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Title: Southern Hearts
Author: Winterburn, Florence Hull
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Southern Hearts" ***

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SOUTHERN HEARTS.



[Illustration: From "THE WIFE OF LOTHARIO"--Part II.]



  SOUTHERN HEARTS

  _By_
  FLORENCE HULL WINTERBURN

  _Author of_ "NURSERY ETHICS," _and_ "FROM THE
  CHILD'S STANDPOINT"

  NEW YORK

  THE F.M. LUPTON PUBLISHING COMPANY

  1900


  COPYRIGHT, 1900,

  BY THE F. M. LUPTON PUBLISHING COMPANY.


  _Southern Hearts._



  MY VIRGINIA FRIENDS;

  ESPECIALLY TO
  THAT ONE OF THEM WHO LIVES IN MY MEMORY
  AS THE
  TYPE OF ALL THAT IS SINCERE,
  HOSPITABLE AND KINDLY
  IN THE
  SOUTHERN CHARACTER,
  THIS VOLUME IS CORDIALLY INSCRIBED
  BY THE AUTHOR.



SEVERAL of the stories in this volume have appeared in the magazines;
three are entirely new. For courteous permission to reprint thanks
are due the publishers of "Romance," "Godey's Magazine," "The Ladies'
World," and "The Independent."



CONTENTS.


                                     PAGE

  WHEN LOVE ENSLAVES                   11

  THE WIFE OF LOTHARIO                 41

  PETER WEAVER                        153

  A HALT AT DAWN                      263

  PINK AND BLACK                      291

  MRS. MAY'S PRIVATE INCOME           311

  THE LAZIEST GIRL IN VIRGINIA        339

  AN AWAKENING                        365

  APPLE BLOSSOMS                      389



SOUTHERN HEARTS.



WHEN LOVE ENSLAVES.


IT was a beautiful morning of early October in the mountain region of
Virginia. The old Fitzhugh homestead, now the property of an Englishman
who had married the only daughter of the impoverished family and
bought in the home from creditors with good British gold, reared its
dull red sides from amid a mass of sugar maples, larches and sycamore
trees, and seemed with its widely opened doors, to proclaim an endless
hospitality. The passer-by caught a glimpse of rambling out-houses
whose chimneys shed lazy wreaths of smoke from pine wood fires, and if
near enough he might have sniffed the pleasant odor of savory cookery
from the rear building where Aunt Rose, the old-time cook, exercised
her skill to please her epicure master, or tempt the less robust
appetite of her young mistress.

Mrs. Meeks stood at this moment in the middle of the sitting-room, her
arms clasped over a broom, and her dark eyes gazing upon the floor in
front of her. But her meditations had nothing to do with the rug where
the broom rested, nor yet with the sun-lit slope of the Blue Ridges
that extended in all their wealth of autumn beauty in front of the open
windows.

She was thinking of Mr. Meeks. He had just left the house, and as not
infrequently happened, had left the sting of sharp words behind him.
Yet, not exactly sharp, either. Overbearing, dogmatical words, not
intentionally cutting ones, for that was not the nature of the man; but
words that, said in his tone of command, bore heavily upon sensitive
feelings.

Mrs. Meeks was sensitive. That was evident in every line of her softly
rounded face, but the red lips that were curved in Cupid's bow could
straighten and stiffen when she was roused into one of her rare moods
of determination. Mr. Meeks called these moods "tantrums," although
his wife always spoke low and never lost her good manners. She had
been reared by a grandmother who was one of the last of the Southern
dames of the _ancien régime_, and would have died before she would have
condescended to a rough and vulgar quarrel.

It was the opposite trait in Mr. Meeks that hurt her. He was inclined
to quarrel on slight occasion. He had not the least idea of his defect
of temper; it was always clear to him that he was in the right, and
people who differed from him were wrong. They quarreled with him. If
people would do what they were told, he would never have cause to
get out of humor. This lordliness of tone did not set ill on a man
presiding at town meetings, and explaining to badly informed clients
the intricacies of law. In these cases, suavity and a fine, melodious
voice were the decent coverings of an egotism that wore less disguise
when he was laying down the law to the little woman at home.

It had been only an agreeable sort of masterfulness in the courting
days. Then it had seemed to the romantic girl that yielding her will
to a tender, protecting lover gave to their relation a delightful
exclusiveness, as contrasted with other relations. But in three
years she had learned that what from one point of view is agreeable
authority, becomes from another point of view distasteful restraint.
Besides, the fiber of the American woman which yields sweetly to
suggestions of warmer wraps and the reserving of dances, is less
compliant under complaints of neglected hose or bad management of fuel.

Still, one could conceive of a demeanor that would have deprived even
such fault-finding of its sting. But the most tender wifely forbearance
will bristle with resentment when such a slight matter as a wrongly
folded white tie calls forth allusions to a blissful and ante-marital
condition in which hired landladies were attentive to a man's comfort;
and above all, when ill-humor allows itself the parting shot from the
doorway of a muttered "darned fool."

Mrs. Meeks had watched her stout, well-set-up husband drive away behind
his handsome bay horses to his office in town, and then fallen into
an unpleasant fit of meditation over her morning task of putting the
sitting-room in order.

The suggestion of Cupid's bow had entirely disappeared by the time she
had mentally reviewed the whole situation, and her mouth was, as the
old black servant secretly observed as she entered, "set for a fight."

"Ef ever Mis' Linda gits her back up onc't, that air Englishman better
look out for hisse'f," old Rose had confided to a confidential friend.
"I knows the Fitzhugh blood. It won't bear much puttin' upon, now I
tells you."

The old family servant was not particularly fond of her Mis' Linda's
husband, and she looked forward to that crisis when the Fitzhugh blood
would become heated.

"Laws, honey," she made bold to say as she came forward and took the
broom into her hard, muscular hands, "you go and set down. You's got no
call to worry yo'se'f no-how 'bout housewuk."

"But you have enough to do already, Rose," said Mrs. Meeks kindly, and
turning her eyes, in which tears glistened, away from the withered,
kindly old face. She dared not meet the look of sympathy, being in
that humor when even a dignified woman may be melted into indiscreet
confidences under the temptation of a silent, intelligent championship.

Old Rose, however, began to sweep with those deft, smooth strokes that
raise no dust, and with her head bent, she talked along in a seemingly
purposeless fashion.

"I's an ole coon, Mis' Linda; a little extry wuk ain't goin' to hurt
me none. You take keer yo'se'f, honey, an' don' wuk yo' good looks
away. An' don' fret 'em away, neither. You mus'n't wu'y yo'se'f, chile.
Never was er _man_ wuth wu'yin' over. Ain't I had three husbands? De
good Laud, He tuk Jim an' Abraham, an' den I, like a fool, tuk up wid
Josh. An' he drunk an' drunk, an' den he cusses an' swear at me, an'
me wu'kin' myse'f like er ole hoss, and den I jes gets up an' I say,
'Josh, I don' 'low no nigger ter cuss at me!' I says, 'You kin hev de
inside of dis house an' I'll tek de outside,' and so I comes back ter
de ole place, an' what Josh do? Why, Josh, he sober up, an' he 'gins
ter see den w'at comes o' ugliness, an' he follow a'ter me, an' heah
he is, gard'nin' fur Mr. Meeks. But when he comes home ter de shanty
he don' cuss at me no mo'. Bes' way is jes ter let dese men know dere
place, honey, once an' fur all."

After old Rose had gone out with the dust-pan, Mrs. Meeks sat still
in the rocking chair by the window, from which she could see quite a
distance down the road; but her vision was turned too intensely inward
to admit of her taking any interest in the few passers-by.

Strange how a single sentence coming at the right time, will have a
force that tons of inopportune advice has not. "Bes' way is jes ter
let dese men know dere place, honey, once an' fur all." The sage,
worldly-wise policy of this ignorant colored woman, to whom mother-wit
had suggested methods culture could scarcely have rendered more
effective, struck a chord in the heart of her mistress that would
have failed to vibrate at any other moment. When causes of irritation
are not present, one is simply amused in listening to recitals that
piquantly set forth the temper of the subject, but when the mind is
oppressed by a sense of long-smothered injuries, it turns a very
different aspect toward experiences that appear similar to its own.

Mrs. Meeks would not have deliberately made herself, or permitted any
one else to make comparisons between her husband and Uncle Josh, whose
outward uncouthness removed him leagues distant from his master. Yet,
with that gentleman's last muttered expression smarting in her ears,
she quailed at the suggestion of a spiritual likeness between the
two beings in their antipodal tweed and jeans. Floating in upon her
disturbed mind came a certain rude epigram which she had heard in the
kitchen years ago when, a tiny girl, she was playing about the door,
and had remembered because it struck her as being funny: "All men's tar
off de same stick."

"True!" said Mrs. Meeks bitterly, the tears falling now without
disguise. "Men are all alike. I thought Robert was different. And our
life together was to be a heaven upon earth? Well, this is the end of
it all. I cannot stand his temper--I will not stand it!"

How far her resentful musings would have extended if she had been left
a while longer in that worst of solitudes, the loneliness of affronted
dignity, is uncertain, for her tears were suddenly checked by sounds
of visitors. A keen-eyed, vivacious, middle-aged woman alighted at
the door from an open carriage and made her way in without ceremony.
Mrs. Meeks started up with intent to escape, but settled back in her
chair again as her visitor entered with the little whirl and rush that
characterizes the movements of a lively, excitable woman.

Her sharp black eyes took in the situation at a glance; the
half-arranged room, Mrs. Meek's dishabille, her despondent attitude
and the traces of tears. She advanced quickly and put out both hands,
exclaiming in a voice of mingled affection and curiosity:

"Linda, what is the matter?"

"Oh, Louise, for once I am sorry to see you!"

These two women were lifelong friends; friends in the sense in which
Virginians understand the term, their relations being of the sort that
involves the frankest self-disclosure, and an immediate discussion of
every important circumstance entering into their experience.

"Now, my dear," said Louise Gourlay, in a husky, emphatic voice, which
to her torment she could never soften, "Providence sent me here this
morning. I think too much of you not to understand at once what ails
you. Mr. Meeks has been abusing you!"

Mrs. Meeks blushed and tried to look indignant, but only succeeded in
looking unhappy.

"There is no use in talking about it," she said, bracing herself to
encounter opposition. "Some things ought not to be talked about. It
cannot help any. I can't go back and be a girl again." There was a
slight pause and a struggle after control, and then she broke out with
a sob: "Oh, Louise, why did I marry?"

"The good Lord only knows why any of us marry," answered the older
woman, raising her eyes devoutly. "But I suppose the world has to be
carried on some way. It isn't so much the marrying, after all, that's
the trouble, as the foolishness afterward. Now, dear, you remember
that I prophesied long ago that Mr. Meeks would tyrannize over you
hand and foot, if you let him. A man can't help trying to rule the
roost--mercy, what's all that row about?"

She broke off suddenly and got up to look out of the window as sounds
of a great commotion in the garden turned the peaceful scene without
into one of those miniature pandemoniums not uncommon in the country,
where a flock of hens follow a Robin Hood of a spouse in his raids upon
forbidden territory.

Robin Hood in this case was a superb black Spanish cock with large
powers of leadership, and he had succeeded in marshaling his entire
female troop into the geranium patch before Uncle Josh, soberly hoeing
corn in the rear, was made aware of the invasion.

He ambled forward, waving his hat and shouting. Aunt Rose ran out,
waving her apron, and the daring Robin Hood, making as much noise as
both of them, strode back and forth, protecting while at the same time
vigorously protesting against the retreat of his flock.

"Mercy on us!" ejaculated Mrs. Gourlay, "the hens are trampling over
your yellow chrysanthemums, Linda."

Confidences can wait, but the peril of a cherished flower-bed is not
lightly to be set aside. Mrs. Meeks was stung into renewed interest in
the life she had been upon the point of denouncing as utterly devoid
of satisfaction. It was impossible to sit still and watch those lazy,
awkward negroes vainly trying to head off the stout-hearted rooster.
She went out, at first with rather a contemptuous, indifferent air,
but, as the cause of provocation scuttled toward her she suddenly
felt her indefinite sense of wrong against a sex at large become
concentrated into fury toward this small masculine specimen, and
entered into the chase with an ardor that soon routed him from the
field.

She entered the house half laughing, half frowning at the two darkies,
who had rather enjoyed the little excitement.

"Aunt Rose, you are as bad as a child, standing giggling there! You had
better be making some little cakes for lunch. Miss Louise will stay."

"Laws, Mis' Linda, I couldn't he'p myse'f. Dat rooster, he de wuss
sp'iled fowl I ebber see. He oughter be clapped inter de pot. He got a
heap o' sense, too, but he done sp'iled tell he jes rotten." Thus Rose,
as she sauntered back to her kitchen, to look up eggs and sugar for her
cakes. Meanwhile, Mrs. Gourlay was saying:

"No, Linda, I can't stay to-day. You drive back with me and stay all
night. It's an age since you spent the night at my house. Come, it will
do Mr. Meeks good to show him you feel a proper resentment. It's high
time you took a stand."

"Stay all night?" said Linda slowly. She felt that the significance of
the act would be greater to her husband than her adviser was aware.
It would be dropping the old life, putting a check upon all the sweet,
confidential relations that were so dear to both, and starting out in
a new, untried path of independence, of separateness that might end
in complete alienation. She was a reasoning woman, used to foreseeing
consequences. Sometimes she was impatient of the sound logical faculty
that held her impulsive disposition in check, and longed to plunge
headlong into some kind of folly, as a child bound over by a promise
not to meddle with sweets, has spasms of temptation which even the
certainty of illness and castor oil are hardly sufficient to restrain.

She got up and walked slowly toward the door that opened into her
own and her husband's room. It was a spacious chamber, capable of
holding the belongings of two persons, and before its wide-open
fireplace filled with small logs ready for lighting, was drawn a great
easy-chair, in which he loved to recline in the evenings with her on a
cushion at his feet, while they watched the blaze together. A slight,
nervous shudder passed over Linda as her dress brushed against the
chair on her way to the closet where her numerous hats were arranged in
their boxes. Mr. Meeks liked to see his pretty wife well dressed, and
no woman in the county had such an abundance of fine clothes. She took
down a fawn-colored wool gown and went to the dressing-case to fasten
it before the glass. A serious, tremulous face looked back at her, a
face made for sweet looks, for happiness, but now shadowed by the most
miserable feelings a woman can have, for "to be wroth with one we love
doth work like madness in the brain."

There, hanging on its pretty stand, was her jeweled watch, his wedding
gift to her. Shining on the pin cushion were brooches and little
trinkets, every one of which marked some pleasant episode. A vase of
her favorite late white roses gathered by his hands only the evening
before, breathed reproachful sweetness as she hastily bent over them.

But Linda was a proud woman as well as a tender one. The Fitzhugh
spirit had been chafed beyond endurance; it could bear the hurts
of privation, of grief, ruin and all sufferings inflicted by evil
circumstances; it could not submit to insult. So she named the
roughness of the man whose one great fault had to-day come to outweigh
in her mind innumerable virtues. She called old Rose, gave a few orders
in a tone that warned the servant to preserve silence in the midst of
surprise, and then, beside her friend who kept up a cheerful flow of
talk, moved tall and stately toward the carriage, and gazed dry-eyed,
but ah, how sadly, at the fine old red brick dwelling half-covered with
Virginia creeper and clematis, till a turn of the road swept it out of
sight.

The strong black horses pranced merrily along the road, which now on
one side lay beneath the mountain, covered with the red, yellow and
brown masses of forestry that in the autumn glorify the earth, and in
daily bleeding beauty divert a gazer's thoughts from the cruel frosts
of night. To the left a deep gorge, rocky and dangerous, swept to the
river below. Two vehicles, coming in opposite directions, could barely
pass each other, and the driver who had the inside track might well
bless his luck. But secure in the skill of their black Jehu, the two
women gave no single thought to danger, but kept up their conversation
indefatigably. John, keen and alert, pulled up his team carefully as he
heard the tramp of a horseman rapidly approaching.

The horseman also slowed up, and when alongside stopped entirely, to
exchange greetings. He was elderly and distinguished-looking, despite
his shabby, dust-covered clothing and carelessly-cropped hair and
beard. His worn, melancholy face brightened as he swept off his hat and
made careful inquiries after the ladies' health. Then he cantered on
and the inmates of the carriage leaned back again.

"Poor Colonel Thomas!" commented Mrs. Gourlay. "I recollect when he was
the first young man in the county. He has gone all to pieces in the
last year. He was rather high once, but Amanda was too much for him.
Sam calls her 'Petruchio in petticoats.'"

Her tones smote her listener's ear as sounds coming from afar. Poor
Colonel Thomas! Had he ever been in love with that sharp-tongued woman?
How terrible for a woman to have upon her conscience the wreck of a
man's life. If Robert should ever come to wear that bowed look--if
instead of the proud confidence that well became his comely Saxon
features, he should show in sunken eyes and fitful flush the marks of
that ill remedy that promises but never brings "surcease of sorrow...."
But he was too strong, too sane; misery could never drive him to
dissipation, although it might drive him to desperation of another
sort. Her quick fancy began to picture Robert estranged from the woman
he loved. Mentally she saw him growing cold, gloomy and reserved--their
intimacy gone as if it had never been, and they two, bound by
unbreakable ties, aging in sight of each other, their lives dragging on
in a way that might come to end in mutual aversion and disgust. She
knew that Robert would construe her going away to-day, after their cold
parting, into a determination to assert herself against him, and still
worse, to seek abroad sympathy for that which she was bound as a loving
wife to bear in silence and to forget.

The proud Fitzhugh blood flamed in her cheeks and her head flung up
unconsciously. But at the same instant there came into her mind, as a
bugle note sounds amid the horrid discord of battle, a sentence Robert
had uttered to her once in the early days of their love, when he had
inadvertently offended her by a careless remark: "A man is not to be
judged by one word, but by all the acts of his life."

And as if in her mental struggle she had been seeking some maxim as a
guide, she fastened upon this and repeated it over and over to herself.

All this time she had been mechanically giving outward attention to
Mrs. Gourlay, although that shrewd woman, comprehending her absent
glance, made small exactions upon her for reply. But seeing a sudden
brightness take the place of her friend's dull gaze, she gave her talk
more point.

"Sam is home, my dear. He came yesterday, and he says he means to pay
us an old-fashioned visit. I hope the weather will keep fine so we
can have some dancing picnics. He declares they are better fun than
anything in Philadelphia."

"Yes, I always liked them--when I was a girl."

"What are you now, an aged woman? Nonsense, you are even prettier than
you used to be when Sam spent his days on the road between our place
and your father's. Ah, child, you treated Sam badly. He never got over
your marriage, poor fellow. I don't know how he will bear meeting you
to-day, without any preparation. But men's hearts bend, they never
break; that's one comfort. Still, perhaps you'd best not flirt too hard
with him."

Linda started and looked squarely at her friend. She knew that in
the code of the Virginia matron, herself holding her girlhood's
coquetries in dear remembrance, such meetings between old flames and
mild renewals of former admiration were perfectly harmless and natural.
But her husband would think differently. He might believe this meeting
pre-meditated on her part; believe that she sought diversion of a
dangerous and a doubtful nature. For she knew well, and he had guessed,
that Sam Hilton's courtship of her had been no idle pastime, and that
the young Southerner bore the Englishman a grudge which would make him
a swift partisan if there once entered his head the slightest suspicion
that she had reason to complain of the treatment she received.

Had she? Her husband was in general goodness itself, all indulgence
and kindness except when wrought upon by outer irritating quality, or
annoyed at carelessness in herself. For she was forgetful--not wantonly
careless, but lacking in that perfect method his good taste demanded.
He was arbitrary--yes--still, some of the blame was hers, and if they
had differences it was her place to give in. So the wife told herself
in the quick interval between Mrs. Gourlay's last remark, and the
turning of the carriage into the east fork of the road that marked half
the distance between the two residences.

"Louise," she said in an imperative undertone, "tell John to turn back
and take me home. I _must_ go back this minute. If you think anything
of me," she added hastily, interposing against remonstrance, "do as I
ask."

"Now, Linda, listen to reason. If you've made up your mind to go back
and eat humble-pie--excuse the truth--at least wait till after dinner
and Sam shall drive you back. It would be absurd to turn back now."

"Louise--you don't understand my feeling. I was wrong to come. Robert
was to come home early this evening and bring an old friend just from
England with him to stay a few days. Think how mortifying to find me
gone away!"

"It would look badly. Still--serve him right!"

"No, I was cross myself this morning--probably. I didn't mean to tell
you of our quarrel--our _half_ quarrel. But never mind talking about
it, only, please take me back. Or else let me walk? I can walk; it's
not far."

"Linda Fitzhugh! Well, then--John, Mrs. Meeks has forgotten an
important engagement and we must take her straight home again. Can you
turn the carriage here?"

"Reckon I kin, m'm," said John sulkily, and the horses were turned
about.

Mrs. Gourlay glanced at her watch and said resignedly:

"It will be half-past one by the time I am back, and the children will
be savage, for I promised them I wouldn't stay long this morning. But
you always have your own way with me, Linda. I wish you were half as
spunky with somebody else."

"Don't, dearest," Linda entreated, the color rising in her cheeks.

"I will say it. If you keep on giving in this way to a man's temper,
you'll end by not daring to say your soul's your own."

"Robert is imperious, perhaps," the young wife answered slowly. "But
that is between him and me. If I can stand it, my friends needn't
worry."

"My dear child, you know I don't mean to be meddlesome. I might have
recollected the old adage about a husband and wife being a pair of
scissors, and whatever comes between the blades gets cut. But there is
a principle involved here."

"Yes," assented Linda, "there is a principle involved."

"I suppose you mean your principles and mine are not the same," said
the elder woman, with a little heat.

"Oh, yours are all right for you. But I must conform myself to a
different rule. I can't explain it all, dear, only, right or wrong,
I shall continue to give in--as you term it--to Robert. If he is
high-tempered, there's all the more reason why I shouldn't be. I know
what he expects of me--what he has always expected of me----"

"Expects you to be an angel!" broke in her friend, "while he
is--whatever he chooses."

"Well," answered Linda, with a brilliant smile, "I'll be as near an
angel as I can. You don't understand. There are compensations. Even if
there is a little bitter drop now and then, he makes me very happy. And
happiness is worth an effort."

"Well, well," sighed her friend, and they both fell into silence.

At the porch they parted with a warmer kiss than usual. Linda could
not help feeling that she had cast herself adrift to swim alone
henceforth in waters that might be cold and sullen. She went into the
house and took off her hat half reluctantly. The next few hours dragged
on in unbroken dulness. About four o'clock the bay horses dashed up
and Mr. Meeks alighted from his buggy, followed by a fine-looking,
gray-haired man who was in the midst of remarks evidently admiring and
complimentary in their nature.

Mrs. Meeks stood upon the veranda, her eyes a trifle brighter than
usual, her cheeks a trifle warmer; her head was held unconsciously a
little high, but otherwise there was no criticism to be made upon the
gracious sweetness with which she greeted her husband and his guest.

"I was in a measure prepared to meet you," said the suave Briton.
"Meeks has been treating me to certain rhapsodies of description with
which I now perfectly sympathize."

"In Virginia we say that an acquaintance begun with a compliment ends
in a duel," said Linda, smiling.

When the guest had been ushered upstairs to wash off the dust of
travel, Mr. Meeks put his arm about his wife's waist. His eyes were
unshadowed by any disagreeable recollections.

"Sweetheart!" he said.

"He will never make any apologies," thought Linda. "Well, no matter. I
am glad I came back."



THE WIFE OF LOTHARIO.[1]


I.

"MANDY'S jest crazy to go to New York," said Mrs. Powell to her friend
Mrs. Thomas, who was spending the day with her.

The two elderly women were "kin" in that wide-reaching term that in
Virginia stretches out over blood relationship to the remotest degree
of fortieth cousinship. Mr. Thomas' mother had been a Powell, and it
was from the Powells, she was accustomed to say with ill-concealed
pride, that her son Vivian got his high spirit and his splendid eyes.

Amanda Powell had the identical dark brown eyes and apparently the
same high spirit. When she was six and Vivian twelve, the two had been
used to retire from family parties anywhere from one to a dozen times
in the course of an afternoon to have it out, in the back hallway, or
in the garret, or even, when the excitement was intense, in the "far
barn," a dilapidated building a quarter of a mile away from the house.

Vivian, even at the manly age of twelve, and in the face of all
the traditions of chivalry, which to a Southern boy of that period
exercised a very real influence over his attitude toward the softer
sex, despite the vigilance of his mother and aunts, who were
perpetually admonishing him to recollect that "Mandy was little and a
girl besides," Vivian was tormented by a desire to subdue his spunky,
small cousin at any cost of time and ingenuity. He had once made a
great flourish with a hazel switch and raised a welt on her slim bare
arm, which gave him immense satisfaction at the moment, and haunted
him remorsefully for weeks afterwards. Amanda had promptly pulled out
a lock of his hair, and then, setting her back against the side of the
barn and gritting her tiny white teeth, had bidden him "come on" in a
tone ringing with belligerent probabilities.

After that day a new element was added to the attraction the two
children had for each other. Their attitude was much like that of two
unfledged chickens who have had a fight ending in a drawn battle, and
have a thirst for satisfaction. Whoever has watched a pair of very
young roosters in the act of combat, knows how each one makes a peck
and then draws off and stands upon the defensive, vigilant and defiant;
another peck--then another rest, neither one giving in or running away
until some intruder parts them.

Vivian and Amanda had continued upon these terms until increasing years
rendered actual fighting impossible, and left to their antagonistic
spirits only the resource of stinging words, and to hours of repentance
the mere interchange of shy glances and softer speech, added to a
fierce absorption of one another's society, which left the rest of the
world completely outside.

The Powell and Thomas tribe had come in the course of time to accept
the alliance between the fighting cousins as one of the mysterious
results of the strange similarity of the two children in looks and
disposition, and all the other young cousins had learned that these two
black-eyed friend-enemies belonged to one another, and tolerated no
interference in their relation.

Both were fatherless, and so, in either case, the young spirit that
needed wise and loving restraint, had broken through the feeble curb of
motherly fondness and gained freedom before achieving the self-control
that prevents liberty from degenerating into license.

Amanda was now eighteen, and Vivian--just home from a two-years' term
at the College of Virginia--was twenty-four. The two mothers, sitting
together that afternoon, a week after Vivian's premature return from
college, were anxiously alive to all the possibilities smouldering in
such a period and fanned by recent separation and the excitement of
inquiry into the changes a couple of years had wrought.

I should like to dwell for a moment upon the scene of this little
motherly conference. It was the "settin'-room" of a large,
old-fashioned mansion in central Virginia, and was one of two ample
square rooms lying on either side of a great hall that ran straight
through the middle of the house and lost itself in a broad porch in the
rear.

Its newly white-washed walls were half covered with dusky old family
portraits interspersed with bits of what Amanda called "bric-a-brac,"
meaning wood-cuts from the illustrated weeklies, brilliantly colored
fans, and bunches of ferns and grasses tied together with ends of
sash ribbon. The worn carpet covering the middle of the floor was an
ancient and costly Axminster, and the few pieces of furniture were of
massive mahogany, the long sofa and two armchairs covered with black
haircloth, but overlaid with so many knitted tidies and scarfs that
their dreariness was well concealed. In the deep, wide fireplace a
big log burned slowly this chilly April day, and on either side of
a spider-legged table drawn up before the blaze, sat and rocked the
elderly ladies, dividing their attention between a small decanter
of Madeira and a plate of Aunt 'Liza's delicious plum cake, and the
subject of Amanda's craze to go to New York.

"Mandy's always had her own way about everything up to this," said Mrs.
Thomas, her cool, pale blue eyes turning their wavering glance upon
the plump, handsome face of her hostess, whose blooming cheeks were
framed in snowy curls and set off by a lace fichu that came up high
around the neck of her gray merino dress and was fastened in front by
a pin made of her husband's hair woven into the form of a bunch of
grapes. The term "motherly" described her accurately; her cheery smile,
her ponderous but quick motions, her rich-toned voice and large, soft
hands, all made up a personnel that drew hearts to her in affectionate
confidence. She laughed in responding to her cousin's remark, a mellow,
rippling laugh, such as you might have expected from her.

"I dunno what 'u'd happen if anybody wuz to set 'emselves up against
Mandy," she said, shaking her beautiful white curls. "And I dunno's
her way is sech a bad way. She don't like to have anybody say what she
shall do and what she sha'n't, but give her her head and she's generous
as the day, and good-hearted. The Powell disposition always wuz to be a
leetle wilful, but the Major and I always got along well, and Mandy's
like her pa. She was always wild to travel, and she's not had a great
opportunity to see the world. If I could leave home--or had anybody to
take her! But I reckon it'll have to be managed some way. Mandy's bound
to go."

"There's one person 'u'd be glad enough to take her," said Mrs. Thomas.
"He'd take her anywhere she wanted to go, shore."

"You mean Edgar Chamblin?"

"You know I mean Vivian, so what's the use o' talkin' 'bout anybody
else? I seen cl'ar 'nuff, Nellie, five year ago, how things wuz goin'
to be when them two growed up. It's nater, and I dunno's we kin help
it, even supposin' we wuz to desire to."

A troubled look passed over Mrs. Powell's face; passed and left no
trace, as a cloud passes over the sun. "Whatever is, is best," she
had been saying all her life, when persons about her were complaining
of fate and Providence and ill-luck. But beneath her optimism was a
basis of sound judgment, and she always quietly made herself sure that
nothing better was attainable before acquiescing in such arrangements
as Providence allotted.

"Edgar Chamblin is jest sech a young man as I'd like to see Mandy
marry," she observed placidly. "I've nothin' ag'in Vivian--you know
I've always been as fond of him as if he wuz my own--but put fire and
tow together! Now, Edgar's one of the kind that'd let Mandy do jest
what she pleased. He's easy-goin'. Not but what he's sensible too, and
steady. I'd be proud to hev Mandy so well suited in a husband as Ed'd
suit her."

"I should think you'd know better'n to pick out who Mandy's goin' to
marry," said Vivian's mother. "And I ain't so shore as it's the best
thing fur a woman to have a husband give in to her every whip-stitch.
Probably you dunno what it is to have a shiftless, no-account,
no-back-bone sort o' creetur 'round under foot--"

"Lord knows, all I want's my child's happiness," sighed good Mrs.
Powell. "If she and Vivian air fond o' one another, I'm not the one to
oppose 'em. But I can't say now as I want it so. It stands to reason
two black-eyed, high-strung people, both proud as Lucifer, must expect
to have a stormy life together. Why, it'd make me tremble--the idee of
'em goin' away on a weddin' tour!"

"Vivian's a good boy, Nellie," answered his mother in a tone that
trembled a little. "You know, yourself, he's a gentleman. No woman need
be afeard of a man if he's a gentleman."

"My dear, the Major wuz a gentleman; no man more so. But I dunno
what'd happened if I hadn't known how to manage him. You've either
got to manage a man or _be_ managed, and though there air women that
need managin', and some that like it, I've never seen the man yet
that's fit to be the head o' woman. I ain't sayin' they don't exist.
I haven't been about much. But my mother had. She'd been everywhere.
Her father was Commander in the Navy, as you know, and she said to me
once: 'Nellie, I never yet see the man that was good enough for a good
woman.' I don't go as fur as that. Ma was ruther high in her notions.
But on the other hand it'd go mighty hard with me to have to stand by
and see a man that married Mandy with his hand on top."

"Seems to me you needn't be afeard o' that if she has Vivian. It's been
all along with them two that if one wuz ahead one day, t'other was
shore to git ahead the next. You recollect the old saying: 'Pull Dick,
pull deevil,' I reckon, Nellie?"

"That's the worst on it. I'm mortal afeard they'd kill one another.
They ain't noways suited, Jane, and I trust to mercy that the thing's
not to be."

Mrs. Powell pronounced her ultimatum with unusual energy, and rising,
began to stir about the room, setting cushions and folding up pieces
of sewing in a manner that evinced a wish to shake off a disagreeable
impression. Never before had she felt a wish to fight the inevitable.
She was not one of the thin-skinned, superstitious beings who claim to
be intuitional, and she was content, ordinarily, to recognize events
when they actually took place, and not spy them out beforehand in the
clouds of fancy. But mothers seem to have a special sense that warns
of coming danger, and this good mother had felt within the last few
minutes a strange sinking at the heart in connection with thoughts
of Mandy which made her very anxious and, as she put it, "fidgety,"
so that to sit still longer and discuss the matter of this undesired
marriage was an impossibility.

"I sort o' hoped you wouldn't be averse to the children's comin'
together, Nellie," were Mrs. Thomas's parting words as she settled
herself in the broad carryall while the sun was still high, to drive
the two miles to Bloomdale, where, standing back a little way from
Main Street, was the modern brick house that her father, the general
storekeeper "in town," had left her and to her eldest son George after
her, the entail taking no account of Vivian, to whom she promptly gave
up his father's farm the day he came of age.

As she took up the reins after this plaintive remark and turned her
eyes reproachfully upon Mrs. Powell's countenance, beaming upon the
parting guest from the broad doorway, another vehicle whirled around
the curve and stopped, and two beautiful pairs of dark eyes smiled upon
her, as Vivian himself sprang out and put his arm about Amanda with
a zeal that was totally unnecessary to the furthering of that active
damsel's descent to the ground.

"Where have you two been all this blessed afternoon, when I needed
Mandy to hem them table-cloths?" said Mrs. Powell, her beaming
countenance contradicting her complaint, as Amanda put both arms about
her neck and kissed her with an affection that was as genuine as it was
spontaneous.

"Been to Bear's Den," said Amanda, a rich color mantling her
opal-tinted cheeks, and a shy, saucy smile curving a mouth formed
for the torment of men, in more senses than one. Her voice was a
modified edition of her mother's, lazy, rich and sweet, but with
keener timbre. Under provocation it might become scornful, which Mrs.
Powell's could not. She was tall and symmetrically built, her figure
already showing the luxurious development that to girls of northern
race comes only with an uncomfortable embonpoint. But there was not a
trace of clumsiness in her make-up, which united energy and languor in
singularly equal proportions.

A fair picture the little group made, when Vivian had placed himself
beside his young kinswoman and stood, leaning against the pillar,
his soft hat dangling from one hand, while the other surreptitiously
held Amanda's under cover of her shawl. He was her match in beauty and
very like her, but with lighter coloring, his mother's blonde tints
reappearing in his ruddy skin and bronze-brown mustache. With equal
fire of glance, there was yet something that was not present in her
spirited countenance; a hint of petulance and selfishness. But it was
counter-balanced by a wonderful tenderness of expression that now
spread over his clear-cut features like a wave of moonlight, bringing
out the rare charm that made Vivian at times irresistible.

His mother, watching him with all her heart in her eyes, caught her
breath and dropped the reins on her lap as she met the significant look
he turned toward her for a second, before bending his gaze, filled with
its utmost persuasive power, upon Mrs. Powell.

"I reckon," he said slowly, his tones cutting the air decisively, yet
quivering with a certain plaintiveness that recalled "Cousin Jane's"
tremulous minor notes, "this is as good a time as any to tell you both
that Amanda and I have made up our minds to try housekeeping together
at Benvenew."

"After we come back from New York," put in Amanda with a saucy glance
of reminder.

"Children," said Mrs. Powell, more solemnly than she had ever spoken
in her life. She took a hand of each and looked from one to the other,
while Jane Thomas scarcely breathed as she leaned out of the carryall
toward them. "Children, if ye've both made up your minds, I've got no
call to interfere with young folks' happiness, and I sha'n't. What
I say now, I say once and for all, and I sha'n't harp on it. But I
know both on ye pretty nigh as well as I know myself. I'm afeard my
girl needs somethin' you can't give her, Vivian. You think you don't,
honey," she added, squeezing the soft palm laid in her own, and longing
for eloquence to express the meaning that was in her heart; "but you
ain't a woman yet; you're only a child. And what you're a-goin' to
turn out depends more'n you can think now, on the kind of marriage you
make. I pity the man that sets his heart on makin' you over to suit
himself. And you, my dear boy, air too rash--you ain't settled enough.
And it's my duty to say, fur your own sake, that if you two try gettin'
along together, you'll be ridin' over to your mother or to me some day
with a mouthful of complaints 'gainst Mandy. And some of 'em 'll be
just. There's a soft streak in Mandy and there's a hard streak, and I'm
afeard you'll find the hard one."

"Why, mother!" said Amanda, astonished and a little alarmed at her
jolly mother's grave discourse. The words meant nothing to her then.
She turned a laughing glance upon her lover, who had listened with
equal lack of comprehension. Now they with one accord drew closer
together. Certainly, any advice which does not harmonize with the
wishes of those matrimonially inclined is as the voice of one crying in
the wilderness.

"We always meant to be married, Aunt Nellie," answered Vivian after a
short pause. "No other girl would suit me, and she is satisfied with
me. Arnt you, Mandy?"

"Yes," said Amanda without hesitation.

