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Title: Ruth Erskine's Son
Author: Pansy, 1841-1930
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    [Illustration: "ERSKINE," SHE SAID EAGERLY, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN?"
                              _Page 91._]



                           RUTH ERSKINE'S SON


                                   BY
                                 PANSY

           AUTHOR OF "RUTH ERSKINE'S CROSSES"; "ESTER RIED'S
              NAMESAKE"; "ESTER RIED YET SPEAKING"; "ESTER
               RIED"; "DORIS FARRAND'S VOCATION"; "DAVID
                      RANSOM'S WATCH"; ETC., ETC.


                     _ILLUSTRATED BY LOUISE CLARK_


                             [Illustration]


                                 BOSTON
                       LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.



                                 PANSY
                               TRADE-MARK
                   Registered in U. S. Patent Office.


                        Published, August, 1907.


                            COPYRIGHT, 1906,
                     BY LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.

                         _All Rights Reserved._

                          RUTH ERSKINE'S SON.


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



                                CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                         PAGE

         I. WHIMS                                              1

        II. "NEVER MIND, MOMMIE"                              15

       III. MAMIE PARKER                                      29

        IV. WOULD SHE "DO"?                                   42

         V. THE OLD CAT!                                      55

        VI. IDEAL CONDITIONS                                  69

       VII. "MOTHERS ARE QUEER!"                              82

      VIII. A SPOILED MOTHER                                  96

        IX. SENTIMENT AND SACRIFICE                          110

         X. "SENTIMENTAL" PEOPLE                             124

        XI. "PLANS FOR A PURPOSE"                            137

       XII. ACCIDENT OR DESIGN?                              151

      XIII. WAS IRENE RIGHT?                                 164

       XIV. THE GENERAL MANAGER                              176

        XV. LOOKING BACKWARD                                 189

       XVI. FOR MAYBELLE'S SAKE                              203

      XVII. BUILT ON THE SAND                                216

     XVIII. JUSTICE OR MERCY?                                229

       XIX. ALONE                                            242

        XX. THEY HATED MYSTERY                               254

       XXI. "A STUDY"                                        268

      XXII. A LOYAL HEART                                    280

     XXIII. PUZZLING QUESTIONS                               293

      XXIV. AN ALLY                                          306

       XXV. A CRISIS                                         319

      XXVI. A STRANGE CHANGE                                 331

     XXVII. A RETROGRADE MOVEMENT                            344

    XXVIII. "SOMETHING HAD HAPPENED"                         358

      XXIX. RENUNCIATION                                     371

       XXX. "TWO, AND TWO, AND TWO"                          383



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


    "ERSKINE," SHE SAID EAGERLY, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN?" (PAGE 91)
                                                  _Frontispiece_

                                                     FACING PAGE
    "WE WILL GIVE THEM ALL THE SLIP, MY DEAR"                 62

    "MY MOTHER ISN'T OLD, IRENE"                             166

    "I AM SORRY THAT I HATED YOU"                            354



                           RUTH ERSKINE'S SON


                               CHAPTER I

                                 WHIMS


AS a matter of fact the name of this story should be: Ruth Erskine
Burnham's Son. But there are those living who remember Ruth Erskine and
her memorable summer at the New York Chautauqua; and that name is so
entirely associated with those four girls at Chautauqua, and their after
experiences, that it seems natural to speak of her boy, Erskine, as Ruth
Erskine's son; although, of course, he was also Judge Burnham's son.

The day on which she is again introduced to her friends was a dull one
in late autumn; the afterglow of sunset was already fading, and the
shadows were gathering fast. It was the hour that Erskine Burnham liked
best for the piano. He was at that moment softly touching the keys,
bringing forth harmonious sounds with the air of one not even hearing
them.

He was a handsome boy. The promise of his early life,--during which time
the exclamation, "What a beautiful child!" was being continually
heard,--was being fulfilled in his boyhood. Friends of his father were
fond of assuring Ruth that the boy was his father's image; while her
friends were sure that no boy could be more like his mother.

As for Ruth when she saw her son bending over his books, a lock of hair
continually dropping over his left eye and being continually flung back
with a gesture peculiar to Judge Erskine, she would say:--

"He is very much like his grandfather."

As the boy grew older he laughed at all these opinions, and asked his
mother if she did not think it would be difficult for a fellow to have
any individuality who was strikingly like three people who were all, as
nearly as he could make out, strikingly unlike one another.

This remark was one of the memories that came back to her as she looked
out at the swift-falling night, and listened to that musical strain
which was being played over and over and _over_. She seemed to be
watching the people who were hurrying homeward, glancing apprehensively
now and then at the sky; for despite the glow of sunset there were
premonitions of a coming storm, and already a few advance snowflakes
were beginning to fall. But Mrs. Burnham saw neither people nor
snowflakes; or rather she saw them without seeing. Her eyes were
swimming in tears that she did not intend to let have their way. Not as
girl or woman had Ruth Erskine Burnham been given to tears, although
there had been reason enough in her life for them. Since she had not
indulged them then, she did not mean to begin now that she was
middle-aged and her hair was being sprinkled with gray.

She had been going over the story of the years with herself, that
afternoon, which might account in part for the dimmed eyes. It seemed to
her, looking back, that her chief mission in life had been to minister
at dying beds and follow as chief or almost chief mourner in funeral
processions. She had gone away back to the betrothed of her youth, and
added one more heavy sigh to the multitude that stood for a lost
opportunity. How entirely Harold Wayne had been under her influence! how
utterly she had failed him! And she had felt it only when she was
following him to the grave. Then those other graves, her father's and
Judge Burnham's daughters', Seraph and Minta, what strange sad memories
she had connected with both those graves that were not a year apart in
their making. And then their father had been laid beside them and they
two were left alone in the world, she and Erskine.

He was not yet eighteen, but there were times when it seemed to his
mother that he was much older, and that he and she had been alone
together always. All these memories that, because it was an anniversary
of one of her bereavements, had been more vivid with her than usual that
day, trooped again about her as she stood in the waning light,
apparently intent on watching the outside world, in order to escape
being watched by her world, inside.

To people who were acquainted with the girl, Ruth Erskine, it will not
seem strange that a look backward over her checkered life brought sombre
thoughts that were close to tears.

Of the four girls who, years and years before when they were young and
full of courage, went to Chautauqua together and lived their eventful
summer and began their new lives together, hers had had the strangest,
saddest story; it had been marked by experiences so unlike the
commonplace that the world had stopped to look, and express its
astonishment.

The unusual began with her father's strange revelations about that new
mother who yet was not new, but had been her stepmother for years. Was
ever daughter before called upon to receive a new mother in such way as
that? But why go over all that ground again? She too had been followed
to the grave, and no one of all Mrs. Burnham's friends had been more
sincerely missed and mourned. Then there was her sister, Susan Erskine.
Was ever heavier cross or greater blessing thrust into a life than that
girl represented to the girl Ruth Erskine? It had been one of her later
trials to give Susan up to China. She was sorely missed, but it had been
good for Erskine to have such a missionary Auntie as she made. And those
two strange girls Seraphina and Araminta Burnham. Could some writer put
into print the story of those two lives as it interlaced with hers, the
foolish world would call it fiction, and criticise it as unnatural.

Over the early days of her widowhood Ruth Burnham knew better than to
linger. Though so many years had intervened that the little boy he left
had grown to young manhood, she still missed his father so sorely that
she could not trust herself to stay among those few precious months
before he went suddenly from her.

She had been left, without even the warning of an hour, to bring up
their boy alone! It was from this form of her bereavement that she had
shrunken back most fearfully. Judge Burnham, with his life consecrated
to God, had seemed eminently fitted to guide the life of just such a boy
as theirs; but God had planned differently.

And now, what people call the anxious years were gone, and she had kept
her boy.

Yet the tears which she did not mean to shed were, in part, for him. She
knew better than most mothers seem to understand that there were still
"anxious years" to be lived through.

They had lingered over the breakfast table that morning, discussing
certain questions that had been discussed before.

"Mamma," the boy had said as he served her to fruit, "how came you to
have pronounced ideas about all sorts of things? Were you always so?"

His mother laughed genially.

"What a definite question for a lawyer to ask!" for Erskine had already
announced his intention of being a lawyer like his father and
grandfather.

"What 'things' are supposed to be under consideration?"

He echoed her laugh.

"I was thinking aloud then," he said. "It often seems to me as though
you and I knew each other's thoughts. But just now I am thinking of one
of our argumentative subjects. In spite of the horror in which you have
brought me up of those bits of pasteboard called cards, I find that I
cannot feel precisely as you would like to have me, concerning them. I
used to. As a child nobody could be fiercer than I in their
denunciation; but I find that that was merely a reflex influence, and
not judgment. In spite of me nowadays they look meek and harmless; and I
was wondering how you and they came to be in such fierce antagonism. Was
my father of that mind?"

"Am I fierce, Erskine?"

He gave her a half-quizzical, wholly loving smile as he said gayly:--

"That of course is not the word to apply to the most charming of women,
but you know, dearest, that you are very much in earnest about all such
matters. Were you brought up in that way?"

Mrs. Burnham shook her head.

"No, when I was of your age, and younger, we played cards at home; and I
went to card-parties in our set very often. It was your Aunt Flossy who
set a number of us to thinking and studying and praying about such
matters."

Erskine shook his head with pretended gravity.

"I might have known it, mamma. Aunt Flossy isn't like people; in fact
she always seems to me a trifle out of place on earth."

"I thought you were very fond indeed of your Aunt Flossy."

"So I am; and I think I should be very fond of an angel from heaven; but
you see, when a fellow has to live on the earth, it is a trifle more
convenient to be like the other earth worms. All of which was suggested
by the fact that the Mitchells are to give a card-party next week. Very
select, you understand, only the choice few are bidden and I happen to
be one of them."

Then, although his mother shrank from it, feeling that it did harm
rather than good to go again over ground that was familiar to both and
that was so clear to her and did not convince her son, he persisted in
arguing, and in trying to prove that her position was narrow and
untenable in these days. Throughout the interview he had been courteous
and winsome, as he always was with her, and had laughingly complimented
her more than once on her skill in argument; but for all that, she knew
he was entirely unconvinced, and felt that her hold on him was weaker
than when they had gone over the same ground before. The fact was, and
this mother knew it well, that the world and all the allurements for
which that phrase stands was making a hard fight for her handsome son
even so early in life, and there were times when she felt fearful that
in a sense it would win. It was not that she believed he would ever be
sorely tempted by any of the amusements or frivolities of life; he was
strong-principled and strong-willed, and certain, that might be called
main, points had been settled by him once for all. Yet none knew better
than did this woman of long and peculiar experience that it was possible
to maintain a high standing in the world and in the church and yet have
almost as little knowledge of that life hid with Christ in God which was
the Christian's rightful heritage as did the gay world around him. She
craved this separated life for Erskine, yet he was social in his tastes
and fond of being looked upon as a leader, and his mother knew it
already irked him to feel that in certain social functions he must
always be counted out.

"There are so many of them!" he had said to her once, with as much
impatience in his tone as he ever gave to her.

"A fellow could manage to indulge one or two whims, but you know,
dearest, you have at least half a dozen, and to humor them all will make
a rather conspicuous wallflower, I am afraid."

Something very like that he had repeated that morning, and it had
colored his mother's day. She knew that the Mitchells were fond of
Erskine and would make vigorous efforts to secure him for their party.
It was hard, she told herself, that one so fitted to shine in cultured
circles of young people must so often be made to feel embarrassed and
out of place, and she wondered for the dozenth time that season if ways
of thinking about these things had changed, along with other changes.
Was she herself what Erskine, if he had made use of the modern slang,
might call a "back number"? "Still, his father, who had no such
prejudices as mine to deal with, grew very positive in his objection to
cards," she reminded herself, and sighed. If his father had lived, he
would have known just how to manage Erskine; this, at least, she pleased
herself by believing, ignoring the fact that in their son's early
boyhood the father had had many ways of managing, of which she did not
approve. This is a habit which we all have with our beloved dead.

It was the memory of their morning talk that had led Mrs. Burnham to
appeal, that afternoon, to Mr. Conway when he dropped in for a social
chat. Mr. Conway was their new pastor; a brilliant, scholarly man, much
admired by old and young. Erskine in particular had been attracted to
him, and was decidedly of the opinion that in the pulpit he was a great
improvement on Dr. Dennis, even. Of course his mother did not agree with
this verdict, but she was wise enough to remember that the friends of
her girlhood could not be expected to be to her son what they were to
her. Yet Erskine was eminently fair and thoughtful beyond his years for
her. At the very time when he had so heartily indorsed Mr. Conway, he
had made haste to say:--

"Of course, mamma, there is a sense in which no one can ever equal Dr.
Dennis to us, and as for Aunt Marian her loss is irreparable." He held
carefully to the boyish custom of claiming his mother's girl friends as
aunts, and she liked it in him:--

"Nevertheless," he had added firmly, "as a preacher Mr. Conway is far
superior to Dr. Dennis."

Despite his careful courtesy Erskine was at the age when wisdom is at
its height, and opinions as a rule are delivered autocratically without
any softening "I think." His mother, having often to make objections
from principle, had learned the art of being silent when she could, and
she had made no objection in words to his estimate of Mr. Conway. To a
degree she was in sympathy with it. She liked Mr. Conway and was glad
that he was so young that Erskine, being old for his years, could find
him almost companionable, and at the same time could be helped by him.

Because of all these reasons she had been glad that Erskine was in, that
afternoon when Mr. Conway called. He was fond of calling there, and
playfully accused the two of being responsible for many neglected
families in his parish. She had kept herself almost quiet while Erskine
and their guest discussed books and music and men. They had many tastes
in common. Then Erskine had been urged to play, and his selection from
one of the great masters had chanced to be Mr. Conway's special
favorite; and then, Mrs. Erskine having studied how to do it in an
unstudied way, had skilfully turned the conversation into the channel of
her morning talk with Erskine; and before two minutes had passed would
have given much to be able to take back what she had done.



                               CHAPTER II

                          "NEVER MIND, MOMMIE"


YET in thinking it over, this course had seemed to Mrs. Burnham
eminently wise. Mr. Conway was quite as much in touch with the
fashionable world as a clergyman could well be; he had been brought up
in its atmosphere and had turned from what were supposed to be very
alluring prospects to live the comparatively straitened life of a
minister of the gospel. His undoubted scholarship commended him
especially to a young fellow like Erskine who came of a scholarly line.
If, without being directly appealed to for advice, the minister could be
drawn into an expression of opinion about these questionable matters, it
would certainly help; and under her skilful management he expressed
himself; but behold, he was on the wrong side! At least he was not on
the side that Ruth Burnham, having been for years accustomed to the
pastorate of Dr. Dennis, had taken it for granted that he would be.

There was, he assured her, something to be said on the other side of
that question. Of course he was opposed to all forms of gambling, but a
social game of cards in the parlor of a friend was innocent amusement
enough--much better than certain others he could name that seemed to
have escaped the ban of the over-cautious. He was really in earnest
about this matter. He considered that there was positive danger in
drawing the lines too taut. He knew a fellow in college who had been
very carefully reared in one of those very narrow homes where a card was
never allowed to penetrate, and where they looked in holy horror upon
the idea of his touching one elsewhere; but he hadn't been in college an
entire year before he spent half his nights at cards! and he went to the
bad as fast as he could. That, the clergyman believed, was what often
happened when young people were held too closely. That was by no means
the only instance which had come under his personal knowledge, and
indeed he believed that, of the two extremes, he feared the narrow the
more. Human nature was such that there was sure to be a rebound from
over-strictness, and the clearer, keener brained the victim was, the
more fear of results. There was much more of the same sort. Poor Ruth,
who had not meant to argue, and who had wished of all things to avoid
anything that would look in the least like a personal matter, tried in
vain to change the subject. Erskine, with an occasional mischievous
glance for her alone, led his pastor on to say much more than he had
probably intended at first. Not that he differed from him in the least;
on the contrary he took the rôle of an eager youth to whom it was a
vital matter to have the "narrowness" of his surroundings immediately
widened.

Mrs. Burnham, disappointed and hurt, became almost entirely silent, and
when she finally walked down the hall with her departing pastor, felt no
wish to consult him about a matter on which she had intended to ask his
advice at the first opportunity. She had a feeling that it made little
difference to her what his advice was on any subject; yet she knew that
that was real narrowness and that she must rise above it. Such was the
condition of things on that evening in late autumn when she stood
looking out of the bay window at the swiftly gathering night and
appeared to be watching the passers-by through a mist of unshed tears,
while Erskine played exquisite strains of harmony. His mother,
listening, or rather letting the music melt unconsciously into her
being, felt peculiarly alone with her responsibilities. Who was she that
she should hope, alone and unaided, to battle successfully with the
temptations of this great wicked world full of yawning pitfalls
especially prepared for the feet of young men? How was she ever to hope
to guide a boy like Erskine successfully through its snares, without
even a pastor to lean upon? What if Erskine should be like that college
boy Mr. Conway had taken such pains to describe graphically and insist
upon going to the bad as soon as he was away from her influence? She
could see that that was just what was being feared for him; it was
probably what Mr. Conway meant.

Wait, must her boy, her one treasure, be away from her influence? Yes,
of course he must; everybody said so. Why, there were people who were
certain that she was ruining her son by keeping so close to him even
now. Not only now, but away back in his young boyhood. She recalled with
a shiver of pain how her husband had once said to her:--

"Have a care, Ruth; you don't want to make a Molly Coddle of the boy,
remember."

Later, she had heard of one of the Mitchells as declaring that "Mrs.
Burnham was making a regular 'Miss Nancy' of that boy of hers, and if
somebody did not take him in hand, he would be ruined."

Then, her intimate friends had been as plain with their cautions as they
dared. Had not Marian Dennis pleaded earnestly for a famous boys' school
fifty miles away? "It would be so good for him, Ruth; he would learn
self-reliance and patience; two lessons that a boy never can learn at
home, when there is but one." And Dr. Dennis had added his word: "As a
rule, my friend, a boy learns manliness by being compelled to be manly
and to depend upon himself."

There was her old friend Eurie, with four rollicking, romping boys of
her own, always looking doubtfully at Ruth's fair-haired, fair-skinned,
rather quiet, always gentlemanly boy.

"Let him come and spend a summer with us, Ruth," she urged, "and row and
swim and hunt and get almost shot and quite drowned a few times; it will
do him good, body and soul. Boys learn manhood by hairbreadth escapes,
you know." She had laughed at Ruth's shudder and had told Marian
privately that "Ruth was simply idiotic over that poor boy."

Only Flossy, their dainty, gentle, still beautiful Flossy, had seemed to
understand. Had she too meant a caution? As she kissed Ruth good-by, the
four girls of Chautauqua memory having spent a never-to-be-forgotten
week together at Ruth Burnham's home, she had said gently:--

"The best place in the world for a boy, dear Ruth, is as close to his
mother as he wants to be, just as long as he plans to be there. I have
studied boys a good deal, and I think I am sure of so much."

Ruth's face had flushed over this murmured word. She had been half vexed
with the others, but it had been given to their little Flossy, as often
before, to give her a new thought. She studied over it; she took it to
heart and let it color all her movements. More and more after that,
although Erskine was still quite young, she kept herself in the
background and pushed him forward. On their little trips to the larger
city and in any of their outings indeed, she compelled herself to sit
quietly in the waiting-room, while Erskine went to buy tickets and check
baggage. It is true that every nerve in her body quivered with
apprehension until he was safely beside her again, yet she held firmly
to her purpose.

Very early in their life alone together she ceased any attempt to drive
the ponies that were Erskine's delight, and sat beside him outwardly
quiet and inwardly quaking until she had learned her lesson--reminding
herself continually that the boy's father had taught him to love and to
manage horses when he was too small to touch his feet to the carriage
floor.

She gave up early, and with a purpose, the taking Erskine to town with
her for a round of shopping or pleasure-seeking, and learned to say
meekly and in a natural tone of voice:--

"Can you take me to town on Saturday, dear? I have many errands to do,
and I don't like to go alone."

She had lived through all these things, and it was not in any such
directions that either she or her friends had fears any more. Erskine
was self-reliant enough; in fact he was masterful, though so courteous
in his ways that few beside herself suspected it. He had inherited much
from his father. Still, the mother knew that there was a strong sense in
which she dominated his life. That he went to certain places and
refrained from going to certain others simply to please her and not at
all as a matter of principle. She was far from being satisfied with
this, and was always asking herself: "How long will he do this?" and
"Are such concessions worth anything in the way of character?"

She had many questions, this anxious mother of one child; there were
days, and this was one, when they pressed her sorely.

The music flowed on; now soft and tender as a caress, now breaking into
great waves of sound that meant energy, and possibly conflict.

Suddenly it ceased with a great crash of keys, still in harmony, and the
boy wheeled on his stool, looked at his mother, and laughed.

"You woke up the wrong chap that time, didn't you, mother?" he said. "It
was as good as a play to hear him go on and to watch your face. I
haven't enjoyed anything so much in a long time."

He laughed again over the memory. His mother did not join in the laugh;
just then she could not. Those tears that she had managed, not allowing
them to fall, had somehow got into her throat. She felt that she should
choke if she attempted to speak, and she could not summon at the moment
more than the ghost of a smile.

Erskine wheeled back to the piano for a moment, played a few bars of a
popular song with one hand, humming it softly; then, in the midst of a
line, arose and strolled over to the window where his mother stood.

"Never mind, mommie," he said, bending his tall form low enough to kiss
the tip of one ear--a whimsical little caress peculiar to himself. "She
mustn't go and look at the clouds and the storm and the dark as though
there wasn't any sunshine anywhere. I am not intending to go to the dogs
as soon as I go away from home, merely because my mother did her level
best all her life to keep me right side up with care; and in my opinion
it would be a poor sort of chap who would do any such thing. And I don't
feel the need of a social game of cards now and then as a safeguard,
either. I don't feel especially 'taut,' mommie, honestly; and I don't
care a straw for the Mitchells' card party. Did you really think I cared
for it on that account? How absurd! Don't you worry one least little
mite, mamma, there is absolutely nothing to be troubled over except that
you have a pastor who doesn't know enough to talk a little bit on the
side that you want talked, or else keep still. Wasn't it funny?" He
laughed once more, then added, a trifle more gravely:--

"When that man is older, he will understand people better, perhaps.
Don't you hope so? Shall I read to you, mamma, a little while? I have a
delicious book here that I know you will enjoy."

Did he understand, would he ever understand, what a mountain weight he
had suddenly lifted from his mother's heart? What a gracious,
sweet-spirited, self-sacrificing boy he was! Had there ever been one
just like him? She knew he was fond of the Mitchells, and that they were
eager to have him with them in their social life; they had brought as
much pressure as they could, and he had resisted it for his mother's
sake.

It was sweet, but--She could not keep back one little sigh. She was a
devoted mother; but she would, oh, so much rather it had been for
Christ's sake.

There was an unexpected outcome from that interview with Mr. Conway. In
a very short time it became evident that he had lost his hold upon
Erskine. Not that the boy turned against him seriously; but he smiled
over some of his words and purposely misquoted others in a spirit of
mischief. Occasionally there was a curve to the smile that suggested a
sneer; and the strongest feeling he evinced for him might be called
indifference. In his secret heart Erskine knew that he was being
unreasonable, and was really resenting his mother's having been made
uncomfortable; but he could not get away from the feeling that Mr.
Conway, having been weighed in his mother's balance and found wanting,
was not to his mind, however much he himself might differ from her. Of
course all this was mere feeling, not principle.

Nevertheless, the clergyman, who prided himself on his influence with
young men and who puzzled anxiously over Erskine Burnham's changed
attitude which he vaguely felt and could not define, might have been
helped if some one had been frank enough to explain the situation.
Nobody did. The boy scoffed in secret, assuring himself that a minister
who could not be a comfort to a woman and a widow when she tried to lean
on him was a "poor sort of chap." As for the mother, she told herself
that if she had not been weak and foolish in carrying her anxieties to
others, Mr. Conway would not have lost his influence over Erskine; and
the minister remained perplexed and anxious; he was sincerely eager to
be helpful to young men.

Outwardly they all went on as before. The Mitchells and others of their
kind made their card parties and their social dances and their theatre
parties and continued to invite eagerly Mrs. Burnham's handsome young
son, who cheerfully declined all invitations and stayed with his mother.
But he argued no more; in fact he declined to do so, setting the whole
matter gayly aside, with a cheerful--

"Don't let us argue about these things any more, mommie. We shouldn't
agree, and they are not worth disagreeing over. I don't care a copper
for the whole crowd of entertainments that you think of with
interrogation points attached, and I don't care two straws about what
others think of me in connection with them; so let us taboo the whole
subject and enjoy ourselves."

His mother would have liked something very different. She would have
been glad if he had given himself to the study of such matters, and
settled them from principle. She harassed herself by imagining what an
unspeakably happy mother she would be if instead of his gay, kind words
he had said:--

"I have been looking into this matter carefully and I understand why you
take the position that you do. In fact I do not see how a Christian
could do otherwise. I shall take it with you, and you may consider that
the question is settled with me for all time."

However, it is something, indeed it is a great deal, for a lone and
lonely mother to have a boy go her way, and go smilingly, merely to
please her.



                              CHAPTER III

                              MAMIE PARKER


ON a bright winter day more than a year after Mr. Conway's deliverance
with regard to cards, Mrs. Burnham's next very distinct milestone was
set up. She was away from the old home and Mr. Conway and all the
associations of her past. She was spending her second winter in a lively
college town, and Erskine was a sophomore.

The lonely mother of one son had been through much anxiety and
perplexity before the plans for this change in their life were fully
formed. Erskine's gay rendering of the situation was that not only did
every adopted aunt and uncle and grandmother that he had in the world
know best how to plan their life for them, but had each a pet college to
ride as a hobby. He gave this as a reason why it was just as well to
break all their hearts at one fell swoop and choose for himself--which
was what in effect he had done; at least he had gone quite contrary to
the urgings of his other friends and had compromised with his mother.
But he had made quite a compromise. His very first choice had been one
of which she entirely disapproved; nor could she be persuaded despite
his arguments to change her point of view. In vain he held her quite
into the night in a close and eager debate, setting forth his important
reasons with skill and eloquence. In vain he assured her that conditions
had very much changed since his father had expressed disapproval of this
particular centre of learning, and as for his grandfather, why there was
nothing left of his times but the name.

His mother urged that her opinion, or her feeling--he might call it
feeling if he chose--was not based on his grandfather's or even entirely
on his father's views, but was the result of her own reading and
inquiry, and was unalterable. If he selected that college, it would be
in direct opposition to her strongly expressed wishes. She had been
tempted to add that if he did so, his money, left in her charge and
subject to her decisions until he was of legal age, would not be
forthcoming. She was mercifully preserved from making this mistake. Had
she said so, he would probably have gone to the college of his choice
even though he had to go penniless. As it was, his eyes flashed a
little. But his mother's voice had trembled as she added those last
words, "And I suppose I need not try to tell you how such a course would
hurt me."

It was that which held the boy. He sprang up suddenly, took two or three
hasty turns up and down the room in a manner so like his father's that
Ruth could hardly bear it, then his face had cleared.

"You shall not be hurt, mommie," he had said in his usual cheery tone.
"You shall never be hurt by me. I want that college more I presume than
I could make you understand, and the more I think about it the more I
feel that I should like to choose it. But I am not a baby who must have
everything he wants; and I do not care enough for anything on earth to
get it at the expense of hurting you. You know that, don't you? I'll
tell you, mother, we will compromise; this is an age of compromise. I
will drop my first choice from this time forth if you will unite
heartily with me on the second one and help me stop this clamor of
tongues."

It had not been by any means her second choice, but she felt that having
been treated so well she must meet him halfway; so the vexed question
was settled.

There had been another anxiety. Marion Dennis had written to her not to
make the mistake of following her boy to college; and Dr. Dennis had
added a few lines to the same effect, saying that in nine cases out of
ten he believed such a course to be a mistake, and even in the tenth,
separation would probably have been better. Moreover, an only son and an
only child needed, as a rule, more than any other to be thrown on his
own resources. All the old arguments over again, and numberless plans
for the disposal of the mother. She was to come to the Dennis home for a
visit of unlimited length; she was to spend the winter with Flossy; she
was to go abroad with Grace and her husband. Eurie, the outspoken,
wrote:--

"Now, Ruth, don't, I beg of you, tie that dear boy to your apron-string.
I am the mother of five, and I know all about how they talk, and how
they feel when they don't talk. Besides, I need you this winter as never
before; let me tell you something." Then had followed revelations
intended to prove that it was Ruth's imperative duty to spend the winter
with her old friend.

Mr. Conway added his courteous hint, and suggested plans. Mrs. Conway
wondered if Mrs. Burnham would not like to join her sister Helen and
their mutual friends, the Hosmers, on an extended Western trip, now that
she was to be alone. The winter was an ideal time for such a tour as
they had planned; and it would be pleasant for Erskine to think of his
mother as travelling with friends instead of being at home alone. Poor
Ruth! her heart turned from them all in almost rebellion. If she must be
separated from Erskine for the first time in his life, couldn't she be
let alone in her own home? To go visiting or sight-seeing without him
she felt would be unbearable. She kept most of these anxieties and
advices to herself, feeling that she must not cloud Erskine's last days
at home with them. Still, she wondered not a little,--and sometimes it
hurt her,--that he had not spoken of her plans at all, but seemed to be
so absorbed in his own as to have forgotten her. At last, when she felt
that some positive decision must be reached, she told him of Mr.
Conway's proposition, and showed him Eurie's letter. He glanced it
through, smiling serenely:--

"Aunt Eurie is cool, as usual," he remarked. "They can all save their
time by planning for somebody else, can't they? Of course I am going to
take you with me, mommie. Do they think I would leave you in this big
house alone, or let you go travelling without me!"

It was all so easy to arrange after that. It sounded so different from
the wording in those letters when Erskine himself replied to them.

"I am very grateful for your thoughtful kindness about my mother, but I
am going to take her with me; I had not a thought of doing otherwise. I
should not be comfortable to have her away from my care in winter, even
though she were with you. I have so long made her first in my thoughts
and look upon her so entirely as my father's precious charge to me, that
no other plan is to be thought of. I shall find pleasant rooms for her,
and I think she will enjoy the change."

Ruth smiled proudly as she made her verbal explanations. "Thank you very
much, but Erskine says I am to go with him; he cannot think of trusting
me to myself; he has taken care of me for a long time, you know." There
was not a thought of sarcasm in this suggestion. She knew that the
assumption of authority sat well on her handsome son who could look down
on her from his splendid height; it seemed quite in keeping with his
appearance and character that he was going to take his mother with him
in order to take care of her.

The scheme had worked well. He "took" his mother and took excellent care
of her, and incidentally she did much, of course, for his comfort, and
they were happy. Early in his college career she had sometimes overheard
explanations like this:--

"No, boys, I can't join you to-night. You see, I have my mother with me
and I feel bound to give her what time I can spare. It will never do to
have her feel lonely and deserted after bringing her away out here among
strangers, on purpose to take care of her."

It was all very pleasant. But she had learned something from those
letters and that volume of advice. She tried steadily not to dominate
her son; indeed, so far as a carefully-watched-over mother could, she
effaced herself, or tried to. Erskine had no thought of such a thing,
and was openly and serenely happy in his mother's society.

"I pity the other fellows," was a phrase often on his lips. "Most of
them live in pokey rooms all by themselves or with only each other; no
woman to speak to but a cross-grained hostess, and nothing homelike
anywhere; while here it is almost as nice as being at home."

And he would glance complacently around the handsomely furnished suite
of rooms that showed everywhere the touch of his mother's hand. But of
course there were evenings that were not spent with his mother. It was
in connection with one of these that she reached that distinct milestone
of which mention has been made. Erskine in explaining about it had shown
an unaccountable embarrassment.

"It is just a kind of spread that one of the boys is getting up in honor
of his sister; she has come to spend the winter with him. It is rather
new business to him and I have promised to help him through, so I must
go early and stay late--not very late, though. Parker's landlady will
look out for that; she is one of the grim and surly kind. I should have
the shivers if I had to get up a spread, with her in charge. Yes, Parker
is the curly-headed one that you don't quite fancy. I don't know why, he
is a good fellow. Haven't I spoken before of his sister? She has been
here for three weeks. Didn't you notice Parker last Wednesday at the
concert? He sat just across from us and had her with him. Yes, she is at
his boarding-house, and the spread is in his room. He has the downstairs
room, mother, in fact it is the back parlor; there is a folding-bed that
does duty as a sort of sideboard during the day. It is very nice,
really. One wouldn't imagine that there was a bed anywhere around.
Parker is one of the fellows who has a good deal of money, I think, but
not the culture that generally goes with such a condition. Sometimes I
fancy that his father must have made his money lately and suddenly; but,
of course, I don't know. Still, everything is very nice and proper about
this spread; of course you know that, or I wouldn't be in it. The
sister? Oh, yes, she is young--younger than Parker. He is older than
most of us, you know. No, there are no women in the house except the
landlady and her sister, a maiden lady. That's a pity; it must be rather
lonely for Ma--for Miss Parker."

The color flamed in his face and he laughed in an embarrassed way and
spoke apologetically:--

"Parker has 'Mamie' so constantly on his tongue that the rest of us are
in danger of forgetting. He is very proud of his sister. Why, no,
mother, of course he could not very well make any other arrangement; why
should he? Of course it is a perfectly proper thing for a young lady to
be in her brother's boarding-house. She isn't obliged to have any more
to do with the other young men than she chooses. Parker wants her to
stay with him all winter. Their father is a mining man, and he and his
wife have gone to the mountains somewhere among the mines to look up
some more of their money, I suppose."

He spoke almost contemptuously; for some reason the evidence of
abundance of money in the Parker family seemed to annoy him. He went on
quickly with his labored explanations:--

"Of course it would be pleasanter for M--for his sister if Parker were
in a house where there are ladies, but he has been there for several
years and has a room that suits him; he doesn't seem to think he can
make a change. Oh, yes, there are to be ladies to-night. Some of the
other boys have sisters, and cousins, or intimate friends; it is a very
informal affair. I fancy that Miss Parker herself is to be hostess. As
for a chaperon, I don't think they have thought of her." He laughed in a
half-embarrassed way as he said that, and added hastily:--

"It is really just a frolic, mother; they are not formal people at all,
under any circumstances, I fancy. Is it possible that that clock is
striking seven! I must be off at once; Parker will think I have
forgotten my promise to see him through from beginning to end."

What had he said to cause his mother to sit, for an hour after his
departure, as still as a stone, her hands clasped over the neglected
book in her lap? What was making that strange stricture around her heart
as though a cold hand had clutched her and was holding on?

He had kissed her good-by with almost more tenderness than usual, if
that were possible. He had called her "mommie," his special pet name for
her, and had inquired solicitously as to whether there was any special
reason for his getting home early. If there was, why of course--or if
for any reason she would rather not be left to-night, he could excuse
himself to Parker,--of course he could. All his friends knew well enough
that his mother came first.

But how relieved and pleased he had looked when she made haste to assure
him that there was not, and that she would be quietly happy with her
book all the evening, and there was no need at all for his hastening
home. And besides--she paused over that connecting phrase and tried to
formulate her fears. How had her son conveyed to her heart the feeling
that the time to which it seemed to her she had always looked
forward--the time when he would look upon some other woman with eyes
that were no longer indifferent, had come?

She could not have put it into words; but though she arose, at last, and
put away her book as something that seemed to have failed her, and sat
down at her desk to spend an hour with Marian Dennis, and abandoned her,
presently, for Flossy Shipley, and gave them both up after the second
page, and selected another book with the firm determination to compel
herself to read it, the simple truth is that she spent the entire
evening, and a large portion of the night as well, with one Mamie
Parker.



                               CHAPTER IV

                            WOULD SHE "DO"?


THE next morning Mrs. Burnham came into her pretty parlor, where a
dainty breakfast table was laid for two, prepared to be as wise as a
serpent over the new situation. She was genial, sympathetic, and not too
penetrative in her questions. Erskine had come home late, much later
than he had ever been before; yet apparently his mother had not noticed
it.

She did not even ask at what time he had come. In truth she needed no
information, but how was Erskine to know that?

Did he have a pleasant evening, and was the occasion all that it should
have been? He was not enthusiastic. It was pleasant enough, he said. In
some respects very pleasant; only--well, a few of the boys were noisier
than was agreeable, and two or three of them did not apparently know how
to treat ladies.

"Oh, nothing objectionable, of course," he said quickly, in response to
her startled look.

"They are so used to being alone that they grow loud-voiced and careless
about the small proprieties, or at least courtesies; I fancy some of
their ways must have seemed peculiar to Miss Parker."

"The other girls? Oh, they are used to such things; they were the
sisters and cousins of the boys, and the ways of a lot of fellows
accustomed chiefly to their own society would not seem so strange to
the others; but Miss Parker is--at least I hope, I mean I think
she--" He caught himself and left the sentence unfinished save by a
half-embarrassed laugh, which changed into a slight frown.

While his mother rang her table bell and gave low-voiced directions to
the maid, she pondered. What was it that Erskine hoped? That Miss Parker
was by nature more refined than the other ladies? And was the hope well
founded? She was slightly acquainted with some of the sisters and
cousins who were probably at this gathering. At least she had met them
once or twice and had felt no fear as to their influence over Erskine.
Was this Mamie Parker different? She felt her face flush a little even
over her thoughts. Must she learn to say "Mamie"? One thing was certain:
she must make the acquaintance of the girl at once. She ventured a move.

"Is this Mr. Parker so much your friend, Erskine, that he will expect
your mother to call on his sister, or is that unnecessary?"

Her heart beat in steady thumps while she waited for his answer. If only
he would say in his pleasant, indifferent tone:--

"Oh, it isn't necessary, mother; Parker and I are not especially
intimate, and he has no reason to expect such attentions from you." But
there was no indifference in the quick response.

"Mommie, you know just what, and how, always, don't you? I was wishing
for that very thing and not wanting to trouble you. Parker and I cannot
be said to be inseparable; but he is a good fellow, and I think you
would like him better on closer acquaintance. His sister is very much
alone here; none of those girls who were there last night have homes or
mothers; I mean of course that they are away from home; though I must
admit that some of them acted last night as though they had no mothers
anywhere, worthy of the name. It would mean very much to Miss Parker,
mother, if she could know you; and of course Parker would appreciate it
more than anything else that could be done for her. You don't know how
much the boys admire my mother."

His mother managed to smile cheerfully, and assure him that she would
make the proposed call. When he went away to his recitation he kissed
her fervently and told her she was the dearest mother in the world; and
as she watched him out of sight, she turned from the window and said
with a kind of strange gravity:--

"I think it has come: I must pray for grace to do right."

For several days thereafter the hours that Mrs. Burnham spent alone were
unusually thoughtful and prayerful. The feeling grew upon her that her
son had reached a critical point in his life. It is true he was very
young, not yet twenty; but none knew better than she that boys of twenty
sometimes glorify and sometimes mar all their future by reason of their
interest in one young woman. Also, she knew that a single false step on
her part, just now, might spoil all her future with her son and hasten a
condition of things that she longed to postpone for him. But she could
not plan her way, could not indeed see a single step before her until
that first one was taken: she must make that call on Mamie Parker. While
she allowed one triviality after another to delay her, the conviction
grew upon her that the step was important. Erskine's interest was keen;
despite the sympathy there had always been between them he had never
before shown such a lively desire to hear about each moment of his
mother's time while they were separated. That he chose not to ask in so
many words whether or not she had yet made that call but emphasized the
situation. When, before, had he hesitated to urge what he desired?
Moreover, he was often absent-minded and constrained; seeming to be
almost embarrassed over his own thoughts. He could not mention the
girl's name without a heightened color, yet he evidently planned ways of
introducing it that would sound accidental.

All things considered, Mrs. Burnham, as she dressed carefully for
calling, gravely admitted to herself that she was evidently about to
meet one who, for good or ill, had taken a strong hold upon her son's
life.

As she waited in the large ugly parlor, where the wall-paper was gaudily
angry over the colors in the carpet, and where every article of
furniture or ornament--of which last there were many--seemed ready to
fight with every other one, she wondered what Erskine the fastidious
thought of this room. It seemed almost profane to think of meeting one's
ideal in such a room. Yet she must be reasonable; of course the girl was
not to blame for the taste, or want of taste, displayed in her brother's
boarding-house.

She had to wait an unreasonable length of time, and despite her furs she
felt the chill of the half-warmed room. There were a few books on the
table, but she tried in vain to find one that would hold her thoughts.
Perhaps no book could have been expected to do that under the
circumstances.

Presently she became aware that some one else had entered an adjoining
room where there had been brisk moving about ever since her arrival.
With the coming of another, a sharp little voice could be distinctly
heard:--

"Oh, say, Lucile, do come here and fasten this waist; I'm scared to
pieces and my fingers all feel like thumbs. Don't you think 'Ma' has
come to look me over and see if I will do! Oh dear! can't you hook it?
It's awful tight, but I've got to be squeezed into it somehow; I'm
keeping her waiting an awful while. I had on that fright of a wrapper
when she came, and my hair in crimps. I didn't get up to breakfast this
morning; we were so horrid late last night, I couldn't."

"'Ma' who?" said another voice. "Not Erskine Burnham's mother? You don't
say so! My land! I should think you would be scared. They say she's
awful particular who she calls on. You must mind your p's and q's,
Mamie, or you'll never see that handsome boy of hers again. They say she
keeps him right under her thumb all the time."

Mamie's response was in too low a tone to penetrate into the next room,
but it was followed by explosive giggles from both talkers. Meanwhile,
the caller's face was glowing, not only with shame for them, but with
indignation. What might _not_ those coarse girls--she was sure they were
both coarse--be saying about her son!

The door opened at last and a mass of fluffy hair entered; behind which
peeped a pert little face with pink cheeks and bright, keen eyes.

The girl was dressed in the extreme of the prevailing style,--quite too
much dressed for morning, though the material of which her garments were
made was flimsy and cheap-looking. Plainly if she had money she had not
learned how to spend it to advantage. Still the clothes were worn with
an air that hinted at her ability to learn how to play the fine lady if
she were given the opportunity.

Her manner to her caller suggested a curious mixture of timidity and
bravado. She chattered incessantly and showered slang words and phrases
about her freely; yet all the while kept up a nervous little undertone
of movement and manner that showed she was not at ease.

"Oh, indeed, she was having an awfully good time. Brother Jim was doing
the best he could to give her a lark. She had never been much away from
home and they lived in a stupid little village where there was nothing
going on. Oh, Jim was an elegant brother; he wanted her to stay all
winter and look after his buttons and things."

"I expect you have heard a good deal about Jim, haven't you, from your
son? Only he calls him 'Parker' instead of Jim; the boys all do that,
you know. It's 'Parker,' and 'Burnham,' and all the rest of them. Ain't
it funny, instead of using their first names? I s'pose that's the
college of it; but your son has such a pretty name it seems a pity not
to use it. Don't you think Erskine is an awful pretty name? I do. It has
such an aristocratic sound. Ma says I ought to have been born with a
silver spoon in my mouth, I like aristocratic things so well. Not but
what we've got money enough;"--this with an airy toss of the frizzed
head. Then, in a confidential tone: "But I may as well own to you that
it didn't pan out until a little while ago."

Mrs. Burnham, as she took her thoughtful way home, too much exhausted
with this effort to think of making another call, studied in vain the
problem of her son's enthralment.

