with me?" asked Zell, in a voice full of
dread.

"Take you to my home--take you to my heart--take you deeper into my
love than ever before."

"Edith," said Zell, almost cowering before her words as if they hurt
her, "I am not fit to go home."

"Oh, Zell, darling," said Edith, tenderly, "God's love does not keep a
debit and credit account with us, neither should we with each other.
Can't you see that I love you?" and she showered kisses on her
sister's now pallid face.

But Zell acted as if they were a source of pain to her, and she
muttered, "You don't know, you can't know. Don't speak of God to me, I
fear Him unspeakably."

"I do know all," said Edith, earnestly, "and I love you more fondly
than ever I did before, and God knows and loves you more still."

"I tell you you don't know," said Zell, almost fiercely. "You can't
know. If you did, you would spit on me and leave me forever. God
knows, and He has doomed me to hell, Edith," she added, in a hoarse
whisper. "I killed him--you know whom. And I promised that after I got
old and ugly I would come and torment him forever. I must keep my
promise."

Edith wept bitterly. This was worse than delirium. She saw that her
sister's nature was so bruised and perverted, so warped, that she was
almost insane. She slowly rallied back into physical strength, but her
hectic cheek and slight cough indicated the commencement of
consumption. Her mind remained in the same unnatural condition, and
she kept saying to Edith, "You don't know anything about it at all.
You can't know." She would not see Mrs. Hart, and agreed to go home
with Edith only on condition that no one should see or speak with her
outside the family.

At last the day of departure came. Mrs. Hart said, "You shall take her
to the depot in my carriage. It will be among its last and best uses."

Edith kissed her kind friend good-by, saying, "God will send his
chariot for you some day, and though you must leave this, your
beautiful home, if you could only have a glimpse into the mansion
preparing for you up there, anticipation would almost banish all
thoughts of present loss."

"Well, dear," said Mrs. Hart, with a gleam of her old humor, "I hope
your 'mansion' will be next door, for I shall want to see you often
through all eternity."

Then Edith knelt before Mr. Hart's chair, and the old man's helpless
hands were lifted upon her head, and he looked to heaven for the
blessing he could not speak.

"Our ways diverge now, but they will all meet again. Home is near to
you," she whispered in his ear as she kissed him good-by.

The old glad light shone in his eyes, the old cheery smile flitted
across his lips, and thus she left him who had been the great, rich
banker, serene, happy, and rich in a faith that could not be lost in
any financial storm, or destroyed by disease, or enfeebled by age--she
left him waiting as a little child to go home.



CHAPTER XXXIII

EDITH'S GREAT TEMPTATION



Though even Mrs. Allen was tearful and kind in her greeting, and Laura
warm and affectionate in the extreme, old Hannibal's welcome, so
frank, genuine, and innocent, seemed to soften Zell more than any
one's else.

"You poor, heavenly-minded old fool," she said, with an unwonted tear
in her eye, "you don't know any better."

Then she seemed to settle down into a dreamy apathy; to sit moping
around in shadowy places. She had a horror of meeting any one, even
Mrs. Lacey and Rose, and would not go out till after night. Edith saw,
more and more clearly, that she was almost insane in her shame and
despair, and that she would be a terrible burden to them all if she
remained in such a condition; but her love and patience did not fail.
They would, had they not been daily fed from heavenly sources. "I must
try to show her Jesus' love through mine," she thought.

Poor Edith, the great temptation of her life was soon to assail her.
It was aimed at her weakest yet noblest side, her young enthusiasm and
spirit of self-sacrifice for others. And yet, it was but the natural
fruit of woman's helplessness and Mrs. Allen's policy of marrying
one's way out of poverty and difficulty.

Simon Crowl had ostensibly made a very fair transaction with Edith,
but Simon Crowl was a widower at the time, and on the lookout for a
wife. He was a pretty sharp business man, Crowl was, or he wouldn't
have become so rich in little Pushton, and he at once was satisfied
that Edith, so beautiful, so sensible, would answer. Through the
mortgage he might capture her, as it were, for even his vanity did not
promise him much success in the ordinary ways of love-making. So the
spider spun his web, and unconscious Edith was the poor little fly.
During the summer he watched her closely, but from a distance. During
the autumn and winter he commenced calling, ostensibly on Mrs. Allen,
whom he at once managed to impress with the fact that he was very
rich. Though he brushed up his best coat and manners, that delicate-nosed lady scented an air and manner very different from what she had
been accustomed to, but she was half-dead with _ennui_, and, after
all, there was something akin between worldly Mrs. Allen and worldly
Mr. Crowl. Then, he was very rich. This had covered a multitude of
sins on the avenue. But, in the miserable poverty of Pushton, it was a
golden mantle of light. Mrs. Allen chafed at privation and want of
delicacies with the increasing persistency of an utterly weak and
selfish nature. She had no faith in Edith's plans, and no faith in
woman's working, and the garden seemed the wildest dream of all. Her
hard, narrow logic, constantly dinned into Edith's ears, discouraged
her, and she began to doubt herself.

Mr. Crowl (timid lover) had in Edith's absence confirmed his previous
hints, thrown out to Mrs. Allen as feelers, by making a definite
proposition. In brief, he had offered to settle twenty-five thousand
dollars on Edith the day she married him, and to take care of the rest
of the family.

"I have made enough," he said majestically, "to live the rest of my
life like a gentleman, and this offer is princely, if I say it myself.
You can all ride in your carriage again." Then he added, with his
little black eyes growing hard and cunning, "If your daughter won't
accept my generosity, our relationship becomes merely one of business.
Of course I shall foreclose. Money is scarce here, and I shall
probably be able to buy in the place at half its worth. Seems to me,"
he concluded, looking at the case from his valuation of money, "there
is not much room for choice here."