"Nellie," cried Mrs. Thomas, unable to contain herself any longer,
"don't you make 'em feel you don't believe they'll be happy together.
They ain't children now, and because they've always been sparrin' is
all the more reason they'll settle down tame enough."

"I should just hate a man I couldn't have a good quarrel with, once in
a while," the girl made a pretense of whispering to her mother, and
giving Vivian a look which meant that he was to understand they were to
have things as they wanted them.

"I've got no call to say any more," said Mrs. Powell, to whom this
slight opposition had been an extraordinary effort. She felt that
conscience could demand no more of her. So she kissed Amanda and then
kissed Vivian, and Jane Thomas kissed them both and cried over them,
as sentimental women cry when they get their heart's desire, and they
all stood on the porch together for a few minutes, talking eagerly,
perhaps to cover a little feeling that had been stirred up by the
discussion; a foreboding that could not quite be laid to rest, whether,
after all, this marriage was a wise one, a prudent one, and one from
which good was to come.

Did Amanda feel this doubt? Perhaps the odd little shiver that came
over her and that she shook off so lightly was a premonition she would
have done well to heed, instead of turning, as she did, to lay her
beautiful head on her lover's shoulder in a manner that was rather too
deliberate to be altogether fond.

Did Vivian experience any fear of the future in this instant of
promised fulfilment of his hopes? Not he. The time was as yet far
distant when that buoyant glance which seemed to challenge fate was
to be turned downward in melancholy resignation, and the impetuous
outleaping of suggestion and comment that was natural to his
enthusiastic temperament become hesitating appeal to one he feared to
displease.

And the two mothers, watching this adored son and daughter and
rejoicing in their joy, sympathizing and admiring with that admiration
which is most perfectly free from envy, did their knowledge of human
nature and their past experience not suggest that which must make them
tremble in regarding these two heedless young creatures, both children
of one haughty race, bent upon gratifying that impulse of mutual
attraction which was more than likely to have its source in animal
obstinacy than in reasonable, human affection?

But how limited is the outlook of elderly women in these little
southern villages, where the history of a few lives constitutes their
entire equipment in sociology, and to whom the idea of essential
differences between sets of conditions superficially alike, can never
present itself strongly. Mrs. Powell's motherly instinct had had its
spasm of alarm, but had been quieted by the soothing reflection that
marriage tames high spirits, and that the Rubicon of matrimony once
passed, adjustment to circumstances _must_ follow. Nothing else was
conceivable. As for Jane Thomas, any picture of a future into which
trouble might come to her son even from the "curse of a granted prayer"
was beyond her imagination. All she had asked in life since Vivian was
born was that he might have whatever was necessary to make him happy,
and that spirited youth had succeeded in convincing her that happiness
lay in having what he wanted. He wanted Amanda, and now he had got her.
Mrs. Thomas rejoiced as far as her melancholy temperament permitted,
and trusted the future to Providence. And in a month Amanda Powell had
become "young Mrs. Thomas." A month is a short engagement in Virginia,
but Vivian was impatient to open up his closed homestead, and start the
farm going according to some new theories of farming, which chiefly
took shape in patent fertilizer and an improved kind of harrow; also,
the introduction of white labor to supersede the "lazy darkies."

And to Amanda marriage meant the pretty pearl ring her lover had placed
upon her finger, the rustling white silk gown her mother had made for
her in Ryburg, and--the wedding journey. Our wildest dreams are only
re-combinations of what we have experienced or read of, and how could
this girl of eighteen, for all her rich and varied nature, dream of
the coming of responsibilities that would shake her frail fancies of
married life like an earthquake, or of mental development that would
awaken critical faculties to the extent of making her rebel against
what she now accepted as matters of course; nothing better having
presented itself to her mind?

She was satisfied that the wedding was conventionally correct,
according to Fauquier County standards; that the day was bright;
that she looked her best, and that Vivian was devoted without being
uncomfortably demonstrative. For without at all understanding why it
was so, the young girl, so full of ardor in all her attachments, had
a virginal coldness toward her young lover that made her shrink with
distaste from caresses and put aside any suggestion of an intimacy
other than had always existed between them, and of which she foresaw
merely an extension, not a transformation into anything more exacting.

Reared by an old-fashioned southern mother, watched and shielded as
maidens once were when maternal ideas of duty included an anxious
supervision over a daughter's reading, amusements, and associations,
Amanda was in all essentials still a child, with only her natural
dignity and womanly instinct to protect her amid the various
perplexities and temptations the future might hold for her.

New York burst upon her eager senses as the first deafening crash of
a full orchestra might salute the ears of a music-mad boy who had
never heard anything more stimulating than the wheezy strains of a
second-rate melodeon. Stunned but delighted, she gazed from the
carriage windows upon the crowds, the stores, and the elevated railway,
and thought that now she was seeing the world.

Vivian went to the Windsor, and as the youthful pair descended to
the dining-room about seven o'clock and told a servant at the door
that they wanted "supper," the lofty head waiter in condescending
admiration, swooped down and led them to the extreme rear of the room,
where, ranged in close proximity, were four other bridal couples as
newly made as themselves.

But Amanda had come down in a white lawn gown profusely trimmed
with pink satin ribbon, and heavy gold bracelets on her arms, bare
to the elbow. The other brides wore walking suits and bonnets, with
the exception of one, whose gown was of rich brocade, and whose
supercilious face was set off by the most unapproachable coiffure
Amanda had ever seen.

She had quick perceptions, and was keenly alive to any defect in her
own appearance, and in ten minutes she suffered all the agony that
would be felt by a finished woman of the world who had inadvertently
worn full dress to a reception demanding bonnets. Yet, to the first
test her metal rang true. With heightened color she went through the
form of dining, and Vivian, whose sensibilities were as keen as hers
and whose self-love was greater, took note of certain differences
between his young wife and the other women, and felt himself aggrieved
by her lack of taste. It was too soon, and he was too tender toward her
for him to betray intentionally this slight annoyance. But an admitted
cause of irritation is like the first rip in one's apparel; every
movement that touches the rent extends it until the garment falls into
rags.

Vivian had permitted himself the latitude of secret fault-finding, and
from this to the next step it was easy.

Their first quarrel came within a week. The wonder is not that it came
so soon, but that it was deferred so long. Yet, the immediate cause
was absurdly trivial. They had arranged to drive to Clairmont and lunch
in company with some friends of Vivian. But when the morning came he
felt averse to carrying out the program. Perhaps his head ached, or he
had slept ill, or the discovery that his trunk key was missing annoyed
him unduly. But anyway he was out of tone.

One o'clock found him stretched out on the couch in their room yawning
discontentedly over the _Herald_. Amanda, flitting about, suddenly
became aware when her toilet was half made that he had not begun to get
ready.

"If you don't hurry up I'll go off and leave you--lazy fellow!" she
cried. "They talk about women being always the ones to keep people
waiting. I'm sure it's the other way. I'm always ready for everything
before you."

"I'm not going," said Vivian abruptly, directing a scowl toward the
wall paper.

They had now been married eight days. A certain French author, renowned
for his biting epigrams, remarks: "I do not believe there ever was a
marriage in the world, even the union of a tiger and a panther, which
would not pretend to perfect happiness for at least fifteen days after
the marriage ceremony."

In this case was neither tiger nor panther; only a young man who had
always lorded it prettily over the women in his family, and a girl
who had been brought up to expect much deference. Perhaps in France
it might have taken fifteen days for the glamour to wear off. But in
America emotions exhaust themselves rapidly. Amanda, standing with one
gloved hand stretched out before her, seemingly intent upon fastening
the buttons, had begun to reflect.

"You ain't well," she observed coldly. "Probably you ate too much pie
last night."

Now, among the trifles that grate upon the masculine mind, is having an
indisposition referred to gastronomic indulgence. At such times a man
is apt to consider that a wife but poorly replaces a mother.

"Amanda, I wish you would learn that all varieties of pastry don't
come under the head of 'pie.' And I wish you wouldn't say 'ain't.' It's
deucedly countrified."

"Oh," said Amanda. She deliberately took off her gloves and hat, and
sat down upon an ottoman near the couch. Her color had arisen, and
her black eyes had an ominous sparkle. "Is there anything else you
wish?" She asked this aggressively. Her tone suggested that she had
not forgotten that episode of the fight in the barn that lay a dozen
years back. She was quite as ready to stand upon the defensive now as
she had been then. But when women stand sentinel their guns go off
inadvertently.

"I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself, Vivian Thomas!" then
said Amanda. She felt that he ought to be ashamed; that his display
of petulance had occurred at least a fortnight too soon; that aside
from the general fact that she was in the right, as usual, he had put
himself in the exceptional attitude of ill-treating a bride and trying
to spoil her pleasure during the tour avowedly taken to give her
pleasure.

"What of?" asked Vivian, shutting his eyes.

"Of the way you're acting," promptly answered Amanda. "If you were a
little boy you'd deserve a whipping. As you're supposed to be a man----"

"Only supposed to be?" sarcastically put in the depreciated young
gentleman.

"Well, _act_ like a man, then!" said Amanda in a biting tone.

"You're acting like a shrew," he returned, not entirely without reason,
for the girl-wife had worked herself up to quite a pretty rage. Yet, as
is plain, the blame was his, and in his heart he knew it. But since he
had evoked a display of temper he had a mind to bring her to the stool
of repentance. As well now as later.

Amanda, upon her side was reminded that Vivian's mother had spoiled
him, and she fancied that the time had come for her to establish the
supremacy over him that was essential to the happiness of both. So
mixed are the motives that direct any one of our actions that it is
possible there lay side by side with this lofty determination of the
spirited young woman a wish to prove her husband; to find out if he had
strength of character sufficient to hold his own against her and bring
her to the point he evidently aimed toward, of coaxing him into good
humor. There was no suggestion of any such weakness in her next words.

"It's no use to talk sense to you," she remarked, as if considering
ways and means. "Because you haven't got common sense. Ma always said
that."

One can pardon reproaches provoked by the occasion, but a deliberate
accusation delivered at second hand has the weight of society behind
it. And the affront was the greater in this instance, in that Vivian
had considered "Aunt Nellie" his firm friend. He turned a trifle pale,
and rising to his feet began walking slowly up and down the floor.
After a few strides he paused in front of Amanda and said:

"I guess your mother was right--if she meant I hadn't good sense when I
wanted to marry you. I don't know as I've ever shown myself much of a
fool, otherwise."

And then--it was only eight days since the ceremony, and they were both
so young--somehow the quarrel died out, and they patched up a peace,
and went to Clairmont after all, in a great hurry, and with spirits
considerably ruffled. But neither of them enjoyed the day.

After that a great many things went wrong. There was money enough to
pay their expenses for a month or so, but none to waste; and they
wasted it. Accustomed to the use of carriages, as a matter of course
neither of them thought of economizing in this line, until confronted
with an appalling livery-bill. They did not know how to order a
dinner _à la carte_, until they learned by costly experience, and the
fees they bestowed upon the servants, although seemingly a trifle at
the time, were matters of grave moment when the sum total of their
expenditures for the month came under discussion.

It had been the plan to remain away six weeks, but upon the thirtieth
day Vivian came up to his wife, who was talking with some other
ladies upon the porch of the Grand Union Hotel--they were then at
Saratoga--and said abruptly:

"Dear, can I speak with you a minute?"

Rather alarmed, Amanda accompanied him to a retired spot, and put
herself in a listening attitude. It was an awkward minute for Vivian.
He was the soul of generosity, and nothing gratified him more than to
give to others pleasure, when it cost him no effort. Yet here he was
in a deuce of a hole, and under the necessity of making a humiliating
explanation to the person whom of all others he found it hard to
confess to.

"Well?" said Amanda, rather impatiently, as he fidgeted about without
saying anything.

"Well, my--dearest," said poor Vivian, with pathos, turning out an
empty pocket, "we are in a fix. We've spent money a little too fast,
and have only this left!" And he held up to view a five-dollar bill,
and two silver quarters.

Amanda gave a gasp, and then collected her mental forces. She had a
fund of practical common sense in her nature, and now when she summoned
it for the first time it responded to call. The first impression her
husband's confidence made upon her was to arouse a slight contempt, not
attended to at the instant, but unconsciously stored away to be used on
other occasions. When our friends gracefully ignore our blunders and
follies is it to be supposed that they have really been blind to what
they gave no evidence of perceiving? As well hope that the stone we
flung into the wayside stream was totally lost when the ripples ceased,
and that it found no home in the bed beneath.

"I have some money," said Amanda, hastily. "Do we owe for hotel bills?"

"No, I've just settled up everything. It was that opened my eyes. I had
no idea I was so nearly broke."

"Then we can get home--I reckon--if we start right off. I have fifty
dollars that mother gave me, the last thing. For 'extras,' she said.
Perhaps she meant this."

She could not help the little fling. It was too hard to use this money,
which she had reserved for a special purpose.

Vivian bit his lip and turned his back for a moment; but what was the
use of making a fuss now? He was thankful upon the whole to get out
of a bad scrape. It wouldn't be Amanda if she didn't say something
unpleasant.

Ah, Vivian, has it come to this already? It seems the scars of certain
little passages at arms have not faded away.

Upon a warm, sunshiny day in June they came home. Benvenew was in
order, owing to the efforts of the two mothers, and Mrs. Powell's
four-seated wagon was waiting at the little station, and her genial
face smiled a welcome from the back seat.

"Darling mother!" murmured Amanda, yielding to the clasp of her
mother's arms, and for one instant feeling as if the past month with
its bewildering experiences, was all a wild dream, and she a child
again, careless, irresponsible, and light hearted. The familiar sights,
of which she had been weary not long ago, were charming; the smiles
and nods from people they met warmed a heart that had been chilled and
affrighted many times since she had left her Virginia home. Here, in
her own clime, she was a princess, with friends to love her and listen
to her with respect and sympathy.

They forded a stream and came to the old mill, standing half-buried
in the marsh. Part of the roof was off and the rank, clambering vine
of the wild grape had reached up and hung over the sides in graceful
festoons. Their appearance started up a number of yellow butterflies
that had been fluttering over the stream, and now rose in the air like
a shower of golden sparks.

"How beautiful it all is," said Amanda. "I am glad to be home again.
But where is Alex taking us?"

"To Benvenew, of course," Mrs. Powell answered. "Why, Mandy, dear,
didn't you want to go right there, or would you ruther go home fur
to-night? We thought probably you'd both prefer--but the laws knows I'd
be glad to have you both come back with me."

"Why, ma, I forgot!" said Amanda. "And so I'm to begin my housekeeping
right off. I don't know enough about it to take care of that big place."

"You'll have Ellen Digby to cook," said Mrs. Powell anxiously, "and
little Admonia."

"Admonia!" exclaimed Vivian, looking around in some indignation from
the front seat. "I can't have that harum-scarum creature on the place."

"You know Ellen really is a good servant," Mrs. Powell explained,
apologetically. "And she won't come without the child. Admonia's twelve
now, and she's really not so bad. She can be trained. There wasn't
anybody else we could lay hands on."

"Never mind, ma, Admonia 'll do well enough," interposed Amanda. "She's
a funny little thing, and I rather like her."

"Ex--actly!" Vivian observed, with an accent lately acquired. "I
imagine Amanda training anybody."

We all have our secret pet vanities which undiscriminating persons,
seeing only our surface beauties, are perpetually wounding. Amanda's
vanity was a wish to be acknowledged sensible and practical. Beautiful,
she knew herself to be, and to hear of that was an old story; but her
executive ability was not yet proved, and she was very sensitive upon
this point. And herein Vivian blundered. It did not occur to him that
he hurt her feelings by depreciating her executive powers. He had been
used to regarding her as a pretty play-thing, something to be petted
and disciplined alternately. That she had an ambition to be something
more was what he had not yet discovered. Perhaps the idea was one
that he would have to blindly grope his way toward; for "we can only
comprehend that of which we have the beginnings in ourselves," and in
the handsome, suave, popular young Virginian the germ of common sense
and good judgment was small; so very much smaller than his little world
believed it to be.

"Mandy is a leetle apt to spoil the young niggers," said her
peace-making mother. "But then she wuz always so powerful fond o'
children."

Amanda patted her mother's shoulder, while a far-away look came into
her eyes as she fixed them on a distant hill, where the newly plowed
earth lay darkly red against the tender sky-tints, and the sun swept
down upon one spot, covered with young wheat, and spread over it like
the caressing touch of a golden hand.

She was passionately fond of children--this fiery, tender-hearted
woman, who showed so many prickles to the grown people who approached
her incautiously. And Vivian was not. So much the more diplomatic,
so much the more polished, so full of gentleness toward women and
forbearance toward their troublesome little ones--was it possible that
it was he who failed in patience and kindness, and the forward Amanda
who must be credited with the possession of both, when helpless hands
were stretched out toward her? Fauquier County would have shaken its
head over such a question. Fauquier County said that Vivian Thomas was
the mildest and best humored young man in the world except when things
happened that he had a right to be angry about; but that Amanda Powell
was rather too spunky and high-strung for any man except a saint to
get along with peaceably. For her mother's sake--and also, a little in
spite of its preternaturally wise judgment--for the sake of certain
winning ways of her own, the county people liked her; but Vivian, they
adored.

And so, overshadowed by this disadvantage, of which she was not quite
unconscious, the young wife descended from the wagon, helped out as
gracefully and tenderly as he had helped her out of another vehicle the
day we first saw her, by her courteous husband, and entered the door of
her new home.

The first person they laid eyes upon was the shock-headed, wild-eyed
little creature called Admonia, who dropped a flower-pot she was
carrying through the hall, and without stopping to pick up the pieces,
raced to the kitchen, shouting:

"Mis' Mandy and Mr. Vivian done come home, fur shore! Whoopy! Ain't I
glad! Now, we'uns gwine ter have times!"

Admonia was a prophet.


II.

"ADMONIA!" called a woman's voice, and in a twinkling the owner
followed and stopped in the last one of the long row of outbuildings
that spread beyond the dining-room of Benvenew.

It was a mere shed, enclosed on three sides and open at the end, the
sky showing through holes in the roof. The rough boarding that answered
for a floor was broken in many places, and dirt and confusion reigned
everywhere. Upon a stool sat a shock-headed, wild-eyed darkey girl
of twenty or so, plucking the feathers from a couple of fowls, and
throwing them upon the floor. Her heavy under-lip fell and her eyes
rolled as the imperative tones of her mistress smote upon her ear, and
she arose quickly, a cloud of feathers falling from her unspeakably
dirty dress, and stood dangling a half plucked fowl, her dark brown
face so immersed in gloom that all the features seemed to have run
together, the whites of her eyes and her broad yellow teeth giving her
the appearance of a bank of much soiled and partly melted snow.

"Admonia," said her mistress, pausing in the doorway, "where is Nellie?"

"Laws, Mis' Mandy, I dunno. I hain't saw de chile sence Mr. Thomas tuk
her."

"When was that?" Amanda's voice had a peculiar ring which the girl
recognized, and knew the cause of. Her dusky face softened into an
expression of sympathy, and with the fluency of her race she uttered
the first consoling thought that came into her head.

"Now, Mis' Mandy, honey, don' yo' tak' on--li'le Nellie she all safe
'nuff; her pa done tak' her wid him up ter he room on'y lettle bit ago.
She was pesterin' him ter show her de stuffed owl what he done brung
home frum Ryburg, an' he jes tuk her wid him ter show her. He--he all
right, Mis' Mandy."

The last sentence was spoken in a lower tone, and the harum-scarum
girl, whom everyone except her mother and her mistress considered
irreclaimably rough and wild, averted her eyes from Amanda's pale face,
and sitting down again began industriously plucking her fowls.

Without another word, but with one sharply indrawn breath that left her
lips white, Amanda entered the house and ascended the stairs. As she
drew near a rear room on the second floor sounds reached her ear that
brought a flaming color into her cheeks and made her hasten her steps.
The frightened, sobbing tones of a little child came from behind the
closed door of her husband's room, mingled with a half articulate but
apparently angry growl of a deep masculine voice.

Amanda turned the handle of the door with an expression that boded
ill for the person who had evoked it. The door resisted her pressure.
It was locked. Then, in a second, all the smouldering anxiety of the
mother's heart leaped into furious flame.

"Open this door!" she commanded. There was no answer. The sobbing
ceased.

"Mother!" called the child.

Amanda shook the door and pushed against it with all her strength.
"Open this door, or I'll break it down!" So her grandfather might have
thundered out an order to some refractory sailor on board his own good
ship. The only reply was an oath. The man in his sober senses addressed
by any one, especially a woman, in such a manner, must have been mild
indeed, had he refrained from swearing. But a mother, maddened by such
fears as lacerated this woman's heart, takes nothing into account
but her own feelings. With swift steps she turned into her own room,
brought thence a large and heavy hammer and gave the door the strongest
blow her arms were capable of throwing against it. Another--and
another. The lock yielded, and Amanda, holding the hammer under her
left arm, flew into the room.

Could anything excuse or justify such violence in a wife? Would not
the man who had met force with force and turning upon her, knocked
her down, have been not only cleared but applauded by any court in a
Christian country? And in Virginia, of all other places, the laws are
made for the protection of men; and public sentiment is in harmony with
the State's code.

Vivian Thomas must then either be despised by those of us who see him
leaning against the wardrobe in a passive attitude, while the woman
who had vowed to love, honor, and obey him, ten years before, effected
this headlong entrance into his own sacred stronghold, or he must be
considered a saint, enduring with superhuman patience the tantrums of
a domineering wife. The critic may take his choice of opinions; only,
let us note that the handsome man now averting his eyes from Amanda's
scorching glance is not exactly the frank, fresh-looking fellow who
brought his young bride to Benvenew. All the graceful bearing, the
nobility of outline, and that indescribable beauty Nature confers upon
her favorite sons, are still here. The silky brown mustache droops over
sensitive red lips with tender, downward curves; the white brow is
placid, and the nostrils delicate and fine. But the entire effect is
different. A slight alteration of a few details has changed everything.
The dark eyes have faded to a dull hazel, and the whites have taken on
a yellowish tinge. The cheeks have rather too much color, the flush
extending to the nose. In a word, Vivian's countenance, while retaining
the refinement that seems a part of the very flesh of some organisms
and independent of those shaping forces that ennoble or mar the faces
of most people, betrayed some deterioration of the whole man.

He seemed rather embarrassed than enraged as Amanda, panting from her
exertions and trembling from the terrible tension of her nerves, swept
past him and picked up a little girl cowering in the corner.

Without staying for another look or word she clasped the child in her
arms and left the room; the very atmosphere charged with the contempt
that emanated from her haughty spirit and which Vivian felt, even in
his dulled condition, to the core of his being.

She carried the little girl to her own room, and with hurried motions
bathed her face, changed her dress, and put on her hat and cloak, all
the while uttering low, endearing words, and pressing tender kisses on
the little upturned face which was lovely as an angel's, with great,
dark eyes looking out from a thicket of golden-brown curls.

"Are we going to grandma's, mother?" Nellie asked, as Amanda changed
her wrapper for a black silk dress and took up her bonnet and gloves.
Once before, about a year ago, after a scene between father and mother,
which had deeply impressed itself upon the child's memory, she had
been taken in the carriage to her grandmother's, and had remained
there a week, her mother with her. It had been a week of rare delight,
shadowed only by two things: her grandmother's remarkable gravity, and
the indisposition of her adored mother.

"Yes, darling," Amanda answered hastily, as she threw some things into
a satchel and arising from her kneeling posture before a chest of
drawers, left the room with her child, locking the door behind her.

They went straight to the barn, where Amanda hitched up old Queenie,
her own horse, to a rickety old phaeton, and drove out into the yard,
Admonia holding the gate open and sniffling audibly as she muttered:

"Goo'bye, Mis' Mandy; goo'bye, li'le Nellie. Wish't I wuz gwine wif ye,
so I does."

"Be a good girl, Admonia," said her mistress, bending down and giving
the black hand a cordial shake. "Look after things as well as you can.
You and your mother are all I have to depend on now, you know, since
Pete is gone."

"Good-bye, Admonia!" called Nellie's liquid tones. "Please take care of
my Bantam hen!"

With the blessed elasticity of childhood she had already partly
recovered from the distress of the morning, and was able to entertain
charming visions of the pleasure before her. But although there is in
a child a superficial light-heartedness, so that we are led to flatter
ourselves that its woes are soon over, it is certain that injuries
inflicted in the spirit of injustice, sink deeply into the soul, and
not through inability to forgive, but through inability to forget,
the young heart once wounded in the tender spot of confidence, never
again can put forth vigorous shoots of affection toward the person
who has affronted it. Strange as it seemed to the world that in after
years Vivian Thomas' fondness for his daughter never evoked in her any
corresponding demonstration, valid reason might have been found by one
acquainted with the experience of this and other mornings, why Nellie
always listened to the praises bestowed upon her popular parent with
a pensive smile, and why, in her dutiful attention to him, there was
a reserve and hesitancy widely different from the cordiality of a
relation free from doubt and fear.

Mrs. Powell met them on the front porch. She had on her sun-bonnet and
gardening-gloves, and behind her stalked Alex, armed with her rake
and hoe, his features expressing the contempt of his stronger nature
for the woman's tools he carried, tempered with a respectful sort of
indulgence toward the fancies of the best woman in the world.

Ten years had passed lightly over Mrs. Powell's fair countenance. At
sixty she was a handsome and vigorous old lady, the wear and tear of
life, felt only through sympathy with the troubles of others, showing
mainly in a thinning of the silver curls over her temples, and a few
lines about her true, mild, blue eyes.

Her first look told her that something was wrong with Amanda, and
without any great strain upon her reasoning powers she understood that
the trouble had reference to little Nellie. Nothing else brought that
tense expression to the mouth of her beautiful daughter, nor kindled
deep in her black eyes the glare that told of unendurable suffering and
unquenchable resentment.

"I wuz jes' goin' to pot a few roses afore frost gits 'em," she said,
after affectionate greetings had been exchanged. "Will ye set out hyar
on the bench awhile, honey, an' we kin talk whilst I wurk?"

She hoped that in the course of a little quiet talk Amanda's fierce
mood would give way to soothing influences, and that the injudicious
things the impulsive woman was apt to utter when excited might remain
upon this occasion unsaid. But now, as always, the conservative policy
of the good woman only modified, but could not repress the burning
indignation of a spirit that could easier pardon great injuries to
itself, than the slightest wrong done to one who was incapable of
self-defense.

Leaning her head back against the trunk of the ancient magnolia tree
her grandfather had planted here, Amanda watched her mother dig and
fuss among the roses and listened with slight response to her cheerful
sentences, biding her time.

Nellie flitted about like a humming bird, coming every now and then to
lay her little head against her mother's arm with a caressing touch
that spoke well for the relation between the two. She stayed to carry
water in her own tiny watering pot, when at last her grandmother could
no longer make excuse to stop out of doors, and with a secret sigh, led
her daughter into the house.

"Well, honey," she said, with an attempt at treating matters lightly.
"You're not feeling jes' right to-day. Now, try to forgit all about
whatever's been plaguin' you, and res' yo'self on the sofa, whilst I go
an' see about somethin' nice fur dinner."

"No, no, mother. You know well enough Aunt Liza don't need any
suggestions about her dinner. And I want to talk to you. I _must_.
You'll be sorry if you don't listen to me."

"Don't I always listen to you, Mandy?"

"Yes, mother, but you don't always listen willingly. You seem to think
that if things are not spoken about that it's the same as if they
didn't exist. You think I'll stand things better if I'm quiet about
them."

"No, my dear child; dear knows I'm ready an' willin' to hyar all you
want to say if it eases yo' mind any. But, honey, I do hate to hyar yo'
say sech hard things about yo' husband as you've said to me before when
you wuz put out."

"Put out!" repeated Amanda, with scornful emphasis. "Oh, mother, why
won't you see the thing as it is? A wife may bear with her husband
and not let anybody know what she goes through, but a mother with a
helpless little child to defend, will be up in arms against a brute,
and if anybody says she is wrong to take her child away from a father
that abuses her, why, they can _say_ it. I know in my own heart what's
right, and I'll not take it out in talk. I'll act."

"Mandy, darlin'," pleaded her mother. "Shorely you're exaggeratin'.
Vivian's got his faults, and fur be it frum me to defend 'em. I said to
Jane Thomas, only last week, at the Bush Meetin', that if Vivian could
only be persuaded to come up to the bench then an' thar an' promise to
leave off it'd make me happier'n I've been since you wuz married. And
she said--I ain't tellin' you to rile you 'gainst Vivian's ma; yo' know
she feels fur him, same's I feel most fur you--says Jane; 'If Mandy'd
ashow'd a leetle more fondness Vivian he'd a been different. He always
wuz dependent on affection, an' a lovin' woman could hev done anythin'
with him. Mandy's been cold as a stun, an' it's no wonder'--I mean
t'say she said it wuz a wonder 't he _didn't_ go after other women."

A hot color rushed into Amanda's cheeks, and she spread her hands
widely, with a gesture of repulsion. "Don't take the trouble to try
to hide it," she said in a low tone. "Do you think I don't know what
he races down to Richmond for every month or two--and where all the
money goes to? Benvenew falling to pieces, Nellie and I with no clothes
excepting what you give us, and he--gambler and libertine!"

"Mandy, Mandy, hush!" begged Mrs. Powell, alarmed at a much more
forcible expression than Amanda had ever yet permitted herself.

"You know it's true, mother," Amanda answered in a softer manner.
"You and I and his mother know all about it. Of course Mrs. Thomas
blames me, and upholds him. If it hadn't been for her interference
and continually taking his part, I might have made him behave himself
better. I know all Fauquier County believes he's the injured innocent.
I'm outspoken and he's deceitful. With his soft, smooth manner outside
it's not surprising people think as they do; that my temper drove him
to drink. And then he never gets so far gone in public as he does at
home."

"Honey, that's somethin' to be thankful fur, shorely?"

"Oh, yes," said Amanda with a strange look. "Appearances are so much.
Why, even our own minister took it upon himself, not long ago, to read
me a sort of veiled lecture about the beauty of meekness in a woman.
I'm tired--tired, tired of being eternally misunderstood, and of this
sort of 'devil and angel' game--such as the children play--where he's
the angel and I'm the devil."

Mrs. Powell rocked back and forth softly, her placid face expressing
more concern than had ever appeared there before. There was a sustained
earnestness about Amanda's bitter outpouring different from the
hysterical anger she was used to show upon the occasions when she and
her child appeared with their traveling bag at the Powell homestead.

"Dearie," she said hesitatingly, "do you pray about it?"

"We had better let that subject alone," Amanda answered quietly. "I
might hurt your feelings, and I don't want to do that, mother dear.
Poor ma! It isn't your fault. You didn't want me to have him."

"No, honey, but now you're married thar ain't nothin' else to do but
to b'ar it. Fur the child's sake, Mandy, live as peaceable as you kin.
Think how dretful it is fur her to see you two on bad terms with one
another."

"The child! Yes, I should think--for her sake," cried Amanda, her wrath
flashing forth again. "It is of _her_ I'm thinking more than anything.
Vivian Thomas hasn't any more love for his child than he has for
anything outside of his own pleasure. He even abuses her!" And then she
told of the scene of the morning.

"Poor little thing--poor little darling," said the grandmother
indignantly; but adding in a soothing tone: "After all, Mandy, you know
he is the child's father, and he maybe didn't hurt her much."

"What right had he to even go near her when he was in that condition?
But, mother, I tell you, it's not only when he's the worse for liquor.
I've known him strike her at other times. He's cruel. There was always
a streak of cruelty in his nature. You won't believe it--nobody'd think
it to see him, but I tell you he is born to impose on weaker people.
Nellie is afraid of him, and he makes her little life miserable. I
can't stand it. People have no right to bring a child into this world
and make it miserable. It's my duty to take her away from such a
father."

"Yo' can't do that," said Mrs. Powell.

"I can. I can go away and take her with me."

"Dearie, now yo're talkin' wild. Leave yo' husband?"

"Yes," said Amanda, vehemently. She got up and began to pace the floor.
It was almost impossible for her to sit still, when excited, and her
mother had long since accustomed herself to seeing her daughter moving
back and forth with hurried yet measured steps, her hands clasped
tightly in front of her, while she talked in tones always growing lower
and clearer as her mind became more energetic.

"I've been thinking of this for a long time. I took a resolution last
time it--it happened, that the next time he did anything to Nellie,
I'd shake the dust of his place from my feet. It's not so much his
drinking, mother--though I believe any woman has a right to leave a
man that drinks, and that if there's danger of having children by him,
it's her _duty_ to leave him--but it's what he is altogether. I despise
Vivian Thomas."

"I wish I knowed what to say to you. I know you ain't right, Mandy.
It's a woman's place to stay by the man she marries, through thick and
thin. 'Fur better or worse,' reck'lect."

"That was the old idea--the idea of people who made up the form for
the marriage ceremony. It's a dead letter in our law to-day, and it's
a dead letter in society, too. Does anybody expect men and women to
stay tied all their lives to what's horrible? These are modern times,
mother."

"I'm afeared this comes o' that visit o' yo'n to Chicago, to Cousin
Lois' folks," lamented her good mother. "I dunno nothin' 'bout sech
notions. But I do know somethin' 'bout what people think in Fauquier
County. A woman that leaves her husband puts herself in the wrong, and
no matter if she's innocent as the driven snow there's always a shadow
hangin' to her. Jes' stop and think what folks'd say, my dear!"

"Aye," assented Amanda, bitterly. "I know what they'd say well enough.
But Fauquier County isn't the world. Why, mother, out beyond these
narrow boundaries of Virginia there's free territory where women own
their own souls, and can think for themselves. They can even obey their
own conscience if it leads them to go against the minister and the
church."

Mrs. Powell raised a hand that trembled and put it up to her temple
with a despairing gesture. Tears, almost strangers to her gentle,
serene eyes, gathered and rolled down her cheeks.

"Pore Mandy," she said in a choking voice. "You's fur and away from any
ground whar I kin meet up with you. I've knowed fur a spell back you
ain't took no interest in the church, and I'm gre'tly afeared that's at
the bottom o' your troubles. If you desert the Lord He'll desert you,
honey. It's shore as I'm settin' hyar."

Amanda had kneeled down and pressed her mother's head against her
shoulder; but as the good woman regarded her sadly, somewhat as
she might have regarded a sinner about to be prayed for in her
congregation, a melancholy, half-mocking smile succeeded to the concern
on the worn, handsome face upon a level with her own.

"Do you think if I had worked for the fair last month, and had gone
regularly to the sewing society all this while that it might have
helped to make a different man of Vivian?"

"Maybe not, dearie; though the Lord wurks by means, an' we can't tell,"
answered her mother, naïvely.

"Well, mother," Amanda said, "we can't think just alike about some
things. You're good. You'd be good whether you were in the Second
Baptist Church or in Egypt squatting before a hideous image. And I must
be myself. I must do what I think right, no matter what other people
think or say. And I think it right to take my child away from a father
that ill-treats her, and who sets her a frightful example in every way."

"Why, you wouldn't want to cast such a slur as that on yo' daughter.
People'd throw it up to her always--that her father an' mother didn't
live together!"

"But if she was so much happier in other ways that she could afford to
stand the talk, mother?"

"No, Mandy, no. Thar ain't no woman that's come uv a good family and
been raised proper, an' to feel like a nice woman nat'rally does feel,
but what'd ruther suffer anything else'n creation than to hev the
finger o' scorn pointed at her an' know she or any o' her family'd done
anything to desarve it."

Mrs. Powell had been wrought up to a point where her feelings demanded
expression, and she continued with an earnestness and sincerity that
had the effect of the finest eloquence.

"Even if thar air what yo' call 'extenuatin' circumstances,' you
couldn't do this thing without bringin' 'pon yo'self the very hardest
trial you could be set to endure. You couldn't be in any company
without thinkin' uneasily, 'Would these people be willin' I sh'd be
amongst 'em if they knowed how 'twas with me?' In church you'd fancy
every wurd the preacher utters p'inted straight at you. And let alone
yo'self, what wouldn't you go through thinkin' people wuz slightin'
Nellie because o' you?"

"Mother, mother!" Amanda cried, "you mistake me. You're exaggerating
the thing. I--I didn't mean _divorce_!"

"No, you don't mean it now, but it'd come to that. I feel it in my
bones," said Mrs. Powell, solemnly.

"Well, now, dear, dear mother, listen to me," her daughter pleaded.
"Suppose that--finally, that was the only way to save myself--to--to
protect myself from--suppose we were in another place, in a northern
city, where nobody knows me?"

"Thar ain't no place on the face of the 'arth so remote but what talk'd
find you out."

"Shall we be martyrs, then, to a few old women's tongues? Am I to take
the risk of"--Amanda bent and finished her sentence in her mother's ear.

"Honey, shorely ye kin leave _that_ in the good Lord's hands!"

"I'd have been in a nice fix if I'd have left it in his hands all
these years," said Amanda Thomas, with a look so skeptical and full
of accusation against something seen only in her mind's eye, that her
mother's pink color faded and left her pretty cheeks white. "That's
where our creeds differ, mother. I believe in not leaving things to
chance."

