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Title: Other Things Being Equal
Author: Wolf, Emma
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL

By Emma Wolf



Chapter I

A humming-bird dipped through the air and lit upon the palm-tree just
below the open window; the long drowsy call of a crowing cock came from
afar off; the sun spun down in the subdued splendor of a hazy veil. It
was a dustless, hence an anomalous, summer’s afternoon in San Francisco.

Ruth Levice sat near the window, lazily rocking, her long lithe arms
clasped about her knees, her face a dream of the day. The seasons single
out their favorite moods: a violet of spring-time woos one, a dusky June
rose another; to-day the soft, languorous air had, unconsciously to her,
charmed the girl’s waking dream.

So removed was she in spirit from her surroundings that she heard with
an obvious start a knock at the door. The knock was immediately followed
by a smiling, plump young woman, sparkling of eye, rosy of cheek, and
glistening with jewels and silk.

“Here you are, Ruth,” she exclaimed, kissing her heartily; whereupon
she sank into a chair, and threw back her bonnet-strings with an air of
relief. “I came up here at once when the maid said your mother was out.
Where is she?”

“Out calling. You look heated, Jennie; let me fan you.”

“Thanks. How refreshing! Sandal-wood, is it not? Where is your father?”

“He is writing in the library. Do you wish to see him?”

“Oh, no, no! I must see you alone. I am so glad Aunt Esther is out. Why
aren’t you with her, Ruth? You should not let your mother go off alone.”

The young girl laughed in merry surprise.

“Why, Jennie, you forgot that Mamma has been used all her life to going
out without me; it is only within the last few months that I have been
her companion.”

“I know,” replied her visitor, leaning back with a grim expression of
disapproval, “and I think it the queerest arrangement I ever heard
of. The idea of a father having the sole care of a daughter up to her
twenty-first birthday, and then delivering her, like a piece of joint
property, over to her mother! Oh, I know that according to their lights
it did not seem absurd, but the very idea of it is contrary to nature.
Of course we all know that your father was peculiarly fitted to
undertake your training, and in this way your mother could more easily
indulge her love of society; but as it is, no wonder she is as jealous
of your success in her realm as your father was in his; no wonder she
overdoes things to make up for lost time. How do you like it, Ruth?”

“What?” softly inquired her cousin, slowly waving the dainty fan, while
a smile lighted up the gravity of her face at this onslaught.

“Going out continually night after night.”

“Mamma likes it.”

“Cela va sans dire. But, Ruth,--stop fanning a minute, please,--I want
to know, candidly and seriously, would you mind giving it up?”

“Candidly and seriously, I would do so to-day forever.”

“Ye-es; your father’s daughter,” said Mrs. Lewis, speaking more slowly,
her bright eyes noting the perfect repose of the young girl’s person;
“and yet you are having some quiet little conquests,--the golden apples
of your mother’s Utopia. But to come to the point, do you realize that
your mother is very ill?”

“Ill--my mother?” The sudden look of consternation that scattered the
soft tranquillity of her face must have fully repaid Mrs. Lewis if she
was aiming at a sensation.

“There, sit down. Don’t be alarmed; you know she is out and apparently
well.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that Aunt Esther is nervous and hysterical. The other day at our
house she had such an attack of hysteria that I was obliged to call in
a neighboring doctor. She begged us not to mention it to either of
you, and then insisted on attending a meeting of some sort. However, I
thought it over and decided to let you know, as I consider it serious. I
was afraid to alarm Uncle, so I thought of telling you.”

“Thank you, Jennie; I shall speak to Father about it.” The young girl’s
tone was quite unagitated; but two pink spots on her usually colorless
cheeks betrayed her emotion.

“That is right, dear. I hope you will forgive me if I seem meddlesome,
but Jo and I have noticed it for some time; and your father, by allowing
this continual gayety, seems to have overlooked what we find so sadly
apparent. Of course you have an engagement for to-night?”

“Yes; we are going to a reception at the Merrills’.”

“Merrill? Christians?” was the sharp reply.

“The name speaks for itself.”

“What does possess your parents to mix so much with Christians?”

“Fellow-feeling, I suppose. We all dance and talk alike; and as we do
not hold services at receptions, wherein lies the difference?”

“There is a difference; and the Christians know it as well as we Jewish
people. Not only do they know it, but they show it in countless ways;
and the difference, they think, is all to their credit. For my part, I
always feel as if they looked down on us, and I should like to prove to
them how we differ on that point. I have enough courage to let them know
I consider myself as good as the best of them.”

“Is that why you wear diamonds and silk on the street, Jennie?” asked
Ruth, her serious tones implying no impudence, but carrying a refined
reproach.

“Hardly. I wear them because I have them and like them. I see no harm in
wearing what is becoming.”

“But don’t you think they look aggressive on the street? They attract
attention; and one hates to be conspicuous. I think they are only in
place at a gathering of friends of one’s own social standing, where they
do not proclaim one’s moneyed value.”

“Perhaps,” replied Mrs. Lewis, her rosy face a little rosier than
before. “I suppose you mean to say it is vulgar; well, maybe so. But I
scarcely think a little outward show of riches should make others feel
they are better because they do not care to make a display. Besides, to
be less personal, I don’t think any Christian would care to put himself
out to meet a Jew of any description.”

“Don’t you think it would depend a great deal both on Jew and Christian?
I always have been led to believe that every broad-minded man of
whatever sect will recognize and honor the same quality in any other
man. And why should I not move on an equality with my Christian friends?
We have had the same schooling, speak the same language, read the same
books, are surrounded by the same elements of home refinement. Probably
if they had not been congenial, my father would long ago have ceased to
associate with them. I think the secret of it all is in the fact that
it never occurred to us that the most fastidious could think we were
anything but the most fastidious; and so we always met any one we
desired to meet on a level footing. I have a great many pleasant friends
in the court of your Philistines.”

“Possibly. But not having been brought up by your father, I think
differently, and perhaps am different. Their ways are not my ways; and
what good can you expect from such association?”

“Why, pleasant companionship. What wouldst thou more?”

“I? Not even that. But tell me, can’t you dissuade Aunt Esther from
going to-night? Tell your father, and let him judge if you had better
not.”

“I really think Mamma would not care to go, for she said as much to
Father; but, averse as he generally is to going out, he insists on our
going to-night, and, what is more, intends to accompany us, although
Louis is going also. But if you think Mamma is seriously run down, I
shall tell him immediately, and--”

A blithe voice at the door interrupted her, calling:

“Open the door, Ruth; my hands are full.”

She rose hastily, and with a signal of silence to her loquacious cousin,
opened the door for her mother.

“Ah, Jennie, how are your, dear? But let us inspect this box which Nora
has just handed me, before we consider you;” and Mrs. Levice softly
deposited a huge box upon Ruth’s lace-enveloped bed.

She was still bonneted and gloved, and with a slight flush in her clear
olive cheek she looked like anything but a subject for fears. From the
crown of her dainty bonnet to the point of her boot she was the picture
of exquisite refinement; tall, beautifully formed, carrying her head
like a queen, gowned in perfect, quiet elegance, she appeared more like
Ruth’s older sister than her mother.

“Ruth’s gown for this evening,” she announced, deftly unfolding the
wrappings.

“Yellow!” exclaimed Mrs. Lewis, in surprise.

“Corn-color,” corrected Mrs. Levice, playfully; “how do you think it
will suit my girlie?” She continued, shaking out the clinging silken
crepe.

“Charmingly; but I thought Ruth objected to anything but white.”

“So she does; she thinks white keeps her unnoticed among the rest. This
time, however, my will overrode hers. Eh, Daughter?”

The girl made a low courtesy.

“I am only lady-in-waiting to your Majesty, O Queen,” she laughed. She
had hardly glanced at the gown, being engaged in a silent scrutiny of
her mother’s face.

“And how is my prime minister this afternoon?” Mrs. Levice was drawing
off her gloves, and Ruth’s look of pained discovery passed unnoticed.

“I have not been down since luncheon,” she replied.

“What! Then go down at once and bring him up. I must see that he gets
out of his studiousness and is clothed in festive mind for this evening.
Come to my sitting-room, Jennie, and we can have a comfortable chat.”

Left to herself, Ruth hesitated before going to her father with her
ill-boding tidings. None knew better than she of the great, silent
love that bound her parents. As a quiet, observant child, she had often
questioned wherein could be any sympathy between her father, almost old,
studious, and reserved, and her beautiful, worldly young mother. But
as she matured, she became conscious that because of this apparent
disparity it would have been still stranger had Mrs. Levice not loved
him with a feeling verging nearer humble adoration than any lower
passion. It seemed almost a mockery for her to have to tell him he had
been negligent,--not only a mockery, but a cruelty. However, it had
to be done, and she was the only one to do it. Having come to this
conclusion, she ran quickly downstairs, and softly, without knocking,
opened the library door.

She entered so quietly that Mr. Levice, reading by the window, did
not glance from his book. She stood a moment regarding the small
thoughtful-faced, white-haired man.

If one were to judge but by results, Jules Levice would be accounted a
fortunate man. Nearing the allotted threescore and ten, blessed with
a loving, beloved wife and this one idolized ewe-lamb, surrounded by
luxury, in good health, honored, and honorable,--trouble and travail
seemed to have passed him by. But this scene of human happiness was the
result of intelligent and unremitting effort. A high state of earthly
beatitude has seldom been attained without great labor of mind or body
by ourselves or those akin to us. Jules Levice had been thrown on the
world when a boy of twelve. He resolved to become happy. Many of us do
likewise; but we overlook the fact that we are provided with feet, not
wings, and cannot fly to the goal. His dream of happiness was ambitious;
it soared beyond contentment. Not being a lily of the field, he knew
that he must toil; any honest work was acceptable to him. He was
possessed of a fine mind; he cultivated it. He had a keen observation;
he became a student of his fellow-men; and being strong and untiring, he
became rich. This was but the nucleus of his ambitions, and it came to
him late in life, but not too late for him to build round it his happy
home, and to surround himself with the luxuries of leisure for attaining
the pinnacle of wide information that he had always craved. His was
merely the prosperity of an intellectual, self-made man whose time for
rest had come.

Ruth seated herself on a low stool that she drew up before him, and laid
her hand upon his.

“You, darling?” He spoke in a full, musical voice with a marked French
accent.

“Can you spare me a few minutes, Father?”

“I am all ears;” he shut the book, and his hand closed about hers.

“Jennie was here just now.”

“And did not come in to see me?”

“She had something to tell me.”

“A secret?”

“Yes; something I must repeat to you.”

“Yes?”

“Father--Jennie thinks--she has reason to know that--dear, do you think
Mother is perfectly well?”

“No, my child; I know she is not.”

This quiet assurance was staggering.

“And you allow her to go on in this way without calling in a physician?”
 A wave of indignant color suffused her cheeks.

“Yes.”

“But--but--why?” She became a little confused under his calm gaze,
feeling on the instant that she had implied an accusation unjustly.

“Because, Ruth, I have become convinced of it only within the past week.
Your mother knows it herself, and is trying to hide it from me.”

“Did she admit it?”

“I have not spoken of it to her; she is very excitable, and as she
wishes to conceal it, I do not care to annoy her by telling her of my
discovery.”

“But isn’t it wrong--unwise--to allow her to dissipate so much?”

“I have managed within the past week to keep you as quiet as possible.”

“But to-night--forgive me, Father--you insist on our going to this
reception.”

“Yes, my sweet confessor; but I have a good reason,--one not to be
spoken of.”

“‘Those who trust us educate us,’” she pleaded in wistful earnestness.

“Then your education is complete. Well, I knew your mother would resist
seeing any physician, for fear of his measures going contrary to her
desires; so I have planned for her to meet to-night a certain doctor
whom I would trust professionally with my wife’s life, and on whom I
can rely for the necessary tact to hide the professional object of their
meeting. What do you think of my way, dear?”

For answer she stooped and kissed his hand.

“May I know his name?” she asked after a pause.

“His name is Kemp,--Dr. Herbert Kemp.”

“Why, he lives a few blocks from here; I have seen his sign. Is he an
old physician?”

“I should judge him to be between thirty-five and forty. Not old
certainly, but one with the highest reputation for skill. Personally he
is a man of great dignity, inspiring confidence in every one.”

“Where did you meet him?”

“In the hospitals,” said her father quickly. “But I will introduce him
to you to-night. Don’t lose your head when you talk to him.”

“Why should I?”

“Because he is a magnificent fellow; and I wish my daughter to hold her
own before a man whom I admire so heartily.”

“Why, this is the first time you have ever given me worldly advice,” she
laughed.

“Only a friendly hint,” he answered, rising and putting his book in its
place with the precision of a spinster.



Chapter II

“This is what I call a worldly paradise!” A girl with a face like dear
Lady Disdain’s sank into a divan placed near the conservatory; her voice
chimed in prettily with the music of a spraying fountain and the soft
strains of remote stringed instruments.

“Is it a frivolous conceit?” she continued, laughing up to the man who
stood beside her; “or do the soft light of many candles, faint music,
radiant women, and courtly men, satisfy your predilections also that
such a place is as near heaven as this wicked world approaches?”

“You forget; paradise was occupied by but two. To my notion, nothing
can be farther removed from Elysium than a modern drawing-room full of
guests.”

“And leaving out the guests?”

“They say imagination can make a paradise of a desert, given the
necessary contingencies.”

“A solitude of two who love? Dr. Kemp, methinks you are a romantic.”

“You supplied the romance, Miss Gwynne. My knowledge is of the hard,
matter-of-fact sort.”

“Such as bones, I suppose. Still you seem to be interested in the
soft-looking piece of humanity over by that cabinet.”

“Yes; his expression is reminiscent of a boy’s definition of a
vacuum,--a large space with nothing in it. Who is he?”

“And I thought you not unknown! He is the husband of a brilliant woman,
Mrs. Ames, who has written a novel.”

“Clever?”

“Decidedly so; it stands the test of being intoxicating and leaving a
bad taste in the mouth,--like dry champagne.”

“Which is not made for women.”

“You mean school-girls. There she is,--that wisp of a creature listening
so eagerly to that elegant youth of the terrier breed. No wonder he
interests her; he is as full of information in piquant personal history
as a family lawyer, and his knowledge is as much public property as a
social city directory.”

“You have studied him to advantage. Are you sure you have not stolen a
leaf from him?”