And Mr. Crowl had been princely--for him. Mrs. Allen thought so, too,
and lent herself to the scheme with all the persistent energy that she
could show in these matters. But, to do her justice, she really
thought she was doing what was best for Edith and all of them. She was
acting in accordance with her lifelong principle of providing for her
family, in the one way she believed in and understood. But sincerity
and singleness of purpose made her all the more dangerous as a
tempter.

In one of Edith's most discouraged moods she broached the subject and
explained Mr. Crowl's offer, for he, prudent man, had left it to her.

Edith started violently, and the project was so revolting to her that
she fled from the room. But Mrs. Allen, with her small pertinacity,
kept recurring to it at every opportunity. Though it may seem a little
strange, her mother's action did not so shock Edith as some might
expect; nor did the proposition seem so impossible as it might to some
girls. She had all her life been accustomed, through her mother, to
the idea of marrying for money, and we can get used to almost
anything.

In March their money was very low. Going to Zell and taking care of
her had involved much additional expense. She found out that her
mother had already accepted and used in part a loan of fifty dollars
from Mr. Crowl. Laura, from the long confinement of the winter, and
from living on fare too coarse and lacking in nutrition for her
delicate organization, was growing very feeble. Zell seemed in the
first stages of consumption, and would soon be a sick, helpless
burden. The chill of dread grew stronger at Edith's heart.

"Oh, can it be possible that I shall be driven to it!" she often
groaned; and she now saw, as poor Laura said, "the black hand in the
dark pushing her down." To her surprise her thoughts kept reverting to
Arden Lacey.

"What will he think of me if I do this?" she thought, with intense
bitterness. "He will tell me I was not worthy of his friendship, much
less of his love--that I deceived him;" and the thought of Arden,
after all, perhaps, had the most weight in restraining her from the
fatal step. For then, to her perverted sense of duty, this marriage
began to seem like an heroic self-sacrifice.

She had seen little of Arden since her return. He was kind and
respectful as ever, outwardly, but she saw in his deep blue eyes that
she was the divinity that he still worshipped with unfaltering
devotion, and as she once smiled at the idea of being set up as an
idol in his heart, she now began unspeakably to dread falling from her
pedestal.

One dreary day, the last of March, when sleet and rain were pouring
steadily down, and Laura was sick in her bed, and Zell moping with her
hacking cough over the fire, with Hannibal in the kitchen, Mrs. Allen
turned suddenly to Edith, and said:

"On some such day we shall all be turned into the street. You could
save us, you could save yourself, by taking a kind, rich man for your
lawful husband; but you won't."

Then Satan, who is always on hand when we are weakest, quoted
Scripture to Edith as he had done once before. The words flashed into
her mind, "He saved others, himself he cannot save."

In a wild moment of mingled enthusiasm and desperation, she sprang up
before her mother, and said:

"If I can't pay the interest of the mortgage--if I can't take care of
you all by some kind of work, I will marry him. But if you have a
spark of love for me, save, economize, try to think of some other
way."

Mrs. Allen smiled triumphantly, and tried in her gratitude to embrace
her daughter, saying: "A kind husband will soon lift all burdens off
your shoulders." The burden on the heart Mrs. Allen did not
understand, but Edith fled from her to her own room.

In a little while her excitement and enthusiasm died away, and life
began to look gaunt and bare. Even her Saviour's face seemed hidden,
and she only saw an ugly spectre in the future--Simon Crowl.

In vain she repeated to herself, "He sacrificed Himself for others--so
will I." The nature that He had given her revolted at it all, and
though she could not understand it, she began to find a jarring
discord between herself and all things.

Mrs. Allen told Mr. Crowl of her success, and he looked upon things as
settled. He came to the house quite often, but did not stay long or
assume any familiarity with Edith. He was a wary old spider; and under
Mrs. Allen's hints, behaved and looked very respectably. He certainly
did the best he could not to appear hideous to Edith, and though she
was very cold, she compelled herself to treat him civilly.

Perhaps many might have considered Edith's chance a very good one; but
with an almost desperate energy she set her mind at work to find some
other way out of her painful straits. Everything, however, seemed
against her. Mr. McTrump was sick with inflammatory rheumatism. Mrs.
Groody was away, and would not be back till the last of May. On
account of Arden she could not speak to Mrs. Lacey. She tried in vain
to get work, but at that season there was nothing in Pushton which she
could do. Farmers were beginning to get out a little on their wet
lands, and various out-of-door activities to revive after the winter
stagnation. Moreover, money was very scarce at that season of the
year. She at last turned to the garden as her only resource. She
realized that she had scarcely money enough to carry them through May.
Could she get returns from her garden in time? Could it be made to
yield enough to support them? With an almost desperate energy she
worked in it whenever the weather permitted through April, and kept
Hannibal at it also. Indeed, she had little mercy on the old man, and
he wondered at her. One day he ventured:

"Miss Edie, you jes done kill us both," but his wonder increased as
she muttered:

"Perhaps it would be the best thing for us both," Then, seeing his
panic-stricken face, she added more kindly, "Hannibal, our money is
getting low, and the garden is our only chance."

After that he worked patiently without a word and without a thought of
sparing himself.

Edith insisted on the closest economy in the house, though she was too
sensible to stint herself in food in view of her constant toil. But
one day she detected Mrs. Allen, with her small cunning and her
determination to carry her point, practicing a little wastefulness.
Edith turned on her with such fierceness that she never dared to
repeat the act. Indeed, Edith was becoming very much what she was
before Zell ran away, only in addition there was something akin, at
times, to Zell's own hardness and recklessness, and one day she said
to Edith:

"What is the matter? You are becoming like me."