"I said leavin' 'em to the Lord," the old lady amended.

"It's the same thing," said Amanda, recklessly.

"Oh, Mandy, Mandy, it gives me a cold chill fur to hear you talk so."

"I won't talk so, then. Heaven knows I don't want to worry you any
more than can be helped. But let's look at this thing reasonably.
First, about Nellie. The child must and shall have a chance for a
happy, peaceful life. She mustn't be tyrannized over, and hampered,
and kept down; she ought to be well educated and have a fair chance in
the world. And for that she must be away from here--and away from her
father."

"Why, I sh'd think her pa wuz the ve'y one to help her to an
eddication. Vivian's smart enough, an' ain't he been to college?"

"Yes, he's been to college, and he can sing sweetly, the girls say,
and play the flute, and read Horace's odes in the original, and dance
better than any other man in the county," said Amanda, despairingly.
"But does all that make him a good father, or fit him to supervise
Nellie's education?"

"I dunno what more you kin want, dear," answered her perplexed parent.

"Well! There are certain moral qualities. We needn't go into it. To
come to myself. I'm a young woman yet, mother, only twenty-eight. Is my
whole life to be ruined for this one mistake, made when I was a mere
child, and ignorant of the world as a baby?"

"You forgit. A woman's life's sp'iled if she leaves her husband. Thar
ain't no sech thing as takin' a fresh start with a livin' husband in
the background o' your life. He'd be croppin' up yar an' thar an'
ev'ywhar, wors'n a field o' nettles. Do you reckon Vivian's goin' to
lose sight o' you? And, moreover, Mandy, if you sh'd go to the dretful
pass o' seekin' a divorce, wouldn't the law give him the child?"

Amanda started, and bent her black brows fiercely. This was the first
argument her mother had used that she was unable to answer.

"Of course the laws are all in favor of the men. Yes, they would give
my innocent darling--my baby that is part of my own flesh and blood,
that I've nourished at my breast, that I've suffered for and lived for
these nine years--to a besotted, selfish, immoral man who would never
fulfill one duty toward her, and who doesn't care for her the worth of
his little finger. The only thing is that I don't believe he'd want
her."

Mrs. Powell shook her head. "You can't depend on that. Men always want
the last thing you might s'pose'd be any use to 'em. They want their
own way, you see."

"Then the only thing I can do is to keep it a secret where I go. There
are places enough."

"An' how'd ye git along, poor child? How'd ye do cooped up'n some
mean leetle place without no run fur Nellie, an' without horses, nor
anybody to do a han's turn fur ye? And, dearie, you know, even though
I'd ruther you'd stay hyar by yo' duty, wharever you go my lov'd foller
you, an' I'd always do all in my power. But money's the one thing we
don't hev. If you're somewhar 't you hev to put yo' han' in yo' pocket
fur ev'y livin' thing, even to an egg, or a slip o' parsley, how 'pon
'arth'll you do?"

"I mean to work, dear mother. I can sew, and embroider, and do lots of
things," said Amanda, spreading her white hands and looking at them
meditatively; not dreaming, poor, thing, of the thousands and thousands
of other defter and more experienced hands stretched forth in the
localities she thought abounding in lucrative work, for the merest
shadow of employment, and the paltriest sort of recompense.

In Mrs. Powell's imagination Amanda was a rarely talented and capable
woman, able to perform wonders, yet her shrewd common sense suggested
difficulties that Amanda could not but recognize when they were pointed
out, averse as she was to consider any details made against her plan.

They talked over the matter from every point of view, the elder woman
reiterating the same arguments she had used already, and the younger
one meeting them continually with that free, liberal interpretation of
the gospel of individuality which youth has always flourished in the
face of age and conservatism.

Mrs. Powell held out as stanchly as only a good, bigoted Christian
woman, devoutly living up to the public opinion of an insular,
mountain village, can hold out against modern heresies striking at
the very foundation of her social system, and her religious beliefs.
But Amanda had been for a very long time working herself up to her
present resolution, and she stuck to her purpose with unflinching
steadfastness, and had by supper-time succeeded in convincing her
mother that she was in deadly earnest and not to be dissuaded. And
after she had put Nellie into the great old-fashioned bed and tucked
the coverlet about her soft, warm little throat, she only stayed by her
long enough to be sure that the child was sound asleep, then kissing
the curls floating out over the pillow, with a fervent affection such
as no man had ever known from this woman with a genius for motherhood,
she stole away softly, leaving the door ajar, and went back to the
sitting-room to talk to her mother more definitely about the plans she
had formed for the future.

But hardly had the two settled down before the fire when, with a rattle
and a bang, very unlike her old-time timidity, Jane Thomas flung
herself into the room.

"Sh--h!" said Amanda, as the heavy door slammed shut. "You'll wake
Nellie!" She got up and set the door partly open again, then resumed
her seat, pushing the chair away from the hearth to make room for her
mother-in-law, but saying no word of welcome, for she felt that this
visit was made with some special disciplinary intention toward herself.

If ever a woman's face and mien conveyed indignation and resentment
of the splenetic sort, Mrs. Thomas' meager visage and thin figure
manifested these sentiments as she fell into the chair drawn forward
for her, and turned her watery-blue eyes upon her son's wife.

"Nellie!--to be shore!" she uttered in a spiteful whimper. "Pity but
what yo'd hev a leetle consideration for other folks 'sides that child.
Hyar yo've done pitched onter Vivian and attackted him with hammers an'
druv him out'n his own house, an' made a scandal that'll ring through
Fauquier County, and the saints above knows what it's all about. I
thank the Lord I ain't got yo' disposition!"

"You've a great deal to be thankful for in the way of disposition,"
observed Amanda. She had closed her lips tightly, resolving to maintain
absolute silence; but what woman can suppress the witty retort when
her antagonist exposes a vulnerable point?

"Seems ter me I'd be a leetle mo' humble, consider'n' what yo've done.
It'd become you ter be thankful 't yo' awful temper didn't do no mo'
harm 'n it done. Not but what it done 'nuff an' mo'n I shu'd like ter
hev 'pon my conscience."

"If you'd take a few of your son's sins upon your conscience it might
give you something to do."

"Oh, I don't look fur nothin' but sass from you, 'Mandy Powell. Yo've a
tongue the devil hisself 'd fly frum."

"If Vivian Thomas has run from it you must be right," answered Amanda.

Mrs. Thomas rocked back and forth till her chair creaked with a
spiteful sound that seemed to her hearers to be an echo of her
whining voice. She expatiated upon the deplorable effects of her
daughter-in-law's fearful outbreak of the morning, and warned her that
no man on earth was called on to put up with such tantrums, and that
if she was locked up in the lunatic asylum it would be no more than she
had a right to expect.

Amanda put a severe break upon her imperious spirit and said no more
words in reply until at last Mrs. Thomas brought out her final taunt,
that she had only run away for the purpose of getting Vivian to come
after her and bring her back; and for this time she was mistaken. She
would have to stay away a mighty long while if she waited for him to
fetch her, and she'd be glad to creep home again by the time everybody
cried shame upon her.

Then Amanda arose and stood before her adversary, tall and majestic,
with her arms folded across her swelling chest, and her black brows
bent in such a frown as made Jane Thomas' cowardly heart flutter, until
she thought of the impossibility of a personal encounter with this
woman, whom she would have given half her possessions to conquer and
humiliate.

"I say to you here and now," said Amanda, using unconsciously an
orotund quality of voice that, together with her pose, rendered her
delivery so forceful that her words stamped themselves upon the memory
of both her hearers: "I have left Vivian Thomas' roof forever. Spread
the fact as fast as you please; gloat upon the scandal it will create
in this gossiping little place, and tear my reputation to pieces as
fast as you want to. No power under Heaven can make me look upon that
man's face again, or pass a moment in his company!"

For a few seconds there was a hush in the air, as if a missile had been
thrown, and an effect was looked for. People often experience this
momentary apprehension when some peculiarly definite and emphatic stand
has been taken by anyone; as if definiteness, in this changing world,
was a crime to bring down punishment.

But effects rarely follow so swiftly as those that came upon the heels
of Amanda's declaration. Hardly had her voice died away when her
mother arose hastily, crying:

"Hark, what's that?"

There were sounds of dogs barking, voices exclaiming, and the quick,
irregular gallop of a horse's feet coming up to the front porch. The
three women stood looking at each other, when a wild figure with eyes
starting out of its head, wool standing on end, and gown half torn from
its back, burst into the room, and Admonia cried out in a hoarse voice:

"Mis' Mandy, Mis' Mandy! Fur de Lawd's sake, Mis' Mandy--Mr. Vivian
done fell off'n he's horse inter Mowbry Gulch an' b'oke he's neck!"


III.

MOWBRAY GULCH was a danger-pit lying midway between Sampson's Tavern
and Benvenew. The road narrowed after passing Bloomdale, and wound
around the spur of the Blue Ridges known as Round Peak, in a manner
only a native could have understood. Vivian had traversed the narrow
bridle-path thousands of times without a thought of danger, galloping
past at night in that spirit of confidence characteristic of a Virginia
boy, said to be "born on horseback."

The accident must have occurred early in the evening, for a passer-by
on his way home to supper found a hat and whip on the road near the
edge of the Gulch, and looking down, discovered a man's form on the
rocks, twenty feet below, lying perfectly motionless, with a white face
upturned to the sky.

At least three hours had intervened between that and Admonia's
alarm, and when the three women arrived in Jane Thomas' wagon (she
had wept, and abused her daughter-in-law all the way) they had found
many neighbors upon the scene, and the doctor bending over something
stretched out on a mattress by the road-side.

"He is living," were the words they heard as they came up, and Mrs.
Thomas broke out into wails of thankfulness, while Mrs. Powell
breathed more quietly a prayer as grateful. Amanda said no word, but
a deep sigh exhaled from her burdened chest, and she tried to draw
nearer. A friendly hand held her back. Edgar Chamblin's blue eyes
glimmered anxiously in the light of the lantern he was holding, and he
said with kindly insistence:

"I wouldn't go nigh him jes' yet, Mis' Mandy. We're goin' ter tote him
ovah t' cousin Evy Smith's. Her'n is the nighest house, an' Doctor
Sowers says he must be taken ter the ve'y nighest place."

"Can't he be taken _home_?" wailed Vivian's mother. "I mean to _my_
house whar he kin be taken cyar uv?" with a spiteful look at her
daughter-in-law.

The doctor looked up anxiously. Vivian's closed lids had quivered for
a second and a look of consciousness appeared, then faded away. With
tender hands he was laid on the cot that now arrived and carried over
the field to Miss Eva Smith's cottage, where the little bedroom off
the parlor had been made ready for him, and the best bed was spread
with every dainty piece of linen the spinster could draw from her
treasured store.

So it was upon a lace-trimmed, hemstitched pillow-slip that the
beautiful head of the injured man reposed, and over him was spread a
silk quilt that had long been the pride of Miss Evy's maiden heart, and
which she now brought forth with a solemn sense of consecration.

Miss Evy was a thin, fragile woman, with a figure that had once
been willowy, but was now angular; blue eyes that once were like
forget-me-nots, contrasting with tender, coral lips and baby blond
hair; but tears shed in secret had washed the blue from her eyes and
the peachy bloom from her oval cheeks, until only a faint reminiscence
remained of the beauty which had captivated Vivian Thomas' boyish
fancy. One of the peculiarities of Vivian's fortune was that the
women he had wooed and forsaken remained faithful to him till death,
cherishing no resentment and seeking no retaliation; but, instead,
biding the time when by some act of service they could prove the
strength of an affection that always had in it an element of maternal
fondness.

Why some men whose paths through life are marked by the broken hearts
of women should experience from those they injure the tenderness
and leniency seldom or never accorded to better but rougher men is
something only to be explained by the waywardness of feminine nature.
The majority of women like to be martyred, but resent frank abuse. The
weakly child of the flock easily converts his mother into a slave,
even though she perceives through the veil of feebleness the force of
egotism. And in the same way the man of soft manners, winning voice,
and insinuating tongue, may play the tyrant at his pleasure, and be
admired and adored by women whose slavishness is a conscious concession
to some imagined delicacy that appeals to their maternal instinct.

In the humble heart of Miss Evy her girlhood's hero had maintained
his place, notwithstanding her conscientious efforts after Vivian's
marriage to think of him as something entirely apart from her life.
Thinking of him was a privilege she allowed herself under certain
restrictions. She thought of him when she prayed, when she sang in
the choir on Sunday and Wednesday nights, and when she worked in her
flower-garden. Most of all then, for long ago he had been used to stop
his horse and stand outside the low stone fence, with his arm through
the bridle-rein, and talk with her in a playfully sentimental way that
she had thought the prettiest sort of love-making. And so, to keep him
out of her mind when she tended her spotted lilies and trained the
purple wistaria, was as impossible as it would have been to avoid the
connection between the sky and the gracious heaven lying beyond.

It was an innocent indulgence that did not infringe upon the rights of
Vivian's wife, and did no harm to the gentle woman herself; for it
kept alive her faith in human nature and trust in the compensations
Providence has in store for those who have been denied their heart's
desire in this world. And these are feelings that die out in most of
us under the scourge of disappointment and leave something worse than
heartache in their room.

There had been days when the loneliness of her self-chosen, single lot
had been too hard to be borne, and sometimes then Miss Evy would steal
to the window of her little spare front room, and peep guiltily through
a slit in the blue shade to watch for a sight of Vivian riding past,
and when the longed-for vision appeared, she would start back with her
hand on her heart and a hot color in her delicate cheek, but he never
saw her, nor ever dreamed of her observation. If he had he would have
dismounted and chatted with her for a few minutes at the gate; for
Vivian was ever tender toward the women who worshiped him, and he
would have valued the eloquent if silent appreciation of this faithful
heart, and taken comfort in the sympathy she would have expressed at
least in looks; rumor having carried to her news of scenes at Benvenew,
little to Amanda's credit.

As she stood back behind the door, and watched from this little
distance hands that had a better right than her own minister to the
man she loved, a pang of jealousy sent its jarring quiver through all
her nerves; but the next instant it was succeeded by the thankful
feeling that it was hers to extend hospitality, to furnish the means of
comfort, and mayhap, her privilege, while others rested, to help nurse
him back to health.

There was something for everyone to do that night, for the country
doctor worked with the bustle that grows out of the necessity of
finding occupation for the officious onlookers who must not be
offended. Something for everybody excepting Jane Thomas, whose
hysterical condition made her such a nuisance that even Dr. Sowers
could think of no more diplomatic suggestion than that she should go
somewhere and lie down--and take some warm water and brandy.

"And me a Blue Ribboner!" she moaned resentfully.

Amanda was a born nurse; self-restrained, level-headed, tender and
strong, she won golden laurels in the doctor's opinion as she quietly
took her place at his side, and intelligently carried out his wishes
without comment or question. Her mother went home at nine o'clock to
take care of little Nellie, the doctor having stated his opinion that
although there was concussion of the brain, Vivian's hurt would not
necessarily prove fatal. The state of coma might be followed by brain
fever, but with good nursing his fine constitution would bring him
through.

"It's sartenly a special Providence," thought Mrs. Powell, when Amanda
told her that she should stay at the cottage. "Don't you take a mite
o' fear 'bout Nellie; you know she'd stay with me contented fur any
length o' time," she said, as she left.

"But you'll bring her over to see me for a few minutes when you come
to-morrow," Amanda urged, and her mother answered: "Uv coas, honey,
we'll come over right 'arly. Don't you get wore out now; you and Miss
Evy take tu'ns settin' up."

It had required considerable effort to induce Mrs. Thomas to see things
in the light of her uselessness, and it was the doctor himself who
finally carried her off and left the house to Miss Evy and Amanda. It
was late when they found themselves alone in the little room where lay
the still form of the man who was dearer than her heart's best blood to
the one woman, and to the other--who shall say whether dear, or no?

Amanda had never been in love with the all-conquering hero of Fauquier
County. At eighteen she had been in love with love; and Vivian was
nearer the embodiment of her ideal than any other whom she knew. The
highest powers of our nature remain latent in most of us for lack of
opportunity to develop. It may be a talent, it may be a virtue that
stays in the germ throughout all the ups and downs of our career,
and that we pass on to our children to come out in them as practical
capacity.

Although Amanda had in her nature a rare power of wifely devotion,
it was of the royal order; it could not stoop, and so it died away.
And in its stead had grown to mighty proportions the mother-love that
extends in women of a high type beyond the instinctive care of her
own young, to an all-embracing tenderness toward feeble creatures of
every degree. The little ones, the helpless, the sick appealed to this
strong, self-poised woman in a way that called out every capacity for
self-sacrifice that lay in her, and she would have wrestled with death
and all the evil powers to save from harm anything which confided
itself to her protection.

The vigorous, healthy Vivian, contemptuously setting at naught her
standards of duty, and wounding her dignity in a hundred ways, was
so repulsive to her moral sense that she was ready to fly from him as
from a pestilence. But Vivian cast down from his height of graceful
insolence and dependent upon her kind offices, had claims before which
every critical faculty bowed itself. All she thought of now was how to
help him.

"Do you think he'll come to in his right mind?" asked Miss Evy in a low
murmur, after half an hour had passed in silence. She could not stand
it any longer. She felt as if she must say something. That handsome,
calm woman seated at the head of the bed awed her, and at the same time
irritated her. In some vague way she felt that Amanda was to blame
for Vivian's accident. Like Mrs. Thomas she felt that if the wife had
fallen into spasms of self-reproach it would have been more fitting
than this display of courage and energy. Yet she was glad, too, for his
sake that there was some one at hand able to "take holt and do whatever
wuz needed."

Amanda looked over at the gentle spinster pleasantly, but replied only
by a faint shake of the head. Her watch lay open upon the stand beside
a glass of medicine, covered with a hymn book. Upon the book lay a thin
silver spoon marked with the initials of Miss Evy's grandmother. It was
one of six, and Miss Evy only used them upon rare occasions.

Amanda still wore her black silk, and over it she had tied one of her
hostess' white aprons, made of fine nainsook and trimmed with a deep
border of home-made lace. Aprons are the least neutral of garments,
for they have the effect of bringing into view certain values in their
wearer. By this touchstone some women are instantly proclaimed dowdies;
others approved as domestic, and still others marked out as queens or
fairies masquerading. The natural servant wears her apron smartly; the
born chatelaine with an inimitable grace. Upon Amanda's magnificent
figure the garment assumed the air of the imperial purple, and Miss
Evy, watching her meekly, acknowledged in her successful rival some
rare quality which she could not name, but which seemed to account for
and justify the ascendancy she was said to exercise over all her family.

At midnight Vivian opened his eyes. "Whoa, Sultan!" he uttered in
feeble tones, and made a motion with his hand as if he pulled upon the
reins. Miss Evy started, but Amanda laid her finger on her lips and
bending over him, said softly:

"Drink this, Vivian," putting a glass to his lips. He drank all she
gave him eagerly, then his head fell back upon the pillow, and he slept
till dawn.

Miss Evy was persuaded to retire toward morning. She would have
preferred to sit there and watch, but she could not say so, and she
was compelled to steal away upstairs, and leave Vivian to his wife,
who kept unwinking vigil until the first glimmer of light shot through
the closed blinds of the east window. Then she arose and put out the
lamp, and noiselessly raising the window let the pure, fresh mountain
air into the little room. During her watchful night her mind had
been entirely occupied with Vivian's condition; she had not thought
of herself. But now, as the sun touched the tip of Round Peak and
crept downward till the whole valley was illumined with the light of a
perfect October day, she became conscious, with a thrill of pain, of
that feeling of personal life and identity which is so strong and vivid
when, in some beautiful spot isolated from the whirl of cities, we open
our eyes upon a new day.

There is no other joy so fine and none so fleeting, perhaps, as this
stirring of our individual energies by the breath of that mighty living
force that recreates us each morning after the apathy of night. At this
instant of recognition the day belongs to us and the air resounds with
a pæan of wonderful hopes and promises, as if our single personality
were the only concern of nature. Soon the responsibilities of our
relations to others crowd out this sense of individual life and the
momentary Sabbath-peace of the soul is broken up by the work-a-day hum
of jarring machinery. So, swift upon the exaltation aroused in Amanda
by the influence of an unshared sunrise, came the disappointing sense
of check and defeat to her own purposes and plans, which had been
wrought within the last few hours. None of the reasons that led to her
decision to go away and begin a new life remote from these surroundings
had altered. Fauquier County was still limited, narrow, and hostile
to Nellie's mental development; Benvenew was still poverty-stricken,
and no new resources suggested themselves. And Vivian was still the
old Vivian, with all his vices upon his head, and likely with the
first hour of returning health to repel and disgust her, just as he
had been doing all along. Every condition she had dwelt upon as urgent
cause of flight was unchanged; and yet, with lightning swiftness was
accomplished that resolution, paralleled in the experience of every
one of us, by which the one whose offenses had banished him from her
consideration, was made through sudden appeal to pity, the object of
first importance to her.

As Amanda turned from the window and approached the bed where Vivian
was now opening eyes in which the light of reason was absent, she
turned her back upon all the rosy hopes that had been dwelling in her
imagination, and took up the burden of a hard and painful duty. For
she was aware through the prophetic insight that flashes through our
acts into the region of remote consequences, that out of the immediate
obligation of nursing her husband back to health and strength, would
grow ties that would cramp and fetter all her future. Her only defense
against whatever his will might impose upon her had been in her
feeling of antagonism. For, strong and self-poised as she was, she
had the woman's weak-point of an intense susceptibility, and if she
had achieved the wish to be hard as nails, the first touch from a
beseeching hand would inevitably break through the crust and betray the
lurking softness beneath.

It was with a quiver of fright that she realized, as she raised
Vivian's head upon her arm and felt him weakly recline against it,
that the barriers would soon be broken down between them, and that
there might enter into her heart, destitute of respect and esteem that
pitiful substitute for true affection, a self-immolating tenderness
that leads judgment into abysses where poisonous plants grow, exhaling
odors detrimental to sanity and health. The flash of fear came and
went, and no one, save her mother, ever knew what Amanda's concession
meant to her, and what it involved.

Miss Evy had passed a sleepless night, and at six o'clock she crept
softly down to the door of Vivian's bedroom and stood for a moment
before she knocked, listening for sounds that she dreaded to hear, the
sound of incoherent murmuring, in femininely sweet tones.

"Come in," Amanda called, and she entered, with a scared, anxious face
and timid step.

"He's out of his mind, ain't he?" she queried pitifully, and Amanda
made an assenting movement of the head.

Vivian's delirium was not violent at first, and he submitted to
requirements with a gentleness that was like his ordinary courtesy.
But he recognized no one for many days, showing a preference, however,
for Amanda and her mother, over all the others who came in to offer
their services. His wife seemed to have a peculiarly soothing effect
upon him, and with another variation from his attitude when in health,
he was impatient and fretful whenever his mother appeared. Mrs. Thomas
took this hard, and in the parlor of the cottage, where she sat most
of the time seeing callers, she bewailed the ingratitude of her son,
and whispered dark sayings against Amanda--"who wuz tryin' now to throw
dust in people's eyes by makin' out she was dreadful fond o' him, when
if the truth wuz told--"

It seemed as if everybody within ten miles around came with offers of
help and utterances of sympathy; the last delivered only to Mrs. Thomas
and Miss Evy, for few persons saw Amanda. For ten days she watched by
Vivian's bedside with a devotion that completely revolutionized all
Miss Evy's ideas of her, and astonished even her mother. And when, from
the very jaws of death, Vivian came slowly back to life, he had become
to her like a dear child, whom it was her duty to shield and minister
to, and treat with a tenderness unmingled with criticism. Whether this
mental attitude would continue was a question. Mrs. Powell held counsel
about it with herself, and made it a subject of prayer: "That Mandy
would go on bein' forgivin' an' lovin' an' that all'd go well betwixt
her an' her husband."

The exquisite season of Indian Summer, the fifth season of the year in
the mountain region of Virginia, set in early, and one morning when the
air was so soft that it brought to the surface all the gentle, kindly
impulses of hearts that stiffen and congeal under the rough touch of
frost, Amanda found herself curiously moved as she stepped lightly
about Vivian's room, waiting for him to awake.

It often happens that a mental preparation unconsciously takes place
in us for events about to happen. A letter is on its way to us, and we
think of the writer, sometimes expressing a solicitude the letter's
contents justify. A friend visits us and we meet him with the remark
that we were at that moment longing for his presence. Some catastrophe
takes place that we were anticipating, and if a pleasure is in the air
its approach is heralded by a peculiar elation and excitement that our
occupations cannot account for.

These are more tangible things, and easier to understand than the
subtle atmospheric changes that pass along from heart to heart. How
can we explain the power affection has to send its prophet before to
prepare for its coming? In some unexpected hour a certain something
tugs at our heart-strings and tunes them up so that when the right hand
is extended a melody is evoked that we did not think of or intend.

Amanda was a practical woman, not an emotional one, but she was not
therefore any the less alive to fine shades of feeling. She dusted the
bedroom with a piece of dampened cheese-cloth, set carefully upon the
stand the slender necked Bohemian vase of flowers that were Miss Evy's
morning tribute, and laid out clean towels beside the basin of fresh
water upon the chair by the bed, as methodically as usual. Yet she was
conscious of being in a state of expectancy, as if she stood upon the
eve of something.

Vivian opened his eyes, larger and clearer for his three weeks'
illness, and looked in her face with that solemn expression that
accompanies the return of consciousness after the delirium of fever,
and she trembled under the rush of tenderness that his gaze awakened.

"Amanda!" he said feebly, "you in here! Aren't you up early?"

"Not so very early, dear," she responded, very gently. "It's you who
have slept late."

"Strange I don't feel more like getting up," he remarked. Then his gaze
wandered over the room, and came back in perplexity to her face.

"Are you the genii?" he asked with a little smile.

"Am I what?" She thought his wits were wandering again.

"The genii. I must be Prince Camaralzaman. I went to sleep in my own
room last night, and wake up in this, which I vow I never saw before."

"You were indeed brought here, but not from your own room. You have
been here three weeks, Vivian. You fell from your horse into Mowbray
Gulch and hurt your head, and you have had brain fever."

She spoke slowly, and he followed her words attentively, closing his
eyes when she was through, and lying perfectly quiet for a minute. Then
he said:

"Where is 'here?'"

"We are at Miss Evy Smith's. Her house was the nearest place, you know,
and you had to be brought here."

"Evy Smith's!" he repeated, with a strange little laugh. "That's
singular." After an interval, he added:

"Has she been nursing me?"

"She helped. She has been very, very kind. A sister could not have done
more."

"She was always sweet and obliging," he observed. "But--Amanda, come
sit down on the bed, won't you? My voice seems mighty weak, somehow."

"I mustn't let you talk," Amanda said. She sat down on the edge of the
bed, and as she did so a flush settled upon her firm cheek and stayed
there. Not for three years had she been so close to him. Perhaps he
remembered, too. What he said was:

"So it is you who have been taking care of me? It was good of you,
Amanda. I think you must have grown rather fond of me while I've been
at your mercy here."

That unerring tact of his suggested exactly the right thing to say.
Not a word to jar the delicate springs of feeling that had been set
at work in her, and not a sign that he meant to take advantage of her
changed attitude.

He was too weak to think such matters out. He merely obeyed the keen
instinct that belongs to natures like his, in emphasizing by this
casual allusion the leniency and indulgence she must naturally feel
toward him under the circumstances.

Some people have the faculty of making us feel grateful to them for
permitting us to serve them. Vivian had it. Amanda was so delighted
to see him recovering that she almost felt like thanking him for it.
Perhaps one reason for this humility was that she had not been free
throughout his illness from the sting of self-reproach. Outwardly she
had ignored Jane Thomas' bitter charge that her violent conduct had
indirectly caused Vivian's accident. But in secret her conscience had
taken her to task again and again for her severity toward him. If it
had led to this she felt that blame should rightly fall upon her.

No faculty of our nature brings to us keener suffering than our sense
of justice. Suppressed, it cries out continually; exercised, it leads
to acts too positive to be endured in retrospect; and this relenting of
a strong nature, this going back upon itself and its principles, is a
common occurrence in daily life.

Great risk attends such changes of mental attitude, for character is
built upon a belief in the correctness of our own judgment. If we ever
come to a point where it appears probable that everything we have held
to and believed in is a mistake, God help us!

Now, the strong point in Amanda's character was her unflinching
uprightness. She had always dared tell the truth to herself, using no
palliations. And in this way she felt certain of her ground. But now,
for the first time, the demon of self-distrust had entered into her
mind, and all her ideas and opinions became affected by it.

If she had been to blame in her attitude toward Vivian, how far was
she to blame? In what respect was she right? Poor Amanda was now
in a condition where Jane Thomas' stinging remarks could cause her
discomfort. Strangely enough, her greatest consolation was in the
attachment Miss Evy had formed for her.

"I don't know how I could ever have let myself think of you as I used
to think, Mrs. Thomas," the gentle spinster had said once, when they
were upon confidential terms. "I'm shore you're anything but unfeeling."

"Am I called that?" Amanda asked, not without a pang. She was no longer
above caring what people said about her.

"Well, you know some people must have something to say about
everybody," Miss Evy said, apologetically. "But since I know you, why,
I think you're real good; even good enough for Mr. Thomas."

Amanda looked at her when she said that. Something occurred to her that
she had heard a long time ago and forgotten.

"Thank you," she said, quite gently, and turned away.

Miss Evy's hospitality had not been worn out by the severe test made
of it. As a convalescent Vivian had been endearing to the last degree.
It was congenial to him to be waited upon, and the one severe and
immitigable suffering incidental to his illness (and for which he
secretly promised himself royal amends) was almost made up for by the
knowledge that he had at last discovered Amanda's weak point, and could
hereafter, at least in a measure, hold his own. Vivian did not put it
just this way to himself. He had as great a genius for embroidering
facts as Amanda had for truth. What he said was that he was glad to
find that his wife was fond of him, after all. And in a beautiful
spirit he forgave her, and took her to his heart.

This is what Fauquier County understood. But it did not forgive Amanda.

A year later the county might have forgiven her, if she had borne the
misfortune that came to her more meekly. But revolutions of character
are seldom permanent, and Amanda, after compromising with her own
judgment because it found her consistently severe, entered into that
debatable territory where we are swayed alternately by a desire to be
gentle and an impulse to be sharp.

"I don't mean to reproach ye, honey," her mother said, one day when
Amanda was spending the day with her; "but somehow, yo' temper ain't so
even as it used to be. You wuz always high--wantin' things yo' own way.
It ain't so much that now. But you's mo' easy upset than you used to
be."

Amanda turned her dark eyes upon her mother. They were beautiful still.
But that crisis of a woman's life when her beauty begins to fade had
come to her early.

Upon her lap lay a three months' old baby. It had a look of vigor, and
a certain weird beauty about its little face; but not for an instant
during her almost passionate care of it had Amanda been able to forget
something that the flowing robes concealed from casual glances. The
child was hopelessly deformed.

"Yes, dearie, I know," said Mrs. Powell, her gaze following Amanda's
as it was bent upon the sleeping infant. "I know it's a trial. And I'm
ashamed I said anything. Nobody need t' wonder at yo' bein' a mite out
o' gear. But trust the good Laud, Mandy, and He'll bring everything out
right, yit."

"Will He straighten baby's back, do you think, mother? Or do you mean
that He will make things right by letting it die?"

Mrs. Powell's color arose, and she did not venture to reply. Could any
one but a mother wish the child to live?

"He will not die," said Amanda, laying her hand softly on the baby's
thick golden hair. There was intense feeling in the low tone, but with
her next words her voice took on a hard quality that Mrs. Powell had
learned to associate with acute distress. "He will live," she cried,
but not loudly; "live to reproach his father for a sin so dark that
no one can name it. Aye, we must hush it up. This is a 'visitation of
Providence,' in the opinion of our good friends. Well, I don't call it
that. The truth is that it's a visitation of _liquor_, of----"

"Hush, hush, Mandy!"

"Excuse my lack of delicacy," said Amanda, with biting scorn. Not
scorn of her mother, but of the idea of the county as reflected in her
mother. She leaned back and drew a fleecy white shawl carefully over
the baby's shoulders, then resumed sadly:

"I could stand it better, if I was free from blame in my own eyes. I
tell you, mother, the only real hell is in knowing you're wrong, and
feeling, to the bottom of your heart that you've brought suffering upon
others by being wrong."

"My dear child," quavered good Mrs. Powell, "you's morbid. Yo' notion
ain't the right notion at all. How could you ahelped the pore child's
bein' so?"

"By standing to my colors. By obeying my own conscience, no matter what
the world said."

"Mandy, yo' own sense must tell you't you couldn't ahelped it, noway.
Even if you'd kept on thinkin' 's you done. It wuz took out'n yo'
hands. You done yo' duty in stayin' by Vivian when he wuz laid low, an'
nobody kin do mo'n their duty."

"It was my duty to nurse him. And after that--after he was _well_, I
should have--gone."

"Now, I reely thought you got fond o' Vivian, an' I wuz thankin' the
Laud for it."

"Oh, women are mostly fools," answered Amanda, sweepingly. "But don't
thank the Lord for it, mother. The fruits of folly are more bitter than
the fruits of wilful sins, I think."

"Mandy," said Mrs. Powell, rising in all the might of her sensible,
hearty, well-balanced nature; "it won't do to be furever dwellin'
'pon what we've failed to do, an' what we ought to adone. This world
ain't heaven, and we's right to rejoice with tremblin'; but there's a
sayin' I want to recommend to yo' pore, worn heart: 'Again I say unto
ye, rejoice.' That's it, honey. Stop worryin' an' frettin' an' leave
things you can't alter if you wuz to kill yo'self tryin'.

"An' now I'm a-goin' to hev Liza make a co'n pudden' an' whip up cream
fur the peaches, an' you must please me by puttin' away everything else
an' givin' yo' mind to enjoyin' a right good dinner. Thar's miseries in
the world, to be shore, but thar's comfort too, an' to my thinkin' it's
mighty good common sense to take our fill o' creature comforts as we
go along, fur we's only got a certain length o' time to stay 'pon this
'arth, an' we might as well make the best on it."

"There are some things that have no best side," said Amanda; but she
said it rather faintly. After all, there was logic in what her mother
expressed. She knew that nothing in the world now could alter her
opinion of Vivian; nothing should ever again alter her attitude toward
him. But was there any comfort or happiness to be got out of life still?

Mrs. Powell had left the room, after pressing a kiss upon her
daughter's cheek, and another upon the hair of the sleeping baby.

Through the window came the sound of Nellie's voice, exclaiming to her
little colored playmates in vivacious accents: "There's papa coming!
Grandma said he was coming to dinner;" and in another moment she
skipped into the room with her hand in that of the fine-looking man who
appeared before his wife hat in hand, wearing a gentle, deprecating
smile.

Amanda arose quickly, pressing her baby to her breast, and stood
looking at him with fire in her eyes. Am I never to be safe from your
intrusion? her look said. But her lips were mute, and with a lately
learned self-control she remained silent, while he filled in the
embarrassing moment with the graceful, fluent phrases ever at his
command.

"What a magnificent woman she is," thought Vivian, as he threw himself
into a chair, and began to entertain little Nellie with some funny
anecdote, intensely conscious all the while of the stately, stern
presence that ignored him.

Suddenly her gown brushed his knees as she passed him on her way to the
door, and he glanced up rather uneasily.

"I'm only going to lay baby on the bed," she said in a low tone, not
without the trace of contempt she could never nowadays keep out of
her voice when speaking to him. But in the other room, while she was
bending over her little one, there came to her one of those humorous
suggestions that visit us now and then, to lighten our periods of
depression.

"Man is, after all, only a kind of stomach, and friendship but an
eating together." The sentence was from Carlyle, perhaps; anyway, it
was applicable to the situation. What was the use of making such a
serious affair out of living?

"Oh, yes, it is easy enough to be upon friendly terms 'if friendship is
but an eating together,'" Amanda said to herself, grimly.

Half an hour later Mrs. Powell, sitting, flushed and anxious at the
head of her hospitable table, rejoiced at the amenities that passed
between her two guests, and whispered to her own heart that everything
was coming out right, in the end. And to this determined optimism
Amanda, who interpreted her mother's beaming looks perfectly, made no
sign of dissent. But Vivian, even with his facile acceptance of all
things in his favor, could not help but realize to-day, very strongly,
that Amanda would never be to him, so long as she lived, anything but
an icicle. With her temper, it might have been worse than that.



PETER WEAVER.[2]


I.

SNEAKING CREEK CHURCH had an unusually full attendance on the Sunday
morning that saw Miles Armstrong's first wrestle with his Satanic
majesty, in the interests of that congregation.

He was a well-grown boy of twenty, or so, with the look of an eager
colt scenting its first honors in the wind, and determined to strain
every nerve to come in ahead at the finish. The bright, brown eye,
large and deep, turning here and there with a half-timid, half-bold
gaze, the quivering nostril and tossing chestnut mane over his long
head gave him a likeness to a high-bred horse, scarcely broken yet, and
destined to kick the traces somewhat before settling down to a steady
pace.