“Dr. Kemp!” she exclaimed in pouting reproach, “do I appear as
promiscuous as that? You may call me a ‘blue book,’ but spare my
snobbery the opprobrious epithet of ‘directory.’ There goes the
fascinating young Mrs. Shurly with Purcell Burroughs in her toils. Did
you catch the fine oratory of the glance she threw us? It said, ‘Dorothy
Gwynne, how dare you appropriate Dr. Kemp for ten long minutes? Hand him
over; pass him around. I want him; you are only boring him, though you
seem to be amusing yourself.”

Kemp’s grave lips twitched at the corners; he was without doubt amused.

“Aren’t you improvising?” he asked. A man need only offer an occasional
bumper of a remark to keep the conversation from flagging, when his
companion is a woman.

“No; you evidently do not know what a feminine sneer is in words. Ah,
here comes the Queen of Sheba.” She broke off with a pleased smile as
Ruth Levice approached on the arm of her cousin, Louis Arnold.

Singly, each would have attracted attention anywhere; together they
were doubly striking-looking. Arnold, tall and slight, carrying his
head high, fair of complexion as a peachy-cheeked girl, was a peculiarly
distinguished-looking man. The delicate pince-nez he wore emphasized
slightly the elusive air of supercilious courtliness he always conveyed.
Now, as he spoke to Ruth, who, although a tall girl, was some inches
shorter than he, he maintained a strict perpendicular from the crown
of his head to his heels, only looking down with his eyes. Short women
resented this trick of his, protesting that it made them stand on tiptoe
to speak to him.

There was something almost Oriental about Ruth, with her creamy,
colorless face, like a magnolia blossom; her dusky hair was loosely
rolled from her forehead and temples; her eyes were soft and brown
beneath delicately pencilled brows, and matched the pure oval of her
face. But the languorous air of Southern skies was wholly wanting in the
sweet sympathy of her glance, and in a certain alertness about the poise
of her head.

Arnold stopped perforce at Miss Gwynne’s slight signal.

“Where are you hastening?” she asked as they turned to greet her. “One
would think you saw your Nemesis before you, so oblivious were you to
the beauties scattered about.” She looked up pertly at Arnold, after
giving one comprehensive glance over Ruth’s toilet.

“We both wished to see the orchids of which one hears,” he answered,
with pronounced French accent and idiom; adding, with a slight smile, “I
did not overlook you, but you were so busily contemplating other ground
that it would have been cruelty to disturb you.” He spoke the language
slowly, as a stranger upon foreign ground.

“Oh, yes; I forgot. Dr. Kemp, are you acquainted with the Queen of Sheba
and her doughty knight Louis, surnamed Arnold?” She paused a moment as
the parties acknowledged the curious introduction, and then broke in
rather breathlessly: “There, Doctor, I shall leave you with royalty; do
not let your republican ignorance forget her proper title. Mr. Arnold,
Mrs. Merrill is beckoning to us; will you come?” and with a naive,
superbly impish look at Ruth, she drew Arnold away before he could
murmur an excuse.

At the impertinent words the soft, rich blood suffused Ruth’s face.

“Will you sit here awhile and wait for Mr. Arnold, or shall we go and
see the orchids?” The pleasant, deep voice broke in upon her confusion
and calmed her self-consciousness. She raised her eyes to the dark,
clever face above her; it was a strong, rather than a handsome face.
From the broad sweep of the forehead above the steady scrutiny of the
gray eyes, to the grave lip and firm chin under the dark, pointed beard,
strength and gentleness spoke in every line. His personality bore the
stamp of a letter of credit.

“Thank you,” said she; “I think I shall sit here. My cousin will
probably be back soon.”

The doctor seated himself beside her. Miss Gwynne’s appellation was
not inaptly chosen, still he would have preferred to know her more
conventional title.

“This is a peaceful little corner,” he said. “Do you notice how removed
it seems from the rest of the room?”

“Yes,” she answered, meeting and disconcerting his pleasantly
questioning look with one of swift resolve. “Dr. Kemp, I wish to tell
you that my father has confided to me your joint secret.”

“Your father?” he looked bewildered; his knowledge of the Queen of
Sheba’s progenitors was vague.

“My father, yes,” she repeated, smiling at his perplexity. “Our name is
not very common; I am Jules Levice’s daughter.”

He was about to exclaim “NO!” The kinship seemed ridiculous in the face
of this lovely girl and the remembered picture of the little plain-faced
Jew. What he did say was,--

“Mr. Levice is an esteemed friend of mine. He is present, is he not?”

“Yes. Have you met my mother yet?”

The mother would probably unravel the mysterious origin of this
beautiful face and this strange, sweet voice, whose subdued tones held
an uncommon charm.

“No; but your father is diplomat enough to manage that before the
evening is over. So you know our little scheme. Pardon the ‘shop’ which
I have of a necessity brought with me this evening, but have you seen
any signs of illness in your mother?”

“No; I have been very blind and selfish,” she replied, somewhat
bitterly, “for every one but me seems to have seen that something was
wrong. She has been very anxious to give me pleasure, and I fear
has been burning the candle at both ends for my light. I wish I had
known--probably it lay just within my hand to prevent this, instead of
leading her on by my often expressed delight. What I wish to ask you
is that if you find anything serious, you will tell me, and allay my
father’s fears as much as possible. Please do this for me. My father is
not young; and I, I think, am trustworthy.”

She had spoken rapidly, but with convincing sincerity, looking her
companion full in the face.

The doctor quietly scrutinized the earnest young face before he
answered. Then he slightly bowed in acquiescence.

“That is a pact,” he said lightly; “but in all probability your father’s
fears are exaggerated.”

“‘Where love is great, the smallest doubts are fears,’” she quoted,
softly flushing. The doctor had a singular impersonal habit of keeping
his eyes intently bent upon the person with whom he conversed, that made
his companion feel that they two were exclusively alone,--a sensation
that was slightly bewildering upon first acquaintance. By and by one
understood that it was merely his air of interest that evoked the
feeling, and so gradually got used to it as to one of his features.

“That is so,” he replied cheerily; “and--I see some one is about to
play. Mrs. Merrill told me we should have some music.”

“It is Louis, I think; I know his touch.”

“Your cousin? He plays?”

Ruth looked at him in questioning wonder. Truth to say, the doctor could
not but betray his surprise at the idea of the cold-looking Arnold
in the light of a musician; his doubts took instant flight after the
opening chords. Rubenstein’s Melody in F, played by a master-hand, is
one long sound of divine ecstasy thrilling the listener to exquisite
rapture. Played by Louis Arnold, what the composer had conceived in
his soul was magnificently interpreted. As he finished, there was not a
murmur; and the next minute he had dashed into a quaint tarantelle that
instantly dispelled the former spell of grandeur.

“An artist,” said some one standing near.

“Something more,” murmured Kemp, rising as he saw Ruth do so. He was
about to offer her his arm when Mrs. Merrill, a gently-faced woman,
stepped up to them, and laying her hand upon Ruth’s shoulder, said
rather hurriedly,--

“I am sorry to trouble you, Doctor, but Mrs. Levice--do not be alarmed,
Ruth dear--has become somewhat hysterical, and we cannot calm her; will
you come this way, please, and no one need know she is in the study.”

“My family is making itself prominent to-night,” said Ruth, with a
little catch in her voice, as they turned with Mrs. Merrill through the
conservatory and so across the hall.

“I shall be here, Doctor, if you wish anything,” said Mrs. Merrill,
standing without as he and Ruth entered and immediately shut the door
after them.

“Stay there,” he said with quiet authority to Ruth, and she stood quite
still where he left her. Mrs. Levice was seated in a large easy-chair
with her back to the door; her husband had drawn her head to his bosom.
There was no one else in the room, and for a second not a sound, till
Mrs. Levice began to sob in a frightened manner.

“It’s nothing at all, Jules,” she cried, trying to laugh and failing
lamentably; “I--I’m only silly.”

“There, dear, don’t talk.” Levice’s face was white as he soothingly
stroked her hair.

“Oh!”

The doctor stepped in front of them, and laying both hands upon her
shoulders, motioned Levice aside.

“Hush! Not a word!”

At the sound of his stern, brusque voice, the long quivering shriek
stopped halfway.

“Be perfectly still,” he continued, holding her firmly. “Obey this
instant,” as she began to whimper; “not a sound must I hear.”

Ruth and her father stood spell-bound at the effect of the stranger’s
measures. For a moment Mrs. Levice had started in affright to scream;
but the deep, commanding tone, the powerful hands upon her shoulders,
the impressive, unswerving eye that held hers, soon began to act almost
hypnotically. The sobbing gradually ceased; the shaking limbs slowly
regained their calm; and as she sank upon the cushions the strained look
in her eyes melted. She was feebly smiling up at the doctor in response
to his own persuasive smile that gradually succeeded the gravity of his
countenance.

“That is well,” said he, speaking soothingly as to a child, and still
keeping his smiling eyes upon hers. “Now just close your eyes for a
minute; see, I have your hand,--so. Go to sleep.”

There was not a sound in the room; Ruth stood where she had been placed,
and Mr. Levice was behind the doctor, his face quite colorless, scarcely
daring to breathe. Finally the faint, even breathing of Mrs. Levice told
that she slept.

Kemp turned to Mr. Levice and spoke low, not in a whisper, which
hisses, but his voice was so hushed that it would not have disturbed the
lightest sleeper.

“Put your hand, palm up, under hers. I am going to withdraw my hand and
retire, as I do not wish to excite her; she will probably open her eyes
in a few moments. Take her home as quietly as you can.”

“You will call to-morrow?” whispered Levice.

He quietly assented.

“Now be deft.” The transfer was quickly made, and nodding cheerfully,
Dr. Kemp left the room.

Ruth came forward. Five minutes later Mrs. Levice opened her eyes.

“Why, what has happened?” she asked languidly.

“You fell asleep, Esther,” replied her husband, gently.

“Yes, I know; but why is Ruth in that gown? Oh--ye-es!” Consciousness
was returning to her. “And who was that handsome man who was here?”

“A friend of Ruth.”

“He is very strong,” she observed pensively. She lay back in her chair
for a few minutes as if dreaming. Suddenly she started up.

“What thoughtless people we are! Let us go back to the drawing-room, or
they will think something dreadful has happened.”

“No, Mamma; I do not feel at all like going back. Stay here with Father
while I get our wraps.”

Before Mrs. Levice could demur, Ruth had left the room. As she turned in
the direction of the stairs, she was rather startled by a hand laid upon
her shoulder.

“Oh, you, Louis! I am going for our wraps.”

“Here they are. How is my aunt?”

“She is quite herself again. Thanks for the wraps. Will you call up the
carriage, Louis? We shall go immediately, but do not think of coming
yourself.”

“Nonsense! Tell your mother you have made your adieux to Mrs.
Merrill,--she understands; the carriage is waiting.”

A few minutes later the Levices and Louis Arnold quietly stole away.
Mrs. Levice has had an attack of hysteria. “Nothing at all,” the world
said, and dismissed it as carelessly as most of the quiet turning-points
in a life-history are dismissed.



Chapter III

The Levices’ house stood well back upon its grounds, almost with an air
of reserve in comparison with the rows of stately, bay-windowed houses
that faced it and hedged it in on both sides. But the broad, sweeping
lawns, the confusion of exquisite roses and heliotropes, the open path
to the veranda, whereon stood an hospitable garden settee and chair, the
long French windows open this summer’s morning to sun and air, told an
inviting tale.

As Dr. Kemp ascended the few steps leading to the front door, he looked
around approvingly.

“Not a bad berth for the grave little bookworm,” he mused as he rang the
bell.

It was immediately answered by the “grave little bookworm” in person.

“I’ve been on the lookout for you for the past hour,” he explained,
leading him into the library and turning the key of the door as they
entered.

It was a cosey room, not small or low, as the word would suggest, but
large and airy; the cosiness was supplied by comfortable easy-chairs,
a lounge or two, a woman’s low rocker, an open piano, a few soft
engravings on the walls, and books in cases, books on tables, books on
stands, books everywhere. Two long lace-draped windows let in a flood
of searching sunlight that brought to light not an atom of dust in the
remotest corner. It is the prerogative of every respectable Jewess to
keep her house as clean as if at any moment a search-warrant for dirt
might be served upon her.

“Will you not be seated?” asked Levice, looking up at Kemp as the latter
stood drawing off his gloves.

“Is your wife coming down here?”

“No; she is in her room yet.”

“Then let us go up immediately. I am not at leisure.”

“I know. Still I wish to ask you to treat whatever ailments you may find
as lightly as possible in her presence; she has never known anxiety
or worry of any kind. It will be necessary to tell only me, and every
precaution will be taken.”

Here was a second one of this family of three wishing to take the brunt
of the trouble on his shoulders, and the third had been bearing it
secretly for some time. Probably a very united family, loving and
unselfish doubtless, but the doctor had to stifle an amused smile in the
face of the old gentleman’s dignified appeal.

“Still she is not a child, I suppose; she knows of the nature of my
visit?” He moved toward the door.

“Ruth--my daughter, you know--was about to tell her as I left the room.”

“Then we will go up directly.”

Levice preceded him up the broad staircase. As they reached the landing,
he turned to the doctor.

“Pardon my care, but I must make sure that Ruth has told her. Just
step into the sitting-room a second,” and the precautious husband went
forward to his wife’s bedroom, leaving the door open.

Standing there in the hallway, Kemp could plainly hear the following
words:--

“And being interested in nervous diseases,” the peculiarly low voice was
saying, “he told Father he would call and see you,--out of professional
curiosity, you know; besides we should not like you to be often taken as
you were last night, should we?”

“People with plenty of time on their hands,” soliloquized the doctor,
looking at his watch in the hallway.

“What is his name, did you say?”

“Dr. Herbert Kemp.”

“What! Don’t you know that Dr. Kemp is one of the first physicians in
the city? Every one knows he has no time for curiosity. Nervous diseases
are his specialty; and do you think he would come without--”

“Being asked?” interrupted a pleasant voice; the doctor had remembered
the flight of time, and walked in unannounced.

“Keep your seat,” he continued, as Mrs. Levice started up, the excited
blood springing to her cheeks.

“You hardly need an introduction, Esther,” said Levice. “You remember
Dr. Kemp from last night?”

“Yes. Don’t go, Ruth, please; Jules, hadn’t you something to do
downstairs?”