Edith fled to her room, and sobbed and cried and tried to pray till
her strength was gone. The sweet trust and peace she had once enjoyed
seemed like a past dream. She was learning by bitter experience that
it can never be right to do wrong; and that a first false step, like a
false premise, leads to sad conclusions.

She had insisted that her mother should not speak of the matter till
it became absolutely necessary, therefore Laura, Zell, and none of her
friends could understand her.

Arden was the most puzzled and pained of all, for she shrank from him
with increasing dread. He was now back at his farm work, though he
said to Edith one day despondently that he had no heart to work, for
the mortgage on their place would probably be foreclosed in the fall.
She longed to tell him how she was situated, but she saw he was unable
to help her, and she dreaded to see the scorn come into his trusting,
loving eyes; she could not endure his absolute confidence in her, and
in his presence her heart ached as if it would break, so she shunned
him till he grew very unhappy, and sighed:

"There's something wrong. She finds I am not congenial. I shall lose
her friendship," and his aching heart also admitted, as never before,
how dear it was to him.

Nature was awakening with the rapture of another spring; birds were
coming back to old haunts with ecstatic songs; flowers budding into
their brief but exquisite life, and the trees aglow with fragrant
prophecies of fruit; but a winter of fear and doubt was chilling these
two hearts into something far worse than nature's seeming death.



CHAPTER XXXIV

SAVED



Edith's efforts still to help Zell to better things were very
pathetic, considering how unhappy and tempted she was herself. She did
try, even when her own heart was breaking, to bring peace and hope to
the poor creature, but she was taught how vain her efforts were, in
her present mood, by Zell's saying, sharply:

"Physician, heal thyself."

Though Zell did not understand Edith, she saw that she was almost as
unhappy as herself, and she had lost hope in everybody and everything.
Though she had not admitted it, Edith's words and kindness at first
had excited her wonder, and, perhaps, a faint glimmer of hope; but, as
she saw her sister's face cloud with care, and darken with pain and
fear, she said, bitterly:

"Why did she talk with me so? It was all a delusion. What is God doing
for her any more than for me?"

But, in order to give Zell occupation, and something to think about
besides herself, Edith had induced her to take charge of the flowers
in the garden.

"They won't grow for me," Zell had said at first. "They will wither
when I look at them, and white blossoms will turn black as I bend over
them."

"Nonsense!" said Edith, with irritation; "won't you do anything to
help me?"

"Oh, certainly," wearily answered Zell. "I will do the work just as
you tell me. If they do die, it don't matter. We can eat or sell
them." So Zell began to take care of the flowers, doing the work in a
stealthy manner, and hiding when any one came.

The month of May was unusually warm, and Edith was glad, for it would
hasten things forward. That upon which she now bent almost agonized
effort and thought was the possibility of paying the interest on the
mortgage by the middle of June, when it was due. All hope concentrated
on her strawberries, as they would be the first crop worth mentioning
that she could depend on from her place. She gave the plants the most
careful attention. Not a weed was suffered to grow, and between the
rows she placed carefully, with her own hands, leaves she raked up in
the orchard, so that the ground might be kept moist and the fruit
clean. Almost every hour of the day her eyes sought the strawberry-bed, as the source of her hope. If that failed her, no bleeding human
sacrifice in all the cruel past could surpass in agony her fate.

The vines began to blossom with great promise, and at first she almost
counted them in her eager expectation. Then the long rows looked like
little banks of snow, and she exulted over the prospect. Laura was
once about to pick one of the blossoms, but she stopped her almost
fiercely. She would get up in the night, and stand gazing at the lines
of white, as she could trace them in the darkness across the garden.
So the days passed on till the last of May, and the blossoms grew
scattering, but there were multitudes of little green berries, from
the size of a pea to that of her thimble, and some of them began to
have a white look. She so minutely watched them develop that she could
have almost defined the progress day by day. Once Zell looked at her
wonderingly, and said:

"Edith, you are crazy over that strawberry-bed. I believe you worship
it."

For a time Edith's hopes daily rose higher as the vines gave finer
promise, but during the last week of May a new and terrible source of
danger revealed itself, a danger that she knew not how to cope with--drought.

It had not rained since the middle of May. She saw that many of her
young and tender vegetables were wilting, but the strawberries,
mulched with leaves, did not appear to mind it at first. Still she
knew they would suffer soon, unless there was rain. Most anxiously she
watched the skies. Their serenity mocked her when she was so clouded
with care. Wild storms would be better than these balmy, sunny days.

The first of June came, the second, third, and fourth, and here and
there a berry was turning red, but the vines were beginning to wilt.
The suspense became so great she could hardly endure it. Her faith in
God began to waver. Every breath almost was a prayer for rain, but the
sunny days passed like mocking smiles.

"Is there a God?" she queried desperately. "Can I have been deceived
in all my past happy experience?" She shuddered at the answer that the
tempter suggested, and yet, like a drowning man, she still clung to
her faith.

During the long evening, she and Hannibal sought to save the bed by
carrying water from the well, but they could do so little, it only
seemed to show them how utterly dependent they were on the natural
rain from heaven; but the skies seemed laughing at her pain and fear.
Moreover, she noticed that those they watered appeared injured rather
than helped, as is ever the case where it is insufficiently done, and
she saw that she must helplessly wait.

Arden Lacey had been away for a week, and, returning in the dusk of
the evening, saw her at work watering, before she had come to this
conclusion. His heart was hungry, even for the sight of her, and he
longed for her to let him stop for a little chat as of old. So he
said, timidly:

"Good-evening, Miss Allen, haven't you a word to welcome me back
with?"

"Oh!" cried Edith, not heeding his salutation, "why don't it rain! I
shall lose all my strawberries."

His voice jarred upon her heart, now too full, and she ran into the
house to hide her feelings, and left him. Even the thought of him now,
in her morbid state, began to pierce her like a sword.