The accommodations offered by the Second Baptist Church to its
preachers were not luxurious. A straight-backed cane chair, and a small
square table holding a bible and a pitcher of water were the creature
comforts that stole gently upon the senses of young Armstrong after his
ten-mile gallop over Fauquier County roads that morning.

Nothing cared he for creature comforts. Nothing either, for the fact
that the congregation facing him was composed of Fauquier County's
choicest and best in the line of hereditary sinners; clothed in fine
raiment and conscious of waiting carriages and servants outside, and
of choice viands upon solid silver dishes at the end of their journey
homeward after they had listened to the sermon. To him all these
personages, in rustling silks and fine broadcloth, all these Haywoods,
and Gordons, and Dudleys were so many sick souls, needing the cordial
of the true gospel; so many criminally blind beings with feet turned
toward destruction, careless of the light and life they might have by
an effort that, to him, in his young zeal, seemed so simple and slight;
to them, perhaps, involving sacrifices beyond his experience and power
to imagine.

Immediately in front of the platform stood the organ, and seated bolt
upright before this was Miss Lavinia Powell, in a green silk waist
with skin-tight sleeves that prevented her raising her arms to her
head to twist up the wisp of gray hair straggling from her door-knob
_coiffeur_, and which consequently held the uneasy attention of a
nervous woman in her rear all church time. Had the hair belonged to
anybody else than Miss Lavinia Powell, the neighbor would have ventured
to reach over and adjust it. But no one ever performed familiar offices
for Miss Powell. She was the quintessence of spinsterhood, and her
weapons of defense were two gray eyes like a ferret's; of offense--a
tongue unparalleled for point.

Two-thirds of the people were wondering what Miss Lavinia thought of
the new preacher. He was not yet permanently engaged. Underneath all
his concentrated purpose to utter telling truths this morning, lurked
the consciousness that he was on probation. He felt, even though it
was impossible that he could have heard the whisper that was running
around the church while he gave out the first hymn. It began in the pew
occupied by a couple of girls who were visiting old Mrs. Powell, who
sat with her sweet, serene face turned toward the young preacher with a
look of beautifully blended respect and benevolence. She heard none of
the gossip carried on by her nieces.

"Is he ordained?"

"No, indeed. Not a minister at all yet."

"He's experienced sanctification, though."

"You don't say so!"

"Yes, but he fell from grace, they say. Perhaps that's why he looks so
melancholy."

"Do you think he looks melancholy? To me he just looks earnest. He's
got splendid eyes, but they're awfully deep. I'd be proud of a man with
eyes like that, wouldn't you?"

A smothered giggle, and a murmur to a friend in the next pew.

"Do you believe in sanctification? The preacher's experienced it."

Nellie Thomas heard the last remark, and from that moment her
reverential gaze was fixed upon the thin, earnest face of the youthful
preacher. Her heart bowed before the spiritual power abiding in him.
She received the sermon as a divine message, humbly responsive to the
persuasive words that sought to arouse a conviction of sin in all
hearers.

"We are all of us in the mire of sin," uttered the clear young voice
in solemn accents. "Every one of us should take shame to himself for
his sins. You that wear elegant clothes and live in great houses are
no better than the beggar--the tramp--that goes from one back door to
another--in the matter of sin. The back door of the Father's house is
the door we'll have to go to when we want to enter into heaven. If
you are proud and lofty-minded, and think yourself good enough to be
admitted at the front door it is all the more certain that you'll be
turned away and made to go around to the back entrance, and made to
wait there knocking a long time before you are let in. And good enough
for you, too. Are any one of us fit to enter into the presence of the
Lord? If any one of us thinks so he ought to take shame to himself for
the notion. If I had such a false notion in my own head I'd take shame
to myself for it."

The sermon went on, the emphatic voice falling at the end of every
sentence as if the speaker had the intent to drive home his argument
by verbal knocks. The respectable audience was browbeaten and held up
to ridicule for its pretensions to virtue; it was proved conclusively
that not a hope of salvation could be reasonably cherished by a single
person present. Proved to the general mind. A few persons remained in
doubt, and one--a man seated with folded arms in the middle of the
church--continued utterly skeptical. He had attended closely to the
sermon, his broad, ruddy face expressing throughout a kindly sympathy
with the preacher, curiously mingled with concern. Now and then he had
allowed a great sigh to escape him, and once he moved restlessly as
if impelled to utter a protest. But he mastered the impulse and kept
quiet until the final word was said, and the preacher in an agitated
voice gave out the last hymn. All the hymns had been mournful. This
was brighter. Perhaps the congregation embraced the opportunity for a
change of mood, for the hymn swelled out with unwonted vigor, nearly
every one falling in with the second stanza.

A powerful bass voice projected itself from the lungs of the
good-humored-looking skeptic. Throwing back his head he roared forth a
melodious bellow that drowned all other individual accents--save one.
Nellie Thomas' bird-like tones thrilled their roundelay of worship with
the silvery clearness of the skylark. With the freshness and innocence
of some lark reared on the top bough of a giant tree, high above the
strife and guilt of the world. The throb of feeling in the tones came
from the same source that a child's emotions of worship come from;
an awed sense of personal inferiority to some element of perfection
dwelling somewhere in the universe, and approached on timid wings of
faith. Unconscious of self, her sweet voice brightened and strengthened
until the mass of sound outside seemed but a great accompaniment, the
mighty single bass bearing her up as if it held her aloft in its arms.

This was what Peter Weaver came to church for. Singing devotional songs
with little Nellie was the crown and cap-sheaf of the week's silent,
unrecognized worship that was carried on with the generous abandonment
of a mind seeking no reward beyond the privilege of devoting itself to
its cherished object. The simple, brave soul lodged in Peter's huge
frame joyed in surrounding the young girl with a protecting fondness
that was like an invisible shield interposed between her and harm.
He had never cared for any other girl, and he had cared for her ever
since she--a radiant maid of six years in a pink lawn frock and white
sun-bonnet--entered the old school-house door one morning twelve years
before, and transformed the loutish boy puzzling over sums, into a
poet and a knight-errant, bound forever to her service. During all
these years that he had carried her school-books, gathered wild-flowers
for her from dangerous mountain crevasses, and catered to her gentle
whims in every way a man might, who bore her continually in his heart
and studied how best to give her pleasure, Peter had never broken in
upon this friendship by a word of the sentiment of which his poet-soul
was full. Nellie, called by her admirers the beauty of Virginia, was
to him the living embodiment of the sweetbriar rose, too delicate,
too sensitive to be plucked and worn, even by one worthy of that
distinction. Himself, he thought scarce worthy to tie her little shoe.

And yet, except in contrast with this Dresden china creature, with her
skin of milk and roses, her golden brown eyes so soft and shy, and her
cloud of sunny curls, fine as floss, the modest farmer-poet, tied
by circumstances to homely tasks, was not a man to be despised. His
height, which was six feet two inches, was sustained by good breadth
of shoulder and shapeliness of limb. His round head, covered with
short, crisp, black locks, was well set, and his pleasant eyes, of
an opaque blue like the hue of old Dutch pottery, looked out at you
with a frank and honest expression. There was too much color in his
cheek, but it was a clear, bright red, showing healthy blood beneath,
as free from venom as his nature. He was now thirty-two years old,
and his philosophical temperament, not wanting in capacity for deep
thinking, made his years set lightly upon him. He was still rather a
great boy than a mature man, in the opinion of most people, and perhaps
of all the men and women in Fauquier County who knew and liked Peter
Weaver, but one person recognized and appreciated the sound, sane mind,
the capacity for heroic action that lay beneath his eccentricities
and commonplace, almost awkward bearing. This friend was Amanda
Thomas, the widowed mistress of Benvenew, called Mistress Amanda, to
distinguish her from old widow Thomas, her mother-in-law.

Mistress Amanda's strong character rather than any external advantages
had made her an important personage in the county. Her kinsfolk, the
Powells, were impoverished, and her husband, the bright particular star
of the sporting set, had left her an affectionate legacy of debts,
together with an invalid child whose malady set him apart from the
working world and enshrined him in his mother's heart as something to
be tenderly cherished at any cost to herself or others. This boy was
never seen out of his home, and people whispered dark stories of his
strange and dangerous moods, in which no one could do anything with him
save Peter Weaver.

No wonder, then, that Peter Weaver, whose oddities were not upheld
by an ancient Virginia family name, was, nevertheless, welcomed as a
favorite guest at Benvenew, where many a proud youngster hung about,
thinking himself rewarded for hours of patient homage to the stately
mistress, by a glimpse of shy Nellie. He and Mistress Amanda had
come to that complete understanding when a glance interchanged means
a whole volume of explanation. It was natural for this glance to be
interchanged when they differed from prevailing opinions.

Therefore, it was this great lady's gaze that caught and held the
doubtful look that Peter threw toward the preacher while the final
argument was being made as to the absolute necessity for all of them
to be bowed down in humiliation over their sins. Some rapid question
and answer seemed to pass between the two that left Peter satisfied. He
threw himself into the singing with more than common zeal, and when the
moment came for a general relaxing from the stiffness of sermon-tide
he walked out of his pew and up toward the front with a fixed purpose
plainly written upon his face.

The youthful preacher had stepped down from the platform, and with the
step he seemed to become another man. All the severity had vanished
both from countenance and manner. Bright, kind, with a suppressed
liveliness that became in the passage from heart to tongue cheerful
and witty response to the pleasant clamor around him, he was like a
man who had thrown off the weight of a heavy responsibility, and got
back home again. But outward transformations are not to be taken as
signs of deep internal changes. The man who laughs at your dinner table
is the same man who refused to abate his stern judgment against your
brother yesterday. He is not to be played with because he chooses to be
humorous.

Peter Weaver was now standing beside the preacher. Mistress Amanda
introduced them, and then turned so that her voluminous draperies made
a barrier between the two men and the groups behind.

Young Armstrong's slim hand yielded a ready clasp to the mighty grip of
the farmer-poet, who was anxious to express in this greeting more than
usual good-will and interest. To balance what he had made up his mind
it was his duty to say.

"I'm shore them that have a better right than me to express an opinion
have thanked you for your sermon," said Peter. Always slow, his speech
was now even ponderous, through anxiety to find appropriate words. Some
of his thickness of his Dutch grandfather's tongue had descended to
him, along with a short-sighted and earnest devotion to duty.

Armstrong answered by some light word, divining, by that
super-sensitiveness of the young enthusiast, that a criticism was in
the air. He looked up at the honest red face half a head higher than
his own pale one, with a little curiosity. Peter's kindliness was so
vast that he felt like a school-boy being forgiven by the professor of
moral philosophy. A strange feeling for an expounder of the sacred word
to experience in the presence of an apparently commonplace man.

"It was a good sermon," Peter went on; "that is, good because there
was an honest purpose in it. But I don't agree with you, sir."

"Don't you?" retorted the preacher, smiling. He was not displeased that
his first sermon contained stuff for argument.

"You see, your point of view is the point of view of a well-meaning
but inexperienced young man. The world isn't near as bad as you made
it out. There's a lot of good in human nature, and you'll find it out
after awhile. I'm not afraid but what you'll find it out. But I'd be
sorry to have you go on saying all these hard things that don't do any
good. The only way to make people better is to take hold of some good
thing about 'em and build on it. The world wants to be encouraged, not
discouraged, sir!"

Armstrong felt now like a boy in the infant class being lectured by the
Sabbath-school superintendent. His white teeth closed down over his
lower lip. It galled him to have to look up to meet the eyes of this
singular individual. But he rallied himself gallantly.

"Oh, I think very well of human nature," he said, in his strong, clear
tones. "But you know we must not look at things from _that_ standpoint.
Anything short of perfection is rottenness in the eyes of God. And who
among us is anywhere near perfect?"

"Still, the world wants encouraging," repeated Peter.

It was the idea he had intended to emphasize. He wished that this fine
young man and himself were seated on the porch of his little green
cottage, with a pipe apiece, and the afternoon before them to talk the
matter out. But nearly everybody had left the church. Only half a dozen
or so lingered to exchange a word with the preacher. Courteous Peter
felt that he had been to the fore long enough. He extended his hand
again, and gave Armstrong's a cordial grip.

"Your face contradicts your preaching," he concluded, backing away
reluctantly. "You'll not be so severe when you let yourself be as much
in sympathy with people as nature meant you to be!"

He bowed in his ungainly fashion, and walked on out. Armstrong's
attention was immediately engaged by Mistress Amanda, who invited him
to go home with her to dinner. She had listened with keen interest
to the little exchange of views between the preacher and Peter. Her
sympathy was with Peter. She had less toleration than he for the
intolerance of others. There is no bigotry like the bigotry of an
egoistic mind that thinks itself liberal; and Mistress Amanda felt an
impatient contempt for the hard and fast Calvinism of the preacher.
But personal preferences were not allowed to stand in the way of
hospitality. The preacher was pressed to come to Benvenew and stay
over until Monday, when he could ride back to Roselawn, the Armstrong
dwelling, in the cool air of the morning.

Other persons had felt a sense of their hospitable duties. In fact,
Armstrong was half engaged to go to the Gordons. He was turning his
gracefully uttered thanks into a refusal, when Mistress Amanda moved
toward the pew on her left to pick up her fan, and in so doing gave
him a glimpse of Nellie, who had kept modestly behind her mother all
this time. Mistress Amanda was tall; Nellie was short and slim; a
sylph, a dainty fairy figure, over whose face played the luminous light
of the moon as it is reflected in water. Her great soft eyes dwelt upon
him with pathetic sympathy. The brightness of partizanship was there,
too. A dove whose heart had been moved to side with an eagle engaged
in combat with its fellow would probably have looked so. Nellie felt
in her gentle bosom the stirring of vindictiveness against Peter's
rough hands that had essayed to tear away the veil of sanctity which
hung over the Lord's chosen vessel. Her ears still held the echo of
those strong, stern words with which the preacher had rebuked sin. She
mentally bowed before them. She, too, was a sinner. Oh, that he might
lead her into the light!

Armstrong's eyes had found her while these thoughts were writing
themselves upon her innocent face. In a second he caught a breath of
that incense which filled the heart of the sweetbriar rose. Youth,
enthusiasm, worshipful instinct met and united in the one swift glance.
The words of excuse died away in Armstrong's throat.

"Let me present you to my daughter, Nellie," said Mistress Amanda
carelessly; hearing only a murmured acceptance of her invitation. The
young girl bent her head, the rose tint deepening in her cheeks. The
preacher bowed as to a queen. His manner seemed a trifle exaggerated to
Mistress Amanda, but her critical reading of his character was that he
would probably over-do everything.

She moved toward the church door with him, her negligent glance taking
in an impression of a rather good-looking, gentlemanly bigot. Such
people were bores that good breeding obliged one to suffer patiently.

The church was perfectly quiet by the time they had reached the door,
for they were the last. The crowd outside compelled them to stop for
an instant in the vestibule.

Suddenly there came to the ears of all three the sound of a long,
mournful howl, deeper than that any dog could make; heavy yet
tremulous, as of something in great distress.

Peter had been stayed at the door--probably he had loitered to see
Nellie--and he, too, heard the sound. His round eyes widened and his
mouth opened in astonishment. Without dying away completely the painful
bellow was renewed.

It seemed to come from the interior of the church.


II.

SOME remarkable epithet rolled from the throat of Peter as he turned
his head from side to side in a perplexed grasping after the location
of this disturbance.

"It seems to come from the basement," observed Mistress Amanda. Peter
strode to the basement door and took hold of the knob. It was locked;
an occurrence so unusual as to arouse renewed surprise.

There was now a renewal of the sounds; a succession of low,
long-drawn-out bellows, becoming more and more faint, and dying away
completely while the four listeners stood looking at each other.

"May not some stray cow have got into the basement or cellar?"
Armstrong suggested. It seemed to him that this big farmer showed more
annoyance than the occasion demanded. Doubtless the explanation would
prove to be very simple. But he had not Peter's premises to argue from.
Mistress Amanda and he both knew that if any animal was imprisoned
beneath the church it must have been driven there, and shut in. Why
should such a thing be done? There was but one explanation. Over a
week ago a fine cow belonging to Peter had bodily disappeared, without
leaving a trace to identify the thief. He had had a strong suspicion
that the guilt lay at the door of his neighbor, Theodore Funkhausen,
one of the richest men in the county, but commonly called "Skunk."
Many a quarrel had taken place between "Skunk" and Peter Weaver, in
which the generous nature had been the victim. The last one dated a
fortnight back, and was about Peter's cattle. Soon afterward the cow
had disappeared. Funkhausen's sour visage had worn a particularly
malicious look lately, when he and Peter met, a look that one who knew
him might interpret as pleasure in an accomplished act of vengeance.

"I'm going to get at the meaning of them noises," said Peter, with
mighty emphasis, and he laid violent hands upon the door lock, which
was weak and yielded without much resistance. "If it's as I think,"
he added calmly, "Thed Funkhausen's going to have one thrashing!" He
descended the dark stairway, and they heard the crackle of matches as
he went. Peter's pipe was not in his pocket when he attended church but
his match-box was.

"What does he mean?" asked Armstrong of Mistress Amanda. The boyish
liking for an adventure and the instinct of the southerner for a fight
struggled in his breast with the severity of the preacher. He had a
vague idea that Peter Weaver was one of the unregenerate persons toward
whom one's sympathies must not be allowed to flow incautiously. On the
other hand, Funkhausen's reputation had reached Roselawn. To the fact
that he was a _carpet-bagger_, the true-blooded Virginian laid some
contemptible acts which otherwise would have been unaccountable. But
there were persons who found the rich man good enough in his way, and
he had a certain following, was a school trustee, member of the county
jockey-club, and sure of a seat among the judges at the annual fair.
Consequently, when he took it into his head to quarrel the possibility
of his antagonist being in the wrong naturally presented itself to fair
minds.

Armstrong had never heard of Peter Weaver, although the farmer-poet
was well known throughout the county, and now that he had made his
acquaintance he was not greatly disposed to admire him. There was
enough resentment in his mind for the elder man's plain speaking to
make neutrality in a quarrel between him and Funkhausen appear a
Christian duty. But he could not find fault with any circumstances that
led to his standing in the little vestibule close to this wonderfully
fair young girl, whose spiritual face wore the far-away look of one
whose thoughts are set on things above this earth. Yet Nellie had her
practical side. In some things she was more practical than her mother.

Mistress Amanda's commanding bearing, however, was a complete contrast
to the young girl's modest, timid mien. Her fine, black eyes rested
coldly upon the young man who had put his question to her in a judicial
tone. She murmured a few words that were no reply, and busied herself
in drawing up the folds of her black satin skirt to sweep out to her
carriage. Peter was heard coming up the steps. He emerged with an
apoplectic face, breathing hard.

"_Was_ it?" asked Mistress Amanda.

He nodded. "Shorely, starved to death--the darned skunk!"

His friend gave him a look expressive of the wisdom of keeping cool and
waiting for the right occasion. It was something like throwing water on
a red-hot stove. But Peter had unlimited confidence in the good sense
of Mistress Amanda. And he bore in mind that it is a man's duty not to
show fight in the presence of ladies. So, sighing inwardly, he helped
them up the step of the great family coach, where old Mrs. Powell and
her niece were seated, waiting; and, mounting his horse, rode off at a
pace that harmonized with his feelings.

Peter's bulk was unhandsome on horseback. As young Armstrong lightly
vaulted into his saddle and reined his horse beside the window,
where Nellie's sweet face peeped out from beneath the shadow of a
flower-laden leghorn hat, she silently noted the contrast between the
riders.

"What kep' you so, Mandy?" asked old Mrs. Powell, with as near the
suspicion of a complaint in her voice as ever got into it.

"Why, something very singular, mother. Would you credit it, that
Funkhausen put Peter Weaver's cow under the church and starved it to
death! We heard its moans--probably its last ones, and Peter went down
and found it. He says he'll thrash Funkhausen, and I think everybody in
the county'll stand by him if he does."

"How perfectly dreadful!" chimed in the girls, in thrilled accents.

"Oh, dear, Mandy, that wuz mean indeed of Funkhausen," said the grieved
old lady. "And he a member o' the chu'ch, and holdin' to particular
redemption, which he oughtn't to dare to do less he's shore he's one o'
the elect hisself."

"He'll need all his particular redemption--when Peter gets hold of
him," commented Mistress Amanda, who was no Antinomian. She took some
pleasure in making remarks like these, less to shock her mother,
to whom she was more tenderly deferential than to anybody else in
the world, than to enlarge the outlook of Nellie, whose innate bent
toward Calvinism irritated her. She disbelieved in the possibility of
a woman saint under sixty. Of men, she had been heard to remark that
they "only got to heaven through the grace of God and the goodness of
women." But while she hated pretensions to special piety she readily
pardoned sinners who were confessedly incorrigible. She would overlook
all offenses save self-complacency or the possession of a bloodless
nature incapable alike of sterling virtues or robust wickedness. There
are persons to whom the touch of velvet is odious. Mistress Amanda
detested velvety natures. Some Viking-like quality in the woman,
something fierce and grand as the breaking of a storm at sea, threw out
a challenge for rough honesty; for the strong hand of untamed manhood
to touch and calm her mood. In Peter Weaver she realized her ideal of
robust, simple manliness. Twenty years before her maiden fancies would
have passed him by with disdain. But there comes a period of life
when a second set of desires replace the dreams of youth, unlike them
in every respect, especially where "the curse of a granted prayer" has
robbed the dreamer of illusions. In so many words, Mistress Amanda
had never said to herself since she had been left a widow five years
ago,--I like best the man who least resembles my husband:--but her
regard involuntarily fell upon everything in the shape of both men and
women, who were innocent of the suavity, the grace, and the polished
egotism of the late Col. Thomas.

To revise one's personal ideals is sometimes commendable; but a good
mother usually reads her new philosophy into the life of her daughter.
In Mistress Amanda's hands Nellie had been as ductile as gold foil,
showing a fragility, however, that exacted delicate treatment. Here
was a sweet, affectionate, domestic disposition, without any of the
deep and subtle qualities that had rendered her own life stormy; a
nature formed to lean on strength and create a happy home for a good
man. And Mistress Amanda had given to Peter's shy wooing an unspoken
but emphatic approval. But the sleeping beauty's repose was not yet
broken. Nellie's maidenly meditations had still leave to wander where
they listed. But one little cloud hung over the rosy sky of Mistress
Amanda's hopes: Nellie, always given to shy musings and conscientious
scruples--had lately shown a strong bias toward her grandmother's
religious convictions. Indeed, it often seemed to Mistress Amanda,
whose ambition and passionately maternal nature would have fitted her
to be the mother of heroes, that her daughter belonged more to old lady
Powell than to herself.

A dear, sweet old lady, with a heart full to overflowing with the
milk of human kindness, and yet she had unconsciously become a moral
stumbling-block to the one person whose happiness she was in every way
most desirous of serving.

Poor Mistress Amanda had never found any aid from nature in carrying
out her plans, but she was not the woman to relinquish one on that
account. She relied upon the aid of chance to bring that proof to
Nellie of Peter Weaver's worth, which would make her tolerant of his
rationalism.

A poet and a skeptic! Only in the degree which made it necessary
for the solitary man, thinking out all things for himself, and
philosophizing upon life with the sky and woods for counselors, to
reach conclusions that he could connect with the way things had of
turning out. Calvinism did not seem to him to connect with the law of
duty to your neighbor as it presented itself to his conception; and his
theology took this simple formula: bear and forbear as long as you can,
and then strike good blows; leaving alone the consequences.

And Nellie was a very mimosa for sensitiveness, as to the sin of
differing from one's spiritual advisers. Mistress Amanda looked at
her daughter, a translucent opal set between those gilded spurs, her
cousins, and reflected upon the pains nature takes to bring about
disharmony in families.

As the carriage approached the gates of Benvenew two little darkies
raced out and held them wide open, with a special grin and duck for
the gentleman on horseback, whose dimes rolled in the dust, sped by
the careless, free hand of one who remembered himself an Armstrong,
forgetting the preacher. But the set of the preacher was strong in the
man. It was apparent at dinner; that excellent dinner where the golden
brown turkey at one end of the table was rivaled by the noble ham at
the other end, and where corn-pudding, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes
in firm, rose-red slices, were reflected in crystal-clear goblets of
cut-glass, standing sentinel-like upon napkins of double-wove Barnsley
damask, white as sunbleach and rain water could make them.

Armstrong sat at Mistress Amanda's right hand, with Nellie opposite,
her hands constantly busy playing over the jellies and _entrées_ set in
front of her to serve. Drooping curls half-hid her face, but his eyes
dived keenly into the cool, sweet depths of hers when by chance she
looked up. And she had the pleasantly fluttered sense of being watched
by one curiously sympathetic with her.

"You are like your father," Mistress Amanda was saying. "Like what
he was at your age. I met him once at a tournament held over at
Purcellville. A pleasant part of the country, and a pleasant time we
young people had that day."

"And you was crowned queen o' love and beauty, Mandy," cooed old Mrs.
Powell. "I see by your face though, sir, that you don't hold to these
fashions?"

"Should I hold to any customs that encourage vanity and display, and
un-Christian rivalry?" returned the young preacher. "I understand
there is to be a tournament held here in the fall, at Rocky Point. I
shall feel it my duty to warn all our young people who have felt the
strivings of the Spirit, not to yield to the temptation."

"I am so glad!" the fleeting cry came from Nellie involuntarily,
and when Armstrong covered her flushing face with a soft look of
encouragement, she continued sedately:

"I think such things take us too far away from our serious duties in
life."

"Nellie is passing through one of those phases peculiar to youth,"
observed her mother. "Attacks of acute religious fanaticism are a sort
of moral measles."

"Madam!" uttered Armstrong in a shocked tone, but meeting that calm
glance of the elder woman, secure in the dignity of her deeper life
experiences, he softened his tone apologetically:

"I beg you will not construe my criticism of the custom of tournaments
into a criticism of yourself. Doubtless there was formerly a greater
license in the Church concerning these things. Even dancing picnics
were tolerated----"

"Why not?" asked the bold lady. "We must have amusements, we
southerners. We are not Puritans."

"Shall the Puritans hold their faith more purely than ourselves? I see
no reason why the very enthusiasm and eagerness for amusements natural
to southerners should not be turned into the channels of a deeper
Christianity."

Quite an argument ensued, in which it was notable that the forces
were drawn up three to a side; old Mrs. Powell, Nellie, and Armstrong
against Mistress Amanda and her two cousins, city-bred girls, desirous
of shining in conversation.

Mistress Amanda carried on the battle with one hand behind her, so to
speak. She disdained to put forth her full intellectual strength to
rout a stripling. And half her mind was wandering abroad in a flight
after her hero, pursuing his angry way homeward. Could her imagination
have given her a true picture of Peter's adventures on the road, she
might have dropped the feint of interest in the dinner-table topics to
enjoy the thrill of real feeling, in a more singular and vigorous turn
of events than was promised by the mild social elements gathered at
Benvenew.

Peter had met his enemy on the lane turning off toward The Oaks,
Funkhausen's place. He was driving along at a leisurely pace in his
carryall alone, enjoying his meditations, when a fierce-browed horseman
reined up beside him and caught the relaxed reins from his hands.

"Git out o' that, Thed Funkhausen," commanded Peter. "I've a word or
two with you."

"Hadn't it better keep till another time?" suggested Funkhausen in a
tone meant to be pacific.

"No, it won't keep!" thundered Peter, who had no mind to let his
present wrath cool into his habitual, easy-going tolerance. And there
was a force of circumstances in his having possession of the road and
the reins, which compelled Funkhausen to step out; Peter dismounting at
the same minute.

"What'd you shut my cow up for and starve her to death?"

A smile of sly enjoyment overspread Funkhausen's face. He did not deny
the charge, seeming rather to take pride in an achievement so original.
Funkhausen feared his huge antagonist, but beside being a burly man
himself, he believed that he was near enough to home for his negroes to
be within call; and there was a small army of farm-hands in his service.

So, charges were met by defiance, and Peter's temper ran no risk
of dying away without finding vent. It came to blows before many
expletives had made the air hot, and, as might have been expected,
Funkhausen was tendered to the care of mother earth, with dust for his
pillow. But although with that issue Peter began to find forgiveness
sprouting in his soul, new complications arose. The farm-hands were
within call, taking their ease before their cabin doors, and enjoying
the smell of their dinners cooking. At Funkhausen's lusty cries they
came pouring down the lane, realizing the duty of obedience to the man
who supplied their bread.

"Surround him! Surround the low-lived coon!" yelled Funkhausen,
sputtering and winking, wiping the blood from his nose with his best
Sunday pocket-handkerchief.

And the negroes closed around the tall figure, standing firm and solid,
with nothing but his fists to oppose to the force of numbers.

The negroes numbered fifteen men.


III.

THE sunshine of a perfect October day lay full upon Peter Weaver's
great front porch, as he sat in his red armchair, smoking his
after-dinner pipe, two months after his encounter with Funkhausen.
Behind the porch lay the house; a minor affair, yet comfortable in its
way. So long as weather permitted Peter lived upon his porches, the
back one, fronting east, in the mornings, and the front one with the
western exposure in the afternoon. From it he could see the goose-pond
where his flock disported, and the road, not very lively, but with
passing features of interest to a society loving mind.

His bachelor housekeeping was simple, his farm small, and the good
grandparents had brought with them from Holland a store of Dutch
guelders which had been converted into mining stock in due course, and,
passing down to Peter, made his living a comfortable one. Had he chosen
to loaf all day long upon his porches his income would have enabled
him to do so. And old Aunt Vina and her two sons would not have lost
their wages, nor the church its annual liberal check. But Peter had
an industrious streak in him, and worked with all his might when he
did work. Afterwards he indulged himself in spells of meditation and
verse-writing.

How he had first gained courage to put himself before the public as a
poet is a mystery. Possibly he had hopes of making his name illustrious
in little Nellie's eyes. It is certain that a copy of the _Purcellville
Banner_ with heavy lines in red ink drawn around a sonnet addressed
to "A Sweetbriar Rose," and signed "Heinrichs," had reached Benvenew
the day after being issued. Since then the poet had branched out in
other directions and the _Banner's_ columns were enriched with an
amount of original matter that led the editor seriously to contemplate
the possibility of abandoning a "patent outside," and depending upon
home talent to fill his space. Eventually, the disguise maintained
by "Heinrichs" was penetrated by his neighbors and Peter was made
the recipient of attentions varying from invitations to dine and
display his talent for versification at the Gordons, all the way down
to lampoons in chalk upon his barn-door, and hootings from the six
red-haired little Clapsaddles.

Pendleton Haywood, riding by one morning, espied the sturdy poet
with his sleeves rolled up, deep in molasses-making; and thought it
opportune to call out:

"Peter, make me a rhyme!"

With extraordinary quickness this rejoinder was thundered back:

    "I'm busy just now,
    Stirring my molasses,
    I've no time
    To make a rhyme
    For every fool that passes."

And Pendleton went on his way a sadder man; for the six red-haired
little Clapsaddles were as usual hanging about the goose-pond, and
had made themselves masters of this colloquy; which, consequently,
spread with the rapidity of a Virginia creeper, from Rocky Point to
Purcellville.

There is no doubt that Peter's gift was a great comfort to him, and,
modest as he was, he accepted the inevitable fame growing out of his
contributions to the _Banner_ with a certain degree of complacency. The
power of looking at the events of life with a view to turning them into
poetry invests even common subjects with interest, and when any really
exciting thing happens the gifted mind is conscious of a wonderfully
uplifting feeling, such as the admiral of a fleet may experience when
an enemy's ironclad opens fire. Opportunity is the spur that starts
genius into a canter.

Peter sat smoking, and thinking how to turn the fight between himself
and Funkhausen into a poem which should arouse the enthusiastic
admiration of all readers of the _Banner_; including Mistress Amanda
and perhaps Nellie.

When Funkhausen had set his hirelings upon the stalwart Peter he had
not taken into account two things: one was that there was not a darkey
in the county without a feeling of personal liking for the kind-hearted
poet, and the other, that negroes are cowardly except under the
influence of excitement. The foremost man in the group happened to be
one to whose family Peter had rendered many kindnesses. When the blue
eyes of his master's victim looked steadily into his own, Jake felt a
curious tremor of mingled superstition and perplexity, which caused
him to fall back on his comrades instead of advancing to the attack
Funkhausen was doing his best to urge on. Peter's raised fist conveyed
reminder as well as menace. That hand had been ready to extend help to
those in need, but it was equally ready to strike down an offender. And
the negroes did not like the looks of the strong, resolute white man
standing upon the defensive, alone, but with right upon his side. They
began to mutter and to fall back, until the whole mass had melted away;
in some way bearing Funkhausen along with them. Whereupon Peter mounted
his horse and quietly rode home.

But the county rang with the affair. As much to vindicate himself
as for vengeance, Funkhausen had Peter up before the church for
discipline. But to his disgust, and to the delight of everybody else,
Deacon Greene declared that Peter had done nothing to be disciplined
for; but that "if he hadn't fought Funkhausen the church would have
turned him out!"

Mistress Amanda gave a dinner party and made Peter the guest of the
occasion. It happened upon Michaelmas and old Aunt Viny insisted, for
luck's sake, upon dressing a pair of her master's geese, and sending
them to Benvenew. So that Peter had the pleasure of seeing pretty
Nellie blush under the sly allusion made by one of the guests to the
old proverb about "the maid that eats of the bachelor's goose." But on
the other hand, common sense told him that blushing was with Nellie
no sign of especial embarrassment. Indeed, it was probable that the
proverb was unknown to her. She was much occupied, all dinner-time,
with the account young Armstrong--now ordained and installed as the
regular preacher for Sneaking Creek church--was giving her of a
bush-meeting in the woods back of Purcellville. He was anxious for
her mother to take her to the meetings, but Mistress Amanda did not
like bush-meetings; and she was not inclined to encourage any species
of religious excitement in Nellie. Peter would gladly have offered to
drive her but he could not venture to do so in the face of her mother's
disapproval. It seemed a little hard to him that he should not be able
to avail himself of this little opportunity to please the young girl.
And if jealousy had been possible to him he must have felt a twinge of
it in seeing how absorbed Nellie was in the talk Armstrong was pouring
into her ears. But the time had not yet come for him to recognize the
significance of what was going on under his eye. The happenings of our
daily life are like the characters at a masked ball. Capering before
us, they seem entirely unrelated to ourselves in any particular, and it
is only when they unmask that we know them for what they are.

Peter, the dreamer, wove some new fancies about his dainty love as
he sat with a writing pad upon his knee, and his short pipe between
his lips. The world was very beautiful to him. And to-morrow would be
Sunday; the happiest day of all the good week; for he would see Nellie
at church.

The collie dog at his feet jumped up and ran down the walk. At the gate
stood a shabby phaeton made distinguished by carrying Mistress Amanda.
As he hastened out she called in a loud, clear tone:

"Good morning, Mr. Weaver, have you any turkey eggs to spare?"

Her hand, in its old gray gauntlet, was extended, and as he took it for
a second in his own she added, lower,

"So much as a concession to our neighbor's greed, yonder!"

Peter looked and saw Elmer Hall approaching, driving a pair of hogs
before him. Taking the cue, he talked about turkey eggs until the
grunts had died away in the distance.

Then said madam--"I didn't come to talk about turkey eggs."

Peter drew a hand through his handsome hair; looked down reflectively
and looked up smiling. "Will you come in?" he suggested. A decided
shake of the head answered that. "My five years' seniority wouldn't
excuse it--to the Greenes and Aylors! I doubt if even my mother could
venture it. We may risk ten minutes here at the gate."

Mistress Amanda began flicking her whip at a thistle; her forehead
gathering lines. Suddenly the words shot from her:

"You are a patient man!"

"Well! You haven't come two miles to tell me that?"

"But I have. Patience is a most unusual virtue--in a man, but there is
such a thing as having too much of it. Do you remember the story of the
fox and the wolf?"

"The nursery tale? Let me see. I think my grandmother used to tell it
to me, but that was long ago. I forget the point."

"The wolf bit him--put out his eyes, and so on, the fox simply saying
all the time, 'patience!' Till finally the enemy tore his heart out,
and the fox found, too late, that patience is the most dangerous of all
virtues."

Peter gazed at the narrator of this fable in amazement. For the first
time in his life the idea that women are incomprehensible found
lodgment in his mind.

"Ah, I see you think me daft," said his friend. And not for the first
time in her life, by any means, she found a man dense.

"In so many plain words, then, are you not in love?"

The blood seemed on the point of bursting through Peter's skin; his
head weighed a ton; his legs became pipe-stems. He gasped something
inarticulately. Then, manly sense asserted itself. His look grew steady
and grave and nobody could have found fault with his manner, as he said:

"You know I love your daughter. I reckon everybody knows that."

Mistress Amanda turned impulsively. Her face had been carefully averted
during this conversation, but now she let her eyes meet his. There was
the emphasis of a kept-down excitement in her tone:

"Everybody except the one person who ought to know it. It is a
well-kept secret so far as she's concerned."