Did she imagine for a moment that she could still conceal her trouble
from his tender watchfulness? Great dark rings encircled her now
feverishly bright eyes; her mouth trembled visibly; and as Ruth drew
aside, her mother’s shaking fingers held tight to her hand.

“I have nothing in the world to do,” replied Levice, heartily; “I am
going to sit right here and get interested.”

“You will have to submit to a friendly cross-examination, Mrs. Levice,”
 said the physician.

He drew a chair up before her and took both her hands in his. As
Ruth relinquished her hold, she encountered a pair of pleasantly
authoritative gray eyes, and instantly divining their expression, left
the room.

She descended a few steps to the windowed landing. Here she intended
joining the doctor on his way down. Probably her father would follow
him; but it was her intention to intercept any such plan. A fog had
arisen, and the struggling rosy beams of the sun glimmered opalescently
through the density. Ruth thought it would be clear by noon, when she
and her mother could go for a stirring tramp. She stood lost in thought
till a firm footfall on the stairs aroused her.

“I see Miss Levice here; don’t come down,” Kemp was saying. “What further
directions I have must be given to a woman.”

“Stay with Mamma, Father,” called Ruth, looking up at her hesitating
father; “I shall see the doctor out;” and she quickly ran down the few
remaining steps to Kemp, awaiting her at the foot. She opened the
door of the library, and closing it quickly behind them, turned to him
expectantly.

“Nothing to be alarmed at,” he said, answering her mute inquiry. He
seated himself at the table, and drew from his vest-pocket pencil and
blank. Without another glance at the girl, he wrote rapidly for some
minutes; then quickly moving back his chair, he arose and handed her the
two slips of paper.

“The first is a tonic which you will have made up,” he explained,
picking up his gloves and hat and moving toward the door; “the other is
a diet which you are to observe. As I told her just now, she must remain
in bed and see no one but her immediate family; you must see that she
hears and reads nothing exciting. That is all, I think.”

Indignation and alarm held riot in Ruth’s face and arrested the doctor’s
departure.

“Dr. Kemp,” she said, “you force me to remind you of a promise you made
me last night. Will you at least tell me what ails my mother that you
use such strenuous measures?”

A flash of recollection came to the doctor’s eyes.

“Why, this is an unpardonable breach upon my part, Miss Levice; but I
will tell you all the trouble. Your mother is suffering with a certain
form of hysteria to a degree that would have prostrated her had we not
come forward in time. As it is, by prostrating her ourselves for awhile,
say a month or so, she will regain her equilibrium. You have heard of
the food and rest cure?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that is what she will undergo mildly. Has she any duties that
will suffer by her neglect or that will intrude upon her equanimity?”

“No necessary ones but those of the house. Under no circumstances can I
conceive of her giving up their supervision.”

“Yet she must do so under the present state of affairs. Remember, her
mind must be kept unoccupied, but time must be made to pass pleasantly
for her. This is not an easy task, Miss Levice; but, according to my
promise, I have left you to undertake it.”

“Thank you,” she responded quietly.

Kemp looked at her with a sense of calm satisfaction.

“Good-morning,” he said, holding out his hand with a smile.

As the door closed behind him, Ruth felt as if a burden had fallen from,
instead of upon her. For the last twenty-four hours her apprehensions
had been excessive. Now, though she knew positively that her mother’s
condition needed instant and constant care, which she must herself
assume, all sense of responsibility fell from her. The few quiet words
of this strange physician had made her trust his strength as she would
a rock. She could not have explained why it was so; but as her father
remarked once, she might have said, “I trust him implicitly, because,
though a man of superiority, he implicitly trusts himself.”

As she re-entered her mother’s room, her father regarded her intently.

“So we are going to make a baby of you, Mamma,” she cried playfully,
coming forward and folding her arms around her mother, who lay on the
lounge.

“So he says; and what he says one cannot resist.” There was an apathetic
ring to her mother’s voice that surprised her. Quickly the thought
flashed through her that she was too weary to resist now that she was
found out.

“Then we won’t try to,” Ruth decided, seating herself on the edge of
the lounge close to her mother. From his armchair, Mr. Levice noted with
remorseful pride the almost matronly poise and expression of his lovely
young daughter as she bent over her weary-looking mother and smoothed
her hair.

“And if you are to be baby,” she continued, smiling down, “I shall
have to change places with you, and become mother. You will see what a
capital one I shall make. Let’s see, what are the duties? First, baby
must be kept clean and sweet,--I am an artist at that; secondly, Father
and the rest of us must have a perfectly appointed menage; third--”

“I do not doubt that you will make a perfect mother, my child;” the
gentle meaning of her father’s words and glance caused Ruth to flush
with pleasure. When Levice said, “My child,” the words were a caress.
“Just believe in her, Esther; one of her earliest lessons was ‘Whatever
you do, do thoroughly.’ She had to learn it through experience. But as
you trust me, trust my pupil.”

The soft smile that played upon her husband’s face was reflected on Mrs.
Levice’s.

“Oh, Ruth,” she murmured tremulously, “it will be so hard for you.”

This was a virtual laying down of arms, and Ruth was satisfied.



Chapter IV

Louis Arnold, the only other member of the Levice family, had been
forced to leave town on some business the morning after Mrs. Levice’s
attack at the Merrill reception. He was, therefore, much surprised and
shocked on his return a week later at finding his aunt in bed and such
rigorous measures for quiet in vogue.

Arnold had been an inmate of the house for the past twelve years. He
was a direct importation from France, which he had left just before
attaining his majority, the glory of soldier-life not proving seductive
to his imagination. He had no sooner taken up his abode with his uncle
than he was regarded as the most useful and ornamental piece of foreign
vertu in the beautiful house.

Being a business man by nature, keen, wary, and indefatigable, he was
soon able to take almost the entire charge of Levice’s affairs. In a few
years his uncle ceased to question his business capabilities. From
the time he arrived, he naturally fell into the position of his aunt’s
escort, thus again relieving Levice, who preferred the quieter life.

When Ruth began to go into society, his presence was almost a necessity,
as Jewish etiquette, or rather Jewish espionage, forbids a young man
unattached by blood or intentions to appear as the attendant of a single
woman. This is one of the ways Jewish heads of families have got into
for keeping the young people apart,--making cowards of the young men,
and depriving the young girls of a great deal of innocent pleasure.

Arnold, however, was not an escort to be despised, as Ruth soon
discovered. She very quickly felt a sort of family pride in his cool,
quizzical manner and caustic repartee, that was wholly distinct from the
more girlish admiration of his distinguished person. He and Ruth were
great friends in a quiet, unspoken way.

They were sitting together alone in the library on the evening of his
return. Mrs. Levice had fallen asleep, and her husband was sitting with
her. Ruth had stolen down to keep Louis company, fearing he would feel
lonesome in the changed aspect of the house.

Arnold lay at full length on the lounge; Ruth swayed backward and
forward in the rocker.

“What I am surprised at,” he was saying, “is that my aunt submits to
this confining treatment;” he pronounced the last word “tritment,” but
he never stopped at a word because of its pronunciation, thus adding a
certain piquancy to his speech.

“You would not be surprised if you knew Dr. Kemp; one follows his
directions blindly.”

“So I have heard from a great many--women.”

“And not men?”

“I have never happened to hold a conversation with a man on the powers
of Dr. Kemp. Women delight in such things.”

“What things?”

“Why, giving in to the magnetic power of a strong man.”

“You err slightly, Louis; it is the power, not the giving in that we
delight in, counting it a necessary part of manliness.”

“Will you allow me to differ with you? Besides, apart from this great
first cause, I do not understand how, after a week of it, she has not
rebelled.”

“I think I can answer that satisfactorily,” replied his cousin, a
mischievous smile parting her lips and showing a row of strong white
teeth; “she is in love.”

“Also?”

“With Father; and so does as she knows will please him best. Love is
also something every one loves to give in to.”

“Every one who loves, you mean.”

“Every one loves something or some one.”

“Behold the exception, therefore.” He moved his head so as to get a
better view of her.

“I do not believe you.”

“That--is rude.” He kept his eyes meditatively fixed upon her.

“Have you made a discovery in my face?” asked the girl presently,
slightly moving from his gaze.

“No,” he replied calmly. “My discovery was made some time ago; I am
merely going over beautiful and pleasant ground.”

“Really?” she returned, flushing, “then please look away; you annoy me.”

“Why should I, since you know it is done in admiration? You are a woman;
do not pretend distaste for it.”

“I shall certainly go upstairs if you persist in talking so
disagreeably.”

“Indulge me a little; I feel like talking, and I promise not to be
disagreeable. Always wear white; it becomes you. Never forget that
beauty needs appropriate surroundings. Another thing, ma belle cousine,
this little trick you have of blushing on the slightest provocation
spoils your whole appearance. Your complexion should always retain its
healthy whiteness, while--”

“You have been indulged quite sufficiently, Louis. Do you know, if you
often spoke to me in this manner I should soon hate you?”

“That would indeed be unfortunate. Never hate, Ruth; besides making
enemies, hate is an arch enemy to the face, distorting the softest and
loveliest.”

“We cannot love people who calmly sit and irritate us like mocking
tarantulas.”

“That is exaggerated, I think. Besides, Heaven forbid our loving
everybody! Never love, Ruth; let liking be strong enough for you. Love
only wears out the body and narrows the mind, all to no purpose. Cupid,
you know, died young, or wasted to plainness, for he never had his
portrait taken after he matured.”

“A character such as you would have would be unbearable.”

“But sensible and wise.”

“Happily our hearts need no teaching; they love and hate instinctively
before the brain can speak.”

“Good--for some. But in me behold the anomaly whose brain always
reconnoitres the field beforehand, and has never yet considered it worth
while to signal either ‘love’ or ‘hate.’”

He rose with a smile and sauntered over to the piano. The unbecoming
blush mounted slowly to Ruth’s face and her eyes were bright as she
watched him. When his hands touched the keys, she spoke.

“No doubt you think it adds to your intellect to pretend independence
of all emotion. But, do you know, I think feeling, instead of being a
weakness, is often more clever than wisdom? At any rate, what you are
doing now is proof sufficient that you feel, and perhaps more strongly
than many.”

He partly turned on the music-chair, and regarded her questioningly,
never, however, lifting his hands from the keys as he played a softly
passionate minor strain.

“What am I doing?” he asked.

“Making love to the piano.”

“It does not hurt the piano, does it?”

“No; but never say you do not feel when you play like that.”

“Is not that rather peremptory? Who taught you to read characters?”

“You.”

“I? What a poor teacher I was to allow you to show such bungling work!
Will you sing?”

“No, I shall read; I have had quite enough of myself and of you for one
night.”

“Alas, poor me!” he retorted mockingly, and seeming to accompany his
words with his music; “I am sorry for you, my child, that your emotions
are so troublesome. You have but made your entrance into the coldest,
most exciting arena,--the world. Remember what I tell you,--all the
strong motives, love and hate and jealousy, are mere flotsam and jetsam.
You are the only loser by their possession.”

The quiet closing of the door was his only answer. Ruth had left the
room.

She knew Arnold too well to be affected by his little splurt of
cynicism. If she could escape a cynic either in books or in society,
she invariably did so. Life was still beautiful for her; and one of her
father’s untaught lessons was that the cynic is a one-sided creature,
having lost the eye that sees the compensation balancing all things.
As long as Louis attacked things, it did no harm, except to incite
a friendly passage-at-arms; hence, most of such talk passed in the
speaking. Not so the disparaging insinuations he had cast at Dr. Kemp.

During the week in which Ruth had established herself as nurse-in-chief
to her mother she had seen him almost daily. Time in a quiet sick-room
passes monotonously; events that are unnoticed in hours of well-being
and activity here assume proportions of importance; meal-times are
looked forward to as a break in the day; the doctor’s visit especially
when it is the only one allowed, is an excitement. Dr. Kemp’s visits
were short, but the two learned to look for his coming and the sound
of his deep, cheery voice, as to their morning’s tonic that would
strengthen the whole day. Naturally, as he was a stranger, Mrs. Levice
in her idleness had analyzed and discussed aloud his qualities, both
personal and professional, to her satisfaction. She had small ground
for basing her judgments, but the doctor formed a good part of her
conversation.

Ruth’s knowledge of him was somewhat larger,--about the distance between
Mrs. Levice’s bedroom and the front door. She had a homely little way of
seeing people to the door, and here it was the doctor gave her any
new instructions. Instructions are soon given and taken; and there was
always time for a word or two of a different nature.

In the first place, she had been attracted by his horses, a magnificent
pair of jetty blacks.

“I wonder if they would despise a lump of sugar,” she said one morning.

“Why should they?” asked Kemp.

“Oh, they seem to hold their heads so haughtily.”

“Still, they are human enough to know sweets when they see them,” their
owner replied, taking in the beautiful figure of the young girl in her
quaint, flowered morning-gown. “Try them once, and you won’t doubt it.”

She did try them; and as she turned a slightly flushed face to Kemp, who
stood beside her, he held out his hand, saying almost boyishly, “Let me
thank you and shake hands for my horses.”

One can become eloquent, witty, or tender over the weather. The doctor
became neither of these; but Ruth, whose spirits were mercurially
affected by the atmosphere, always viewed the elements with the eye of a
private signal-service reporter.

“This is the time for a tramp,” she said, as they stood on the veranda,
and the summer air, laden with the perfume of heliotrope, stole around
them. “That is where the laboring man has the advantage over you, Dr.
Kemp.”

“Which, ten to one, he finds a disadvantage. I must confess that in such
weather every healthy individual with time at his disposal should be
inhaling this air at a leisurely trot or stride as his habit may be.
You, Miss Levice, should get on your walking togs instantly.”

“Yes, but not conveniently. My father and I never failed to take our
morning constitutional together when all was well. Father always gave me
the dubious compliment of saying I walked as straight and took as long
strides as a boy. Being a great lover of the exercise, I was sorry my
pas was not ladylike.”

“You doubtless make a capital companion, as your father evidently
remembered what a troublesome thing it is to conform one’s length of
limb to the dainty footsteps of a woman.”

“Father has no trouble on that score,” said Ruth, laughing.

The doctor smiled in response, and raising his hat, said, “That is where
he has the advantage over a tall man.”

Going over several such scenes, Ruth could remember nothing in his
manner but a sort of invigorating, friendly bluntness, totally at
variance with the peculiarities of the “lady’s man” that Louis had
insinuated he was accounted. She resolved to scrutinize him more
narrowly the next morning.