The girl was pretty, certainly, with a kind of garish, unfinished
beauty, not unlike that of a pert doll; and her chatter, if one could
divest one's self of all thought of interest in the chatterer save in
the way of a moment's diversion, was rather entertaining than otherwise,
when it was not too much mixed with slang; but what Erskine, her
cultivated and always fastidious son, could find in the empty little
brain to attract him was beyond the mother's comprehension. But he must
have been pronounced in his attentions. Had she not been reported as
having called to see if the girl would "do"? Ruth's sensitive face
flushed over the memory. Should she tell that to Erskine? What should
she tell to Erskine? How should the place and the interview and her
impressions of the entire scene be described? It required serious
thought. The more the mother considered it, the more sure she felt that
much of Erskine's future might turn on the way in which she, his mother,
conducted herself just now. She puzzled long and reached no clearer
conclusion than that until she saw her way clearer she would take no
steps at all, and would be entirely noncommittal in her statements. This
she found hard; Erskine was curious, more curious than she had ever
before known him to be. He cross-questioned her closely as to her call,
and was openly regretful, almost annoyed, at her having so little to
tell. In the course of the next few days the watching mother, who yet
did not wish to appear to watch, knew of at least two social functions
that included her son and Miss Parker. One was a sleigh-ride which fell
on the evening of the mid-week prayer-meeting in the church they were
attending. Erskine had been scrupulous in his attendance on this
meeting, declining for it social and business engagements alike,
sometimes to his own inconvenience.

"There was no use in compromising about these matters," he said. "Busy
people can find something important to detain them every week of their
lives if they once admit an exception. The only way is to set one's face
like a flint and march ahead."

But he came to her with profuse apologies for this exception; Parker had
planned, without knowing anything about the prayer-meeting; he had not
been brought up to think of such things, and it was going to embarrass
him very much if he declined. He wouldn't have had it happen in this way
for a great deal, and he should take care to let Parker know in the
future that Thursday evening belonged to his mother and to no one else.
He himself arranged for her to have agreeable company to and from the
church, and she had grace to be sweet and cheerfully acquiescent in all
his plans. Nevertheless she owned, quite to herself, that she felt in a
strange, new sense alone. She was more straitened in her praying that
evening than she had been for months, almost for years. There was a
miserable undertone question hovering about each petition: Could it be
possible that she must teach herself to pray for Mamie Parker, not as a
passing acquaintance but as one of her very own? and could she learn
such a lesson? She had by no means settled it that such a catastrophe
must come upon them, but she could not keep down her forebodings.

It was two days afterwards that Mrs. Burnham, having at last reached a
decision, made another very careful move. It was discussed over the
cosey breakfast which she and Erskine took together in her parlor.

"Would he like to have her ask Mr. Parker and his sister in to dinner on
some evening soon? or would that indicate a greater degree of intimacy
with the young man than he cared to live up to?"

There was a sudden stricture at her heart over the flash of pleasure on
her son's face.

"Mommie, you are a jewel!" this was his first outburst. "Parker would be
everlastingly obliged to you for such an attention. You see he knows
very few people here of the sort that he would care to have his sister
visit. Most of his friends are just college boys away from home, and
Parker has ideas about his sister's associates. He is a real good
fellow, Mommie; if he had had one-third of my opportunities, he would
have made more of them, I believe, than I have."

His mother did not choose to argue that question. She felt a wicked
temptation to say that she would be glad if she need never hear his name
again; but she restrained herself and asked another question.



                               CHAPTER V

                              THE OLD CAT!


"WOULD he like to have one or two young people asked to meet them? Alice
Warder, for instance, and her cousin. How would they do?" Did his face
cloud a little?

"I don't know," he said slowly, and his voice suggested a cloud, or at
least a diminution of his pleasure.

"Is that necessary, do you think, mother? It is not as though we were at
home, of course. Several guests at one time would hardly be expected at
a boarding-house."

His mother reminded him of their hostess's cordial offer of a separate
table for themselves and three or four guests whenever they cared to
give her a half-day's notice; and added that Alice was so used to being
called upon to help entertain their guests, that to count her out would
seem almost strange to her. Besides, wouldn't this be a convenient time
to show her cousin some attention? He was not to be with her long.

Apparently Erskine had no more arguments to offer.

"Oh, very well," he said. Those were matters for her to settle, and it
must all be just as she thought, of course. Then he kissed her,
lavishly, and went away; but she felt that she had destroyed much of his
pleasure in the proposed visit. And he used to be so fond of Alice!

During the next two days she spent much time and thought over her little
boarding-house dinner-party. She had adhered to her resolve to include
Alice and her cousin among the guests, although she had given herself
time to look steadily in the face the reason why she was so insistent
about this when Erskine evidently desired it otherwise.

Alice Warder was Flossy Shipley's dear friend, and being introduced by
her to the Burnhams was at once established on the footing of an old
friend. It had taken but a very short time to learn to love her for
herself. Even the careful mother of one son of marriageable age would
have found it hard to find flaws in Alice Warder. She was beautiful to
look upon, with regular, well-modelled features and a complexion that
was faultless. Perhaps her great brown eyes were what a stranger noticed
first; they were certainly very expressive. But she was much more than
beautiful. There was about her a charm of manner and movement that are
difficult to define and impossible to describe, but that made their
invariable impression even on those who met her casually. Ruth Burnham,
who in her womanhood was, as she had been in her girlhood, fastidious to
a fault with regard to young women, had yielded to the subtle charm of
this one at their very first meeting; and as the intimacy between them
deepened into friendship she had found graces of heart and mind that
fully harmonized with the lovely exterior.

The Warders bought a home very near to the Burnham place, and so far as
social life was concerned the two families speedily became as one.

Mrs. Burnham, singularly enough, as she reflected afterward, had not
once, during the early days of their friendship, coupled the names of
Alice and Erskine in her thoughts, congenial as they were. Although they
were almost to a day of the same age, Alice, who had been for several
years the nominal head of her father's house, appeared much the older,
and more like a mature young woman than a girl still in the charge of a
governess. It might have been this apparent disparity in their ages that
helped Mrs. Burnham to take the girl to her heart and think of her as
the daughter she had often wished for; not by any means as Erskine's
wife, but as his sister.

Erskine had been from the first of their acquaintance drawn to the young
woman in the frank and brotherly way that his mother desired. When the
plans for college were matured, one of the loudly spoken regrets on the
part of both mother and son was that they must be separated from the
Warders.

It came to pass, however, in the course of their second year of absence
that Mr. Warder had occasion to make the college town his headquarters
for several months; so Alice and her former governess were installed in
one of the hotels for the winter, that her father might have as much of
her company as possible; and the Burnhams rejoiced greatly thereat.

Yet here was Erskine, barely six weeks afterwards, considering it not
necessary to invite Alice to dinner! The poor mother sighed over the
perversity and the blindness of young manhood, and knew for the first
time that if Erskine had developed the peculiar interest which Miss
Parker seemed to have awakened, for Alice Warder, instead, she could
have rejoiced with her whole heart.

They came to dinner, Alice and her Boston cousin, a Harvard student of
marked ability, and Miss Parker and her brother. And Alice was fully as
marked a contrast to the other young woman as Ruth had believed that she
would be. First, in the matter of dress. Alice Warder was an artist in
dress. She wore at this quiet little dinner party a cloth gown of
olive-green, so severely plain in its make-up that its richness of
texture and faultless workmanship were apparent. And Miss Parker
appeared in an elbow-sleeved white dress badly laundered and profusely
trimmed with a quantity of lace that was startling rather than fine.
Moreover, she was adorned with a mass of hothouse blooms to which she
referred so significantly that the little company were at once made
aware that Erskine was the giver.

But the dress was perfection compared with the poor girl's manner. She
gayly and unblushingly appropriated Erskine to herself and rallied her
brother on the situation.

"Poor Jim! you haven't any girl at all, have you? Since Miss
Warder--must I call you 'Miss Warder'? it sounds ever so much more
friendly and cosey to say 'Alice.' You must look after your cousin, I
suppose. Are you sure he is your cousin? You know that is a dodge girls
have when--Oh, well, never mind; I won't bother you. This is good for
Jim; he always has half a dozen strings to his bow and can never decide
which one of them he wants the most; so this will be excellent
discipline for him, leaving him out in the cold. Dear me! What am I
talking about? Here is Mrs. Burnham looking young enough this minute to
be one of us."

All this, while they were making their way through the boarding-house
halls and large dining-room to a cosey little alcove, where a table had
been set for the Burnhams and their guests. Erskine's face had flushed
deeply during the outburst, and he had darted an annoyed look at his
mother to see if she was hearing it. He led the way across the
dining-room much to the irrepressible Mamie's disappointment, though she
chose to seem to ridicule it.

"Dear me!" she said in a stage whisper to Alice, "do look at that
ridiculous boy walking off alone. Where I come from, the fellows take
the girls out to supper. Can't I borrow your cousin for this evening,
and get even with him?"

Mrs. Burnham felt the color rising in her face, but Alice was gracious
and lovely. She laughed pleasantly as though used to such jokes, linked
her arm in the girl's, and said merrily:--

"We will give them all the slip, my dear, and go in together."

[Illustration: "WE WILL GIVE THEM ALL THE SLIP, MY DEAR."--_Page 61._]

Throughout that embarrassing and long-drawn-out dinner Alice was a help
and comfort at least to her hostess, and did steadily and patiently what
she could to cover the blunders of the girl beside her. Utterly
unaccustomed to even the formalities of a fashionable boarding-house
table, Mamie made constant blunders with forks and spoons and other
instruments of torture for the uninitiated; but these were trifles
compared with the blunders of her tongue. She made evident attempts to
cover her ignorance with regard to table formalities by much gay talk.
She laughed incessantly, and told many jokes at her brother's expense.
She said: "him and me," and "her and I," and "you folks," and a dozen
other provincialisms. When they returned to Mrs. Burnham's parlor, it
was almost worse--for then Mamie sang; and it was hard for her hostess
to determine of which she was most ashamed, the bad taste of the girl's
selections or the less than mediocre execution.

Still, the music was by no means the worst feature of that memorable
hour. Mamie's next startling venture was a pretence of being offended by
what she called Erskine's desertion of her at dinner-time.

"Oh, you needn't come around," she said rudely, as he rose to arrange
her music. "I can fix things myself, thank you, and Mr. Colchester will
turn the music for me, I know; won't you, Mr. Colchester?" with a jaunty
little smile for the stately Boston cousin. "You can't make up for
rudeness to me, sir, as easy as you think. I make fellows who want my
company mind their p's and q's, don't I, Jim?"

The stalwart brother thus appealed to replied only by a slight
embarrassed laugh, and the hostess had time out of her own embarrassment
to bestow a swift glance of pity upon him. He had already seen enough of
another sort of world to realize that his pretty, pert little sister,
the idol of his country home, was not making as good an impression on
these new friends of his as he wished she were. If the ladies had but
known it, the poor young fellow was at that moment saying to himself:--

"Why can't Mamie act more like that Miss Warder, I wonder? There's an
awful difference between them, and she doesn't catch on, somehow."

Throughout the interminable evening, Alice Warder proved not only the
excellent foil that Mrs. Burnham had foreseen, but a faithful and
efficient coadjutor. Not a lift of her eyebrows or a stray glance of any
kind betrayed a second's surprise at the character of the guests invited
to meet her dignified cousin and herself. She was gracious and friendly
to such an extent that before the evening was over, Mamie, who was
frankness itself, said admiringly:--

"How long you going to stay in this place? Dear me! I wish you was going
to be here all winter; I can see that you and me would be real cronies."

In the privacy of Mrs. Burnham's bedroom, whither Alice was taken to put
on her wraps, the girl bestowed her closing touch of sweetness and balm
upon her hostess.

"I had quite a little visit with Mr. Parker while you were entertaining
the others with those pictures; I was much interested in him; he is a
young man of good principle, isn't he? One on whom education will tell.
It is lovely in you and Erskine to open your home to him in this way; it
will be sure to mean much to him; and it ought to help the little
sister, too. It is pleasant to see how fond he is of her."

"You helped," said Mrs. Burnham, significantly. "I am more grateful for
your help to-night than the mere words will express."

She kissed her as she spoke, and felt in her heart that she was willing
that Erskine should marry this girl to-morrow, if he would.

"I was glad of the opportunity," the girl said simply. "And so, I am
sure, was Ranford. He is very much interested in young men of this
type."

For a full half hour after "Jim" had carried off his pouting
sister,--whose parting shot had been that she considered it "awfully
pokey" for a girl to go home from a dinner-party with "nothing but her
brother"--spoken in a pretended confidence to him, but loud enough for
all to hear,--silence reigned in the Burnham parlor.

Erskine had a desk in one of its corners, where he kept certain of his
books, and studied, whenever he chose to remain with his mother. He
flung himself down before it the moment the door closed after their
guests, as though work pressed hard.

His mother took a book and sat silent and apparently absorbed, although
as a matter of fact, instead of reading, she was studying the
half-averted face that was drawn in almost stern lines, and the eyes
that stared at the open page as though they did not see its words. She
did not believe that Erskine was studying Latin.

What had this terrible evening done for him, and for her? Had that
pretty-faced, ill-dressed, ill-bred girl secured in some unaccountable
way a permanent hold on her son's heart? Might it not be possible that
in giving him this awful view of her in sharp contrast with Alice Warder
she had but alienated him from herself? Perhaps she had blundered, and
perhaps the consequences of her blunder would be fatal to them both. Why
had she done it? Why had she not waited, and watched, and understood
better before she attempted anything? What should she do now? How was
she to bear this silence? And yet, what might not Erskine say when at
last he broke it?

A half-hour passed and neither mother nor son had turned a page.
Suddenly he wheeled his chair around so that she could get a full view
of his face, and smiled a half-sad, half-whimsical smile, and spoke his
word:--

"I don't believe we can do it, Mommie. It was good in you to try, and
you did it royally, as you do things, but--she can't be assimilated. She
doesn't belong. We shall have to wait until she goes home before we can
do much for Parker. All the same, mother, you understand that I thank
you for the effort. Alice was superb to-night, wasn't she?"

Then Ruth Burnham understood that it was her business to understand that
her son's interest lay solely in the young man Parker, and that in the
desire to help the brother the sister must be thought of as simply
tolerated. Already Erskine had put away his first illusion so utterly
that he did not propose to own it to himself, much less to his mother.

Poor Mamie Parker spent her fruitless winter in the college town, and
tried by many innocent and a few questionable ways to win back to
interest and special attention her brother's handsome friend, whose
sudden defection she could not understand. She tortured herself in a
vain effort to discover what could have happened on that evening which
she had expected to be memorable to her for other reasons than now
appeared. Why had it so utterly changed the attitude toward her of the
young man who, she had confidently assured Jim, was "caught, all right,"
she "knew the signs"?

By degrees, without any clearly defined reason for doing so, she came to
associate the defection with the young man's mother, and called her
"that old cat!" with a bitterness that had more than mere anger behind
it; there was a lump in her throat and a curious stricture about the
little organ that she called her heart, which was new to the frivolous
girl.

Jim's handsome college friend had afforded his sister Mamie a glimpse
into a new, strange world, one that she felt she could have loved, and
in which she believed that she could have shone; and in some way, she
did not understand how, his mother had closed the door.

"The old cat!" she said. "I should like to get even with her!" And then
she cried.



                               CHAPTER VI

                            IDEAL CONDITIONS


ERSKINE BURNHAM'S lesson was short, but sharp, and he seemed to have
learned it thoroughly. He gave himself more persistently to study than
before, and was even more devoted to his mother than ever, if that were
possible. He let the visiting sisters of freshmen and sophomores
dignifiedly alone, and resisted without a sigh numerous attempts to draw
him into local society circles.

"Haven't time for society just now," was his invariable excuse. "Nor
inclination," he would add privately for his mother's benefit.

Occasionally the mother urged the acceptance of an invitation and begged
him not to make a recluse of himself for her sake; but he met her
suggestions with his whimsical smile and the gay retort that a society
composed of two entirely congenial people met all his present
requirements. She was not insistent. Why should she be, when Erskine was
undeniably happy in the life he had planned?

Certainly it was an ideal life for the fond mother; for both of them,
perhaps. It had been unique from the first of Erskine's college course.
They had been settled but a few weeks in their new home when Mrs.
Burnham, finding much time at her disposal, proposed to Erskine that she
take up some of her long-ago-dropped studies and let him introduce her
to modern college ways. The young man laughed as he gave her an admiring
glance and assured her that she knew more than other women, already.
Nevertheless it pleased him to go into careful detail about his work,
and on the following day it surprised as well as pleased him to find
that his mother was quite as well prepared with some of his studies as
he was himself. From that evening a new order of things was established;
Mrs. Burnham, without matriculating as a college student, and without
letting it be known, save to the choice few who were their very intimate
friends, became nevertheless a student. How much of Erskine Burnham's
acknowledged success in college was due to the fact that his mother
studied with him throughout the entire course is something that will
never be known; but her son gave her full credit for the help that she
was to him. From the first he recognized her as a stimulant; he
discovered that he must have his points very fully in his grasp in order
to explain them satisfactorily to his pupil. She always insisted on
being his pupil and kept carefully the subordinate place, although her
keen questionings more than once led him to change his view of a subject
under discussion.

Altogether, it was a life replete with satisfaction to both mother and
son. Not that they shut themselves away from society. Such of his
friends as Erskine thought his mother would enjoy or could help he
brought freely to their rooms, and between several of the students and
herself there was built up by degrees that kind of friendship which one
occasionally sees between self-respecting young men and certain
middle-aged women. It was a very pleasant experience, and it made Ruth
feel, as she expressed it to Erskine, that she had several sons always
ready to serve her.

Neither did they wholly neglect the outside world. Both mother and son
held carefully to their resolve not to let college or any other
functions interfere with their Sunday and mid-week engagements in the
church of their choice, and through this channel they made certain
acquaintances that ripened into friendship. But there came a time in the
mother's life when she wished, not that she had enjoyed her studies with
Erskine less, but that both of them had given more time and thought and
enjoyment to distinctively religious themes and duties.

Meantime their friendship for Alice Warder ripened and deepened,
although there had been an interim during which its very life had seemed
to be threatened. Following that painful episode with Mamie Parker,
Erskine had seemed to shun even Alice Warder. He had not from the first
been entirely sure that he cared to see much of her Boston cousin, and
presently made him an excuse for seeing little of Alice, for the cousin
seemed to be staying indefinitely. This state of things lasted until the
college year closed and they went home, and became again next-door
neighbors to the Warders. At first, it seemed to Mrs. Burnham that the
old friendship was lost. Something very vague and intangible, but
distinctly felt, seemed to have come between them. Then, suddenly,
whatever it was, it passed. On a certain evening that stood out plainly
afterward in the mother's memory Alice had appeared at her window with
an air of decision, and a question.

"Has Erskine come in yet, Mrs. Burnham? When he comes, will you ask him
if he can give me an uninterrupted half-hour this evening for something
special?"

Later, the mother wondered, and often wondered what that something
special was, but she had not been told. It was something that made a
marked difference in Erskine's manner. From apparently avoiding Alice
Warder's society as much as possible, he frankly sought it; proposing
her as a third on occasions when his mother would have hesitated, and in
every possible way proclaiming that the old cordial relations were
reestablished. From that time on, the young woman next door became so
entirely identified with the daily life of the Burnhams that the
intimate friends of the family said "Alice and Erskine," quite as a
matter of course.

In the fall they went back to college, mother and son. At least that was
Erskine's way of putting it.

"Why not?" he said, laughing at his mother's protest. "You are as much
in college as I am. They ought to give you a diploma. I believe I'll
divide mine; have the sheepskin cut exactly in two, and your name
inserted. Half of my honors belong to you, anyhow."

During his senior year Erskine and Alice Warder were more inseparable
than ever. Mr. Warder went abroad on an extended business trip, which
was so entirely business that he would have little or no time for Alice,
and she chose to be left behind. But her friend who had lived with her
as a companion, since she had ceased to be a governess, wanted the
winter for her personal friends, so it was decided that Alice should
secure rooms at the same house where the Burnhams boarded and be
chaperoned by Mrs. Burnham. This made them practically one family,
though each adhered to his own programme. Alice gave much time to
correspondence, and interested herself at once in special church work;
while Mrs. Burnham continued to study with her son. But in all social
functions, and indeed, in all their leisure time, they were together
quite as a family.

It was during this winter that Mrs. Burnham took up a study quite by
herself and made diligent effort in it. This was the study of adjusting
herself to new relations. She was getting acquainted with and growing
used to her daughter, she told herself hopefully; for by this time she
had fully decided that Alice Warder was the one who was to share through
all their future Erskine's love and care. She grew more than reconciled;
she told herself that she was perfectly happy in Erskine's choice; that
of course she wanted him to marry, she had always wanted it; and where
in all the earth could he have found a more lovely character or a more
entirely acceptable person in every way than Alice Warder? It really
seemed as though a special Providence had planned and created them each
for the other.

As the intimacy deepened, so that the three seemed to think in unison,
the mother told herself cheerfully that it was almost as though the two
were married already; there would be no strange chasm to bridge over
when that time came; nor would they have to readjust themselves in any
way. Alice had not known a mother's love and care since childhood, and
she turned as naturally to Mrs. Burnham for mothering as though they
were really mother and daughter. It was all ideal.

There were times, of course, when Mrs. Burnham could not help sitting in
secret judgment on certain ways and words of this daughter of hers. She
would allow herself to wish that this or that had been different, and
then would bring herself to order with severity, assuring herself that
she had no right to expect perfection, and where, on this earth, could
there be found another girl so near it as Alice?

Over one phase of the girl's life this mother in all sincerity rejoiced.
Alice was unquestionably and deeply religious. Her Christian life was
deep-rooted and pervasive, and the perfume of its flowering filled her
days. To come in contact with her for even a short interview was to
discover that religion with her was not merely a duty, but a joy.

"Alice is very unusual in this respect," Ruth said to Erskine. "It isn't
simply that she is regular and methodical in her Christianity as in
everything else. I have seen girls before who went to prayer-meeting,
for instance, regularly, from a sense of duty; but with Alice it is
this, and something more. She looks forward to it as a pleasure; and she
comes from it uplifted and advanced in her Christian experience."

Erskine was hearty in his response.

"Yes, Alice takes hold of life generally with a kind of joyful
enthusiasm that is delicious. And there is contagion in it; I enjoy the
mid-week meetings better myself, since I have learned to plan for them
as she does."

Everything considered, that last year of college life passed all too
quickly, at least for Mrs. Burnham. There were times when she realized
that the peculiarly close relations which she and her son had sustained
for four beautiful winters could not, in reason, continue, and she
shrank from any change. Yet for the most part she was strong in her
gratitude that her son's college life had been what it had been, and
that the most censorious could not discover any evil results from this
long, close fellowship with his mother. There were still years of study
for him. It had been decided that he would study law in the city where
his father had practised it, and live at the old homestead, making daily
trips to and from the larger city. In due course of time, therefore,
they were once more settled at home for an indefinite period. Alice
Warder had gone to the coast of Maine for a long-promised visit among
her mother's relatives, but on her return, the Warders were again to
become next-door neighbors.

Already in her letters to Mrs. Burnham, which were quite as frequent as
those to Erskine, Alice Warder was planning certain functions in which
"You and father, and Erskine and I" were in evidence.

There was one feature of the situation that troubled the mother. As the
days passed the question which it involved grew more and more insistent.
Why did not Erskine, at least, confide in her? Had he not from his very
babyhood been in the habit of bringing to her not only every joy and
sorrow, but every passing emotion or fancy, however trivial, until she
had believed them as nearly one as it was possible for two people to
become? Why then, in this supreme decision of his life, had she in a
sense been counted out? No hint as to his new hopes and plans had been
put into words for her; she had simply been left like the rest of the
world to take things for granted.

There were times when this question probed her keenly. She struggled to
discover whether she had been in fault. Despite her earnest efforts to
hold herself well in check and give no sign of certain emotions which
every true mother must feel at such an hour, had she failed? Had she
appeared cold, or indifferent, or, worse than either, jealous? Despite
her careful cross-examination of herself she could not lay her finger
upon any word or act that she could make different; and she was obliged
to content herself with redoubling her efforts to show her entire
acceptance of Alice as one of them; but so far as any special
confidences were concerned she did it in vain. Both Erskine and Alice
were entirely frank in their manifest interest in each other, acting at
all times as though they had nothing to conceal. They had even reached
the stage when they claimed each other's time and attention as a matter
of course, and so expressed themselves.

Erskine, for instance, would glance at a note that had been laid on his
desk a short time before, and explain to his mother:--

"I shall have to defer my call on Dr. West, mother, until some other
evening. Alice has to meet her committee at the hall, and wants me to
take her over."

Could anything, argued the mother, indicate more surely that they two
had already passed the early stages of sentiment, and begun to realize
that they belonged to each other for convenience as well as for love?
Then why did they not confide in his mother, _their_ mother?

No comparatively small matter had ever troubled Ruth Burnham more than
did this one. There were times when she felt almost indignant, and was
on the verge of saying to them both that she did not think she deserved
such careless treatment at their hands. Why, her very intimate friends
were almost asking when the wedding was to be! There were other times
when she told herself that she would not be the first to speak, even
though they kept silence until the wedding day was come.

Matters were in this state when she reached another distinct milestone
in the singularly marked journey of her life.



                              CHAPTER VII

                          "MOTHERS ARE QUEER!"


IT was but the week before Alice's expected return, and Mrs. Burnham was
out paying afternoon visits. She had confessed to Erskine that she
wanted to get them off of her mind before Alice came, and be able to
give undivided attention to her for a while.

"I don't suppose you can imagine how I have missed her," she added in a
voice that she intended to express archness, but which was almost
wistful. He felt the wistfulness and mistook its cause, and said
tenderly:--

"Poor little mother! you need a daughter, don't you?"

She had turned from him abruptly to hide the glimmer of tears; and she
had told herself almost angrily afterward that it was time she had
learned self-control.

At the home of one of her friends she met a Mrs. Carson, with whom she
had also a calling acquaintance. Mrs. Carson had been spending some
weeks in Boston, and had no sooner exchanged greetings with Mrs. Burnham
than she brought out with eager hand from her news budget a choice
morsel.

"And what do you both think I heard just before I left the city? At
first I could scarcely believe my ears; in fact, I did not credit the
news at all; I said it could not be so; I am sure, dear Mrs. Burnham,
you will understand why. But afterward it was so signally confirmed that
I was obliged to accept it."

"Dear me!" said the hostess, "this is quite exciting. Do enlighten us,
Mrs. Carson. We have been so humdrum here this fall that news is thrice
welcome."

"You would never guess my news, I am sure, that is, you would not, Mrs.
Webster; but there sits our dear Mrs. Burnham, looking as calm and
unconcerned as usual, though I presume she has known all about it this
long time."

"Now you arouse my curiosity, certainly," that lady said with a quiet
smile. "I don't recall any special news from Boston, of late."

"Oh, well, I don't suppose it is late news to you, but it certainly was
to me. Why, Mrs. Webster, I have it on excellent authority that our
friend Alice Warder is engaged to her cousin, Ranford Colchester, and
the marriage is to take place very soon. Now do you wonder that I was
simply amazed over such an announcement?"

Mrs. Burnham took her startled nerves into instant and stern check, and
was entirely silent while Mrs. Webster exclaimed and expostulated.

"I told you you wouldn't be able to believe it," said the gratified
news-dealer. "Such a surprise to us all! and yet you see this naughty
woman doesn't express any, and hasn't a word to say for herself! Dear
Mrs. Burnham, it isn't necessary I suppose for us to confess that we
have been waiting these many weeks for the formal announcement of her
engagement to an entirely different person? Her cousin, indeed! why I
thought they were the same as brother and sister. I was never more
surprised in my life. At first I simply disputed it and assured my
friends that Alice Warder was as good as married, already. But it came
to me too straight to be disputed. It's this way. My aunt has a young
niece living with her this year who is a very intimate friend of Miriam
Stevens, and she, you know, is Mr. Colchester's stepdaughter; and she
told her all about it. It seems, although they have been engaged for a
very long time, years and years, Miriam said, the engagement has just
been announced. Mr. Colchester, the father, of course, has opposed the
match, because it interfered with some of his pet plans. There was an
old love story connected with it, don't you know, and a good deal of
sentiment and obstinacy on the part of the old gentleman, who has always
thought that the world was made for his convenience. But he found that
his son could be obstinate too; he was willing to marry Alice Warder,
and he would never, no never, marry anybody else. Then Alice decided
that she would show a little spirit, and she refused to come into the
family so long as there was a breath of opposition. Nobody knows just
what has happened, at least Miriam doesn't; but she says that her
stepfather has not only withdrawn his opposition, but seems quite as
eager as his son to have the marriage take place. Miriam did not think
that the day had been fixed yet, but she felt sure it would be not later
than Christmas. Now, isn't that a romantic story, and a startling one?
Just think how that girl has stolen a march on us when we thought we
understood all about her future, and were breathlessly awaiting our
invitations to the wedding! And here sits our dear Mrs. Burnham, looking
as unconcerned as possible; though all this while she has been helping
deceive us into the belief that Alice Warder was almost her daughter!"

How Ruth Burnham got away from their volubility and their playful
accusations and their congratulations she was never afterward able to
clearly explain, even to herself. She knew that her brain felt on fire,
and every nerve in her body seemed to be quivering, but she also knew
that she had one supreme determination, not by word or glance to betray
consternation or surprise or indeed feeling of any sort. Since these
women believed that she had deceived them, let them by all means
continue to do so, at least until she could determine what she thought,
or what she was to say.

She knew that she preserved her outward calm, and made some commonplace
reply to the eager questioning exclamations showered upon her. She
remembered murmuring something about young people's secrets being sacred
to themselves, and then she got herself away and walked the seven
squares between her and her home, and wished that there were more of
them, that she might have time to steady herself and plan what step to
take next. How, for instance, was she to break this terrible piece of
news to Erskine?

To her astonishment she found that she was giving full credit to the
story. Although the details had been too minute and the source of
information too terribly reliable to admit of reasonable doubt, yet her
reason told her that she ought to be able to turn in contempt from such
a story. How was it possible for Alice Warder to be guilty of such
long-drawn-out unpardonable hypocrisy as this? Alice Warder of all women
in the world! How had it been possible for her to deceive Erskine in
this way? Why had she done it? What could have been her motive? Had she
simply and deliberately flirted with him, to show that insufferable old
man that there were others besides his son who wanted her? Poor Erskine!
poor trusting, deceived heart! What could his mother do or say to soften
such a revelation as this! Finally she walked quite past her own door,
adding several more blocks to the already long distance, before she had
herself under sufficient control to meet her son. For the first time in
her life she was glad that he was not in when she reached home; and glad
again that when he came a friend was with him, who remained to dinner.
This enabled her to watch Erskine closely, without his observing it, and
to determine whether he might have heard from some other source the
strange news.

She decided that he had not; he was even more full of good cheer than
usual, and referred several times to Alice, as his guest was also her
friend.

Mrs. Burnham's unusual quiet finally called forth solicitous inquiries
from her son. Had she overwearied herself that afternoon? Had there been
any accident or detention that had worn upon her? She made haste to
reassure him, and struggled to appear at ease; while all the time her
mind was busy with the problem of how to break her news to Erskine. The
more she thought about it, the more strangely improbable it seemed.
Alice Warder engaged to be married to any one but Erskine! As for the
cruel wickedness of the girl whom she had loved and trusted as a
daughter, the woman who felt herself betrayed could not trust her
thoughts just yet in that direction. She must give all there was of her
to Erskine.

When their visitor had gone, Erskine gave himself in earnest to anxiety
about his mother.

"I cannot remember ever to have seen you look so wan and worn. Is it
simply the making calls that has exhausted you? I remember I used to
notice that that was an exhausting function for you. I wouldn't do it
any more, Mommie; let people come to you. Where did you go? and what was
said to tire you so? or was it what they didn't say? I have noticed that
ladies when making calls never seem to really say anything. They talk a
good deal, but then!--"

If he only knew what they had said that day! How should she tell him?

They went to the library; Erskine bemoaning the fact that he had some
work which must be done, and could not read to her. But he would
establish her among the cushions where she could rest, and he could look
at her occasionally. So she lay there, outwardly quiet, looking steadily
at him as though she must see his very soul, and going on with her
problem. Was she being cruel, too, lying quietly there concealing a
weapon with which she was presently to stab him? If she could only
decide upon the least terrible way of telling him what she had heard!
She planned and discarded a dozen forms of speech, and finally plunged
headlong into the baldest and most commonplace of them.

Erskine had risen to close a door, and then had come to adjust her
cushions and ask if she were comfortable. And then--should she like him
by and by, when he had run over two or three more pages, to read to her?
There was a magazine article he had been saving up to enjoy with her. Or
was she too tired to-night for reading?

And she had caught his hand and held it in a nervous grip while she
exploded her news.

"I heard something very strange this afternoon, Erskine; something that
I do not in the least understand. I don't know how to credit it, yet it
came to me very straight. Mrs. Carson has just returned from Boston, and
has it, she says, from one of the family that Alice Warder is soon to be
married to her cousin."

She felt breathless. She did not know whether to look at her victim or
to look mercifully away from him. He was leaning forward in the act of
tucking a refractory cushion into place, and he persisted in conquering
the cushion before he spoke. Then he said cheerfully:

"That is out at last, is it? Alice must feel relieved."

His mother pushed all the cushions recklessly and sat upright.

"Erskine," she said eagerly, "what do you mean? You don't mean, you
_can't_ mean that you knew it all the while!"

"Why not, mother? have known it for months, might say years. It had to
be a profound secret, though, on account of old Mr. Colchester's state
of mind; he had other plans, you see, and at first he utterly refused to
side with the young people; then Alice refused to enter the family so
long as there was any objection to her, and also refused to have her
engagement made public; it has been a long, wearisome time; I am glad
for both of them that the struggle is over. I have served them to the
best of my abilities, but I can see that the new order of things will be
a comfort to both; to all three of us indeed."

He laughed a little over that last admission, but his mother had not yet
recovered from her first amazement.

"Erskine, why didn't you tell me?"

He laughed again and bent over to kiss her.

"Mommie, you speak as though at the least I had committed forgery. How
could I tell you, dearest? It was another's secret. Alice was absurdly
sensitive, it is true, but of course I had to respect her wishes. She is
not accustomed to being objected to, you know. There was a sense in
which I came upon their secret at first, by accident, which served to
make me doubly careful; I did not feel that I could speak of it even to
you; though I will own that I thought it extremely foolish in Alice not
to do so.

"Do you feel like being read to, mamma, or would you rather be entirely
quiet to-night? Do you feel a little bit rested?"

"Yes, indeed," she told him eagerly. She was very much rested; in fact
she did not feel tired at all; she would like exceedingly to be read to;
or she was ready to do anything that he wished.

He looked at her curiously, and a trifle anxiously. There was something
about his mother this evening that he did not understand. A few minutes
ago she had looked pale and worn to a degree that was unusual; now her
cheeks were flushed and her eyes were very bright. Could she be
feverish? he wondered. And he mentally vowed vengeance on all formal
calls.

It was nearly a week afterward that Erskine and Alice, walking home
together from some society function, lapsed into confidential talk.

"How did you find my mother?" Erskine asked. "Was she able to be as glad
over it all as you could wish?"

"She was lovely," said Alice, enthusiastically. "An own mother could not
have shown more tenderness and lovingness. I have missed my mother all
my life, Erskine, but I shall miss her less, even during this time when
a girl needs her mother most, because you are so kind in lending me
yours."

"And yet, do you know, I think she has lately suffered a shock and a
disappointment? I am nearly certain that she had cherished hopes which
included us both. I did not realize until very lately indeed that she
too was being deceived; else I must have insisted on her being taken
into confidence."

Alice's merry laugh astonished and almost vexed him, her first words
were more surprising still.

"So you thought she was disappointed? What bats men are, to be sure!"

"What do you mean? Do you not know that to my mother you are the one
young woman?"

"Oh, indeed I do, and rejoice in it. But I know also, my dear simpleton,
that she is almost deliriously happy at this moment over her late
discovery. I know she loves me almost as she could a daughter, and I
also know that she loves me more, oh, far more, because her son Erskine
is a brother to me instead of--something else."

His puzzled look made her laugh again.

But after that he studied his mother from a new standpoint. Certainly
she was very fond of Alice and was about to lose her; yet certainly she
was happy--happier than he had ever known her to be.

"Mothers are queer!" was his grave conclusion.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                            A SPOILED MOTHER


IT had been an ideal October day: one of those ravishing days that come
sometimes in late autumn when, though the air is crisp with the hint of
a coming winter, it is at the same time balmy with the memory of the
departed summer. The hills in the near distance had put on their
glorified autumn dress, and the flowers in the gardens were all of the
gorgeous or deep-toned colorings that tell of summer suns and autumn
crispness. It was, in short, one of those days when it is, or should be,
a delight simply to live.

The Burnham place had never looked more lovely than it did that
afternoon, bathed in the soft glory of an unusually brilliant
sun-setting. It was customary to speak of this as the old Burnham place;
yet nothing in Ruth Erskine Burnham's changeful life showed more
markedly the effect of change than did this.

The long, low, rambling, old-fashioned house, much in need of paint,
that Ruth had come to as a bride, was there still, but so altered that
even she had all but forgotten the original. The house and the grounds
had been, like many other things and persons, transformed. No spot
anywhere, for miles around, was such a source of pride and pleasure to
the old friends of that region as the Burnham place. There were those
still living who could tell in minutest detail the story of its
transformation, when the Judge's new wife came out there to live, and
astonished the country by her doings. Some of them had been more than
half afraid of Ruth in those early days; they all believed in her now.

She had come out to the upper porch for a moment, not so much to get a
view of the wonderful sunset as to get her breath. The house was full of
flowers, and they had seemed to stifle her.

A handsome woman still was Mrs. Burnham. Stately was one of the words
that people had been wont to use in describing her; she was stately yet,
though her son Erskine would soon celebrate his thirtieth birthday.

These later years had touched her lightly. They had been spent, for the
most part, in the cheerful quiet of their old home, which, although the
city had grown out to it, had yet not absorbed it, but allowed its
favored residents to have much of the pleasures of country life, with a
rapid transit into the heart of the great city as often as life of that
kind was desired.

Erskine had for several years been admitted to the bar, and the old firm
name that had meant so much in legal circles had once more the strong
name of Burnham associated with it. That her son was a legal success was
not a surprise to his mother. With such antecedents as his how could it
have been otherwise? She had not kept up with his legal studies as she
had almost done through his college course, but she had kept in touch
with them, and could copy his notes for him, giving him just the points
he needed--better, he told her, than he could do it himself.

"We will take you into the firm if you say so, dearest," he said gayly
one evening, after a spirited argument between them with regard to a
point of law in which Mrs. Burnham had vindicated her side by an appeal
to an undoubted authority. "I told Judge Hallowell, yesterday, that it
was easier to consult you than to look up a point, and did just as well.
He would agree to the partnership, mother, without hesitation; he
considers you a wonderful woman."

At which the happy mother laughed, and told him he was a wonderful
flatterer; and then--Did he want her to look up the evidence in that
Brainard case for him? She could do it as well as not. She had been
reading up about it that morning.

An ideal life they had lived together all these years, this mother and
son. More than once in the years gone by Mrs. Burnham had overheard some
such remark as: "It will be hard on that mother when Erskine marries,
will it not?" It used to annoy her a little. She was conscious of a
feeling very like resentment that people should consider it necessary to
discuss their affairs at all; especially to intimate that there would
ever be anything "hard" between them.

There had been other talk, too, that she had resented. It had been
noticed that Judge Hallowell, Judge Burnham's lifelong friend, came
often to the old Burnham place, and somebody got up a very sentimental
reason for his never having married; and somebody else objected that
Mrs. Burnham did not believe in second marriages; she had been heard to
go so far as to say she thought they were actually wrong. Then somebody
else looked wise and smiled, and said she had heard of people, before
this, who changed their opinions about such things, on occasion. And--
How would such a masterful young man as Erskine get on with a
stepfather? This bit of gossip had floated about the Burnhams for a year
or more, while Erskine was studying law, without their having been the
wiser for it. The day for the wedding had almost been set, still without
reference to them, when Judge Hallowell, sixty years old though he was,
suddenly brought home a wife; and that, without an hour's break in the
friendship between himself and the Burnhams.

By degrees, the form of the question which the talkers asked each other
slightly changed, and they said they were afraid it would be hard on
Mrs. Burnham if Erskine should ever marry, and they added that it wasn't
probable that he ever would. They even ventured, one or two of the more
intimate, or the more rude, to express some such thought to the mother
herself. When they did, she laughed lightly and bade them not be sure of
anything. Her son might astonish them all, yet. She was sure she hoped
so. She was sincere in this. As each year passed she told herself more
and more firmly that of course she wanted him to marry. Why shouldn't
she want him to find that lovely being who must have been foreordained
for him? She was sure now, after all her long years of experience with
him, that she should know the very first moment when he discovered her.
Of course she had not been through the years since Alice Warder was
married without more than once imagining that she had been discovered.
They had numbered some very lovely young women among their friends.
There had been a certain Miriam whom she had admired and liked and
almost loved, and had meant to love in earnest if Erskine really wished
it. And she had gone about the finding out very cautiously. Didn't he
think Miriam was pretty?

"Very pretty indeed," he had answered promptly.

And she was so sweet and winsome, so thoughtful of her elders, so
gracious to everybody; quite unlike many others in that respect.

He was quick to agree with this, also.

Didn't he think her delightful in conversation? She seemed able to
converse sensibly on any subject that was under discussion, as well as
to talk the most delicious nonsense, on occasion.

"Well," he said cheerfully. In that respect he must differ from her. He
could not say he thought the young woman especially gifted in
conversation; it seemed to him to be her weak point. If she could talk
as well as her grandmother, she would be charming.

Mrs. Burnham had argued loyally for her favorite; had assured her son
that Miriam was a charming talker when she chose, and that it was
ridiculous to think of comparing her with her grandmother! But she had
laughed light-heartedly at his folly, and had confessed to her secret
self that she was glad he liked the grandmother better.

There were several other temporary interests, and then the mother
settled down to restfulness. Erskine was a boy no longer, but a
full-grown man, doing a man's work in the world; she could trust him. He
had always confided in her and of course he would not fail to do so when
this supreme hour of his life came to him. She still wanted him to
marry; she believed that he would, some day. She promised herself that
she would be, when the time came, a perfect mother. She would love the
chosen one with all her heart; she should be second only to Erskine
himself. And she would give herself to helping them both to be so happy,
anticipating their wishes and aiding and abetting all their plans, that
they would be glad to have her with them always. And always she closed
these hours of planning with a long-drawn sigh of satisfaction that they
were all in the dim future.

Erskine Burnham had passed his thirtieth birthday before he had been
separated from his mother for more than a few days at a time. It was
early in the May following the thirtieth anniversary when the break
came. He went abroad then, on legal business of importance.

"Shall you take your mother over with you?" Judge Hallowell had asked,
but a short time before he started; and he had answered quickly: "Oh,
yes, indeed; I couldn't think of leaving mother alone, with the ocean
between us; she is too much accustomed to my daily care for that.
Moreover, I think a sea voyage will be good for her."

But his mother met him at the door, that afternoon, open letter in hand,
and the grave announcement that she had bad news for him.