"I've only been waiting for the right time--she's so young--such a
child!" Things danced in the sunshine before the man's eyes. His long,
lovely dream!--this was so sudden a call to hard reality; he could not
waken in a minute.

"Nellie is not a girl to be won by accumulated acts of worship," said
Mistress Amanda tersely. "Some girls can be won in that way; romantic
girls. They would be flattered at being made the subject of verses;
would like to feel that a great, powerful creature trembled before
them. But Nellie is wonderfully free from that sort of vanity. So far
from understanding the real feeling that is at the bottom of all the
favors you show her she looks upon you as a sort of good godfather who
has a fanciful, half-playful preference for her. You have never come
near enough to her to touch the ruling motive of her character."

It sprang to Peter's lips to ask what that was; but he forbore
the question. There seemed to him an indelicacy in arriving at a
comprehension of his love through another person's perceptions, even
if that person was her mother. Mistress Amanda, however, was no muddy
stream whence truth must be laboriously filtered out, but a clear
fountain, throwing facts high and rapidly in the air for the dullest
seer to take in.

"She has a large vein of the practical in her. Probably you think--all
you men think--that, with that soaring look, her feet never touch the
ground. But you may take sentimental flights into the region of romance
for the next ten years without interesting her enough to make her even
look to see where you are. Don't woo her with poetry, my friend. She
never reads it. I never saw her with any book of verse in her hand
except a hymn-book."

A wild idea of putting his talent to this use came to Peter. After
a moment's reflection he turned it out, as he would have locked his
barn door against a suspicious steed bearing about him marks of gipsy
ownership. And herein did my honest hero show his Dutch descent in his
characteristic rejection of schemes out of the range of his natural
inclination.

"I'm not much of a poet," he said, with an effort at a laugh.

"You look at things rather too much from a sentimental standpoint,"
observed Mistress Amanda. She had beaten the thistle quite to powder,
and, laying down her whip, adjusted her gauntlets and gathered the
reins into a firm grasp. Her fine black eyes had a singular expression.

"Not too much for _some_ women. The kind of sentiment there is in you
is the kind that makes a man loyal, tender, and--of all things the
rarest!--appreciative toward the woman you may marry. I wish girls were
able to discriminate between the shepherding qualities in men and the
huntsman's qualities. But they like the sound of the horn and the dash
of the horses--the fiery eye and the masterful grip! Only after their
gallants have thrown aside all their pretty trappings and come down
to the plain garb of the household boss do they learn that a little
kindness and consideration in a husband outranks all the more showy
qualities."

"Nellie certainly ain't one to be taken in by a glittering outside--I
sh'd think," Peter remarked.

"Not of the kind you have in your mind. But she is peculiarly
constituted--extremely susceptible to anything like an appearance of
superiority of the moral sort; or, not so much moral--I wish it was
that!--but spiritual sort. Some girls pine for a man to take them in
hand and lead them along the straight and narrow path; and a thorny
path their saintly director generally manages to make it for them.
Bah, I've no patience with the 'Queechy' species of hero!" exclaimed
Mistress Amanda, lashing her whip in the air. Her horse, however, had
sensibilities of his own, and taking this as a definite appeal to his
own intelligence he started down the road at a pretty brisk pace,
carrying his mistress off with excellent stage effect, her exit speech
vibrating in Peter's astonished ears.

He stood leaning upon the gate, after she had turned the corner of
the lane, for fifteen minutes; his cheerful face clouded slightly as
he chewed the cud his friend had shown him, gazing, ox-like, at the
present surroundings that lay about his feet, and unable to realize,
even after some effort, the meaning of the suggestions that had been
made as to possible dangers lurking in the future.

There was a placidity about Peter amounting to dulness, when he was
pricked upon the matter of threatened changes. Your light-weight men,
nervous, springy, and quick-glancing, are full of apprehensions; they
believe that it is no more than likely that to-morrow may be doomsday,
and they prepare themselves even for the most improbable crises. But
two hundred pounds gives a certain faith in the established order of
things, and it is a significant fact that bulk and the conceit that
the world moves slowly, go together. Foretellers are so apt to have a
lean and meagre frame that I should be loth to trust the pretensions
of a prophet over-endowed with flesh. So the fact that Peter had a
constitutional dislike to being stirred up to initiative acts must be
laid to his girth and his double chin; not to any lack of fine feeling.
His affection for Nellie had become so much a part of himself that it
partook of his temperament, and was deliberate and sober; incapable
of sudden transitions. Adoring her at a distance had the charm of
familiarity, and although in sentimental moods the man liked to picture
his star, his flower, as a little housewife, seated of evenings by his
side before the fire, with some sewing in her dainty fingers, and a
tenderly inclined ear toward the thing he might like to read to her;
still, he had grown so used to thinking of such scenes as afar off
that to be suddenly desired to look at the necessity of at once taking
steps to make his dream a reality, or else to abandon hope of ever
making it one, was to ask too much of his optimistic nature. For what
is an optimist but a person who believes that everything will turn out
all right; whether he chooses to go to work at dawn or lie in bed till
twelve?

But, Peter's indolence had a tinge of nobility in it. He saw a young
girl, happy in her ignorance of life's responsibilities, fresh,
sweet, and bright, with the reflection of her own innocent and tender
fancies shining in her unclouded eyes, and he was loth to interpose
his tall shadow between her and the landscape. His wish had been
to stand aside until she should come gradually to recognize him as
an agreeable feature of it, perhaps to learn to look upon him as
something indispensable to her life, making a part--a large part of
her happiness. Some men of generous nature prefer to have a woman turn
toward them of her own accord rather than to put forth the effort that
makes wooing an affair of capture. It is pretty certain to happen,
though, that the choice of a man of this view is apt to fall upon a
girl whose instinct is not so much womanly as feminine. And those who
have studied woman-kind will understand the distinction.

But Mistress Amanda's point had, nevertheless, been made, for she had
given Peter to understand that there was a rival in the field. And the
most optimistic of men does not fail to experience certain sensations
in his brain extending to his strong right arm, when an intruder
threatens to snatch away the glass where he is quietly watching the
full bead gather and waiting to raise it to his thirsting lips.


IV.

IF Peter's thoughts had sought his rival they would have found him at a
certain fine old mansion bearing upon the face of the stone gate-post
the name ROSELAWN. A well shaded drive swept up to the doorway,
hospitably broad, and in seasonable weather open, giving a view of such
a hall as can only be found in an old southern house. Family portraits
looked down from the walls upon the carefully preserved furniture,
recognizing, it may be, with some satisfaction, the presence of
articles that had been in favor during their lifetime.

It was Monday morning, and breakfast time, according to the habits of
the Armstrong family. The judge was in his place, his wife, comely,
neat, and quiet, was in hers, and the three daughters, Laura, Violet,
and Bess, had come in severally, and slipped into their chairs after a
warm greeting to their father and a rather less impulsive and loving
one to their quiet mother.

"Miles not down?" said Violet, the sprightliest of the sisters; a slim
girl with a delicately up-tilted face in which dark eyes and a saucily
curved mouth prepared one for good-humored but probably pointed banter.

"Down!" repeated that personage, coming in, and dropping discontentedly
into the vacant chair next to his mother. "If you had been _up_ and
keeping your chickens in order instead of--whatever else you were
doing--I could have got some sleep after four o'clock and been down
before. I wish you'd think proper to order that black rooster made
into fricassee," he continued to his mother, who had no time to
reply, however, for Violet put in an instant protest for her pet
Captain Jinks, who was such a darling, and so intelligent he could do
everything except talk.

Miles dropped the subject, not caring to compromise his dignity by
a dispute over such a trifle, but his entire bearing expressed that
appearance of unappreciated worth which is so exasperating to women
in a family; divining, as they do, that the root of it is invariably
some kind of causeless irritation. The girls discovered in a minute
that Miles had "got out of the wrong side of the bed" that morning;
this supplying a vague, kindly explanation of his acerbities of temper.
Undoubtedly he was cross. It showed in his way of receiving a remark
that Laura now made. Laura was of the languid type of fair women;
heavy-lidded gray eyes, peachy skin, and flesh all wrought into curving
lines. A subdued greed of pleasure is the predominating quality of this
sisterhood, often existing under the perfect disguise of plaintive,
gentle renunciation. When thoroughly understood they weep the profuse
tears of spirits feeling themselves above the comprehension of the
ordinary mind.

"Please get Wash to hitch Peg-leg to the phaeton right after breakfast,
will you?" Laura said. "I must drive over to Miss Annie's to try on my
dress she is making for the tournament."

The light of disapproval kindled in Miles' grave face.

"Are you girls going to persist in attending that silly entertainment?"
he inquired.

"You certainly didn't used to think it silly," answered the one chiefly
addressed. "Time was--and not so very long ago, either--when you rode
at tournaments yourself! I haven't forgotten the tournament at Manasses
two years ago, when we were visiting cousin Jennie Davis"----

But Miles' head had disappeared, following his hands in a dive beneath
the table for his egg-cup, rolled off by a movement of his arm that
would have seemed scarcely accidental could this young gentleman have
been suspected of an ulterior wish to cut short some embarrassing
allusion. Every one is endowed with some propensity tending to the
discomfiture of others. Laura's talent in this direction, unknown to
herself, lay in bringing up people's outgrown inclinations; so keeping
them to the mortified level of a self they conceived they had risen
above and would fain forget. Reminiscences of this kind are peculiarly
afflicting to young divines, to whom the problem of preserving an
appearance commensurate with the severity of their doctrine is often
in danger from the good memories of their intimate friends. Can we
wonder that the ordained preacher of twenty-two shrank sensitively from
reminders of the peccadilloes committed by the gay youth of twenty?

Miles suffered, in the privacy of family life, from the tendency to
treat him as an ordinary young man, whereas, he felt that he had become
remarkable. To be informed, at the instant of assuming a superior
tone, that he had been used to joining in the customs he condemned
was sufficiently humiliating. But Laura's observation held a sting for
his irritable conscience that she had no idea of. The dropping of the
egg-cup had stopped her slow speech, for she had an acute sense of
sympathy for awkwardness in a person ordinarily free from it, being
herself studiously graceful.

"Let Sally bring you another egg," she was good enough to suggest.
The yellow damsel dawdling against the side table put herself to
some trouble to carry out the order, for the admiration that was but
lukewarm in the house glowed effulgently in the kitchen; the young
preacher being idolized by the negroes.

But Miles' appetite had been satisfied. He pushed back his plate and
looked past his offending sister into space; his mind taking a flight
in search of consolation ending at Benvenew, making some pretty notes
of a pair of confiding eyes and a sweetly deferential tongue that
had never uttered a word hurtful to his self-esteem. Of one devout
disciple he was sure. Mingled with his triumph in it was a grateful
acknowledgment of the immense advantage in this connection of quality
over quantity; the sweetbriar rose being worth all the rest of feminine
creation.

"What's that about the tournament?" the judge inquired. Three girlish
voices chimed an answer of which he extracted the gist at his leisure;
managing to arrive at the important item, that Miles was setting
himself above all innocent amusements, and declined to accompany his
sisters to the tournament.

"Miles' nonsense be damned!" said the head of the house. "I'll be
your beau if he won't. I reckon I'm young enough yet to go about with
all of you." The judge was forty-five, and excepting for a little too
much fulness of chin, and a slight stiffness in his knees, he might
have passed for the handsome elder brother of his son. Secretly, he
was proud of the boy and looked upon the extreme views he held as the
natural excess of an enthusiastic temperament concentrating itself upon
theology. He expected Miles to grow more reasonable when his first
zeal should have worn off. But his own disposition was choleric, and
while he was looking forward to an amelioration of the strict views
held by the young preacher he was frequently tempted to bluster a
little upon their points of difference.

The Armstrongs were rather given to disputations, and the household
atmosphere was not seldom an uncomfortable one for the neutral mother,
who had positive opinions upon only two subjects: the flavor of cookery
and the good looks of her husband. She was quite satisfied that her
son treated her respectfully, that he had good manners, and that his
clothes set well; in less important points he was welcome to follow his
own inclinations. During little clashes she was accustomed to occupy
herself with considerations about the next dinner. Therefore, Miles was
surprised to hear her say:

"I think Miles is very much in the right in not giving his countenance
to tournaments. As a minister, he couldn't. They bet on the horses and
betting's not right. I heard that Penny Haywood bet fifty dollars last
year and lost. I'm sure, Judge, you wouldn't like Miles to bet?"

The judge had given to this unwonted animation the compliment of
wide-open eyes and smiling mouth.

"No danger of Miles betting!" he answered, reassuringly. "All I ask is
that he shouldn't be so stiff-necked about his sisters taking their
enjoyment in the way of all young folks."

Miles had again betrayed singular discomfiture at this new suggestion
about himself. The slow, faint color of one who colors seldom and then
from mortification, burned in his cheeks, and he arose with a muttered
excuse and left the room, turning at the door to say:

"I'll have Peg-Leg put in the phaeton for you, Laura."

The instinct to seek comfort for his wounded self-love would have
driven him straight to Benvenew, but it was too early in the day, and
he had no excuse. The morning wore away tediously. Unhappily for
the young man the things that had once interested him and furnished
occupation for his spare hours were now under the ban of his tyrant
conscience. He had embraced the course known as "setting a good
example," and for the sacrifices involved he found recompense both in
his own consciousness of superiority and in the fact that Nellie looked
on and admired. Yet, if he was in danger of becoming a prig, there were
sound faculties in him that made it quite as probable that some sudden
turn would swing him into the path of practical usefulness. At home
he met at every turn with just the sort of opposition to confirm his
dislike of the easy self-indulgence that swayed the rest.

Everybody else in the Armstrong family did what he or she wished to do;
it was for him to do what he thought right, regardless of inclinations.
Laura was indolently selfish, Violet energetically set upon carrying
out her own plans, and Bess, his junior by a year, was strong-minded;
something that in his view was less endurable than pure frivolity.
His bitter admiration for her cleverness sometimes found vent in
expressions of solicitude for her future husband, to which she always
responded that _his_ wife would have her profound sympathy, for his
ideas of the family state were founded upon Old Testament precedent, to
which the new dispensation and womanhood were altogether opposed.

Sauntering discontentedly along the great stretch of piazza Miles heard
stray bits of his sisters' talk as they sat at work, and contrasted
it with Nellie's sweet, sensible remarks, and the feeling of her
perfection grew strong in him. Beginning in agreement of tastes and
opinions the intimacy between the two young people had now reached the
stage where conscious preference may at any instant change to blind
attraction. Sedateness and dignity had marked their intercourse so far;
but the impulse Miles felt swelling his breast was the first rise of a
wave capable of sweeping away all the pretty dalliances of friendship,
and of carrying him out on the swift flowing sea of a great passion.
His was a temperament sure to love ardently and he had not dissipated
his energies prematurely.

Two o'clock sees our young preacher mounted on his Kentucky
thoroughbred mare, Stella, a beautiful chestnut, tractable only with
her owner. As he leaped into the saddle she looked so knowing that
he, to try her, let the reins hang, and said softly, "To Benvenew!"
Whereupon the intelligent creature gave her slender head a light toss,
and started off up the slope of the hill at a pace that brought him, in
less than an hour, to the grand old park that surrounded that historic
mansion.

He had feared to find Nellie, as usual, surrounded by the rest; but
as he drew near the little summer-house, covered with a luxuriant
grape-vine, now rich in purple clusters, he saw her standing there, a
basket on her arm, filling it with the grapes. In a moment he was on
the ground beside her, Stella standing still, untied, and docile to
his wish as an obedient child.

At the first shy glance she gave him, Miles forgot the smart to his
vanity that had sent him to her, forgot everything but that the
sweetest girl in the world stood there, blushing under his fixed gaze,
her little fingers trembling in his grasp, for when she laid her hand
in his he suddenly found it impossible to let it go.

"Come and sit down, please," he said, drawing her inside the bower and
seating himself beside her on the rustic bench. "It is an age since I
saw you."

"Yesterday?" questioned Nellie, demurely raising her brows.

"I don't count seeing you in a crowd. The last time we really had any
time together was at the fair--away back in September. There are so
many things I have always wanted to talk with you about. You are the
only person that has a real sympathy with me in the work I am trying
to do here, Miss Nellie. And you don't know how dearly I value your
sympathy."

Now, my innocent, modest beauty had known what it is to hear manly
voices sink into tender cadence, declaring her sympathy necessary to
all their aims and enterprises in life, nor had the deeper experience
of that special pleading, to which this is the preliminary, been
wanting. The practical sense her mother had spoken of gave her
intimation of the thing that yet lay, half unsuspected, in the depths
of Armstrong's mind, like the sweet arbutus under the smothering cedar.
The cedar here was the young man's egotism, claiming attention as its
right, and some storm wind would have to sweep the prickly covering
away before the delicate blossoms of real love revealed themselves.

And the storm wind was even at that moment brewing. It is usually while
we are most free from forebodings, most satisfied with ourselves, that
the ugly head of misfortune thrusts from around the corner and brings
us with a shock to a recognition that the past is perpetually linking
itself with the present, and that a forgotten sin is capable of coming
to life after we have left it in the desert to starve.

Nellie had begun to murmur that she was happy if anything she could do
was a help to him, when her soft speech was interrupted by a flying
scout from the house, a small negro boy, whose bare heels scarcely
rested upon the ground while he delivered in emphatic voice a message
from Mistress Amanda:

"Miss Nell, yo's ter go straight ter th' house, _ef_ yo' please, ter
say good-by ter Mr. Beeswax afore he leaves. Lemme tote de grapes."

The basket was seized, and the scout began the march, looking back
every instant to be assured that the young pair followed.

They followed with vexation in the heart of one, at least. To the
other it was more of a habit to submit her will to others, so her face
remained calm and her tones gentle as she replied to the slight remarks
Armstrong forced himself to make. At the door the scout left them to
deposit his burden in the kitchen and go back after Stella, whom he was
burning to mount, not dreaming of the experience that was in store for
him.

The young pair entered the parlor and found Mistress Amanda and old
lady Powell entertaining a short, keen-eyed, sallow man whose age was
not to be easily guessed. His occupation might have been set down as
mercantile, and he was, in fact, a commercial drummer.

"Mr. Beesly, let me present you to Mr. Armstrong, our minister," said
Mistress Amanda, formally.

The stranger bowed with ironical exaggeration. "I have met Mr.
Armstrong before," he said, in what struck her as a disagreeably
significant tone. She gave a swift, searching look at the young
preacher.

Armstrong was standing with a rigid air of dignity that sat not ill on
his handsome person. But he had suddenly grown very pale.


V.

IT spoke well for Armstrong that, at the very instant of running into
a most unexpected and disagreeable dilemma, he did not wish he had
been warned so that he might have avoided it. A Gorgon would have
been a winning object to him in comparison with the wiry little man
now smiling a curiously double-faced smile at him, but beyond the
involuntary pallor that had come he gave no sign of discomfiture; and
after a sharp glance to see how his salutation had been met, Beesly
turned away with a mutter that lost itself in his bushy whiskers, "true
grit!" and began to make himself fascinating to Nellie.

She had been sent for to bid this forty-second cousin good-by, but now
she was here he seemed in no haste to depart. Leaving Armstrong to the
tender mercies of Mistress Amanda, he followed the young girl over to
her grandmother's sofa, where she had shyly taken refuge, and drawing
up a chair in front of the two, bent himself to entertain.

No men have more facility in this line than "drummers." They learn
to observe human nature and become adept at humorous description of
adventures, taking pains to tone their note up or down to suit their
company. It can be a "bray" among other men, and a "coo" with women.
For the chaste ears of old lady Powell, and her innocent granddaughter,
Beesly's talk was a light sparkle of harmless fun that drew the
laughter of both. Nellie had a sense of fun--not humor--under her
demureness, and she was pleased and amused as he meant her to be.

To the investigating glances Armstrong threw toward her corner from
time to time, there was presented the singular spectacle of the girl
who had, but a few minutes before, been blushing under his words of
admiration, seeming wholly content with the exchange of another man's
company for his own; even although she must have realized that an
interview had been interrupted which promised to be an important one.

Important to the lady, Sir Egoist? Mark her now, leaning back against
the red silk cushions, as Beesly bends eagerly forward in the full
swing of some fine narrative; the dimpling smile showing a glimpse of
even, milk-white teeth behind a bud of a mouth, dewily innocent as a
baby's. The light in the wily fellow's eyes is reflected in her hazel
ones as she catches the point of his sketch, and now she hides her
lovely face against her grandmother's ample bosom, in an outburst of
mirth so rare with her as to seem almost indecorous. Has it ever been
your good fortune, Miles Armstrong, to arouse so hearty an interest and
sway so readily that timid nature? She has certainly forgotten you, and
the serious business of life you are so fond of discoursing with her,
in the glow of feelings natural to youth and feminine love of enjoyment.

Armstrong's face grew gloomy, and his conversation absent-minded,
while Mistress Amanda, taking note of everything, was led to speculate
on a set of possibilities that had never before suggested themselves
to her astute intellect. Was it possible that the law of contrasts,
leading the fancies of men and maidens to attach themselves to the
persons most dissimilar, could apply to her daughter Nellie, for whom
she had been anticipating a very different inclination! Girls were
capable of such freaks. After all, if it were not for Peter Weaver,
the idea of Beesly as a permanent member of the family would not be so
unwelcome. His shrewd sense and light views formed a very good balance
to the over-seriousness of the young girl. Mingled with a pang for her
silent and devoted hero, Mistress Amanda felt a certain satisfaction in
this introduction of a new player into her little domestic drama. She
became more affable with the young preacher.

These two had never yet been able to strike upon a single topic of
mutual interest where the clash of disagreement did not instantly lead
to silence.

"Let us harmonize upon the weather," Mistress Amanda had once observed
when argument had threatened to become personal. But one cannot always
talk about the weather. She tried apples.

"Is your father shipping his usual quantity of golden pippins to
England this fall? I hear that he has had the honor of furnishing some
to the queen's own table; that her preference is for pippins."

"Three thousand barrels, I believe," said Armstrong, in a lukewarm
response.

"Indeed! That means quite a nice return in money;" her tone had a
tinge of regret for her own exclusion from so excellent a business
arrangement. The orchard at Benvenew was a fairly fine one, but its
full resources were undeveloped for lack of capital. If she had the
money Mistress Amanda felt sure she might rival the success of the
master of Roselawn, who was rolling up a fortune before the admiring
eyes of his neighbors. Envy of a neighbor's superior success is not
a Virginian trait. All your true Virginian asks for is the tithe due
to friendship and he will put hands in pockets and look on while the
enterprising compatriot piles up his dollars. But, being a woman,
Benvenew's mistress could not and did not try to suppress the emulative
instinct that made her long for an opportunity to prove her business
capacity.

Beesly's ears, sharp as a hunter's, had caught the word "money," and
with his quick way of whirling about, he threw a sentence toward the
other guest.

"By the way, talking of money, Armstrong, it's kind of curious, isn't
it?--But, never mind, we'll have a chance to discuss that going home.
What I was going to tell you was about the wedding of the turkey-girl
in the Tennessee mountains," he continued, turning back with equal
suddenness to his old and young auditors, who had scarcely had time
to follow his flight with their eyes before he was with them again,
fluent as a blackbird rehearsing a well-practised theme.

Was it a malicious impulse suddenly checked by compunction for the man
he was "cutting out," and toward whom decency demanded at least the
avoidance of insult upon the top of injury? Or was it a mere random
arrow from his whimsical quiver that had made the young preacher start
and redden, while his deep eyes began to burn with an intense fire that
promised some strong kind of entertainment for the person proposing to
accompany him "home."

Whichever it was, Armstrong now made up his mind that as his object
in coming to Benvenew had been defeated, he would, at least, take the
initiative in breaking up that little _séance_ yonder, toward which he
felt unsanctified resentment.

He arose. At the movement old lady Powell, whose pleasure in the
vivacity of her entertainer had been more than once disturbed by the
feeling that she was not paying proper attention to her minister,
gently released herself from her granddaughter's encircling arm, and
came towards him.

"You shorely ain't thinkin' o' goin', _yit_, Mr. Armstrong? Why, we
hain't seen nothin' o' you yit, and it's seldom enough you come. Stay
to tea, now! Mandy, do press Mr. Armstrong to stay to tea!"

"Will sally-lunn tempt you?" smiled Mistress Amanda, choosing always
to suppose that the proper appeal to men was through appetite. But
she overlooked the counterpoise of sentiment when a man is under
twenty-five. Armstrong remained standing. A word from Nellie might
have changed his mind, but although she looked at him she did not
speak; and, unfortunately, Beesly did. His high-pitched voice made
his interference doubly offensive to the young preacher's refined
sensibilities.

"Oh, I say, Armstrong, I'm not ready to go. Tea-time at Benvenew
has peculiar seductions," and he pointed the remark by a smile at
Nellie that some observers might have called frank and kind; others,
devilish. So much depends upon the point of view. Armstrong's was
that of the harsher criticism; not to be wondered at, considering the
difference in his feelings on entering and departing from Benvenew that
day.

"I am not aware sir, that my going places any constraint upon you,"
said Armstrong with the most distant air a man could assume.

Beesly laughed. What defense is dignity against a laugh, with which the
company, ignorant of any occult meaning, show an inclination to join,
moved both by sympathy with the joker and the polite wish to smooth
over a little difficulty between two guests! Armstrong realized keenly
that he was at extreme disadvantage, since the animosity that he felt
toward Beesly could not be explained and must bear the semblance of
ill-temper. That it might be interpreted as jealousy did not occur to
him. It was, however, natural that the women should take this view of
it.

Now, Nellie, with all her good and sensible qualities, had one little
foible. She was not aware of it, and, indeed, her position as the
recognized beauty of the county was so certain to develop the trait
in any young woman not altogether an angel, that she is excusable
for having grown just a little bit vain. Hers was not the vanity of
dwelling in thought upon her own attractions, for, in moments of
deliberate reflection, she was given to a humble estimate of herself;
but it was the innocent, childlike love of notice, and of the subtle
flattery conveyed in being sought out and distinguished by attention.
Maiden-like, she fled to corners, and woman-like there was pleasure in
being followed. The boldest admirer was likely then to gain the ear of
modesty that had this susceptible spot in it.

Beesly was wise in making of his small, active person a very bulwark
against the outer world; his play of wit so filling the space that the
girl only saw dimly what was going on outside her corner. She looked up
to find the preacher's fine form drawn up before her. He persisted in
going. His somber eyes meant to convey to her that this was something
more than an ordinary good-by.

The ubiquitous Beesly gave her no opportunity to realize the situation.
A cool clasp of her little fingers, a bow, and Armstrong was gone from
the room.

Then Beesly sprang up, with a good-humored show of despair. "Plague the
fellow!--if he _will_ go, I must tear myself away. I have something
particular to say to him, and to-morrow I start for Chicago. I'll be
back in a week or so, though, Cousin Amanda, and you can order the
sally-lunn then."

He shook hands all around, his jolly, hearty manner contrasting
forcibly with the seriousness of the other, and departed, leaving a
track of glittering light behind him, as some persons do. What matter
if the glitter is a tinsel clap-trap? Nonsense helps to make life
cheerful, and a jolly good fellow is especially a boon in country
society.

Mistress Amanda went to the window and began dropping the muslin
curtains. She liked to put this veil between the outer dusk and the
fire-lit room.

"Heigho!" she yawned; "'what fools these men be.'"

"_Mortals_, mamma, I think," was the gentle correction of Nellie.

Her astonished mother stared. "What do you know of Shakespeare?" she
ejaculated.

The young girl blushed. "Papa used to read to us in the evenings
sometimes. Have you forgotten, mamma? I recollect Midsummer Night's
Dream very well."

Her mother spent several minutes in silent reflection, studying her
daughter. "I don't know that I understand you as well as I thought I
did," she then observed, with unusual softness.

Nellie came around to the back of her chair, putting a soft hand on her
shoulder. "But you love me, mamma?"

"Love you?" Mistress Amanda's splendid eyes grew moist. "Yes, dear, I
love you dearly. All the good that can come to me in this world is to
see you happy."

"That's right, Mandy," said old lady Powell cheerily. "But you's young
enough, child, to see a heap o' satisfaction on yo' own account, yit."

A little negro boy, sprawling on the floor of his mammy's cabin, and
rubbing his back as he could reach it, might have told Mr. Beesly
something about the paces of the mare, Stella, which that gentleman
was trying to catch up with. A start of five minutes was too much in
Stella's favor, if her master had intended flight from his persistent
acquaintance. When the little man swung himself into his saddle, and
looked here and there and everywhere in the fast-gathering dusk for the
sight of a horseman in the road ahead, there was nothing whatever to be
seen.

Beesly was a poor rider, on a strange, borrowed horse, and the country
was unfamiliar to him. Twenty paces from Benvenew the road forked,
and the commercial traveler had not the slightest idea which path to
take. Invoking good luck, he took the one to the left. It went past
a farm-house or two, where the hungry fellow saw lights twinkling in
kitchens, and smelled--in imagination--the odor of squirrel-stew and
corn-pone. After this he passed the old mill, and the outlook grew less
promising.

"A plague upon him!" cried the baffled pursuer. "I didn't think
Armstrong was the man to run away. What did he take me for, anyway?"

Darkness comes rapidly in these mountains. Beesly found himself
skirmishing around in a curiously eccentric style, and the certainty
that he was entirely astray gained his slow credence. He was not
fortified by a good meal, either, to enjoy the cool night breeze that
began to play through his light summer suit.

"Get along! Go somewhere, I don't care where, so it leads to supper!"
he apostrophized the horse, and that animal, left to his own judgment,
bethought himself of a certain hospitable stable where more than
once he had had a good meal when business led him in the direction
of its owner. So, taking a start, he cantered along the road at a
very creditable pace, and paused of his own accord in front of Peter
Weaver's gate.

The front windows of Peter's cottage were wide open, and Beesly had a
view of a big man in his shirt-sleeves going around a well-lit room,
holding a book in his hand, and singing at the top of an exceedingly
powerful voice.

"Hallo! Hallo in there!" shouted Beesly's thin falsetto, and presently
it dawned upon Peter's comprehension that somebody outside was trying
to make himself heard. He came to the door, holding a lamp high above
his head, the light casting into relief his ruddy face and Titan-like
frame.

"A handsome fellow, by heaven!" thought the drummer, who never lost a
picturesque feature.

"Can a gentleman who has lost his way beg the favor of an hour's rest
and a bit of supper?" he sang out toward the Titan, who responded with
a hearty:

"Sartain, sir! And most welcome. 'Light and come right in. I'll send a
nigger after your horse."

"I'm a distant cousin of Mistress Amanda, up to Benvenew," said Beesly,
as he entered the cottage and proceeded to make himself at home in his
usual easy fashion. "I insisted on leaving there before supper, and
have been properly punished by losing my way."

"Cousin to Mistress Amanda? That gives you a claim on me, sir, to any
extent," said Peter, throwing a log on the fire, and calling out the
back door to his cook to hurry up supper.

"You see, sir," he continued, "living all by myself here I've fallen
into the way of kind o' having meals at any hour I like, and supper's
ruther put back to-night. I'm glad it's so, as I've the good fortune to
have yo' company."

"Why, I had an idea that I might take supper along with your preacher
here, Mr. Miles Armstrong, but if you'll believe me, he went off and
left me in the lurch, although I had something very particular to say
to him."

"Possible!" ejaculated Peter, his face becoming thoughtful.

Loquaciousness was Beesly's prime vice. He felt himself aggrieved in
this instance, and, convinced by the appearance of a bountiful supper
that his host was a good fellow, and entitled to confidence, he poured
out a tale that had the unintended effect of impairing Peter's appetite.

"You see--it's this way. Three years back now--Armstrong was a minor,
anyway, and not responsible for the money if he chose to put it that
way. But he put a bet on Belle Noir--a pretty big bet--we fellows sort
o' goaded him to it,--and he lost. Plumb five hundred dollars he lost,
sir! And if you'll believe me, he wrote a letter to Keats--Keats backed
Charlie Boy--saying he had no mind to ask his governor for the money,
that betting was against his conscience, anyway, but that, as his
honor demanded that he pay up, he earnestly requested for time to do it
in. Well, Keats said he'd give him time. He was going abroad and he'd
give him till he came back. Now, sir, that was three years ago, and
Armstrong's never given a sign. I met Keats in New York last week, and
he said he meant to come down here and see Armstrong. He says he hates
a sneak. That's what I meant to tell Armstrong to-night; that Keats is
coming here. You see, nobody knows a word about it but us three. By the
bye, I guess you'd better not mention it. I don't want to make trouble."

"You certainly have astounded me, sir," affirmed Peter Weaver. "Mr.
Armstrong's the very last person I'd have suspected of ever getting
into such a box as this. And five hundred dollars, too. That's a mighty
big lot of money to throw away."

"If he's saving up his salary to pay it it'll take him rather awhile to
get it together," grinned Beesly. "What does he get for preaching?"

"We pay our preacher two hundred and fifty dollars a year, sir. And
perquisites," he added, as the drummer gave a significant whistle.
"There are perquisites--there'd be more if he got married"--

"Perhaps he will before long. There are pretty gals down here. Cousin
Amanda's girl is a thundering beauty. I shouldn't wonder if Armstrong
had got his eyes set that way. Little mite strait-laced, though, is
Nellie. By George, what'd she say if she knew the preacher used to bet
on horses? Reformed, didn't he?"

"Mr. Armstrong's said to have experienced sanctification," said Peter,
slowly.

"Oh, come, now, that's too good," shouted the commercial traveler.

"There may be such a thing; I'm called skeptical myself. But whether
there is or not, there's goodness. And for my part, I believe Mr.
Armstrong's an upright, moral, well-meaning man, and it's the duty of
his friends to stand by him," said Peter Weaver. But deep down in
his heart was a cry. The preacher was, then, in love with Nellie: did
Nellie love the preacher?


VI.

THE hardest thing in the world to bear is self-contempt. The man or
woman who has once slipped from his own standard of rectitude--whatever
it is--has henceforth in his soul a little Inferno where desperate
desire is continually carrying a huge stone up a hill and memory is as
continually rolling it down again.

Armstrong's thoughts shaped themselves into some such words as these as
he galloped out from Benvenew. He was not running from Beesly through
any cowardly impulse; but because he wanted to think the matter all
out, alone. The moment he had laid eyes on the fellow he knew that the
thing he had been fighting down so long, overlaying by a structure of
self-denial and good deeds, had come uppermost in the foreground of his
life, and must be faced as a sin freshly committed, because to the
present hour concealed. The young man had a strong nature, proud and
tender; a little one-sided in its development, and the more likely to
cut out intense suffering for itself through the aid of imagination.
When conscience lashed he had no instinct to shrink away and make
excuse; instead, he cried "Peccavi!" feeling that he deserved the more
because no one but himself knew that he deserved it. Herein, although
circumstances may have made it appear that he was nearly, if not quite,
a hypocrite, Miles Armstrong proved himself none, for he felt that the
worst of a sin was in its commission, not in the fact of its being made
public. It would have been a relief to him all along if that gambling
experience in his past, when, for a brief space he had sowed wild oats,
could have been known to all the world; then he might have shouldered
blame, lived the matter down, and started afresh, with a clear page for
the future. But expediency had been his counselor. She had whispered
that his usefulness would be impaired if he let himself appear as a
common youth; a preacher should be in a certain sense, immaculate; his
faults and follies were between himself and his conscience. What he
_had_ been was not the world's business; only what he was _now_.

And so Armstrong had concealed his fault and gone on trying to forget
it, but never able to do so, until, between looking on the picture of
what he was believed to be, and what he was in his own knowledge of
himself, the great contrast took the form of an accusation that made
him out--liar: of all things the meanest and most despicable when the
lie is one which assumes the appearance of a virtue that a man has not.

To the sky the young preacher turned his face, worn in a few hours to
the sharp outlines of pain, and in the dusk and loneliness of that
mountain path, over which Stella was swiftly bearing him home, he made
a vow in his heart that from this hour he would cease to be the slave
of the Lie. He would descend, before the eyes of men and women, into
the valley of humiliation, that he might emerge a free soul, even if he
must in consequence go on with his life stripped of all that made it
pleasant and useful.

And then Miles, lifting his hat as if bidding farewell to something
beloved, rode calmly on to Roselawn.

Again, the little church beside Sneaking Creek was crowded as upon the
Sunday the young preacher had given his first sermon. Some indefinite
rumor had got abroad of a surprise in store for the congregation; how
started it would be difficult to say, and nobody had the slightest idea
of what he expected; only there was an atmosphere of expectancy.

All the Armstrong family were at church, the Judge resplendent with a
purple necktie, and his wife in a purple silk; the girls, as usual,
attired with taste and at considerable expense. Mistress Amanda and her
mother were in their pew, with Nellie between them, charming as the
spirit of October, in a carefully turned claret-colored poplin and a
toque trimmed with autumn leaves. And Peter Weaver was there; with a
dubious expression, and very sore in mind; wishing to believe the best
of people under adverse circumstances, and nobly ready to put himself
out of the question if he must do so to make little Nellie happy.