Mrs. Levice’s room was handsomely furnished and daintily appointed.
Even from her pillows she would have detected any lapse in its exquisite
neatness, and one of Ruth’s duties was to leave none to be detected.
The house was large; and with three servants the young girl had to do a
great deal of supervising. She took a natural pride in having things go
as smoothly as under her mother’s administration; and Mr. Levice said it
was well his wife had laid herself on the shelf, as the new broom was a
vast improvement.

Ruth had given the last touches to her mother’s dark hair, and was
reading aloud the few unexciting items one finds in the morning’s paper.
Mrs. Levice, propped almost to a sitting position by many downy pillows,
polished her nails and half listened. Her cheeks were no longer brightly
flushed, but rather pale; the expression of her eyes was placid, and her
slight hand quite firm; the strain lifted from her, a great weariness
had taken its place. The sweet morning air came in unrestrained at the
open window.

Ruth’s reading was interrupted by the entrance of the maid, carrying a
dainty basket of Duchesse roses.

“For Madame,” she said, handing it to Ruth, who came forward to take it.

“Read the card yourself,” she said, placing it in her mother’s hand as
the girl retired. A pleased smile broke over Mrs. Levice’s face; she
buried her face in the roses, and then opened the envelope.

“From Louis!” she exclaimed delightedly. “Poor fellow! he was dreadfully
upset when he came in. He did not say much, but his look and hand-shake
were enough as he bent to kiss me. Do you know, Ruth, I think our Louis
has a very loving disposition?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Yes. One would not think so, judging from his manner; but I know him to
be unusually sympathetic for a man. I would sooner have him for a friend
than many a woman; he has not many equals among the young men I know.
Don’t you agree with me, girlie?”

“Oh, yes; I always liked Louis.”

“How coldly you say that! And, by the way, it struck me as very queer
last night that you did not kiss him after his absence of a week. Since
when has this formal hand-shake come into use?”

A slight flush crimsoned Ruth’s cheek.

“It is not my fault,” she said, smiling; “I always kissed Louis even
after a day’s absence. But some few months ago he inaugurated the new
regime, and holds me at arm’s length. I can’t ask him why, when he looks
at me so matter-of-factly through his eyeglass, can I?”

“No; certainly not.” A slight frown marred the complacency of Mrs.
Levice’s brow. Such actions were not at all in accordance with her
darling plan. Arnold was much to her; but she wished him to be more.
This was a side-track upon which she had not wished her train to move.

Her cogitations took a turn when she heard a quick, firm footfall in the
hall.

Ruth anticipated the knock, and opened the door to the doctor.

Bowing slightly to her, he advanced rather hurriedly to the bedside. He
had not taken off his gloves, and a certain air of purposeful gravity
replaced his usual leisurely manner.

“Good-morning, Mrs. Levice,” he said, taking her hand in his, and
looking searchingly down at her. “How are you feeling this morning? Any
starts or shakes of any sort?”

“No; I am beginning to feel as impassive and stupid as a well-fed
animal. Won’t you sit down, Doctor?”

“No; I have a consultation in a very short time. Keep right on as you
have been doing. I do not think it will be necessary for me to call for
several days now; probably not before Friday.”

“And to-day is Tuesday! Am I to see no one till then?”

“No one but those you have seen. Pray do not complain, Mrs. Levice,”
 he continued rather sternly. “You are a very fortunate invalid; illness
with you is cushioned in every conceivable corner. I wish I could make
you divide some of your blessings. As I cannot, I wish you to appreciate
them as they deserve. Do not come down, Miss Levice,” as she moved to
follow him; “I am in a great hurry. Good-morning.”

“How harassed he looked! I wonder who is his patient!” observed Mrs.
Levice, as Ruth quietly returned to her seat. A sunbeam fell aslant the
girl’s preoccupied face. The doctor’s few words had given her food for
thought.

When later on she remembered how she was going to disprove for herself
Louis’s allegations, she wondered if he could have found anything to
mock at, had he been present, in Kemp’s abrupt visit of the morning.



Chapter V

Ruth always dressed well. Indeed, any little jealousy her lovely
presence might occasion was usually summed up in the terse innuendo,
“Fine feathers make fine birds.”

To dress well is to dress appropriately to time, place, and season.
Having a full purse, she could humor every occasion with a change
of gown; being possessed of good taste, her toilets never offended;
desiring to look pleasing, as every woman should, she studied what was
becoming; having a mother to whom a good toilet was one of the most
pressing convenances, and who delighted in planning beautiful gowns for
her beautiful daughter, there was nothing lacking to prevent Ruth from
being well-dressed.

On this summer’s afternoon she was clad from head to foot in soft,
pale gray. Every movement of her young body, as she walked toward town,
betokened health and elastic strength. Her long, easy gait precluded any
idea of hurry; she noticed everything she passed, from a handsome house
to a dirty child.

She was approaching that portion of Geary Street which the doctors
have appropriated, and she carefully scanned each silvery sign-plate in
search of Dr. Kemp’s name. It was the first time she had had occasion to
go; and with a little feeling of novel curiosity she ran up the stairs
leading to his office.

It was just three,--the time stated as the limit of his office-hours;
but when Ruth entered the handsome waiting-room, two or three patients
were still awaiting their turns. Seated in one of the easy-chairs, near
the window, was an aristocratic-looking woman, whom Ruth recognized as a
friend of one of her Christian friends, and with whom she had a speaking
acquaintance. Nodding pleasantly in response to the rather frigid bow,
she walked to the centre of the room, and laying upon the table a bunch
of roses that she carried, proceeded to select one of the magazines
scattered about. As she sat down, she found herself opposite a
stout Irishwoman, coarsely but cleanly dressed, who with undisguised
admiration took in every detail of Ruth’s appearance. She overlooked the
evident simplicity of the woman’s stare; but the wistful, yearning look
of a little girl who reclined upon the lounge caused her to sit with her
magazine unopened. As soon as she perceived that it was her flowers that
the child regarded so longingly, she bent forward, and holding out a few
roses, said invitingly,--

“Would you like these?”

There is generally something startling in the sudden sound of a voice
after a long silence between strangers; but the pretty cadence of Ruth’s
gentle voice bore no suggestion of abruptness.

“Indeed, and she just do dote on ‘em,” answered the mother, in a loud
tone, for the blushing child.

“So do I,” responded Ruth; and leaning farther forward, she put them in
the little hand.

But the child’s hand did not close over them, and the large eyes turned
piteously to her mother.

“It’s paralyzed she is,” hurriedly explained the mother. “Shall Mamma
hold the beautiful roses for ye, darlint?”

“Please,” answered the childish treble.

Ruth hesitated a second, and then rising and bending over her said,--

“No; I know of a better way. Wouldn’t you like to have me fasten them in
your belt? There, now you can smell them all the time.”

“Roses is what she likes mostly,” proceeded the mother, garrulously,
“and she’s for giving the doctor one every time she can when he comes.
Faith! it’s about all he do get for his goodness, for what with--”

The sudden opening of the folding-door interrupted her flow of talk.
Seeing the doctor standing on the threshold as a signal for the next in
waiting to come forward, the poor woman arose preparatory to helping her
child into the consulting-room.

“Let me help Mamie, Mrs. O’Brien,” said he, coming toward her. At the
same moment the elegant-looking woman rose from her chair and swept
toward him.

“I believe it is my turn,” she said, in response to his questioning
salutation.

“Certainly, if you came before Mrs. O’Brien. If so, walk in,” he
answered, moving the portiere aside for the other to enter.

“Sure, Doctor,” broke in Mrs. O’Brien, anxiously, “we came in together.”

“Indeed!” He looked from the florid, flustered face to the haughtily
impassive woman beside her.

“Well, then,” said he, courteously, “I know Mrs. O’Brien is wanted at
home by her little ones. Mrs. Baker, you will not object, I am sure.”

It was now the elegant woman’s turn to flush as Kemp took up the child.

Ruth felt a leap of delight at the action. It was a quiet lesson to be
laid to heart; and she knew she could never see him in a better light
than when he left the room holding the little charity patient in his
arms.

She also noticed with a tinge of amusement the look of added hauteur on
the face of Mrs. Baker, as she returned to her seat at the window.

“Haughtiness,” mused Ruth, “is merely a cloak to selfishness, or the
want of a proper spirit of humanity.”

The magazine article remained unread; she drifted into a sort of
day-dream, and scarcely noticed when Mrs. Baker left the room.

“Well, Miss Levice.”

She started up, slightly embarrassed, as the doctor’s voice thus aroused
her.

“I beg your pardon,” she said, coming forward and flushing slightly
under his amused smile. “It was so quiet here that I forgot where I
was.”

He stood aside as she passed into the room, bringing with her an
exquisite fragrance of roses.

“Will you be seated?” he asked, as he turned from closing the door.

“No; it is not worth while.”

“What is the trouble,--you or your mother?”

There had been nothing disconcerting in the Irish-woman’s stare; but she
felt suddenly hot and uncomfortable under the doctor’s broad gaze.

“Neither of us,” she answered; “I broke the tonic bottle this morning,
and as the number was destroyed, I should like to have you give me
another prescription.”

“Directly. Take this chair for a moment.”

She seated herself perforce, and he took the chair beside the desk.

“How is she since yesterday?” he asked, as he wrote, without looking up.

“Quite as comfortable.”

He handed her the prescription presently, and she arose at once. He
stepped forward to open the outer door for her.

“I hope you no longer feel alarmed over her health,” he remarked, with a
hand on the knob.

“No; you have made us feel there was no cause for it. But for your
method I am afraid there might have been.”

“Thank you; but do not think anything of the kind. Your nursing was as
potent a factor as my directions. It is not Congress, but the people,
who make the country, you know.”

“That is condescending, coming from Congress,” she laughed gayly; “but
I must disclaim the compliment, I am sorry to say; my nursing was only a
name.”

“As you please. Miss Levice, may I beg a rose of you? No, not all. Well,
thank you, they will look wonderful in a certain room I am thinking of.”

“Yes?” There was a note of inquiry in the little word in reply to Kemp’s
pointed remark spoken as with a sudden purpose.

“Yes,” he continued, leaning his back against the door and looking
earnestly down at the tall girl; “the room of a lad without even the
presence of a mother to make it pretty;” he paused as if noting the
effect of his words. “He is as lonely and uncomplaining as a tree would
be in a desert; these roses will be quite a godsend to him.” He finished
his sentence pleasantly at sight of the expression of sympathy in the
lovely brown eyes.

“Do you think he would care to see any one?”

“Well,” replied the doctor, slowly, “I think he would not mind seeing
you.”

“Then will you tell me where he lives so that I can go there some day?”

“Some day? Why not to-day? Would it be impossible to arrange it?”

“Why, no,” she faltered, looking at him in surprise.

“Excuse my curiosity, please; but the boy is in such pressing need of
some pleasurable emotion that as soon as I looked at you and your roses
I thought, ‘Now, that would not be a bad thing for Bob.’ You see, I was
simply answering a question that has bothered me all day. Then will you
drive there with me now?”

“Would not that be impossible with your driver?” she asked, searching
unaccountably for an excuse.

“I can easily dispense with him.”

“But won’t my presence be annoying?” she persisted, hesitating oddly.

“Not to me,” he replied, turning quickly for his hat. “Come, then,
please, I must waste no more time in Bob’s good cause.”

She followed him silently with a sensation of quiet excitement.

Presently she found herself comfortably seated beside the doctor, who
drove off at a rapid pace.

“I think,” said he, turning his horses westward, “I shall have to make a
call out here on Jones Street before going to Bob. You will not mind the
delay, Miss Levice, I hope.”

“Oh, no. This is ‘my afternoon off,’ you know. Father is at home, and my
mother will not miss me in the least. I was just thinking--”

She came to a sudden pause. She had just remembered that she was
about to become communicative to a comparative stranger; the intent,
interested look in Kemp’s eye as he glanced at her was the disturbing
element.

“You were thinking what?” he prompted with his eye now to the horses’
heads.

“I am afraid you would not be edified if I continued,” she answered
hastily, biting her lip. She had been about to remark that her father
would miss her, nevertheless--but such personal platitudes are not
always in good taste. Seeing that she was disinclined to finish her
sentence, he did not urge her; and a few minutes later he drew up his
horses before a rather imposing house.

“I shall not be gone a minute, I think,” he said, as he sprang out and
was about to attach the reins to the post.

“Let me hold them, please,” said Ruth, eagerly stretching forth a hand.

He placed them in her hand with a smile, and turned in at the gateway.

He had been in the house about five minutes when she saw him come out
hastily. His hat was pulled down over his brows, which were gathered
in an unmistakable frown. At the moment when he slammed the gate
behind him, a stout woman hurrying along the sidewalk accosted him
breathlessly.

He waited stolidly with his foot on the carriage-step till she came up.

“So sorry I had to go out!” she burst forth. “How did you find my
husband? What do you think of him?”

“Madame,” he replied shortly, “since you ask, I think your husband is
little short of an idiot!”

Ruth felt herself flush as she heard.

The woman looked at him in consternation.

“What is the matter?” she asked.

“Matter? Mayonnaise is the matter. If a man with a weak stomach like
his cannot resist gorging himself with things he has been strictly
prohibited from touching, he had better proclaim himself irresponsible
and be done. It is nonsense to call me in when he persists in cutting up
such antics. Good-afternoon.”

And abruptly raising his hat, he sprang in beside Ruth, taking the reins
from her without a word.

She felt very meek and small beside the evidently exasperated physician.
He seemed to forget her presence entirely, and she had too much tact
to break the silence of an angry man. In nine cases out of ten, the
explosion is bound to take place; but woe to him who lights the powder!

They were now driving northeast toward the quarter known as North Beach.
The sweet, fresh breeze in the western heights toward Golden Gate is
here charged with odors redolent of anything but the “shores of Araby
the blest.”

Kemp finally gave vent to his feelings.

“Some men,” he said deliberately, as if laying down an axiom, “have no
more conception of the dignity of controlled appetites than savages.
Here is one who could not withstand anything savory to eat, to save his
soul; otherwise he is a strong, sensible man. I can’t account for it.”

“The force of habit, perhaps,” suggested Ruth.

“Probably. Jewish appetite is known to dote on the fat of the land.”

That he said this with as little vituperation as if he had remarked on
the weather Ruth knew; and she felt no inclination to resent the remark,
although a vision of her cousin Jennie protesting did present itself.
Some Jewish people with diseased imaginations take every remark on the
race as a personal calumny.