"What is it, dearest?" he had asked composedly, as he bent to kiss her.
It occurred to him then there could be no very bad news for either of
them so long as they stood there together, safe and well.

"It is Alice; she is ill, very ill they are afraid, and her husband
writes that she wants me immediately. They think, Erskine, that there
will have to be an operation, and she feels that she cannot go through
it without me. I fill the place of mother to her, you know, dear."

Erskine did not take his disappointment easily. He was used to having
his own way, and he had planned a delightful outing for his mother. He
argued the question strenuously, and was loath to admit that his
mother's duty lay elsewhere, and that he must go abroad without her.

"It is hard on my mother," he said discontentedly to Judge Hallowell.
But he admitted to himself that it was quite as hard for him; he hated
travelling alone.

For Mrs. Burnham the summer had dragged. For thirty years she had lived
for her son. Why should life without him be called living? It was harder
for her because her sacrifice proved to be unnecessary. The surgical
operation was, after all, postponed; there was some hope that it would
not have to be at all; and Alice herself had gone abroad with her
husband: not by Erskine's route, but on a sailing vessel, making the
ocean trip as long as possible.

Mrs. Burnham had stayed to do the thousand and one little things for the
invalid that a mother would naturally do, and to see her fairly started
on her journey, and then had come back to her lonely home: what
might-have-been crowding itself discontentedly among her thoughts. She
had lost her summer with Erskine for nothing, she told herself. Still,
the summer was going; it would not be long now.

Erskine had written to her daily, mailing his letters as opportunity
offered. At first the letters were long, very long and full; it was
almost like seeing the old world with him. Then, as business matters
pressed him, and social functions growing out of business relations
consumed more and more of his time, they shortened, often to a few
hurried lines.

Sometimes there was only the date at a late hour, and "Good night,
mother dear. This has been my 'busy day.' Interesting things have
happened. Heaps to tell you when I get home, which I hope now will be
soon. Perhaps in my very next I can set the date."

She had lived on his letters, watching for each as eagerly as a maiden
might watch for word from her lover. Was he not her lover? All she had
in all the world, she told herself proudly, and was satisfied, and
smiled over that word, "Dearest," that fell as naturally from his pen as
from his lips.

That next letter in which perhaps he would set the date of his return
was waited for in almost feverish impatience. There was so much she
wanted to do just before he came. She had planned to set the house and
grounds in festive array as for the coming of a conqueror. Actually his
first home-coming of any note in which she was there to greet him!
Always before they had come together.

The watched-for letter was delayed. There occurred a longer interval by
several days than there had been before, between letters. Mrs. Burnham
allowed herself to grow almost nervous over this, and watched the
newspapers hourly, glancing over foreign items in feverish haste. She
talked about the strangeness of this delay with her friends, until the
most sympathetic among them laughed a little and told each other that
that spoiled mother was really absurd! And at last it came.

She remembered--she will always remember that October evening when, the
shades being drawn close and a brisk fire burning in the grate, she had
seated herself near it in a luxurious reading chair and, merely for
company, had pushed Erskine's favorite easy-chair just opposite and
laughed a little at her folly, and tried to assure herself that young
Ben had returned long ago with the evening mail, which had to be sent
for, if one could not wait until morning. And then--Ben's step had
crunched on the gravel outside, and she had held her breath to listen,
and--in another minute it lay in her lap! A thick letter, when she had
expected only a few hurried lines. It was almost like the steamer letter
that he had written her on going out. It couldn't be a steamer letter!
not yet! She seized it eagerly and studied the postmark. Could he be
coming so soon that this was really her last letter?

How silly she was! her hand trembled so that the thin foreign paper
rattled in her grasp. There were many sheets written fine and full.

But it was not a steamer letter; he was still in Paris.

She made herself wait until she gave careful attention to Ellen, who
appeared just then, answering all her questions, directing her in minute
detail as to a piece of next morning's work, having her add another
block to the fire and rearrange the windows before she finally dismissed
her.

At last she was fairly into her letter. She read rapidly at first,
devouring the pages with her eyes. Then, more slowly, stopping over one
page, re-reading it, a third, a fourth time; staring at it, with a
strange look in her eyes. Suddenly she dropped them, all the thin
rustling sheets, and covered her face with both hands.

It seemed to her afterward that she spent a lifetime shut up with that
foreign letter.



                               CHAPTER IX

                        SENTIMENT AND SACRIFICE


THE woman on the upper porch who had come out to get her breath had in a
short time passed through so many phases of feeling as to be hardly able
to recognize herself. She had lived ten days since that bulky foreign
letter had seemed to change the current of her life and set it
flowing--when indeed it flowed again--in another channel.

In truth, Ruth Erskine Burnham, as she stood there ostensibly watching
the sunset, was reviewing the days in a half-frightened, half-shamefaced
way. She had always, even in young girlhood, been self-controlled. Why
could she not hold herself in better check even though her world had
suddenly turned to--stop! she would not say it! What had happened to
her, after all, but that which fell to the lot of mothers? It was not as
though some terrible calamity had overtaken her, and yet--could she have
done differently if it had been? She went back in thought to that
evening ten days away and looked at herself as though she were another
person looking on. She even smiled faintly at the absurdity of that
foolish woman's first action, before she had finished reading the
letter. She had risen suddenly and turned off the light, and pushed up
every window to its highest, and rolled back the curtains and let in a
whirl of wind that had made the foreign sheets fly about as though they
were things of life. Then, aided only by the firelight, she had stooped
and clutched after them and held them for a second to her breast and
then, suddenly, had thrown them from her with a low cry of pain. The
woman on the upper porch looking at the sunset smiled at that
half-insane woman of ten days ago and wondered that she could have so
far forgotten herself. Why should there have been any such outburst as
that, when Erskine was well and--and happy. She shivered a little even
now over the word, and drew her wrap closer and told herself that as
soon as the sun disappeared the chill came. Then she went back to her
review and reminded herself firmly that there had been no calamity to
any one; there was nothing but joy. Erskine was not only well and happy,
but he was coming home. He was coming to-night! No, she must not say
"he" any more; _they_ were coming. Forever and ever after this it must
be "they": her son and daughter. That to which she had looked forward
for so many years with varying emotions had come upon her. Erskine was a
married man; and to-night he was bringing home his bride. She had said
over the words aloud, that day, when she was quite alone, trying to make
herself feel that she was speaking of her son. It was all so sudden, so
utterly different from any imaginings of hers, and she thought that she
had gone over in her imaginings the whole wide range of possibilities.

That long letter over which she had spent a strange night, believed that
it was giving her the minutest particulars of this strange thing.

Erskine had met the woman who was now his wife on his first evening in
Paris, and from the very first had been attracted to her by his sympathy
with her unprotected condition. Her only friend and companion in a
strange land was a maiden aunt who was an invalid. Indeed it was for her
sake that they were lingering in France, because she was not able to
travel; she had been made worse by the ocean voyage, instead of better
as had been hoped. Irene had been very closely confined with her for
many weeks, and welcomed a face and voice from home as only those can
understand who have themselves been cast adrift among foreigners. He had
been able to do a few little things for the comfort of the invalid, and
the gratitude of both ladies was almost embarrassing. They were staying
at the same hotel, and as they chanced at that time to be almost the
only Americans, at least the only ones belonging to their world, they
naturally saw much of each other. As the aunt grew more and more feeble
and Irene became entirely dependent on him not only for what little rest
and recreation she got, but for all those offices which members of the
same family can do for each other in a time of illness, their friendship
made rapid strides. Then, when her aunt was suddenly taken alarmingly
ill, and after a few days of really terrible suffering died, leaving
Irene alone in a strange land, her situation was pitiable. He would have
to confess that he did not know just what she would have done, had he
not been there to care for her.

"Of course, mother, you do not need to have me tell you that long before
this I knew that I had met the one woman in all the world who could ever
become my wife. The reason that I had not mentioned her in any of my
letters was that I could not, even on paper, speak of her casually, as
of any ordinary acquaintance, and I had no right to speak in any other
way. Then, when I had the right to tell you everything, it was so near
my home-coming that I determined to leave it until you and I were face
to face, and I could answer all your questions and look into your dear
eyes and receive from you the sympathy that has never failed me and I
know never will. Nothing was farther from our thoughts at that time than
immediate marriage. Indeed it would have seemed preposterous to me, as
it would have been under any other circumstances, to be married without
your knowledge and presence. But when this unexpected blow came, I
realized the almost impossibility of any other course, although, even
then, I had the greatest difficulty in persuading Irene to take such a
step. She had to be convinced through some annoying experiences of the
folly of her hesitation. I do not know that even you, with your long
experience, realize the difference between this country and ours in
matters of etiquette. Things which at home would be done as a
matter-of-course are so unusual here as to be almost, if not quite,
questionable; and the number of purely business details that loomed up
to be managed by that lonely homesick girl simply appalled her. She sank
under them, physically, and I plainly saw that she simply must have my
help and care day and night. Why, even the nurse who had attended her
aunt, deserted us! that is, she was summoned away by telegraph. In
short, mamma, there was literally no other course for us than the one we
took; although it had to be taken at the sacrifice of a good deal of
sentiment on the part of both. It is a continual relief to me to
remember that I am writing to a sane and reasonable woman, who is in the
habit of weighing questions carefully, and who, when she decides that a
thing is right, does it without regard to sentiment or adverse opinion.
But oh, mommie, it was hard not to have you with us."

There was more in the letter, much more. Erskine had exhausted language
and repeated himself again and again in his effort to make everything
very clear and convincing.

He had been skilful also in his attempt to make his mother see the woman
of his choice with his eyes.

"She will appeal to your sympathies, mamma," he had written. "Although
she is so young, barely twenty-six, she has been through much trouble
and sorrow. She is an orphan, and has been for four years a widow. I
need hardly add that her short married life was unhappy and so sad that
she can scarcely speak of that year even to me. Of course it is an
experience that I shall do my utmost to make her forget; and I need not
speak of it again. I wanted you to know, dear mother, that you and I
have much to make up to her. She was made fatherless and motherless in a
single day, when she was a child of sixteen. I like to think of what you
will be to her, dearest mother; a revelation, I am sure, of mother-love;
for besides being so young when she lost hers, there are mothers, and
_mothers_, you know, and I am sure Irene does not understand it very
well; Do you know, she is half afraid of you? She has read a few of your
letters, and has caught an idea of what we are to each other, and talks
mournfully about coming between us! as though any one ever could! I have
assured her that I am simply bringing to you the daughter for whom your
heart has always longed."

It was at that point that Ruth Burnham had flung the sheets away from
her and buried her face in her hands.

But ten days had passed since then, and she had long known, by heart,
all that that letter could tell her.

And now, in less than another hour, they would be at home! her son and
daughter!

She had not gone to New York to meet the incoming steamer, as had been
arranged, or rather, as it had once arranged itself, quite as a matter
of course.

"Think how delightful it will be, when you stand on the dock watching
the incoming steamer, and straining your eyes to discover which
frantically waved handkerchief is mine!"

This was what Erskine had said as he gave her one of her good-by kisses.

She had replied that she would recognize his handkerchief among a
thousand.

In the earlier letters much had been said about that home-coming, and
elaborate plans had been made as to what they would do together in New
York. But in that last long letter, on the margin of the last page, as
though it had been an afterthought, were these words:--

"On the whole, mother, we believe that it would be better for you not to
try to meet us in New York. Irene has no love for that city; it was the
scene of some of her sorrows. She wants to stop there only long enough
to call upon her cousins; and we are both in such frantic haste to be at
home that we shall make the delay as short as possible; so we think it
would be less fatiguing to you to avoid that trip and be at home to
welcome us."

Ruth Burnham said over that sentence as she stood on that upper veranda,
waiting to welcome them. She had said it a hundred times before. What
was there about it that jarred? She could not have told, in words; yet
the jar was there.

Could it be that continually recurring "we"? Was she going to be a
jealous woman, with all the rest? So meanly jealous as that? "God
forbid!" she said the words aloud, and solemnly.

She knew that she needed the help of God in this crisis of her life;
since the news of it came to her she had spent hours on her knees
seeking his strength. She wanted Erskine to say "we" and think "we" and
to be supremely happy,--not only in his married life, but to have that
life all that it could be to two souls. And yet--Would it have been
wrong for him, in that first letter, to have remembered that she had
been used all his life to being the "we" of his thoughts, and to have
said simply "I" once or twice? Of course she could never any more be
"dearest"--his special name for her; but--was he never again for a
little while to be just himself, to her? And must she learn to think
"they" and never "him"?

Oh, she didn't mean any of this, she told herself nervously, and she
must get her thoughts away at once. Of course she would say "Erskine and
Irene" now, always, and forever. Or should she put it, "Irene and
Erskine"? Could she? Perhaps that would help. Did other mothers, waiting
for the home-coming of their married sons, have such strange thoughts as
haunted her?

There was Mrs. Adams, for instance, whose three sons had all been
married within a few years. And Mrs. Adams had not seemed to care. Well,
as to that, neither would she seem to; and she drew herself up
instinctively. But Mrs. Adams had four boys; five, indeed; the youngest
of them was almost as tall as his mother, while she--"The only son of
his mother, and she was a widow." The words seemed to repeat themselves
in her brain like a dull undertone refrain.

Other words that had nothing whatever to do with the situation, but that
had been familiar to her girlhood, came back and stupidly repeated
themselves:--

"Dead! One of them shot by the sea in the east." But that was wildness,
and utter folly! Erskine would be ashamed of her and with reason, could
he know--which he never should--that such fancies had been tolerated for
a moment.

Outwardly Mrs. Burnham was irreproachable. So was her home. In the ten
days following that letter she had given time and thought to its
adorning. She was a model housekeeper, and to have Erskine's rooms
always in spotless order had been one of her pleasures. But they had
been very thoroughly gone over, and whereever it was possible to add a
touch of beauty, it had been done.

Already she had drawn the shades and lighted up brilliantly, for at this
season the twilights were very brief. She had paused, on her way to the
veranda, to take a final critical survey, and had told herself that she
did not know how to make an added touch. And then she went swiftly to
her own room and brought therefrom a vase of roses and set them on the
dressing-table of the bride. The vase was a costly trifle that Erskine
had brought her just before he went abroad, and the roses were his
special favorites. She had kept that vase filled with them on her table
ever since she reached home.

For herself, she was dressed in white: Erskine's favorite home dress for
her, summer and winter. Indeed he was almost absurd about it, never
quite liking to see her in any other attire. "I suppose you will want me
to dress in white when I am eighty!" she had said to him once,
laughingly. His reply had been quick. "Of course I shall. What could be
more appropriate for a beautiful old lady? You will be beautiful,
dearest, but I cannot think that you will ever be old."

So, on this evening, although she had taken down a black silk and looked
at it wistfully, she had resolutely hung it away again, and brought out
a white cashmere richly trimmed with white silk. This was a festive
evening and she must honor it with one of her prettiest dresses.

All at once as she stood there, waiting, her heart seemed for a moment
to stop its beating. She clutched at the railing to prevent her falling,
and made a stern and effectual protest. "This is ridiculous! I will not
faint, and I shall do nothing to mar his home-coming, or to give him
occasion to be ashamed of me."

But she stood still, although the carriage that had gone to the station
to meet the bridal party was whirling around the corner, was turning in
at the carriage drive, was stopping before the door. They were getting
out. They were on the porch, they were in the hall; she could hear her
son's voice:--

"Where is my mother?"

And she was not there as she had meant to be to welcome them! she was
still on the upper veranda, steadying herself by the railing and feeling
it impossible to take a single step.



                               CHAPTER X

                          "SENTIMENTAL" PEOPLE


ERSKINE came up the stairs in quick leaps. "Mother!" he was calling.
"Mother! Where are you? Why, mommie!" and he had her in his arms.

"I thought I should be sure to see you the moment the carriage turned
the corner! Are you ill, mother? What is the matter?"

Was there reproach in his voice? There was something that gave back his
mother's self-command.

"It is tardiness," she said lightly. "The carriage came sooner than I
had thought it possible. O Erskine, it is good to hear your voice
again."

He kept his arms about her and was half smothering her in kisses while
he talked. Yet his tones had that note in them which held her in check.

"Irene will think this a strange welcome home, I am afraid; I had to
leave her in the hall with the maids while I came in search of you."

"We will go down at once," said his mother; and she withdrew herself
from his arms and led the way.

"She is very pretty." This was Mrs. Burnham's mental tribute to her new
daughter, as they stood together on the side porch after breakfast. It
was the morning after the arrival of the bride and groom. They had been
drawn thither by Erskine, who had walked back and forth with an arm
about each, bewailing the fact that he could not spare even one day for
his wife in her new home, but must get at once to business. In the midst
of his regretful sentence his car was heard at the crossing above, and
he had hurried away, calling back to them to take care of themselves,
and get well acquainted while he was gone.

The two ladies had each returned a gay answer, and then had watched
their opportunity to glance furtively at each other, uncertain how to
begin the formidable task set them.

Ruth Burnham had it in her heart to be almost sorry for the younger
woman, left thus without Erskine to lean upon, her only companion in
this new, strange home, a woman to whom the place had been home for a
generation. Did this give her a special advantage? Ought she to do
something to make the other woman feel at home? What should it be? What
ideas had they in common? There was Erskine, of course. It was not hard
for the mother to understand why this woman had been attracted to him.
How indeed could she help it? But what was it in her that had won him?

"She is certainly very pretty," she said again, as she studied the
shapely figure leaning meditatively against one of the porch pillars;
she was looking down into the garden gay with autumn blooms.

She was rather above medium height, with a fair skin and a wealth of
golden brown hair and eyes that were very blue. Ruth did not like her
eyes. That is, she would not have liked them if they had not belonged to
her daughter-in-law. In the solitude of her strangely solitary room, the
night before, she had fought out again one of her battles, and had
resolved anew that there should be nothing about this new daughter that
she would not like.

Certainly she was pretty; so was her dress. She was all in white; not a
touch of color anywhere. Was that her taste, or Erskine's fancy? Could
his mother make it a stepping-stone to conversation?

"You dressed for Erskine, this morning, I fancy," she said with a
winsome smile. "I presume you have already discovered how fond he is of
white?"

"Oh, yes, he has held forth to me on that subject. Some of his ideas are
absurd, but they serve me very well just now. All white answers as a
substitute for mourning, under the circumstances. I hate black, and I am
glad that Erskine did not want me to wear it."

This was the first reference that had been made to her bereavement. Mrs.
Burnham had not known how to touch it. Neither had her daughter's words
suggested what should be said. She murmured some commonplace about the
peculiar hardness of the situation.

"Yes, indeed," said the younger woman. "It was simply dreadful! Aunt
Mary had been an invalid always,--ever since I knew her, at least,--but
nobody supposed that she would ever die. She was one of the nervous
kind, you know, full of aches and pains; a fresh list each morning, and
a detailed description of each. I did get so tired of it! If it hadn't
been for Erskine, I don't know what I should have done. Poor auntie was
very fond of him, and no wonder. He bore with all her stories and her
whims like a hero. I used to tell him that he had not lived with his
mother all his life, for nothing."

"Her sudden death must have been a great shock to you."

The new mother made a distinct effort to keep her voice from sounding
cold. Something in the words or the tones of the younger woman had
jarred.

"Oh yes," she said, and sighed. "You cannot imagine what a perfectly
dreadful time it was! You know when people are always ill and always
fussing, you get used to it, and expect them to go on forever. If I had
had the least idea that she was going to die, I should have planned
differently, of course. What I should have done without Erskine, as
things turned out, it makes me shudder to think. What a queer old place
this is, isn't it? Erskine tells me that he has always lived here and
that the garden looks much as it did when he was a child. Is that so? It
seems so strange to me! I have moved about so much that I cannot imagine
how it would be to live always, anywhere. I don't believe I should like
it. The everlasting sameness, you know, would be such a bore. Don't you
find it so?"

Ruth tried to smile. "I am very much attached to the place. I came to
it, as you have, a bride; and now I am afraid I should have difficulty
in making any other place seem like home."

"Yes, that is because you are old. Poor auntie was forever sighing for
home. Nothing in all France or Italy was at all to be compared to the
delights of her room at home with four south windows and long curtains
that she had hemstitched herself."

She laughed lightly and flitted away from the subject.

"Is that an oak tree over there by the south gateway? Don't you think
oaks are ugly? They haven't the least bit of grace. I like elm trees
better than any other; every movement of their limbs is graceful. There
isn't one about the place, is there?"

"Oh, yes, indeed, the other entrance from the east is lined with them
the entire length of the carriage drive. Was your aunt compelled to
remain abroad on account of the climate? It seems sad to think that she
had to be away from her home when she missed it and mourned for it."
Ruth could not keep her thoughts from reverting to the aunt who had been
so large a part of the younger woman's life for many years and had been
so recently removed from it.

"Oh, I suppose she could have lived at home. In fact she was worse after
leaving it, or thought she was; I didn't see any great difference. It
was a lonesome, poky old house where she lived. Older than this, and
awfully dreary in winter. I couldn't have stayed there a winter, after I
once got away, to have saved her life. It was back in the country, you
know, two miles from town; think of it! I hate the country. Little
cities like this one are bad enough, but the country! Deliver me from
ever having to live in it again. I thought I should die when I was there
as a girl.

"Is Erskine very much attached to this place, do you suppose, or has he
stayed here just for your sake? I should think it would be much better
for him to live where his business is. Think how much of his time is
consumed in going back and forth! and then, too, it is so disagreeable
for him to never be within call when one wants him."

"As to the length of time it takes to go back and forth, that is no more
than is taken by those who live in the best residence portions of the
large city; we have rapid transit, and all the business men who can
afford to do so, keep their homes out here. Erskine has never known any
other home than this, and it would be strange indeed if he were not
attached to it. Of course it is associated with his father as no other
place can ever be."

This time it was not possible for the elder lady to keep her voice from
sounding cold and constrained. The thought of Erskine in any other home
than this one that had been improved from time to time and made
beautiful, always with his interests in view, had not so much as
occurred to her. She recoiled from the mere suggestion, and also from
the easy and careless manner in which it was made.

The young woman's manner was still careless.

"Oh, of course; but young people do not feel such attachments much; it
isn't natural. We talk a great deal about sentimental youth, but I think
it is the old who are sentimental, don't you? Auntie was an illustration
of that. She had the greatest quantity of old duds that she carried
about with her wherever she went, just because they were keepsakes,
souvenirs, and all that sort of thing. They were of no real value, you
know, the most of them, and some were mere rubbish. I had the greatest
time when we were packing to go abroad; she wanted to lug ever so much
of that stuff with her! I just had to set my foot down that it couldn't
be done; and it was fortunate that I did, as things turned out. We had a
horrid time getting packed; if Erskine had had all that rubbish to see
to with the rest, I don't know what would have become of him. I don't
believe he has sentimental notions; he is too sensible. He ought to be
in the city; that is the place for a man to rise; and you want him to
rise, don't you? Aren't you ambitious for him? I am. I want him to stand
at the very head of his profession. I tell him that if he doesn't, it
will not be for lack of brains, but on account of a morbid conscience.
Don't you think he is inclined to be over-conscientious, sometimes? What
an odd, old-fashioned plant that is beyond the rose arbor; it looks like
a weed."

She had a curious fashion of mixing the important and the trivial in a
single sentence. The mother, whose nerves quivered with her desire to
answer that remark about over-conscientiousness, restrained herself and
explained the plant that looked like a weed.

"It is a very choice variety of begonia and has a lovely blossom in its
season. It is the first thing that Erskine planted quite by himself. He
was a tiny boy then, with yellow curls."

The mother's voice trembled. A vision of her boy in his childish beauty,
in the long-ago days when he was all her own, came back to her, bringing
with it a strange new pang.

The wife laughed carelessly.

"And you have kept it all these years, ugly as it is, on that account? I
told you it was old people who were sentimental."

Mrs. Burnham turned abruptly away, murmuring something about household
duties. She went to the kitchen and gave the cook some directions that
she did not need; then went swiftly to her room and closed and locked
her door. Then she passed through to her sitting room, the door of which
was opposite her son's, and stood always open, inviting his entrance,
and closed and locked it. She had a feeling that she must be alone. More
alone than closed and locked doors would make her. She must shut out
something that had come in unawares and taken hold of her life. But
could she shut it out, or get away from it?

"I must pray," she said aloud, clasping both hands over her throbbing
forehead. "I must pray a great deal. I am not alone; God is with me; and
nothing dreadful has happened, or is about to happen. There is nothing
and there must be nothing but peace and joy in our home. I must be quiet
and sensible and not sentimental. Oh, I must not be sentimental at all!"

She laughed a little over that word--the kind of laugh that does not
help one; but it was followed immediately by tears, and they relieved a
little of the strain.

Then she went to her knees; and when she arose, was quiet and ready for
life. The thought came to her that it was well that she was acquainted
with God and did not have to seek him at this time as one unknown. He
had kept his everlasting arms underneath her through trying years,
certainly she could trust him now.

She went out at once in search of her daughter, intending to propose a
drive; but Ellen met her in the hall with a message.

"I was to tell you, ma'am, that young Mrs. Burnham has gone to lie down
and doesn't want to be disturbed. She doesn't want to be awakened even
for luncheon; she says she has been on a steady strain for weeks, and
has a lot of sleeping to make up; she shouldn't wonder if she slept all
day."

"Very well, Ellen, we will keep the house quiet and let her rest as long
as she will."

The mother's voice was quietness itself, yet, despite that phrase "young
Mrs. Burnham," which, some way, jarred, her heart was filled with
compunction. Had the poor young wife, a stranger in a strange home, shut
herself up to sleep, or to cry? She had been through nerve-straining
experiences so recently; death and marriage coming into one short week;
and now, a new home, and Erskine away for the day, and no one within
sight or sound whom she had ever seen before. Would it be any wonder if
the tears wanted to come? Could not her new mother have helped her
through this first strange day? Why had she not put tender arms about
her and kissed her, and called her "daughter," and said how glad she was
to have a daughter? That was what she had meant to do. This morning when
she came from her night vigil, she had almost the words on her lips that
she meant to say as soon as they two were alone. She had meant the words
in their fulness; so at least she believed. They had come to her in
answer to her cry for help. What had kept her from saying them?

Even while she asked herself the question, a faint weary smile hovered
about her lips.

Had she done so, would she have been thought "sentimental?"



                               CHAPTER XI

                         "PLANS FOR A PURPOSE"


THE Burnhams were still seated at their dinner table, although Mrs.
Erskine Burnham had just remarked that the evening was too lovely to
spend in eating.

"Let us take a walk on the porch in the moonlight the minute we are
through dinner," she said to her husband. Apparently she paid no heed to
the slight dry cough which came so frequently from Erskine that his
mother's face took on a shade of anxiety. Erskine's coughs had been his
mother's chief anxiety concerning him through the years; he had never
been able to tamper with them; but his wife laughed at her fears and
frankly told her that Erskine was too old now to be coddled.

To all outward appearances the Burnham dining room was exhibiting a
perfect home scene. The day had been balmy, with a hint of summer in the
air, and although the evening was cool enough for a bright fire in the
grate, the mantle above it had been banked with violets, whose sweet
spring breath pervaded the air.

To Erskine Burnham who had been all day in the rush and roar of the
great city, the lovely room with its flower-laden air, and its daintily
appointed dinner table with the two ladies seated thereat in careful
toilets, formed a picture of complete and restful home life. He glanced
from wife to mother with eyes of approval and spoke joyously.

"I don't suppose you two can fully appreciate what it is to me to get
home to you after a stuffy, snarly day in town. I sit in the car
sometimes with closed eyes after a day of turmoil, to picture how it
will all look. But the reality always exceeds my imagination."

His wife laughed gayly.

"That is because you come home hungry," she said. "You want your dinner
and you like the odor of it and make believe that it is sentiment and
violets. In reality it is roast beef and jelly that charm you."

He echoed her laugh. He thought her gay spirits were charming. "The
roast beef helps, undoubtedly," he said. "Though it was violets I
noticed first, to-night. Aren't they lovely? Did you arrange them,
Irene? Hasn't it been a perfect day? Too pleasant for staying in doors
patiently. I hope you have both been out a great deal? Oh, it is Friday,
isn't it? Then you have, mamma, of course. What have you been about,
Irene?"

"I went to the lake this morning with the Bensons; and we spent an hour
or more with the Langhams; they are here for a month. It is lovely out
there, Erskine, and there are some charming cottages for rent. Two
simply ideal ones, either of which would suit us. Darling little
bird's-nests of cottages, not a great staring room in one of them. I
wish we could go there for the summer."

Erskine laughed indulgently, but at the same time shook his head.

"Too far away, dear. I couldn't get out there at night until seven, or
later. Besides, you wouldn't find it so pleasant as you fancy. Life in
one of those bird's-nest cottages is ideal only on paper. Nothing could
be pleasanter, I am sure, than our own home; and it is a delightful
drive to the lake whenever we want to go there. So the Langhams are
down."

"Oh, yes, and came to lunch with me. You should see Harry! he has shaved
his mustache, and it changes his face so that I hardly knew him."

"Oh, Harry is here, is he? His face could bear changing. What did you
think of him, mamma? He is the young man of whom I wrote you, who went
over on the same steamer that I did, last spring."

Before Mrs. Burnham could reply, his wife's voice chimed in. "She didn't
meet him. I went off with a rush, this morning. I heard through the mail
that the Langhams were down, and I was in such a hurry to see Nettie
that I thought of nothing else. I ran away, don't you think! Never said
where I was going, or anything; and then came back to luncheon so late
that I supposed of course mother had lunched long before, and was lying
down, so I wouldn't have her disturbed. And don't you think she had
waited, and so lost her luncheon altogether."

Erskine laughed genially and waited to hear his mother say that of
course that was of no consequence; but she did not speak. The cheerful
voice of his wife went on:--

"Nettie Langham has the sweetest little home, Erskine. If you could see
it, you would never say again that cottages were only nice on paper. I'm
sure I long to prove to you how perfectly charming one could be. And we
have such a host of pretty things that would fit into it. Will Langham
says he saves ten minutes night and morning by being at that end of the
town instead of this."

Erskine chose to ignore the cottage.

"You had an afternoon of calls, had you not? I met the Emersons and the
Stuarts down town and both spoke of having been here."

"Oh, yes, they were here, with the Needham girls; and Mrs. Easton and
her daughter Faye were here. We met them in New York, you know. And oh,
don't you think, Mrs. Janeway's niece that we used to hear so much about
called this afternoon with a letter of introduction from Mrs. Janeway.
She is lovely, Erskine. I was prepared to dislike her because we heard
such perfection of her; but really she is charming. And she is going to
be at one of the lake cottages for several weeks; that is another reason
for our being out there, you see."

She seemed bent on holding his attention, but Erskine turned to his
mother with a question.

"Mamma, don't you think Mrs. Stuart is looking ill? I was shocked at the
change in her. Isn't it marked, or is it because I haven't seen her
lately?"

"I did not see her to-day, my son. I did not even know she had been
here."

Mrs. Erskine Burnham pretended to frown at her husband.

"What a stupid boy you can be when you choose!" she said. "How many
times must I tell you that I thought mother was resting, this afternoon,
and did not disturb her with callers? I'm sure the Stuarts are not such
infrequent guests that one must make a special effort to meet them. I'll
tell you some other people who were here. The Hemingways, don't you
think! The last time we saw them was just as we were leaving Paris. They
came back only last month, and Mrs. Hemingway says she is already
homesick for Paris. That is the worst of living abroad for a time; one
is never afterward quite satisfied with this country."

"Mamma," said Erskine. "Do I understand that you have not been out,
to-day, Friday, though it is? Aren't you feeling well?"

There was tender solicitude in his tones, but his mother's voice was
cold.

"Quite well, Erskine. May I give you some coffee?" This he declined, and
almost immediately his wife made a movement to leave the table. She
linked her arm at once in her husband's and drew him toward the door.

"Come out on the porch, Erskine, do; this room is stuffy to-night. One
can't breathe in a house with a fire, on such charming days as these.
Why, of course, it's prudent. The air is as mild as it is in midsummer.
Don't go to housing yourself up because you have a tiny little cold; it
is the best way in the world to make it cling. Dear me! don't I know all
about that? Poor auntie was forever hunting about for draughts, and
closing doors and windows and putting shawls on herself and everybody
else. If I had to stay in the house with another invalid of that kind, I
should die."

They were on the porch by this time; she had overcome Erskine's
half-reluctance and had closed the door behind them. But the window was
open and the mother could distinctly hear the slight dry cough, more
frequent now that they were in the open air. She stood irresolute for a
moment, then turned and went swiftly up to her own rooms and closed and
locked her door. Then she went hurriedly to the front windows and drew
the curtains close; she had a feeling that she must shut out the outside
world very carefully. But she had no tears to shed; on the contrary her
eyes were very dry and bright and seemed almost to burn in their
sockets, and two red spots glowed on her cheeks.

It was a little more than six months since that October evening when
Erskine Burnham had brought home his bride, and they had been months of
revelation to his mother.

During that time she had tried--did any woman ever try harder?--to be,
in the true sense of the word, a mother to her daughter-in-law. Her
son's appeal during their first moments of privacy had touched her
deeply. He had ignored any necessity for a further explanation of his
sudden marriage, accepting it as a matter of course that his mother
would fully appreciate the simple statement that, however hard it was
for all three, it seemed to be the only right solution of their
difficulties; and went straight to his point.

"I want you to be a revelation to Irene, mommie. She knows very little
about mother-love, having had chiefly to imagine it, with, I fancy,
rather poor models on which to build her imaginings. She is singularly
alone in the world, and she doesn't make close friends easily. It is a
joy to me to think how a part of her nature that has heretofore been
starved and dwarfed will blossom out under your love and care."

Then his mother had kissed him, a long, clinging, self-surrendering
kiss, while she vowed to her secret soul never to disappoint his hopes.
What had she not done and left undone and endured during those six
months in order to try to keep that vow! What an impossible vow it was!
How utterly Erskine had misunderstood his wife in supposing that she
wanted to be loved by his mother! that she wanted anything whatever of
his mother except to efface her.

By slow degrees Mrs. Burnham was reaching the conclusion that such was
the policy of her daughter-in-law. It had come to her as a surprise.
Whatever else in her checkered life Ruth Erskine Burnham had been called
upon to bear, she had been accustomed to being recognized always as an
important force. Mrs. Erskine Burnham had not planned in that way. She
did not argue, she never openly combated any thing; she simply carried
out her own intentions without the slightest regard to the plans or the
convenience of others; or at least of one other.

From the first of her coming into this hitherto ideal home she had
assumed that her mother-in-law was a feeble old woman on whom the claims
of society were irksome, and the ordering of her home and servants a
bore. At first, Ruth, with her utterly different experience from which
to judge, did not understand the situation. When her new daughter
assured her that it was too windy or too damp or too chilly or too warm
for her to expose herself, she laughed amusedly and explained that she
was in excellent health and was accustomed to going out in all weather.
When callers came and went without her being notified, she attributed it
at first to forgetfulness, on the part of a bride, or to her ignorance
of the customs of the neighborhood; then to her over-solicitude for an
older woman's comfort, then to carelessness, pure and simple, and
finally, by closely contested steps, to the conviction that it was a
deeply laid, steadily carried-out plan, for a purpose. This day, at the
close of which she had locked herself into her room and vainly tried to
shut out the sounds of laughter on the porch below, had given her
abundant proof of the truth of this conviction.

It was Friday, the day which, ever since Erskine was graduated and they
were permanently settled in their home, she had devoted to making a
round of calls upon people who had been long ill, or who for any special
reason needed special thought. She took one or another of them for a
drive, she did errands for certain others, she carried flowers and fruit
and reading matter to such as could enjoy them; in short she gave
herself and her carriage and horses in any way that could best meet the
interests of those set apart. So much a feature of their life had this
morning programme become that Erskine was in the habit of referring to
it much as he did to Sunday.

"We must not plan for guests at luncheon on Fridays, Irene; mamma is
much too tired for social functions after her strenuous mornings."

"We could not have the carriage for that day, dear; it is Friday, you
remember."

Numberless times since the advent of the new member of the family, had
such reference to the special custom been made; the mother's eyes being
now opened, she recalled instance after instance in which there had been
in progress some pet scheme for Friday, that would interfere with her
disposal of it. More than once she had tried to enter a protest; had
urged that she could wait until another day, or she could order a
carriage from the livery for that time; but Erskine's negative had been
prompt and emphatic.

"No, indeed, mamma; we don't want you to do anything of the kind. We are
interested in the Friday programme, too, remember. I consider it almost
in the light of a trust. Why, the very horses would be hurt, Irene, if
they were not allowed to go their Friday rounds, carrying roses, and
jellies, and balm. Nothing not absolutely necessary, mommie, must be
permitted to interfere with that."

Yet, on that Friday morning when Mrs. Burnham, having studied the
barometer and the sky, had sent word to an especially delicate invalid
that she believed she could safely take a drive, and had come down at
the appointed hour dressed for driving, with a couch pillow in hand and
an extra wrap over her arm, Ellen had met her at the foot of the stairs
with a flushed face and eyes that had dropped their glance to the floor
for very shame, as she said: "The carriage has gone, ma'am; I was coming
to ask you if I should 'phone for another, right away."

"Gone!" echoed her mistress, standing still on the third step, and
staring at the girl. "What do you mean, Ellen? Gone where?"

"To the station, ma'am. Jonas said Mrs. Erskine had ordered him to take
her there to meet a friend."

"Oh," said Mrs. Burnham, reaching for her watch. "Some guest just heard
from who must be met, I presume. Then they will be back very soon, of
course."

Again the maid's indignant eyes drooped as though unwilling to see her
mistress's discomfiture as she hurried her story.

"I guess not, ma'am. She ordered luncheon to be late; not earlier than
two or half past, and said there would be company; two anyway, perhaps
more. Will I 'phone for a carriage, ma'am?"



                              CHAPTER XII

                          ACCIDENT OR DESIGN?


MRS. BURNHAM had stood for a full minute irresolute; then she had spoken
in her usual tone, explaining to Ellen that the friend she had intended
to take out would not be able to go in a livery carriage. She would
herself make plain to her why the drive must be deferred until another
time. The mistake had occurred by her neglecting to explain to her
daughter the morning's plans. Then she had turned and slowly retraced
her steps. She had seen and been humiliated by the flush on Ellen's face
and the flash in her eyes. It was humiliating to think that her maid was
indignant over the way she was being treated by her daughter. It is
probably well that she did not hear the maid's exclamation:--

"The horrid cat! If I only dared tell Mr. Erskine all about it!"

Ruth Burnham had gone downstairs again after a time. She had changed her
street dress first, and made a careful at-home toilet. She had given
certain additional directions to the cook, with a view to doing honor to
their unexpected guests. She had made a special effort to have Ellen
understand that all was quite as it should be, and had sternly assured
herself that such was the case. If she could not sympathize with the
sudden movements of young people on hearing of the coming of friends,
she deserved to be set aside as too old to be endurable. It was absurd
in her to be so wedded to an old custom! just as though any other day in
the week would not do as well as Friday. Then she had gone to the living
room which was Erskine's favorite of the entire house.

"It is such a home-y room, mamma," he used to say, away back in his
early boyhood. When it had been refurnished, or at least renewed, with a
view to Erskine's home-coming, his mother had taken pains to preserve
the sense of homeiness, and had seen to it that his pet luxuries, sofa
pillows, were in lavish evidence.

It was a charming room. Very long and many windowed, with wide, low
window-seats, and tempting cosy-corners, piled high with cushions so
carefully chosen, as to size and harmony of color, that they were in
themselves studies in art. There was a smaller room opening from this
and nearer the front entrance, which was used as a reception room, and
was furnished more after the fashion of the conventional parlor; but
guests who, as Erskine phrased it, really "belonged," were always
entertained in the living room.

In the doorway of this room the mistress of the house had stopped short
and looked about her in astonishment. It wore an unfamiliar air. The
easy-chairs, each one of which she had made a study, until it seemed to
have been created for the particular niche in which it was placed, had
every one changed places and to the eyes of the mistress of the house
looked awkward and uncomfortable. But that was foolish, she assured
herself quickly. Chairs, of course, belonged wherever their friends
chose to place them. There were other changes. The window-seats had been
shorn of some of their largest and prettiest cushions, and a little onyx
table that had occupied a quiet corner was gone. It had held a choice
picture of Erskine's father, set in a dainty frame, and near it had
stood a tiny vase which was daily filled with fresh blossoms. Picture
and vase and flowers had disappeared.

"Ellen," Mrs. Burnham had said, catching sight of the girl in the next
room, "what has happened here? Has there been an accident?"

"No, m'm," said Ellen, appearing in the opposite doorway, duster in
hand.

"It wasn't any accident, ma'am, it was orders. She didn't want such a
lot of pillows here, she said. It looked for all the world like a show
room, or as if it had been got ready for a church fair. Those was her
very words."

"Never mind the pillows, Ellen." Mrs. Burnham had spoken hastily, and
was regretting that she had spoken at all. "It is the table, and
especially the picture about which I am inquiring. I hope the picture is
safe? It is the best one we have."

"It's all safe, ma'am; I looked out for that; but that was orders, too.
She said the room was too full, and looked cluttery; and she said that
only country folks kept family pictures in their parlors. And she had me
take the table and the picture and the vase up into the back attic. She
said the vase was a nuisance; it was always tipping over and she didn't
want it around in the way. Of course I had to take them; you told me to
obey orders."

Ellen's indignation was getting the better of her usual discreetness. It
was her tone and manner that recalled the elder woman to her senses. She
spoke with decision and dignity.

"Certainly, Ellen. Why should there be occasion for mentioning that? Of
course Mrs. Erskine Burnham's orders are to be obeyed equally with my
own; or, if they conflict at any time with my own, give hers the
preference. Especially should the parlors and sitting rooms be arranged
just as she wishes. Young people care more about such little matters
than we older ones do."

She knew that her voice had been steady, and she took care to make her
movements quiet and her manner natural and at ease. Not for the world
would she have had Ellen know of the turmoil going on inside. It was the
picture that hurt her; or rather that emphasized the hurt. Erskine's
favorite picture of his father; the one that as a child he had daily
kissed good morning; the one that now after all these years he always
stood beside in silence for a moment, after greeting her. And she could
not recall that he had ever forgotten to select from the flowers he
brought home, an offering for the tiny vase.

How was it possible for his wife to have spent six months in his home
without noting all this? And noting it, how could she possibly have
interfered with that cherished corner?

The morning had been a distinct advance on former experiences. The new
daughter had evidently misunderstood the spirit in which small
interferences and small slights had heretofore been accepted, and
determined on aggressive effort. Long before this, and as often as she
chose, she had made what changes pleased her in the more pretentious
parlor, and Mrs. Burnham had openly approved some of them and been
pleasantly silent over others. She had also given explicit directions to
the would-be rebel, Ellen, that the "new lady's" slightest hint was to
be obeyed.

There had been no pettiness in her thoughts about the changes. She was
earnestly anxious to have her son's wife feel so entirely at home that
she would not need to hesitate about carrying out her own tastes. But
was it not to be supposed that a wife would consult her husband's tastes
as well as her own? And his father's picture that he had cherished ever
since he was a child! She had herself told Irene one morning, standing
before that very picture, how Erskine had singled it out from all the
others and said decidedly: "That one is papa." And his wife could banish
it to the attic!