There was a peculiar stillness as Armstrong arose after the hymn
that heralded the sermon. The young man's pale, tense look produced
a general sensation of anxiety. Some good mothers in Israel were for
handing him up their smelling salts. Girls scrutinized his features
with their mouths falling apart, wondering what dreadful thing had
happened to him to make his lips so set and his eyes so deep and
black. But all turned their faces toward him with the sure response of
sympathy toward unaffected feeling.

"My people!"----

The words were those of an old minister, grown gray in service among
loved friends; but they came earnest and unstudied from the heart of
the young preacher. Hearts thrilled to him, answering the strangely
sweet appeal that breathed through the notes of that fine voice, always
beautiful in its modulations, but to-day with a new quality that won
without his hearers knowing why.

"You have come for a sermon," Armstrong went on. "I have no sermon to
give you. When you elected me to serve as the minister of this church
I had joy in taking the place you gave me. I love the work. At this
instant, when I am about to give it up, every fibre of my nature clings
to it, my heart and my mind as well. Yet I must give it up. I am not
worthy to be your minister; nor _now_, to be a minister at all. And
the reason is this. Some time ago, before I was ordained, I was for a
season given over to ungodliness. I fell into one sin that by heaven's
grace did not lead to worse, as it might have done. It was not a thing
most of you would call very bad"--the proud Armstrong blood made the
speaker's head rear slightly. He felt his father's angry eyes upon him
and even imagined he heard the word "fool"; but he sternly went on:

"We southerners are too apt to look with indulgence upon social sins.
Horse-racing and gambling are things you might consider excusable
in a young man, even in one meaning to be a minister. These were my
failings. I don't exaggerate them so much as to say that because I did
these things I am unfit to serve as your minister. No; it is not that."

A deep breath labored through his lungs, and the many staring eyes in
front of him all seemed to swim together and take on the form of a
question. What was it, then? What was to come?

"The first duty of any soul is to be thoroughly honest," continued the
young preacher. "He who glosses over his own faults and acts as if he
had a guiltless past behind him helps to spread the fell disease of
deceit and hypocrisy; the great pest of our times. And of this baseness
I have been guilty. I let it be supposed that I had experienced
sanctification. I came before you unconfessed and with a semblance of
uprightness it was not my privilege to claim. All men are sinners, and
it is the nature of some not to feel their sins acutely; they can go
about with light hearts, never aware of the yoke a Christian should
bear. But others are different. Every man according to his nature. We
can only be guided by the light within. But wo to that man who wilfully
shuts his eyes to the revelation of his own conscience! St. Paul felt
the weight of his sins upon his soul and bravely cried out, 'I am
the chief of sinners!' He made the world see him just as he was, not
pretending goodness that did not belong to him. This is the right thing
to do; above all, the right and only thing for a teacher of men to do.
I have always felt this, and have acted contrary to my convictions. I
have lived a lie before you. Now, for the first time you see me as I am
and know that I am not what you thought me. It is the just punishment
of one who 'knows the right and chooses the wrong,' to lose all he
has sought to gain. I lose what I value most in giving up my privilege
of usefulness among you. But it is my duty to do this, and I dare not
shrink from it because it is hard."

Soldiers know that valor is born in the heat of strife, called out
by the sight of waving banners, the note of bugles, and the feeling
of a great mass rushing all together against a foe. A far greater
effort of courage is made by the man who deliberately stands up before
his friends and makes a confession that may in an instant turn their
esteem to contempt, and leave him alone and defenseless among a host
of accusers. In making his supreme effort Armstrong had not been blind
to this probable result. His imagination had vividly pictured the
moment of his humiliation. Nerved to carry the thing through, his voice
uttered the final word without a falter. Then, stepping back, he sat
down.

Every sort of confusion prevailed. The general feeling was that of
excitement and astonishment, especially among the younger set.
Very few were able to appreciate the strange manifestation of moral
greatness that had been made before them; and with these the uppermost
sensation was that of awkwardness. Bluff old farmers had grown red
and uneasy, aware that their young preacher had climbed to a height
where they could not approach him. They shuffled their feet and looked
down. The women whispered; some tittered hysterically. One got up and
crossed the church to say something to a friend. It was the signal for
a general movement, and in a few moments nearly everybody had changed
their places. Armstrong, with his fingers over his closed eyes, saw
nothing, but he felt terrible vibrations in his brain. He was alone;
deserted. In a single moment of suffering years can be compressed, and
a sensitive nature grows old fast.

There was a light touch upon his arm, a touch that thrilled him through
and through. He looked, and standing beside him was beautiful Nellie;
shy, shrinking Nellie, always dreading any conspicuous position,
and wont to hide behind her mother's ample shadow. She was upon the
platform, holding out her small, ungloved hand, her eyes shining
through tears, her cheeks flushed rosy red; forgetful of shyness, all
thought of self lost in the outburst of sympathy and reverence that had
led her feet straight to him her heart called lover, leader and highest
among men.

The young preacher's sunken eyes gleamed with a new, wonderful hope.
They devoured the sweet face. Her hand was caught and held, pressed
hard while he whispered, "Nellie, love!" and then, mindful of the
staring people, Armstrong would have swept her quickly back, but the
young girl felt to her very finger-tips the sense of that great stare.
Her head dropped, her form trembled, the roses in her cheeks turned to
fire, and shrinking, faltering, on the verge of a burst of weeping, she
turned and hid her face on the young preacher's breast!

Scarcely a second was given to the people to take this sight in before
Peter Weaver's huge form towered on the platform in front of the
young pair. He had hastened, almost leaped up the steps, and behind
him Nellie fled to the little door at the side of the platform and so
out from the church. One great throb of pain had Peter's heart given
at sight of Nellie on Armstrong's breast, one strong, silent effort
of renunciation of a lifetime's hopes he made, and then self was put
behind him, for good and all. He had a duty to perform, and he did it
with his might.

"I want to say a word or two!" his great voice sang out, silencing the
clamor and confusion in another thrill of curiosity.

"I ain't a speaker, as you all know----"

A comment from the rear chimed in, "You're a poet!" It was Penny
Haywood, and Violet Armstrong, hanging upon his arm, quickly forced him
to be silent.

"But there air facts in nature that speak for themselves, and don't
require eloquent speech-making to get people to understand 'em. One of
these facts is a good man. There are lots of good women--God bless
'em!--and some pretty good men in an all 'round way. But the rarest
thing on all of God's earth is a thoroughly good, honest man; one whose
acts air as transparent as daylight, that stands up before his fellows
clean and sound, and dares to father everything he has ever done in his
life, without shamming or palliating anything. You know it was this
kind of an honest man that old Diogenes went 'round seeking with a
lantern and couldn't find. Well, if he'd come seeking him in Fauquier
County, Virginia, he'd have found him right here in the Second Baptist
church, and his name's Miles Armstrong!"

"Good!" pronounced a woman's voice; Miss Lavinia Powell, not afraid to
speak her mind, and esteeming it a rare privilege to assent to a man's
common-sense.

"I consider, ladies and gentlemen, that we've had here before us to-day
an exhibition of high and fine moral feeling that ought to be a lesson
to us all our lives. And as for the modesty of the man that's given it,
and his idea of being unworthy to go on preaching to us and all that,
why, I say--I say that there ain't another as worthy one to be found
anywhere, and if you're of my mind, we'll go right on having Mr. Miles
Armstrong preach to us as long as he lives! And what's more," shouted
Peter, while he unnecessarily reared himself a-tip-toe, "I'm darned if
I think it'll hurt the church a bit if, to crown this occasion, you all
join in a cheer of good-will to our preacher, Mr. Miles Armstrong and
Miss Nellie Thomas, his wife--that's-to-be!"

Then there was laughing and acclamation, and crowding toward the
platform, and the young preacher's hand was seized and wrung until his
fingers ached, and his bewildered brain ceased to think at all, but
left him altogether at the mercy of his friends, who nearly tore him to
pieces in their zeal.

Peter Weaver for once asserted himself and claimed the privilege of
driving the young preacher to Benvenew--where he was panting to go
after Nellie--in his own high top buggy. He had something to say in
private.

"It's this," said Peter, laying his broad hand earnestly on the young
man's knee, when they were well along on the road and no one was near.
"I knew about the thing you've been taking so hard, before you told of
it to-day. Beesly told me. Now, my dear sir, you want money. You don't
want to ask your father for it. No need. You've done enough. Let me
help you out o' this leetle scrape. I've more money than I know what to
do with. I've got five hundred dollars right here, in this little roll,
and I want you to take it. Not as a loan; as a gift. Do, now!"

Armstrong protested, thanked him with no lack of warmest gratitude,
but absolutely refused. His father was rich, he said, and would help
him. His road was easy before him now, easier than he deserved. All
Peter could think of to console himself was that he would buy Nellie a
wedding present with the money.

Shame-faced little Nellie, hiding behind the parlor curtains, longing
for Armstrong, and fearing to have him come! How quickly he found her
and carried her triumphantly to that distant corner where a great black
horse-hair sofa swallowed them up; the worn horse-hair so slippery that
he had to put his arm around her to hold her on.

Mistress Amanda was a dumfounded woman. So swiftly and suddenly had
come the surprises of that morning that all she could do was to
contemplate her daughter from a distance, and say "Well!" in a tone
that meant resignation to circumstances.

But she had had her proud moment. Her heart--warm and true yet after
bitter life-experiences--had leaped with delight when Peter Weaver made
the little speech that with her knowledge of him, showed him a hero,
capable of the most generous sacrifice it is within the power of a man
to make. "Hero," she called him, to honest Peter's immense confusion,
as they sat sedately in two armchairs before the fire, with their backs
to the young couple in the far corner of the spacious room; talking
over the details of the great occurrence.

"For such a sensible woman you air given to making too much of the
little things men do that air right to do," said Peter, smiling.

"So few men do the little things that are right," sighed Mistress
Amanda, looking at her own past in the bed of fire. "You are the only
man I know, Peter, that I would put a heavy stake on to take the
straight course every time."

"What, leave out Armstrong?" remonstrated Peter, with a jerk of his
head backward toward the corner.

"Armstrong has come upon me too suddenly," complained Mistress Amanda.
Then, with the generosity of a candid nature she paid rightful tribute
to what commanded her admiration.

"He is certainly an excellent young man," she said. "A noble fellow.
I've thought of him more than once as you spoke of him in that speech
of yours,--'the man Diogenes sought!' I trust he will make my little
Nellie happy."

"She has that within her that ensures happiness," said Peter steadily.
"The sweetest, soundest heart ever a woman had. Heaven bless her!"

Mistress Amanda softly stretched out her firm, shapely hand, and laid
it on his own as it rested on the arm of the chair. It was a friendly,
sympathetic touch. Perhaps unawares, something more went into it than
she intended.

Peter looked at her with great kindness.

"You and me air getting to be middle-aged people, Amanda," he said.
"The chief thing now is for us to make the young people happy."

But old lady Powell, apparently dozing in her chair on the opposite
side of the fire was building a double air-castle. She said to herself
that Peter's little green cottage would suit the young preacher and his
bride very well, if its master should come to Benvenew to live. Nothing
was more likely. And Amanda and Peter would just hit it off together.
Everybody could see that. It was perfectly plain.



A HALT AT DAWN[3]


MARGARET DANVERS stepped aboard the southern-bound sleeper at Chicago
one stormy March evening, and as she walked composedly to her berth in
the middle of the car, the eyes of every person present were riveted
upon her. She wore a closely fitting garment of Russian sable, which
enveloped her completely, and a large beaver hat with drooping plumes,
and from the single fine diamond flashing at her throat to the tips of
her dainty Suéde boots she looked the model of a fashionable beauty.
She was the only woman on the car, and before she had fairly settled
herself comfortably, all the men had mentally pronounced their opinion
of her looks and style, and hazarded a conjecture as to her age. Her
attendant, a florid man of middle age, received the slight degree of
attention justified by his seeming only an adjunct of the moment. As
he left her, he put into her hands a bunch of costly roses, which she
received with a smile and laid upon the opposite seat the instant he
was gone.

Of the score of passengers, two or three knew her by sight, for
she was, in a way, a public character, but, as it happened, none
were really acquainted with her, and before long even those most
deeply interested in her appearance yielded to the apathy peculiar
to sleeping-cars, and subsided into their newspapers or their rugs,
preparing to wear out the evening until bedtime.

Margaret amused herself in watching the flying snow and in reverie.
Too used to traveling to even care to look about her, she yielded to
the prevailing somnambulistic influence just enough to dream without
sleeping. At first there was in her mind a confusion of events
past, present, and to come. Incidents of no importance mingled with
greater ones, and her reflections became mixed with little fanciful
suggestions of things long since forgotten, or, rather, voluntarily
put out of mind. She tried to think of her career, to recall her
triumphs, and to dwell upon the possibilities of the future. She told
herself that music was her life, that all she had to do with was the
beautiful and the divine in art, and that the everyday existence
she had struggled to rise above was henceforth nothing more than an
unpleasant memory.

At twenty-eight she was her own mistress, earning an independent
income through the use of her beautiful voice. The teaching days and
the drudgery of the class-room had passed, and as a concert singer
she was favorably known in more than one western city noted for its
critical taste. After a successful winter in Milwaukee and Chicago,
she was now upon her way to fulfil an engagement in Baltimore, which
promised more than anything in which she had yet engaged. She was in
the heyday of her powers, admired, in radiant health, conscious of her
beauty and talent, and entirely satisfied with life. What did it mean
that, as she looked from the window with a proud smile upon her lips,
some tantalizing thoughts should intrude themselves, and the mind so
entirely self-poised should feel, for the first time in years, the
weakening influence of some emotional fancies? It was her boast that
she was never lonely, never sad, that her whole heart was in the work.

The conductor passed through taking tickets, and brought her back to
the present. And after this came the little stir of the porter making
up the berths, and she moved to the end of the car. In front two men
were talking.

"Never saw a promise of a worse storm," said one. "Shouldn't wonder if
the tracks were blocked a little ahead."

"Comes from the southwest," suggested the other. "If necessary, they'll
put on another locomotive. We're bound to get through at any rate on
this train; that's one comfort."

By nine o'clock Margaret, enveloped in a downy wrapper of dark red,
lay courting sleep in her section. Over her was spread the fur
ulster, none too warm above the blankets, even for her warm blood.
The thermometer outside would have registered zero, and whiffs of icy
air found their way every now and then into the car. Everything was
quiet save her thoughts, which began to utter themselves with loud,
importunate voices, as if answering some call without, independent of
her control. "I have happily been able to say all my life that I didn't
know what nerves were," said Margaret to herself, "but I begin to think
that from some inexplicable cause I am nervous."

"Richard Allen!" She started as if the words had been spoken in her
ear. Swiftly memory flew back ten years, and she saw herself standing
bareheaded at the gate of her father's house in dear old Leesburg,
Virginia, where her childhood had been passed; and beside her, bending
tenderly to catch her lightest word, the form of her first lover, then
a poor, obscure young lieutenant in the army. With an indifference
scarce tinged with pity, since it hardly occurred to her in those days
that men could really feel, she had met his pleading affection with
an enthusiastic outburst of her ambition to lead the artist's life, to
spend her energies in self-development, and show what a woman wholly
devoted to an intellectual and artistic career might become. They had
sung in the choir together, had mingled their voices in moments when,
inspired by devotional ecstasy, it seemed that the two spirits united
into one, in that mysterious fellowship which belongs alike to religion
and to love. And yet she had no feeling for him above regard: no
feeling for any one, for anything, but art.

"You must not think I am deficient in womanly sensibility," she had
said to him, with one of those soft glances of the meaning and effect
of which she was entirely careless and unconscious. "But some women
must remain spinsters, you know, and I think I am meant to be one of
the sisterhood."

"You do not know yourself. The day will come when ambition will seem
nothing to you; when the homely things, the real things, will take
on their true value to your eyes, and a 'career' will seem a mere
artificiality that has nothing to do with what is best and sweetest in
life."

The words had passed her by as an idle phrase, evoked from
disappointment. And she and Richard Allen had parted, he going to
his post on the line in Arizona, and she to Italy to study. And yet
nothing passes from us entirely. Here, without warning, without her
intention, the little scene came up before her eyes; and she saw again
the apple-orchard in blossom, the red brick chimney of the school-house
across the way looming up in the moonlight, the hills in the distance,
the strong, proudly-carried figure at her side. And then scene after
scene came up before her, always with the two figures present: the
manly, devoted lover, the self-absorbed girl.

Yet she had lived for ambition, and the world had been kind to her,
after she had proven her mettle. She had not lacked lovers, but she
had never loved. Her strong will, which had determinedly mapped out
an existence entirely free from sentiment, had carried her through
every affair triumphantly and untouched. Four or five hours ago she had
entered that car as "free from the trammels of passion" as a vestal
virgin. What was in the air, what was in the night, that hurried her
on into imaginative flights? Constantly, like two stars, two meaning
eyes seemed to gleam upon her, and kindle a world of emotion latent
and unsuspected in her nature! She tried to be cynical, to laugh, to
think of something else; she tried her best to get to sleep, but only
her will could sleep, and fancy still rioted. Richard Allen had had the
making of a fine man in him: what had become of him,--why had nothing
been heard of him? The woman whose religion was success had little
patience with patience; it seemed to her that all virtue was embodied
in some sort of action. A man who at forty--he must be forty--was still
obscure, was not worth a thought. And yet he had possessed a certain
sort of strength. She had been forced to admire, in old times, a
suggested moral superiority, a higher point of view than she considered
practical. If he had brought himself to live up to his own standard,
he must have been unable to make necessary concessions. And then, as
Margaret recalled some "concessions" she had herself made to success,
she felt her cheeks burn in the darkness. How often she had traded
upon her own attractions, how often made use of the influence of her
personality to bring about certain ends! If she had not lied in words,
she had in act. Her present status had not been attained without some
sacrifice of scruples.

The woman turned restlessly in her berth, wondering why such ideas
should come to her now to interfere with her peace. She was good;
she was ashamed of nothing in her past; she was living a high, free,
independent life, the life for a woman of intellect and energy to lead.
Thank heaven, she was not an emotional creature! Sentiment had been
trained out of her. Long after midnight she lost consciousness, and
passed a few hours in fitful slumber. It was cruel that she should have
to dream of Richard Allen; dream that they were together in an open
boat, drifting out to sea, and that his arms were around her, his eyes
looking into hers. And she cared for nothing, thought of nothing but
that he held her close--how strangely sweet it was!--

A jar, a shock, a sudden stop, as if the train had run against a
wall of rock, and Margaret started up and drew the curtain aside
instinctively. A fall through space--what was it, oh, where was she!
Had the train fallen down an embankment?

After a minute she realized that she had been thrown from her berth
across the car, that other persons lay about, some groaning, some
hastily picking themselves up. She shut her eyes: there was a sharp
pain in her left arm, and a weight upon her side. A falling lamp had
struck her, and from some cause she could not rise; her leg must be
broken. There was a terrible confusion, much talking, and half-a-dozen
people bending over her pityingly and asking her questions.

"What has happened? Is anybody killed?" she asked.

Several persons answered at once. They had run into a freight. The
engineer on their own train was killed; no one else. Many were hurt.
Could she bear to be moved?

"I must," she returned, setting her lips, for agonizing pains began to
shoot through her foot, and the thought of being touched was suffering.

"Fortunately we are just on the outskirts of Frithville--there are
houses near." It was the conductor who spoke now, and he at once took
charge. She was lifted carefully, wrapped in blankets and carried out.
Their car had sustained less damage than any other, being in the rear,
and there was no difficulty in getting out.

"If she could stand it to be taken over yonder," said some one,
pointing to a house some distance away, "she'd be more comfortable, I
reckon."

"Where are we?" asked Margaret, bravely suppressing her pain.

"Somewhere in southern Indiana--a little town called Frithville," a man
answered her.

"If she could stand it to be taken over to the doctor's house--" said
the persistent first speaker.

"I can stand it," she interposed; "take me there quickly."

They improvised a sort of rough litter of mattresses, and carried her
across a field in the open country. The dawn was just breaking, and the
pale moon was slowly fading out of view before the great coming light.
The air was clear, cold, crisp; and, though there had evidently been a
heavy storm during the night, it had cleared completely, and the first
ray of sunlight glittered upon banks of frozen snow. The house before
which they stopped was a plain, two-storied wooden structure, which
seemed at first sight peculiarly barren-looking. Clean white curtains
hung in straight, scant folds at the windows. The door had been drab
in color, but the paint had been so assiduously scrubbed that one
now took its presence on trust. There was a brass knocker and a rush
door-mat, on which lay a large black cat with bristling white whiskers.

The door was opened by a severe Swedish girl, whose starched cap and
apron suggested careful housekeeping, as her suspicious countenance
suggested inhospitality. She made no objections to admitting them,
however, and Margaret was carefully deposited upon a couch in the
sitting-room to wait the coming of the doctor, who, the maid said, had
just left the house to go to the scene of the wreck.

"We'll send him back to you, ma'am, right off," one of the men assured
her. "You ought to be 'tended to first."

"Not if others are suffering and need him more," said Margaret faintly.

The ungenial looking Swede proved herself to be not deficient in
skill, even though sympathy was in a measure lacking. She made her
guest as comfortable as she could. The shoe was cut from the swollen
ankle, which was bathed and bandaged, and the hurts upon the shoulder
and side were pronounced to be only bruises which "Herr doctor would
make-right." And then Margaret was left to herself while the girl
went to make the inevitable "cup of tea," which was to set everything
straight.

At first she lay perfectly still, seeing nothing, and caring for
nothing, her mind full of vexation and impatience over an accident
which must delay the fulfilment of her engagement. It did not occur to
her that it might have been worse; anything was bad enough.

After awhile her eyes began to wander idly around the room. It seemed
half parlor, half study. Folding doors divided it from the office at
the back. There was a book-case, well filled; some good engravings
on the walls; a few easy-chairs covered with raw silk of a dull hue,
much worn; and a writing-table between the windows, half covered with
books and magazines. There was something agreeable to her taste in the
air of the room. She could imagine it the abode of a man whose very
poverty could never become squalid. The great open Franklin stove shone
brightly, and the hearth was scrupulously clean. Upon the mantel were a
bronze clock and a pair of fine vases, dainty in tone and finish; they
were the sole womanly touches about the place. Noting these details
half indifferently, she lay back again and closed her eyes.

When she opened them again, they happened to glance directly over to a
corner of the room which had before been dim, but was now illuminated
by a shaft of sunlight. A carved bracket hung there, and on the shelf
lay a singular looking little instrument, shaped like a dagger, of
Moorish device, the handle inlaid with gold, left rough and unpolished.
When Margaret saw this small object, she gave a little cry and tried to
rise, but finding that impossible, she dropped back upon her pillows as
if she had been shot, her eyes fixed upon the little instrument with a
look of recognition that was half pleasure, half alarm. What strange
trick was fate about to play her? How could this thing be possible?

There was a noise: the front door opened, and some one came along the
hall with a firm, measured step. Margaret's heart, that well-regulated
organ, beat to suffocation. She hardly dared listen or look. She
threw her arm up over her forehead, nearly concealing her face. Some
one entered the room and paused beside her. A well-remembered voice,
graver, deeper than of yore, yet with a cheery ring in it, said, "Let
me see what I can do to help you, madam." A chair was drawn up to the
side of the couch, a gentle hand took her own. Her pulse was beating
furiously; the hand was held rather long, as if something perplexed
him. She felt searching eyes bent upon her face, and suddenly threw
down her arm. The doctor drew back, his face paling, and the two looked
at each other for a minute in silence. She spoke first, putting out her
hand timidly.

"Richard, don't you remember me?"

"Remember you? As if I were likely ever to forget you."

She softly touched his empty left sleeve, pinned over his breast, two
tears standing in her eyes.

"At Black Gulch," he said. "I have got over minding it. Don't grieve."

"You left the army?"

"Yes, four years ago. My health gave way. I studied medicine in
Indianapolis, was invited here by an old friend to become his
assistant, and shortly afterward he died. That is all."

"You never--never----"

"Yes; I married."

The words were an unexpected stab. Margaret gasped, amazed that she
should care. Her face suddenly became suffused with color, and she
turned it away.

"She only lived a year--Margaret," said the doctor, bending down to
study the fair, flushed face, suddenly pain-smitten.

"My ankle!" said Margaret faintly, drawing his attention to the lesser
hurt.

He was the doctor again at once, and, for the next half hour all
professional gravity, and as impersonal as the sphinx; yet the woman
felt through every nerve, like a musical vibration, the thrill of his
firm, warm fingers, the scrutiny of his eyes. He was changed, worn
through suffering rather than years, his face lined, his hair grown
gray; with nothing young about him but his eyes, which sparkled with
a cheer and brightness no grief could dim, for they mirrored a mind
above all personal considerations, concerned with those large, loving
interests belonging to humanity.

The woman felt the presence of this spirit, as if something beautiful
and good had settled softly down beside her, and mutely besought her
attention from herself and her narrow world. She struggled against it,
yet it was like a shaft of genial sun heat, entering suddenly some
frozen glen; she felt, in a heart purposely hardened against such
influences, a stir, a thaw; ice was breaking, and the long-stilled
waters of human affection began to flow in gentle currents, inspiring
a sensation of delight that astonished and abashed her.

The doctor came and went quietly, her eyes following him. When he
intercepted the look, she blushed like a schoolgirl. Too busy all that
day to give her more than necessary attention, he yet lost nothing that
passed and she had a sense which was oddly pleasant that he understood
something of what was passing in her mind. It was terrible, too. There
were moments when she wished herself miles away. Besides all the
physical pain which she endured that long day, Margaret's soul was the
battle-ground of a struggle far more exhausting. Ambition, pride, and
love of the world fought hard against a tender, newly-born impulse,
which it seemed that a single breath of reason ought to chill to death.

The coals burned red in the open stove; a little tea-table was set in
the middle of the room, and in the easiest chair in the house, piled
with all the available cushions, the doctor placed Margaret, taking
his position opposite her. The solemn Swedish girl brought in supper,
which was well cooked and served with a scrupulous cleanliness that
almost atoned for the absence of a more dainty service.

The doctor's face shone with satisfaction, but his manner, although
genial, was ceremonious. Margaret felt that, in the few feet
intervening between them, there lay years of care and grief and
disappointment. She felt a yearning to bridge the chasm, to draw nearer
to him, even though she herself had to take the hard steps toward
understanding.

Thought the woman: "Does he love me still?" And thought the man: "Is
she tired of the world, and could she learn to love me now?"

But they spoke of music; of camp-life on the western frontier; of what
they had seen, what they had read. Not a word of what they felt. A few
hours later the doctor stood in his bare little soldier's bedroom, and
looked in his glass. For five minutes he studied himself, and then he
turned away, resolved to let no new hope spring up in his heart. But
Margaret slept to dream of him, woke through the night thinking of him,
as she could not have thought in the old days, when he wooed her in the
confidence of his fresh, hopeful youth.

There was no hotel in the village, and the few scattered houses were
crowded with the wounded passengers, lying over till well enough to
proceed with their journey. Margaret was not sorry that there was
no other place for her than the refuge she had been taken to. "I am
thinking that I am singularly fortunate in being in the doctor's
house, where I get special attention," she said to him, with a little
fluttering smile.

In time these shy looks wrought upon the doctor, and his stern
resolution wavered. He found himself sounding her preferences and
attachments, with the unconfessed design of extracting some unguarded
word that might indicate a change in her old convictions. Carrying on
together these two processes--determination to refrain and resolution
to pursue, which often accompanies some course of action embraced in
accordance with a natural, unworldly judgment, he managed to betray to
the eager girl all he wished to conceal and she wished to know. She had
telegraphed to Baltimore that she would be there in ten days. Four of
them had passed, and she was free from pain and able to put her foot to
the ground. The doctor persisted in helping her from her couch to the
chair and back again.

"But I can walk alone now," she objected.

"We must be careful. Not until to-morrow." She protested with greater
earnestness. "True--I have but one arm," he said, with the first accent
of bitterness she had heard from him. Her lips parted to give utterance
to a sudden rush of words, but she only looked at him, with eyes so
eloquent that he answered the look.

"Margaret, do you care? Dear, I have always loved you, I love you
now,--can you care?"

She drooped her head on his shoulder, but said nothing. The doctor held
her close for a minute, and then, leaving her, began to walk up and
down the room.

"It is impossible!"

"It may be impossible," murmured Margaret with a little blush, "but--it
is true."

"It is cruel of me to ask it, dear. You are young, beautiful,
brilliant--with success at your feet, and I----"

She put up her hand imploringly. It was caught and held. "And I am
poor, obscure and--old," he finished, his eyes upon her face.

"I have come to you, Richard. It seemed strange to me. I cannot explain
it, but it seems as if everything the world has to offer me is nothing
beside----"

"Beside my love?" he bent on one knee beside her chair and put her hand
to his lips.

"I want to share your life," she said, and a new expression grew upon
her face, a high, devoted look which was half heroic, all womanly. "I
want to learn something of the great things, the true things."

"You have had greater things than I can give you. Think of all you are
leaving!"

She made a gesture of renunciation. "It does not seem much to
leave--for you."

"Ah, my darling, I am afraid you will regret it. The work-a-day world
will be a trial to you. And mine is a veritable work-a-day world."

He kept his eyes on her face, half dreading to see her shrink away. But
what woman is not won by an appearance of self-renunciation? Richard
could not have let her go now; at the last instant he would have
snatched her to his breast, had she drawn away. But the misgiving that
rushed over him so fiercely was a real one, a sensible one; he felt
it profoundly, and tried to read in her eyes a shadow of this coming
regret. But her eyes were clear, loving, radiant. She pressed herself
against his breast, and gave him the great gift of her life and her
future. Would the shadow ever come?

The moon looked softly in, an hour later, and finding the lovers in
that delicious dream which once in a lifetime comes to most men and
women, drew over her face a gray cloud-veil and left them to dream
on.



PINK AND BLACK[4]


ONE bright day in early spring, when the children had begun to hunt in
the woods for trailing arbutus, and the Shenandoah River reflected in
its clear depths the outlines of the overlooking mountains, a small,
straight figure, sensibly habited in a short gray gown, made its way
along the single paved street of Bloomdale to the principal store.

Young Heaton Smith, the handsome, blue-eyed son of the proprietor, came
forward with a smiling welcome. After a few minutes' preliminary talk,
Miss Phillida confessed that she had some notion of buying a dress.

He placed a stool in front of the counter extending along that side of
the store which was devoted to dry goods, and, with the air of one who
affords a pleasant surprise, laid before her several rolls of sheer,
silky stuff in dainty colorings; the most conspicuous being that which
bore bunches of deep pink rosebuds on a light brown ground.

"Beautiful!" murmured Miss Phillida, taking hold of the edge with a
delicate, blue-veined hand covered with a network of fine wrinkles.
"How Sister Emma would love this pattern!"

"Here's a blue," said Heaton, laying another before her. "Handsome,
aren't they? They come ten yards to a piece; just enough for a dress.
We only got 'em in yesterday."

"I am mightily taken with this pink, Heaton. But I reckon it's too
young-looking for me."

"You don't think yourself old, ma'am? Mother was saying, only the other
day, that none of the girls could beat you for complexion."

"Just hear the boy! If it was Sister Emma, you might talk so. I do
agree with anybody that calls her a beauty. But I reckon you don't
recollect Sister Emma, Heaton? You was a child when she went away."

"I recollect her, though. It's about ten years now, ain't it? I was
twelve then. I know I haven't forgot that big wedding-cake with the
twelve dozen eggs in it."

"Really, Heaton?" said Miss Phillida, coloring with pleasure. "I
was rather proud of that cake. Emma could make nice cake herself. I
suppose she's had a chance to forget it. Her time's taken up other
ways. Denver's quite a gay place, she says; and of course her husband's
position requires her to go out a great deal."

This was uttered in a tone of proud satisfaction. Everybody in
Bloomdale knew what a comfort it was to the solitary woman to
talk about her sister. The Virginia beauty had married a western
millionaire, and when at the monthly sewing society Miss Phillida read
aloud her last Denver letter, these staid, but pleasure-loving Virginia
matrons listened eagerly.

Young Heaton leaned back against the shelves in an easy,
conversational attitude, and looked politely interested.

"Of course you know she's coming home to make a visit, Heaton?" The
little lady's joy and yearning brimmed over her mild blue eyes, and she
lowered her head, pretending to examine the goods.

"So I heard," said Heaton cordially. "We'll all enjoy seeing her, I'm
shore."

"I expect her to-morrow," Miss Phillida cried excitedly. "By the
morning train."

A vehicle drew up before the long porch, and the little woman
endeavored to seem occupied with her purchase.

"I reckon this black and white'd be more appropriate to my years," she
said in a critical tone. "But somehow I'm awfully in the notion of
taking that pink."

"Take the pink, Miss Phillidy; and if you change your mind, we'll take
it back and give you another in the place of it."

Miss Phillida cast another glance at the black and white, then turned
again to the pink.

"I'll take it then, Heaton. I feel somehow as if it'd please Emma to
have me get a gown that looked cheerful. And I must be getting young
again, for I haven't been so in the notion of dressing up for ages.
But, dear me! if I haven't forgot to ask the price! Maybe it's beyond
my reach."

"No, indeed, Miss Phillidy, it's a bargain. Five dollars for any
pattern. A chance we mayn't be able to offer our customers again."

It was a considerable sum for Miss Phillida to give for a spring
dress. She was deep in calculations when a handsome ruddy man of
about forty-five entered the store, and greeted her with delightful
heartiness.

He called her "Cousin Phillidy," and the cousinship, although very
distant, enabled him to do the little woman many a good turn. In his
heart, Mr. Ned Miller always looked upon her as the woman who might,
but for a chance, have been his sister-in-law. The chance had been
Emma Wood's marriage with another man. But that was not his fault.
Bloomdale said that Ned Miller was of too affectionate a nature to
stay a widower.

As she reflected his sunshiny smile and answered his gay badinage, a
strange idea suddenly entered Miss Phillida's head. It made her get up
in great haste.

"I--I'll take the pink, Heaton," she said quickly. "I'll carry it right
with me."

"My horses air at the door, cousin. Let me drive you up the street."

"It's but a step; I'm obliged to you, Cousin Ned. And it's such a sweet
day, I like to walk."

"Well, I'll see you at preaching Sunday, cousin. And your sister, too,
I hope. But if I'm in town before, I'll just call in--to see if I can
be of any service."

"Thank you," murmured Miss Phillida. "Give my love to all at
Maplegrove," and she hastened homeward, amazed at herself, and inclined
to believe that the Father of Evil had put that startling notion into
her head.

She stopped at the gate of a low, brown house opposite the Methodist
Church, and, going through a garden crowded with sweet, old-fashioned
flowers, opened the side door into a little entry about six feet
square, from which one door on the left led to the sitting-room, and
another on the right into a spare bedroom. The kitchen lay beyond the
sitting room, and thither Miss Phillida directed her steps. A cup of
tea, taken upon the spotless pine table, brought her back to herself.
She had spread out the dress pattern over the back of the settee, to
look at while she ate her dinner; and after washing up the dishes,
she opened a door leading into a chilly bedroom, all dark, rich old
mahogany and white draperies, and carefully laid it away in the lower
drawer of a capacious bureau.

"I reckon it was extravagant of me," she soliloquized. "But I couldn't
shame Emma by appearing out in company with her in old duds."

Emma arrived the next morning. Bloomdale was looking for her when the
train stopped at the dilapidated old shed called a "deep-ho." At first
Bloomdale thought itself disappointed. It had expected a brilliant
young lady accompanied by a quantity of baggage, exhibiting, perhaps,
some of the haughtiness of a person used to the homage paid to rank and
wealth. Instead, there was left upon the platform, besides a small,
plain trunk, a tall woman dressed all in black, her face covered with
a heavy veil. She advanced hesitatingly. Miss Phillida, straining her
eyes to see through that veil, suddenly pressed forward and fell into
her arms.

"It's you, sister! I know you by your walk. Come and get into the
carryall, there's room for the trunk at the back."

Bewildered, but energetic, she steered her sister past the little
crowd and landed her safely in the old carryall, upon the back of
which a strapping negro was already adjusting the trunk. Miss Phillida
recognized him as the coachman of Mr. Ned Miller, and the tears came to
her eyes as he handed her the reins. To her excited sense, it seemed
significant that the first person to show kindness to Emma on her
home-coming should be some one belonging to her old lover.

She talked without knowing what she said. So far, Emma had not spoken,
after the first low murmur of greeting. Emma!--the gay, sparkling girl
whose high spirits and talent for conversation had made her a favorite
in county society. For whom could she be in mourning? Miss Phillida
racked her brain with conjectures.

When they were inside the house Emma lifted her veil, gazing around
like one who had just returned to life from a long trance. Her face,
whose beauty was of a grand type, softened and brightened from its look
of stern repose, as one by one she recognized objects once loved and
familiar.