“We always make the reservation that the fat be clean,” she laughed.

Kemp flashed around at her.

“Miss Levice,” he exclaimed contritely, “I completely forgot--I hope I
was not rude.”

“Why, certainly not,” she answered half merrily, half earnestly. “Why
should you be?”

“As you say, why should I be? Jewish individuals, of course, have
their faults like the rest of humanity. As a race, most of their
characteristics redound to their honor, in my estimation.”

“Thank you,” said the girl, quietly. “I am very proud of many Jewish
traits.”

“Such as a high morality, loyalty, intelligence, filial respect, and
countless other things.”

“Yes.”

“Besides, it is wonderful how they hold the balance of power in the
musical and histrionic worlds. Still, to be candid, in comparison with
these, they do not seem to have made much headway in the other branches
of art. Can you explain it, Miss Levice?”

He waited deferentially for a reply.

“I was trying to think of a proper answer,” she responded with earnest
simplicity; “and I think that their great musical and histrionic powers
are the results not so much of art as of passion inherited from times
and circumstances stern and sad since the race began. Painting and
sculpture require other things.”

“Which the Jew cannot obtain?”

A soft glow overspread her face and mounted to her brow.

“Dr. Kemp,” she answered, “we have begun. I should like to quote to you
the beautiful illustration with which one of our rabbis was inspired
to answer a clergyman asking the same question; but I should only spoil
that which in his mouth seemed eloquent.”

“You would not, Miss Levice. Tell the story, please.”

They were on level ground, and the doctor could disengage his attention
from the horses. He did not fail to note the emotion that lit up her
expressive face, and made her sweet voice tremble.

“It is the story of the Rose of Sharon. This is it briefly: A pilgrim
was about to start on a voyage to the Holy Land. In bidding a friend
good-by, he said: ‘In that far land to which I am journeying, is there
not some relic, some sacred souvenir of the time beautiful, that I can
bring to you?’ The friend mused awhile. ‘Yes,’ he made answer finally;
‘there is a small thing, and one not difficult to obtain. I beg of
you to bring me a single rose from the plains of Sharon.’ The pilgrim
promised, and departed. On his return he presented himself before his
friend. ‘You have brought it?’ he cried. ‘Friend,’ answered the pilgrim,
sadly, ‘I have brought your rose; but, alas! After all this weary
travelling it is now but a poor, withered thing.’ ‘Give it me!’
exclaimed the friend, eagerly. The other did so. True, it was lifeless
and withered; not a vestige remained of its once fragrant glory. But as
the man held it tenderly in his hand, memory and love untold overcame
him, and he wept in ecstasy. And as his tears fell on the faded rose,
lo! The petals sprang up, flushed into life; an exquisite perfume
enveloped it,--it had revived in all its beauty. Sir, in the words of
the rabbi, ‘In the light of toleration and love, we too have revived, we
too are looking up.’”

As the girl paused, Kemp slightly, almost reverentially, raised his hat.

“Miss Levice, that is exquisite,” he said softly.

They had reached the old, poorer section of the city, and the doctor
stopped before a weather-beaten cottage.

“This is where Bob receives,” he said, holding out a hand to Ruth; “in
all truth it cannot be called a home.”

Ruth had a peculiar, inexplicable feeling of mutual understanding with
the doctor as she went in with him. She hardly realized that she had
been an impressionable witness of some of his dominant moods, and that
she herself had been led on to an unrestrained display of feeling.



Chapter VI

They walked directly into a bare, dark hallway. There was no one
stirring, and Kemp softly opened the door of one of several rooms
leading into the passage. Here a broad band of yellow sunlight fell
unrestrained athwart the waxen-like face of the sleeping boy. The rest
of the simple, poor-looking room was in shadow. The doctor noiselessly
closed the door behind them, and stepped to the bed, which was covered
with a heavy horse-blanket.

The boy on the bed even in sleep could not be accounted good-looking;
there was a heaviness of feature, a plentitude of freckles, a shock
of lack-lustre hair, that made poor Bob Bard anything but a thing of
beauty. And yet, as Ruth looked at him, and saw Kemp’s strong white
hand placed gently on the low forehead, a great wave of tender pity took
possession of her. Sleep puts the strongest at the mercy of the
watcher; there is a loneliness about it, a silent, expressive plea for
protection, that appeals unconsciously. Ruth would have liked to raise
the rough, lonely head to her bosom.

“It would be too bad to wake him now,” said the doctor, in a low voice,
coming back to her side; “he is sleeping restfully; and that is what
he needs. I am sorry our little plan is frustrated; but it would be
senseless to wait, as there is no telling when he will waken.”

A shade of disappointment passed over the girl’s face, which he noticed.

“But,” he continued, “you might leave your roses where he cannot fail to
see them. His conjectures on their mysterious appearance will rouse him
sufficiently for one day.”

He watched her move lightly across the room, and fill a cup with
water from an earthenware pitcher. She looked about for a second as if
hesitating where to place it, and then quickly drew up a high-backed
wooden chair close to the bedside, and placed thereon a cup with roses,
so that they looked straight into the face of the slumbering lad.

“We will go now,” Kemp said, and opened the door for Ruth to pass
before him. She followed him slowly, but on the threshold drew back, a
thoughtful little pucker on her brow.

“I think I shall wait anyway,” she explained. “I should like to talk
with Bob a little.”

The doctor looked slightly annoyed.

“You had better drive home with me,” he objected.

“Thank you,” she replied, drawing farther back into the room; “but the
Jackson Street cars are very convenient.”

“Nevertheless, I should prefer to have you come with me,” he insisted.

“But I do not wish to,” she repeated quietly; “besides, I have decided
to stay.”

“That settles it, then,” smiled Kemp; and shaking her hand, he went out
alone.

“When my lady will, she will; and when she won’t, she won’t,” he mused,
gathering up his reins. But the terminal point to the thought was a
smile.

Ruth, thus left alone, seated herself on the one other chair near the
foot of the bed. Strange to say, though she gazed at Bob, her thoughts
had flown out of the room. She was dimly conscious that she was
pleasantly excited. Had she cared to look the cause boldly in the face,
she would have known that Miss Ruth Levice’s vanity had been highly fed
by Dr. Kemp’s unmistakable desire for her assistance. He must at least
have looked at her with friendly eyes; but here her modesty drew a line
even for herself, and giving herself a mental shake, she saw that two
lambent brown eyes were looking wonderingly at her from the face of the
sick lad.

“How do you feel now, Bob?” she asked, rising immediately and smiling
down at him.

The boy forgot to answer.

“The doctor brought me here,” she went on brightly; “but as you were
asleep, he could not wait. Are you feeling better, Bob?”

The soft, star-like eyes did not wander in their gaze.

“Why did you come?” he breathed finally. His voice was surprisingly
musical.

“Why?” faltered Ruth. “Oh, to bring you these roses. Do you care for
flowers, Bob?” She lifted the mass of delicate buds toward him. Two
pale, transparent hands went out to meet them. Tenderly as you sometimes
see a mother press the cheek of her babe to her own, he drew them to his
cheek.

“Oh, my darlings, my darlings!” he murmured passionately, with his lips
pressed to the fragrant petals.

“Do you love them, then, so much?”

“Lady,” replied the boy, raising himself to a sitting posture, “there is
nothing in the world to me like flowers.”

“I never thought boys cared so for flowers,” remarked Ruth, in surprise.

“I am a gardener,” said he, simply, and again fell to caressing the
roses. Sitting up, he looked fully seventeen or eighteen years old.

“You must have missed them during your illness,” observed Ruth.

A long sigh answered her. The boy rested his dreamy eyes upon her. He
was no longer ugly, with his thoughts illumining his face.

“Marechal Niel,” she heard him whisper, still with his eyes upon her,
“all in soft, radiant robes like a gracious queen. Lady, you fit well
next my Homer rose.”

“What Homer rose?” asked Ruth, humoring the flower-poet’s odd conceit.

“My strong, brave Homer. There is none like him for strength, with all
his gentle perfume folded close to his heart. I used to think these
Duchesses would suit him best; but now, having seen you, I know they
were too frail,--Marechal Niel.” It was impossible to resent openly the
boy’s musings; but with a quick insistence that stemmed the current of
his thoughts, she said,--

“Tell me where you suffer, Bob.”

“I do not suffer. I am only weak; but he is nourishing me, and Mrs.
Mills brings me what he orders.”

“And is there anything you would like to have of which you forgot to
tell him?”

“I never tell him anything I wish,” replied the boy, proudly. “He knows
beforehand. Did you never draw up close to a delicate flower, lay your
cheek softly upon it, so,--close your eyes, so,--and listen to the tale
it’s telling? Well, that is what my good friend does always.”

It was like listening to music to hear the slow, drawling words of the
invalid. Ruth’s hand closed softly over his.

“I have some pretty stories at home about flowers,” she said; “would you
like to read them?”

“I can’t read very well,” answered Bob, in unabashed simplicity.

Yet his spoken words were flawless.

“Then I shall read them to you,” she answered pleasantly, “to-morrow,
Bob, say at about three.”

“You will come again?” The heavy mouth quivered in eager surprise.

“Why, yes; now that I know you, I must know you better. May I come?”

“Oh, lady!”

Ruth went out enveloped in that look of gratitude. It was the first
directly personal expression of honest gratitude she had ever received;
and as she walked down the hill, she longed to do something that would
be really helpful to some one. She had led, on the whole, so far, an
egotistic life. Being their only child, her parents expected much of
her. During her school-life she had been a sort of human reservoir for
all her father’s ideas, whims, and hobbies. True, he had made her take
a wide interest in everything within the line of vision; hanging on
his arm, as they wandered off daily in their peripatetic school, he had
imbued her with all his manly nobility of soul. But theorizing does not
give much hold on a subject, the mind being taken up with its own clever
elucidations. For the past six months, after a year’s travel in Europe,
her mother had led her on in a whirl of what she called happiness. Ruth
had soon gauged the worth of this surface-life, and now that a lull had
come, she realized that what she needed was some interest outside of
herself,--an interest which the duties of a mere society girl do not
allow to develop to a real good.

A plan slowly formed itself in her mind, in which she became so
engrossed that she unconsciously crossed the cable of the Jackson Street
cars. She did not turn till a hand was suddenly laid upon her arm.

“What are you doing in this part of town?” broke in Louis Arnold’s voice
in evident anger.

“Oh, Louis, how you startled me! What is the matter with this part of
town?”

“You are on a very disreputable street. Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“Then be so kind as to turn back with me and take the cars.”

She glanced at him quickly, unused to his tone of command, and turned
with him.

“How do you happen to be here?” he asked shortly.

“Dr. Kemp took me to see a poor patient of his.”

“Dr. Kemp?” surprise raised his eyebrows half an inch.

“Yes.”

“Indeed! Then,” he continued in cool, biting words, “why didn’t he carry
his charity a little farther and take you home again?”

“Because I did not choose to go with him,” she returned, rearing her
head and looking calmly at him as they walked along.

“Bah! What had your wishing or not wishing to do with it? The man
knew where he had taken you even if you did not know. This quarter is
occupied by nothing but negroes and foreign loafers. It was decidedly
ungentlemanly to leave you to return alone at this time of the evening.”

“Probably he gave me credit for being able to take care of myself in
broad daylight.”

“Probably he never gave it a second’s thought one way or the other.
Hereafter you had better consult your natural protectors before starting
out on Quixotic excursions with indifferent strangers.”

“Louis!”

She actually stamped her little foot while walking.

“Well?”

“Stop that, please. You are not my keeper.”

Her cousin smiled quizzically. They took their seats on the dummy, just
as the sun, a golden ball, was about to glide behind Lone Mountain. Late
afternoon is a quiet time, and Ruth and Louis did not speak for a while.

The girl was experiencing a whirl of conflicting emotions,--anger at
Louis’s interference, pleasure at his protecting care, annoyance at
what he considered gross negligence on the doctor’s part, and a sneaking
pride, in defiance of his insinuations, over the thought that Kemp had
trusted to her womanliness as a safeguard against any chance annoyance.
She also felt ashamed at having showed temper.

“Louis,” she ventured finally, rubbing her shoulder against his, as
gentle animals conciliate their mates, “I am sorry I spoke so harshly;
but it exasperates me to hear you cast slurs, as you have done before,
upon Dr. Kemp in his absence.”

“Why should it, my dear, since it give you a chance to uphold him?”

There is a way of saying “my dear” that is as mortifying as a slap in
the face.

The dark blood surged over the girl’s cheeks. She drew a long, hard
breath, and then said in a low voice,--

“I think we will not quarrel, Louis. Will you get off at the next corner
with me? I have a prescription to be made up at the drug-store.”

“Certainly.”

If Arnold had showed anger, he was man enough not to be ashamed of it;
this is one of man’s many lordly rights.



Chapter VII

Mrs. Jules Levice was slowly gaining the high-road to recovery, and many
of the restrictions for her cure had been removed. As a consequence,
and with an eye ever to Ruth’s social duties, she urged her to leave her
more and more to herself.

As a matter of course, Ruth had laid the case of Bob and his
neighborhood before her father’s consideration. A Jewish girl’s life is
an open page to her family. Matters of small as well as of larger moment
are freely discussed. The result is that while it robs her of much of
her Christian sister’s spontaneity, which often is the latter’s greatest
charm, it also, through the sagacity of more experienced heads,
guards her against many indiscretions. This may be a relic of European
training, but it enables parents to instil into the minds of their
daughters principles which compare favorable with the American girl’s
native self-reliance. It was as natural for Ruth to consult her father
in this trivial matter, in view of Louis’s disapproval, as it would be
for her friend, Dorothy Gwynne, to sally anywhere so long as she herself
felt justified in so doing.

Ruth really wished to go; and as her father, after considering the
matter, could find no objection, she went. After that it was enough to
tell her mother that she was going to see Bob. Mrs. Levice had heard the
doctor speak of him to Ruth; and any little charity that came in her way
she was only too happy to forward.

Bob’s plain, ungarnished room soon began to show signs of beauty under
Ruth’s deft fingers. A pot of mignonette in the window, a small painting
of exquisite chrysanthemums on the wall, a daily bunch of fresh roses,
were the food she brought for his poet soul. But there were other
substantial things.

The day after she had replaced the coarse horse-blanket with a soft down
quilt, the doctor made one of his bi-weekly visits to her mother.

As he stood taking leave of Ruth on the veranda, he turned, with his
foot on the last step, and looked up at her as if arrested by a sudden
thought.