Ruth Erskine Burnham was used to mental struggles. There had been times
in her life when her strong-willed feelings had got the upper hand and
swayed her for days together; but it is doubtful if a more violent storm
of feeling had ever swept about her than surged that morning. For a
while the pent-up emotions of many weeks were allowed their way. But
only for a little while. The Christian of many years' experience had
herself too well in training for long submission to the enemy's control.
By the time that delayed luncheon hour drew near she believed that she
was her quiet self again; ready to receive and assist in entertaining
her daughter's guests whoever they might be. As was her habit when under
the power of strong feeling that must be held in check she took refuge
with her absent friends, and wrote a long letter to Marian Dennis,
ignoring the immediate present utterly and revelling in certain happy
experiences of their past. When her unusually lengthy epistle was
finished, she was startled at the lateness of the hour, and began to
wonder how certain details of the dinner could be managed if luncheon
were much longer delayed. Just then Ellen knocked at her door.

"They are 'most through luncheon, ma'am," was her message. "I heard you
moving around and I thought I'd venture to tell you."

"Why, Ellen, how is this? I did not hear any call to luncheon."

"You wasn't called, ma'am. She said you was likely asleep, and she
wouldn't let me come up and see. She thinks you don't do anything but
sleep when you are upstairs!"

This last was muttered, and not supposed to be heard by her mistress.
Ellen had evidently reached the limit of her endurance. Since the
mistress said not a word, she ventured a further statement. "There's
four of them, ma'am, besides Mrs. Burnham; and it's long after three,
and they're on the last course. I thought you would be wanting something
to eat by this time."

Outwardly, Ruth was herself again.

"Thank you, Ellen," she said. "Since I am so late, I think I will not go
down until the guests have left the dining room. I am not in the least
hungry; I think on the whole I should prefer to wait until dinner is
served."

Her tone was gentleness itself; but there was in it that quality which
made Ellen understand that she was dismissed.

Then Mrs. Burnham went back to her room and sat down near the open
window. The sweet spring air came to her, laden with the breath of the
flowers she loved, but their odor almost sickened her. She had thought
that her battle was fought and victory declared, and behold it was only
a lull! What was she to do? What ought she to do? Should she go down to
the guests, apologize for tardiness, and act as though nothing had
occurred to disturb her? That, of course, would be the sensible way;
but,--could she do it well, with the closely observing and indignant
Ellen to confront? It scarcely seemed possible; and she blushed for
shame over the thought that she was afraid to meet the anxious eyes of
her maid.

Even while she waited and considered, a carriage swung around the corner
and stopped before her door. Three ladies alighted, evidently with the
intent of paying an afternoon visit. Among them was Mrs. Stuart, her
most intimate acquaintance. Now indeed she would have to go down; but
she would wait for a summons, that would make it appear more natural. So
she waited; but no summons came. The ladies, all of them her friends,
made their call and departed. And others came--a constant succession of
callers; the new spring day had tempted everybody out. Most of the
people Mrs. Burnham knew by sight; some of them were comparative
strangers, paying their first calls. What was being given as the reason
why she was not there to meet them? The words of Ellen recurred to her,
words that she had considered it wisdom not to seem to hear:--

"She thinks you don't do anything but sleep when you are upstairs." The
matron's lip curled a little. She was not given to sleeping by daylight;
a fifteen minutes' nap after luncheon was always sufficient, and even
that was frequently omitted.

It was a strange afternoon, the strangest that she had ever passed. She
kept her seat at the window, almost within view, if the guests had
raised their eyes, and saw friends who rarely got out to make calls, and
whom she had always made special efforts to entertain. What must they
think of her, at home, and well, and not there to meet them? And why was
she not there? What strange freak or whim was this? Could her
daughter-in-law hope to make a prisoner of her in her own house? Why did
she sit there in that inane way as though she were in very deed a
prisoner? Why not go down, as a matter of course, and take her proper
place as usual? But the longer she delayed and watched those groups of
callers come and go, the more impossible it seemed to do this. With each
fresh arrival she felt sure that she would be summoned, and waited
nervously for Ellen's knock. But no Ellen came.

The day waned and the hour for Erskine and dinner drew near; and still
Mrs. Burnham sat like one dazed at that open window. An entire afternoon
lost. When, before, had she spent a day in such fashion?

She leaned forward, presently, and watched Erskine's car stop at the
corner, and watched his springing step as he came with glad haste to his
home, and received his bow and smile as he looked up at her window. Now
indeed she must go down; and go before he could come in search of her,
and question her with keen gaze and searching words. Her eyes told no
tales, they were dry, and there were bright spots glowing on her cheeks.
She had not known what she should say, just how she should manage his
solicitous inquiries. She would make no plans, she told herself; things
must just take their course. Matters had so shaped themselves that any
planning of hers was useless.

Then she had gone down to that cheerful dining room, and listened to the
chatter of her daughter-in-law, and replied to her son as best she
could. Now she was back in her room, and Erskine and his wife were out
on the porch in the moonlight, and that slight, frequent cough was
coming up to her. Presently he would come, and she dreaded it. For
almost the first time in her life she dreaded to meet her son. He would
be insistent, and she was not good at dissembling. And yet, he must not
know, he must never know how she had been treated that day. If only he
would stay away and give her a chance to think, to pray, to grow calm.
Should she lock her door?

Lock out her son? She could not do that! but she could not talk with him
to-night; she would turn off her light and ask him not to light up again
and not to stay, because she was tired. That at least would be true: she
was tired. For the first time in her life she was tired of life! She
must get into a different spirit from this. After Erskine had kissed her
good-night she would have it out with her heart, or her will.

Hark! he was coming! they were coming upstairs together, and Irene was
chattering. Out went the lights in the mother's room. She heard the wife
pass on to her own room, she heard her son, stepping lightly, stopping a
moment before her door, then he too passed on, to his own room, and
closed his door.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                            WAS IRENE RIGHT?


IF she could have heard some of the talk that had taken place on the
porch in the moonlight, Mrs. Burnham would have better understood her
son's consideration. They had taken but very few turns on the porch when
Erskine said:--

"Mamma has gone upstairs. I think I must run up and see her a few
minutes, Irene. She does not seem to feel quite well to-night; although
in some respects I think I never saw her looking better; her eyes were
very bright, did you notice? Perhaps she is feverish. Did she speak of
having cold?"

"Not at all; I have no idea that she doesn't feel quite well."

"There was something peculiar about her. Didn't she really go out at all
to-day? That is certainly unusual; you have seen how particular she is
to keep her Friday programme. Irene, I am really afraid that she is
ill."

"She isn't ill at all, you fussy boy; I think you are absurd about your
mother. You fuss over her as though she were a spoiled child. That is
just the word for it."

"Very well," he said good-humouredly. "I must go and 'fuss over' her,
enough to know why she overturned her usual programme," and he moved
toward the door.

His wife held to his arm and tried to arrest his steps.

"Don't go in, Erskine; it is stuffy inside, and I haven't seen you since
morning. As for that programme which worries you so much, if you were
not dreadfully stupid to-night you would understand that it is I who
overturned it. I ran away with the carriage, I told you--almost as soon
as you went yourself. I was so charmed with the idea of seeing the
Langhams again that I forgot everything else."

Her husband turned then to look at her, his face expressing surprise.

"Did you take our carriage, dear? I supposed you ordered one from the
livery."

His wife pretended to pout.

"You are cross to-night, Erskine. I don't see why I should. I thought
'Our' meant mine as much as hers. Why shouldn't she order one if she
wanted it?"

He laughed, as though he was expected to understand that she was talking
nonsense, but he spoke with an undertone of decision.

"Oh if it comes to that, the carriage as well as the horses are
undoubtedly my mother's, but she and I have never drawn any hard and
fast lines about 'mine' and 'thine'; I have always found her too willing
to give up her convenience for mine. For that reason, perhaps, I have
been careful to plan systematically for her, and to anticipate and
overrule her personal sacrifices as much as possible, and I know that
you will delight to join me in it. I am afraid that she was much
inconvenienced to-day; still, that cannot be why she did not see any of
her friends. What reason did she give, dear, for not coming down?"

Irene pouted in earnest this time.

"Really, Erskine, you are strangely obtuse! I have explained at least
three times that mother spent the afternoon in her room, and that I gave
orders that she should not be disturbed. I thought I should be commended
for it instead of blamed."

"I haven't had a thought of blaming you, Irene, but I am a trifle
anxious about my mother, and what you say only increases the anxiety.
She has never been given to sleeping much in the daytime."

"Oh what nonsense! as though you knew what she did all day, while you
are in town! Of course she sleeps; old people always do."

"My mother isn't old, Irene."

[Illustration: "MY MOTHER ISN'T OLD, IRENE."--_Page 167._]

"Why not, I wonder? you ridiculous boy! When should people begin to be
called old, pray, if not at fifty? And she is more than that. She is
within a few years of Auntie's age, and you thought she was an old
woman, and were always preaching to me about how patient I must be with
her on that account."

Her husband gave her a troubled, half-startled look. His mother nearly
as old as the invalid aunt who had seemed to him old enough to be his
grandmother!

"Are you sure?" he asked helplessly.

His wife laughed satirically.

"Sure of what, my beloved dunce? That your mother is fifty-three? Of
course I am. It was only a few days ago that she showed me her
gold-lined silver cup, that has the imprint of her first teeth and is
dated for her first birthday."

Then her face sobered.

"And I'll tell you another way in which I know it, Erskine. She is
growing nervous and over-sensitive, as old people always do. I can see a
great difference in her, even in the short time that I have been here.
It is nothing to worry about, of course; simply something to be expected
as among the infirmities of age. You ought to have married me six or
eight years before you did; it would have been easier for her. She
simply cannot get used to your having a wife. 'My son' has 'lived and
breathed and had his being' so many years for her sake alone, that to
share him with another is a bitter experience. She doesn't love me one
bit, Erskine, and it is not my fault. If I were an angel from heaven, it
wouldn't make any difference, provided I had presumed to marry you. It
makes it hard for both of us; and for that very reason it would be much
better if you and I were in a little house of our own. She would get
used to it much easier if she did not have me continually before her
eyes."

If she could have seen distinctly the look of pain on her husband's
face, as she got off these sentences with composed voice, it might have
moved her to pity for him. When he spoke, his voice was almost sharp. "I
am sure you are mistaken, Irene; utterly mistaken. My mother wanted me
to marry; she has wanted it for years; at times she was actually
troubled because I did not, and spoke of it very seriously."

Irene laughed lightly as she gave his arm some half-reproving,
half-caressing pats.

"Blind as a bat, you are!" she said. "Despite all your supposed wisdom.
On general principles your mother wanted you to marry, of course,
because that is the proper thing for a man to do. But marriage in the
abstract and marriage in the concrete are two very different matters.
There! haven't I put that well? Those are lawyers' terms, aren't they?
They sound learned, anyway."

He smiled in an absent-minded way at her folly. His thoughts were
elsewhere. Something in the turn of her sentence had carried him
suddenly back to a moon-lighted evening in which he had walked and
talked with Alice Warder, and he could seem to hear her voice again as
she said:--

"I know your mother loves me, Erskine, almost as she would a daughter;
and I also know that she loves me a great deal better because her son is
like a brother to me instead of being--something else." He remembered
how he had puzzled over it all, and studied his mother's face, and half
decided that Alice was right. Was Irene right, also? Was his mother
grieved that he had married at all? Was it possible that she could have
stooped to so small a feeling as jealousy!

His wife laid her head caressingly against his arm and said softly:--

"Don't worry about it, Erskine. We can't either of us help it now; and
we must just make the best of it and do as well as we can."

For the first time in his life, as those low tremulously spoken words
sounded in his ears, a feeling very like resentment toward his mother
swelled in Erskine Burnham's heart, and a torrent of tenderness rushed
over him toward the wife who had no one in all the world but himself.
This was what she had often told him.

All things considered it is perhaps not strange that he did not visit
his mother's room that evening.

It is true that when they went upstairs he paused before her door and
listened, and told himself that she was asleep and he would not disturb
her. But there had been nights before, many of them, in which he had
waited at her door and listened, and murmured: "Mommie," and received a
prompt invitation to enter. On this evening, though the hour was not
late, he was not insistent. He made no attempt to knock or to speak. It
was his concession to that new thought about her being an old woman. Or
was it a slight concession, unawares, to that new feeling of resentment?

His mother, knowing nothing of what had been talked over in the
moonlight, held her breath and waited. Of course Erskine would come to
say good night. She forgot that she had wished he would not come! When
his footsteps moved toward his own room, she waited a minute, then
stepped into the hall.

"Erskine!" she said; but she said it very softly and he did not hear
her. She could hear his voice. He was talking with his wife. The mother
slipped softly back to her own room and locked her door. It was not
late, and she and her son were only across a hall from each other; yet,
for the first time in her life under like conditions, if she slept at
all it must be without his good-night kiss. There is no true mother but
will appreciate the situation. There are, it is true, mothers who are
not accustomed to good-night kisses from their grown sons, and so would
not miss them, but they are accustomed to a certain atmosphere, and they
can understand what it would be like to be suddenly removed from it.

Mrs. Burnham went to her bed as usual, after a while, like the sensible
woman that she was. That she did not go to sleep was not her fault, for
she made earnest effort to do so. She told herself repeatedly and with a
calmness which was itself unnatural, that nothing terrible had happened,
and that she was above making herself miserable over trifles. Was her
daughter-in-law's indifference to her only a trifle? She made a distinct
pause over that word "indifference" and selected it with care; of course
it was nothing more; and--yes, it was a trifle. How could one who knew
her so little and had so little in common with her life be expected to
be other than indifferent? Erskine had expected more, very much more,
but Erskine was--was different from other people.

Then, suddenly, all her heart went out in a great swell of tenderness
for Erskine. She did not stop to reason about it, she did not wait to
ask herself why Erskine, who had everything, should be the subject of
her shielding care; she simply took him metaphorically once more into
her mother-arms and vowed to shield him from even a hint of solicitude
on her account. She would rise above it all; she would treat Irene
exactly as though she were at all times the loving and considerate
daughter that Erskine believed she was; she would let him be blind to
her faults, she would even help him to increased blindness. That was her
work for him now; she would accept it and be diligent in it. The thought
helped to quiet her, but it did not bring her sleep. She was broad
staring awake. She told herself that sleep seemed an impossibility; she
wondered curiously how she had ever slept.

A low murmur of talk came to her from the room across the hall. They
were not sleeping, either. Could she have heard some of the talk in that
room across the hall it would have made things plainer to her than they
were.

"There is one thing, dear," Erskine Burnham was saying to his wife,
"which we must look upon as settled. We can have no home apart from my
mother's. You can plan for summer cottages if you will, and where you
will, for a stay of a few weeks, but the real home must always be here.
I have taken care of my mother, practically all my life; and now if she
is, as you say, growing old, it is not the time to make any change."

"Not even though the change would be a benefit to her?" His wife
intended her words to represent a playful sarcasm, but Erskine's face
had clouded and he had answered quickly:

"No; not even under such an extraordinary supposition as that. Young as
I was when my father died, he said that to me about my mother which has
always made her seem to me as a trust; and I must be true to my trust in
any case."

After a moment's constrained silence between them his face had cleared
and he had laughed cheerfully.

"But we need not be so solemn over it, Irene. I know my mother, and I
have no fears as to her wishes. Nothing that anybody could say would
make me believe that she could be happier away from me than with me. I
would almost not believe it if she said so herself. Quite, indeed. I
should feel that she had over-persuaded herself in some spirit of
sacrifice. There is material in my mother for martyrdom, Irene. It shall
be your and my study to prevent her from indulging in it."

His wife made no attempt to reply. She was in some respects a wise woman
and she understood that there was a time when silence was golden. When
she spoke again, it was to ask if he did not think curtains lined with
rose color would be an improvement on those now separating their
dressing room from the main apartment.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                          THE GENERAL MANAGER


"MOTHER, don't you think that you are being rather hard on Irene to
undertake to hold her to restrictions to which she has never been
accustomed, and which to her seem narrow and unreasonable?"

Erskine Burnham had followed his mother to her room evidently with a
view to speaking to her alone, his wife having gone on into her own room
and closed the door. Even though she had not felt it in the tone of his
voice, Mrs. Burnham would have known by her son's opening word that he
was annoyed.

He rarely used the word "mother" when addressing her directly. As a rule
the habits of his childhood prevailed, and "mamma" was the name in
frequent use; or, oftener still perhaps, when they were quite alone, his
special pet name for her, "mommie," came naturally to his lips. But of
late she had heard, oftener than ever before, what was to him a colder
term "Mother," and had learned to know what it meant.

She hesitated a moment before replying, and her hesitation seemed to
irritate her son. He spoke quickly, with a note in his voice which she
had never found in it before.

"I must confess, mother, that I am surprised and not a little
disappointed at the course you are taking. When I brought Irene here, it
was not only in the hope but the assured belief that I was bringing her
to what she had never really had before--a mother,--and that you would
become to her in time, what you have always been to me. I never for a
moment dreamed of your standing coldly at one side, not only indifferent
to her innocent devices for pleasure, but actually blocking her way! If
I could have imagined such a condition of things, I would have better
understood her feeling from the very first that we ought to go into a
house of our own, where she would not feel herself an interloper."

Mrs. Burnham was ready then with her reply.

"Erskine, I do not think Irene could have understood me. I made no
attempt to hold her to any restrictions. She asked a direct question
about my own views, which, of course, I answered. But I ought not to
have to explain to my son that I do not try to force my opinions upon
any one."

He made a movement of impatience.

"That kind of thing is not necessary, mother, between us; but you know
very well that there are ways of expressing one's opinions that
effectually trammel others of the same household.

"The simple truth is that Irene has played cards, for amusement, in her
own and her friends' parlors, ever since she was old enough to play
games of any kind; and to her, our ideas concerning cards seem as absurd
as though applied to tennis or golf. Personally, I see no reason why she
should not continue to amuse herself in her own way. It is true I do not
play cards; but she knows, what both you and I understand perfectly,
that this is a concession on my part to the extreme views of my mother,
who could hardly expect my wife to have exactly the same spirit. I have
told Irene that out of deference to your feelings, I do not want her to
entertain her friends with cards, in the parlors, but she certainly
ought to be left free to do in her own rooms what she pleases."

At almost any other period in Mrs. Burnham's life, a formal and
elaborate expression of her son's views upon any subject, given in a
haughty and almost dictatorial tone, such as he was using, would have
filled his mother with astonishment and pain. She was almost curiously
interested in herself on discovering that she had passed that stage, and
was occupying her mind for the moment with quite a different matter.

Why had Irene chosen just this line of attack? What did she hope to
accomplish by such a singularly distorted representation of their talk
together? It must have been sadly distorted to have moved Erskine to an
exhibition of annoyance such as he had never before shown to her. Yet
had he been present at the interview, his mother felt confident that it
would not have disturbed him.

She went swiftly over the talk, in memory, while Erskine waited, and
fingered the books and magazines on her table with the air of a nervous
man who wanted to appear at ease. It had been a brief conversation, not
significant at least to an observer, in any way. Irene had been looking
over the mail, and had exclaimed at an invitation.

"The Wheelers are giving another card party; what indefatigable
entertainers they are! it isn't a month since their last one. This time
it is a very select few, in Mrs. Harry Wheeler's rooms. That is what
Erskine and I must do, since you won't allow cards in the parlors. Have
you really such queer notions, mother, as Erskine pretends?"

Mrs. Burnham remembered just how carefully she had watched her words, in
reply.

"I don't play cards, Irene, if that is what you mean."

"Oh, I mean a great deal more than that. Erskine says you won't allow
such wicked things in your part of the house. Is that so?"

"We have never had them in the house since Judge Burnham changed his
views with regard to them."

"Oh, did he change? how curious, for a lawyer, too! I don't believe
Erskine will get notional as he grows older. He isn't one of that kind."
Whereupon the older woman had turned resolutely away, resolved to speak
no more words on the subject unless they were spoken in Erskine's
presence. It was this conversation, reported, that had brought her son
to her in his new and lofty mood of guardian of his wife's liberties!
Just as he tossed down the magazine with which he had been playing, with
the air of one who meant to wait no longer, his mother spoke with gentle
dignity.

"Erskine, of course your rooms are your own, to do with as you will. I
made no restrictions and hinted at none. On my desk under the
paper-weight is the quotation you wished looked up, and also the
statistics about which you asked." Then she turned and passed out, to
the hall.

All this was on a midsummer morning nearly three months removed from
that moonlighted evening on which this mother had renewed her solemn
pledge to be to her son and her son's wife all that they would let her
be. In the face of steady resistance she had been fairly true to the
pledge. It had now become quite plain to her that it was not chance, nor
mere heedlessness, that was working against her, but that Mrs. Erskine
Burnham meant to resist her, meant to look upon her as a force in her
way, to be got rid of if possible; if not by persuading her son to leave
her, then, perhaps by making her so uncomfortable that she would leave
him. The plan was not succeeding. Ruth Erskine Burnham had lived through
too many trying experiences before this time to be easily routed. She
was in the home to which her husband had brought her as a bride, and she
meant that nothing but a stern sense of duty should ever separate her
from it.

Yet Mrs. Erskine Burnham, if she had but known it, had accomplished
much. The mother no longer turned with a sickening pain from the thought
of Erskine having other home than hers. There were times when she could
almost have joined his wife in pleading for that "cunning little
cottage." There were days wherein she told herself breathlessly and very
secretly, that for Erskine to come home to her for a single half-hour,
_alone_, would compensate for days of absence.

But if she had changed her point of view, so had Irene. His wife talked
to him no more of a home by themselves. She was growing fond of the
many-roomed, rambling old house whose utter abandonment to luxurious
comfort was the talk and the pride of the neighborhood; and was the
result of years of careful study on the part of a cultured woman
accustomed to luxuries.

The new Mrs. Burnham developed an interest in the carefully-trained
servants who had been a part of the establishment for so many years that
they said "our" and "ours" in speaking of its belongings. She came to
realize, at least in a measure, that servants like these were hard to
secure, and harder to keep. She began also to like the comfort of
proprietorship, without the accompanying sense of responsibility. The
machinery of this house could move on steadily without break or jar, and
without an hour of care or thought bestowed by her; yet her slightest
order was obeyed promptly and skilfully.

Her orders were growing more and more frequent, and it was becoming
increasingly apparent to those who had eyes to see that "young Mrs.
Burnham," as some of them called her, was assuming the reins and being
recognized as the head of the house.

Ellen, the maid who had been with Mrs. Burnham since Erskine's boyhood,
and who was a rebel against other authority than hers, had openly
rebelled, one day, and with blazing eyes that yet softened when the
tears came, assured Ruth that she could not have two mistresses,
especially when the one who wasn't mistress at all took pains to
contradict the orders of the other; and if she had got to be ordered
about all the time by Mrs. Erskine, the sooner she went, the better.

"Very well, Ellen," Mrs. Burnham had said, holding her tones to cold
dignity. "I shall be sorry to part with you, but it is quite certain
that so long as you remain in the house you must obey Mrs. Erskine
Burnham's slightest wish. If you cannot do this, of course we must
separate."

So Ellen went. In a perfect storm of tears and sobs and regrets, it is
true; but she went. This arrangement pleased just one person. Erskine
openly complained that her successor was not and never would be a
circumstance to Ellen, and made his mother confess that she missed Ellen
sorely, and asked her why, after being faithfully served for twenty
years, she could not have borne with a few peculiarities. His mother was
thankful that he did not insist upon knowing just what form her
peculiarities took, and his wife's eyes sparkled. She had recognized
Ellen from the first as an enemy, and had meant to be rid of her.

In short, Mrs. Erskine Burnham had settled down. She told her special
friends with a cheerful sigh that she had sacrificed herself to her
husband's mother, who was growing old and ought not to be burdened with
the care of a house. So, much as they would have enjoyed a home to
themselves, they had determined to stay where they were.

So steady and skilful were this General's movements toward supremacy
that Ruth herself scarcely realized the fact that when she gave an order
in these days, she did it hesitatingly, often adding as an
afterthought:--

"Let that be the arrangement, unless Mrs. Erskine Burnham has other
plans; if she has, remember, I am not at all particular." And she was
never surprised any more by the discovery that there was a totally
different arrangement. It was therefore in exceeding bad taste for
Erskine Burnham to present himself to his mother in lofty mood and
threaten her with a separate home for himself and wife. One of his
mother's chief concerns at this time was to shield him from the
knowledge that she sometimes prayed for solitude as the safest way out
of the thickening clouds. That he did not realize any of this can only
be attributed to the condition of which his wife often accused him;
namely, that he was "as blind as a bat."

The proposed card-party at the Wheelers' came off in due time, both
Irene and Erskine being among the guests. Within the month, Irene gave
what the next morning's social column called "an exclusive and charming
affair" of the same kind in her own rooms. It is true that she had
schemed for a different result from this. She had meant to give a card
party on a larger scale. Her careful rendering to her husband of the
talk about restrictions had been intended to call from him the
declaration that the parlors were as much theirs as his mother's, and
that if she chose to play cards in them, no one should disturb her. She
miscalculated. Instead of this, his deliverance was more emphatic than
ever before.

"Remember, Irene, that my mother's sense of the fitness of things must
never be infringed upon in any way that can disturb her. Our rooms are
our castle and we will do with them as we choose; but no cards
downstairs, remember, or anything else that will disturb her--"

"Prejudices!" his wife had interrupted in a manner that she had intended
should be playful; but he had spoken quickly and with dignity.

"Very well, prejudices if you will. I was going to say traditions; but
if you prefer the other word, it doesn't matter. Whatever they are, they
are to be respected."

So Irene, having learned some time before this that such deliverances on
the part of her husband were to be respected, took care to keep within
the limits of their own rooms. But she took a little private revenge
upon her mother-in-law, given in that especially trying would-be playful
tone of hers.

"I am sorry that your prejudices--oh, no, pardon me, I mean your
traditions--will not allow you to meet our guests this evening; but I
suppose that would be wicked, too? Pray how is your absence to be
accounted for? Must I trump up an attack of mumps, or dumps, or what?"

As for Erskine, he remained happily unconscious of all these small
stings. He was much engrossed in business cares, and left home early and
returned late, so that in reality he knew little of what took place
during his absence. That all was not quite as he had hoped between his
wife and his mother he could not help seeing, but he told himself that
he must not be unreasonable; that two people as differently reared as
they had been must have time to assimilate; probably they were doing
very well, and it was he who was struggling for the impossible. So he
straightway put aside and forgot the words of dignified reproach that he
had addressed to his mother, and she became "mommie" again, and always
his second kiss of greeting was for her. And the mother during these
days thanked God that she was able to hide her disappointment and her
pain, and meet him always with a smile.



                               CHAPTER XV

                            LOOKING BACKWARD


MRS. BURNHAM came into the room with the air of one in doubt as to whom
she was to meet. Probably it was some one whom she ought to recognize;
and if she did not, it would be embarrassing.

"She would not give any name, ma'am," the maid had said. "She says she
is an old acquaintance, and she wants to see if you will know her."

But Ruth did not know her. She had a fairly good memory for faces, yet
as she advanced she told herself that this woman was mistaken in the
person. There must be some other Mrs. Burnham whom she had known. But
the lady who arose to meet her was apparently not disappointed, and was
at her ease and eager.

"I hope you will forgive this intrusion, dear Mrs. Burnham. I could not
resist the temptation to see if you had a lingering remembrance of the
silly girl to whom you were once very good. It was foolish in me to
fancy such a thing. I was just at the age to change much in a few
years."

Mrs. Burnham was studying the fair and singularly reposeful face; taking
in unconsciously at the same time the grace of the whole perfect
picture, hair and eyes and dress and form, all in exquisite harmony.

"A perfect lady!" she told herself. "How rarely the phrase fits, and how
exactly it applies here. Yet where before have I seen that face?" She
was back in the old college town, away back, among the early years. What
had suddenly taken her there? She was--this was not!--

"You are surely not," she began, and hesitated.

The fair face broke into rippling smiles.

"Yes," she said, "I am. Do you really remember Mamie Parker just a
little bit?"

"I remember her, perfectly, but--"

"But I am changed? Yes, fifteen years make changes in young people. I
was not much over eighteen then, and very young for my years. But you
have not changed, Mrs. Burnham; I should have known you anywhere.
Perhaps that is partly because I have carried you around in my heart all
these years. It must be beautiful to be able to do for girls all that
you did for me. If I could do it, if I could be to one young girl what
you became to me, I should know that I had not lived in vain."

Mrs. Burnham was almost embarrassed. What did the woman mean!

"My dear friend, I do not understand," she said. "There must be some
strange mistake. Have you not confused me with some other friend? What
could I possibly have done for you in the few, the very few times that
we met?"

Her caller laughed a low, sweet laugh, and as she spoke made an
inimitable gesture with her hands that emphasized her words.

"You did everything for me," she said. "Everything! You gave me ideals,
you refashioned my entire view of life; you were the means God used to
breathe into me the spirit of real living. May I claim a little of your
time to-day, and tell you just a little bit of the story, for a purpose?
I had only this one day here, and I felt compelled to intrude without
permission."

Mrs. Burnham heard her almost as one in a dream. She was struggling with
her memories; trying to find in this fair vision, with her refined voice
and dress, and cultured language and perfect manner, a trace of the
singularly ill-bred, loud-voiced, outspoken Mamie Parker. How had such a
transformation been possible?

"You have but one day here?" she said, remembering her duties as
hostess. "What does that mean, please? Are you staying in the
neighborhood, and will you not come to us for a visit?"

"Thank you, I cannot. I am about to leave the country, and am paying a
very brief farewell visit to my friends the Carletons, who are at their
summer home in Carleton Park. I have broken away to-day from the
numerous engagements they have made for me, and run over here alone, in
the hope of securing an interview with you; I have been planning for
this a long time. Dear Mrs. Burnham, may I claim the privilege of an old
acquaintance and ask to see you quite alone where there will be no
danger of interruption? I want to talk fast and put a good deal into a
small space, because my own time is so limited, and I do not want to
take more of yours than is necessary. I have a purpose which I think,
and I hope you will think, justifies my intrusion."

Still as one under a spell, Mrs. Burnham led the way to her private
sitting room and established her guest in an easy-chair, from which she
looked about her eagerly.

"This is charming!" she said. "I remember your other room perfectly,
Mrs. Burnham, and I think I should have recognized this as yours without
being told. Rooms have a great deal of individuality, don't you think?
Do you remember that parlor in the house where my dear brother Jim
boarded? No, of course you don't, but I do, and I thought it very
elegant until I was admitted to yours. May I tell you very briefly just
a little of what you have been to me? That winter when I met you and
your son--it was my first flight from home. I was young, you remember,
and unformed in every way; I was, in fact, a young simpleton, with as
little knowledge of the world as a girl reared as I had been would be
likely to have. Up to that time I had cared very little for study of any
kind. My opportunities were limited enough, but I had made very poor use
even of them. My chief idea of a successful life was to marry young,
some one who had plenty of money and who would be good to me and let me
have a good time. I was what is called a popular girl in the little
country village where I lived, and was much sought after because I was
what they called 'lively' and could 'make things go.' When my brother
invited me to visit him, I went in a flutter of anticipation. I had
grown rather tired of the country boys by whom I was surrounded, and I
believed that the fateful hour of my life had at last arrived."

She stopped to laugh at her folly; then said, apologetically, "I am
giving you the whole crude story, but it is for a purpose. I can laugh
at that silly girl, now, but there have been times in my life when I
cried over her. She knew so little in any direction, and there were such
possibilities of danger, such imminent fear of a wrecked life. She
needed a friend, as every girl does; and I can never cease to be
thankful that she found one.

"Mrs. Burnham, I presume you have never understood what you did for me
by calling on me and inviting me to your home, and opening to me a new
world. We were very plain people with limited opportunities in every
way, and my father's sudden financial success but a short time before
had almost turned our heads; mine, at least, so that I was ready to be
injured in many ways. Do you remember me sufficiently to realize the
possibilities?"

"I remember you perfectly, my dear," said her puzzled and charmed
hostess. "But I do not understand in the least why you think, or how you
can think, that I--"

Miss Parker interrupted her eagerly.

"Mrs. Burnham, you were a revelation to me. I had never before come into
close contact with a perfect lady. At first, I was afraid of you, which
was a new feeling to me, and in itself good for me; and then, for a
while, I hated you; I thought that you came between me and some of my
ambitions, I called them; now I know that they were utter follies."
There was a heightened color on the fair face, and for a moment her eyes
drooped. Then she laughed softly at her girlish follies.

"I recovered from them," she said briskly, "and enshrined you in my
heart; made you my idol, and, better than that, my ideal. I had
discovered from you what woman was meant to be.

"And, dear friend, I learned another lesson also, deeper and more
far-reaching than any other. Up to that time I had always thought of
religion as a very serious but somewhat tiresome experience that came to
the old, or the sick, after they had got all they could out of life. It
was Mr. Erskine Burnham who first showed me my utter misunderstanding of
the whole matter. I do not know that he understood at the time what he
was doing for me, but he gave me a hint of what Jesus Christ was, not
only to you, but to himself, a young man in the first flush of youthful
successes. I could not understand it at first, and it half vexed me by
its strangeness; but there came a time in my life, afterward, when I was
disappointed in all my plans, and unhappy. Then I thought of what had
been said to me about Christ, and, almost as an experiment, I tried it.
Mrs. Burnham, He stooped even to that low plane and revealed Himself to
me, and I have counted it all joy to love and serve Him ever since And
for this, too, I have to thank you and yours."

"My dear," said Mrs. Burnham, the tears shining in her eyes, "thank you;
thank you very much; it is beautiful, although I do not understand it in
the least--my part of it; I did nothing, _nothing_! I thought of it
afterward with deep regret; what I might have said, and did not."

"You did better than that," said Miss Parker, gently. "You _lived_. But
now, believe me, I did not intrude upon your leisure merely to talk
about myself. I wanted you to understand the possibility of saving a
girl's life to her, because--"

She broke off suddenly to introduce what seemed an entirely irrelevant
topic.

"Mrs. Burnham, I saw your daughter down town to-day, for a moment. I did
not know her, and should not have imagined it was she, if I had not been
told. She has changed very much since I saw her last."

"Were you acquainted with my daughter, Miss Parker? Is it Miss Parker,
now? I am taking a great deal for granted."

"Oh, yes; I am still 'Miss Parker'; and expect so to remain. No, I
cannot be said to have been acquainted with your daughter, though I knew
of her; knew a great deal about her, in fact, when she was a young girl.
They were the one great family in our little town, Mrs. Burnham--her
uncle's family, with whom she lived; they had a fine old place, three
miles from the station, and your daughter used to drive to and from the
train in what seemed to me then like royal state. I watched her on all
possible occasions and admired and envied her always, though I do not
suppose she ever heard of me in her life. She was not so very much older
than I, only three years, but I remember I was still counted as a little
girl when her sudden marriage took us all by surprise and overwhelmed me
with jealous envy."

"Pardon me," said Mrs. Burnham, sitting erect and looking not only
perplexed but troubled. "I am somewhat dazed by this sudden return to
the long ago, and I must be getting things mixed. I thought until a
moment ago that you were speaking of my son's wife."

"So I am, Mrs. Burnham. She was Irene Carpenter when I was at the
envious stage; and she became Irene Somerville in the autumn that I was
fourteen. I shall never forget the vision I had of her on her wedding
day. It was at the station and the train was late, so I had ample
opportunity to admire and make note of and sigh over the glories of her
bridal travelling outfit. Although I was only fourteen and accounted a
little girl by others, I by no means considered myself such; and the
wild and foolish visions I had already indulged with regard to my own
splendid future, make me blush even now to recall. Girls are so foolish,
Mrs. Burnham, and so easily led! If there were only always some wise,
sweet one at hand to lead them safely!"

Mrs. Burnham arose suddenly and closed both of the doors opening into
the hall. She knew that her son was in town, and that his wife had gone
by appointment to meet him there; but it seemed to her that such
extraordinary talk as this must be closed away from the hall through
which they must presently pass. What could this woman mean? She but
fourteen when Irene was married? Yet she was at least eighteen when she
visited her brother in the college town, and that was nearly fifteen
years ago! Irene a married woman seventeen or eighteen years ago! She
could see a line in that fateful foreign letter from her son as
distinctly as though she were reading it from the page, 'although she is
so young, barely twenty-six, she has,' etc. Of course there was some
absurd mistake. Irene could not have been more than eight or nine years
old at that time when some one whom Mamie Parker fancied was the same
person, was married.

"How old do you think my son's wife is?" she asked suddenly. A few
statistics, such as she could furnish, would help to clear up this
absurd blunder.

"Oh, I know exactly. I have a vivid recollection of the wonderful doings
there were in honor of her sixteenth birthday. It happens that our
birthdays fall on the very same month and day, the eleventh of November;
so that on the day she was sixteen, I was thirteen. I remember how
sorely I took to heart the contrast between the two celebrations. It was
before my father had made his successes, and we were much straitened at
the time."

Mrs. Burnham's pulses were athrob with her effort at self-control. It
was true that Irene's birthday fell on the eleventh of November. It had
been celebrated with much circumstance that very season; but instead of
its being her twenty-seventh, Miss Parker's story would make it her
thirty-seventh! That was absurd! And yet--how often had the thought
occurred to her that Irene looked much older than her years! Her maiden
name, too, was Carpenter, and her married name had been Somerville.
Still, there must have been a cousin, or some near relative of the same
name. It was an insult to the family to suppose for a moment that Irene
could deceive her husband as to her exact age!

And then, Miss Parker made a remark before which all else that she had
said sank into insignificance.

"Mrs. Erskine Burnham as I saw her to-day, seemed to me a very beautiful
woman, though she does not look in the least as she did when a girl. But
her daughter does. At seventeen, Maybelle is really the image of what
her mother was at that age. I wish so much that you could see her just
now, in all her girlish beauty."



                              CHAPTER XVI

                          FOR MAYBELLE'S SAKE


MRS. BURNHAM stared at her guest with a look that was not simply
bewildered, it was frightened. What _could_ the woman mean!

"Who is Maybelle?" she spoke the words almost fiercely; but her
bewildered guest kept her voice low and gentle.

"I must ask you to forgive me, dear Mrs. Burnham. I know that my words
must seem very intrusive, perhaps unpardonable; but indeed I thought I
was doing right, and it is for Maybelle's sake alone that I have
ventured."

The repetition of that name seemed to irritate Mrs. Burnham. "Will you
tell me who she is?" she asked imperiously.

"My friend, is it possible that you do not understand? or do you mean
that it is your pleasure to ignore her? Of course you know that there
was a child, a little daughter?"

"Whose daughter?"

"The daughter of the lady who afterward became your son's wife." Mamie
Parker was growing indignant. However painful the subject might be to
Erskine Burnham's mother, certainly the child was not to blame; nor
could she, who was apparently the child's only friend, be quite beyond
the line of toleration because she had ventured to try to awaken
sympathy for her in the heart of a woman who certainly had reason to be
interested in her story. Whatever had taken place to hurt them, surely
the child ought not to suffer for it.

Mrs. Burnham struggled for composure. Even at that moment the thought
uppermost in her mind was that she must shield her son; yes, and her
son's wife, if possible. Something terrible had happened somewhere. A
confusion of persons, probably, or--she could not think clearly, but
there was something, some story, which she must ferret out to its
foundation, and must at the same time hide from her son, unless--she
would not complete that thought.

"You will forgive me I am sure for not being able to quite follow you."
Her voice though cold and constrained was again self-controlled, and she
even forced a smile.

"I think I must be unusually stupid this afternoon. There is some
misunderstanding that I do not yet quite grasp. This--child? is she?--of
whom you are speaking, she is not,--not alone in the world? Why does she
especially need a friend?"

Miss Parker's bewildered look returned; they were not getting on. She
hesitated a moment, then said firmly:--

"Her father is still living, Mrs. Burnham, but he is seriously ill, and
she will soon be quite alone. At the best, the father, as you probably
know, is not the kind of friend that one would choose for a young girl,
though he has tried to be good to her, in his way."

Mrs. Burnham suddenly leaned forward and grasped the arm of her caller,
and spoke with more vehemence than before, though this time her voice
was low.

"What do you mean?" she said. "Isn't it possible for you to speak
plainly? How should I know what you are talking about? Her '_father_'!
Whose father? Who is she? What is she? And what are either of them to
me? I do not understand in the least."

"Mrs. Burnham," said Mamie Parker, sitting erect, with a bright spot of
color burning on either cheek, "do you mean me to understand that you
are ignorant of the fact that your son married a woman who was divorced
from her first husband in less than three years after her marriage, and
left with him a little child not six months old, who is now a young
woman?"

It was well for Ruth Burnham that she could do just what she did at that
moment, although it was for her an unprecedented thing. Every vestige of
self-control gave way; she covered her face with her hands and broke
into a perfect passion of weeping. Not the slow quiet weeping natural to
a woman of her years, but a tempestuous outburst that shook her whole
frame with its force.

The distressed witness of this misery sat for a moment irresolute, then
she came softly to Mrs. Burnham's side and touched the bowed head with a
gentle, caressing movement such as one might give to a little child, and
spoke low and tenderly.

"Dear friend, forgive me; I am so sorry! I did not for a moment imagine
that I was telling you anything that you did not already know. I felt my
rudeness in coming to you with matters about which I was supposed to
know nothing, but I thought you had, perhaps, been misinformed, and that
if you could once understand, poor Maybelle would--"

Then she stopped. There seemed nothing that she could say, while that
bowed form was shaken with emotion.

It passed in a few minutes. The woman who was accustomed to exercising
self-control could not long be under the dominion of her emotions. She
raised her head and spoke quietly.

"I hope you can forgive me for making your errand so hard. My nerves do
not often play me false in this way. You did right to come to me. Now,
may I ask you to begin at the beginning and tell me all that you know
about this matter? You are correct in your inference; there are some
things that I have not understood."

It was rather a long story. Miss Parker, feeling herself dismissed from
the place of comforter, went back to her chair and tried to obey
directions and begin at the beginning; held closely to her work by keen
incisive questions.

Yes, she had known Mr. Somerville before he married Irene Carpenter; or
rather, she had known of him, as girls in country villages always knew
about any people who came their way. He was an Englishman of good
family, a younger son she had heard, though just what significance
attached to that, she had not understood at the time. He had the name
among the young people of being wild. They had heard that Irene's uncle
disapproved of the match, and threatened to lock her up if she tried to
have anything more to do with him. She, Mamie, knowing something of
Irene's temperament, had always thought that this was what precipitated
matters. She knew that Irene was married during her uncle's absence from
home, and that there were some exciting scenes after his return.

The newly married couple went abroad very soon, but they stayed only a
short time, and rumor had it that they quarrelled with Mr. Somerville's
family and were not invited to stay longer. After that, they lived in
New York in good style for a few months, and Mrs. Somerville went into
society and was said to be very gay. Yes, she had heard a number of
things about that winter, but the stories were contradictory and not
reliable. Oh, yes, some of the stories were ugly, but gossip was always
that; she could not go into details about that period; there was nothing
reliable, and nothing that she cared to talk of. It was when the child
was about six months old that her father and mother quarrelled and
separated. Oh, yes, there was a divorce; she had made an effort to
discover the truth about that, for the little girl's sake, and was sure
of it. The mother went abroad with some friends and remained there for
several years.