"Everything is just the same," she said in a low voice, vibrant
with feeling. "Grandfather's and father's swords there on the wall,
the fox-skin rugs, the horse-hair armchairs, and the dear old brass
andirons!--How good of you to have a fire, Phillida, dear! It looks so
cheerful. I haven't seen a wood fire on the hearth since I left home."

"You mean home in Denver?" palpitated Miss Phillida, feeling strangely
awed by this sister with grave manner and pale face.

"No!" The denial was quick and passionate, more like the fervor of the
old Emma. She threw off her bonnet and cloak with rapid movements, and
held out her arms to little Miss Phillida. In a moment all constraint
had melted away between the long-severed sisters. The tongue of the
elder was loosened, and she asked question after question, which,
however, Emma parried.

"I have a long story to tell you, dear; but let us wait till evening.
When the curtains are drawn and the lamps lit, I shall feel better able
to talk. Let me just enjoy being at home, for a little while."

She followed Miss Phillida out to the kitchen and, sitting on a low
chair with the big black cat purring in her lap, watched her fry the
chicken and bake the corn cakes for dinner, talking meanwhile, fluently
and entertainingly, of life in the West, and of the different cities
she had visited. But not a word of herself.

When dinner was over, she insisted upon wiping the dishes; and it was
then that Miss Phillida scrutinized her dress, and saw that it was
rusty, and not of fine material.

"Oh, just a traveling dress," thought the elder sister, who experienced
an odd fluttering of the heart.

The afternoon was consumed in examining the house and garden. Miss
Phillida raised her own vegetables, and kept a few chickens, which
latter amused themselves by scratching up her seeds and pecking her
choicest tomatoes as they ripened. A creek watered the lower end of the
garden, and here a half-dozen ducks disported lazily. Under a spreading
apple tree was a bench covered with an old buffalo robe, upon which she
sat with her sewing on summer afternoons. Surrounded thus by comfort
and peace, the gentle spinster had lived her harmless existence,
conscious of but one ungratified wish: the longing for her sister. And
now that wish was accomplished. With tremors of delight she displayed
everything, confiding all her little plans to affectionate, sympathetic
ears. Each homely detail gave Emma fresh pleasure. She seemed to desire
to penetrate to the heart of this simple home life; to attach herself
to it, like one who thirsted for an intimacy with something genuine and
natural.

Miss Phillida saw with pleasure that clouds were gathering, and that
darkness would come on earlier than usual. Emma became grave again
after supper; and when she seated herself in the big rocking-chair
before the hearth in the sitting-room, the firelight played over
features that wore an expression of noble sadness.

"It is three years since I left Denver," she said, turning her luminous
gray eyes upon her sister's bewildered countenance. "I sent my letters
to a friend there who mailed them to you. It was not necessary for
you to be harassed by a knowledge of my sufferings. You fancied I
was living a happy, care-free life with a rich and generous husband.
Heavens!--How unsophisticated we are, we country folks in Virginia!

"I can't make it all plain to you, Phillida, for you wouldn't
understand without having gone through it, how, little by little,
I learned the ways of society, and on what a base foundation the
wealth we enjoyed was built. Robert was a speculator, and a reckless,
unscrupulous one. And besides this he was not honest in small things.
The husband I had imagined a fairy prince, full of noble qualities, was
not only false but mean. He gave me whatever was necessary to make a
show; nothing for my pleasure. Poor little sister! Don't you suppose I
wanted to send you presents? I never had a dollar of my own all those
seven years. But finally the end came. Robert failed--and it was a
dishonorable failure. He went away in the night, leaving me to bear the
brunt of everything."

"Oh, oh!" breathed Miss Phillida. "And didn't he come back?"

"He wrote me a letter from Canada, telling me to come over to him, for
he was sick. Well, I went! I nursed him, and worked for him,--and I put
up for two years with a life that was Purgatory. You mustn't expect me
to be very sorry he died then, Phillida. You wouldn't if you knew all.
I did hate to come back to you,--such a failure! But it was a miserable
existence all alone there, in Quebec, and--I knew you would be glad to
see me, dear!"

For a few moments the sisters wept together. Then Emma raised her head.

"I thought that perhaps I might get a school. Of course I intend to do
something."

"No, no!" cried Miss Phillida, wiping her eyes and taking her sister's
hand. "You needn't do that, dearest. With the garden and the cow and
chickens, there is plenty. And then, you know, the hundred a year that
comes from the railroad shares is as much yours as mine. Everything is
yours, and, thank heaven, you're at home now, where everybody'll be
good to you!"

"The same generous, self-sacrificing little soul! But, dear Phillida,
I must work, if only to keep myself happy. I should soon be miserable
and restless with nothing to do. Come, make up your mind to let me be a
help instead of a burden. I have set my heart upon the school. Tell me,
who are the trustees now?"

"Cousin Ned Miller's a trustee," replied Miss Phillida, who had grown
thoughtful. "Perhaps you're right, Emma. Maybe you'll be happier with
the children to think about. And he'll get you a school, I'm quite
sure."

Emma rocked softly back and forth, looking into the fire. Perhaps she
saw visions there of a new and happier life, for her face took on an
expression of content.

But some little personal worry preyed upon Miss Phillida's mind. She
said nothing about it, but one morning when Emma had gone for a drive
with one of the neighbors, she took from the bureau drawer the precious
parcel reposing there, and with an air of guilt made her way to the
store.

"I've brought back this dress," she said confidentially to Heaton. "And
if you'll be so kind as to change it, I'll take the black and white
piece. I feel it's more suitable, somehow."

He readily obliged her, and the new pattern was deposited in the
deep drawer, after which the little woman wore an air of chastened
cheerfulness.

Cousin Ned Miller justified Miss Phillida's confidence. He not only
promised Emma the school, but offered to get a class in French for her;
and he spent time running about, waiting on her, and cheering her in
every way that could suggest itself to his kind heart. His handsome
team stood almost every day before the little brown house, while he
loitered on the honeysuckle scented porch with the sisters. There was
always some plausible excuse for his coming, and the true meaning of
his visits did not dawn upon Miss Phillida's mind until one afternoon
when she suddenly entered the sitting-room and saw them on the sofa
together.

The little woman's face was aflame with joyous excitement, as she ran
into the kitchen and began moving things about, without knowing or
caring what she did. The happiest outcome!--the most natural, the most
comfortable, and most reasonable arrangement that could happen! Emma
and Cousin Ned! They were made for each other.

"I really can't keep still," thought Miss Phillida. "I must go
somewhere."

As she put on her old gray gown, a thought suddenly flashed into her
mind. "Maybe it'll look curious," she reflected. "But I declare if I
won't."

Once more she entered the store with a parcel under her cape.
Fortunately the accommodating clerk was the only one around.

Miss Phillida blushed as she laid the black and white dress pattern on
the counter.

"I'm ashamed to be so changeable, Heaton, indeed I am; but things have
altered lately, and--my mind's more given to bright colors, somehow.
So, if it won't inconvenience you any, and if you'd really just as
lief--I think I'll change back to the pink."



MRS. MAY'S PRIVATE INCOME.[5]


WHEN Laura McHenry quietly turned her back upon the wealthy and
desirable suitor her family had decided she should marry, and gave her
hand to William May, a middle-aged lawyer of no particular standing or
prospects, everybody decided that she had thrown herself away.

Mr. May began his married life upon a wind-fall of fifteen hundred
dollars, his largest fee in a dozen years. A pretty house in Richmond
was leased for a year, and the delightful experience of buying new
furniture and disposing it to the best advantage gave the young wife
such happy occupation for the first two months that she was always
in a sunny humor, full of brightness and variability, and that kind
of independent submissiveness which charms a man who likes to see a
woman much occupied with household affairs, and with himself, as the
center of the household. Her pretty show of activity amused him. He
said she made occupation for herself in moving the furniture from one
place to another and then back again. One of his jokes was to ask her
where he should find the bed when he came home. And upon this she would
pretend to pout, and then they would kiss each other without the least
awkwardness or shame-facedness, and he would go off to his work with a
pleasant sense of security in the devotion of his lovely wife, while
she would carry in her mind all day long the picture of his smiling
face, and love him for every pretty speech and admiring look.

They were really happy. And it lasted quite six months, till all the
fifteen hundred dollars had been drawn out of the bank, except the bare
moiety necessary to keep the account.

When Dinah's wages were a month over-due, her substantial presence
disappeared out of the kitchen, and Laura's dainty white hands
made acquaintance with dish-mops, stove-lifters and brooms. Such an
ignoramus as she found herself! And with what zeal she bent her mind to
the study of cookery books and the household corners of the newspapers.
And brains told. She left the flour out of her first cake, but her
second one was a triumph of art, and muffins, veal cutlets and custards
came out from under her clever fingers with a delicacy and deftness
that surprised herself and gratified May immensely. Although he was
sorry to have her work in the kitchen, and sorry to find her now too
tired to sing to him in the evenings with the same spirit and freshness
that used to breathe through her songs. But the worst thing was that
fatigue and unending attention to details, united to those perpetual
interruptions from the door-bell which drive busy women almost
distracted, had their effect upon Laura's delicate frame. She grew
"nervous," which is often a misnomer for combined worry and distasteful
labors. It will seem to the inexperienced that the housekeeping for
two people, in a convenient little house, should have been a mere
bagatelle to a clever woman. Perhaps it would have been if Laura had
not had her profession to learn as well as practise. She had not been
brought up to housework, but to sing. Music had always been so much a
part of her life that she no more thought of giving up her daily study
hours than she would have thought of giving up her William. It was not
that she chose to work at her piano three or four hours a day after her
morning housework was done, but that it simply did not occur to her
to do otherwise. She usually forgot or neglected to take any lunch,
and by dinner time had no appetite, which had its conveniences, for
it was rapidly coming to pass that the dinners she could compass upon
the scanty and irregular supplies of money she received were scarcely
sufficient for more than one person, and she contrived that her husband
should be that person.

She had a thousand devices for inducing him to eat the bit of steak,
the single cup-custard, or the slice of fish. He was far from realizing
that his delicately fair wife, with her dainty tastes, was illy
nourished upon the tea and toast to which she often confined herself.
Nor did Laura realize it.

But after all, it was not the housework, the scanty food, nor even the
lack of variety and refreshment in her life that was beginning to tell
heavily upon her health, that was spoiling her beautiful disposition
and making her apprehensive and irritable. It was something more
terrible to a loving woman, honoring and admiring her husband with all
her soul, than all these things combined.

The third anniversary of their wedding-day came. Laura remembered what
day it was as she opened her eyes in the early dawn. A sigh escaped her
before she knew it. The tendency to meditate, as Nathaniel Hawthorne
observed, makes a woman sad. Laura had always been thoughtful;
lately--being much alone and having some matters to think about not
tending to raise her spirits, she had insensibly become sober.

She put her feet out of bed into a pair of worn slippers, and shaking
down a heavy mass of dark brown hair that matched her eyes in color,
made her toilet without waking her husband, who slumbered serenely till
within ten minutes of the breakfast hour, when she called him, meeting
with a not overgracious response.

The little dining-room had a pleasant and comfortable air this chilly
September morning. The little round table bore a glass containing
a sprig or two of red geranium from the pot in the window, and the
coffee-urn of nickel was polished till it shone like silver.

Mr. May came in after keeping her waiting fifteen minutes, and after
helping her and himself to oatmeal, began to read the newspaper that
lay at his plate in apparent forgetfulness of everything else. He
was a stout, rather short man, with large, luminous brown eyes that
never seemed to be looking at anything in particular. A full beard and
mustache sprinkled with gray hid a mouth that in his youth had made
the lower part of his face strongly resemble that of Peter the Great.
There was some quality about him that caused one to dread arousing his
anger; a strong sense of his own importance, perhaps. Some persons have
the gift of reflecting their own egotism into the minds of others,
rendering themselves formidable entirely through an appeal to the
imagination.

Laura was a tall, gracefully-formed woman, with a presence that
promised to become majestic with increasing years. Yet at heart she
was timid and sensitive as a delicate child, needing affection and
encouragement in the same measure; the last woman in the world for
a man who lived entirely within himself, and to whom a wife was an
adjunct, to be put on and off at his pleasure. Yet May had in regard to
her--and in regard to all other things--a conscience void of offense.
He took credit to himself for having given her her heart's desire in
his love.

The door-bell jangled sharply. May looked up.

"If that is the landlord," he said impressively, "I don't want to see
him."

"What shall I tell him?" asked Laura.

"Tell him anything you please!" The tone was sternly impatient this
time.

She went slowly into the narrow hall, and after a momentary parley with
some one who spoke in a high, angry voice, returned with a bill which
she laid before him without a word.

"Tell him I will--attend to it."

"He says----" she murmured deprecatingly, but got no further; the
lowering expression that came over his face was too lacerating to her
feelings. She preferred confronting the irate butcher again.

But there was a lump in her throat as she quietly resumed her seat. One
of her ideas of the "protection" promised by the marriage ceremony had
been a shielding from the roughness of persons of this sort. Why did he
ask her to stand between him and the landlord, the coal man and the
butcher? Why, oh, why, was there any necessity for these evasions and
subterfuges? She looked at her husband as he arose at last, after a
leisurely breakfast hour, and stood by the window finishing a paragraph
in his paper. He was a strong, robust man in the prime of life, with
a profession and hosts of acquaintances to help on his interests. Why
could he not at least make the small income necessary to keep their
very modest establishment going?

The explanation lay in a single fact. May was a man of visionary
schemes, always chasing some will-o'-the-wisp which promised fortune
and distinction, finding his pleasure in holding honorary posts at his
political club, which gave him a chance to talk and repaid him in a
cheaply gained reputation for ability.

Little by little Laura's idealized vision of her husband had faded
before the pressure of facts. But she clung to the shreds of her faith
as women do hold to their illusions; as they must if the world is to go
on and homes continue to exist. There was something still for her to
learn, however, and not the easiest lesson that had been set for her.

She set rather indifferently about her practising that afternoon. It
seemed to be no matter whether Chopin or Mendelssohn spoke to her
soul; both were alike rendered with a cold brilliancy very far removed
from her usual sympathetic interpretation. Her thoughts were far
away, wandering amid scenes of her girlhood; a happy time, full of
social enjoyment, of affectionate family intercourse, of freedom from
care, from make-shifts, from the dishonor of debt; a dishonor that
bore lightly upon May, with his belief in the future, but that was
crushing to her sensitive nature. Idly her fingers wandered, swifter
her thoughts flew, till all at once a sentence of homely wisdom from
a modern novelist came into her mind: "Many women are struggling
under the burden of money-saving when they had far rather spend their
energies in money-getting."

She arose impetuously, her eyes suddenly full of light. What had she
been thinking of? There was a fund of unused wealth in her fine musical
education, in her beautiful voice, a little impaired by hardships, but
magnificent still. Here was the way out of all this mirage of poverty;
with what she could earn by taking a class in Madame Cable's school
combined with her husband's earnings, they could live with comparative
ease and comfort. Oh, happiness, oh, relief! Laura's hat and cape were
on in ten minutes and a car was taking her down-town to the dwelling of
her old teacher, sure of a welcome and of aid. Madame had offered her
this position five years ago, just after her graduation, but her mother
would not hear of it. Now her mother was two thousand miles away, on
a frontier post with Major McHenry, entirely ignorant of the state of
affairs in her daughter's household.

What a curiously elusive thing courage is! By the time Laura's finger
was on the bell at Madame's door, her breath was coming in gasps, and
while she waited in the lofty and handsomely furnished parlor for the
coming of her old teacher, all the strength went out of her knees, so
that she found it difficult to rise when that stately, self-possessed
woman came in with a little silken rustle of skirts and extended hand.

It is so hard to say outright to a friend, "Help me!" And yet, is not
the opportunity of giving help and comfort one of the rewards of a
successful life? Why do we distrust human goodness? It was the pride
in Laura's nature that made her talk of everything else rather than
the object of her call, that made her tongue falter and her cheek grow
paler, when at length she brought herself to her task.

But fate was not ill-disposed. It happened that Madame needed her
services. She had come at an opportune moment, and in a few minutes the
business was satisfactorily settled.

"At the same time, my dear," said Madame, folding her soft, fat hands
and shaking her head till the emerald drops in her ears emitted flashes
of green fire, "I must say that I never like to see a married woman
set out to earn money. It is apt to spoil her husband. A man should
support his wife. It is his duty and it ought to be his pleasure. And
another side of the matter is that women to whom the extra income they
can gain by their talents means luxury and possibly extravagance,
forget that such competition makes it harder for their needy sisters.
Money-making is not such a gracious task. It should be left to those
who really need the money."

"I am not going to tell you I need it," thought Laura. Aloud, she said
with much indifference:

"Madame, have you any one in your mind you would rather get to take
your classes--any one you think would do the work better?"

"No," the teacher acknowledged that she knew no other superior to her
old pupil. "To tell you the truth, if I did I should feel it a duty to
engage the better worker. The principal of a school like this cannot
let her feelings guide her, you know."

"Then as the advantage is mutual," said Laura, a smile breaking over
her serious face, "my conscience is at rest. It is a matter of the
success of the fittest. My needier sister is not so well prepared for
the post as I, and so I get it."

"Really, you are right," murmured Madame, with her head on one side.
"But," she added as her visitor rose, "take my advice about one thing:
keep your earnings for yourself; they belong to you. Don't let your
husband find out that there is a--another capable bread-winner in the
house."

Madame had not the highest opinion in the world of Mr. William May. But
who lays to heart words of selfish caution? Not the wife who in the
glow of comfort and peace arising from the prospect of an income of her
own, feels all the old confidence and affection return as she explains
matters to her husband with a careful avoidance of any wound to his
self-love, and a blissful dwelling upon the pleasure and advantage that
is to come to herself in the healthful exercise of her accomplishments.

May was a little afraid their social standing would suffer. He
certainly did not like the idea of his wife teaching in a school. It
was contrary to all his preconceptions of her domestic, home-loving
disposition.

"It is a reflection upon me," he said moodily, adding with a little
passionate movement that brought her within his arm, her cheek close to
his lips: "I didn't marry you to let you work, my darling!"

She might have answered that he had let her work at harder things,
but she did not. She dwelt upon the idea of the comfort a regular
occupation was to be to her during the long winter days. She would be
much happier and less lonely with something to do. Very little said she
of the salary that was an item of so much importance in her mind.

But after he had gone out to his club she got out a little blank book
and figured it all away for six months to come. She resolved to leave
out of consideration the house-rent and the table. Naturally, William
would continue to bear the burden of these responsibilities. Her design
was to fill in the vacancies which he was indifferent to. So much for
the gas bill, so much for laundry, so much for the seats in church. And
something over for the indispensable winter clothing and for the joy of
giving. She looked forward to the happiness of hanging a new hat upon
the rack in place of dear Will's shabby one, and of supplying a pair
of slippers. Bliss and comfort of a little control over circumstances,
instead of being compelled to stand helpless and anxious waiting upon
the good fortune of another! Could a man have any idea of what this
feeling is to a woman? Mr. May could not have had, or he would never
have done what he did.

All that first month Laura was buoyed up by the anticipation of that
comfortable check she was soon to finger. Cool autumn breezes were
beginning to blow, but when first one woman, then another, put on
wraps, until her plain undraped gown appeared odd, she merely smiled
indifferently and warmed herself with the thought of pay-day. When the
farina kettle sprang a leak she laughingly declared it was old enough
to be superannuated. A dollar seemed such a trifle to worry over now.

At last it was in her hands. The first earning of her life. With a
child's glee she hurried home and displayed it to her husband, enjoying
his teasing comments on her sudden accession to wealth. But the dinner
had to be cooked, and recalling herself to this duty, she ran into the
kitchen, leaving the check behind her on the desk.

"It is all right," said Mr. May, when she looked for it later in the
evening. "I put it in my private drawer."

"Oh, yes, it is safer there," she returned easily, and got out her
mending basket, humming a gay tune, more light of heart than she had
been in many a day.

The next day was Saturday, and she had more morning work to do than
usual, but she hurried through it, and by half-past ten she had her hat
and gloves on and was rummaging the desk for her check. It was nowhere
to be found.

"Impossible that it could have been stolen," she exclaimed.
"Impossible! It was not indorsed. No one could use it, even if a thief
had made his way in, and that is absurd to think of. It _must_ be here."

Only when every paper had been taken out and scrutinized did she desist
from her search, and almost crying with vexation, resigned herself to
await her husband's return and ask his advice.

"My check!" she cried breathlessly, almost before he was fairly inside
the door. "It is gone!"

He turned with a somewhat puzzled expression at her excited manner.

"The check? Oh, why, that is all right. I put it in the bank this
morning."

"You put it in the bank?" repeated Laura slowly. "But how could you?
It was not indorsed."

"I indorsed it," he answered rather shortly, annoyed at all this
explanation about a mere matter of course. Were not he and his wife
one, and was not everything in common between them? It had not entered
his head for a single instant that there was anything amiss about a
procedure that was to Laura a veritable thunderbolt.

She stood for a moment with her eyes lowered, ashamed for him who
thought of nothing less than of being ashamed for himself. It was
impossible to reproach him; he was a man whom a breath of censure
hardened into rock. While the sunshine of applause and sympathy shone
upon him he was debonair and charming, but the first chilling breath
of blame brought all the ice in his nature to the surface. She had
experienced the change; she dared not encounter it. Besides, it was not
in this first instant of a new revelation of his creed that she was to
feel all the sense of his moral flexibility. That was reserved for
later, when her keen instinct of justice and of individual rights had
been outraged again and again. She loved him. To win a smile and a kind
word from him what would she not have sacrificed? The mere trifle of
money was nothing. It was the feeling of having been unfairly treated,
of having been not considered at all where she had every right to
consideration. And yet the want of that trifle of money was to make her
miserable for a long time to come.

It was hard to be sweet and loving all day Sunday, with a weight of
suppressed thought upon her mind, but forbearance nourishes affection,
and by Monday she was her own tender, submissive self again. Besides,
it had occurred to her that the money was not quite out of her reach;
William would give her a check if she asked him for it.

When she made the suggestion he readily assented, and made out one to
her for five dollars before he left Monday morning. When she timidly
broached the subject again he looked annoyed, and said curtly that the
landlord had the money.

"But----" began Laura, flushing hotly, then closed her lips and went
quietly about her work. What was there to say? The landlord had to be
paid, of course. Only somehow, she had thought that her husband would
do that, as he had always managed it before.

But the following month brought Mr. May increasing ill-luck. He would
have been a generous and kindly man if he had prospered, and with
nothing to bring it to the surface he might have gone through life, his
lack of sterling principle unsuspected. He could be generous but not
just; he could recognize the rights of others--the right of tradesmen
to be paid, the rights of his political comrades to a fulfilment of his
promises to them--_if_ everything went well with himself. But to tell
the truth in the teeth of disaster, to face an irate creditor, to climb
down from his height of vain ambition and lay to heart that vow of duty
his childish lips had uttered at his mother's knee--"To labor truly
to get my own living, and do my duty in that state of life to which it
shall please God to call me"--this was what William May had not it in
him to perform. And his wife, with her clear moral sense, her unbending
Puritan conscience, was doomed to see him fail.

It was not the loss of her money that pained her so much when on the
next pay-day she handed him her check in very pity and sorrow for
his "bad luck." It was the feeling that do what she would, work as
she might, they would never be any better off. And the still more
dreary revelation that as her energy was more feverishly applied his
diminished. The more earnest and eager she grew to pay off their
increasing debts and establish system in their ways, the more careless
he became.

She furbished up her wedding gown and made engagements to sing at
parlor entertainments. She gave private lessons. And she made money.
Some of it she handled herself, but most of it was "put in the
bank," and drawn out for a strange purpose: one she disapproved and
disbelieved in utterly, but could not positively oppose.

He was so boyishly eager about it, so confident of his success. Through
activity unprecedented and maneuverings he did not care to remember,
Mr. May had been put up for State senator from his district, and in
all the bustle of officering small meetings and petty "bossing," his
spirits were so high, and he was so good-humored and affectionate that
his wife had not the heart to tell him that this was the worst waste of
time in which he had yet engaged. For to her sane, cautious mind it was
apparent from the first that he had not the shadow of a chance of being
elected.

It happened that on the very eve of the election she was engaged to
sing at Carnegie Hall. He could not possibly spare time to take her,
and she went down alone, in a car. Her eyes were very bright and a
spot of color burned in each cheek. She was beautiful, with the beauty
of spirit that has triumphed over flesh. But a physician in the
audience whispered to his wife that that lovely woman was far along in
consumption. "And she will go quick, too, poor thing!"

The troublesome cough which she had neglected all winter annoyed her
more than usual going home, but she was rather shocked than grieved
when in the middle of the night a hemorrhage came on. Life was growing
hard and duty perplexing. But sheer force of will and affection made
her seem better next day, and she would not hear of her husband staying
with her. He was pledged to appear elsewhere and she made him go. He
did not come in till after midnight, and then--she sat up in sudden
terror, listening to that stumbling step, those mumbling speeches! It
was not only his election that May had lost that night; his manhood had
followed.

Laura turned her face to the wall. Was life to hold this new horror?
Ah, that she might escape the next day, with its shame, its sorrow
and its pitiful regrets. But what she expected did not come. May was
constitutionally incapable of confessing himself at fault. He slept off
his intoxication and did not get up until he was quite himself again,
cool and non-committal.

"Bad luck again, girlie," he said with an assumption of indifference.
"I can't make you Mrs. Senator this time."

"Poor Will!" the wife murmured. "I am sorry, dear."

"You are better?" he asked hastily, struck with her expression. "You
must have the doctor."

It was a tardy suggestion, and Laura smiled sadly. The doctor came,
however. But all he could do was to hold out those vague hopes which
are no comfort to anxious hearts. Before long her mother was sent for,
but the dread disease did its rapid work. Laura's great trial to the
last was the terrible sense of responsibility that haunted her about
the expenses that were being incurred.

"When I am not here, mother, what will he do? Poor fellow, nobody
understands him but me."

A little while afterwards she aroused herself from a fit of musing and
murmured:

"This awful feeling of helplessness!--and I tried so hard to set things
right. I thought when I had a little income of my own that everything
would go well."

"You have killed yourself," said her mother, darting a look of reproach
at the unconscious husband, who entered the room at this moment.

"Oh, no, don't say that," Laura whispered. "I only did what I wanted to
do. Will and I have been very happy, only----" But neither the mother
nor the husband, bending over the bed, heard the rest of the sentence.



THE LAZIEST GIRL IN VIRGINIA.[6]


UPON the Virginia side of the Potomac River, five miles across from
Washington City whose twinkling lights can be distinctly seen by night,
lies a little farm of about twenty-five acres, owned by a widow and her
three daughters, Caroline, Minnie and Rosa.

The dwelling is a villa rather than a farm-house, with wide verandas
that are the favorite sitting-rooms of the family in summer. The
glimpse they catch of the river traffic and of the far-off city gives
them a cheerful feeling of nearness to active life, while they are
removed from its noise and crowds.

Besides this property Widow Jones had found herself possessed, at her
husband's death, of an immense tract of unproductive land down on
Chesapeake Bay which could not be sold until Rosa, the younger girl,
now eighteen, came of age. Meanwhile, the taxes vexed her soul.

Hospitable, easy-going and accustomed to consider luxuries positive
necessities, the family would have been severely straitened if it had
not been for the nicety with which their various talents helped one
another out.

Caroline had excellent business ability and managed all the outside
affairs. She drew the dividends on their railway stock, parleyed with
lawyers, and engaged and settled with the hired men. In the burning
August weather, when a dozen red-shirted Negroes were to be cared for,
this slender young girl, in flaring straw hat and short gingham dress,
mounted her horse and rode up and down the fields, a keen-eyed, cheery,
sweet-voiced overseer. Regardless of her own meals she helped old black
Jessie prepare the meals for the men in the little cabin, and there
was no complaint as to quality or quantity under her liberal rule. She
did the marketing also and bought the other supplies. Then Mrs. Jones
took up the work, and her deft fingers and good taste converted crude
materials into food and raiment for the quartet. She was a notable
housekeeper and the best of neighbors, her round, jolly visage being
sure to appear at every moment of need, and her chicken broth and
jellies lingered pleasantly in the memory of the fretful convalescent.

Minnie's function was the care of all the live animals on the farm.
She had unerring judgment concerning mules and horses, understood the
peculiarities of cows, and knew everything worth knowing about poultry
and bees. She was a plump, happy-looking blonde, with a lovely hand, a
neat foot, and a playfully witty tongue that, like her own bees, never
stung the wise but kept fools at bay. Alert and busy from morning till
night she gave no thought to the admirers who sighed for her smiles,
but laughingly turned them over to Rosa, who had, she said, nothing
else to do but to make herself charming.

Rosa was the strongest possible contrast to her energetic sisters.
Rarely beautiful, and gifted with an artistic faculty that nearly
approached genius, she was apparently utterly devoid of ambition or
sense of responsibility, and was content to be waited upon and cared
for as if she was still the petted infant whose graces had at the
outset won the willing service of every one about her.

Her form was of medium height, but so symmetrical that she appeared
taller than she was. Her head was borne on her full, white throat with
a sort of dreamy grace, bent it almost seemed by the weight of her
magnificent tresses, the color of ripe wheat when the sun is shining
upon it, and falling a quarter of a yard below her waist. Her eyes were
of a deep, dark brown, with the softness of a Newfoundland dog's when
he is gazing wistfully at his master. It would have been as impossible
to say anything harsh to Rosa, when she opened those great dark eyes
and looked at you, as it would be to strike a dove or a gazelle or
a sweet young baby. Usually the heavy, blue-veined lids half veiled
them, and as her seashell cheeks warmed to their pinkest tone, and her
exquisite bow of a mouth fell slightly apart, as she lay, as she loved
to do, in the hammock on the west veranda, an artist would have thought
her the very embodiment of love's young dream of sweet, maidenly beauty.

She seemed all softness and gentleness. Perhaps only her mother
knew what strength of will and temper lay behind Rosa's placid brow
and square little chin. There had been some stout tussels between a
determined little mother and a rosebud of a baby in the years gone by;
and although the match might have seemed an unequal one, the result had
always been the same. "A compromise," Major Jones had laughingly called
it, meaning, as he explained once in a candid moment, that the rosebud
had its own way.

Rosa's way was only passively, not actively objectionable. All she
asked was to be let alone; allowed to paint undisturbed in her untidy
attic studio when the whim seized her, and to lie in the hammock like
a kitten, dozing the hours away when she did not choose to exert
herself. Occasionally she would have spells of helpfulness, and for
several days her stool and box of colors would be set up beside the
parlor or dining-room doorway, while she decorated the pannels with
sprays of wistaria and masses of fern, so true to nature that one
wondered where a little country girl had ever learned to paint after
such a manner.

One warm afternoon in early September she was sitting on her stool in
the hall, which ran through the middle of the house from end to end,
putting slow, effective touches to a border above the dado which she
had begun in the spring, and with characteristic indifference had left
unfinished until now. Caroline, just in from a tour to the orchard, had
thrown herself down upon the settee to rest, and was exchanging remarks
with her mother about a certain dress trimming which the elder lady had
under way when she suddenly broke off to exclaim:

"If there isn't Mr. Brent coming, and not a speck of meat in the house!
Now, I suppose I shall have to go to town to market. I should think
it was enough for him to be here every Sunday and Wednesday, without
dropping upon us between whiles."

"Let Jessie kill a chicken," suggested Mrs. Jones, soothingly.

"But you know he doesn't eat chickens. If he was like any civilized
American he would. But nothing except a round of raw beef satisfies his
English appetite!"

But despite this small grumble, she smiled cordially as a good-looking,
middle-aged man with a vigorous, florid face, set off by a pair of
heavy black whiskers, came briskly up the path and included all of them
in a general, informal bow.

"Do you like omelet?" she asked reflectively, as he took a seat near
Rosa, and began commenting upon her work with an easy censorship which
was evidently not disagreeable to her.

He gave a little shudder. "'I'll no pullet sperm in my brew,'" he
quoted.

"Oh, I might have known you for a Falstaff," retorted Caroline, rising.
"Well, Mamma, I'm off."

"Not on my account, Miss Caroline. See here, I've brought my animal
diet with me, knowing that you ladies subsist on tea and fruit when I'm
not about." And from his coat pocket he drew a roll of brown paper,
three-quarters of a yard long, and held it out.

"Prime bologna," he added, complacently, as both mother and daughter
laughed heartily, and Rosa turned to give one of her slow, sweet smiles.

Brent was a "family friend." The major had made his acquaintance at
his club and brought him home to dine one day when Rosa was a winsome,
tumbling baby; and although he had grown grayer and stouter during the
years he had been coming out to the farm, ostensibly to oversee Rosa's
painting--for which he never would hear of compensation--he had not
faltered in a certain purpose conceived soon after that first visit,
and as unsuspected by Mrs. Jones and her two elder daughters as it was
patent to Rosa herself.

There were some rare affinities between them, even aside from their
painting. Brent's British phlegm was mellowed by a luxuriance of
imagination that he had inherited from an East Indian mother. His
temperament was a mixture of vigor, warmth and languor; and while he
was not in the least degree adaptable, he had a faculty of changing
the atmosphere of a company to suit himself; so that if others were
not pleased it seemed to be they, not he, who was out of place. If
they yielded up their individuality to his, well and good; if not,
they dropped out of the talk; that was all. Brent was a fluent and
entertaining talker. He liked to tell stories of tiger hunts and other
jungle pastimes; and Rosa, reclining with her dreamy eyes half shut,
liked to listen and feel herself pleasantly thrilled and excited
without other necessity than to give up her mind to follow where he led.

Her education had been desultory and superficial. Brent had played the
largest part in it, and he had molded her nature at his pleasure by
catering to certain biases that he had perceived to be unchangeable,
and for the rest giving her the side of life and affairs which he
preferred her to believe. What other experiences he had had besides
those he chose to tell them, these innocent women neither conjectured
nor troubled themselves to inquire. It was enough that he had been "the
major's friend."

He had lodgings in town, but his landlady scarcely ever saw him; for
when he was not roaming around upon one of his sketching tours he
seemed to live in the Corcoran Art Gallery, where Rosa painted under
his superintendence several hours each week. He had really devoted
himself to the girl's development with a zeal beyond what would have
appeared to be necessary in the "family friend." Perhaps Rosa thanked
him in private, for she never did so before the others. She treated him
always with the same indolent familiarity, and accepted his advice,
his help and his devotion as a mere matter of course; but she generally
did as he bade her.

This afternoon she continued to fill in her charcoal outlines until she
grew tired, and then, dropping her brushes, slipped to a cushion and,
crossing her hands behind her head, leaned back and looked up at him
like a weary seraph.

"Lazy child," said Brent, smiling, and taking her dropped brushes.
"That stem is well done, Rosa; but I want you to leave flowers for a
while and begin on that study of the nurse and child. It is time for
you to begin to think less of technic and study the masters. I wish you
could go abroad now."

"You have made me think of nothing but technic," said the girl.

"Certainly. There are many stages in art, and that is the preliminary
one. But you are now to make an advance. How little you realize your
advantages. If I had your genius!"

"I realize one advantage--having you for a teacher," she said in a low
tone.

The others had dropped away, and they were by themselves.

Brent moved closer to her. "Have you thought of what I talked to you
about?"

"It's no use to talk about that; I rather think they expect me to make
a great match, some time. Mamma wouldn't consider you eligible, you
know," she drawled, softly, with smooth, matchless insolence.

Brent looked at her with an expression she did not understand; but she
never troubled herself about what was beyond her easy comprehension.
And herein Brent had vastly the advantage; he understood her to the
depths of her nature, and he knew perfectly that he had made himself an
essential part of her existence. But he was wise enough to be patient.
For the present he allowed her to waive the subject aside; nor did
he betray even by the quiver of an eyelash that she had wounded his
self-love. Indeed, their temperaments were much alike, and neither one
was troubled with sensitiveness. Of the two the robust, mastiff-like
man had more than the brown-eyed angel, who now took to the hammock
and left him to finish her work; for it was as natural for him to work
as it was for her to be idle.

"You must get settled in town early this fall," he said to the mother,
when the family had assembled again on the veranda after dinner. "I
have laid out a good winter's work for Rosa at the gallery, and I want
her to start as soon as possible."

"Mr. Brent, I admire your coolness," commented Caroline. "If you expect
Rosa to put in a steady winter's work you must have suddenly created a
remarkable change in her."

"I really don't see how we are to go to town at all this winter," said
Mrs. Jones, wrinkling her pretty forehead. "The Farleys haven't yet
positively pledged themselves to take the place, as we depended on
their doing; and of course we can't go unless we let this house."

"Oh, the Farleys will take the place," said Brent confidently. "And
there is a nice little house on "H" Street that will be vacant about
the first of October. I wish you would go in to-morrow and look at it."

"Give me the address," said Caroline. "I have to go in town to-morrow,
and I'll take a peep at it. Then, if it seems worth while for you to
take the trouble, mamma dear, you can go in next week."

"Only don't let it slip through your fingers," counseled Brent. "Rosa,
don't you want to take a little walk up the hill and see the sunset?"