"She thinks more of her paltry strawberry-bed than of me," muttered
Arden, and he stalked angrily homeward. "What is the matter with Miss
Allen?" he asked his mother abruptly. "I don't understand her."

"Nor I either," said Mrs. Lacey with a sigh.

The next morning was very warm, and Edith saw that the day would be
hotter than any that preceded. A dry wind sprang up and it seemed
worse than the sun. The vines began to wither early after the coolness
of the night, and those she had watered suffered the most, and seemed
to say to her mockingly:

"You can't do anything."

"Oh, heaven!" cried Edith, almost in despair, "there is a black hand
pushing me down."

In an excited, feverish manner she roamed restlessly around and could
settle down to nothing. She scanned the horizon for a cloud, as the
shipwrecked might for a sail.

"Edie, what is the matter?" said Laura, putting her arms about her
sister.

"It won't rain," said Edith, bursting into tears. "My home, my
happiness, everything depends on rain, and look at these skies."

"But won't He send it?" asked Laura, gently.

"Why don't He, then?" said Edith, almost in irritation. Then, in a
sudden passion of grief, she hid her face in her sister's lap, and
sobbed, "Oh, Laura, Laura, I feel I am losing my faith in Him. Why
does He treat me so?"

Here Laura's face grew troubled and fearful also. Her faith in Christ
was so blended with her faith in Edith that she could not separate
them in a moment. "I don't understand it, Edie," she faltered. "He
seems to have taken care of me, and has been very kind since that--that night But I don't understand your feeling so."

"Oh, oh, oh!" sobbed Edith, "I don't know what to think--what to
believe; and I fear I shall hurt your faith," and she shut herself up
in her room, and looked despairingly out to where the vines were
drooping in the fierce heat.

"If they don't get help to-day, my hopes will wither like their
leaves," she said, with pallid lips. As the sun declined in the west,
she went out and stood beside them, as one might by a dying friend.
Her fresh young face seemed almost growing aged and wrinkled under the
ordeal. She had prayed that afternoon, as never before in her life,
for help, and now, with a despairing gesture upward, she said:

"Look at that brazen sky!"

But the noise of the opening gate caused her to look thither, and
there was Arden entering, with a great barrel on wheels, which was
drawn by a horse. His heart, so weak toward her, had relented during
the day. "I vowed to serve her, and I will," he thought. "I will be
her slave, if she will permit."

Edith did not understand at first, and he came toward her so humbly,
as if to ask a great favor, that it would have been comic, had not his
sincerity made it pathetic.

"Miss Allen," he said, "I saw you trying to water your berries.
Perhaps I can do it better, as I have here the means of working on a
larger scale."

Edith seized his hand and said, with tears: "You are like an angel of
light; how can I thank you enough?"

Her manner puzzled him to-night quite as much as on the previous
occasion. "Why does she act as if her life depended on these few
berries?" he vainly asked himself. "They can't be so poor as to be in
utter want. I wish she would speak frankly to me."

In her case, as in thousands of others, it would have been so much
better if she had.

Then Edith said, a little dubiously, "I hurt the vines when I tried to
water them."

"I know enough about gardening to understand that," said Arden, with a
smile. "If the ground is not thoroughly soaked it does hurt them. But
see," and he poured the water around the vines till the dry leaves
swam in it. "That will last two days, and then I will water these
again. I can go over half the bed thoroughly one night, and the other
half the next night; and so we will keep them along till rain comes."

She looked at him as if he were a messenger come to release her from a
dungeon, and murmured, in a low, sweet voice:

"Mr. Lacey, you are as kind as a brother to me."

A warm flush of pleasure mantled his face and neck, and he turned away
to hide his feelings, but said:

"Miss Edith, this is nothing to what I would do for you."

She had it on her lips to tell him how she was situated, but he
hastened away to fill his barrel at a neighboring pond. She watched
him go to and fro in his rough, working garb, and he seemed to her the
very flower of chivalry.

Her eyes grew lustrous with admiration, gratitude, hope, and--yes,
love, for before the June twilight deepened into night it was revealed
in the depths of her heart that she loved Arden Lacey, and that was
the reason that she had kept away from him since she had made the
hateful promise. She had thought it only friendship, now she knew that
it was love, and that his scorn and anger would be the bitterest
ingredient of all in her self-immolation.

For two long hours he went to and fro unweariedly, and then startled
her by saying in the distance on his way home, "I will come again to-morrow evening," and was gone. He was afraid of himself, lest in his
strong feeling he might break his implied promise not even to suggest
his love, when she came to thank him, and so, in self-distrustfulness,
he was beginning to shun her also.

An unspeakable burden of fear was lifted from her heart, and hope,
sweet, warm, and rosy, kept her eyes waking, but rested her more than
sleep. In the morning she saw that the watering had greatly revived
one half of the bed, and that all through the hot day they did not
wilt, while the unwatered part looked very sick.

Old Crowl also had seen the proceeding in the June twilight, and did
not like it. "I must put a spoke in his wheel," he said. So the next
afternoon he met Arden in the village, and blustered up to him,
saying:

"Look here, young Lacey, what were you doing at the Allens' last
night?"

"None of your business."

"Yes, it is my business, too, as you may find out to your cost. I am
engaged to marry Miss Edith Allen, and guess it's my business who's
hanging around there. I warn you to keep away." Mr. Crowl had put the
case truly, and yet with characteristic cunning. He was positively
engaged to Edith, though she was only conditionally engaged to him.

"It's an accursed lie," thundered Arden, livid with rage, "and I warn
you to leave--you make me dangerous."

"Oh, ho; touches you close, does it? I am sorry for you, but it's
true, nevertheless."