She had heard that she served as nursery governess in an American family
who were living in Berlin, for the purpose of educating their sons. She
knew that this was so, because she had met one of the sons, later, and
he had told her about her; she went by the name of Carpenter--Miss
Carpenter. After leaving that family, Miss Parker did not know what she
had done; knew nothing of her for several years. Then she came back to
the old homestead and lived there for some time with a maiden aunt who
was all that was left of the family, and was an invalid. She had heard
that Irene was not contented there, and knew that after a time she and
the invalid aunt went abroad. It was while they were living in Paris
that Mr. Erskine Burnham met them. Miss Parker had heard of his marriage
almost immediately, because she had friends in Paris at the time who had
met both Miss Carpenter and Mr. Burnham. Indeed all these items had come
to her from time to time by a series of accidents or happenings. She had
admired Irene Carpenter at a distance as a girl, and that had made it
seem natural to inquire after her, as opportunity offered.

Oh, yes, she had known more or less of Mr. Somerville during all these
years. He had remained in New York much of the time; though he had twice
crossed the ocean, and once had gone to the Pacific coast, always taking
Maybelle with him.

Her first meeting with him in New York had been at the studio of an
artist friend for whom he was doing some work. She had seen the child
first, a beautiful little girl who had charmed her; then he had come in
and she had been shocked on recognizing him, to think that she must have
been playing with Irene's little girl. He was an amateur artist, never
working steadily enough to make a success for himself, but doing very
good work, and earning his living in that way. Oh, yes, and in music
also, it was much the same story. He was in frail health, was unsteady,
and could not be depended upon; but could play divinely when he chose,
and on occasion earned money in that way, playing the violin, or piano,
or organ. He always took the child with him and seemed devoted to her,
never speaking other than gently to her; and he seemed to try to train
her wisely. It was pathetic to see him making an effort to fill the
place of both father and mother. Oh, yes, she saw a great deal of him,
or rather, of the child, in whom she had been singularly interested from
the first, of course.

Her father had moved his family to New York about that time, and she was
in school as a real student for the first time in her life. But she gave
most of her leisure to the little Maybelle. Her mother became very fond
of the child, and after a while they kept her with them much of the
time, to the great comfort of the father, who owned that he often had to
go to places where he did not like to take the baby.

Yes, she came to know the father quite well. Maybelle had been allowed
always to suppose that her mother was dead. She never questioned, having
taken that for granted. Her father, however, during one of his ill turns
when he thought he was going to die, had revealed to her mother and
herself the sorrowful story of his life, and had shown them Irene's
picture. Miss Parker believed that he had a faint hope that when he was
gone, the mother would see that their child was cared for.

Yes, he had told her only the truth. She had taken pains to corroborate
that part of the story which she had not known before; had gone herself
to see the woman with whom they had been boarding when his wife left
him. The woman said that Mr. Somerville had come home intoxicated the
night before; "not bad," the poor creature said, "only silly," but the
next morning he and his wife had quarrelled, and she went away and never
came back.

Being closely cross-questioned Miss Parker added, that the woman had
further given it as her opinion that Mrs. Somerville meant all along to
be "that shabby," and was only waiting for a good excuse; that she
didn't care a "toss up" for her husband, nor the baby neither, though he
"just doted" on both of them.

Yes, Miss Parker had talked with him more than once about his sad,
wrecked life. She considered him a weak man rather than an intentionally
wicked one. He had never spoken ill of his wife. He said frankly that
their marriage was a mistake, and that it was his fault. Irene was too
young to be married to any one, but he was fascinated with her, and
determined to win her at any cost. The truth was, he said, he cheated
her. She was tired of her humdrum life in that dull village where her
people spent much of their time; she longed to get away, to travel;
above all she wanted to go abroad. She had inferred that, because he was
from across the water, and belonged to an old family and could show her
pictures of a fine old estate that had been in the family for
generations, he was therefore wealthy; and he had let her think so. It
was the discovery that she had been deceived in this respect, he said,
that made her begin to really dislike him, he thought, instead of being
simply indifferent to him, as she had been at first. He made no pretence
of believing that she had ever loved him.

No, he could not say that she had ever seemed to love the child. At
first she had been angry about it, looking at it merely in the light of
a hindrance to the few pleasures she could have, cooped up in a
boarding-house; and the strongest feeling she had ever shown for the
helpless little creature was toleration.

When they quarrelled, and she threatened to leave him, he had told her
that she could not take the baby, and she had replied that it was the
last thing she wanted to do. But he had not believed her; he had not
thought such a state of mind possible. The little thing, he said, had so
wound itself about his heart that the thought of living without her was
torture; and he had believed that the mother felt the same, but did not
choose to own it. He had taken the baby to a friend of his for the day,
and felt secure all day in the thought that Irene would be drawn
homeward from wherever she went that morning, by the memory of the
clinging arms and smiling baby face. But she had never come back.

At this point Ruth Erskine Burnham lost her studied self-control and
said the only unguarded word that she had spoken since the interview
began.

"That is monstrous! I cannot credit it. The woman who would do such a
thing as that would be a fiend!"

"Oh, no!" said Miss Parker, startled at the feeling she had roused, and
remembering that they were speaking of this woman's son's wife. "He did
not feel it so, the father. He made excuses for her. Even while he was
telling me the story, he stopped to say simply:--

"'You see I didn't stop to consider that she disliked and despised me,
by this time, and that the baby was my child; that made all the
difference in the world;' and of course it would, Mrs. Burnham."



                              CHAPTER XVII

                           BUILT ON THE SAND


"YOUR mother has had a very special guest of some sort and was closeted
with her all the afternoon; I suppose she is tired out; she looked so
when I met her in the hall."

This was Mrs. Erskine Burnham's explanation to her husband of his
mother's absence from the dinner table. They had waited for her a few
minutes, then sent a maid to her room, who had reported that Mrs.
Burnham was tired and did not care for dinner.

Erskine, on hearing it, had made a movement to rise, a troubled look on
his face, and then had waited for his wife's word.

"A guest in her own room? That is unusual for mother, isn't it? Who was
it?"

"How should I know? I wasn't enlightened. When I reached home soon after
luncheon, I asked Nannie who had been here, and among others she
mentioned a young lady who had asked very particularly to see 'Madame
Burnham,' and said that after a while she took the lady to her own
sitting room, and she was there yet. She left but a few minutes before
you came, a very stylish-looking person, indeed, and quite young. It is
fortunate that she did not stay for dinner, as I supposed she would,
having spent the day, or I might have been seized with a fit of
jealousy."

"Did you say my mother looked worn? Were you in her room?"

"No, indeed! I did not presume; I all but ran against her in the hall,
and thought she looked older than usual."

"She may have had some unpleasant news; I think I will run up and see
her."

"Don't, Erskine! I am sure you annoy your mother by such watchfulness.
Old people don't like that sort of care, it seems to them like spying
upon their movements; they want a chance to do as they please. I found
that out from auntie; she seemed really annoyed when I questioned her
about her movements. She wanted to be left to come to her dinner, or
stay away, as she pleased; and your mother is just like her."

Erskine opened his lips to speak, then closed them again. He was on the
verge of saying that he could not think of two people more unlike than
his mother and her aunt; then it occurred to him that to make a remark
so manifestly in favor of his own relative would hardly be courteous. Of
course Irene thought of her aunt much as he did of his mother, and
besides, the aunt was gone.

But he did not go up to his mother. It is true that he told his wife,
presently, that he could not think for a moment that his care of and
solicitude for his mother would ever look to her like espionage; they
understood each other too well for that; but he spoke in a troubled
tone. Despite this perfect understanding, his wife's constancy to the
belief that his mother was growing old, and more or less feeble, and
whimsical, as she believed old people always did, was having its effect
upon him; he was beginning to feel at times that perhaps he did not
understand his mother, after all.

It was well for his peace of mind that he did not go to her just then;
for the first time in his life he would have been refused admittance to
his mother's room. Ruth Erskine Burnham had shut herself away as much as
she could from her outside world, and was fighting the battle of her
life. A wild temptation was upon her, so strong that in its first
strength she could not have resisted it, had she tried, and she did not
try. It was so transformed that it did not appear to her as a
temptation, but as a duty. Erskine's wife had deceived him; not once, in
a crucial moment, but steadily, deliberately, continuously. Not only had
she posed for him as a widow, but she had given him vivid pictures of
her girlish desolation in her widowhood. His mother knew this, for
Erskine had reproduced some of them in a few delicate touches, with the
evident object of awakening in her a tender sympathy for one who, though
so young, had suffered much.

"Young!" indeed! she had even stooped to the low and petty deception of
making herself out to be much younger than she was! could an honorable
man condone such small and unnecessary meannesses as that? Especially in
his wife! And Erskine was married to her. Erskine of all men in the
world the husband of a divorced woman! And he was on record in the
public journals as one who had denounced with no gentle tongue the whole
system of legal divorce as permitted in this country; he had
characterized it as unrighteous and infamous. Young as he was, he had
made himself felt in legal circles along this very line, and was
recognized as a strong advocate for better laws and purer living.

So pronounced had he been on this whole subject that certain of his
brother lawyers who, in the main, agreed with his views, did not
hesitate to tell him that he was too severe, and was trying to
accomplish the impossible. His mother, in the light of her recently
acquired knowledge, laughed, a cruel laugh, then shivered and turned
pale over the memory of a recent conversation which had now grown
significant.

The pastor of their church, Mr. Conway's successor, was dining with
them, and the talk had turned for a moment on the recent marriage of one
of the parties in a famous divorce suit. Erskine had declared that if he
were a clergyman, he should consider it his privilege as well as duty to
anticipate the law that was surely coming and refuse to perform the
marriage ceremony for a divorced person.

"Oh, now, brother Burnham," the clergyman had said, good naturedly,
after a brief, keen argument on both sides: "Don't you really draw the
lines too closely? You are not reasonable. Do you think he is, Mrs.
Burnham?"--the appeal was to Erskine's wife--"You see you have made no
allowance for accidents, or misunderstandings of any sort. What would
you have a poor woman do who was caught as an acquaintance of mine was,
a year or so ago? She married a divorced man without having the remotest
idea that he had ever been married before, and did not discover it until
six months afterward. Where would those sweeping assertions you have
been making place her?"

Erskine had not smiled as he replied:--

"I was not speaking, of course, of people who had been the victims of
cruel deception; certainly if I believed in divorce, I should consider
that the woman you mention had sufficient cause."

"Because she had been deceived!"

"For just that reason. At least it must be terrible for a woman to spend
her life with a man whose word she cannot trust. I should think it would
be just ground for separation if anything is."

His mother recalled not only the energy of his tones, but the suddenness
with which his wife introduced another topic.

Then there flashed upon her the memory of the clergyman's next remark,
addressed to her:--

"Mrs. Burnham, is your daughter always as pale as she is to-day, or has
our near approach to a quarrel, just now, frightened her?" Whereupon the
color had flamed into Irene's face until her very forehead was flushed;
and Erskine, looking at her, had said gayly:--

"My wife always blushes when she is the subject of conversation." What
terrible significance attached to all these trifles now!

But, worse than all else, the woman had deserted and disowned her own
child! So impossibly preposterous did this seem to Erskine Burnham's
mother, that although she had detained her guest until a late hour, and
questioned and cross-questioned, and insisted upon yet more proof, and
been shown that there was not a possibility of error, she still shrank
from it as something that could not be.

"Can a mother forget her child?" It was the question of inspiration,
designed to show the almost impossibility of such a thing; yet
inspiration had answered, "Yes, she may!" and here, under their own
roof, was a living proof of its truth.

"_How_ could she! How _could_ she!" The mother-nature continually went
back to that awful question. Suppose she had not? Suppose she had taken
the child away with her, and mothered it all these years, and, at last,
Erskine had married her? Then he would have stood in the place of father
to that girl, and she would have been taught to call him so! His poor
mother shivered as though in an ague chill as the strange, and to her
appalling, details of this life-tragedy pressed upon her. A tragedy all
the more terrible and bewildering because they had been--some of
them--living it unawares.

The possibility that Erskine might have knowledge of this appalling
story did not, even for a moment, occur to his mother. She knew him too
well for that. Erskine had been deceived, fearfully deceived! not only
in great and terrible ways, as one under awful provocation, but in petty
details,--as to her age, for instance; and that this was merely an
instance, Ruth knew only too well.

By slow degrees the conviction had been forced upon this truth-loving
woman that she had for a daughter one to whom the truth was as a trifle
to be trampled upon a dozen times a day if the fancy seized her.

Numberless instances of this had been thrust upon a close observer.
"Yes," she would say unhesitatingly and unblushingly to Erskine, when
his mother knew that "No" would have been the truth. Even the servants
had learned to smile over this peculiarity in their young mistress, and
to make efforts to have witnesses for any of her orders that were
important. With the outside world she was so unpardonably careless of
her word that Mrs. Burnham was almost growing used to apologizing for
and blushing over her daughter's society inaccuracies.

Given a woman like Ruth Erskine Burnham, belonging to a family in whom,
generations back, there had been martyrs for the truth's sake, trained
from her very babyhood to despise every false way, self-trained, through
the years, to hold with almost painful insistence to whatever she had
seemed to promise, perhaps no other fault would have been harder to
condone in others. She was still struggling to try to love her
daughter-in-law, but she knew that she had ceased to respect her.

It was this condition of things which had made it possible for her to
credit Miss Parker's story. Since Irene's moral twist with regard to
truth was most apparent, why should she be expected to spurn the thought
of other immoralities?

It was while Ruth Burnham was at this stage of her mental confusion that
the temptation of her life came to her, clad in the white robes of truth
and honor. It came, of course, by way of Erskine. He must know the whole
blighting story and must know it at once. He must be told that the woman
whom he had blessed with his love and whom he was tenderly sheltering
from a rude world was a woman who could trample upon marriage vows,
desert her first-born child, and lie about it all in a colossal manner;
not only once, at first, but through the years! The whole fearful
structure of Erskine's later life, built as it was upon falsehood, must
be made to tumble about him in ruins. What a cruel thing! Erskine, the
soul of honor, with as keen a love for truth as it was possible for
human being to have, must, in spite of himself, be involved in the
meshes of this false and cruel life! And yet, underneath the groan which
she had for his ruined home and his ruined hopes, was a faint little
thrill of exultation.

When Erskine must cease to respect his wife, he could not continue to
love her with the kind of love that he was giving to her now. At the
best it could be only a pitying, protecting love, and there was a sense
in which she, his mother, would have him back again, at least to a
degree. No one knew better than herself that there was a sense in which
she had lost him.

What would he be likely to do? Irene was his wife, and he would do his
duty at whatever cost, but just what was his duty? She tried to settle
it for him. There was the child, the young woman rather, Irene's
daughter. Would he not insist that the mother should do her tardy duty
toward the child? But what was the duty of such a mother toward such a
child? And how could anything be arranged for now, under such strange,
such startling circumstances? She did not know. She could not plan,
could not think; Erskine would have to do the thinking; but in the
meantime, where would a boy, trained as he had been, turn naturally for
sympathy but to his mother? She would have him again! She exulted in the
thought; even then, in her first recoil from sin and its consequences,
she exulted.

And then--just in that moment of exultation--she began to realize what
she was doing, and a kind of terror of herself came upon her. Was it
possible that she was really that despicable thing, a creature so full
of self, and selfish loves, as to be able to thrill with joy, in the
very midst of a ruin that involved her best and dearest, merely because
out of it she was to gain something?

It was a terrible night. Mrs. Burnham kept her door close locked, though
Erskine came once, and again, to seek admittance and went away puzzled
and pained: locked out from his mother's room for the first time. She
called out to him, trying to speak reassuringly, that she was not ill,
only unusually tired; she was in bed, and did not feel equal to getting
up to let him in.

"But, mommie," he said, "I did not know that you ever locked your door
at night--not when we are together. What if you should be ill in the
night?"

She would not be ill, she told him, and she really could not get up now
and unlock the door.

She knew that he went away with an anxious heart, and that he came on
tiptoe several times during the night and listened; and she hated
herself for her apparent selfishness. But she could not let him in, she
was not ready yet for the questions he would be sure to ask. She had not
been able to plan how to make known to him her terrible secret.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                           JUSTICE OR MERCY?


IT was just as the silver-tongued clock on her mantel was tolling one,
that the suggestion was suddenly made to Ruth Erskine Burnham that she
was planning wickedness. Instead of trying to arrange how to break the
dreadful news to Erskine, ought she not to be planning how to avoid
having him know anything about it? Two very unreconcilable statements
were in her mind clamoring to be heard.

"Of course she must tell him!" "No, she must _not_ tell him!" "He ought
to be told!" "He ought _not_ to be told!" These in varying forms
repeated themselves in her brain until she was bewildered. And the
contradictory argument continued:--

"That girl, that forsaken, disowned girl--justice to her demanded the
telling." "Justice did no such thing!" "But Irene was her mother, and
had duties toward her that could not be ignored." "Irene was her mother
only in name; there was no sense in which she could, even though she
wished to do so, take the place of mother to her now." "Do not you
know," continued that other voice speaking to the stricken woman, "do
not you feel sure that for a young girl to be brought under the
direction and daily influence of such a woman as Irene, would be almost
the worst fate that could befall her?" "But Erskine has a duty toward
her; he ought--" "Erskine _cannot_! you know he cannot. Have you not
daily proof of the limit of his influence over Irene? Do you not know to
your grief that in some matters she dominates him?"

"But Erskine ought to know the kind of woman that he is harboring. It is
horrible to have him go on loving and trusting her!"

"Such knowledge coming to Erskine now, could work only harm. He has done
no wrong; his conscience is clear, his hands are clean. Simply to reveal
to him the former sins of the woman he has promised to love and cherish,
would be to plunge him into depths of misery, without accomplishing
anything for either the girl or his wife."

"But Irene ought to be exposed; she ought to repent, and confess her
sin; it is monstrous to go on helping her to cover it!"

"You have nothing to do with Irene's 'oughts.' You cannot make her
either confess or repent. To 'cover' her sin, as you call it, will not
change the moral conditions for her in any way, it will simply bring
unutterable pain and shame upon your son."

"But ought not sin to be exposed?"

"Not always. Sometimes to cover sin is God-like. Think, if you can, of
one helpful, hopeful result which might reasonably be expected to follow
such an exposure as you contemplate."

It was a long-drawn-out controversy; as real to Ruth as though her soul
had separated itself from that other mysterious part of her which was
yet not her body, and stood confronting her, calm, strong, unyielding.
She tossed on her bed from side to side, and turned and re-turned her
pillows, and straightened the disordered bedclothing, and sought in vain
for an hour of rest. At times she resolutely told herself that she would
put it all aside until morning, and wait, like a reasonable being, until
her brain was clear and she was capable of reaching conclusions; then
she would compose herself for sleep, only to find that she was taking up
each minute detail of the story that had been told her and living it
over again. She could not even interest herself in any of the side
issues save for a few minutes at a time. She tried hard to centre her
thoughts about the woman, Miss Parker, and contrast her with that crude
disappointing girl by the same name that she had met years before; it
did not seem to her that they could be one and the same! What a
beautiful woman in every sense of the word this Miss Parker was! What if
she, Erskine's mother, had been gifted with foresight, in those early
years, had been able to conceive of the possibilities hidden in that
uncouth, silly country girl, and had encouraged in Erskine the interest
which she then awakened? Or, failing in that, what if she had simply
kept her hand off and let things take their course? Would this woman
with her beautiful face and gracious ways and cultivated mind and heart
have become Erskine's wife, and her daughter? How extraordinary that it
should have been Mamie Parker who had touched her life again, when she
had labored so hard to be free from her, and had succeeded! And it was
Mamie Parker who had come to the rescue of a desperately friendless girl
who ought at this moment to be sheltered in their own home! And then she
was back in the meshes of it all again!

She arose at length and began to move softly about her room through the
darkness. She must stay in the darkness, otherwise Erskine might
discover a light and insist upon being admitted. Very softly she drew
back her curtains and looked out upon the moonless night. There were
countless stars, but they gleamed from far away and looked even more
indifferent than usual to what was going on below them. Softly she drew
a chair beside the open casement and sat down to try the effect of the
cool night air upon her throbbing head. If she could only get quiet
enough to think! But those two conflicting thoughts were still pounding
away in her brain: "Erskine must be told." "Erskine must _not_ be told!"

Yet she made progress, and a discovery. It was beginning to humiliate
her to the very dust to discover that there was a sense in which she
wanted to tell him! No, not that, either; but she wanted him to know;
and she wanted this because she desired to have Irene dethroned!

There were no tears shed during those hours. The victim had gone beyond
tears. Her throat felt dry and parched and her eyes burned, as one in a
fever. She was beginning to realize that this might be a conflict
between right and wrong, and that her own personality was engaged in it.
The clock struck two, struck three, and still that mother sat gazing out
on the singularly quiet night. Twice during that time she heard Erskine
come with soft footsteps, evidently to listen at her door.

"Mamma," he said, speaking low, but so distinctly that she knew he
reasoned that if she were awake she would certainly hear him. It seemed
to her that he must hear the throbbing of her heart as she waited. A
wild desire possessed her to fling wide the door and bid him come in and
listen while she said to him: "The woman you have taken to your heart,
to love and cherish forever, is false to the truth, false to every sense
of honor, false even to her own child!"

She clutched at the arms of her chair, to keep her, and held her breath
that it make no sound.

Erskine went on tiptoe back to his room, and his mother, who had almost
spent her physical strength, sank limply back into her chair. But before
the clock struck again she had got to her knees. All the while she had
been conscious of a strange reluctance about going to God with this
trouble. Accustomed as she was, and had been ever since she became a
praying woman, to taking all things, small as well as great, to Him, it
had seemed strange even to herself that she held back.

Not that she had said that she would not pray, she had simply shrunken
back with a half-frightened "Not yet, I am not ready yet; let me think."
But she reached the moment when she understood that she must have help
and must have it at once, and that only God could give it.

She knelt long; at first speaking no words, not thinking words. Then she
broke into short, half-sobbing ejaculations: "Lord, show me the way.
Christ, son of Mary, son of God, help me!" And then the habit of years
asserted itself and the sorely shaken woman entered wholly within the
refuge and poured out her soul in prayer.

When she arose from her knees, the rosy tints of a new day were
beginning to flush the east. She drew her shades and went back to her
bed and slept. Some things had been settled for her; she need not think
about them any more.

The woman who a few hours later appeared at the breakfast table in a
white morning dress and with her hair carefully arranged, showed little
trace of her night's vigil, though her son regarded her searchingly.

"I am thankful to see you here," he said. "I was quite worried about you
last night. It is so unusual not to meet you at dinner and have a little
chat with you. You did not even give a fellow a chance to say
good-night! I was sure that something was wrong." His wife laughed.

"Erskine cannot get away from the idea that he is his mother's
nursemaid," she said lightly. "And he is a real 'Miss Nancy' for
worrying. Such a night as he gave me, merely because you did not choose
to come down to dinner! He must have trotted out to your door to listen
twenty times, at least."

"Twice, anyway," said Erskine, gayly. "Never mind, though; she is all
right this morning, and that is more than I dared to hope." But he
watched her closely.

"What tired you so, mamma? Or rather, who did? Irene said you had
company all the afternoon."

"Yes, an old acquaintance. I don't think you could guess who it was."

"Not at least without seeing her. Was she also an old acquaintance of
mine?"

"I think you will remember her; at least you will, her brother. It was
Miss Parker."

"'Miss Parker?' Not Mamie? How interesting! Why didn't you keep her to
dinner? I should like to have met her. Is she 'Miss Parker' still, after
all these years? That is rather surprising, isn't it? She must be thirty
or more. And what about her brother? I haven't heard anything of him to
speak of, since I left college."

"Who are these interesting people who seem to have just sprung into
existence again?" Irene asked. "I have never heard of Mamie Parker, have
I? Is she an old sweetheart of yours?"

"Hardly!" Erskine laughed carelessly. "There was a time during my
college life that her brother and I were rather intimate; then we
drifted apart; he was a good fellow, though. What about him, mamma?"

"Something that greatly surprised me. Had you supposed him to be of the
material that makes missionaries? That is what he has become: a foreign
missionary. He went out to China about seven years ago, purely in a
commercial way. He represented a New York business house, but he carried
letters of introduction to our missionaries located there, and became
intimate with them and so interested in their work that, after a time,
he gave up his business entirely and became a missionary teacher."

"Is it possible!" said Erskine. "I think he is the last one I should
have chosen for such a future; from our class, I mean. Though he was a
fine fellow with a big unselfish heart. Didn't I always insist upon
that, mamma, in the days when you did not like him very well? Weren't
there such days? I have almost forgotten."

"I don't think I considered him remarkable," Mrs. Burnham said. "Though
I remember that Alice saw possibilities in him. She liked him for being
so good to his sister."

"And he is really in China! How does his sister like that?"

"So well that she is going out to be with him for a year, and perhaps
longer. She is in daily expectation of receiving a summons from a party
of missionaries with whom she is to travel. She is very enthusiastic
about it; sees ways in which she can further the work. I should not be
at all surprised if she remained there and made it her life work."

Erskine Burnham looked curiously at his mother, as if to determine
whether she was really in earnest, then threw back his head and laughed.

"Mamie Parker a missionary in China!" he exploded, "or anywhere else! my
imagination isn't equal to such a flight as that."

"She has changed wonderfully, Erskine. At first I could not make myself
believe that she was really the Mamie Parker we used to know. Yet as I
studied her closely I could see a suggestion of the girlish face. She
was pretty, you remember, but I did not think her face gave promise of
the beauty it has now. However, she is more than beautiful. She is an
educated cultivated woman."

"Educated?" Erskine repeated the word incredulously.

"She went back to school, Erskine, the winter after she visited her
brother, and prepared for college. She is a Smith graduate, think of it!
As for culture, I don't think I ever met a more perfect-appearing lady
than she has become."

"Dear me!" said Irene with a but slightly suppressed yawn, "what a
paragon she must be; I'm glad I didn't meet her. I detest paragons. Now,
if you, sir, can stop talking about her long enough to consider it, have
the goodness to tell me at what time I may expect you in town this
afternoon? We are to be at the Durands' at five, remember. Don't you
dare to tell me you must be excused, for I have simply set my heart on
having you with me."

But Erskine could not so readily be made to forget his anxieties. He put
off a direct answer to his wife, and followed his mother to her room to
press his inquiries tenderly.

"Are you sure that you are all right this morning, and that it was only
weariness which kept you so close a prisoner last night? There is
something about you that I don't quite like; there are heavy rings under
your eyes, and you are paler than usual. Did you sleep well?"

"Not very," she said after a moment's hesitation. "I was--restless."

He studied her face and spoke with tender reproach.

"Mommie, something troubles you. Am I not to know it?"

She had no recourse but to speak truth.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                                 ALONE


SHE laid a tender motherly hand on his arm as she said:--

"Something has been troubling me, Erskine, something that I cannot
explain, because there is a sense in which it is not my trouble at all,
but has to do with others. For a time I was very much perplexed, but I
have settled it now, what my share in it should be, so that it need not
perplex me any more."

She knew that the truth was deceiving him, but it satisfied him. He
believed that Mamie Parker's troubles, whatever they were, had been
brought for his mother to share. His face cleared a little, but he felt
it his duty to administer a loving admonition.

"Remember your one weakness, mamma; there was always in your nature a
temptation to 'bear one another's burdens' too literally. If there is
any way in which I can help without infringing on confidences, you will
let me, of course?"

She was able to smile as she assured him that she would. Despite her
night of vigil she felt strong. Her part had been revealed to her. She
was to keep Irene's secret, to suffer and to act in her stead; and to
shield her son's name and home as much as lay in her power. A miserable
travesty of a home it looked to her; still, it was all he had, and for a
time at least it could be kept sacred in Erskine's eyes. She had no
faith in a perpetual concealment; such skeletons, she believed, were
always unearthed sooner or later--often in unexpected and mysterious
ways. How remarkable, for instance, it was that, of all the young women
in the world who might have discovered and befriended the deserted child
it should have been their old acquaintance Mamie Parker! Still, this
morning, she could thank God that she need not be the one to unearth
this secret.

Of course the child must be planned for--there was no danger that Ruth
would forget her--but it had become very clear to her that nothing but
disaster could result from an enforced acknowledgement of her by the
mother at this late day. If Irene wanted her--if her heart had turned
toward her child in the slightest, or, failing in heart, if her
conscience had impelled her to make the least small effort to repair
some of the mischief, then, indeed, Ruth would have braved public
opinion, gossip, Erskine's pain and shame, everything to help her. And
she could do it understandingly. Had not Ruth Erskine, away back in her
girlhood, helped her father in his tardy right-doing?

It is true that, even at this late day, her face flushed with pain and
shame over the thought of the manner in which she had done this, at
first; still, she had done it. And later, had she not herself taken the
initiative and opened the way for her husband to do his belated duty?
Who could know better than she the cost of such effort? But there was
one infinite difference between past experiences and present problems.
Both her father and her husband, when the crucial test came, had a
foundation of moral strength to build upon; while Irene--

Ruth Burnham knew that she had tried very hard to find some lighting up
of the story. She had thoroughly probed Mamie Parker to discover whether
or not through the years the mother had made some sign which proved that
she at least knew of the continued existence of her daughter; but there
had been absolutely no proof that she had ever thought of her six
months' old baby again! Ruth had to turn quickly away from that subject
as one that would not bear dwelling on. The idea that a mother had
actually and deliberately abandoned her baby, roused such a sense of
revolt in this woman's heart that there were times when she told herself
that she could not breathe in the same house with such a creature.

Miss Parker herself had seemed able to appreciate this feeling. At least
she had given no hint that she expected or hoped anything whatever from
the mother, and frankly owned that she had avoided meeting her on
occasions when there would have been opportunity. She had not felt, she
said simply, that anything could be gained by coming in contact with
her. And all her plea had been that Erskine's mother should in some way
interest herself in the welfare of the lonely girl.

She was very lonely, now, more so by far than she used to be, Miss
Parker had said in a voice that trembled. Then she had waited a few
minutes to regain self-control before she explained that her mother had
to a very great extent taken the place of mother to the little one.

"She used to spend her vacations with us," she said, "and mother fell
into the habit of looking after her clothes and her comfort in every
way, just as though she were a daughter; and the child loved mother with
a devotion that is uncommon in one so young. Of course she cannot but
miss her sadly."

"Have you lately lost your mother?" Ruth had inquired, and her tone had
been so full of tender sympathy that Miss Parker had explained in detail
how it was that she had only her brother left. That was why she was
going out to him, so that they might be together, at least for a time,
since they were all that was left of home.

Jim had not married; his sister sometimes feared that he never would.
Didn't Mrs. Burnham think that was a calamity for a man?

"I used to think so," Ruth had replied, as one who did not realize that
she was speaking aloud, and then she had started and flushed over the
thought of what she might thus be revealing; and the flush had deepened
as she remembered what this woman already knew of her son's wife. But
Miss Parker had not once glanced in her direction, and made no sign that
she had heard. She went on, quietly, talking about her brother. Men, she
thought, were different in that respect from women. A woman need never
marry in order to be comfortable, or to be cared for; but there were
ways in which the average man was helpless and almost homeless without
the one woman to care for him, selected from all the world. This was so
different from the usual putting of the subject that Mrs. Burnham had
felt impelled to smile. Yet as she looked at the beautiful woman
opposite her she admitted that her brother's home would certainly be
brightened by her presence. Still, it was a long way to go to make a
home for a brother.

"Do you have any thought of remaining there," she had asked. "I mean, of
making it a permanent home?"

Miss Parker did not know. She had not allowed herself to look ahead very
far. There were so many changes in life that it did not seem wise to try
to plan. She should like to remain there, like it very much, she
believed; that is, if she could help in the work. She was sure that she
could help Jim; at least, she could take care of him, and give him more
time to do his work; and Jim was a success. Still, there were times when
she was sorry that she had planned in this way, on Maybelle's account.
Even now, if she could make a change, could delay a little, without
incommoding her brother, she would do so; but Jim had made plans in view
of her coming that would seriously inconvenience him if she did not go.

Yes, there had been changes, sad changes since her plans were made. Mr.
Somerville, who was a frail man and hopelessly careless of himself, had
contracted a cold, a few months ago, that had settled on his lungs; and
it was now evident to all but that poor little girl that she would,
before long, be fatherless.

Oh, she would be cared for, no doubt, so far as her body was concerned.
She was at school, and it was a good school, as good, perhaps, as any of
them. At least she, and her mother, had been at infinite pains to
discover it; still, it was school, and not home, and poor Maybelle had
never been quite happy there. The teachers were kind, but cold and
unsympathetic. They did not understand the child, and they almost openly
disapproved of her father. He went every day to see her, but the time
was coming when he would no longer be able to do so, and she dreaded to
think what Maybelle would do when this truth dawned upon her.

In these and many other ways had Miss Parker made it apparent to Mrs.
Burnham that her hope lay in winning the woman who had been so much to
her, to become this deserted and lonely child's friend and guardian.

This was the problem therefore which occupied Ruth Burnham's chief
thought for a number of days following Miss Parker's visit. Only one
decision with regard to it had been reached: that she would do what she
could; but what that would be, she was unable to determine. Her way
seemed hedged in with difficulties which had not occurred to her during
those first awful hours. How, for instance, was she, a stranger, with no
claim to other than a stranger's interest that she could press, to
present herself before a young woman who was under the care of her own
father, and beg to be taken as a friend and adviser?

Then, too, she shrank exceedingly from meeting the father; meeting and
talking with a man who had been Irene's husband! his very presence on
the earth seemed an insult to her son! What explanation could she
possibly make to him as to her interest in his daughter? Would her name
tell him anything? What did he know of the after history of the mother
of his child? If he was acquainted with her present name, might he not
look upon the coming of her husband's mother as an added insult? For,
after all, he was a decent man, decent enough for a woman like Mamie
Parker to acknowledge his acquaintance; and he had done what he could
for his deserted child. She could not even find that he had been
seriously to blame for the child's desertion; therefore he might well
resent this tardy coming to his aid.

Going back step by step over her interview with Miss Parker, Ruth found
that there were many questions which she had failed to ask; and among
them was this important one as to the father's knowledge of Irene's
present name and home. It seemed almost necessary to wait and write to
Miss Parker before attempting anything. Yet she shrank morbidly from
this; it seemed like opening the whole horror afresh.

If there were actual need on the part of the girl, such as could be met
by money, her way would have been clearer. But of this she had thought
at once, and Miss Parker had almost dignifiedly declined her help.

"Dear Mrs. Burnham, I consider it my privilege to look after Maybelle in
all such ways; we have done it for years, mother and I together, and now
it seems almost like her trust to me. It has been a real comfort to see
that the child was provided with such little luxuries of the toilet, for
instance, as I longed for and could not have. We were much straitened in
my girlhood, and I have been living my life over again in this young
girl; though she is much less silly than I was. I must not be deprived
of this privilege, Mrs. Burnham; indeed I have her father's permission
to do for her whatever I think wise; he trusts me fully; and I have no
one else, now, to think about."

So that avenue seemed closed. Ruth, thinking about it almost irritably
as the complications grew upon her, told herself that it would have been
wiser for Mamie Parker to plan to stay away from China and attend to all
the rest of it; she could do it better than any one else.

She wrote to Miss Parker at last, a careful letter, re-written several
times lest it tell too much between lines.

That young woman had evidently taken it for granted that the Burnham
family were supplied with the main facts in this tragedy, and had found
it hard to rally from her astonishment at finding the mother in
ignorance. Ruth knew that she believed that Erskine was not. She longed
to tell her that this was false, yet held her pen. Did not this infringe
upon her solemn covenant with God to shield her daughter-in-law as much
as right would permit? Yet, was it right to let her son's good name be
smirched unnecessarily in the eyes of this woman who had known him in
his spotless youth?

At last she wrote this:--

    "Since our interview I have been through a bitter experience
    trying to decide as to my duty in certain directions. I believe
    now that I have reached a decision, and feel that I am not
    called upon to tear down with my own hands the fair home which
    my son believes he has begun to build. He is God's own servant,
    and God will see to it that he understands all that he must
    understand. I believe that I may leave it with Him."

She waited eagerly for a reply to this letter; it came in the form of a
telegram.

    "I am to sail on Saturday. My poor little girl is alone. Father
    buried yesterday. Have written.
                                                     "M. M. Parker."



                               CHAPTER XX

                           THEY HATED MYSTERY


MRS. RUTH BURNHAM was settled in a drawing-room car, surrounded by every
comfort and luxury that money and modern ideas can furnish for a long
journey; and her son Erskine stood looking down on her with a face only
half satisfied.

It occurred to him as a matter of astonishment that, with the single
exception of her one trip homeward, after her ministrations to Alice,
and while he was abroad, his mother had not, since he could remember,
taken a journey without him. And here she was, starting for New York,
and planning for a stay of indefinite length, while he was remaining at
home. He did not wholly like it.

"It does not seem quite right, mamma," he said, with a smile that had
almost wistfulness in it. "I am not used to seeing you off, you know. It
seems as though I should be going along to look after your comfort."

"You have already done that, Erskine; I am sure a queen could not be
more carefully provided for."

"And you have really no idea when you are coming home?"

"I could not plan for it, dear. Your Aunt Flossy is a woman of many
schemes, you know, and it is long since I visited her; not since you and
I were there together, years ago."

"It was always 'you and I together,'" he said, discontentedly, as though
he almost resented this sudden independence of him.

"And this other--person--whoever she is, you will not let her absorb
you? I can see how she will wear you out, without me to manage for you.
She is imperious and selfish, of course."

His mother smiled on him tenderly, and a little sadly. "How did you
learn that, Erskine?"

"Oh, by intuition; or common sense. She would not expect an entire
stranger to take a long and tiresome journey in her behalf if she were
not."

"I don't think she knows anything about the journey, or the stranger, my
son."

"Then it is all Miss Parker's fault?" and he frowned. "She has not grown
like her brother; not as he used to be, at least. Why doesn't she stay
at home and attend to her own affairs, since they are of so much
importance? That sounds ugly, I know, but I don't like to lend you,
mommie, indeed I don't. You belong to me; and besides, there seems to be
an air of mystery about the whole matter, and I hate mystery; at least
between us."

It was at that moment that the call of "all aboard" sounded, and Erskine
gave his mother a hasty last kiss and made flying leaps toward the
platform.

It was a relief to have him go. His mother also hated mystery; and
despite her attempts at frankness, no one was more conscious than she of
the part that she had not told.

She had shown Erskine the telegram and made at the time the very brief
explanation which it had taken her hours to arrange.

"It is a protégé of Miss Parker's, Erskine, for whom she has bespoken my
sympathy and help. The girl is quite alone, her father has just died;
and since I have been long promising your Aunt Flossy, and they are in
the same city, I think I ought to take this time for my visit."

"A protégé," Erskine had repeated with lifted eyebrows. "A relative? Is
she responsible for her? How can one shift such responsibilities as
that, especially upon a stranger?"

"She is not related to Miss Parker," his mother had replied, and was
glad that at the moment she had been bending over a drawer, so that her
burning face was partially hidden. If Erskine only knew whose
responsibilities had been shifted! It was that thought which burned her
face.

"She is not!" he had replied in an exclamatory tone. "Then why in the
name of common sense should she,"--and then, his mother had determined
what she would say further.

"Erskine,"--her face was still bent over that bureau drawer--"the
peculiar circumstances connected with this child were explained to me by
Miss Parker in confidence, and of course I cannot speak of them; further
than to tell you that she considers the girl as a trust."

"Well," Erskine had said, after waiting a moment for more words that had
not come, "I don't half like it, mamma. I am sure of that; and if it
were not for your making this long-promised visit to Aunt Flossy, I
should not consent to your going. As it is, rushing off at an hour's
notice, in response to an ordinary telegram, as though somebody had a
right to order you around, seems absurd. I shall write to Aunt Flossy
not to let your heart run away with your judgment. I am really afraid
you are being imposed upon, mamma. Remember, we know nothing about these
Parkers."

After his mother had watched, with the nervous tremors with which one
watches when all that one has is jumping from a moving train--until
Erskine was lifting his hat to her from safe ground, and her train was
gliding away from him, she drew a deep breath of relief; not only from
that immediate tension, but all the hours which had preceded it. Every
moment since the arrival of that telegram had been a nervous strain to
her, because of the things that she must say, and the things that she
must not say.

Irene, especially, had taxed her honesty and ingenuity to the utmost.
From the first moment, the young woman had been curious and painstaking
in trying to satisfy herself.

"The idea!" she would exclaim. "It seems to me that is asking a great
deal of an old woman; and Erskine says this Miss Parker is only a
passing acquaintance. What possible claim can she have on you? Why is
she so interested in this girl? Do you understand it? It looks as though
there was a love affair, somewhere, doesn't it? She is an old maid, of
course. You can depend upon it that she was in love with that girl's
father!"

There was a side to this woman which Ruth in her secret soul called
coarse. So far as she knew, it was a phase of her character that was
never exhibited to Erskine.

With her fine regard for truth, and her contempt of anything like
subterfuge, Mrs. Burnham found it hard to satisfy the curious
questioner, and yet keep back that part of the truth which she must not
tell. She could not but be glad when the strain was over.

Not once had she mentioned the name of the girl. It had been a continual
terror to her lest she should be asked it; but though Irene asked every
possible question that might throw light on the mystery, she had been
mercifully preserved from thinking of names. Mrs. Burnham had learned
from Miss Parker that the first name, Maybelle, would reveal nothing; it
had been chosen by the father for his still nameless child, months after
the mother's desertion; and chosen for no better reason than that Baby
had come in the month of May, and was a "little beauty." But the name of
Somerville might at least have startled Irene, had she heard it; and her
mother-in-law determined that she should not. Having resolved upon
silence as the right course, the more absolute it could be, the better
for all concerned.

So it was not until the train was fairly under way, speeding eastward at
thirty miles an hour, that Ruth felt free to draw a long breath and rest
her overstrained nerves. Her mind wandered back through the years, lured
there by the thought of Flossy. It was years since they two had been
alone together, but just at this time Flossy's husband had taken a
hurried business trip abroad.

"It is really providential that I am at home," Flossy had written, in
response to her old friend's letter, telling that she might soon visit
her. "Evan wanted me to go with him, brief as his stay is to be; and I
should have done so, but for the illness of a very dear friend who
seemed to need me; to think that if I had gone, I might have missed
you!"

Dear Flossy! what a rarely wise little woman she had become! astonishing
them all, not by her sweetness,--they had always been sure of that,--but
by her strength and skill as a Christian worker. No young woman left to
herself in a dangerous world could have a safer, more helpful friend
than Flossy Shipley Roberts. Yet Ruth, even as she thought this
comforting thought, remembered that the duty thrust upon her of guarding
the hateful secrets of others must prevent her from speaking plainly
even to Flossy.

However, she found reticence with Flossy easier than it had been with
Irene. Joyfully glad to get possession of her old friend was Mrs.
Roberts, and athrob with eagerness to hear all that she had to tell her,
and sympathetic about the minutest details; yet in nothing did she show
her perfect breeding and rare tact more distinctly than in the questions
that she did not ask, concerning things that Ruth did not choose to
tell.

She told very little.

"You know, Flossy, I have been planning to come to you for a long, long
time."

"I certainly do!" interrupted Flossy, with an air that obliged Ruth to
stop and laugh.

"But the reason I am here just at this time is because a protégé of my
friend--the young woman who sailed last week for China--has just lost
her father and is alone in this great city, so far as relatives or very
close friends are concerned, and I am commissioned to try to comfort
her."