"Get the wheelbarrow!" said Minnie, briskly. "You'll never get Rosa to
climb the hill."

But Brent continued to look smilingly at Rosa, and, somewhat to their
surprise, she got up and went with him. As they began to climb the
gentle slope he took hold of her arm, and she leaned against him with
the same unconcern with which she would have accepted aid from one of
her sisters. They were gone half an hour, and when they came back a
close observer might have noted a satisfied look in Brent's face. He
had made a slight, very slight, advance in his plans, whatever they
were.

It was in accordance with them that the family moved into the little
house on "H" Street within a fortnight. Every afternoon saw Rosa seated
before a Corot in the main gallery of the Corcoran Art Building, and
for at least two hours she was busily occupied. Just how it came about
no one could have said. Perhaps Rosa herself was not aware of the
tightening of a leash which had been woven securely about her, and
that had guided and now held her to certain duties. Once, as he sat
beside her, painting away upon his small canvas with those minute,
exquisite touches which characterized his style, Brent said, with some
significance:

"You work very well under direction, Rosa; but you wouldn't set a
stroke if I were not here, would you?"

She laughed, and turned her eyes upon him inquiringly. "Wouldn't I?"
she asked; "ah, well, perhaps not. But then, you see, you _are_ here."

"You have grown so used to having me always at hand, that you couldn't
get on at all without me, could you?"

"Get on without you?" she repeated. "Why, I never thought of it."

The next day he let her think of it. For a week he was absent on a
sketching tour. When he returned he discovered that she had taken a
vacation also; and then, for the first time in her life, he said a
few stern words to her. They were very few, and without any hint of
anger; but the girl crimsoned, and opened her eyes pathetically. Any
other man would have been self-condemned; but Brent, while instantly
resuming his usual manner, did not lessen the effect of his rebuke; and
from this time her manner toward him began to undergo a change. It was
imperceptible to others, but apparent to Brent. She was no longer so
sweetly insolent to him; she was more timid, more tractable; and she
attended more steadily to her work, seeming to set a new value upon the
praise of which he had always been lavish.

The winter passed and the enervating air of April crept over the city.
One afternoon Rosa threw down her brushes petulantly, exclaiming that
she could not make another stroke.

Brent quietly gathered her implements and his own and stored them
neatly away. Then he laid his hand over hers and said, in a perfectly
matter-of-fact tone:

"Let's go and get married, Rosa?"

For a minute they looked at one another in silence. Then her eyes
dropped to her dress, a pink print, fresh and crisp under the great
gray apron which she had begun to untie.

"What! In a calico dress?" she said.

"Yes, just as you are; and now."

"What will they say at home?"

"Think how much trouble we are going to save your mother. We will tell
them this evening. Come, Rosa, I have been waiting for you a good many
years; don't keep me waiting any longer."

"It is dreadfully absurd," she observed. "What will you do with me?"

"Take you abroad next week, and when we come back settle you down
in the prettiest little house you ever saw. I have bought one up on
Capitol Hill, and you shall be its little mistress."

"I don't like housekeeping," remarked Rosa; but she was walking with
him toward the door. Suddenly she stopped. "We can't get married
without a license, can we?"

"I have the license," said Brent, touching his waistcoat pocket. "I got
it yesterday."

"It seems to me," she said, pouting a little, "You were rather
premature. How did you know I would have you?"

"I believed in my lucky star. We were meant for each other, my dear."

She was silent after this. They walked half-a-dozen squares and stopped
before a house next to a church. As Brent rang the bell he saw that the
girl was trembling slightly, and he lost no time in getting her into
the parlor, where a puzzled minister came to them a moment or so later.
Brent explained and produced the license. Rosa was nineteen and her
father was not living. There was no delay, and in the presence of the
minister's wife and daughter (who took the bride for a pretty servant
girl and were condescending) the ceremony was performed. But for the
heavy ring that encircled her finger the girl might have believed that
she was dreaming, as Brent drew her out of the house again and hailed a
passing horse-car to take them to her mother's house.

Minnie opened the door, and through the dusk her quick eyes perceived
something unusual in her sister; but Brent, giving her no time for
questions, drew his wife into the little parlor, where the widow sat
with her sewing.

"Mrs. Jones," he said calmly, "Rosa and I are married." As she got up
hastily, the color rushing to her face, he added, "I believe my old
friend the major would not have refused to give me his daughter."

It was a stroke of genius. Instead of uttering the angry words upon
her lips the widow fell back upon her chair, crying. The major, dead,
was not less the family oracle; and even the girls, who had burst into
exclamations, and were not to be repressed for half an hour or so, felt
that, irregular and shocking as the affair was, yet there was within it
a grain of amelioration.

"But that she should have got married in a sixpenny calico!" exclaimed
Caroline, tearfully. "I never shall get over that."

"I will buy her a gown or two in Paris," said the new brother-in-law.
"We shall sail next week, and be gone a year, or perhaps longer."

But three years passed before the little house on Capitol Hill had to
be vacated by its tenant in favor of the owners, who walked in upon the
Jones family one day, when the harvest apples were ripe, and the two
girls sat upon the porch of the farm-house paring a bowlful of them for
supper.

"What is the change in Rosa?" mother and sisters asked each other when
the pair had gone back to town the next morning. Mrs. Brent was even
more beautiful than she had been as a girl. She did not look unhappy.
Yet there was a difference.

The family found out what it meant when they began to visit the little
house in town. Rosa had found another guide than her own sweet will.
She no longer idled the days away, but sat patiently upon her little
stool and painted from morning till late in the afternoon, while
Brent--the personification of vigilance--hovered about, pipe in mouth,
seeing to the thousand and one things about the house, which, except
for his superintendence, kept itself, and dividing the rest of his
attention between Rosa's canvas and his own.

"Do you know," said Caroline, indignantly, "that Rosa--our lazy little
Rosa--has made fifteen hundred dollars the past year, while Brent has
only made three hundred?"

"That's what he married her for," said Minnie, with a rapid
inspiration. "I wondered what impelled him. I thought it wasn't love."

"My dear, he seems very fond of her," said Mrs. Jones, divided between
a wish to cry and a wish to make the best of it.

"He _is_ fond of her," declared Caroline, "and she's fond of him. But
if ever a girl found a master she has. He makes her work as I never
expected to see Rosa work. Not at housework, dear me, no! She is not to
waste her precious strength on such things. She is to devote herself
to art, which is to make _her_ reputation and _his_ living. That's all
there is to it."

"Perhaps it is not the worst thing that could have happened to her,"
mused Minnie. "There is a kind of nature that needs to be compelled to
make the best of itself."

"Don't you want some brute of an Englishman to compel you to make the
best of yourself?" snapped Caroline.

"No," answered Minnie, quietly. "What would do for Rosa would never
suit me."

"Well, I think we had better go in and take some peaches and straighten
up that disorderly house," said the elder sister.

They found Rosa sitting absorbed over a beautiful screen which was
a piece of ordered work, to cost a hundred and fifty dollars, while
Brent stood at the kitchen door, smoking placidly as he contemplated a
tableful of unwashed dishes.

"Come in, sisters both," he said, gaily. "But don't stop Rosa just now;
she hates to be interrupted when she is at work."



AN AWAKENING[7]


"AND who is that tall young man in the store, who stood there as if
nothing could induce him to take his hands from his pockets?"

Miss Stretton's companion looked as if he were mystified by
her scornful tone. "That's Albert Johnson," he answered in his
matter-of-fact way. "He's only been back hyar about six months. A
couple o' years ago he went down to Texas and made about five hundred
dollars, and then, all to onct, he turned up hyar again. He's nephew to
old Johnson, and stays in th' store, mostly."

"Doing what?" asked Miss Stretton, crisply.

"Why, doin' whatever's to do," answered Jerry Douglas with his thin
laugh. He was a tall, bony youth, with gray eyes and a delicate mouth.
Although unformed and shy, there was a hint of character about
him; which was the reason why Miss Stretton gave him the honor of
her company that morning on his trip to Stoneyton. It was partly in
pursuance of her amiable wish to draw him out, and partly because she
liked the ride on horseback. She was usually talkative, but now they
ambled along the dusty pike in silence.

"Ah--I jest thought of it, Miss Julia," Jerry said suddenly. "Old
Johnson's got a nice horse he might let you have. Bert's been ridin' it
since he come back, but he can't want it all th' time. I'll see if I
kin git it fur you, if you say so."

"Of course I say so, Jerry," retorted Miss Stretton, coming out of her
brown study and turning her bright blue eyes upon him. "And why didn't
you think of it before? But I know it takes you Virginia young men a
long time."

Young Douglas laughed again uneasily. "I s'pose we're ruther backward
compared to th' men you know, but you must recollect we've been under
a cloud since th' war. We haven't got eddication, and consequently we
feel at a disadvantage. Me, now, I've been to school, but what do I
know? Th' only thing's fur me to go ter Texas."

"Yes, and make a little money and come back again and loaf around till
it is spent," commented the girl inwardly. But she said aloud, "Don't
be disheartened, Jerry. It isn't what we know that counts; it's what we
do."

"What I want t' do is t' make money," Jerry muttered; "only th' people
home won't let me go 'way."

"Your time will come if you don't give up, never fear," she returned
kindly, as they rode up to the stile and he awkwardly helped her off
the great plow-horse.

She stood at the gate for a minute, watching the angular, boyish figure
lead the horse to the stable, heard the rough but not unkindly, "Go in
thar, now, Victor--stand, sir!" And then all was still.

In front of the low frame-house was a small, trim garden, with two
beds of red geranium bordered by bits of whitened oyster-shells.
Behind, lay the fields; to the left, the stable, pig-sty and orchard.
On the right, was an unkempt bit of woods, thick with undergrowth. Some
day they were going to cut out that undergrowth, which obstructed the
fine view of the hills beyond.

"Some day," mused Miss Stretton, "great things are to be done!" And yet
she was not without pity as she contemplated the few acres of worn-out
land, the meager cattle, the small, uncertain fruit-crop which made the
living of the worthy lady, Mrs. Douglas, and her sluggish, semi-invalid
husband. This summer they had for the first time followed the example
of their neighbors and augmented their income by taking two summer
boarders; there was not room for more.

Two or three days went by, and Jerry had apparently done nothing about
the horse. Miss Stretton's dearest wish was to hire an animal on
which she might take her daily rides with credit to herself and less
jarring of her bones. The great beast now at her service resembled
some creature in process of transformation to some other species, so
shambling, so long-mouthed, so ashamed of his own appearance did he
seem. But, rendered desperate by Jerry's procrastination, she mounted
Prince one morning and turned toward the village.

"You have shaken me to pieces--you, Prince!" she said reproachfully as
she stopped him in front of the store.

Stoneyton was perhaps the very smallest village ever dignified by the
name. There was a church, the store, and two neighboring houses, one
beside the store and one just across the narrow street. Two swaying
elms almost covered this space with their low-hanging branches, and a
broken wagon shaft lying in the way made it difficult for a vehicle to
turn there. A cart and horse now stood in the road, its driver absent.
There was, for a rarity, no one on the stoop; all was unusually still;
and Miss Stretton, waiting impatiently until the driver should come
out and start off, leaving the road again a thoroughfare, sat still on
her tall steed, and let her eyes roam dreamily around on the well-known
but ever-pleasing landscape.

The customer came out, and with her came young Mr. Johnson, who stowed
away her parcels, helped her into the wagon, and handed her the reins
before he turned to the pretty girl with a tinge of color still dyeing
his brown cheek.

"Is--your uncle in?" asked Miss Stretton sweetly.

He was very sorry, but his uncle had gone to Port Royal that morning to
see a sick sister. Could he do anything for her?

"Well," she said, hesitating, "I suppose you might do just as well,
only--I had expected to talk with your uncle."

Young Johnson looked puzzled but admiring. It was the admiration in
his splendid dark eyes that embarrassed her. To the city girls who
came up to the mountain every one of these little country stores,
and every farm which boasted a son or two of some old, impoverished
family, furnished an escort to dances and picnics, and the beau of a
summer. Miss Stretton was not exempt from girlish weaknesses, and as
the handsome countryman stood there waiting for her probable order for
ribbons or candy or stationery, she wished that she could settle her
little matter of business with some one else.

But she took it like a douche at last, all at once. "Jerry told me that
your uncle has a nice riding-horse, and I want one for a month or so.
Would he hire it? Could I arrange the matter with you?"

"Well, the horse is mine, in fact. Uncle made a present of it to me,"
explained Albert, kicking a little stone in the road.

"Oh!" said the young lady. The affair was now a nuisance to both
of them. For her part, she felt that, if she proceeded, there must
ensue some pecuniary loss in the transaction; she must be large and
uncalculating. On the other hand, Albert shrank from the mention of
dollars and cents, although if the matter had been conducted through a
third party, he would not have hesitated to make something out of the
Yankee girl. Being a Virginian, he could not now put a cool, business
face upon it. It occurred to him that he would like to drive her down
to the hop at Berryville to-morrow night. How would it look to make
bargains before tendering an invitation!

He looked up and down the road; the soft breeze from over the hills
just rustled the leaves, the low grunt of a porker reached their ears
from around the house, a dog barked somewhere, but no figure disturbed
the scene; nobody was coming, they must talk it out.

"Well?" she interrogated impatiently. She looked very graceful and
saucy. He glanced upward and caught her fleeting smile.

"I'll tell you what, Miss Stretton," he said with the relief of an
inspiration, "you mustn't make bargains in the dark. Try my Sultana
to-morrow, and if she goes to suit you, we'll talk further."

"All right, Mr. Johnson, and I'm extremely obliged to you." She was
grateful for the suggestion; Jerry should be messenger next time.

They were now at ease and could look one another frankly in the face.
Each knew the other well by hearsay. Who did not know of the Johnson
family, who had lived on the same fine old place for a hundred years
and more? And to which of the inquisitive natives was the affable
young lady a stranger when she had been staying for a fortnight at the
Douglas farm? It was quite conventional for them to call each other by
name and to linger a few minutes talking.

She rode off finally, with a charming smile, and Albert went into the
dingy store whistling, with his hands in his pockets; handsome and
lazy, and with nothing better to do than to recline on the counter and
recollect each detail of the conversation.

The next morning he made taking the horse over an excuse for a call,
and obtained her promise to go with him to the hop. Every one went;
the road was gay with vehicles of every description, and on the
ten-mile drive there and back their acquaintance grew old. If Miss
Stretton knew how to talk, Albert could listen eloquently.

Afterward she tried to recall something sensible and original in
his talk, which would account for the pleasure she had taken in his
company, but there was nothing in her memory save confused impressions
of what he must have meant.

"What a shame," she said to herself vehemently, "for a young man of
intelligence and versatility--he knows many things and could know more
if he tried--to be playing fifth wheel to a coach on a stupid country
road--clerk in that little store which a girl of twelve could manage
alone!"

And as soon as the chance came, she told him this, indirectly, and with
many a friendly ameliorating glance. Albert took her lecture meekly. It
came one morning when they were riding together. She had found Sultana
delightful, and he had made a joking bargain, letting her ride if he
might ride with her when he had time and his mother's horse could be
spared from the farm. And so this little matter was adjusted without
any reference to money.

It was rare pleasure to the city girl to gallop over the open country
of a fair August morning before the sun grew red; the fresh breeze from
the Blue Ridges colored her cheeks and lighted up her eyes, while it
filled her mind with longings, arousing her energy.

"It is energy that you young men lack," she admonished him in a sweet,
deferential tone. "Energy! Chalk it up on the fences, and spell it out
as you saunter along these dull little country lanes."

Albert thought best to treat it as a joke, but that only made her more
earnest. Then he changed his tactics, and met the reproach by a degree
of pathetic admission that unsettled her.

She found it a fascinating pastime to chide this handsome idler for
making little use of his abilities and she longed to be able to exert
a strongly stimulating influence. But when he told her that, on the
whole, he enjoyed his life as it was and had no wish to change it, that
there was virtue in contentment and that he appreciated his lot, much
as she seemed to despise it----

"I didn't say I despised it!" she exclaimed, abashed, her airy
ambitions seeming for an instant less grand. But when she looked at
her young Alcibiades, lost in the luxury of peace, she pined to send
him forth among men to do battle for the things men care to win. And
yet the girl had such tact that her touch did not irritate. The young
Southerner felt her thrilling tones move him pleasantly; she cooled
his languid breath like a fresh North wind coming in the summer heat.
Throughout, his face wore the same look of rich, indolent peace. One
day, however, he opened his splendid, dark eyes wide, and asked her
just what she would have a man do to prove himself a man.

Miss Stretton was as vague and inexperienced as women usually are who
urge extraordinary feats upon men in whom they are interested. But not
to seem foolish, she took the matter into consideration.

"I'll give you time," he said, laughing when she hesitated, "but--you
have been so hard on me, Miss Julia, that I really must press the
question home."

After this she listened to the reports about him, and heard much of
his sweet temper under provocation--to which, she owned, she herself
could testify--of his kindness of heart, his courage, his goodness
to his feeble mother. The country people relied upon him; his moral
character was spotless. Yet, even while she learned to admire him, she
was not satisfied. Seeing her gem thus proved real, made her the more
determined to bring out its luster.

His question was carried gravely in her mind, and she forbore to resume
the subject until she could say something wise and practical.

They met often, there were so many affairs during the summer to bring
them together, hops, drives, and picnics, and then the camp-meetings,
which brought out all the county. She saw him sometimes in attendance
on his mother there, always gentlemanly and good, where the other boys
were openly rowdy. She saw him in the store, always patient with the
freaks of customers and with the cross humors of his uncle.

And one day she met him (and her heart was touched) carrying along the
road a little crying child, whose bare toes were crinkled up with the
hurt from a sharp stone. The ragamuffin sat perched upon the broad
shoulder and peered down at the lady with eyes of cerulean blue. He
hugged his friend a little closer but with undiminished confidence.
Albert colored slightly, but walked along beside the stylish girl
without apologizing for his burden.

"Can't I do something for the little fellow?" she asked gently,
and being used to children (she was a school teacher), she saw in
a minute what the matter was, and taking from her purse a piece of
court-plaster, she made Albert set him down while she applied it to
the cut. If her fingers shrank from the dirty little foot neither of
her watchers saw it.

"There, little man, does that feel better?"

"I wants ter b' toted," said the urchin, irrelevantly.

"Of course," said Albert, shouldering him again. "Didn't I promise to
carry you clear home? But if the lady had done something for me, I'd
have thanked her, heh?"

But the child's face expressed only a vacant sort of contentment.

And they all went on together until they reached a poor house where a
woman stood at the door, looking anxiously up and down the road. As
her boy was brought to her, she caught him up, with a shake and a kiss
delivered simultaneously.

"That's jus' like ye, Albert," she said gruffly. "I've been ter'ble
worried fur th' past hour--feared he'd got runned over. Yer ma well?"

"Middling, thank you, Mrs. Smithers."

Then he rubbed his handkerchief over his forehead and asked Miss
Stretton if she was going "to town" this hot day.

"Yes, I'm trying to walk off a restless fit, and I have a letter to
mail."

"Better give that to me. See, I've picked up three or four along the
road and got half-a-dozen commissions--hope I shan't forget 'em."

"Are you general errand-boy?" she demanded impatiently.

"You wouldn't want me to be unneighborly? Besides," he added with a
twinkle in his eye, "I thought you found fault with me for not being
useful!"

"Oh, no, not in that way. Don't you suppose I see that you are useful
here, that everybody likes you and depends upon you--but it is such
a waste of yourself to be busied with such little things--there are
larger places to be filled elsewhere----"

"And larger men to fill them," he said seriously. "There ain't as much
to me as you suppose. It seems to me my place is here, right in this
little sleepy village. I can be a help to my uncle and to others, and
my mother can't do without me."

"Oh!" she cried sharply. This was a stumbling-block she had to
recognize. Yet she found that he hardly understood her. She wanted to
stir him up to discontent with himself and his surroundings, so that he
might be led to enlarge his mental outlook. The thing was for him first
to become enlightened, aspiring, superior to his friends--action would
follow.

Although it is hard for a man to follow the rapid deviations of a
woman's mind, yet the most phlegmatic have their moments of insight.
Miss Stretton had revealed a great deal more than she was aware to the
young countryman, and he was less dull than he seemed. It came to him
that there was something that he wanted to say, but all his ideas grew
confused as he thought. He looked around with an uncertain, wistful
gaze. He was only a poor man, surrounded by commonplace, meager things;
advantages had been lacking to him; perhaps, as she had said, he had
not improved his chances. And yet it seemed to him that he had done
his duty.

"I know our farmers' lives up here must seem mean to you," he said
slowly, "poor and small. You think we might do more and make more
out of ourselves. Well, maybe we might. I think that, after a while,
we'll find new things to do. I thought once I'd strike out, and I
went to Texas. But can you fancy what life is down there among the
cattle-drovers? I couldn't stand it, Miss Stretton. I didn't love money
well enough to sink myself quite so low. And so I came back. Maybe
you think I lay 'round a heap, but I do all that comes in my way, and
somebody'd have to do it. If I was ambitious, I s'pose I'd want to
be something else besides a country storekeeper, but it seems to me
there's more love in my heart for this poor land and for my neighbors
than for anything else. I'm not of a restless disposition, and yet I've
got my share of pride. I'm not old yet,"--the fine figure straightening
a little, involuntarily--"and maybe after a while something else will
come to me that I can do."

"And you are content to wait for it--the chance--to come, are you?" she
asked, bending her earnest gaze upon him.

"I won't quote the only bit of Milton I remember, but I believe I serve
a useful purpose even while I wait for promotion--that is, what you
think promotion."

The girl was silenced. She could not exactly understand how a man could
be like this, yet in the midst of her defeat was a feeling of triumph
in him. Through the _far niente_ her energetic mind had so despised
there came the gleam of a fine thought, a real purpose, before which
her woman's nature bowed, rejoicing. Obeying a common impulse, they
lingered in the lane.

"They need a new teacher in this district," said Albert abruptly, and
looking full at her. "If it is your mission to put energy into us, why
not begin the missionary work there? Take the boys young."

She had no reply to this but a look of reproach. He had put away her
friendship for himself, he recommended her to other matters. Tacitly,
he implied that she was incapable of the sacrifice involved in his
suggestion. It was ironical.

She turned to walk on, but Albert started and caught her hand. "Don't
be angry, Miss Julia! I only meant that it would be less dangerous with
them than it has been with me. I--I am more stirred than you would like
me to be----"

His blazing eyes transfixed her. For an instant she stared, then drew
her hand away and put it up to her face.

"Yes," he continued brokenly, "I know it's no use to speak, you
couldn't condescend to this paltry existence--you want the fulness and
brightness of the city,--the company of an educated man. There isn't
anything about me that's fit to associate with you. Well? I must beg
pardon, I s'pose, and yet I couldn't forbear letting you know that,
while you've been trying to put some vim into the lazy country fellow,
you've waked up his heart, at least."

Miss Stretton uncovered her face. They confronted one another--the
bright, sweet girl, the handsome youth, aglow with passion.

The land was poverty-stricken, the promise small, but there was
freshness, beauty, peace all about. "He is good, he is noble," she
thought. There crept into her face something that amazed him, but he
did not stop to wonder at it. He saw fortune sweeping down a shower of
gold at his feet, and it was no time to question her beneficence. By a
step he lessened the little distance between them, and the two shadows
melted into one along the sunny lane.

"You are far brighter than I, Julia," he murmured after a while,
"though your reasoning has never moved me any. But if you love me!--I
think you will do whatever you wish with me."

"I didn't mean this, at all," she returned, her lovely face sparkling
with tears and smiles both at once. In her heart she felt that it was
her nature, not his, which the future might change.

Yet, when they concluded to walk on to the store, she looked about with
a sense of responsibility and an eye to changes to come, while he--his
face flushed with happiness--lounged beside her in the old indolent
way--unreproved.



APPLE BLOSSOMS[8]


IN the clean, large kitchen of a Virginia farm-house sat an old woman
alone, knitting. She had been pretty once; fifty years ago that
wrinkled yellow skin had been called "creamy," and the scant gray hair
drawn back under the plain cap had been a shower of brown curls. And
she had coquetted with Judge Holt and turned away from him at the last
to marry plain Nathan Bennett, living with him in rare contentment for
two-score years, and then coming to spend the remnant of her days with
her daughter Ann. Now Ann, too, was gone, and only the children were
left; Ben and Nancy, and her own adopted child, Lura Ann.

She smoothed down her neat gray cashmere gown, which had been her
"second best" dress since Ann's death, and leaned back more comfortably
against the cushioned surface of the splint rocking-chair.

"They're good children," she said to herself,--"excepting Nancy. And
she's not so bad as might be." She cast a satisfied glance at the
meadows and fields stretching as far as her eyes could reach, and then
looked lovingly at the dwarf apple-trees whose branches pressed against
the window-shutters. Some of the pink blossoms lay on the ledge. It was
May. The flies were buzzing, the sparrows twittering, as they stole
cotton from the body of a doll lying in the yard and flew up to the
roof with it.

A little girl came around the house and picked up the doll, shook it,
looked up at the eaves where the mother sparrow sat, muttered something
in an angry tone, and entered the house, singing. She sang: "The apples
were ripe and beginning to fall, beginning to fall!"

"Ah, yes," said her grandmother, "you'll see the apples fall a many
times, but I shall scarcely see 'em more'n once more--once or twice
more, at most. Well, well, I'll be contented to die if only I can live
to see my boy and Lura Ann----" then she stopped, meeting the child's
bright eyes.

"Lura Ann is going to marry Sackford Moss," said the child.

An angry flush came over the old woman's thin face; she jerked her
knitting, and one of her needles fell to the floor.

"Now you're mad, granny, and it's wicked to be mad, so I shan't hand
you your knitting-needle," sang the little girl, in a silvery voice.

"Then you'll have no stockings to wear when the biting frost comes; but
you don't care--you don't care. 'Tis a generation that thinks not of
the future, but works its will in the present," moaned the old woman,
folding her hands together hard.

"I'll hand you your needle if you'll tell Lura Ann to make waffles for
supper," said the sharp child; but her grandmother looked upon her
with disfavor and did not reply. After a moment the little girl came
quietly forward and laid the needle on her lap, but the old woman did
not resume her knitting. She sat with her hands folded, and looked at
intervals out of the window, but with a much-wrinkled brow.

A door opened, and Lura Ann came in with a wide straw hat on. She
was tall, slim, and fair, with deep gray eyes, heavy-lidded and
long-lashed, and a little red mouth whose short upper lip just raised
itself enough to give a glimpse of small, pearly teeth. She looked shy
and sweet.

"I am going to town, grandaunt," she said, timidly. "Shall I bring you
some more yarn?"

The old woman straightened herself and looked sternly at the maiden.
"Be you a-going to marry Sackford Moss?" she asked shrilly.

The pretty lips closed together, and no answer came from them.

"She's going to buy her wedding-gown now," cried the child, getting up
quickly from her stool. "Say, Lura Ann, can I go with you?"

"You stay right hyar, Nancy, and take care of granny," said Lura Ann,
with some severity. Then she went out, murmuring to herself: "They all
think the same thing."

She walked steadily out through the front gate and along the road to
town. It was two miles distant, and the air was close and dusty. Her
little black shoes were soon specked, and the hem of her dress gathered
soil by dipping against them. The blue merino scarf over her shoulders
made her too warm, but she did not dare take it off, because it covered
a large patch under her arm.

A handsome road-wagon, drawn by a pair of bay horses, dashed up
suddenly beside her. The driver leaned forward and touched his hat with
an air of devotion.

"Just in time, Lura Ann," he cried, gaily. "Come, get in, and I'll
drive you to town and wherever else you want to go."

"No, I thank you," said Lura Ann.

But he got down and urged her cordially. The high, shaded seat looked
delightful. The fine horses tossed their heads and pawed impatiently.
The long road stretched out, hot and dusty. Walking she would get
to town looking like a fright, and it would take much longer. The
last consideration had a weight known to nobody but herself. She let
Sackford help her up into the seat and draw the linen duster over her
knees. Covertly he examined her dress.

"Going to shop?" he asked; adding carelessly: "Burns has got in quite
a lot of new goods. My sisters were in last week and bought a carriage
load. But they are nothing to what is in the city. I am going to the
city soon. Emily has been teasing me to buy her a lace dress. How
pretty you would look in a lace dress, Lura Ann, with a little lace
bonnet on your soft brown hair, trimmed with rosebuds just the color of
your lips!"

Lura Ann's cheeks grew pinker than the bunch of apple blossoms at her
throat. "Your sisters and I air different people," she said, in her
plaintive, soft voice.

Sackford feasted his eyes in the blush. The veins in his short, thick
neck began to swell, and he shifted the reins to his right hand and
laid the left across the back of the seat. But Lura Ann sat up very
straight.

"Lean back and be comfortable," he urged.

"Take away your arm then, please," faltered Lura Ann. And just then Ben
Falconer, coming across a field in his coarse working clothes, saw her
drooping with the blush upon her cheek and Sackford's arm about her
waist. He stood still, and looked after the handsome team with a frown
and a sigh. Lura Ann had not seen him, but Sackford had, and secretly
blessed the hour. Yet he did not dare kiss Lura Ann, as he had intended.

"Where shall I take you first?" he asked, as they entered the town.

"To Mr. Wright's, if you please."

"Of course--he holds some little money belonging to her, I've heard,"
thought Sackford.

"Don't wait for me," she said, but he waited, and she was gone a long
time. When she came out she was pale, as if she had been worried. Yet
she looked resolute, and spoke in a tone that had lost all its timidity.

"Take me to the old red brick house at the end of the street," she
said, eagerly, "and oh be quick!"

"Why, what's the attraction in that old rookery--a new milliner?"
jested Sackford. He could not conceive the idea of a woman's being
interested in anything but clothes.

Lura Ann's slim hand closed tightly under her shawl about the old purse
that had come out empty and was now full to bursting with currency.
Five hundred dollars! She was of age to-day, and had drawn it in her
own name, every cent. Milliner! Yes, her hat was shabby, but no matter
about that.

Sackford was smiling to himself at her excitement as he helped her out
on to the stone step before the old red brick house. She rang the bell,
and there was no response. Her courage seemed to be oozing away as she
waited.

"Better come back," called Sackford. But she shook her head and
applied herself to the bell again. After a moment a shuffling step
approached and the door opened a few inches, allowing a man's head to
be seen. He was old and grim-looking. Lura Ann said something low and
timidly, and after a look of keen scrutiny he let her in.

Sackford felt an indescribable reluctance to have her go in.

After about five minutes she appeared at the door with a paper in her
hand, and beckoned him. He sprang out quickly, tied his horses, and
stepped into the hall beside her.

"Oh, please see if that is all right," she entreated, putting a legal
paper in his hand. "You are a lawyer, and _he_--this gentleman, said to
let you see it."

Sackford glanced from it to her, saw her total unconsciousness of
anything out of the way, frowned, bit his lip, and examined the
document with care.

"It is all right," he then said. "It is a full release. Is this what
you want?"

"Yes, oh, yes, thank you! and I am much obliged to you, sir," she
added, sweetly, to the grim old man who stood looking on from the
background.

He bowed sardonically. "The obligation is on my side, young lady," he
said.

"By Jove! It is on somebody else's side," thought Sackford, as he put
Lura Ann back into the vehicle; adding, aloud, "I don't like this."

"Ah, but you don't know," said Lura Ann, pleadingly. Her long lashes
grew moist. "It is the wish of grandaunt's heart to have the farm free
from this mortgage. I always felt as if the debt had been made because
of me. She took me when father died--I was a tiny child of three--and
oh, they have always been so good to me!"

Sackford's frown did not soften. It was surprising how surly his
shrewd, coarse face became. "But whose _is_ the farm?" he asked. "That
release was made out to Ben Falconer."

"Yes, but it is just the same. Grandaunt made over her share of the
farm to him, and he cares for all of us. He is the best man in the
world--my cousin Ben."

"The world--what do you know of the world?" said Sackford. "But, see
here, Lura Ann, do you understand? You have given away all your little
fortune and left yourself penniless."

"Yes," said Lura Ann, simply. There was something in her face that
checked further speech upon his part. She was a foolish, improvident
child, and rather too confiding toward this cousin Ben of hers, but
she was very pretty--wonderfully pretty--and, after all, he had money
enough. If five hundred dollars had rid her of her sense of obligation,
the price was cheap. A sigh came here, for Sackford Moss did not love
to part with money. But feeling that he had better put this subject
out of his mind, he smoothed his face and tried to regain his former
jovial, easy bearing. Lura Ann heard his talk as if it sounded from a
far-off country. But suddenly there was a question; it brought her
with a start to a sense of her surroundings. His face was bent down
close to hers; his breath--she shuddered and turned her head. Then the
answer came, clear and final. What could he do after that but whip up
the horses and hasten on?

At the farm gate he let her down and drove away without a backward
glance. A spray of withered apple blossoms fell from her dress into the
dust, and his wheel passed over it.

But she walked up the path with a step like the toss of thistledown and
a heart as light.

The old woman was again looking from the window. She nodded kindly,
but her brow was careworn. "Nancy laid the fire," she said. "It's five
o'clock. I think it's going to rain. Ben has worked too hard lately.
He's in his room with a headache."

"I'll get tea in a minute," said Lura Ann. "But first, grandaunt, look
hyar!" She laid off her hat and scarf, and came and knelt on the stool
at the old woman's feet. "See," and she opened the paper. "It is a
release from the mortgage! It is my gift to you, grandaunt, bought
with the money uncle left me. The farm is free!"

The old woman's hands trembled as she laid them on the beautiful young
head. "The Lord bless you, child!" she murmured. But in a moment came
the after-thought. "Lura Ann, it has taken everything!" she exclaimed.
"You haven't a dollar left to buy your wedding-gown!"

The stair door opened, and Ben came down from his room, carrying a
little hand-mirror in a carved wooden frame. He was a fine specimen
of young manhood, tall, straight, and strong. His dark brown eyes
showed intelligence and depth of feeling. Over his features--naturally
good--was now cast the reflection of that victory which makes a man
"greater than he that taketh a city." He advanced with an air of
cheerfulness.

"Lura Ann, I did not forget that this is your birthday. I carved this
frame for you myself, and I wish you----"

"Ben!" cried his grandmother. "Lura Ann has bought off the mortgage!"

"And I'm going to light the fire with it," cried Lura Ann a little
tremulously, and springing up.

But Ben came and took it from her quickly. He did not comprehend the
legal phrases as Sackford had done, but he gathered the sense. His fine
eyes began to brighten and glow as they rested on his cousin's face,
now averted and blushing.

"Lura Ann, let me see your wedding-gown," exclaimed Nancy, coming in;
and Lura Ann grew rose red, but she made a violent effort to free
herself from this wretched mistake.

"I haven't got any--I'm not going to have any!" she cried hysterically,
turning to strike a match to the fire. "What do I want of a
wedding-gown when I'm not going to be married?"

"But Sackford Moss said----" began Nancy, with staring eyes.

"Bother Sackford Moss!" said Lura Ann, pettishly, trembling with
nervousness under Ben's grave eyes.

"He said he was going to take you away from us!" finished the
persistent child.

"Well, he isn't!" said Lura Ann emphatically. Then she would have liked
to flee to her room, but Ben was still standing before her.

"Nancy," he said, in singularly happy tones, "go, get in the young
chickens, quick. Don't you see how fast the rain is coming?" And Nancy,
who always obeyed her brother, went.

Then Ben, conscious of the whole evening before him, let Lura Ann get
supper and clear it away, before supplementing by a single word the
tender, hopeful look in his eyes.

But an hour later, when the shower had passed, they stood together on
the stoop, which was covered with fallen apple blossoms. The clouds
were gone and the sky was clear blue, except for a trail of gold in the
west. The fields lay green and wet. They looked at sky and fields, and
at last into each other's eyes, and there their gaze rested.

"How sweet the air is after the rain," said the old woman.

"It is the apple blossoms," said Ben, from the stoop; and gathering up
a handful he let them fall in a shower over Lura Ann's head.


THE END.



FOOTNOTES:

[1] Copyright, 1897 and 1898, by S. H. Moore & Co.

[2] Copyright, 1900, by the F. M. Lupton Publishing Co.

[3] Copyright, 1893, by Romance Publishing Co.

[4] Copyright, 1899, by "The Housewife."

[5] Copyright, 1899, by S. H. Moore & Co.

[6] Copyright, 1896, by "The Independent."

[7] Copyright, 1896, by "The Independent."

[8] Copyright, 1896, by "The Independent."



  +----------------------------------------------------------------- +
  | Transcriber's Note:                                              |
  |                                                                  |
  | Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.     |
  |                                                                  |
  | Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant |
  | form was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.    |
  |                                                                  |
  | Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.            |
  |                                                                  |
  | Italicized words are surrounded by underline characters,         |
  | _like this_.                                                     |
  |                                                                  |
  | Duplicated chapter headings have been omitted.                   |
  |                                                                  |
  | Footnotes were moved to the end of the book and numbered in one  |
  | continuous sequence.                                             |
  +------------------------------------------------------------------+





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