Arden looked as if he would rend him, but by a great effort he
controlled himself, and in a low, meaning voice said:

"If you have lied to me this afternoon, woe be unto you," and he
turned on his heel and walked straight to Edith, where she stood at
work among her grapevines, breaking off some of the too thickly
budding branches. He was beside her before she heard him, and the
moment she looked into his white, stern face, she saw that something
had happened.

"Miss Allen," he said, abruptly, "I heard a report about you this
afternoon. I did not believe it; I could not; but it came so direct,
that I give you a chance to refute it. Your word will be sufficient
for me. It would be against all the world. Is there anything between
you and Simon Crowl?"

Her confusion was painful, and for a moment she could not speak, but
stood trembling before him.

In his passion, he seized her roughly by the arm and said, hoarsely,
"In a word, yes or no?"

His manner offended her proud spirit, and she looked him angrily in
the face and said, haughtily;

"Yes."

He recoiled from her as if he had been stung.

Her anger died away in a moment, and she leaned against the grape-trellis for support.

"Do you love him?" he faltered, his bronzed cheek blanching.

"No," she gasped.

The blood rushed furiously into his face, and he took an angry stride
toward her. She cowered before him, but almost wished that he would
strike her dead. In a voice hoarse with rage, he said:

"This, then, is the end of our friendship. This is the best that your
religion has taught you. If not your pitiful faith, then has not your
woman's nature told you that neither priest nor book can marry you to
that coarse lump of earth?" and he turned on his heel and strode away.

His mother was frightened as she saw his face. "What has happened?"
she said, starting up. He stared at her almost stupidly for a moment.
Then he said, in a stony voice:

"The worst that ever can happen to me in this or any world. If the
lightning had burned me to a cinder, I could not be more utterly
bereft of all that tends to make a good man. Edith Allen has sold
herself to old Crowl. Some priest is going through a farce they will
call a marriage, and all the good people will say, 'How well she has
done!' What a miserable delusion this religious business is! You had
better give it up, mother, as I do, here and now."

"Hush, my son," said Mrs. Lacey, solemnly. "You have only seen Edith
Allen. I have seen _Jesus Christ._

"There is some mystery about this," she added, after a moment's
painful thought. "I will go and see her at once."

He seized her hand, saying:

"Have I not been a good son to you?"

"Yes, Arden."

"Then by all I have ever been to you, and as you wish my love to
continue, go not near her again."

"But, Arden--"

"Promise me," he said, sternly.

"Well," said the poor woman, with a deep sigh, "not without your
permission."

From that time forth, Arden seemed as if made of stone.

After he was gone Edith walked with uncertain steps to the little
arbor, and sat down as if stunned. She lost all idea of time. After it
was dark, Hannibal called her in, and made her take a cup of tea. She
then went mechanically to her room, but not to sleep. Arden's dreadful
words kept repeating themselves over and over again.

"O God!" she exclaimed, in the darkness, "whither am I drifting? Must
I be driven to this awful fate in order to provide for those dependent
upon me? Cannot bountiful Nature feed us? Wilt Thou not, in mercy,
send one drop of rain? O Jesus, where is Thy mercy?"

The next morning the skies were still cloudless, and she scowled
darkly at the sunny dawn. Then, in sudden alternation of mood, she
stretched her bare, white arms toward the little farmhouse, and
sighed, in tones of tremulous pathos:

"Oh, Arden, Arden! I would rather die at your feet than live in a
palace with him."

She sent down word that she was ill, and that she would not come down.
Laura, Mrs. Allen, and even Zell, came to her, but she kissed them
wearily, and sent them away. She saw that there was deep anxiety on
all their faces. Pretty soon Hannibal came up with a cup of coffee.

"You must drink it, Miss Edie," he said, "'cause we'se all a-leanin'
on you."

Well-meaning words, but tending unconsciously to confirm her desperate
purpose to sacrifice herself for them.

She lay with her face buried in the pillow all day. She knew that
their money was almost gone, that provisions were scanty in the house,
and to her morbid mind bags of gold were piled up before her, and
Simon Crowl, as an ugly spectre, was beckoning her toward them.

As she lay in a dull lethargy of pain in the afternoon, a heavy jar of
thunder aroused her. She sprang up instantly, and ran out bare-headed
to the little rise of ground behind the house, and there, in the west,
was a great black cloud. The darker and nearer it grew, the more her
face brightened. It was a strange thing to see that fair young girl
looking toward the threatening storm with eager, glad expectancy, as
if it were her lover. The heavy and continued roll of the thunder,
like the approaching roar of battle, was sweeter to her than love's
whispers. She saw with dilating eyes the trees on the distant
mountain's brow toss and writhe in the tempest; she heard the fall of
rain-drops on the foliage of the mountain's side as if they were the
feet of an army coming to her rescue. A few large ones, mingled with
hail, fell around her like scattering shots, and she put out her hands
to catch them. The fierce gusts caught up her loosened hair and it
streamed away behind her. There was a blinding flash, and the branches
of a tall locust near came quivering down--she only smiled.

But dismay and trembling fear overwhelmed her as the shower passed on
to the north. She could see it raining hard a mile away, but the drops
ceased to fall around her. The deep reverberations rolled away in the
distance, and in the west there was a long line of light. As the
twilight deepened, the whole storm was below the horizon, only sending
up angry flashes as it thundered on to parts unknown. With clasped
hands and despairing eyes, Edith gazed after it, as the wrecked
floating on a raft might watch a ship sail away, and leave them to
perish on the wide ocean.

She walked slowly down to the little arbor, and leaned wearily back on
the rustic seat. She saw night come on in breathless peace. Not a leaf
stirred. She saw the moon rise over the eastern hills, as brightly and
serenely as if its rays would not fall on one sad face.

Hannibal called, but she did not answer, Then he came out to her, and
put the cup of tea to her lips, and made her drink it. She obeyed
mechanically.