"And I know, dear Ruth, how certainly you will succeed," was Mrs.
Roberts's comment and her only one.

A little later she asked: "Where do you find your charge, Ruth? Is she a
young girl, did you say? Delightful! I hope you will let me help? Oh,
no, I must not go with you on your first visit, of course. One new face
at a time is enough for the poor child to meet."

Ruth blessed her in her heart for the delicate reserve which would not
let her question even about the woman who had gone to China. After
Irene's baldly put inference she shrank from trying to explain Miss
Parker's interest in the girl.

It was on the morning after her arrival in town that Mrs. Burnham sat
waiting in the reception room of a dignified, many-storied house, which,
she told herself, had everywhere about it the unmistakable
boarding-school air.

She had sent up her card, but was uncertain how much it would tell, or
whether she should be allowed to see the person on whom she had called.
As matters had turned out it seemed unfortunate that she had so long
delayed her visit to Mrs. Roberts. If she could have been introduced
here by Miss Parker in person, it might have been better for all
concerned. As it was, she felt strangely out of place and embarrassed.
She had not been able to decide just how she would account for her
extreme interest in this stranger. It was especially embarrassing to
remember that she must account for it even to the girl herself. While
she waited, she went back in memory to that other waiting, in a
boarding-house parlor, when she had called to see Mamie Parker. What
eventful years had intervened, and what changes they had wrought! How
mistaken she, Ruth Burnham, had been about many things, notably her
estimate of Mamie Parker. Had she been able with prophetic insight to
get a vision of the woman Mamie was to be, would it have made a
difference, a radical difference with all their lives? Then she flushed
to her temples as she remembered that such thoughts were almost an
insult to her son.

Just then the door opened and there entered Madame Sternheim, the head
of the "Young Ladies' Fashionable School."

Madame Sternheim was dignified and correct in every movement and word,
and was as cold as ice.

Yes, Miss Somerville was with them, of course. Her poor father had left
her in their charge, and a serious responsibility she found it. Oh, yes,
Miss Parker, before she left, had spoken of some one by the name of--of
Burnham--she referred to the card which she held in her hand--who might
write, or be heard from in some way. She seemed not to be at all sure
that any one would call.

Yes, certainly, the circumstances were peculiar and had been all the
time. The poor father--it was by no means a pleasant thing to have to
speak plainly of the dead, but it was sometimes necessary, and perhaps
Mrs.--yes, thank you, Mrs. Burnham, knew that he was not in every
respect the fit guardian for a young woman?

Oh, yes, Miss Parker had been most kind, most attentive; Miss Somerville
owed her a deep debt of gratitude, certainly.

It seemed a strange--"Providence--shall we call it?" that took Miss
Parker away to China at just the time when it would appear that her
self-assumed charge needed her the most. She, Madame Sternheim, had
never professed to understand the situation. Miss Parker, she believed,
was not even remotely related to the girl, not even a relative of the
relatives--was she? Yet her interest in the child and her father had
been unaccountably deep. There had always seemed to her to be an air of
mystery about the whole matter. Madame Sternheim did not like mystery;
in fact she might say that she shrank from it. Did Mrs. Burnham
understand that Miss Parker knew personally any of the family
connection?

Ruth was angry with herself that she must blush and almost stammer over
so simple a question.

No, that was what Madame Sternheim had been led to infer. The relatives
were all in England, were they not? It seemed strange that the girl was
not to go out to them; but then, her poor father--Had Mrs. Burnham been
personally acquainted with the father? Well, she knew of him probably?
which was perhaps quite enough. Miss Parker's unaccountable interest in
him was beyond understanding, until one remembered that no one could
tell on what the human heart would anchor, especially a woman's heart.
She had never thought that Mr. Somerville was especially--but then he,
poor man, was gone; they need not speak of such things now. And Miss
Parker, too, was gone--to China! That was unaccountable. If love for the
girl had been what had prompted her attentions all these years, why, the
poor child was doubly in need of it now. She had been deeply attached to
her father despite the fact that--

"Ah," Madame Sternheim broke off quickly, as the door slowly opened, to
say:--

"Here she is, Mrs. Burnham, to speak for herself."



                              CHAPTER XXI

                               "A STUDY"


A TALL, pale girl with delicate features and great brown eyes and a
wealth of gold-brown hair.

"A study in black and white," was the phrase that floated through Ruth's
mind as she looked at her. The girl was in deep mourning unrelieved even
by a touch of white, and her face was intensely pale. Yet there was
something about her, a nameless something, that claimed instant
interest, and Mrs. Burnham, who, ever since she had heard of the girl's
existence, had been struggling with an unreasonable desire to hate her,
felt instantly drawn toward her. She felt rather than realized that,
whatever might have been Irene's appearance in girlhood, the two had
nothing in common now, for her eyes.

"I have heard your name," the pale girl said, much as she might have
addressed a book agent, "but I did not know that you were coming to New
York."

"My dear," broke in Madame Sternheim, reproof in her tone, "I am sure it
is very kind in Mrs.--yes, Mrs. Burnham to take all this trouble for
your sake. She tells me that she is not related to you in any way, and
it is certainly quite unusual for strangers to be so kind."

"It is very kind," the girl said coldly, and stood irresolute apparently
as to what she should do or say next; while Ruth, sorry for her and for
herself and unreasonably annoyed with Madame Sternheim, was at a loss
how to proceed.

The Madame came to her aid, addressing the young girl.

"Do be seated, my dear, and make yourself at least look comfortable."
There was a strong emphasis laid upon the word "look" and the reproof in
the tone was still marked, as she continued:--

"Mrs. Burnham will naturally want to have a talk with you, and learn
what little you may be able to explain to her about this sad matter,
although I am too fully aware that it will be very unsatisfactory." Then
she turned to Ruth.

"With your permission, dear madam, I will retire and leave my charge in
your care for the present. I assure you it is a great relief to me to
find that there is some one willing to share with me this heavy
responsibility."

The girl turned at this, and with slow, languid steps preceded the
Madame to the door, which she held open for her to pass, and bowed
respectfully as she did so. Then, waiting until a turn in the hall hid
the lady from sight she carefully closed the door.

Ruth, meantime, was watching her with a half-terrified fascination. She
was so calm, so self-possessed, so utterly without feeling of any sort,
apparently. What was to be said to her? and what good could come in any
way from that which now began to look like interference? She was not in
the least prepared for the sudden change which the closing of that door
seemed to make.

The girl turned with an impetuous movement and seemed to fly, rather
than walk, over the space between them, and, flinging herself in a
crushed little heap in front of her guest, hid her face on Mrs.
Burnham's lap and burst into a passion of weeping.

"Poor little girl!" Ruth said softly, and laid her hand tenderly on the
bowed head. There seemed no other word that could be spoken until the
storm of weeping had in a degree subsided.

"Oh, do forgive me!" the child said, after a minute, but without raising
her head. "I did not mean to cry, I meant to control myself; I thought I
could, through it all, but I am so wretched! and she--she freezes me!
she wants me to be resigned, and to remember how much better off I am
than some other girls who have no one to look after them, and it doesn't
help me one bit. I am so glad that you have come! You are Aunt Mamie's
friend, so you can't be like Madame Sternheim; and you won't tell me
that Aunt Mamie isn't related to me in the most distant degree and in
the nature of things cannot be, will you? I can see that you are not
like the Madame the least bit in the world, and I am glad, _glad_! Oh! I
am a very wicked girl! I ought not to have said that; she is good, she
is _very_ good; and she is patient with my faults and follies; and
yet--there are times when I almost hate her! Oh, dear! what will you
think of me? I don't act like this very often; I don't cry often--I
don't cry at all! but now I must, or I shall die!"

Then followed another outburst of passionate weeping.

"Cry as much as you want to, dear child," Ruth said. "It is only
natural, and will do you good."

All the time her hand was moving over the tumbled masses of hair, making
quiet, soothing passes.

After a little the girl sat up and brushed away the tears. "I can't
think what made me," she said. "Only you reminded me of Aunt
Mamie, and then--it all came back. I don't know what I am to do;
it seems to me that I cannot live without her, but I have got to;
and without--everybody. It does seem sometimes as though there was never
another girl in the world so utterly alone; but Madame Sternheim says
there are, hundreds of them, even in this city! I am so sorry for them
all! I wish they could die and go to heaven. I wish I could, with papa.
But Madame Sternheim says--" she stopped abruptly and struggled for
self-control, and spoke almost fiercely.

"I won't tell you what she says about my father, nor think about it. It
isn't true, and if it were, she--"

Ruth felt a curious feeling of indignation rising against Mamie Parker.
How could she have deserted this child? so soon, at least, after her
bereavement? Surely she needed her more than the brother did, who had
been alone for years! Then came a great gust of shame and shook her
heart. Why should Mamie Parker, a stranger, be expected to show
compassion for this lonely girl when her own family, her own mother--But
that would not bear thinking about.

"Poor little girl!" she said again, with infinite tenderness. "Will you
take me for a friend? I will do the best I can to be a true one."

"Oh, thank you," the child said impulsively. "I am so glad, _so glad_
for you! and only last night I thought I could never be glad about
anything again! Aunt Mamie had to go, of course, at the time appointed.
It isn't like other journeys, you know; they have to sail when they are
told; missionaries do, I mean. That is,--oh, you understand. But Aunt
Mamie felt very badly about leaving me; and she said she thought you
would love me; but of course I couldn't see why you should. It isn't
that I am not cared for, Mrs. Burnham. I have been with Madame Sternheim
for six years and I am sure that I have every care and attention that a
girl possibly could; she has always made that plain to me; but--She did
not like papa, Mrs. Burnham. She never did; and she--almost spoke
against him, even to me! Could a girl ever care very much for one who
talked and felt as she did about the dearest, kindest, most loving papa
that ever lived? oh!"

She clenched her hands, and the tears threatened to choke her; but she
put them back with a strong will, and even faintly smiled.

"I shall not cry again," she said. "Madame thinks it is wicked. Mrs.
Burnham, I wish you could have known my papa. He was--I mean he was
not--oh, I don't know how to say it; and I am not sure that I want to
say it, ever. He was good to me always; a girl like me couldn't have had
a better father; and I don't know how to live in this world without him.
It kills me to have to stay all the time among people who say always;
'Your poor father!' and shake their heads and look as though they could
say volumes of ugly things about him if they chose. They shall not! I
will not have people talking about my father! the dearest, the best! a
great deal better than the self-righteous creatures made of icicles that
they admire!"

Ruth was amazed at the suppressed fury of her tones, and at her eyes
which, but a moment before dim with weeping, now blazed with
indignation. Evidently the child had passed through a severe mental
strain.

"Don't, dear," she said gently. "No one could be so cruel as to want to
speak against your father. I am glad you love him so dearly; he can
always help you. You will not want to disappoint him in any way, you
know."

The girl looked at her searchingly as one startled. This was evidently a
new thought; it took hold of her heart. A softened light came into her
unusually expressive eyes and after a moment she said very gently:--

"No one ever said anything to me like that, before. It helps."

They made great strides toward intimacy even in that first morning. So
great that when Ruth, pitying the girl's loneliness and evident dread of
the people by whom she was surrounded, proposed that she send for her to
come and take dinner with Mrs. Roberts and herself, she caught at the
suggestion with an eagerness which showed what a relief it was to her;
and then almost immediately demurred.

"But I ought not to presume in that way. I am certain the Madame will
think so. Will not your friend think it very strange in me, a stranger,
to intrude upon her home?"

"Wait until you see her," Ruth said, smiling. "Mrs. Roberts and I are
very old friends, and I am almost as much at home in her house as I am
in my own."

As she spoke, she felt a sudden stricture at her heart over those
commonplace words. Was she not in these later days almost more at home
in Flossy's house than in her own?

But Maybelle's face had gloomed over.

"I think I must not go, Mrs. Burnham," she said. "I suppose I ought not
to wish, or even be willing to go; I am sure Madame Sternheim will be
shocked at the idea. I am in deep mourning, you know, and my loss is so
recent."

Unconsciously the child had imitated the prim decorum of her Mentor, and
it had changed her entire face.

Ruth leaned forward impulsively and kissed her, while she spoke with a
smile:--

"Dear child, be yourself, and not Madame Sternheim. Adopt me, will you,
and let me attend to the decorum part, and all the rest. Mrs. Roberts is
quite alone, save for me; her husband is away on a business trip, and
her children have scattered for the vacation; so we shall be very quiet,
we three; and there is no reason in the world why you should not come to
us. I want you to know Mrs. Roberts; she is anxious to see you, and
would have come with me this morning, if she had not thought it better
that you and I should make each other's acquaintance first. As for you,
you will love her the first time you look at her. Shall I speak to
Madame Sternheim myself about it?"

When this was done, Madame Sternheim was discovered to be graciousness
itself. She might be doubtful as to Mrs. Burnham's place in the world,
her knowledge of people being limited and very local, but the name of
Mrs. Evan Roberts called for instant approval, and to know that Mrs.
Burnham was her friend and guest was sufficient passport for her. It was
very kind and thoughtful in dear Mrs. Roberts, she was sure, to send for
the poor child; and very like her too, if all that the Madame had heard
concerning her was true. Did Mrs. Burnham know that her friend had the
name of always doing the most delicate kindnesses that no one else would
have thought of? She was really a wonderful woman? Madame Sternheim had
long wanted to know her. They need not trouble to send the dear child
home, she herself was going out this evening, and would have pleasure in
calling for Miss Somerville at ten o'clock.

"Isn't it beautiful here?" Maybelle said, a few hours later, as she sank
among the cushions of a "Sleepy Hollow" and feasted her beauty-loving
eyes on the harmonies of Mrs. Roberts's living-room. "It is like a poem,
or no, a picture; that is what it is like, Mrs. Burnham; one of papa's
pictures. How he would have loved this room! He was always making
sketches of sweet, dear, home rooms, and there was always a beautiful
mother in them with a baby in her arms. I think my mother must have been
very beautiful, for it was always the same face, and I know it was
intended for mamma, though he never told me so; I could not talk with
papa about her, ever, it made him cry. Don't you think it is dreadful to
see a man cry? When I started the tears in his dear blue eyes, I always
felt like a wretch! and for that reason I gave up trying to say anything
about mamma, though I should so love to have heard every little thing
about her. Papa must simply have adored her, but I have had to dream her
out for myself. I have spent hours and hours over it, studying papa's
sketches, you know, and trying to clothe them with flesh. I believe I
know just how she looked. Sometimes she would grow so real to me that I
almost expected her to hold out her arms and clasp me to them. I was a
wee baby, you know, when mamma went away."



                              CHAPTER XXII

                             A LOYAL HEART


THE friendship so strangely started between Mrs. Burnham and the girl
thrust upon her conscience, grew apace. As Ruth had surmised, her old
friend Flossy had lost none of her charm with young people, and she won
Maybelle's fascinated interest from the first moment of their meeting;
an interest that developed rapidly into love.

When Mrs. Roberts's young people came home--an event that Ruth, at
least, had dreaded for Maybelle's sake--it was found that the charm was
increased. Ruth, in writing to Erskine about them, which she did at some
length, had added: "I might have saved you much of this description, by
simply saying that the children are very like their mother. Even
Erskine, tall and muscular as he is, a thorough boy in every sense of
the word, and a manly one, yet has that indefinable indescribable charm
about him that our little Flossy always had and always will have, should
she live to be a hundred, bless her! what a blessing she would be to
this old world if she should. Do you realize, dear, that he is your
namesake, as well as mine? At first I was not sure that I wanted another
Erskine,--there is but one to me, you know,--but Erskine Roberts is such
a splendid repetition of the family name that we cannot but be proud of
him."

But she gave no description of Maybelle, and mentioned her name as
little as possible. She shrank almost painfully from the thought of
writing about this girl to one who ought to be deeply interested in
her,--as in the nature of the case Erskine should be if he knew,--and
yet looked upon her as an intruder, almost resenting his mother's
efforts in her behalf.

But if she kept silence about her to Erskine, she atoned for it in the
amount of time and thought that she bestowed upon the child. As the
weeks passed and she grew to better understand this child-woman with
whom she had to deal, she found herself bestowing upon her a wealth of
love and tenderness that she had not supposed any but her very own could
call out. And her love was returned in royal measure. However much
Maybelle might admire and love Mrs. Roberts and enjoy her son and
daughters, she had given the wealth of her heart unreservedly to Mrs.
Burnham. "Next to Aunt Mamie I love you best of all the world," she
would declare as she patted Ruth's shoulder with a loving little touch
that was peculiarly her own. "It ought always to be Aunt Mamie first,
you know, because she--she _mothered_ me all those years when I was
hungry for a mother. Dear Mrs. Burnham, if she were your daughter and I
could be your granddaughter, would not that be perfect? But that
couldn't be, of course, for Aunt Mamie loved her own dear mother better
than any other mother in the world; and she was a _dear_; I loved her
very much, but--how many different kinds of love there can be in the
same heart!" she broke off to say, with the air of a dreamy philosopher,
"Different kinds of loves and different kinds of unloves, ever so many
of them! the heart is a curious country, isn't it?"

By that time Mrs. Burnham had come to understand Miss Parker's absorbed
interest in the girl, which continued unabated even amid the absorbing
interests of a strange land. She wrote long loving letters to the child
of her adoption, and long earnest ones to Mrs. Burnham about her.

"There have been times," she wrote, "when I have almost regretted that I
left the dear girl all alone and came away out here where weeks must
intervene before I can hear from her. I felt this especially after I
found that my brother, although very glad indeed to welcome me, had made
interests here about which I knew nothing, one that is to help make a
home for him in the near future, so that so far as care and
companionship are concerned he could have done very well without me.
When I first began to understand the situation here, I was puzzled, and
just a little bit troubled over the question why I had been allowed to
come, or rather left to think that to come was the only right course,
when apparently I was much more needed at home on that dear child's
account, than here. But after reading Maybelle's letter I understood
that it was in order to leave the way clear and plain for her to your
dear heart; you can do so much more for her than I can ever hope to.
How blissful the darling is over her new friendships and interests! I am
glad that you have kidnapped her loyal little heart, just as I knew you
would."

"Poor girl!" Mrs. Burnham said softly to herself after reading this
letter. "She has one of those hungry hearts that Maybelle talks about;
and she fancied that her brother could fill it, instead of being quite
satisfied with his generous corner of it! I wonder if it can be possible
that she cared for the child's father, as the Madame hints? That would
account for--but there is nothing to be accounted for; one could not
help loving Maybelle. I must tell Miss Parker that she is always to have
the first place in that 'curious' heart, while I am enthroned as second.
Dear simpleton!" Then, as the thought crossed her mind, not for the
first time, that the one who should hold that first place might be named
Erskine, the uneasy conviction shook her that in such event certain ugly
truths would have to be revealed.

But she put the thought from her as soon as possible. She could not plan
for the future, and for the present, Maybelle and Erskine Roberts were
simply comrades heartily enjoying each other's society, as her own
Erskine and Alice Warder had done, without apparently other thoughts
than those shared with them by Marian Roberts, who was Erskine's twin.

Ruth wrote to Miss Parker that same evening, giving her a detailed
account of one of her talks with Maybelle.

"You may well call hers a 'loyal heart,' my friend," she wrote. "You
should hear the pathetic way in which the child talks about you by the
hour! Yesterday she said to me:--

"'Sometimes I used to wish that I could call Aunt Mamie, mother. She is
the only woman that I ever had such a thought about; I suppose it was
because she came close enough to give me an idea of what a real mother
would be. I mean to keep her always for my heart-mother. There can be
heart-mothers, you know, and in some ways they are almost as dear as
real ones. Oh, I wonder if you know how a girl like me sometimes longs
and _longs_ for a real mother! I think it is the only possession that I
ever envied. Sometimes, Mrs. Burnham, I have been fiercely jealous for
hours together, so that I almost hated the girls who chattered about
their mothers. Wasn't that dreadful! Oh, I cannot think what would have
become of me long before this, if I had not had Aunt Mamie.'"

Thus much Ruth Burnham wrote, and stayed her pen. Was it necessary for
her to tell all this? To lay bare even to this woman, who knew so much,
the depths of a suffering young heart, thereby revealing the magnitude
of the mother's sin against it? And that mother was her daughter, her
son's wife! She wanted to write it; there were times when she wanted to
shout it out to all the world, just what manner of woman was being
sheltered by her name and home. She knew that she would never do it, but
ought not Mamie Parker who had mothered the child, to understand? She
thought long, she shed a few struggling tears that seemed to burn her
face; the hurt at her heart was too deep for tears, and then she hid her
face on the writing table and talked with God.

The end of it was that she tore the sheet across and threw the fragments
into her grate. And wrote again:--

"You may well call hers a 'loyal heart,' my friend; she loves with a
depth that seems to me unusual in one so young; and she has enthroned
you at her heart's very centre. I want to say, just here, that I do not
think she overestimates what you have done for her; I believe you have
saved her to herself."

Meanwhile, the days that Mrs. Burnham, without any definite planning,
had thought might be given to her visit lengthened into weeks, and still
she lingered in the East.

Erskine was astonished, was bewildered, was half indignant, yet she set
no date for the home-going. One reason for this was the fact that Mr.
Roberts's stay abroad, which was to have been very brief, had been much
lengthened by unexpected business complications, and his wife was
begging her old friend to stay with her until his return. But of course
there was no real excuse for this, as she had her children and
multitudes of home friends about her. The real reason was that Ruth
could not decide to leave Maybelle. The girl clung to her with an ever
increasing abandon to the joy of having for her very own one who knew
how to be in every sense of the word motherly. Certainly she was nearer
real happiness than her confused life had ever been before. From being
one whom some of her schoolmates pitied and patronized because she
seemed to have no friends of her own except a somewhat doubtful father,
she became almost an object of envy.

All of the girls at Madame Sternheim's knew Mrs. Evan Roberts by
reputation; and highly exaggerated stories of her house and her friends
and her lavish expenditures for certain of them, were afloat in the
school. But it chanced that Maybelle was the first one of the school
girls who had entered the charmed circle of Mrs. Roberts's friendships.

When it became known that she was being sent for three or four times a
week to take dinner with the Roberts family, that she went on Tuesdays
to luncheon, that she spent most of her Saturdays and Sundays in the
same choice home, interest in her comings and goings became marked.
Then, when she began slowly, and almost reluctantly it must be admitted,
to choose out some especially lonely or homesick or timid girl to take
with her to dine at Mrs. Roberts's, her popularity knew no bounds.

Madame Sternheim, too, during these days was gracious almost beyond
recognition. It was not that the good woman had not meant to be gracious
always; she had been faithful to her duty as she saw it, and poor
Maybelle, who confessed that she had hours of almost hating her, had in
reality very much for which to thank her.

But Madame Sternheim was very human indeed, and the daughter of a poor
artist father with a questionable past and a doubtful future, whose only
friend, apparently, was a very fine young woman, it is true, but a woman
without family and with no reasonable way of accounting for her interest
in the girl, and nothing to show how soon the interest might cease--for
that matter she had already gone away off to China for no reason in
particular, unless it was to be well rid of her charge now that the
father was gone--was one person, and a girl who had apparently been
adopted into the inner circle of Mrs. Roberts's family was quite
another; especially now that the poor father had been respectably buried
and all doubtful or uncomfortable things could be forgotten. Madame
Sternheim was relieved and pleased and hopeful. She liked to have Mrs.
Roberts's carriage stand before her door waiting for Maybelle. She liked
to say to certain of her patrons:--

"Oh, the coachman is used to waiting; our dear Maybelle is almost
certain to be tardy, but then she is so much at home at Mrs. Roberts's
house that she can take all sorts of liberties. Oh, yes, she dines there
several times a week and often takes some of her classmates with her.
Dear Mrs. Roberts welcomes my girls to her home as though she were their
elder sister. What a charming woman she is! Really when one comes to
know her intimately, one feels that the half has not been told
concerning her."

And Maybelle was blossoming under this reign of love. Her cheeks were
rounding out a little and taking on a touch of color, and her eyes were
growing less sad. She had by no means forgotten her grief nor put aside
the thought of her father. On the contrary, she liked nothing better
than to talk of him by the hour to a sympathetic listener, while to be
allowed to talk about her mother, was to give free vent to the one
pent-up passion of her life.

It was to Mrs. Burnham that she talked most freely, though Mrs.
Roberts's young people were sympathetic, and Erskine, especially, liked
nothing better than to hear long stories about the artist and his method
of dealing with a picture.

"He made them up," Maybelle would say, "composed them, you know, or made
a plot, as you do when you write a story for your college paper. The
picture grew, just as a story does. 'That's an idea!' papa would say,
when I was sitting meekly enough beside him, telling him some story of
my day. 'That's a look I never saw before, let me get it, Maysie'--that
was one of his dear names for me, he had dozens of them--and he would
seize palette and brush and work for a few minutes as hard as he could,
then sit back and gaze at me and think, and I knew that a new picture
was born and would have to be watched over and nourished and developed.
It was very interesting."

"Yes, indeed! he painted me a hundred times and in a hundred different
ways, but they did him no good; he never would try to sell them, nor
even show them. They are all boxed up with our other things and stored;
Aunt Mamie took charge of them. He told her they were never to be sold.
I think it was because my mother's picture was always mixed in with
them, and he could not bear to sell her. He used to make pictures of me,
sometimes, that he said were like mamma. There would be just little
hints of me about them, not a likeness of me at all, but a beautiful
girl, and the tears would come into papa's dear eyes when he looked at
her, and he would say softly, 'It is her image.'"

When Maybelle talked in this way to Ruth, she once or twice said
wistfully:--

"It must be beautiful to be loved in the way that my father loved my
mother." But Erskine Roberts never heard any words of this kind.



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                           PUZZLING QUESTIONS


"THIS is lovely!" said Maybelle, as she drew the curtains, and pushed
her sewing chair closer to Mrs. Burnham's. "Isn't it nice to be alone
together? Erskine wanted me to go with them to the rehearsal and act as
prompter, but I told him I was going to follow the promptings of my own
heart and stay with you, especially since his mother must also be away.
If we lived all alone in a dear little home, you and I, I could take
care of you all the time."

"I am afraid I should need something besides lovely rooms and pretty
sewing," Mrs. Burnham said laughingly.

"Yes, indeed! but I could do them; all sorts of things. I used to do
things for Mrs. Parker, and for papa when he would let me. I was always
coaxing papa to have a little bit of a house just large enough for us
two, and let me take charge of it; I knew I could; I could learn, you
know, and Mrs. Parker taught me a great many things; but he never would.
Poor papa! he didn't want a home; he said that he had one once, and he
wanted it to live in his memory forever. He meant that time--before
mamma died. Do you think it is like most men to be so constant to a
memory?"

"I do not know," Mrs. Burnham said, with an effort. She never knew what
to say to Maybelle when she was in this mood. It was impossible to join
in the talk about a dead mother, and not feel herself a hypocrite. But
Maybelle was already on another theme.

"Dear Mrs. Burnham, I am glad we are alone to-night. There are matters
about which I want to talk with you.

"Do you know, I have been treated always like a little girl? and it
seems to me that the time has come for me to begin to be a woman. I used
to try to get papa to tell me about his affairs, but he never would.
During those last dreadful days, all he would tell me was that he had
left everything to Aunt Mamie, and I was to do just as she said. But I
have a feeling that papa was poor; and that he just made enough by his
pictures to support us, perhaps not always that; I have thought lately
that perhaps a great many of my nice things and--and opportunities, came
through Aunt Mamie. Madame Sternheim has dropped hints more than once
that have made me believe so. And now,--don't you think I ought to know
all about it, and be making plans to support myself?"

"My dear!" was all that Ruth could say, in an almost dismayed tone.
Maybelle's future and her connection with it were more puzzling to
Erskine Burnham's mother than they could possibly be to this child. The
earnest young voice went on:--

"I wrote to Aunt Mamie just how I felt, but she cannot see it as I do.
She says that she is alone in the world, that money is the only thing
she has enough of, and that papa gave me to her to take care of. She
does not understand why I should not be quite happy over such an
arrangement; but dear Mrs. Burnham, I am sure you do. It is not that I
do not love to belong to her, I mean to, always; and sometimes I cannot
sleep for the joy of thinking that she loves me so dearly; I can't think
why she does. But don't you think that a self-respecting girl wants to
support herself just as soon as she possibly can, unless she has a
father and mother who can do it as well as not, and want to?"

This also was a sore and embarrassing phase of the subject to poor Ruth.
Oh, to be able to say to her that her mother, her own mother, was in a
position to cover for her every need that money could supply and that
the man who now stood in the place of father to her would insist upon so
much tardy justice--if he knew of her existence! Yet Ruth's common sense
told her that even though there were no terrible reasons for silence for
the sake of others, the hardest blow that could be given to a girl like
Maybelle would be to destroy her beautiful illusions of her mother with
the base truth. That mother of sacred memory, alive, well, living in
ease and luxury and ignoring her as utterly as though she had never been
born! Could such a cruel blow as that be borne! Yet any words that this
much-tried woman could arrange in reply to the appeal just made, seemed
false. She hesitated, and knew that her face was flushing under the
girl's earnest gaze. At last, she said the only words there seemed left
for her to say.

"My dear, I am a little bit on both sides of this question. I certainly
sympathize with your view, and on general principles should agree with
you. But the circumstances are peculiar this time." And as she said the
words she felt like a hypocrite; how peculiar they were, that poor child
had not the least idea! "Miss Parker is, as she says, practically alone
in the world. Her brother's marriage is a coming event; then he will not
need her any more, in the special sense in which she can help him now,
and he does not need her money, for he has plenty of his own. Their
father discovered a gold mine, you know, as well as one of another
metal, almost more valuable than gold. So, if Miss Parker wants to spend
a little of her surplus money upon you, because she loves you, ought you
not to please her in this, and be governed by her advice, at least for
the present? When you are older, and especially when Miss Parker returns
home, which I think she will do before very long, probably some plans
can be made that will please you both. Cannot you wait, dear?"

Maybelle sat thoughtful for a moment, then she drew a long sigh.

"I suppose I must," she said. "Indeed, there is no other way for me at
present; only--I am to graduate, you know, in a few days, and I
thought--but of course I ought not, contrary to Aunt Mamie's wishes. But
I do not know what she wants me to do for the summer. She has not seemed
to remember it. I have always spent the summer vacations with her."

"You are not to forecast anxieties about the summer," Mrs. Burnham said,
trying to make her voice sound cheery and free from all anxiety, though
it struck her like a physical pain, the fact that she could not say to
this girl who was growing dearer to her with every passing day, "Come
home with me, child, of course;" that she could never invite her to her
home, and could never explain to her why she must not. She must simply
be silent and trust to Maybelle's shrewd guessing that there were
reasons why this new friend of hers did not feel at home in her own
home, and was not at liberty to take her friends there.

It was true that summer was upon them, and the air of the boarding
school was athrob with the plans of eager girls getting ready for the
home-going. Maybelle was almost the only one who had not some sort of
home to plan for. And yet Maybelle was to graduate! If only Mrs. Burnham
could say to her, "Come, we will make home together, and you may do for
me all that your heart prompts." There were hours when she was tempted
to do something of the kind. But her words to Maybelle revealed none of
her pain.

"There are lovely schemes maturing for the summer. 'Good times,' my
dear, and unlike the illustrious Gloriana McQuirk you are 'in 'em.' I am
not to divulge them before the appointed hour, but I empower you to say
to those envious schoolgirls that your summer plans are a delicious
secret even from yourself, being locked in the heart of that blessed
little schemer, Mrs. Roberts."

Maybelle's face was still serious, but, after a moment, she laughed
softly.

"I am the strangest girl!" she said. "I don't think there can be another
girl in the world who lives my kind of life. I have not what Madame
Sternheim calls a 'relative' this side heaven to care what becomes of
me, and I have the dearest company of people, on whom, according to
Madame again, I have not the shadow of a claim, who never weary of doing
for me! What more, for instance, could you and that dear Mrs. Roberts
and those girls and boys of hers do for me, even though I had that
potent charm, some of 'the same blood' in my veins? And yet, do you
know, selfish creature that I am, the Madame has so instilled her
principles into me that if I only had a sister or brother of my very own
to love and care for, I think I could give up joyfully all other
luxuries."

"Are you not forgetting your aunts in England, my dear?"

Maybelle shook her head and spoke resolutely. "I want to forget them; I
do not claim them as aunts of mine." Then, in response to Ruth's look
that might have meant reproach, she added:--

"They did not like mamma, Mrs. Burnham, and they were not good to her.
Papa told me as much as that. He said she was young, and away from all
her home friends and unhappy, and they led her a hard life. Papa could
not help feeling hard toward them for that. It was the reason why he
never went to England again after Grandmother died. He took me to see
Grandmother, did you know that? But she did not seem like a grandmother.
She wasn't _dear_, you know, and sweet, like the grandmothers in
stories, and in real life too,--some of the girls at school have lovely
ones,--but mine was stately and cold. She and my two aunts used to talk
about mamma right before me.

"'She looks like _her_,' one of them said, with a strong emphasis on the
'her' a contemptuous emphasis it seemed to me. And the other aunt
replied, 'But she isn't like her in disposition, apparently.' Then
Grandmother said quickly, 'Heaven forbid!' Could one love people who
talked in that way before a child about her dear dead mother? Not that
they meant me to understand," she added thoughtfully, after a moment, as
one who must do full justice even to one's enemies. "I don't think they
did; they were the kind of people who think that a child is deaf and
blind and stupid. I understood hints and shrugs of the shoulders and
curls of the lip and exclamations a great deal better than they thought
I did. I have no relatives, dear Mrs. Burnham, that I care for, but I
have friends whom I love with every bit of me. May I ask just one little
question?--and you need not answer it if it is part of the secret. Do
the summer plans include you? Because if they don't, and there could be
a way for me to have you for just a little piece of the summer, I--"

The tremble in her voice had grown so marked that she stopped abruptly.
She looked up, after a minute, with her eyes swimming in tears, and said
with a queer little attempt at a laugh:--

"I'm not going to cry, Mrs. Burnham, don't you be afraid. And I'm not
going to be selfish and babyish; I mean to be just as glad and happy and
grateful as I can be, even though you have to be away from me all summer
long."

It was just at that moment that Ruth resolved upon yielding to Flossy's
entreaties and spending at least part of the summer with them at their
new seaside cottage, which was to be a surprise to all the young people,
Maybelle included. Erskine expected her at home, but what were Erskine's
needs compared to this deserted child's?--and the child clung to her.
But she would not tell Maybelle, not just yet; so she spoke lightly,
commending the child's resolve to count her mercies, and then
admonishing her that she had better also count her stitches, as she was
making a mistake in the row she was crocheting.

There was a thoughtful silence on the part of both for a few minutes,
then Maybelle spoke again in what Mrs. Burnham called her grown-up tone.

"There is one strange question I have wanted to ask of somebody for a
long time. I tried to talk to Erskine about it without letting him know
that it was really a question in my mind; but Erskine is like all boys,
very wise and very positive, without being always able to give a reason
for what he believes."

"Which means," said Ruth, smiling, "that Erskine did not agree with
you."

"Well, he didn't," and Maybelle stopped to laugh at herself; then spoke
earnestly.

"That is, so far as I may be said to have an opinion on that subject; I
am not sure what I think, or at least I do not know why I think it. Mrs.
Burnham, do Christian people ever pray for their dead? And if they do
not, why not? Does the Bible say we must not? I have tried to find
something in the Bible about it, and I could not."

Ruth was much startled. This was very different from the question she
had expected. The young people argued vigorously upon every live
question of the day, not excepting interesting theological points, but
this was out of the regular line. While she considered just how best to
answer it, Maybelle explained.

"I suppose that seems to you a strange question; young people do not
often discuss such things, I suppose; but it interests me very much
because I have such a longing, sometimes, to pray for mamma, that I can
hardly keep her name from my lips; yet I thought perhaps it was wrong. I
began to have that feeling almost as soon as Aunt Mamie taught me to
pray. I had said my prayers before that time; papa taught me to say:
'Now I lay me down to sleep,' and 'Bless thy little lamb to-night.' I
used to like to say them, but I did not understand what praying really
was, until long after that time. But when Aunt Mamie made it plain to
me, and my heart took hold of the fact that I was really talking with
God, and that I could talk to Him about papa, and in that way help him,
I cannot tell you how glad I was! And then, very soon, I wanted to put
mamma in."

Nothing that the girl had said had ever startled Ruth as much as this.
Was there a woman living who needed prayer more than this child's
mother? Yet how could she counsel her daughter to pray for her?



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                                AN ALLY


"I DO not know that there is any 'thus saith the Lord,' against your
wish, my dear," she said at last, in a hesitating tone, "but the
inference from all gospel teaching seems to be that this life is the
time for prayer."

Maybelle gave a disappointed sigh.

"I should think people would study into it," she said, "and find out if
they might. It makes such an awful blank in one's praying to suddenly
leave out a name that has been on one's lips and in one's heart for
years."

Then Ruth knew that the child was thinking of her father, and that she
must move very carefully in trying to comfort her.

"I did not have that feeling about my father, Maybelle dear, nor about
my husband. On the contrary I had an almost joyful realization that they
were beyond the need for prayer--were where they could make no mistakes,
where the mistakes of others could never harm them any more, and where
they would be forever in the presence of the Lord. What could one
possibly ask more for them?"

Maybelle was silent for several minutes, and her eyes were soft with
unshed tears. Then she spoke gently:--

"What a lovely thought! thank you."

After a moment she began again, earnestly.

"Mrs. Burnham, there is something I want you to know. What I am sure
that Madame Sternheim thinks about my papa isn't true. Papa learned how
to pray; and every afternoon during those last few weeks, he and I used
to read in the Bible together, and pray. And the last time I saw him he
told me that, although he had wasted his life, and been in every way a
different man from what he ought to have been, God had forgiven him, and
was going to take him home. He wasn't a bad man, ever, Mrs. Burnham; at
least--well, I know he did some wrong things, but he was good in many
ways. He had a very low estimate of himself, though, and those were the
words he said. I shall never forget the last sentence he ever spoke; I
can often close my eyes and seem to hear his dear voice with its note of
exultation, 'It is wonderful, but I am going _home_!' He used to speak
that word 'home' in a peculiar manner; his voice seemed to linger over
it lovingly, like a caress. He had no home, you know, after mamma went
away."

This was Maybelle's way of speaking of death; but the woman, who
realized how literally the phrase "went away" applied to this child's
mother, could never hear it without an inward shudder. Her own eyes had
dimmed with tears as she listened to this pathetic and yet gracious
close of a wasted life. Then she acted upon a sudden resolution.

"Maybelle, dear, there is one person for whom I want you to pray with
all your soul; that is my son's wife."

"Your daughter?" said Maybelle, lingering over the word as a sweet
sound, yet with a hint of surprise in her tone, as though she might
almost ask, "Why should any woman so blessed as she need praying for?"
But what she added was:--

"I should love to pray for her. Tell me about her, please. She must be a
very happy woman to have the right to call you 'mother.' What is it you
want me to ask for her? Of course she is a Christian?"

"She is a member of the church," said Ruth. "But I do not think she
knows the Lord Jesus in the way that you and I know Him, or that she
loves and serves Him."

"Oh!" said Maybelle, and that single mono-syllable from her lips meant
much. Surprise, regret, pity, resolve, were all expressed in it.

Ruth made haste to finish what she had resolved to say.

"And she needs to know Him; oh! she needs it more than most women do. If
she could come, even now, into intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus
Christ, it would make an infinite difference, not only with her life,
but in the lives of others. There are others who--" She stopped
abruptly; excitement was getting the better of discretion. She must have
a care what she said. After a moment she spoke with less intensity.

"I hope you will pray, too, for Erskine. For my son, I mean." For
Maybelle had made a little startled movement at the mention of this
name, and turned great wondering eyes upon her.

"My son's name is Erskine, you remember. He is my only one, dear, the
only treasure that I ever had; for years and years he has been all that
I have; and I cry out so for God's best for him! He is a Christian, a
good, true Christian man; he is everything that to other people seems
desirable; but--"

"I think I know what you mean," Maybelle said gently. "I know that there
can be degrees in living religion. Sometimes I think I know that fact
better than any other; I have had so many illustrations of it in my
life. It must be hard for him that his wife does not always think just
as he does in this. At least I should think it would be very hard indeed
for married people not to be as one in such matters."

"Yes," said Ruth, "it is very hard." Then she turned suddenly to a
radically different subject, with the conviction strong upon her that
she could talk no more about Erskine and Irene without saying what would
be better left unsaid.

But she had secured a wonderful ally in Maybelle. The girl knew how to
pray, and her faith was as the faith of a little child: simple, and
literal, and firm. She became intensely interested in Mrs. Burnham's
daughter-in-law. She asked many questions about her, sometimes making
remarks, in her ignorance, that wrung Ruth's heart.

"I think I love her," she said one day. "There are times when I feel a
curious yearning tenderness for her, as though I must put my arms about
her and kiss her. It seems strange, doesn't it, when I have never seen
her? I do not love a great many people; of course I like ever so many,
but this feeling that I have is different. Still, I suppose it is the
way one feels toward those for whom one prays, definitely and daily.
Isn't it?"

"Perhaps," said Ruth, unable to add another word, and turning away her
face so that the child could not see what it might express. If only
Irene had loved _her_!

One noticeable feature of this time was that Maybelle began to speak
confidently regarding the answer to her prayers.

"You will tell me when your daughter truly begins to serve Jesus Christ,
won't you?" she said. "I think I should like to know it, soon, because
it changes the tone of one's prayers, don't you think, as soon as one
for whom you have been asking just this, recognizes Jesus Christ and
begins to be acquainted with Him?"

"You speak very confidently, dear," Ruth could not help saying. "Do you
always feel quite sure that the people for whom you pray will
'recognize' Jesus Christ?"

"Not always," the girl said thoughtfully. "I cannot be sure, because
they may keep on refusing to let Him in, and of course He will not force
an entrance. When I was a little girl, I thought that was very strange.
I wondered why God did not _make_ people love and serve Him, whether
they wanted to, or not. But when I grew old enough to realize what love
really is, I knew better; for what is enforced service worth? and as for
enforced _love_, that couldn't be. But sometimes the feeling comes to me
that the one for whom I am asking, will let him in; and I have it now."

And then Mrs. Burnham began to desire exceedingly that this girl should
pray mightily for her son. More than all things else, more even than
that the rags of his outward respectability--as regarded his home--might
be preserved to him, did she long for his entire consecration to God.
She knew only too well that, despite his strict integrity and his firm
adherence to the letter of his faith, the world was gripping him with a
mighty hold. She knew, too, how insidiously and how surely Irene's
views, and Irene's feelings, and Irene's wishes were slipping in between
him and that entirely consecrated life which would hold him safe above
all the world's allurements.

It was not that he was markedly different in word or deed from what his
early manhood had promised. It was rather that he had not grown,
spiritually, with the passing years; and of late years, since his
marriage, his mother could detect a backward movement, as of one
drifting downstream imperceptibly to himself, and losing force. There
were times when she felt almost jealous of the hold which her
daughter-in-law had taken upon the heart of this girl who believed as
well as prayed.

"You will not forget my Erskine?" she said one day when they had been
talking about it.

"Oh, no!" Maybelle said quickly. "No, indeed! How could I, dear Mrs.
Burnham, when he is your son, and you asked me to pray for him? I never
forget him; but after all, it isn't so important, you know."