“Miss Levice,” said he, “I should like to give you a friendly scolding.
May I?”

“How can I prevent you?”

“Well, if I were you I should not indulge Bob’s love of luxury as you
do. He positively refused to get up yesterday on account of the ‘soft
feel,’ as he termed it, of that quilt. Now, you know, he must get up; he
is able to, and in a week I wish to start him in to work again. Then he
won’t be able to afford such ‘soft feels,’ and he will rebel. He has had
enough coddling for his own good. I really think it is mistaken kindness
on your part, Miss Levice.”

The girl was leaning lightly against one of the supporting columns. A
playful smile parted her lips as she listened.

“Dr. Kemp,” she replied, “may I give you a little friendly scolding?”

“You have every right.” His tone was somewhat earnest, despite his
smiling eyes. A man of thirty-five does not resent a friendly scolding
from a winsome young girl.

“Well, don’t you think it is rather hard of you to deprive poor Bob of
any pleasure to-day may bring, on the ground that to-morrow he may wish
it too, and will not be able to have it?”

“As you put it, it does seem so; but I am pugnacious enough to wish
you to see it as practically as I do. Put sentiment aside, and the
only sensible thing to be done now is to prepare him for the hard,
uncushioned facts of an active life.”

“But why must it be so hard for him?”

“Why? In the face of the inevitable, that is a time-wasting, useless
question. Life is so; even if we find its underlying cause, the
discovery will not alter the fact.”

“Yes, it will.”

“How?”

“By its enabling us to turn our backs on the hard way and seek a
softer.”

“You forget that strait-jacket to all inclination,--circumstance.”

“And are you not forgetting that friendly hands may help to remove the
strait-jacket?”

Her lovely face looked very winning, filled with its kindly meaning.

“Thank you,” said he, raising his hat and forgetting to replace it as he
spoke; “that is a gentle truth; some day we shall discuss this further.
For the present, use your power in getting Bob upon his feet.”

“Yes.” She gave a hurried glance at the door behind her, and ran quickly
down to the lowest step. “Dr. Kemp,” said she, a little breathlessly,
“I have wished for some time to ask you to let me know when you have
any cases that require assistance outside of a physician’s,--such as
my father or I might lend. You must have a broad field for such
opportunities. Will you think of me then, please?”

“I will,” he replied, looking with amused pleasure at her flushed face.
“Going in for philanthropy, Miss Levice?”

“No; going out for it, thank you;” and she put her hand into his
outstretched one. She watched him step into his carriage; he turned and
raised his hat again,--a trifling circumstance that Ruth dwelt upon with
pleasure; a second glance always presupposes an interested first.

He did not fail to keep his promise; and once on the lookout for “cases”
 herself, Ruth soon found enough irons in the fire to occupy her spare
moments.

Mrs. Levice, however, insisted upon her resuming her place in society.

“A young girl must not withdraw herself from her sphere, or people will
either consider her eccentric or will forget her entirely. Don’t be
unreasonable, Ruth; there is no reason why you should not enjoy every
function in our circle, and Louis is always happy to take you. When
he asked you if you would go with him to the Art Exhibition on Friday
night, I heard you say you did not know. Now why?”

“Oh, that? I never gave it a second’s thought. I promised Father to go
with him in the afternoon; I did not consider it worth an explanation.”

“But, you see, I did. It looks very queer for Louis to be travelling
around by himself; couldn’t you go again in the evening with him?”

“Of course, you over-thoughtful aunt. If the pictures are good, a second
visit will not be thrown away,--that is, if Louis is really anxious for
my companionship. But, ‘I doubt it, I doubt it, I do.’”

“What nonsense!” returned her mother, somewhat testily. “Why shouldn’t
he be? You are always amiable together, are you not?”

“Well,” she said, knitting her brows and pursing her lips drolly, “that,
methinks, depends on the limits and requirements of amiability. If
disputation showeth a friendly spirit, then is my lord overfriendly;
for it oft hath seemed of late to pleasure his mood to wax disputations,
though, in sooth, lady fair, I have always maintained a wary and
decorous demeanor.”

“I can imagine,” laughed her mother, a little anxiously; “then you will
go?”

“Why not?”

If Arnold really cared for the outcome of such manoeuvres, Mrs. Levice’s
exertions bore some fruit.



Chapter VIII

There are few communities, comparatively speaking, with more
enthusiastic theatre-lovers than are to be found in San Francisco. The
play was one of the few worldly pleasures that Mr. Levice thoroughly
enjoyed. When a great star was heralded, he was in a feverish delight
until it had come and gone. When Bernhardt appeared, the quiet little
man fully earned the often indiscriminately applied title of “crazy
Frenchman.” A Frenchman is never so much one as when confronted in
a foreign land with a great French creation; every fibre in his
body answers each charm with an appreciation worked to fever-heat by
patriotic love; at such times the play of his emotions precludes any
idea of reason to an onlooker. Bernhardt was one of Levice’s passions.
Booth was another, though he took him more composedly. The first time
the latter appeared at the Baldwin (his opening play was “Hamlet”) the
Levices--that is, Ruth and her father--went three times in succession to
witness his matchless performance, and every succeeding characterization
but strengthened their enthusiasm.

Booth was coming again. The announcement had been rapturously hailed by
the Levices.

“It will be impossible for us to go together, Father,” Ruth remarked at
the breakfast-table. “Louis will have to take me on alternate nights,
while you stay at home with Mamma; did you hear, Louis?”

“You will hardly need to do that,” answered Arnold, lowering his cup;
“if you and your father prefer going together, I shall enjoy staying
with your mother on those nights.”

“Thanks for the offer--and your evident delight in my company,” laughed
Ruth; “but there is one play at which you must submit to the infliction
of my presence. Don’t you remember we always wished to see the ‘Merchant
of Venice’ and judge for ourselves his interpretation of the character?
Well, I am determined that we shall see it together.”

“When does he play it?”

“A week from Saturday night.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but I shall be out of town at the end of next
week.”

“Oh, dear? Honestly? Can’t you put it off? I want so much to go.”

“Impossible. Go with your father.”

“You know very well neither of us would go off and leave Mamma alone at
night. It is horrid of you to go. I am sure you could manage differently
if--”

“Why, my child!”

She was actually pouting; and her father’s quiet tone of surprised
reprimand just headed off two great tears that threatened to fall.

“I know,” she said, trying to smile, and showing an April face instead;
“but I had just set my heart on going, and with Louis too.”

“That comes of being a spoilt only child,” put in Arnold, suavely.
“You ought to know by this time that of the many plans we make with
ourselves, nine out of ten come to nought. Before you set your heart on
a thing, be sure you will not have to give it up.”

Ruth, still sore with disappointment, acknowledged this philosophic
remark with a curled lip.

“There, save your tears for something more worthy,” cut in Levice,
briskly; “if you care so much about it, we or chance must arrange it as
you wish.”

But chance in this instance was not propitious. Wednesday came, and
Arnold saw no way of accommodating her. He left town after taking her to
see the “Fool’s Revenge” as a sort of substitution.

“You seemed to be enjoying the poor Fool’s troubles last night,”
 observed Dr. Kemp, in the morning; they were still standing in Mrs.
Levice’s room.

“I? Not enjoying his troubles; I enjoyed Booth, though,--if you can call
it enjoyment when your heart is ready to break for him. Were you there?
I did not see you.”

“No, I don’t suppose you did, or you would have been in the pitiable
condition of the princess who had her head turned. I sat directly back
of your box, in the dress-circle. Then you like Booth?”

“Take care! That is a dangerous subject with my family,” broke in Mrs.
Levice. “Ruth has actually exhausted every adjective in her admiration
vocabulary. The last extravaganza I heard from her on that theme was
after she had seen him as Brutus; she wished herself Lucius, that in the
tent scene she might kiss Booth’s hand.”

“It sounds gushing enough for a school-girl now,” laughed Ruth merrily,
looking up at the doctor; “but at the time I meant it.”

“Have you seen him in all his impersonations?” he asked.

“In everything but ‘Shylock.’”

“You will have a chance for that on Saturday night. It will be a great
farewell performance.”

“Undoubtedly, but I shall have to forego that last glimpse of him.”

“Now, Doctor,” cried Mrs. Levice, “will you please impress it on her
that I am not a lunatic and can be left alone without fear? She wishes
to go Saturday night, but refuses to go with her father on the ground
that I shall be left alone, as Mr. Arnold is out of town. Is not that
being unnecessarily solicitous?”

“Without doubt. But,” he added, turning deferentially to Ruth, “in lieu
of a better escort, how would I do, Miss Levice?”

“I do not understand.”

“Will you come with me Saturday night to see ‘Shylock’?”

To be candid, Ruth was embarrassed. The doctor had said neither “will
you honor me” nor “will you please me,” but he had both pleased and
honored her. She turned a pair of radiant eyes to her mother. “Come
now, Mrs. Levice,” laughed Kemp, noting the action, “will you allow your
little girl to go with me? Do not detain me with a refusal; it will be
impossible to accept one now, and I shall not be around till then, you
know. Good-morning.”

Unwittingly, the doctor had caused an excitement in the hearts both
of mother and daughter. The latter was naturally surprised at his
unexpected invitation, but surprise was soon obliterated by another
and quite different feeling, which she kept rigorously to herself.
Mrs. Levice was in a dilemma about it, and consulted her husband in the
evening.

“By all means, let her go,” replied he; “why should you have had any
misgivings about it? I am sure I am glad she is going.”

“But, Jules, you forget that none of our Jewish friends allow their
girls to go out with strangers.”

“Is that part of our religion?”

“No; but custom is in itself a religion. People do talk so at every
little innovation against convention.”

“What will they say? Nothing detrimental either to Ruth or the doctor.
Pshaw, Esther! You ought to feel proud that Dr. Kemp has asked the
child. If she wishes to go, don’t set an impossible bogy in the way of
her enjoyment. Besides, you do not care to appear so silly as you would
if you said to the doctor, ‘I can’t let her go on account of people’s
tongues,’ and that is the only honest excuse you can offer.” So in his
manly, practical way he decided it.

On Saturday night Ruth stood in the drawing-room buttoning her pale
suede glove. Kemp had not yet come in. She looked unusually well in her
dull sage-green gown. A tiny toque of the same color rested on her soft
dark hair. The creamy pallor of her face, the firm white throat revealed
by the broad rolling collar, her grave lips and dreamy eyes, hardly told
that she was feeling a little shy. Presently the bell rang, and Kemp
came in, his open topcoat revealing his evening dress beneath. He came
forward hastily.

“I am a little late,” he said, taking her hand, “but it was unavoidable.
Ten minutes to eight,” looking at his watch; “the horses must make good
time.”

“It is slightly chilly to-night, is it not?” asked Ruth, for want of
something better to say as she turned for her wrap.

“I did not feel it,” he replied, intercepting her. “But this furry thing
will keep the cold off, if there is any,” he continued, as he held it
for her, and quite unprofessionally bent his head to hook it at her
throat. A strange sensation shot through Ruth as his face approached so
close her own.

“How are your mother and father?” He asked, holding the door open, while
she turned for her fan, thus concealing a slight embarrassment.

“They are as usual,” she answered. “Father expects to see you after the
play. You will come in for a little supper, will you not?”

“That sounds alluring,” he responded lightly, his quick eye remarking,
as she came toward him, the dainty femininity of her loveliness, that
seemed to have caught a grace beyond the reach of art.

It thus happened that they took their places just as the curtain rose.



Chapter IX

Everybody remembers the sad old comedy, as differently interpreted in
its graver sentiment as there are different interpreters. Ruth had
seen one who made of Shylock merely a fawning, mercenary, loveless,
blood-thirsty wretch. She had seen another who presented a man of quick
wit, ready tongue, great dignity, greater vengeance, silent of love,
wordy of hate. Booth, without throwing any romantic glamour on the Jew,
showed him as God and man, but mostly man, had made him: an old Jew,
grown bitter in the world’s disfavor through fault of race; grown old in
strife for the only worldly power vouchsafed him,--gold; grown old with
but one human love to lighten his hard existence; a man who, at length,
shorn of his two loves through the same medium that robbed him of his
manly birthright, now turned fiend, endeavors with tooth and nail
to wreak the smouldering vengeance of a lifetime upon the chance
representative of an inexorable persecution.

All through the performance Ruth sat a silent, attentive listener. Kemp,
with his ready laugh at Gratiano’s sallies, would turn a quick look at
her for sympathy; he was rather surprised at the grave, unsmiling
face beside him. When, however, the old Jew staggered alone and almost
blindly from the triumphantly smiling court-room, a little pinch on his
arm decidedly startled him.

He lowered his glass and turned round on her so suddenly that Ruth
started.

“Oh,” she faltered, “I--I beg your pardon; I had forgotten you were not
Louis.”

“I do not mind in the least,” he assured her easily.

The last act passes merrily and quickly; only the severe, great things
of life move slowly.

As the doctor and Ruth made their way through the crowded lobby, the
latter thought she had never seen so many acquaintances, each of whom
turned an interested look at her stalwart escort. Of this she was
perfectly aware, but the same human interest with which Kemp’s
acquaintances regarded her passed by her unnoticed.

A moment later they were in the fresh, open air.

“How beautiful it is!” said Ruth, looking up at the stars. “The wind has
entirely died away.”

“‘On such a night,’” quoth Kemp, as they approached the curb, “a closed
carriage seems out of season.”

“And reason,” supplemented Ruth, while the doctor opened the door rather
slowly. She glanced at him hesitatingly.

“Would you--” she began.

“Right! I would!” The door was banged to.

“John,” he said, looking up at his man in the box, “take this trap round
to the stable; I shall not need the horses again to-night.”

John touched his hat, and Kemp drew his companion’s little hand through
his arm.

“Well,” he said, as they turned the corner, “Were you satisfied with the
great man to-night?”

“Yes,” she replied meditatively, “fully; there was no exaggeration,--it
was all quite natural.”

“Except Jessica in boy’s clothes.”

“Don’t mention her, please; I detest her.”

“And yet she spoke quite prettily on the night.”

“I did not hear her.”

“Why, where were you while all the world was making merry on the stage?”

“Not with them; I was with the weary, heart-broken old man who passed
out when joy began.”

“Ah! I fancied you did not half appreciate Gratiano’s jesting. Miss
Levice, I am afraid you allow the sorry things of life to take too
strong a hold on you. It is not right. I assure you for every tear there
is a laugh, and you must learn to forget the former in the latter.”