"Poor chile, poor chile," he murmured, "I wish ole Hannibal could die
for you."

She lifted her face to him with such an expression that he hastened
away to hide his tears. But she sat still, as if in a dream, and yet
she felt that the crisis had come, and that before she left that place
she must come to some decision. Reason would be dethroned if she lived
much longer in such suspense and irresolution. And yet she sat still
in a dreamy stupor, the reaction of her strong excitement. It seemed,
in a certain sense, peaceful and painless, and she did not wish to
goad herself out of it.

"It may be like the last sleep before execution," she thought,
"therefore make the most of it," and her thoughts wandered at will.

A late robin came flying home to the arbor where the nest was, and
having twittered out a little vesper-song, put its head under its
wing, near his mate, which sat brooding in the nest over some little
eggs, and the thought stole into her heart, "Will God take care of
them and not me?" and she watched the peaceful sleep of the family
over her head as if it were an emblem of faith.

Then a sudden breeze swept a spray of roses against her face, and
their delicate perfume was like the "still small voice" of love, and
the thought passed dreamily across Edith's mind, "Will God do so much
for that little cluster of roses and yet do nothing for me?"

How near the Father was to His child! In this calm that followed her
long passionate struggle, His mighty but gentle Spirit could make
itself felt, and it stole into the poor girl's bruised heart with
heavenly suggestion and healing power. The happy days when she
followed Jesus and sat daily at His feet were recalled. Her sin was
shown to her, not in anger, but in the loving reproachfulness of the
Saviour's look upon faithless Peter, and a voice seemed to ask in her
soul, "How could you turn away your trust from Him to anything else?
How could you think it right to do so great a wrong? How could you so
trample upon the womanly nature that He gave you as to think of
marrying where neither love nor God would sanction?"

Jesus seemed to stand before her, and point up to the robins, saying,
"I feed them. I fed the five thousand. I feed the world. I can feed
you and yours. Trust me. Do right. In trying to save yourself you will
destroy yourself."

With a divine impulse, she threw herself on the floor of the arbor,
and cried:

"Jesus, I cast myself at Thy feet. I throw myself on Thy mercy. When I
look the world around, away from Thee, I see only fear and torment. If
I die, I will perish at Thy feet."

Was it the moonlight only that made the night luminous? No, for the
glory of the Lord shone around, and the peace that "passeth all
understanding" came flowing into her soul like a shining river. The
ugly phantoms that had haunted her vanished. The "black hand that
seemed pushing her down," became her Father's hand, shielding and
sustaining.

She rose as calm and serene as the summer evening and went straight to
Mrs. Allen's room and said: "Mother, I will never marry Simon Crowl."

Her mother began to cry, and say piteously:

"Then we shall all be turned into the street."

"What the future will be I can't tell," said Edith, gently but firmly.
"I will work for you, I will beg for you, I will starve with you, but
I will never marry Simon Crowl, nor any other man that I do not love."
And pressing a kiss on her mother's face, she went to her room, and
soon was lost in the first refreshing sleep that she had had for a
long time.

She was wakened toward morning by the sound of rain, and, starting up,
heard its steady, copious downfall. In a sudden ecstasy of gratitude
she sprang up, opened the blinds and looked out. The moon had gone
down, and through the darkness the rain was falling heavily; she felt
it upon her forehead, her bare neck and arms, and it seemed to her
Heaven's own baptism into a new and stronger faith and a happier life.



CHAPTER XXXV

CLOSING SCENES



The clouds were clearing away when Edith came down late the next
morning, and all saw that the clouds had passed from her brow.

"Bress de Lord, Miss Edie, you'se yoursef again!" said Hannibal,
joyfully. "I neber see a shower do such a heap ob good afore."

"No," said Edith, sadly; "I was myself. I lost my Divine Friend and
Helper, and I then became myself--poor, weak, faulty Edith Allen. But,
thanks to His mercy, I have found Him again, and so hope to be the
better self that He helped me to be before."

Zell looked at her with a sudden wonder, and went out and stayed among
her flowers all day.

Laura came and put her arms around her neck, and said,

"Oh, Edie, I am so glad! What you said set me to fearing and doubting;
but I am sure we can trust Him."

Mrs. Allen sighed drearily, and said, "I don't understand it at all."

But old Hannibal slapped his hands in true Methodist style,
exclaiming, "Dat's it! Trow away de ole heart! Get a new one! Bress de
Lord!"

Edith went out into the garden, and saw that there were a great many
berries ripe; then she hastened to the hotel, and said:

"Oh, Mrs. Groody, for Heaven's sake, won't you help me sell my
strawberries up here?"

"Yes, my dear," was the hearty response; "both for your sake and the
strawberries, too. We get them from the city, and would much rather
have fresh country ones."

Edith returned with her heart thrilling with hope, and set to work
picking as if every berry was a ruby, and in a few hours she had six
quarts of fragrant fruit. Malcom had lent her little baskets, and
Hannibal took them up to the hotel, for Arden would not even look
toward the little cottage any more. The old servant came back grinning
with delight, and gave Edith a dollar and a half.

The next day ten quarts brought two dollars and a half. Then they
began to ripen rapidly, the rain having greatly improved them, and
Edith, with considerable help from the others, picked twenty, thirty,
and fifty quarts a day. She employed a stout boy from the village, to
help her, and, through him, she soon had quite a village trade also.
He had a percentage on the sales, and, therefore, was very sharp in
disposing of them.

How Edith gloated over her money! how, with more than miserly eyes,
she counted it over every night, and pressed it to her lips!