"Why not?" The mother was almost indignant. From her standpoint nothing
in life seemed quite so important as that Erskine should be the kind of
Christian that the Lord wanted.

"Why, because," said the child, wonderingly, "he _belongs_, you know,
and--won't the dear Lord take care of his own? But it is different with
her,--why, she may not let Him!"

There was the most peculiar emphasis of that word "belongs"; and almost
infinite dismay expressed by the last phrase. Maybelle was a literalist.
She believed that when the Lord said, "Ye _will not_ come unto me that
ye might have life," he meant that it was quite within man's power to
refuse it.

But from that hour Ruth's heart was quieter concerning her son, and she
prayed in stronger faith. Erskine "belonged" and she could trust the
Lord to take care of His own. It seemed strange, but the child was
really helping the Christian of mature years. "Except ye become as
little children," she repeated to her heart with a grateful smile.
Maybelle's faith was as the faith of a little child; that was what made
it so strong.

The plans for the summer matured and, to the joy of all concerned, Mrs.
Burnham was carried a willing captive to the new seaside home; and, on
one pretext or another, lingered there from week to week. The young
people were fertile in schemes, and vied with one another in pretexts to
hold her just a few days more.

"You cannot surely go until after the fourteenth!" and "Why, we must
have you for the twenty-first, anyway!"

Meantime, Erskine was growing almost indignant, at least on paper. His
final argument was put with lawyer-like directness.

"It seems to be true that you have ceased to care for your son, but
perhaps the advent of your grandson will move you. Erskine Burnham,
Junior, arrived at four this morning, as I have already announced to you
by telegram, and is in excellent health and spirits, and very desirous
of beholding the face of his grandmother; I might remark, in passing,
that his father and mother sympathize with him in this desire, save that
the cruel grandmother seems to be quite dead to all natural affection.
We are hoping that to have a grandson will be something so unnatural as
to arouse her desires for home."

But if he could have seen his mother during that first hour after the
despatch reached her, he would have been deeply pained as well as
puzzled. Did ever grandmother take such triumphant news in such strange
fashion before? She was alone in her room, and she let the paper drop
away from her while she hid her face in her hands and shook as though in
an ague chill. Her grandson! yes, but Irene's son! born of such a mother
into this dangerous, sin-stricken world! to be trained by such a mother!
and her fair and lovely daughter an outlaw at this moment from her
mother's home and heart! How would it be possible for a boy with such an
inheritance as such a mother would give him, to escape the snares that
would assuredly be set for him? Great waves of pain seemed to have this
woman in its clutches, as she lived over again her own young motherhood,
and thought of all that it had meant to her, and contrasted herself with
that other mother; and remembered that she was the mother of Erskine
Burnham's son.

But by degrees saner thoughts began to come. Heredity was not
everything, she reminded herself; and even according to it its full
place, had not the boy a father? The thought of Maybelle in this
connection helped to quiet her. Was ever sweeter, purer, more lovable
girl born of woman than she? And was not that same woman her mother?
What of heredity here?

But the girl was deserted by her mother, and mercifully preserved from
such training as she would have given. What was that promise? "When my
father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." Had not
the Lord made good this word? If only this little new boy, her grandson,
could--And then Ruth turned in stern repellence from herself. What was
this that she was thinking! Could not God take care of his own?

But she must go home, of course she must go home now, at once. But she
did not. One of Mrs. Roberts's flock fell ill, and before noon of the
following day was very seriously, even desperately ill, and there
followed a long, hard battle with disease; and Ruth, who had lingered
for her pleasure, apparently, could not of course leave them now, when
for the first time there was opportunity to be of real service. The sick
one, even after the battle was fought, was slow in convalescing, and the
mother was worn, and Ruth could see that she held a place in this home
that no one else just then could fill, and she stayed.

So it came to pass that the summer was gone, and the Roberts household
was established in town again, and Maybelle was entered at Madame
Sternheim's for a year of graduate work, before the Burnham carriage
waited at the station for the belated grandmother, and her son paced the
station platform more eager and impatient for his mother than it seemed
to him he had ever been in his life before, and his son was two months
old that day.



                              CHAPTER XXV

                                A CRISIS


"DO you think I will ever let you go away from us again?" This was
Erskine Burnham's word to his mother when he had her all to himself in
the carriage. His arms were about her, and he was kissing eyes and nose
and hair after the fashion of his childhood.

"Such a wicked, wicked grandmother! Does she think she deserves the most
beautiful, most intelligent grandson that ever drew breath?"

Throughout that drive they were very gay; both of them covered under the
semblance of merrymaking, the deep feeling that neither wished just then
to express.

Only once, as the carriage turned in at the familiar gateway, did
Erskine trust himself to a tender word:--

"O mommie, mommie! do you suppose you know anything about how a boy
feels to get his mother again?"

"My boy!" she began, but her voice broke, and she could not utter
another word. And then the carriage drew up before the side entrance,
and Erskine became very busy with the bags and wraps, and believed that
his mother's emotion was the natural feeling of a grandmother on coming
into her possession.

The weeks that immediately followed were very far from happy ones,
although one member of the family circle was doing her utmost in the
interests of peace.

Ruth Burnham had not lingered for months away from her home simply from
dread of facing the situation; nor yet on account entirely of the young
girl whom she had taken to her heart; there had been underneath these, a
determined purpose to leave those two quite to themselves; to try the
effect upon Irene of relieving her for a time of her mother-in-law's
daily presence. It is true she had not planned just how long she could
do this--she had not been sure when she went away that it could be done,
save for a few days; but she had allowed herself to be apparently swayed
by every passing reason for delay, despite Erskine's evident
bewilderment over such action, with an end in view which had to do with
that solemn self-sacrifice she had made. It remained to be seen whether
this phase of it had been of any avail.

At first, Irene was gracious, or tried to be; but in all her apparent
sweetness, and sometimes even attempts at deference, there was a curious
little undertone sting, which made Ruth feel constrained, and always
uncertain what to say or do next.

But the baby, toward whom her sore heart turned with a hunger that was
almost pain, was as fair and sweet a creation as ever came from the
thought of God. So like his father--in the eyes of the grandmother, that
there were moments when she could shut herself up alone with him and
live her mother-joy over again.

Not many of them; her time with him was literally counted by moments,
and grew more and more uncertain each passing day.

Ruth had schooled herself to see at least indifference on the part of
the mother toward her child, and had planned how she would try to atone
for such unutterable loss by making him the very centre of her own life.
But behold! instead of anything like indifference, Irene developed a
love for the child so passionate, so fierce, indeed, that it suggested
the instinct of wild animals, instead of cultivated motherhood.

Moreover, the poor mother was jealous of even the nurse who lavished
loving nonsense upon her baby, and intensely jealous of the grandmother,
for whom the baby, even thus early in his life, began to exhibit a
perverse fondness.

The entire situation was a surprise, and, it must be admitted, an added
blow to Ruth. Instead of being able to rejoice that the maternal
instinct had been at last awakened in this woman, she was dismayed and
heartsick over it. If Irene meant to begin thus early to keep the boy
under her constant care and surveillance, what hope was there for his
future?

She awakened to the fact that she had been counting upon this mother's
fondness for all sorts of social functions, and expecting to see her
enter with zest upon her former care-free life, thus making it possible
for the baby to be much under his grandmother's supervision. She had
planned prematurely. Irene seemed to have forgotten society; she never
walked, or drove, without her baby; she kept him with her during all his
waking moments, and apparently lived for the purpose of warding off the
attentions of, especially, his grandmother.

In vain did Ruth try, by utmost deference to the mother's superior
claim, by never presuming to offer even a suggestion as to the child's
care, to disarm the intense dislike that Irene could not help showing--a
dislike of having her even notice the child.

So marked was this condition of things becoming to the servants that
Ruth, beyond measure distressed and bewildered, stayed much of the time
in her own room, and considered and abandoned a dozen schemes for going
away again. The difficulty was to make any movement that would not
excite Erskine's suspicion; for Erskine, being a man and a very busy
one, continued to be what Irene once told him he was, "as blind as a
bat." He was a very proud, glad father, prepared to believe that his son
was the sweetest, brightest, most beautiful baby who ever blessed the
earth with his presence, and he was unequivocally and blissfully happy
at seeing that baby in his grandmother's arms. In rejoicing over her
home-coming, and in delighting over the thought of having his son grow
up in daily intimacy with her, he said "we" as heartily and jubilantly
as though certain that Irene shared his happiness, and it is certain
that he so believed.

"We have learned one lesson, anyway," he said gayly, as they sat
together one evening after dinner. "That is that we mustn't let you get
away from home again very soon. A mother who has no conception of when
it is time to come home must not be allowed her freedom. Do you think we
have forgiven you already for those months of indifference to us? What
was the charm, mommie? You have never told us. The truth is, you have
told us very little about that long visit. Irene used to be sure that
there was some attraction that you did not reveal. Have you made her
confess, Irene?"

Irene made a feint of joining in his gayety, and said something about
not thinking it worth while to attempt what he had failed in
accomplishing.

"Well," Erskine said, after a moment, puzzled and a trifle hurt because
his mother did not seem to join heartily in the nonsense, "there is one
comfort; I am not afraid of her deserting us again. Erskine Burnham,
Junior, is an attraction that will hold, even though his father's power
seems to have waned."

It was by random sentences like these, that Ruth was made to realize how
difficult it would be to get away again.

As the days passed and the situation grew more and more strained, the
mother's only comfort was that Erskine did not understand it. How should
he? The claims of business pressed every day more heavily upon him. From
being the younger partner in a great legal firm, as his decided ability
became known, he had risen steadily, until responsibilities as well as
honors had been thrust upon him, and he was now a recognized power in
his profession. This meant very close attention to business, and he had
scarcely any time that he could call his own.

How could he know, and, after a little, the resolute mother asked
herself why he should ever know that when he left his beautiful home
each morning for his long, busy day in town, he left jealousy and
suspicion and unreasoning aversion behind him?

"I think she hates me," Ruth said to herself as she sat in her room with
folded hands and listened to the vigorous protests of the boy across the
hall, and knew that she, his grandmother, who loved every hair of his
dear golden head, must hold herself from going to him. "I am sure she
hates me, and the feeling grows stronger every day. Oh, what shall I do?
what can I do! How is one to endure such a state of things for a
lifetime? I am not an old woman. I may have to stay here for years and
years! If I could _only_ get through with it all and go to my home!"

It was not often that she indulged herself in such moods, and she felt
always distinctly self-condemned when they were allowed to take hold of
her. She had never been one to indulge herself in what her old friend
Eurie Mitchell used to characterize as "useless whining"; and it would
be beneath the mature Christian to allow it.

But a crisis was at hand. Erskine surprised his family one afternoon by
coming home several hours earlier than usual.

"I ran away!" was his gay announcement as he found his wife and mother
in the living-room. They had been entertaining a caller who had asked
first for Ruth, and then had insisted upon seeing the young mother and
the baby.

"Such tiresome people!" Irene had said impatiently. "Forever trying to
pry into my affairs! I wish they would at least let me have my baby in
peace."

But she had ordered the nurse to bring him down to her in a few minutes,
for the callers were Erskine's friends of long standing, and she knew
that he meant them to be treated with all deference.

"This is great luck to find you both here," Erskine said. "It will save
time. I escaped from the office on purpose to enjoy a drive with my
family. It is just the day for Boy Junior," and he tossed the delighted
baby in his arms as he spoke. "It is as balmy as spring. Why, this is a
spring month, isn't it? I had forgotten. Get ready, beloveds, and we
shall have time for a glimpse of the bay before the sun sets."

"Oh, no!" said Irene, hastily. "Not today, Erskine; I don't want to go.
You can take mother, and baby and I will stay at home."

Erskine looked surprised and troubled.

"Why is that, dear? I planned on purpose for you. I don't think you get
out enough in this sweet spring air. I could not help noticing how pale
and worn you looked this morning. Don't you think so, mamma? Come,
dearest, it will do you good; and I have so little time nowadays for
driving with you. I have been planning all the morning to get away."

"I don't want to go," Irene said fretfully. But her husband took no
notice of the words.

"We'll go on a lark!" he explained to the delighted baby. "Father and
mother and grandmother and grandson. How does that sound, my boy? I feel
like a boy myself to-day. You and the little boy may have the back seat,
mommie, and your big girl and boy will sit in front, and drive. Don't
you want to drive, Irene? The horses are in fine spirit, just as you
like them to feel when you have the reins.

"Here, nurse," as that young woman appeared at the moment in the
doorway. "Put this young man into driving attire, while the ladies are
getting on their wraps. We mustn't waste another minute of this glorious
sunshine."

But at this point the baby asserted himself. The nurse had taken him
from his father's arms and was moving toward the door; as he passed
Ruth, he made a quick, unexpected spring in her direction, and had not
her arms been quick and her grasp firm, there might have been an
accident. As it was, he cuddled in her embrace with a gurgle of
happiness.

"You young scamp!" said the proud father, with a relieved laugh. "You
knew where you meant to land, didn't you? Showed excellent taste, too.
He is becoming to you, mommie. You look young enough to-day to be
mistaken for his mother. Doesn't she, Irene?"

For Ruth's cheeks had flushed like a girl's, and her heart was beating
swiftly under the baby's caresses. She bent her head over the golden
one, and murmured some incoherent sentence, while she hid eyes that were
filled with tears. It was so rare a thing in these days to get a chance
to cuddle that baby!

And then Irene spoke, in a tone of voice that her husband had rarely
heard:--

"Rebecca, I did not ring for you. Go away; I will bring the baby myself.
I _wish_ you wouldn't! I don't want him kissed nor fondled. Give him to
me."

This last, addressed to Ruth, in a tone so sharp and a manner so rude
that Erskine in unbounded astonishment said:--

"Irene!"

Just that word, but not as she had ever before heard it spoken.

"I don't care!" she said. "Let her leave my baby alone. I don't want her
to touch him, and I won't have it! I _won't_! I say!"

Her voice had risen almost to a scream.

Rebecca had disappeared with the swiftness with which this woman's
servants generally obeyed her commands, and Ruth, putting the baby
without a word into his amazed father's arms, fled away also.



                              CHAPTER XXVI

                            A STRANGE CHANGE


THERE was no driving out that day; the Burnham horses were remanded to
the stable with no other explanation to their astonished care taker than
that the ladies had decided not to go out.

When Ruth, distressed and bewildered as to what course to take, obeyed
the tardy summons to dinner, she found a stranger in the dining room
whom Erskine introduced as a member of the Severn law firm, from town,
who had come out for a business conference. Would she be kind enough to
take Irene's place at table? His wife, he explained to the guest, was
the victim of a severe headache and must be excused.

Throughout the dinner Erskine was thoughtful for and courteously
attentive to his mother; but of course there was no opportunity for a
personal word. When at last he excused himself for a business conference
and took his guest to the library, Ruth stood where he had left her,
irresolute and distressed. Under normal conditions the proper and
natural thing for a mother whose daughter was suffering with headache
would be to go to her with sympathetic inquiries and offers of help.
Should she attempt this? Would Erskine think it the right step for her
to take? She feared that she knew only too well how Irene would receive
her; but no matter. The question was, What did Erskine want? What did he
think about it all? Did he blame her for the strange exhibition he had
seen that afternoon? True, it was not more than she had endured before,
but it was a strange experience to Erskine, and it would be only natural
for him to think that his wife must have had strong provocation, in
order to make such an outburst possible. If he thought that,--if he
blamed her in any way, how would it be possible ever to undeceive him?
Wait--ought she to undeceive him? Ought she even to exonerate herself?
Could she expect any man to take sides against his wife? What a horrible
question! Could she want him to do such a thing even for her? Oh, the
misery of it all! That she and her son had reached the hour when they
could not explain to each other!

Only one thing seemed certain. She must go away somewhere, and speedily.
It must now be apparent even to Erskine that they could not continue
longer in this way of living.

She crept back to her room, at last, and sat in the darkness with hands
closely clasped, so closely that the diamond of her engagement ring cut
into the flesh. She listened for words from across the hall, or for
movements. She went over and over and over the miserable scene of the
afternoon; she listened for Erskine, and wondered if he would stop at
her room, and was afraid to have him come.

It was late when he came upstairs very quietly and paused at his
mother's door and listened; and she was breathlessly still. Then he went
on, to his own rooms; and Ruth, physically exhausted, went to her bed,
and, in the course of time, fell asleep, not having been able to come to
any decision as to what she could do.

The gray dawn of another day was beginning to make faint shadows in the
room, when a knock at her door awakened her, and Erskine entered.

Was she awake? he inquired anxiously. It was too bad to disturb her
rest, but he must. Irene was ill, very ill. Nurse was with her, and the
baby had awakened and was crying. Might he bring him to her, and could
she care for him until they could plan how to manage?

Even in that moment of haste and anxiety Ruth detected in her son's
voice a kind of solemn relief, almost of satisfaction, and read its
meaning. It was as if he had said:--

"Irene is violently ill, is not herself, indeed, and probably has not
been for a long time. It is plain that she was not responsible for what
she said or did yesterday." His mother could understand that even such
an explanation, sad as it was, was balm to his soul. She sprang up and
began to dress in haste, while she answered him. Of course she would
care for Baby; bring him at once; or wait, she would go for him herself.

"Go back to Irene," she commanded. "She may be needing you this minute;
and you needn't think of Baby again." How glad her hungry arms were to
enfold him, even at such price, she would have been almost ashamed to
have had known.

In this manner the dreaded day broke for them; with all embarrassments
forgotten and all programmes of possible action swept away. Irene was
desperately ill. Rebecca, the baby's nurse, who was a graduate of a
training school, and had done hospital service, admitted that it looked
like what she called "a case." She was willing to transfer her
attentions entirely to the mother, until other arrangements could be
made.

Then began in the Burnham household a new and strange but very busy
life. With incredible promptness the house took on that indescribable
and distinctly felt change which serious illness brings in its train.
All ordinary routine was suspended. The eight o'clock car for which
Erskine was almost as sure to be ready as the sun was to rise at a given
moment, halted at the corner for passengers as usual, but went on
without him. He came down to breakfast at any hour when he could best
get away from Irene, and sometimes stood in the doorway, coffee cup in
hand, ready for a summons; for Irene was as imperious in her delirium as
she had been in health. The house seemed to be in the hands of
physicians and nurses. As the illness had from the first assumed a
serious form, a trained nurse had been at once secured, but it proved
necessary for Rebecca, also, to be in almost constant attendance. This
placed the baby entirely in the care of his grandmother, whose thankful
and devoted service was his at any hour of the day or night. While the
machinery of all the rest of the house was more or less thrown out of
gear, the people taking their meals at any hour that chanced to be
convenient for them, and ordering all their movements with a view to the
sick room, Erskine Burnham junior went on his serene and methodical way.
He was bathed and dressed and breakfasted at his usual hours; he went
out in his carriage at the given time; he sat on the porch in the
sunshine at just such and such periods, and was in every respect as
serene and sunny and well-cared-for a baby as though his mother was not
lying upstairs making a desperate fight for life.

This state of things lasted for about three weeks; then the alarming
character of the illness subsided, and by degrees, the long, slow period
of convalescence was entered upon, and the house adjusted itself again
to changed conditions.

In kitchen and dining room something like routine could once more be
carried out; and Erskine began to think of business, and even to get
away to his office for an hour or two each day.

By and by the closely drawn shades below stairs were raised, and flowers
began to appear in the vases.

But in Baby Erskine's apartments his grandmother still reigned supreme.
The special trained nurse had departed, and Rebecca had sole charge of
the patient. A young nurse girl had been secured at the first, to help
with the care of baby, under Ruth's supervision, and she was proving
herself a comfort.

Altogether, these days, full of responsibilities though they were, and
not without some anxieties, held much comfort and even happiness for
Ruth. Erskine's baby was in her care, and as often as she chose was in
her arms; she could fondle him as she would, without fear of reproof.
She could bathe and rub and clothe the perfect little body, she could
curl the lovely golden rings of hair about her fingers, she could catch
him up in a transport of bliss and kiss his lovely little neck and
dimpled chin and exquisite arms, and in a thousand tender mother-ways
rest her heart upon him.

And the baby lavished love without measure upon her, and clung to her
when any attempt was made to take him away, and made wild little
demonstrations of delight at her approach; and all day she was happy.

It was only at night when he lay in his crib near her bedside, sleeping
quietly, that the spectre of the near future came and sat with her and
set her heart to quivering. The days were passing swiftly; each one was
bringing nearer the hour when she must give back her treasure and banish
herself. Where? She did not know; she had not been able to decide.
Somewhere with Maybelle, if that could be brought about; only--What
could be said to Erskine?

Was it absolutely necessary? Was it possible that this very serious
illness, whose outcome much of the time had been more than doubtful, had
wrought changes in Irene? Sometimes it almost seemed to her that such
was the case; and yet it might be only physical weakness that made the
difference.

Daily now, by the doctor's advice, Baby was taken to his mother's room
for a few minutes. At first, Ruth sent the little maid with him, and
avoided going in at the same time, lest the baby's demonstrations of
delight over her would annoy his mother. But one morning as she was
passing through the hall with Baby in her arms, the door of the sick
room opened, and Rebecca called:--

"Mrs. Burnham, will you please bring Baby here a minute? His mother
wants to see him."

So Ruth turned at once and carried him to the bedside, where he, being
in genial mood, chose to smile upon and coo at his mother.

"He grows rapidly, doesn't he?" Irene said, and it was the first remark
she had volunteered, directed to her mother-in-law.

Ruth had seen her twice a day ever since there had been any admittance
for other than those in constant attendance, but her visits had
necessarily been very brief, and there had been no attempt at
conversation.

"Yes, indeed!" she made haste to say. "He is growing finely; you will be
astonished to find how strong he is, and he seems to be perfectly well."

"He does you credit." His mother's tone was listlessness personified.
Ruth, looking at her closely, began to realize that some strange change
which seemed not to be accounted for by illness had come upon Irene. It
was not simply that the fierceness of her love for her child was gone,
and almost if not quite indifference taken its place, physical weakness
might account for that; but there was an indescribable something about
her that seemed to Ruth like a surrender, as one who had made a fierce
fight and been worsted in the battle and had given up. The troubled
grandmother thought it all over after she and baby were back in his
room. She could not but fear that a new distress was coming upon them.
What if Irene were that abnormal creature, a woman who could not
continue to love a child, even her own! There was no fear that she would
again desert it, her evident and unfailing, even increasing passion for
her husband would hold her, this time, to her home; but--could the
misery of it be borne, if this baby must grow up under the control of an
unloving mother? She strained him to her so suddenly and so closely that
he rebelled, and got off a lovely jargon of talk in protest.

She went back, later, to Irene's room, carrying the baby who was in a
flutter of delight over just the joy of living. It did not seem possible
that one could look at him without loving him. She could not help
wanting to test Irene and see if her interest in him had indeed waned.

She smiled languidly on him, and suffered Ruth to place him on the couch
beside her, although she said:--

"Two visits in one morning! Hasn't he been here before?"

"He was so sweet in his new dress," Ruth explained, "that I thought his
mamma ought to see him while it was fresh." Then she began to rehearse
some of his pretty baby ways, making a distinct effort to awaken in his
mother's heart a sense of pride in her child. Irene listened vaguely, as
one who only half heard. Suddenly she made an impatient movement.

"Here," she said, "take your baby. He is so full of life that the very
sight of him wearies me. Take him away."

Ruth's heart sank. Better the fiercest, unreasoning passion of love and
jealousy than this!

Others beside herself began to notice and be puzzled and troubled by
this change in the patient. Rebecca, the nurse, expressed her mind to
Ruth in anxious whispers.

"Doesn't it seem queer to you, ma'am, that she doesn't notice baby more?
and he growing so smart and cunning! You know how she was just bound up
in the child, and couldn't seem to think of anything else?"

"It is because she is still so weak that she cannot yet think
connectedly about anything," Ruth replied with a confidence that she was
far from feeling. "You noticed, didn't you, that she said he was so full
of life it wearied her to look at him?"

But the nurse who had received hospital training, shook her head and
whispered again:--

"It isn't right, ma'am, somehow. I'm no croaker but I've seen lots of
sick folks and I don't think things are going just right with her. If I
were Mr. Burnham, I should want another doctor to see her,
or--something."

Then came Erskine, his face troubled.

"Mamma, did you ever see any one get well as slowly as Irene does? It
almost seems to me as though she is weaker to-day than she was two weeks
ago; and she seems to take less and less notice of Baby. Last night when
I heard him laughing, I asked her if she did not want me to bring him
for a little good-night visit, and she said: 'No, I don't want him. I've
given him up!'"

His voice broke with the last word, but he waited for his mother to say
something encouraging; and she had only the merest commonplaces.

"She has been very ill, Erskine, and I suppose we must be patient. She
cannot be expected to be interested in anything while she is still so
weak."

"Mamma, you don't think--" and then Ruth was glad that the baby cried,
and she had to go to him, without waiting to tell what she thought.



                             CHAPTER XXVII

                         A RETROGRADE MOVEMENT


ERSKINE, once roused, could not rest. He came to his mother on the next
evening, his face more troubled than before.

"Mamma, I had a long talk with the doctor this morning. He is not
satisfied with the present state of things. He admits that for some days
there has been a retrograde movement. He has been watching very closely
and has become convinced that there is some mental disturbance, a heavy
mental strain of some kind that must be removed before medicine will be
of any use. Now what possible mental strain could Irene have!

"I told the doctor that before we were married, she went through very
trying experiences, and lost her nearest relative while she was alone in
a foreign country; but that time was long past, of course, and there had
been absolutely nothing since, to trouble her."

His mother's start of dismay at hearing the doctor's word, and the
flushing of her face did not escape him, and he added almost sternly:--

"Mother, are you keeping something from me that I ought to know?"

For a moment she did not know how to answer him. Then her mind cleared
and she spoke quietly:--

"I am doing right, Erskine; I have no secrets of my own from you. I have
heard of some things that I can conceive of as troubling Irene, but she
did not confide them to me, and I have no right to talk about them even
to you; especially as I can think of no good, but rather harm, to
result."

He turned from her abruptly. She could see that he was not only sorely
perplexed but hurt; in his hour of deepest need his mother seemed to
have failed him.

It was a bitter hour for her. Yet she felt that she must be right. Would
any one but a fiend go to Erskine now with the story of his wife's long
years of living a lie! If her duty elsewhere were but as clear as this!
Could it be that this was what was preying upon Irene and causing that
retrograde movement? Had her long-sluggish conscience awakened at last?
Was she perhaps ignorant of the fate of her daughter? Was she afraid
that her former husband was still living, and that he and Erskine might,
sometime, meet? Who could tell what questions of horror and terror were
struggling in her tired brain and wearing out her weakened body?

Ought she--the woman who knew the whole dread story, knew many details
that the sick one did not--ought she to be the surgeon to probe that
wound? To be able to talk about it all might help. And yet--who could
tell? The knowledge that her husband's mother knew every detail of that
life which had been so carefully hidden from them, might be the last
shock to that already overcharged brain.

Oh, to be sure of her duty! She told herself that she would perform it
at any cost, she would shrink from nothing, now, if she could but be
sure of the way. Well, why should she not be sure? Where was her Father?
What was that promise: "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee saying:
'This is the way, walk ye in it.'"

Sleep did not come to her that night, but perhaps she was given a
strength that was better. She spent much of the time on her knees beside
the quietly sleeping baby; and though, when morning came, she was not
sure which way she was to turn that day, "whether to the right hand or
the left," she found her mind repeating the words: "In quietness and
confidence shall be your strength."

The day passed without marked changes of any sort. Erskine comforted
himself with the belief that Irene was a trifle stronger. He told his
mother that Dr. Sutherland was coming out to see her on the following
day. The great nerve specialist could not get away from the city before
that time. Irene heard of his expected visit with the same air of
indifference that she had exhibited toward all things of late. She lay
very quiet most of the day, and at evening made no objection whatever to
Erskine's going to an important conference with his firm.

No sooner was he gone than she herself proposed that Rebecca go at that
time to the kitchen to superintend the making of a new kind of food for
her, instead of waiting until morning.

"I might want to try it in the night," she said, "and I don't need any
further attention at present. Mother will stay with me."

This looked like deliberate planning. Irene had never before, of her own
will, arranged to spend five minutes alone with her mother-in-law. That
astonished woman while hastening to agree to the proposition, made a
swift mental claim upon the promise: "Thine ears shall hear a word
behind thee saying, This is the way."

It was Irene who began conversation as soon as the door closed after
Rebecca. But the topic she chose was a new astonishment.

"I have been thinking about those two step-daughters of yours, Seraph
and Minta. You must have lived a strange life with them."

Ruth turned surprised eyes upon her.

"I did not suppose that you had ever heard of the girls," she said.
"Erskine was so young when they left us that I thought he scarcely
remembered them."

"Oh, he remembers them very well. He has told me some things; but it was
Mrs. Portland from whom I received their connected history. She was here
for two months while you were away, and was quite intimate with me; she
ran in often, and liked nothing better than to talk about you and those
two girls."

Now Mrs. Portland was an old resident of the neighborhood who had known
Judge Burnham and his daughters before Ruth had heard of their
existence. What she could reveal of their history if she chose, would
leave nothing for another to tell. The question was, Why had their story
interested this sick woman? Or rather, why was it being brought forward
just now?

"It seems strange that they both came back to you to die, doesn't it?"

This was certainly a strange way of putting it! Ruth hesitated how to
reply. At last, she said:--

"Seraph never left home, you know; and poor Minta was glad to return to
it. She had been through a very bitter experience."

"Yes, I heard about it. You have had all sorts of experiences yourself,
haven't you? And to conclude with a good-for-nothing daughter-in-law
seems too bad!"

Surprise and almost consternation held Ruth silent. This was so utterly
unlike any sentence that she had expected! Irene's tone expressed both
sympathy and regret. Ruth decided to pass it off lightly. She laughed a
little in a way that was intended to express good cheer, as she said:--

"You are not to find fault with my daughter-in-law, if you please! I
allow no one to do that."

"That is because you are not acquainted with her yourself. You don't
know anything about her. You think you do, but you are mistaken."

There was no excitement in her tone; there was even no indication that
she had a personal interest in the conversation; it seemed to be a mere
statement of fact.

Ruth's swift thought took hold of the promise and heard the voice: "This
is the way." She spoke with quiet firmness.

"I know all about her; I know a great deal more than she thinks I do."

Irene moved on her pillow so as to get a more direct view of the other's
face as she asked:--

"What do you mean?"

"Just that, dear. I know much more than you think, and have known it for
a long time."

"You don't know what I mean," the tone was still impersonal, "but I am
going to tell you. You think I was a widow when I married your son. I
was not." She raised herself slightly on one elbow as she spoke, using
more strength than she had exerted since her illness. Ruth came swiftly
over to her and slipped a supporting arm under her as she said:--

"Don't try to raise yourself up, Irene, and I wouldn't talk any more. I
know all that you want to tell me. You were a divorced wife, and your
husband was living; but he has since died. You see I understand all
about it."

Irene's eyes fairly pierced her with their keenness; still, her voice
betrayed no emotion.

"You knew it all the time?" she said.

"I have known it for a very long time, Irene. Don't talk any more; it is
time for your medicine now, and after it you must be very quiet, you
know."

Irene was as one who had not heard.

"You do not know the worst," she said, still speaking as though her
words were about some one else; but she was deathly pale. "There was a
child."

Ruth hurriedly wet a cloth in a restorative and bathed her face, while
she spoke low and soothingly, as to a child.

"Yes, I know; there was a dear little girl, who is a young woman
now,--one of the sweetest, dearest girls in the world. I know her and
love her. Irene, for Erskine's sake, won't you try to be careful!"

For Irene had pushed the soothing hand away and was making a fierce
effort to raise herself to a sitting posture, and her eyes looked to
Ruth for the first time like Maybelle's.

Ruth hurried her words.

"I know all that you want to say; you must lie quiet and let me talk. I
am sure there must have been strong provocation, and you were very
young; I know how bitterly you must have regretted it all."

"You cannot know that, at least," she said. "There is no need for what
you call future punishment, I have had mine here; and I have hated you
for fear you would find me out. How long have you known it?"

"For a long time, many months. Irene, I _cannot_ let you talk or think
about it now. Won't you try to put it all away for to-night? There is
nothing, you see, that you need to tell me."

The great solemn eyes that Maybelle's were like when she was troubled
were fixed upon Ruth.

"Could you put it away?" she asked. "It has never been away from me for
a moment, the fear that Erskine would--would--"

A convulsive shiver ran through her frame, as of one in physical pain.

"Oh!" said Ruth, in terror, "this is all wrong! If you are worse,
Erskine will never forgive me."

Irene made a visible effort to control herself, and lay with closed
eyes, and motionless, allowing Ruth to bathe her face and make hot
applications to her hands and feet. After a little, she spoke, quietly
enough.

"I will talk quietly, but you must let me talk, now. I have kept it to
myself just as long as I can. Since Baby came, my life has been a daily
terror. Will you tell me how you came to know about me, and why you have
not told Erskine? I am sure you have not, but I do not understand why."

"Because," said Ruth, solemnly, "Jesus Christ, to whom I belong, told me
not to do so. It is your secret, Irene, yours and His. You must let Him
tell you what to do with it."

Irene gazed at her. "You are a strange woman," she said at last, "a very
strange woman; but you are good, and I have not understood you. I am
sorry that I hated you. If I had understood, it might have
been--different. I thought you would find it out, sometime, women always
do, and I hated you for that; I dreaded you, you know. Every letter that
came from you while you were away made me faint and sick because of what
might be in it. I was afraid to have Erskine come home at night because
of what he might have heard; and I was afraid to have him go away again
in the morning for fear it would be the last time he would kiss me."

"Poor child!" The words were wrung from Ruth's heart,--the first words
of real tenderness that she had ever spoken to this woman.

Again there came that strange new look into Irene's eyes.

[Illustration: "I'M SORRY THAT I HATED YOU."--_Page 354._]

"You are a good woman," she said slowly. "I am sorry that I hated you.
Let me talk now, and tell you about it. I have got to! I ought not to
have married that man; I never pretended even to him that I loved him. I
married to get rid of dulness and restraint, and to go to Europe. I was
a young fool! I got rid of nothing, and instead of feeling only
indifference for him I learned to hate him. He was a drunkard, and I
hated him for that. Then--I did not like the baby. You can't quite
control your horror of that, can you? I don't wonder, now that I have
learned what mother-love really is. I could almost hate myself for
having such a feeling. You think a mother couldn't--but she can. I
turned from the child, just as I had from the father, in disgust. Even
so early in her life she looked like him, and I hated him. He was a weak
man, and I never had any patience with weakness. Sometimes he was
maudlin and loving, and then I hated him worst of all. One day I went
away from him and stayed away. That was all I did. Oh, yes, I got a
divorce; that was because I hated his name. At first I meant to do
something for the child, I didn't know what,--he worshipped the
baby,--and then I heard that it died; and I did not know until years
afterward that it lived; but it was too late then to do anything. By
that time I had met Erskine and discovered what love really meant. Oh,
to think how I have loved him! and I have struggled and planned and lied
to keep his love! I have even prayed to keep it! and now it is all
over!"

"Irene," said her listener, firmly. "If you persist in talking, I shall
have to send for Erskine. You must swallow this sedative and then lie
still and let me talk. I will say in just a minute all I want to, and
then we will both be quiet and you will try to sleep, for Erskine's
sake. It isn't all over; it is just beginning. We cannot undo the past,
but we can make another thing of the present--and the future. I promise
you, before God, and call on Him to witness, that I will never by word
or look reveal to Erskine one word of what we have said or of what I
know, unless you tell me to do so. When you are well and strong again,
you will decide how much or how little you want to tell him. God will
show you what is right and you will want to do right; I am sure of it.
And we will love each other, you and I, and help each other. Two women
who love one man as you and I love Erskine Burnham should be very much
to each other. Now I am not going to say another word."

She bent her head and kissed the sick woman on her forehead--her first
voluntary caress.

Irene, who had closed her eyes and was death-like in her stillness,
opened them again and looked steadily at her. Then she said with slow
conviction in her tones:--

"You are a good woman."



                             CHAPTER XXVIII

                        "SOMETHING HAD HAPPENED"


BUT Ruth Burnham went to her room that night in a tumult of pain and
self-reproach keener than she had felt for years.

As plainly as though a book had been opened before her, and a solemn
unseen figure had pointed to the page, she read the story of her
failure.

She had tried to be good to this woman, she had been outwardly patient
with her faults, she had been long suffering, she had been silent over
wrongs--she had effaced herself in a thousand ways, but she had been as
cold as ice. There had been nothing in her face or voice to invite the
confidence of this younger, weaker woman. There had been nothing in her
daily attitude toward her to suggest the love and sympathy of Christ.

She cried to Him for forgiveness, for the privilege of beginning again,
for wisdom to know just how to do it. And then she prayed for Irene in a
way that, with all her trying, she had not been able to do before.

It came to her while on her knees that she would tell Irene of
Maybelle's beautiful faith and daily praying for her mother, without
knowing that it was her mother.

Were the child's prayers being answered? Was this strange new mood of
Irene's part of the answer?

But they could not be brought together, that mother and daughter, not
now--it was too late. How could they? What explanation of her existence,
of their intense interest in her, could be given to Erskine? Would Irene
ever be intensely interested in Maybelle? Could she do other than shrink
from her now, after all these strange years?

Oh! there were depths to this trouble that she must not try to touch.
But one thing was plain: she must help Irene. Whatever would do that, at
whatever sacrifice, must be done.

The next day, that in some way Ruth had thought would be an eventful
one, passed in even unusual quiet. Irene seemed less restless than
usual, and lay much of the time with closed eyes. The great specialist
came out to see her, and there was a long interview, and a long
conference afterward with the attending physician, but they kept their
own counsel. All that the family knew was that in the main they agreed,
and the specialist wished to withhold his final opinion until he saw the
patient again after thirty-six hours.

In the evening Irene roused herself from what had for several hours been
almost a stupor, to ask Erskine if he could give the entire evening to
her, and if they could be quite alone.

"Yes, indeed," he said with a brave attempt at gayety. "We will banish
them all, even Rebecca, and I will be doctor and head nurse and errand
boy combined. See that you get a good sleep, Rebecca, and you need not
come until I ring for you."

To Ruth this arrangement was somewhat of a disappointment. She had hoped
that Irene would want to see her for a few minutes; there were questions
that it would seem as though she must want to ask, and there were things
that Ruth felt might help her, if she were told them. But Irene gave no
hint that she even remembered what had passed between them, save that,
as Ruth went to bid her good-night, she made a movement with her hand to
draw her down and murmured:--

"You are a good woman."

Erskine held the door open for his mother to pass, then followed her
into the hall.

"Mamma, don't you think Irene has seemed a little better to-day, more
quiet? And she took a good deal of notice of Baby this afternoon."

There was such a wistful note in his voice that his mother's eyes filled
with tears; she longed to comfort him, and realized that she did not
know how.

She was wakeful and alert during the first part of the night, ready for
some emergency which she feared, without knowing just why. But toward
morning she slept heavily, and was wakened by the sunshine and the
prattle of Baby's voice in his crib at her bedside.

She dressed hurriedly, still with that vague impression upon her that
something had happened or was about to happen. In the hall was Erskine,
standing with folded arms gazing out of the window; gazing at nothing.
The first glimpse she had of him she knew that something had already
happened. His face was gray, not white, with a pallor that was unnatural
and startling; he gave her a strange impression of having grown suddenly
old--years older than he had been the night before. And he looked
strangely like his father.

"Erskine," his mother said, alarmed, and hurried toward him.

He turned at once, lifting a warning finger.

"Hush!" he said; "I think she is sleeping. She has been very quiet since
midnight."

Then he went without another word into his dressing-room and closed the
door.

It was a strange long day. The patient lay quiet, not sleeping all the
time, but like one too weak and too indifferent to life to move. The
house was kept very still; although noises did not seem to disturb the
sick one, the different members of the household conversed in
mono-syllables and in whispers when they met.

Ruth kept the baby out all day in the lovely soft summer air, and he was
happy. When a tear rolled once or twice down the cheeks of his
grandmother, he kissed her lovingly, and patted her face with his soft
hand. The specialist came again, but he did not stay long, and Ruth, who
could not leave her charge at the time, did not know what he said. No
one came to her with any word. One of the maids told her that Mr.
Burnham was sitting beside his wife, and had not left her room for
hours.

The afternoon shadows were growing long, and Ruth was explaining to the
baby that it was almost time for him to go to his little bed, and that
she did not know whether mamma could kiss him good-night or not, when
Rebecca, her face swollen with weeping, crossed the lawn and touched her
arm.

"May I take Baby, ma'am? The doctor said perhaps you would want to go to
Mr. Burnham. He went into his dressing-room and closed his door, and the
doctor thinks perhaps you might help him; he was awfully pale."

"Is any thing wrong?" Ruth asked hurriedly, as she rose up to give her
charge into Rebecca's arms. "Is she worse?"

But Rebecca was crying. "Oh, ma'am," she said, "she just slipped away!
it was awfully sudden for him! the doctor told him she might live for
hours, I heard him."

"Rebecca, she is not _dead_!"

"She just stopped breathing, ma'am, and that was all. Mr. Burnham was
sitting close to her where he has been sitting 'most all day, and she
didn't look any different to me. I thought she was asleep; but he looked
up suddenly at the doctor, poor man, with _such a face_! I never shall
forget it! and the doctor said:--

"'Yes, she is gone.'"

And then Rebecca, who had not loved her mistress devotedly in life,
broke into bitter weeping.

Ruth was like one paralyzed. She stood gazing at the girl as though
unable to move. It was not Erskine's grief so much as her own
consternation that held her. It seemed to her impossible that Irene was
dead! With all her thinking, and her foreboding, she had not thought of
that. She had felt on the eve of a great calamity, but it had not been
death. Erskine's gray, pale face that morning had not suggested such
trouble. Instead, she had worried herself all day long with the
possibilities connected with that evening conference; of what Irene had
told him, and how he had borne it and what he would feel must be done.

She went to Erskine at last, utterly in doubt what to say to him. He was
in his private study with his head bowed on the desk. He did not notice
his mother's entrance by so much as a movement. She went over to him and
laid her hand gently on the brown curly locks, with a caressing movement
familiar to him from childhood. He put out a hand and drew her to him,
but neither of them spoke a word.

A tender memory of the long ago came to Ruth. She was back in the days
of Erskine's childhood, she was in that very study which had been his
father's, with her head bowed in anguish on her husband's desk, while he
lay in the room below dressed for the grave. Her little boy stood beside
her, a longing desire upon him to comfort his mother; and half
frightened because she cried.

"Mamma," he had said at last, hesitatingly, "Mamma, does God sometimes
make a mistake?" It had come to her like a voice of tender reproof from
God himself, and had helped her as nothing else did. Long afterward she
had told the boy about it, and it had become a sacred memory to them
both.

"Erskine," she said at last, speaking very tenderly;--

"Does God sometimes make a mistake?"

His strong frame shook. "O mother!" he said. "_O mother!_" and lifted
tearless eyes to her face. How old he looked, and haggard! How like to
his father his face had grown!

Just then there came one of those commonplace interruptions from which
in times of mortal stress we shrink away. The intrusive world knocked at
his door with its questions, and thrust duties and responsibilities upon
him.

Did Mr. Burnham wish this, or that, or the other? Could Dr. Cartwright
speak to him a moment? It was a matter of importance. Would he see Miss
Stuart for just a minute about a telegram?