“I am sorry,” replied Ruth, quite sadly; “but I fear I cannot learn
that,--tears are always stronger than laughter. How could I listen to
the others’ nonsense when my heart was sobbing with that lonely old man?
Forgive me, but I cannot forget him.”

They walked along silently for some time. Instinctively, each felt the
perfect accord with which they kept step. Ruth’s little ear was just
about on a level with the doctor’s chin. He hardly felt the soft touch
of her hand upon his sleeve; but as he looked at the white profile of
her cheek against the dark fur of her collar, the knowledge that she was
there was a pleasing one.

“Did you consider the length of our walk when you fell in with my
desire?” he asked presently.

“I like a long walk in pleasant weather; I never tire of walking.”

“You have found the essentials of a good pedestrian,--health and
strength.”

“Yes; if everybody were like me, all your skill would be thrown away,--I
am never ill.”

“Apparently there is no reason why you should be, with common-sense to
back your blessings. If common-sense could be bought at the drug-store,
I should be rid of a great many patients.”

“That reminds me of a snatch of conversation I once overheard between
my mother and a doctor’s wife. I am reminded of it because the spirit
of your meaning is diametrically opposed to her own. After some talk my
mother asked, ‘And how is the doctor?’ ‘Oh,’ replied the visitor, with
a long sigh, ‘he’s well enough in body, but he’s blue, terribly blue;
everybody is so well, you know.’”

“Her sentiment was more human than humane,” laughed Kemp. He was glad to
see that she had roused herself from her sad musings; but a certain set
purpose he had formed robbed him now of his former lightness of manner.

He was about to broach a subject that required delicate handling; but an
intuitive knowledge of the womanly character of the young girl aided
him much. It was not so much what he had seen her do as what he knew she
was, that led him to begin his recital.

“We have a good many blocks before us yet,” he said, “and I am going to
tell you a little story. Why don’t you take the full benefit of my arm?
There,” he proceeded, drawing her hand farther through his arm, “now
you feel more like a big girl than like a bit of thistledown. If I get
tiresome, just call ‘time,’ will you?”

“All right,” she laughed. She was beginning to meet halfway this
matter-of-fact, unadorned, friendly manner of his; and when she did meet
it, she felt a comfortable security in it. From the beginning to the end
of his short narrative he looked straight ahead.

“How shall I begin? Do you like fairy tales? Well, this is the soul of
one without the fictional wings. Once upon a time,--I think that is the
very best introduction extant,--a woman was left a widow with one little
girl. She lived in New Orleans, where the blow of her husband’s death
and the loss of her good fortune came almost simultaneously. She must
have had little moral courage, for as soon as she could, she left her
home, not being able to bear the inevitable falling off of friends
that follows loss of fortune. She wandered over the intermediate States
between here and Louisiana, stopping nowhere long, but endeavoring to
keep together the bodies and souls of herself and child by teaching.
They kept this up for years until the mother succumbed. They were on
the way from Nevada to Los Angeles when she died. The daughter, then
not eighteen, went on to Los Angeles, where she buried her mother, and
endeavored to continue teaching as she had been doing. She was young,
unsophisticated, sad, and in want in a strange town. She applied for
advice to a man highly honored and recommended by his fellow-citizens.
The man played the brute. The girl fled--anywhere. Had she been less
brave, she would have fled from herself. She came to San Francisco and
took a position as nurse-girl; children, she thought, could not play her
false, and she might outlive it. The hope was cruel. She was living near
my home, had seen my sign probably, and in the extremity of her distress
came to me. There is a good woman who keeps a lodging-house, and who
delights in doing me favors. I left the poor child in her hands, and she
is now fully recovered. As a physician I can do no more for her, and yet
melancholy has almost made a wreck of her. Nothing I say has any effect;
all she answers is, ‘It isn’t worth while.’ I understand her perfectly,
but I wished to infuse into her some of her old spirit of independence.
This morning I asked her if she intended to let herself drift on in
this way. I may have spoken a little more harshly than necessary, for
my words broke down completely the wall of dogged silence she had built
around herself. ‘Oh, sir,’ she cried, weeping like the child she is,
‘what can I do? Can I dare to take little children by the hand, stained
as I am? Can I go as an impostor where, if people knew, they would
snatch their loved ones from me? Oh, it would be too wretched!’ I tried
to remonstrate with her, told her that the lily in the dust is no less
a lily than is her spotless sister held high above contamination. She
looked at me miserably from her tear-stained face, and then said, ‘Men
may think so, but women don’t; a stain with them is ignoble whether made
by one’s self or another. No woman knowing my story would think me
free from dishonor, and hold out her clean hands to me.’ ‘Plenty,’ I
contradicted. ‘Maybe,’ she said humbly; ‘but what would it mean? The
hand would be held out at arm’s length by women safe in their position,
who would not fail to show me how debased they think me. I am young yet;
can you show me a girl, like myself in years, but white as snow, kept
safe from contamination, as you say, who, knowing my story, would hold
out her hand to me and not feel herself besmirched by the contact? Do
not say you can, for I know you cannot.’ She was crying so violently
that she would not listen to me. When I left her, I myself could think
of none of my young friends to whom I could propound the question. I
know many sweet, kind girls, but I could count not one among them all
who in such a case would be brave as she was womanly--until I thought of
you.”

Complete silence followed his words. He did not turn his glance from the
street ahead of him. He had made no appeal, would make none, in fact. He
had told the story with scarcely a reflection on its impropriety, that
would have arrested another man from introducing such an element into
his gentle fellowship with a girl like Ruth. His lack of hesitancy
was born of his manly view of the outcast’s blamelessness, of her dire
necessity for help, and of a premonition that Ruth Levice would be as
free from the artificiality of conventional surface modesty as was he,
through the earnestness of the undertaking.

There is something very sweet to a woman in being singled out by a man
for some ennobling virtue. Ruth felt this so strongly that she could
almost hear her heart beat with the intoxicating knowledge. No question
had been asked, but she felt an answer was expected. Yet had her life
depended on it, the words could not have come at that moment. Was she
indeed what he esteemed her? Unconsciously Dr. Kemp had, in thought,
placed her on a pedestal. Did she deserve the high place he had given
her, or would she?

With many women the question would have been, did she care for Dr.
Kemp’s good opinion? Now, though Ruth was indeed put on her mettle, her
quick sympathy had been instantly touched by the girl’s miserable story.
Perhaps the doctor’s own feelings had influenced her, but had the girl
stood before her at the moment, she would have seized her hand with all
her own gentle nobility of soul.

As they turned the corner of the block where Ruth’s house stood, Kemp
said deliberately,--

“Well?”

“I thank you. Where does she live?”

Her quiet, natural tone told nothing of the tumult of sweet thoughts
within. They had reached the house, and the doctor opened the gate
before he answered. When he did, after they had passed through, he took
both her hands in his.

“I shall take you there,” he said, looking down at her with grave,
smiling eyes; “I knew you would not fail me. When shall I call for you?”

“Do not call for me at all; I think--I know it will be better for me to
walk in alone, as of my own accord.”

“Ah, yes!” he said, and told her the address. She ran lightly up the
steps, and as he turned her key in the door for her, she raised a pair
of starry eyes to his.

“Dr. Kemp,” she said, “I have had an exceptionally lovely evening. I
shall not soon forget it.”

“Nor I,” he returned, raising his hat; holding it in his hand, he gently
raised her gloved hand to his lips. Herbert Kemp was a gentleman of the
old school in his manner of showing reverence to women.

“My brave young friend!” he said; and the next minute his firm footfall
was crunching the gravel of the walk. Neither of them had remembered
that he was to have come in with her. She waited till the gate clicked
behind him, and then softly closed the heavy door.

“My brave young friend!” The words mounted like wine to her head. She
forgot her surroundings and stood in a sweet dream in the hall, slowly
unbuttoning her glove. She must have remained in this attitude for five
minutes, when, raising her eyes, still shadowy with thought, she saw her
cousin before her down the hall, his arm resting on the newel-post.

“Louis!” she cried in surprise; and without considering, she hurried to
him, threw her arm around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. Arnold,
taken by storm, stepped slightly back.

“When did you get home?” she asked, the pale rose-flush that mantled her
cheeks making her face exquisite.

“A half an hour ago.”

She looked at him quickly.

“Are you tired, Louis?” she inquired gently. “You are somewhat pale, and
you speak in that way.”

“Did you enjoy the play?” he asked quietly, passing by her remarks.

“The play!” she echoed, and then a quick burning blush suffused
her face. The epilogue had wholly obliterated the play from her
recollection.

“Oh, of course,” she responded, turning from the rather sardonic smile
of his lips and seating herself on the stairs; “do you want to hear
about it now?”

“Why not?”

“Well,” she began, laying her gloves in her lap and snuggling her chin
in the palms of her hands, “shall I tell you how I felt about it? In
the first place, I was not ashamed of Shylock; if his vengeance was
distorted, the cause distorted it. But, oh, Louis, the misery of that
poor old man! After all, his punishment was as fiendish as his guilt.
Booth was great. I wish you could have seen the play of his wonderful
eyebrow and the eloquence of his fine hand. Poor old, lonely Shylock!
With all his intellect, how could he regret that wretched little
Jessica?”

“He was a Jewish father.”

“How singularly you say that! Of course he was a Jew; but Jewish hardly
describes him,--at least, according to the modern idea. Are you coming
up?”

“Yes. Go on; I will lower the gas.”

“Wouldn’t you like something to eat or drink? You look so worn out; let
me get you something.”

“Thanks; I have dined. Good-night.” The girl passed on to her pretty
white and gold room. Shylock had again fled from her memory, but there
was singing in her heart a deep, grave voice saying,--

“My brave young friend!”



Chapter X

“A humble bard presents his respects to my Lady Marechal Niel, and begs
her to step down to the gate for about two minutes.”

The note was handed to Ruth early the next morning as she stood in the
kitchen beating up eggs for an omelette for her mother’s breakfast. A
smile of mingled surprise and amusement overspread her face as she
read; instinctively turning the card, she saw, “Herbert Kemp, M. D.,” in
simple lithograph.

“Do I look all right, Mary?” she asked hurriedly, placing the bowl on
the table and half turning to the cook as she walked to the door. Mary
deliberately placed both hands on her hips and eyed her sharply.

“And striped flannel dresses and hairs in braids,” she began, as she
always did, as if continuing a thought, “being nice, pretty flannel and
nice, pretty braids, Miss Ruth do look sweet-like, which is nothing out
of the common, for she always do!”

The last was almost shouted after Ruth, who had run from the cook’s
prolixity.

As she hurried down the walk, she recognized the doctor’s carriage,
containing the doctor himself with Bob in state beside him. Two hands
went up to two respective hats as the gate swung behind her, and she
advanced with hand extended to Bob.

“You are looking much better,” she exclaimed heartily, shaking the
rather bashfully outstretched hand; “your first outing, is it not?”

“Yes, lady.” It had been impossible for her to make him call her by
name.

“He elected to pay his first devoirs to the Queen of Roses, as he
expressed it,” spoke up Kemp, with his disengaged hand on the boy’s
shoulder, and looking with a puzzled expression at Ruth. Last night she
had been a young woman; this morning she was a young girl; it was
only after he had driven off that he discovered the cause lay in the
arrangement of her hair.

“Thank you, Bob; presently I expect to have you paying me a visit on
foot, when we can come to a clearer understanding about my flower-beds.”

“He says,” returned the boy, turning an almost humbly devoted look on
Kemp, “that I must not think of gardening for some weeks. And so--and
so--”

“Yes?”

“And so,” explained the doctor, briskly, “he is going to hold my
reins on our rounds, and imbibe a world of sunshine to expend on some
flowers--yours or mine, perhaps--by and by.”

Bob’s eyes were luminous with feeling as they rested on the dark,
bearded face of his benefactor.

“Now say all you have to say, and we’ll be off,” said Kemp, tucking in
the robe at Bob’s side.

“I didn’t have anything to say, sir; I came only to let her know.”

“And I am so glad, Bob,” said Ruth, smiling up into the boy’s shy,
speaking eyes. People always will try to add to the comfort of a
convalescent, and Ruth, in turn, drew down the robe over the lad’s
hands. As she did so, her cousin, Jennie Lewis, passed hurriedly by. Her
quick blue eyes took in to a detail the attitudes of the trio.

“Good-morning, Jennie,” said Ruth, turning; “are you coming in?”

“Not now,” bowing stiffly and hurrying on.

“Cabbage-rose.”

Bob delivered himself of this sentiment as gently as if he had let fall
a pearl.

The doctor gave a quick look at Ruth, which she met, smiling.

“He cannot help his inspiration,” she remarked easily, and stepped back
as the doctor pulled the reins.

“Come again, Bob,” she called, and with a smile to Kemp she ran in.

“And I was going to say,” continued Mary, as she re-entered the kitchen,
“that a speck of aig splashed on your cheek, Miss Ruth.”

“Oh, Mary, where?”

“But not knowin’ that you would see anybody, I didn’t think to run after
you; so it’s just this side your mouth, like if you hadn’t wiped it good
after breakfast.”

Ruth rubbed it off, wondering with vexation if the doctor had noticed
it. Truth to say, the doctor had noticed it, and naturally placed the
same passing construction on it that Mary had suggested. Not that the
little yellow splash occupied much of his attention. When he drove
off, all he thought of Ruth’s appearance was that her braided hair hung
gracefully and heavily down her back; that she looked young,--decidedly
young and missish; and that he had probably spoken indiscreetly and
impulsively to the wrong person on a wrong subject the night before.

Dress has a subtile influence upon our actions: one gown can make a
romp, another a princess, another a boor, another a sparkling coquette,
out of the same woman. The female mood is susceptibly sympathetic to the
fitness or unfitness of dress. Now, Ruth was without doubt the same
girl who had so earnestly and sympathetically heard the doctor’s
unconventional story; but the fashion of her gown had changed the
impression she had made a few hours back.