In the complete absorption of the past few weeks Edith had not noticed
the change going on in Zell. The poor creature was surprised and
greatly pleased that the flowers grew so well for her. Every opening
blossom was a new revelation, and their sweet perfume stole into her
wounded heart like balm. The blue violets seemed like children's eyes
peeping timidly at her; and the pansies looked so bright and saucy
that she caught herself smiling back at them. The little black and
brown seeds she planted came up so promptly that it seemed as if they
wanted to see her as much as she did them.

"Isn't it queer," she said one day to herself, "that such pretty
things can come out of such ugly little things." Nothing in nature
seemed to turn away from her, any more than would nature's God. The
dumb life around began to speak to her in many and varied voices, and
she who fled from companionship with her own kind would sit and chirp
and talk to the birds, as if they understood her. And they did seem to
grow strangely familiar, and would almost eat crumbs out of her hand.

One day in June she said to Hannibal, who was working near, "Isn't it
strange the flowers grow so well for me?"

"Why shouldn't dey grow for you, Miss Zell?" asked he, straightening
his old back up.

"Good, innocent Hannibal, how indeed should you know anything about
it?"

"Yes, I does know all 'bout it," said he, earnestly, and he came to
her where she stood by a rosebush. "Does you see dis white rose?"

"Yes," said Zell, "it opened this morning. I've been watching it."

Poor Hannibal could not read print, but he seemed to understand this
exquisite passage in nature's open book, for he put his black finger
on the rose (which made it look whiter than before), and commenced
expounding it as a preacher might his text. "Now look at it sharp,
Miss Zell, 'cause it'll show you I does know all 'bout it. It's white,
isn't it?"

"Yes," said Zell, eagerly, for Hannibal held the attention of his
audience.

"Dat means pure, doesn't it?" continued he.

"Yes," said Zell, looking sadly down.

"And it's sweet, isn't it? Now dat means lub."

And Zell looked hopefully up.

"And now, dear chile," said he, giving her a little impressive nudge,
"see whar de white rose come from--right up out of de brack, ugly
ground."

Having concluded his argument and made his point, the simple orator
began his application, and Zell was leaning toward him in her
interest.

"De good Lord, he make it grow to show what He can do for us. Miss
Zell," he said, in an awed whisper, "my ole heart was as brack as dat
ground, but de blessed Jesus turn it as white as dis rose. Miss Edie,
Lor' bless her, telled me 'bout Him, and I'se found it all true. Now,
doesn't I know 'bout it? I knows dat de good Jesus can turn de
brackest heart in de world jes like dis rose, make it white and pure,
and fill it up wid de sweetness of lub. I knows all 'bout it."

He spoke with the power of absolute certainty and strong feeling,
therefore his hearer was deeply moved.

"Hannibal," she said, coming close to him, and putting her hand on his
shoulder, "do you think Jesus could turn my heart white?"

"Sartin, Miss Zell," answered he, stoutly. "Jes as easy as He make dis
white rose grow."

"Would you mind asking Him? It seems to me I would rather pray out
here among the flowers," she said, in low, tremulous tones.

So Hannibal concluded his simple, but most effective, service by
kneeling down by his pulpit, the rosebush, and praying:

"Bressed Jesus, guv dis dear chile a new heart, 'cause she wants it,
and you wants her to hab it. Make it pure and full of lub. You can do
it, dear Jesus. You knows you can. Now, jes please do it.
_Amen_."

Zell's responsive "Amen" was like a note from an AEolian harp.

"Hannibal," said she, looking wistfully at him, "I think I feel
better. I think I feel it growing white."

"Now jes look here, Miss Zell," said he, giving her a bit of pastoral
counsel before going back to his work, "don't you keep lookin' at your
heart, and seein' how it feels, or you'll get discouraged. See dis
rose agin? It don't look at itself. It jes looks up at de sun. So you
look straight at Jesus, and your heart grow whiter ebery day."

And Hannibal and the flower did gradually lead poor Zell to Him who
"taketh away the sins of the world," and He said to her as to one of
old, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."

On the evening of the 14th of June, Edith had more than enough to pay
the interest due on the 15th, and she was most anxious to have it
settled. She was standing at the gate waiting for Hannibal to join her
as escort, when she saw Arden Lacey coming toward her. He had not
looked at her since that dreadful afternoon, and was now about to pass
her without notice, though from his manner she saw he was conscious of
her presence. He looked so worn and changed that her heart yearned
toward him. A sudden thought occurred to her, and she said:

"Mr. Lacey."

He kept right on, and paid no heed to her.

There was a mingling of indignation and pathos in her voice when she
spoke again.

"I appeal to you as a woman, and no matter what I am, if you are a
true man, you will listen."

There was that in her tone and manner that reminded him of the dark
rainy night when they first met.

He turned instantly, but he approached her with a cold, silent bow.

"I must go to the village to-night. I wish your protection," she said,
in a voice she tried vainly to render steady.

He again bowed silently, and they walked to the village together
without a word. Hannibal came out in time to see them disappear down
the road, one on one side of it, and one on the other.

"Well now, dey's both quar," he said, scratching his white head with
perplexity, "but one ting is mighty sartin, I'se glad my ole jints is
saved dat tramp."

Edith stopped at the door of Mr. Crowl's office, and Arden, for the
first time, spoke hastily:

"I can't go in there."

"I hope you are not afraid," said Edith, in a tone that made him step
forward quick enough.

Mr. Crowl looked as if he could not believe his eyes, but Edith gave
him no time to collect his wits, but by the following little speech
quite overwhelmed both him and Arden, though with different emotions.