It was harrowing. His mother's heart ached for him. The interruptions to
his grief seemed impertinent and trivial, and those who were nearest to
him deplored them as they always do, without realizing that the
commonplaces of life are often salvation to desperate souls.

Erskine rose up to meet the demands upon him, putting back with stern
hand all outward exhibition of his misery save that which his face told
for him.

He gave careful attention to the thousand details that pressed upon him.
He planned and arranged and carried out, when necessary, saving his
mother all the burdens possible, but it seemed to her that he avoided
seeing her alone.

It was not until Irene's body had been lying for an entire week in the
family burial ground that Erskine came to his mother's room one
afternoon and asked if she were engaged.

"Only with Baby," she said eagerly. "Come in, Erskine, and see how sweet
he is. You haven't seen him since morning."

He took the child in his arms and studied his face intently, smiling
over his pretty motions in a grave, absent-minded way; then he gave him
back with a question:--

"Can you banish him, mamma, for a little while? I want to talk with
you."

"Yes, indeed," she said. "Rebecca can take him for a walk. I will have
him ready in a few minutes."

He watched the process of robing and kissing, with eyes that seemed not
to see; and that troubled his mother, they were so full of pain.

When the baby was gone, and Ruth had closed the doors leading into other
rooms and seated herself near to him, he seemed to have forgotten that
he wanted to talk.

His eyes were fixed on the far-away hills that towered skyward, and were
snow-capped; and yet she was not sure that he saw them.

"Mother," he said at last, "she told me you were a good woman, and it is
true. I have always been able to anchor to you. We have trusted each
other utterly, you and I, and spoken plainly to each other; we must
always do so. You have something to tell me. Will you begin at the
beginning and let me have all that you know? Don't try to spare me,
please; I want the whole. O mother! If I had only known long ago, it
might have been--different."

There was no reply that she could make to this.

After a moment, he said again: "You know that I am not blaming you,
don't you? It was what I might have expected of you, what you did; she
thought it was wonderful. But if she could only have trusted me!

"Will you tell me the whole, mamma? Irene told me to ask you; she said
you would not tell it without her word. I mean about the man, and--the
child; all the details. How did you hear of it all, and when?"

He hesitated over the simple words, his face flushing painfully. Ruth
hurried her speech to save him further effort.

"Do you remember, Erskine, when our old acquaintance Mamie Parker called
upon me? It was then that I heard the story."

He made a gesture of astonishment.

"Mamie Parker! Is it possible that she is mixed up in our family
matters?"

"She found the little girl without other care than a father could give,
and interested herself in her, and loved her. She has been thus far in
the child's life as dear and wise a friend as a girl could have."

Then she began at the beginning and gave in minutest detail the whole
story, as it had come to her at first, and as she had since lived it
with Maybelle.

Erskine's amazement at the discovery that the young girl to whom his
mother had been summoned by telegram, and for whom she had cared ever
since, was the one whose life-story he was now hearing, was only
equalled by his pain in it all. But after the first dismayed exclamation
he sat like a statue, his face partially hidden by his hand,
interrupting neither by question nor comment.

Ruth purposely made her story long that he might have time to get the
control of himself; and she tried to make Maybelle's loveliness of heart
and mind and person glow before him; under the spell of the thought that
it would all be less terrible to him, if he could realize that his dead
wife's strange conduct had not ruined the young life.



                              CHAPTER XXIX

                              RENUNCIATION


WHEN she stopped speaking because there was nothing more to be told,
they sat for a little in utter silence.

When at last Erskine spoke in a low, carefully controlled voice, he
asked the very last question that his mother expected.

"How soon do you think she could come to us?"

"Who?" Ruth's astonishment blurred for the moment her penetration.

"Mother! whom could I mean? The child. She must be sent for; she must
come at once; or, at least as soon as a suitable escort can be secured.
Would she come? And would she stay, do you think? I mean would she stay
willingly? Oh, mamma, surely you will help me!"

"Erskine, dear boy, what do you want to do?"

"My duty." He withdrew his shielding hand and his pallid lips made an
effort to smile; then grew grave again, taking almost stern lines.

"She is my wife's daughter; and as such I stand now in the place of
father to her. As fully as it is possible for me to do so, now, I want
to fill that place. To provide for her, to take care of her in any and
every way that she may need care; to have my home hers as fully as it is
our little son's." His voice broke there, and for a moment he was still.
Then he went on.

"You said you loved her; it would not be unpleasant to you to have her
here, would it?"

Then his mother found her voice.

"Erskine, Maybelle has a place in my heart second only to Baby's, and I
would like so much to have her with me, that at one time I tried to plan
a little home where we could be together. But--do you realize the
situation, do you think? We cannot live entirely to ourselves, you know,
we have friends; and we have neighbors who ask questions. If Maybelle
comes to us, to remain, what is to be said to them?"

"The truth, mamma; never anything but truth. She is my wife's daughter
by a former marriage, the half-sister of my boy."

"Erskine, dear son, I must hurt you, I am afraid; but do you realize
what the truth will be to the child? She loves her dead father with such
love as I believe few girls give, and she cherishes in her inmost heart
an ideal mother who has been invested with more than human qualities; if
you could hear her talk about that dear, dead mother, you would
understand."

He had shielded his face again, and was quiet so long, that it seemed to
her she could not bear it. At last he spoke, huskily but with firmness.

"I understand, mamma, more than you think; at least I believe I realize
something of her feeling; but--I cannot help it. Truth must be spoken;
the real must take the place of the ideal. Isn't it so in all our lives?
I promised her dead mother that it should be so. It was perhaps a morbid
feeling,--some might think so,--but in any case, she felt it; she said
that she could not die without my promise that the truth should be made
plain to the girl, and that she should be told the very words that her
mother said, at the last. And I believe she was right," he added firmly
after another moment of silence, "I will speak only truth about it all,
so help me God."

Never was summons more joyfully received on the part of a young girl
than the one that called Maybelle to the distant home of her newest and,
as she phrased it, "almost" her best friend.

The night preceding her departure she spent with the Roberts family,
where together they went over the situation as they understood it, for
Erskine Roberts's benefit.

That young man had just arrived for a few days' vacation and could not
be said to approve of the new plans.

"Why is Aunt Ruth in such terrific haste?" he grumbled. "She has never
mentioned a visit to you before this, has she?"

"No," said Maybelle, her bright face shading for a moment. "She never
said a word about it; but you know it is all very different now. She is
alone; I mean there is no other woman, and there is a dear baby to be
thought about; I don't positively know, but I cannot help hoping that
she needs me."

Maybelle's tones had become so jubilant that they made Erskine gloomy
and sarcastic.

"For nurse girl you mean, I suppose," he said savagely. "And if that
delightful arrangement should be found convenient for them, I suppose
you would stay on indefinitely?"

"Erskine," said his mother, smiling, "don't be a bear! she hasn't
promised to stay forever."

Then Maybelle, her color much heightened, tried to explain further. "The
reason for such haste is so I can have one of Mr. Burnham's partners for
an escort. It was found that he had to come East on a hurried business
trip, and of course it was an unusual opportunity."

"I should hope so!" grumbled the discontented youth. "And who is there
to escort you back? I'll venture they haven't planned for that!" Then
suddenly he bent toward the girl, ostensibly for the purpose of
returning to her the letter that had dropped to the floor, and spoke for
her ear alone.

"I'll tell you how we will manage that, Maybelle. I will come for you
myself, if you will let me. Will you let me?"

A vivid crimson mounted to the very forehead of the fair-faced girl, and
she seemed at a loss how to reply; but she certainly had not been
troubled by his appeal whatever it was, so the indulgent mother slipped
away and left the young people to themselves.

* * * * *

"Am I to tell her, Erskine?" Ruth had asked her son, on the day that she
was to go to the station to meet Maybelle. He shook his head.

"No, mamma, no, I will not make it harder for you than is necessary.
Yes, I know only too well how surely you would do everything for me if
you could; but--I have assumed an obligation, and I do not mean to shirk
it in the slightest particular. Do not tell her anything save that you
wanted her--that is true, is it not?" he broke off to ask anxiously.
"Then, in the evening, when she has had time to become somewhat rested
from her journey, send her to me in my library and I will manage the
rest."

How he managed it, or what took place during that interview which must
have been strangely tragic some of the time, Ruth never fully knew. She
asked no questions, and what her son and the girl revealed to her in
scraps and detached expressions afterward, suggested a confidence so
sacred that even she must not invade it.

She had known by the start and the swift look of pain which swept over
Erskine's face when he first met Maybelle at the dinner table, that the
girl in her radiant beauty suggested his dead wife. To Ruth there was a
strange unlikeness to the face that she had not loved; but her heart was
able to understand how Irene had been to one whom she had loved, nay
worshipped, as she had her husband, a very different being, living a
life solely for him, and leaving a memory that the fair girl could
awaken.

Maybelle was all but overwhelmed with astonishment and a sweet timidity
when Ruth told her that Erskine wanted to see her for a little while in
his library.

"Not alone!" she said. "Without you, I mean? Oh! Am I not almost afraid?
I mean, I shall not know what to say to him. It is all so recent, you
see. I can see his beautiful character shining through his sorrow; dear
Mrs. Burnham, I admire him almost as much as even his mother could wish,
but I can see that a great crushing sorrow is heavy upon him, and a girl
like me does not know how to touch such wounds without hurting. Does he
mean to talk to me about her, do you think? Does he know that I loved
her and prayed for her all the time? Oh, dear friend, don't you think he
wants you too?"

Ruth kissed her tenderly, solemnly, and put her away from her. "No,
dear," she said gently. "He wants to see you quite alone. He has
something to tell you. You will know what to say after you have heard
him; God will show you."

She closed the door after the slowly moving, half-reluctant, serious
girl, and sat alone. It came to her vaguely, as one used to sacrifice,
that here was another. She must sit alone with folded hands while
another, and she a young girl upon whom he had never before set eyes,
went down with her son into the depths of human pain. Was it always so?
Was that forever the lot of motherhood, to stand aside and have some one
else touch the deepest life of her children, whether in joy or pain?

The interview was long, very long. Sometimes it seemed to the waiting
mother that she could not endure the strain; that she must go to that
closed room and discover for herself what those two were saying to
torture each other. But at last, the door across the hall opened and
Maybelle came with swift feet and knelt in front of her, hid her face in
the older woman's lap, and broke into a passion of weeping.

At first Ruth let the storm of pain roll on unchecked, only touching the
bowed head with soothing hand and murmuring:--

"Poor child! dear little girl!"

But the girl cried on, and on, as though she would never stop, her whole
slight frame shaken with the force of her sorrow.

Across the hall Ruth could hear the steady tread of her son's footsteps
as he paced back and forth, fighting his battle alone. Should his mother
go and try to comfort him? But this motherless one was clinging to her.

"Maybelle," she said at last, "is it a hopeless grief? Is there no One
who can help?"

Then the girl made a desperate effort to control herself. She reached
for Ruth's hand and gripped it in her young, strong one. Then, after
another moment, she spoke:--

"Forgive me. I did not mean to hurt you; I did not mean to cry at all; I
said that I would not; but it was all so new, so--O mamma, mamma!"

The head, which had been raised a little, went down again; and the
exceeding bitterness of that last wailing cry of renunciation Ruth never
forgot. She had grace to be thankful that the mother was not there to
hear it.

But the violence of the storm was over, at least so far as its outward
exhibition was concerned. In a few minutes more the girl spoke quietly
enough.

"He is very, very good. I did not know that any--just human being could
be so good. And he spoke tenderly all the time of--of my mother. I could
feel in his voice the sound of his great love for her. My poor, poor
mother!"

Later, after much had been said and there had been silence between them
for a few minutes, she spoke suddenly:--

"He asked me to call him 'father,' he said he wanted it." Ruth could not
suppress a little start of surprise and--was it pain? In all her hours
of thinking over this whole tragedy, trying to plan how all things would
be, she had not thought of this. Yet it was like Erskine; the utmost
atonement that he could make, in word as well as deed, would be made.

"What did you say in reply?" she asked the waiting girl.

"I said that I would try to do in all things just as he advised. I could
not do less, Mrs. Burnham; he is very good. I told him about my own dear
papa, and that I should always, _always_ love and honor him as I had
reason to; and he was good about that, too; he said that the way I felt
about him was not only natural but it was right, and that he honored me
for it. Then he spoke of Baby Erskine and called him my little brother;
and that broke my heart. I have so longed to have some one of my very
own. Mrs. Burnham, do you think perhaps that--that papa understands
about it all, and would want me to--"

She seemed unable to express her thought in words, but Ruth understood
it, and the yearning wistfulness in the child's voice was not to be
resisted. The older woman put aside her own pain to comfort and counsel
this girl who had certainly in strange ways been thrust upon her care.

A thought of comfort came to her, that, after a little hesitation, she
gave to the girl.

"Maybelle dear, if you call my son 'father,' what name does that give to
me as my rightful possession?"

She had her reward. There was a moment's wondering thought, then a flush
of surprise and a wave of radiance swept over the expressive face. She
spoke the word in a whisper, almost a reverent one, yet the syllables
were like a caress, and thrilled with joy:--

"'Grandmother'! Oh! do you mean it? that I may?" And then the caresses
that Ruth received were almost as sweet as any that she was waiting for
Baby Erskine to voluntarily bestow upon her.



                              CHAPTER XXX

                        "TWO, AND TWO, AND TWO"


IT took but a little while for the Burnham household to settle down
quietly to routine living; so easily, after all, does human nature
adjust itself to tremendous strains and changes. Maybelle fitted into
her place as though she had always been an acknowledged daughter of the
house, come home after long absence. And the neighbors, even those
morbidly curious ones, of which there are always a few in every
community, took kindly to the new order of things and to the
bright-faced stranger who rode and drove and walked and appeared in
church with Erskine and his mother, and was introduced with punctilious
care as "My wife's daughter, Miss Somerville."

They could not help, even from the first, saying kind and complimentary
things about the beautiful young face, and after a few days of
wonderment and conjecture they arranged their own story--with a very
meagre array of facts to build upon--quite to their satisfaction.

"Oh, yes, I knew she was a widow when he married her; but I never heard
of a child."

"Well, he married abroad, don't you know, and I suppose the girl just
stayed on, with her relatives. Her mother must have been a mere child
when she was first married; though this girl is very young, and Mrs.
Burnham was probably older than she looked; for that matter, don't you
know, I always said that she looked older than her husband? I suppose
the girl has lived abroad all her life; that's what makes her look
different, some way, from American girls, though her mother was born in
this country, she told me so. Still, the girl would have English ways,
of course, always living there. Did you hear her say the other day that
the Somerville brothers, great English bankers that Ned Lake was asking
her about, were her uncles?"

"It seems hard that the poor girl couldn't have been with her mother
before she died," said one whose interests ran naturally in other
channels than those of ages and pedigrees.

"Yes, it does," chimed in another home-keeping and home-loving matron,
"but then her death was awfully sudden. Erskine's mother told me that
they had no idea of her dying up to the very day; and I guess the girl
has been separated from her a good deal. I have heard somewhere, and I
am sure I don't remember where, that there was a fuss of some sort in
the family. Probably her first husband's people didn't like the idea of
her going into society and marrying again, especially marrying an
American; English people are queer about some things, I have heard; I
suppose they held on to the girl as long as they could."

Thus, with supposition and surmise, and a stray fact now and then, and
vague remembrances, the story was worked over and shaped and pieced
until it suited them. Meantime, the Burnham family went quietly on its
way, having no confidants, and, while they spoke only truth when they
spoke at all, judging it not necessary to tell the whole truth to any.

So quiet and peace settled once more upon Ruth Burnham's home, and it
was proved again, as it often is, that a new grave in the family burial
ground is more productive of peace than a life has been.

Erskine was habitually grave, and his mother told herself sorrowfully
that sin, not death, had permanently shadowed his life. But by degrees
his gravity took on a cheerful tone, and Baby Erskine, whom at first he
had almost shunned, became a never failing source of comfort to him.

As for Maybelle, no grown-up daughter was ever more devoted to a
father's interests than she became. She hovered about his home life with
an air of sweet, grave deference, ministering to his tastes with
unlimited thoughtfulness and tact, until from being to him an infliction
for whose comfort he must be thoughtful from a sense of duty, she became
first an interest, and then almost a necessity. The neighbors said how
lovely it was in her to take her mother's place so beautifully.

Then, of course, there were some to say that they shouldn't wonder if
she should succeed at last in comforting him entirely for his loss.
Wouldn't it be romantic if he should marry her! Of course she was really
not related to him at all, and great difference in age was much more
common than it used to be. For that matter, Erskine Burnham was still a
young man. For their part, they agreed almost to a woman, that it would
be a nice idea--

But all that was before they made the acquaintance of Erskine Roberts.
That young man was true to his word, and in the course of time came
across the continent. That he came after Maybelle, as he had said he
would, was perfectly obvious, but he did not take her back with him, as
at one time he had tried to plan to do.

He had two more years to spend at the theological seminary, and during
those two years it had been agreed by all concerned that Maybelle was to
continue to bless her new home with her presence.

Erskine Roberts was one of the very few to whom the whole situation had
been fully and carefully explained. Not only Maybelle, but Ruth herself
had written the story, both to Erskine, and his mother; and then, when
his namesake came out to them, the other Erskine had him into his
private room one evening, and as he believed was his duty toward the man
who was to make Maybelle his wife, went down with him into the lowest
depths of his life tragedy. And Erskine Roberts, who had been half angry
with the man ever since he had heard the strange story--though he
admitted all the time to his secret soul that Erskine Burnham had been
in no wise to blame, went over loyally and royally to his side, and said
to Ruth while his honest eyes filmed with something like tears and his
voice was husky:--

"Aunt Ruth, it must be a grand thing for a mother to have a son like
that man across the hall. If I can be half like him in true nobility, my
mother will have reason to be proud."

And he even admitted to Maybelle that, since he could not have her to
himself yet awhile, he was glad that that man who was worthy that she
should call him father was to have the comfort of her.

It was noticeable to themselves that they said very little about the
mother. Poor mother! she had forfeited her right to be talked of in the
tender and reverent way that Maybelle would have talked, or with the
passion of longing for something had, and lost, that used to mark her
words to Ruth. She said that word "mamma" no more; the tone in which she
used to speak it had been peculiar, and had marked it as set apart for a
special and sacred use. Evidently it meant more to her than the word
"mother," or at least meant something different. Now, in speaking to
Ruth, she said always: "My mother," and said it in a hesitating,
half-deprecating tone, almost as if she must apologize for her.

It was not that the girl was bitter; on the contrary she was markedly
tender of her mother's memory and pitiful toward her.

Ruth, with the reflex influence of this upon her, found herself
searching for all the lovable qualities in Irene that she could by any
possibility recall, and by degrees it appeared that death was having its
inevitable and gracious influence over hearts, softening the past and
casting a halo of excusing pity over that which had at the time seemed
unpardonable. But her daughter never again said in a passion of
exquisite tenderness: "My mamma!"

She had learned to say "father," and used the word with a shy grace that
was fascinating; she had learned also what was of far more consequence:
to have the utmost respect for and faith in the man to whom she gave the
title. Respect deepened steadily into love, and he became indeed
"father" to her, in her very thought. Yet she never put into the word
the throbbing love that had shone in the words "My papa!"

They were a peaceful household, with a fair and steadily increasing
measure of happiness. "Baby Erskine," as they still called him and
probably would, his father said, until he was ready for college, lived
his beautiful, carefully ordered life, blossoming into all the graces
and sweetnesses of judiciously trained and sheltered childhood, and
being familiarized with all the sweet interests and excitements that
belong to a baby beloved. His first tooth, his first step, his first
definite word were as eagerly watched for and as joyously heralded as
though a fond mother had been there to lead. Never had child a more
devoted sister and admirer and willing slave than Maybelle; and no words
ever expressed more exultant pride and joy than those in which she
introduced him to transient guests: "My little brother."

She labored patiently by the hour to teach the boy to shout "Papa!" as
soon as he caught a glimpse from the window of the man who would
presently ride him upstairs on his proud shoulder; but they never tried
to train the baby lips to say "mamma."

"I am glad," said Maybelle one day, breaking suddenly into speech in a
way she had, over a train of thought, the steps by which she had reached
it being kept to herself: "I am glad that he will always have the
dearest and wisest of grandmothers close at hand."

Ruth smiled indulgently.

"By inference," she said, "I am led to believe that you are speaking of
Baby Erskine and his grandmother, and am duly grateful for the
compliment, but the last remark you made was about the climbing roses on
the south porch. Am I to be told or simply be left to imagine the steps
by which you reached from rosebuds to Baby Erskine?"

Maybelle laughed softly. "The transition was not so very great, dear
doting grandmother! Confess that you think so." Then, the color
deepening a little in her face, she added:--

"I was thinking, dear, of our home here, and of the coming changes, and
of other--possibilities. To be entirely frank, I thought of a possible
second mother for Baby Erskine. Father is still so young that one cannot
help thinking sometimes of possibilities. And then, even though I want
you so much, I could not help being glad that in any such event you
would be close to Baby Erskine."

Ruth held from outward notice any hint of the sudden stricture at her
heart over these quiet words, and said cheerfully:--

"The near at hand probabilities are crowding us so hard just now,
darling, that I don't think we have room for remote possibilities; let
us leave the unknown future, dear child, to One who knows."

It was true that the coming changes were almost beginning to crowd upon
them. The climbing rose bushes over the south porch were even thus early
thinking of budding; which meant that June and Flossy Roberts and her
family would be with them in two months more.

Time had flown on swift wing after all. It hardly seemed possible that
the young man, who had seemed to begin his theological studies but
yesterday, was already receiving letters addressed to "The Reverend
Erskine Shipley Roberts!"

One shadow Maybelle had, and Ruth understood it well, although it was
rarely mentioned between them. Erskine Burnham, the very soul of
unselfish thoughtfulness for others, had yet held with unaccountable
tenacity to one strange feeling. He shrank with evident pain from the
thought of Mamie Parker's presence in the house. She had returned from
China early in the previous year, and Maybelle's first eager hope that
"Aunt Mamie would come to them at once" for a stay of indefinite length
had been wonderingly put aside upon the discovery that "father"
apparently shrank from even the mention of her name.

He made a painful effort to explain to his mother.

"Of course, mamma, I do not mean for one moment to stand in the way of
anything that you and Maybelle really want, and I do not know that I can
explain to you why I feel as I do; but--she is associated, painfully
associated, as you know, with that which is like the bitterness of death
to me. And I cannot--We will not talk about it, mamma."

Ruth understood and was sorry for the morbid strain which it revealed.
She made earnest effort to combat it, not vigorously but with suggestive
sentences as occasion offered. It hurt her that Erskine should allow so
comparatively small a matter to retard his progress. He had not only
gone bravely through his peculiar trial, but had made a distinct advance
in his spiritual life. Maybelle's constant prayer for him had assuredly
been answered. The Lord Christ had, manifestly, a stronger grip on his
personality than ever before. All the details of business and literary
life were learning from day to day that they were not to be masters but
servants to this man, and that One was his Master.

But this sore spot which could not be touched without pain, his mother
felt sure would continue to burn as long as he hid it away. If he could
know Mamie Parker as she now was, it was almost certain that the sting
of pain and shame which her name suggested would lose its power.

But Maybelle felt sure that Aunt Mamie would never come unless invited
by the host.

"And I can't want her to, grandmother, much as I long to see her, so
long as her presence is not quite comfortable to father."

So the grandmother bided her time, and spoke her occasional earnest
words.

"In short, mamma," Erskine said one morning, turning from the window
where he had been standing a silent listener to what she had to say, "In
short, mamma, you are ashamed of your son, are you not? And I don't
wonder; he is rather ashamed of himself. You have been very patient, you
and Maybelle, but this whole thing must cease. Of course the child must
have her friend with her. Invite her, mamma, in my name, to come at once
and remain through the season. I want it to be so. I do, indeed, now
that I have settled it; make Maybelle understand that I do."

After he had left the room he turned back to say pointedly:--

"Of course, mamma, it will not be necessary for me to see very much of
her; but I shall try to do my duty as host."

She saw how hard it was for him, but she rejoiced with all her heart at
this triumph over the morbid strain.

And Mamie Parker came; and was met in due form by her host and treated
in every respect as became an honored guest.

There came an evening when Ruth sat alone by the open window of her
room. She had turned out the lights, for the room was flooded with
moonlight. It outlined distinctly the little white bed in an alcove
opening from her room, where her darling lay sleeping. She had just been
in to look at him, and had resisted the temptation to kiss once more the
fair cheeks flushed with healthy sleep. Downstairs in the little
reception room she knew that Maybelle and Erskine Roberts were saying a
few last words together; the girl and the boy who, to-morrow, would
begin together the mystery of manhood and womanhood, "until death did
them part." From time to time she could hear Maybelle's soft laughter
float out on the quiet air; they were very happy together, those two.

From one of the guest chambers near at hand the murmur of voices came to
her occasionally. It was growing late, and most of the guests had
retired early to make ready by rest for the excitements of the morrow;
but sleep had evidently not come yet to Flossy and her husband. They
were talking softly. They were happy together, those two. Downstairs on
the long vine-covered south porch two people were walking; the murmur of
their voices as they walked and talked came up to her, Mamie Parker's
voice, and Erskine's. And the mother knew, almost as well as though she
could hear the words, some of the things they were saying to each other.

"Mommie," her son had said but a little while before as he bent over and
kissed his boy, and then turned and put both arms about her and kissed
her, using the old name that of late had almost dropped away from him:--

"Mommie, can you give me your blessing and wish me Godspeed?"

She had not pretended to misunderstand him. She had known for days, it
almost seemed to her that she had known before he did, the trend that
his life was taking. There had been no word between them, but Erskine
had told her once, that he believed she knew his thoughts almost as soon
as they were born, and he seemed to take her knowledge for granted.

She was glad that she had controlled her voice, and that her answer had
been quick and free:--

"Yes, indeed, my son; God bless and prosper you."

She knew he would be prospered. At least a woman knows a woman's heart.
They would be happy together, they two.

Two, and two, and two, everywhere! the youth and maiden, the mature man
and woman, the father and mother who were smiling together over their
son's espousals, always "they two."

It had been "they two" once with her. And again, and for many years,
mother and son; but now--It seemed for a moment to the lonely woman as
though the whole world beside was paired and wedded and only herself
left desolate. She pressed her hands firmly against the balls of her
closed eyes. Should she let one tear mar this night of her son's new
joy?

And then, tenderly, like drops of balm upon an aching wound, came the
echo in her soul of an old, _old_ pledge: "With everlasting
loving-kindness will I have mercy on thee, said the Lord, thy
Redeemer... I will betroth thee unto me in faithfulness."

"I am a happy woman," she said aloud, in a quiet voice; "I am blessed in
my home, and in my--children, and in the abiding presence of my Lord."



                            =THE PANSY BOOKS.=

    =NOTE.--The Books in each of the series marked with a brace are
    connected stories.=


                           =Ester Ried Series=

    {Ester Ried Asleep and Awake
    {Julia Ried Listening and Led
    {The King's Daughter
    {Wise and Otherwise
    {Ester Ried Yet Speaking
                                                          $1.50 each


                           =Chautauqua Series=

    {Four Girls at Chautauqua
    {Chautauqua Girls at Home
    {Ruth Erskine's Crosses
    {Judge Burnham's Daughters
    The Hall in the Grove
    Eighty-Seven
                                                          $1.50 each


                             =General Series=

    {Chrissy's Endeavor
    {Her Associate Members
    {Household Puzzles
    {The Randolphs
    An Endless Chain
    Three People
    Interrupted
    A New Graft on the Family Tree
    Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On
    Spun from Fact
    One Commonplace Day
    The Pocket Measure
    Links in Rebeeca's Life
    Stephen Mitchell's Journey
    "Wanted"
                                                          $1.50 each
    Cunning Workmen
    Miss Priscilla Hunter
    What She Said and What She Meant
                                                          $1.25 each

    Mrs. Harry Harper's Awakening
                                                          $1.00


                      =By Pansy and Mrs. Livingston=

    Divers Women
    Profiles
    {Aunt Hannah and Martha and John
    {John Remington, Martyr
                                                          $1.50 each


                      =By Pansy and Faye Huntington=

    From Different Standpoints
    Modern Prophets
                                                          $1.50 each


                              =By Pansy and
                              Her Friends=

    A Sevenfold Trouble
                                                          $1.50


                             =Juvenile Books=

    Tip Lewis and His Lamp
    Little Fishers and their Nets
    The Man of the House
    Christie's Christmas
    Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant
    Sidney Martin's Christmas
    Twenty Minutes Late
    Only Ten Cents
                                                          $1.50 each

    Grandpa's Darlings
                                                          $1.25

    Next Things
    At Home and Abroad
    In the Woods and Out
                                                          $1.00 each

    Bernie's White Chicken
    Helen Lester
    Docia's Journal
    Jessie Wells
    Monteagle
    Couldn't be Bought
    Mary Burton Abroad
    Six Little Girls
                                                       75 cents each


                          =Golden Text Stories=

    Her Mother's Bible
    We Twelve Girls
    Browning Boys
    Dozen of Them (A)
    Gertrude's Diary
    Hedge Fence (A)
    Side by Side
    Six O'clock in the Evening
    Exact Truth
    Helen the Historian
    Little Card
                                                       50 cents each


                           =The Pansy Primary
                               Libraries=

    Pansy Primary Library No. 1.      30 vols., $7.50 net.
    Pansy Primary Library No. 2.      20 vols., $5.00 net.
    Pansy Primary Library No. 3.      12 vols., $3.00 net.
    Pansy Primary Library No. 4.      12 vols., $3.00 net.


                   =LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., Boston=



                        =BOOKS BY ANNIE H. RYDER.=


=Hold up Your Heads, Girls!=

    _12mo, cloth, $1.00._

"The author of 'Hold up your Heads, Girls!' has, in the treatment of a
very important subject, invested it with an interest and brightness
which will make it pleasant and even fascinating reading for the class
of young people to whom it is addressed. In the eleven chapters of which
the contents consist there is more sound practical advice, sensibly put,
on points of every-day interest to girls, than we have ever before seen
put into the same number of pages. It is a book for study, for
companionship, and the girl who reads it thoughtfully and with an intent
to profit by it will get more real help and good from it than from a
term at the best boarding-school in the country."--_Boston Transcript._


=Margaret Regis and some other Girls.=

    _12mo, illustrated, $1.25._

"The college life of young women is described in this book in a very
entertaining way, and in a spirit the most wholesome and cheerful.
Margaret Regis is a splendid creation of the author's fancy, just such a
young woman as all of us like to read about. In her schooldays she is
not different from others. There is a shade of profound thought in her
description of this period of life: 'She is like the many, many girls,
increasing in numbers every year, who, unfixed and restless, go into
college or the office, with a vague determination to do something that
shall make them independent or superior to the greatest number of girls,
but with no definite idea of how they are to use the knowledge and
experience they gain.' Margaret Regis does not remain long in this
unsettled state. She is emphatically a woman with a purpose. How its
current was turned from the intended course makes an interesting
narrative which the reader will find full of profit."--_Cleveland
Leader._


=New Every Morning.=

    A Year Book for Girls. Edited by Annie H. Ryder.

        _Square 16mo, cloth, $1.00; gilt, $1.25; limp, seal,
        $2.50._

A book of choice reading for girls for every day in the year.

"There is a happy blending of practical common sense, pure sentiment and
simple religious fervor."--_Education, Boston._


                                =BOSTON:
                       LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.=



                            =WHEN GRANDMAMMA
                              WAS FOURTEEN=

                           By MARION HARLAND

        WITH FOUR FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS AND NUMEROUS PICTURES
                        IN THE TEXT PRICE $1.25

                  _Later adventures of the heroine of
                      "WHEN GRANDMAMMA WAS NEW."_

THOSE who recall this noted author's delightful story, "When Grandmamma
was New," will be glad to hear that in this book are the adventures of
the heroine at a later period. Through the eyes of fourteen-year-old
Molly Burwell, the reader sees much that is quaint, amusing and pathetic
in ante-bellum Richmond, and the story has all the charm of manner and
rich humanity which are characteristic of Marion Harland. All
healthy-hearted children will delight in the story, and so will their
parents.


                        =WHEN GRANDMAMMA WAS NEW=

_The Story of a Virginia Girlhood in the Forties_

By MARION HARLAND 12mo Illustrated Price $1.25

=The BOSTON JOURNAL says:=

"If only one might read it first with the trained enjoyment of the
'grown-up' mind that is 'at leisure from itself,' and then if one might
withdraw into ten-year-old-dom once more and seek the shadow of the
friendly apple-tree, and revel in it all over again, taste it all just
as the child tastes, and find it luscious! For this book has charm and
piquancy. And it is in just this vivid remembrance of a child's mental
workings, in just the avoidance of all 'writing down' to the supposed
level of a child's mind, that this story has its rare attractiveness. It
is bright, winsome, and magnetic."

=The INTERIOR, Chicago, says:=

"'Grandmamma' may have charmed other folks,--has charmed them all,
incontrovertibly,--but she has never tried harder to be vivid and
dramatic and entertaining, and to leave a sweet kernel of application,
withal, than in these memory-tales of a sunny childhood on a big
Virginia plantation. It is a book which will delight, not children
alone, but all such as have the child heart and a tender memory of when
they were 'new.'"

            AT ALL BOOKSELLERS, OR SENT POSTPAID ON RECEIPT
                       OF PRICE BY THE PUBLISHERS


                   =LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON=



                        =A Little Maid of Concord
                                  Town=

                  A Romance of the American Revolution

                 By MARGARET SIDNEY. One volume, 12mo,
                  illustrated by F. T. Merrill, $1.50

A DELIGHTFUL Revolutionary romance of life, love and adventure in old
Concord. The author lived for fifteen years in the home of Hawthorne, in
Concord, and knows the interesting town thoroughly.

Debby Parlin, the heroine, lived in a little house on the Lexington
Road, still standing, and was surrounded by all the stir and excitement
of the months of preparation and the days of action at the beginning of
our struggle for freedom.


                        =By Way of the Wilderness=

    By "PANSY" (Mrs. G. R. Alden) and MRS.
    C. M. LIVINGSTON. 12mo, cloth, illustrated by
    Charlotte Harding, $1.50

This story of Wayne Pierson and how he evaded or met the tests of
misunderstanding, environment, false position, opportunity and
self-pride; how he lost his father and found him again, almost lost his
home and found it again, almost lost himself and found alike his
manhood, his conscience and his heart is told us in Pansy's best vein,
ably supplemented by Mrs. Livingston's collaboration.



                                  THE
                          FAMOUS PEPPER BOOKS

                           By Margaret Sidney

                        IN ORDER OF PUBLICATION


=Five Little Peppers and How they Grew.= Cloth, 12 mo, illustrated,
$1.50, postpaid.

This was an instantaneous success; it has become a genuine child
classic.


=Five Little Peppers Midway.= Cloth, 12mo, illustrated, $1.50, postpaid.

"A perfect Cheeryble of a book."--_Boston Herald._


=Five Little Peppers Grown Up.= Cloth, 12mo, illustrated, $1.50,
postpaid.

This shows the Five Little Peppers as "grown up," with all the struggles
and successes of young manhood and womanhood.


=Phronsie Pepper.= Cloth, 12mo, illustrated, $1.50, postpaid.

It is the story of Phronsie, the youngest and dearest of all the
Peppers.


=The Stories Polly Pepper Told.= Cloth, 12mo. Illustrated by Jessie
McDermott and Etheldred B. Barry. $1.50, postpaid.

Wherever there exists a child or a "grown-up," there will be a welcome
for these charming and delightful "Stories Polly Pepper Told."


=The Adventures of Joel Pepper.= Cloth, 12mo. Illustrated by Sears
Gallagher. $1.50, postpaid.

As bright and just as certain to be a child's favorite as the others in
the famous series. Harum-scarum "Joey" is lovable.


=Five Little Peppers Abroad.= Cloth, 12mo. Illustrated by Fanny Y. Cory.
$1.50, postpaid.

The "Peppers Abroad" adds another most delightful book to this famous
series.


=Five Little Peppers at School.= Cloth, 12mo. Illustrated by Hermann
Heyer. Price, $1.50; postpaid.

Of all the fascinating adventures and experiences of the "Peppers," none
will surpass those contained in this volume.


=Five Little Peppers and Their Friends.= Illustrated by Eugenie M.
Wireman. Cloth, 12mo, $1.50; postpaid.

The friends of the Peppers are legion, and the number will be further
increased by this book.


=Ben Pepper.= Illustrated by Eugenie M. Wireman. Cloth, 12mo, $1.50.

This story centres about Ben, "the quiet, steady-as-a-rock boy," while
the rest of the Peppers help to make it as bright and pleasing as its
predecessors.


                    LOTHROP, LEE AND SHEPARD COMPANY



                        =THE GIRL WHO KEPT UP=

                         By MARY McCRAE CUTLER

         Illustrated by C. Louise Williams. 12mo. Cloth. $1.25

[Illustration]

This is a strong, wholesome story of achievement. The end of a high
school course divides the paths of a boy and girl who have been close
friends and keen rivals. The youth is to go to college, while the girl,
whose family is in humbler circumstances, must remain at home and help.
She sees that her comrade will feel that he is out-growing her, and she
determines to and does _keep up_ with him in obtaining an education.

"The story is human to the least phase of it, and it is told with such
simple force and vivacity that its effect is strong and positive. The
pictures of college and home life are true bits of realism. It is an
excellent piece of work."--_Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer, New
York._

"The story is well told, and is thoroughly helpful in every
respect."--_Epworth Herald, Chicago._

"The telling of the story is attractive, and will be found helpful to
all readers."--_The Baptist Union, Chicago._

"Let us recommend this book for young people for the excellent lesson of
honest striving and noble doing that it clearly conveys."--_Boston
Courier._

"It is a healthy and inspiring story."--_Brooklyn Eagle._

"The tale is full of good lesson for all young people."--_Boston
Beacon._

"The story will be both pleasant and profitable to the youth of both
sexes."--_Louisville Courier-Journal._


 _For sale by all booksellers, or sent postpaid on receipt of price by_

                   LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., Boston



                            =The Laurel Token=
                    A Story of the Yamassee Uprising

                           By ANNIE M. BARNES
        Author of "Little Betty Blew" and "A Lass of Dorchester"

             Illustrated by G. W. Picknell 12mo Cloth $1.25

[Illustration]

This is a book for young people of either sex, for, although the leading
character is a girl of eighteen, her cousins, two boys of sixteen and
fourteen respectively, are prominent throughout the story, which centres
about a beautiful girl, left an orphan, as is supposed, in Barbados, who
goes to live with her uncle, a leading man in the flourishing "Goose
Creek" colony, in the year of the Indian uprising, 1714. The very real
danger from the red men, who have been regarded as friendly, but have
been the victims of selfishness, and thus made ready tools for the
crafty Spanish having their headquarters at St. Augustine, forms the
background to the story, and gives opportunity for the surprising
developments which occur respecting the heroine and others. The
illustrations by Mr. Picknell are very accurate in their composition,
besides being finely executed.


                             =An Honor Girl=
                    By EVELYN RAYMOND Illustrated by
                  Bertha G. Davidson 12mo Cloth $1.25

[Illustration]

A bright, helpful story of a girl who, as the valedictorian and "honor
girl" of her class at high school, wins a scholarship which would take
her through Wellesley College. Family reverses bring it home to her that
_duty_ demands that she devote herself to helping her parents and
wayward brother to face the future better than they seem likely to. She
heroically surrenders her prize, with its glowing prospects, to a
jealous rival, and with a brave humor says that she has matriculated in
the College of Life, the hard features of which she happily styles the
"faculty," with "Professor Poverty" prominent among them. These prove
excellent teachers, aided by "Professor Cheerfulness." Kind friends are
won by her courage, her brother achieves manly character, and the family
are finally re-established on the road to prosperity: all better,
happier, and more to each other than had selfishness not been so well
met and overcome by "An Honor Girl."

 _For sale by all booksellers, or sent postpaid on receipt of price by
                            the publishers._

                   LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., Boston



=JOY BELLS A Story of Quinnebasset=

By SOPHIE MAY Illustrated by FRANK T. MERRILL 12mo Cloth $1.25

[Illustration]

The thousands of admirers of the "Quinnebasset" books have had to wait a
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unravelled and allayed by the persistent efforts of the heroine.


=PAULINE WYMAN=

By SOPHIE MAY Cloth Illustrated $1.25

In "Pauline Wyman" the author has drawn a typical New England girl whose
strong and beautiful character is developed by her environment. How she
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people to the author's previous work.


=MADGE A GIRL IN EARNEST=

By S. JENNIE SMITH 12mo Cloth Illustrated by JAMES E. MCBURNEY
$1.25

Madge is indeed "a girl in earnest." She scorns the patronage of an
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   =For sale by all booksellers or sent postpaid on receipt of price
                           by the publishers=

                   =LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON=



[Illustration]

                            =We Four Girls=

    By MARY G. DARLING 12mo Cloth Illustrated by BERTHA G. DAVIDSON
                                 $1.25

"We Four Girls" is a bright story of a summer vacation in the country,
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[Illustration]

                        =A Girl of this Century=

      By MARY G. DARLING Cloth Illustrated by LILIAN CRAWFORD TRUE
                                 $1.25

The same characters that appear in "We Four Girls" are retained in this
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          =Beck's Fortune A Story of School and Seminary Life=

              By ADELE E. THOMPSON Cloth Illustrated $1.25

The characters in this book seem to live, their remarks are bright and
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    For sale by all booksellers or sent postpaid on receipt of price
                           by the publishers

                  =LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON=



                          =BRAVE HEART SERIES=

                          By Adele E. Thompson


=Betty Seldon, Patriot=

    Illustrated 12mo Cloth $1.25

A BOOK that is at the same time fascinating and noble. Historical
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[Illustration]

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=Polly of the Pines=

[Illustration]

    Illustrated by
    Henry Roth Cloth 12mo $1.25

"POLLY OF THE PINES" was Mary Dunning, a brave girl of the Carolinas,
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       _For sale by all booksellers, or sent postpaid on receipt
                      of price by the publishers_

                  =LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON=



                           Transcriber Notes:

Passages in italics were indicated by _underscores_.

Passages in bold were indicated by =equal signs=.

Small caps were replaced with ALL CAPS.

Throughout the dialogues, there were words used to mimic accents of
the speakers. Those words were retained as-is.

The illustrations have been moved so that they do not break up
paragraphs and so that they are next to the text they illustrate. Thus
the page number of the illustration might not match the page number in
the List of Illustrations, and the order of illustrations may not be the
same in the List of Illustrations and in the book.

Errors in punctuation and inconsistent hyphenation were not corrected
unless otherwise noted.

On the title page, a quotation mark was added before "Ester
Ried".

On page 46, "conisdered" was replaced with "considered".

On page 70, a period was added after "Mrs".

On page 73, "reëstablished" was replaced with "reestablished".

On page 228, the quotation mark after "let him in" was deleted.

On page 240, "Esrkine" was replaced with "Erskine".

On page 246, the period after "calamity for a man" was replaced with
a question mark.

On page 284, the quotation mark after "I can ever hope to" was removed.

On page 327, a quotation mark was added before "It is as balmy as
spring.

In the advertisement for WHEN GRANDMAMA WAS NEW, kernal was replaced
with kernel.





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