"There, sir, is the interest due on the mortgage. There is a slight
explanation due you and also this gentleman here, who _was_ my friend.
There are four persons in our family dependent on me for support and
shelter. We were all so poor and helpless that it seemed impossible to
maintain ourselves in independence. You make a proposition through my
mother, never to me, that might be called generous if it had not been
coupled with certain threats of prompt foreclosure if not accepted. In
an hour of weakness and for the sake of the others, I said to my
mother, never to you, that if I could not pay the interest and could
not support the family, I would marry you. But I did very wrong, and I
became so unhappy and desperate in view of this partial promise, that
I thought I should lose my reason. But in the hour of my greatest
darkness, when I saw no way out of our difficulties, I was led to see
how wrongly I had acted, and to resolve that under no possible
circumstances would I marry you, nor any man to whom I could not give
a true wife's love. Since that time I have been able honestly to earn
the money there; and in a few days more I will pay you the fifty
dollars that my mother borrowed of you. So please give me my receipt."

"And remember henceforth," said Arden, sternly, "that this lady has a
protector."

Simon was sharp enough to see that he was beaten, so he signed the
receipt and gave it to Edith without a word. They left his office and
started homeward. When out of the village Arden said timidly:

"Can you forgive me, Miss Edith?"

"Can you forgive me?" answered she, even more humbly.

They stopped in the road and grasped each other's hands with a warmth
more expressive than all words. Then they went on silently again. At
the gate Edith said timidly:

"Won't you come in?"

"I dare not, Miss Allen," said Arden, gravely, and with a dash of
bitterness in his voice "I am a man of honor with all my faults, and I
would keep the promise I made you in the letter I wrote one year ago.
I must see very little of you," he continued, in a very heartsick
tone, "but let me serve you just the same."

Edith's face seemed to possess more than human loveliness as it grew
tender and gentle in the radiance of the full moon, and he looked at
it with the hunger of a famished heart.

"But you made the promise to me, did you not?" she asked in a low
tone.

"Certainly," said Arden.

"Then it seems to me that I have the right to absolve you from the
promise," she continued in a still lower tone, and a face like a
damask-rose in moonlight.

"Miss Allen--Edith--" said Arden, "oh, for Heaven's sake, be kind.
Don't trifle with me."

Edith had restrained her feelings so long that she was ready to either
laugh or cry, so with a peal of laughter, that rang out like a chime
of silver bells, she said:

"Like the fat abbot in the story, I give you full absolution and
plenary indulgence."

He seized her hand and carried it to his lips: "Edith," he pleaded, in
a low, tremulous voice, "will you let me be your slave?"

"Not a bit of it," said she, sturdily. She added, looking shyly up at
him, "What should I do with a slave?"

Arden was about to kneel at her feet, but she said:

"Nonsense! If you must get on your knees, come and kneel to my
strawberry-bed--you ought to thank that, I can tell you." And so the
matter-of-fact girl, who could not abide sentiment, got through a
scene that she greatly dreaded.

They could see the berries reddening among the green leaves, and the
night wind blowing across them was like a gale from Araby the Blest.

"Were it not for this strawberry-bed you would not have obtained
absolution to-night. But, Arden," she added, seriously, "here is your
way out of trouble, as well as mine. We are near good markets. Give up
your poor, slipshod farming (I'm plain, you see) and raise fruit. I
will supply you with vines. We will go into partnership. You show what
a man can do, and I will show what a girl can do."

He took her hand and looked at her so fondly that she hid her face on
his shoulder. He stroked her head and said, in a half-mirthful tone:

"Ah, Edie, Edie, woman once got man out of a garden, but you, I
perceive, are destined to lead me into one; and any garden where you
are will be Eden to me."

She looked up, with her face suddenly becoming grave and wistful, and
said:

"Arden, God will walk in my garden in the cool of the day. You won't
hide from Him, will you?"

"No," he answered, earnestly. "I now feel sure that, through my faith
in you, I shall learn to have faith in Him."



CHAPTER XXXVI

LAST WORDS



Edith did sustain the family on the products of her little place. And,
more than that, the yield from her vines and orchard was so abundant
that she aided Arden to meet the interest of the mortgage on the Lacey
place, so that Mr. Crowl could not foreclose that autumn, as he
intended. She so woke her dreamy lover up that he soon became a keen,
masterful man of business, and, at her suggestion, at once commenced
the culture of small fruits, she giving him a good start from her own
place.

Rose took the situation of nurse with Judge Clifford's married
daughter, having the care of two little children. She thus secured a
pleasant, sheltered home, where she was treated with great kindness.
Instead of running in debt, as in New York, she was able to save the
greater part of her wages, and in two years had enough ahead to take
time to learn the dressmakers' trade thoroughly, for which she had a
taste. But a sensible young mechanic, who had long been attentive, at
last persuaded her to make him a happy home.

Mrs. Lacey's prayers were effectual in the case of her husband, for,
to the astonishment of the whole neighborhood, he reformed. Laura
remained a pale home-blossom, sheltered by Edith's love.

With the blossoms she loved, Zell faded away in the autumn, but her
death was like that of the flowers, in the full hope of the glad
springtime of a new life. As her eyes closed and she breathed her last
sigh out on Edith's bosom, old Hannibal sobbed--

"She's--a white rose--now--sure 'nuff."

Arden and Edith were married the following year, on the 14th of June,
the anniversary of their engagement. Edith greatly shocked Mrs. Allen
by having the ceremony performed in the garden.

"Why not?" she said. "God once married a couple there."

Mrs. Groody, Mr. and Mrs. McTrump, Mrs. Ranger, Mrs. Hart and her
daughters, and quite a number of other friends were present.

Hannibal stood by the white rosebush, that was again in bloom, and
tears of joy, mingling with those of sorrow, bedewed the sweet
flowers.

And Malcom stood up, after the ceremony, and said, with a certain
dignity that for a moment hushed and impressed all present:

"Tho' I'm a little mon, I sometimes ha' great tho'ts, an' I have
learned to ken fra my gudewife there, an' this sweet blossom o' the
Lord's, that woman can bring a' the wourld to God if she will. That's
what she can do."

THE END





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