An hour later, and Dr. Kemp could not have failed to recognize Ruth,
the woman of his confidence. Something, perhaps a dormant spirit of
worldliness, kept her from disclosing to her mother the reason of her
going out. She herself felt no shame or doubt as to the advisability
of her action; but the certain knowledge of her mother’s disapproval of
such a proceeding restrained the disclosure which, of a surety, would
have cost her the non-fulfilment of a kindly act. A bit of subterfuge
which hurts no one is often not only excusable, but commendable.
Besides, it saved her mother an annoying controversy; and so, fully
satisfied as to her part, Ruth took her way down the street. The
question as to whether the doctor had gone beyond the bounds of their
brief acquaintance had of course been presented to her mind; but if a
slight flush came into her face when she remembered the nature of the
narrative and the personality of the narrator, it was quickly banished
by the sweet assurance that in this way he had honored her beyond the
reach of current flattery.

A certain placid strength possessed her and showed in her grave brown
eyes; with her whole heart and soul she wished to do this thing, and
she longed to do it well. Her purpose robbed her of every trace of
nervousness; and it was a sweet-faced young woman who gently knocked
at room Number 10 on the second floor of a respectable lodging-house on
Polk Street.

Receiving no answer to her knock, she repeated it somewhat more loudly.
At this a tired voice called, “Come in.”

She turned the knob, which yielded to her touch, and found herself in
a small, well-lighted, and neat room. Seated in an armchair near the
window, but with her back toward it, was what on first view appeared to
be a golden-haired child in black; one elbow rested on the arm of the
chair, and a childish hand supported the flower-like head. As Ruth
hesitated after closing the door behind her, she found a pair of
listless violet eyes regarding her from a small white face.

“Well?” queried the girl, without changing her position except to allow
her gaze to travel to the floor.

“You are Miss Rose Delano?” said Ruth, as she came a step nearer.

“What of that?” Asked the girl, lifelessly, her dull eyes wandering
everywhere but to the face of her strange interlocutor.

“I am Ruth Levice, a friend of Dr. Kemp. Will that introduction be
enough to make you shake hands with me?”

She advanced toward her, holding out her hand. A burning flame shot
across Rose Delano’s face, and she shrank farther back among her
pillows.

“No,” she said, putting up a repellent hand; “it is not enough. Do not
touch me, or you will regret it. You must not, I say.” She arose quickly
from her chair and stood at bay, regarding Ruth. The latter, taller than
she by head and shoulders, looked down at her smiling.

“I know no reason why I must not,” she replied gently.

“You do not know me.”

“No; but I know of you.”

“Then why did you come; why don’t you go?” The blue eyes looked with
passionate resentment at her.

“Because I have come to see you; because I wish to shake hands with
you.”

“Why?”

“Why?”

“Why do you wish to do that?”

“Because I wish to be your friend. May we not be friends? I am not much
older than you, I think.”

“You are centuries younger. Who sent you here? Dr. Kemp?”

“No one sent me; I came of my own free will.”

“Then go as you came.”

“No.”

She stood gracefully and quietly before her. Rose Delano moved farther
from her, as if to escape her grave brown eyes.

“You do not know what you are doing,” cried the girl, excitedly; “have
you no father or mother, no one to tell you what a girl should not do?”

“I have both; but I have also a friend,--Dr. Kemp.”

“He is my friend too,” affirmed Rose, tremulously.

“Then we have one good thing in common; and since he is my friend and
yours, why should we not be friends?”

“Because he is a man, and you are a woman. He has then told you my
story?”

“Yes.”

“And you feel yourself unharmed in coming here--to such a creature as
I?”

“I feel nothing but pity for you; I do not blame you. But, oh, little
one, I do so grieve for you because you won’t believe that the world is
not all merciless. Come, give me your hand.”

“No,” she said, clasping her hands behind her and retreating as the
other advanced; “go away, please. You are very good, but you are very
foolish. Bad as I am, however, I shall not let you harm yourself more;
leave my room, please.”

“Not till I have held your hands in mine.”

“Stop! I tell you I don’t want you to come here; I don’t want your
friendship. Can’t you go now, or are you afraid that your sweetheart
will upbraid you if you fail to carry out his will?”

“My sweetheart?” she asked in questioning wonder.

“Yes; only a lover could make a girl like you so forget herself. I speak
of Dr. Kemp.”

“But he is not my lover,” she stated, still speaking gently, but with a
pale face turned to her companion.

“I--I--beg your pardon,” faltered the girl, humbly drooping her head,
shamed by the cold pride in her tormentor’s face; “but why, oh, why,
then, won’t you go?” she continued, wildly sobbing. “I assure you it is
best.”

“This is best,” said Ruth, deliberately; and before Rose knew it she had
seized her two hands, and unclasping them from behind her, drew them to
her own breast.

“Now,” she said, holding them tightly, “who is the stronger, you or I?”
 She looked pleasantly down at the tear-stained face so close to hers.

“O God!” breathed the girl, her storm-beaten eyes held by the power of
her captor’s calmness.

“Now we are friends,” said Ruth, softly, “shall we sit down and talk?”

Still holding the slender hands, she drew up a chair, and seating the
frail girl in the armchair, sat down beside her.

“Oh, wait!” whispered Rose; “let me tell you everything before you make
me live again.”

“I know everything; and truly, Rose, nothing you can say could make me
wish to befriend you less.”

“How nobly, how kindly he must have told you!”

“Hush! He told me nothing but the truth. To me you are a victim, not a
culprit. And now, tell me, do you feel perfectly strong?”

“Oh, yes.” The little hand swept in agony over her sad, childish face.

“Then you ought to go out for a nice walk. You have no idea how pleasant
it is this morning.”

“I can’t, indeed I can’t! and, oh, why should I?”

“You can and you must, because you must go to work soon.”

Two frightened eyes were raised to hers.

“Yes,” she added, patting the hand she held; “you are a teacher, are you
not?”

“I was,” she replied, the catch in her voice still audible.

“What are you used to teaching?”

“Spanish, and English literature.”

“Spanish--with your blue eyes!” The sudden outburst of surprise sent a
faint April-like beam into Rose’s face.

“Si, Senorita.”

“Then you must teach me. Let me see. Wednesdays,--Wednesday afternoon,
yes?”

Again the frightened eyes appealed to her; but Ruth ignored them.

“And so many of my friends would like to speak Spanish. Will you teach
them too?”

“Oh, Miss Levice, how can I go with such a past?”

“I tell you,” said Ruth, proudly rearing her head, “if I introduce you
as my friend, you are, you must be, presentable.”

The pale lips strove to answer her.

“To-morrow I shall come with a number of names of girls who are ‘dying,’
as they say, to speak Spanish, and then you can go and make arrangements
with them. Will you?”

Thus pushed to the wall, Rose’s tear-filled eyes were her only answer.

Ruth’s own filled in turn.

“Dear little Rose,” she said, her usual sweet voice coming back to her,
“won’t it be lovely to do this? You will feel so much better when you
once get out and are earning your independent, pleasant living again.
And now will you forgive me for having been so harsh?”

“Forgive you!” A red spot glowed on each pallid cheek; she raised her
eyes and said with simple fervor, “I would die for you.”

“No, but you may live for me,” laughed Ruth, rising; “will you promise
me to go out this morning, just for a block or two?”

“I promise you.”

“Well, then, good-by.” She held out her hand meaningly; a little
fluttering one was placed in hers, and Ruth bent and kissed the wistful
mouth. That pure kiss would have wiped out every stain from Rose’s
worshipping soul.

“I shall see you to-morrow surely,” she called back, turning a radiant
face to the lonely little figure in the doorway. She felt deliriously
happy as she ran down the stairs; her eyes shone like stars; a buoyant
joyfulness spoke in her step.

“It is so easy to be happy when one has everything,” she mused. She
forgot to add, “And gives much.” There is so much happiness derived from
a kind action that were it not for the motive, charity might be called
supreme selfishness.



Chapter XI.

She told her mother in a few words at luncheon that she had arranged to
take Spanish lessons from a young protege of Dr. Kemp, who had been ill
and was in want.

“And I was thinking,” she added with naive policy, “that I might combine
a little business with pleasure this afternoon,--pay off some of those
ever urgent calls you accuse me of outlawing, and at the same time try
to get up a class of pupils for Miss Delano. What do you think?”

“That would be nice; don’t forget Mrs. Bunker. I know you don’t like
her, but you must pay a call for the musical which we did not attend;
and she has children who might like to learn Spanish. I wonder if I
could take lessons too; it would not be exciting, and I am not yet so
old but I may learn.”

“You might ask the doctor. He has almost dismissed himself now; and
after we get back from the country perhaps Jennie would join us two in a
class. Mother and daughter can then go to school together.”

“It is very fortunate,” Mrs. Levice observed pensively, sipping her
necessary glass of port, “that C---- sent your hat this morning to wear
with your new gown. Isn’t it?”

“Fortunate!” Ruth exclaimed, laughing banteringly; “it is destiny.”

So Mrs. Levice slipped easily into Ruth’s plan from a social standpoint,
and Ruth slipped out, trim and graceful, from her mother’s artistic
manipulations.

Meanwhile Mrs. Levice intended writing some delayed letters till her
husband’s return, which promised to be early in the afternoon.

She had just about settled herself at her desk when Jennie Lewis came
bustling in. Mrs. Lewis always brought in a sense of importance; one
looked upon her presence with that exhilarating feeling with which one
anticipates the latest number of a society journal.

“Go right on with your writing, Aunt Esther,” she said after they had
exchanged greetings. “I have brought my work, so I shall not mind the
quiet in the least.”

“As if I would bore you in that way!” returned Mrs. Levice, with a
laughing glance at her, as she closed her desk. “Lay off your things,
and let us have a downright comfortable afternoon. Don’t forget a single
sensation; I am actually starving for one.”

Mrs. Lewis smiled grimly as she fluffed up her bang with her hat-pin.
She drew up a second cosey rocking-chair near her aunt’s, drew out her
needle and crochet-work, and as the steel hook flashed in and out, her
tongue soon acquired its accustomed momentum.

“Where is Ruth?” she began, winding her thread round her chubby,
ring-bedecked finger.

“She is paying off some calls for a change.”

“Indeed! Got down to conventionality again?” “You would not call her
unconventional, would you?”

“Oh, well; every one has a right to an opinion.”

Mrs. Levice glanced at her inquiringly. Without doubt there was an
underground mine beneath this non-committal remark. Mrs. Lewis rocked
violently backward and forward without raising her eyes. Her face was
beet-red, and it looked as if an explosion were imminent. Mrs. Levice
waited with no little speculation as to what act of Ruth her cousin
disapproved of so obviously. She like Jennie; every one who knew her
recognized her sterling good heart; but almost every one who knew her
agreed that a grain of flour was a whole cake, baked and iced, to
Mrs. Lewis’s imagination, and these airy comfits were passed around
promiscuously to whoever was on hand. Not a sound broke the portentous
silence but the decided snap with which Mrs. Lewis pulled her needle
through, and the hurricane she raised with her rocking.

“I was at the theatre last night.”

The blow drew no blood.

“Which theatre?” asked Mrs. Levice, innocently.

“The Baldwin; Booth played the ‘Merchant of Venice.’”

“Did you enjoy it?” queried her aunt, either evading or failing to
perceive the meaning.

“I did.” A pause, and then, “Did Ruth?”

Mrs. Levice saw a flash of daylight, but her answer hinted at no
perturbation.

“Very much. Booth is her actor-idol, you know.”

“So I have heard.” She spread her crochet work on her knee as if
measuring its length, then with striking indifference picked it up again
and adjusted her needle,--

“She came in rather late, didn’t she?”

“Did she?” questioned Mrs. Levice, parrying with enjoyment the indirect
thrusts. “I did not know; had the curtain risen?”

“No; there was plenty of time for every one to recognize her.”

“I had no idea she was so well known.”

“Those who did not know her, knew her escort. Dr. Kemp is well known,
and his presence is naturally remarked.”

“Yes; his appearance is very striking.”

“Aunt Esther!” The vehemence of Mrs. Lewis’s feelings sent her ball of
cotton rolling to the other end of the room.

“My dear, what is it?” Mrs. Levice turned a pair of bright, interested
eyes on her niece.

“You know very well what I wish to say: everybody wondered to see Ruth
with Dr. Kemp.”

“Why?”

“Because every one knows that she never goes out with any gentleman but
Uncle or Louis, and we all were surprised. The Hoffmans sat behind us,
and Miss Hoffman leaned forward to ask what it meant. I met several
acquaintances this morning who had been there, and each one made some
remark about Ruth. One said, ‘I had no idea the Levices were so intimate
with Dr. Kemp;’ another young girl laughed and said, ‘Ruth Levice had a
swell escort last night, didn’t she?’ Still another asked, ‘Anything on
the tapis in your family, Mrs. Lewis?’ And what could I say?”

“What did you say?”

Mrs. Levice’s quiet tone did not betray her vexation. She had feared
just such a little disturbance from the Jewish community, but her
husband’s views had overruled hers, and she was now bound to uphold his.
Nevertheless, she hated anything of the kind.

“I simply said I knew nothing at all about it, except that he was your
physician. Even if I had known, I wouldn’t have said more.”

“There is no more to be said. Dr. Kemp and Ruth have become friendly
through their mutual interest in several poor patients; and in the
course of conversation one morning he heard that Ruth was anxious to
see this play, and had no escort. So he asked her, and her father saw
no objection to her going. It is a pity she didn’t think to hand round a
written explanation to her different Jewish friends in the theatre.”

“There you go, Aunt Esther! Jewish friends! I am sure that no matter how
indifferent Uncle is to such things, you must remember that our Jewish
girls never go alone to the theatre with any one outside of the family,
and certainly not with a Christian.”

“What has that to do with it, so long as he is a gentleman?”

“Nothing. Only I didn’t think you cared to have Ruth’s name coupled with
one.”

“No, nor with any one. But as I cannot control people’s tongues--”

“Then I would not give them cause for wagging. Aunt Esther, is there
anything between Ruth and Dr. Kemp?”

“Jennie, you surprise and anger me. Do you know what you insinuate?”

“I can’t help it. Either you are crazy, or ignorant of what is going on,
and I consider it my duty to enlighten you,”--a gossip’s duties are all
away from home,--“unless, of course, you prefer to remain in blissful or
wilful ignorance.”

“Speak out, please.”

“Of course I knew you must have sanctioned her going last night, though,
I must confess, I still think you did very wrongly; but do you know
where she went this morning?”

Mrs. Levice was put out. She was enough of a Jewess to realize that
if you dislike Jewish comment, you must never step out of the narrowly
conventional Jewish pathway. That Ruth, her only daughter, should be
the subject of vulgar bandying was more bitter than wormwood to her; but
that her own niece could come with these wild conjectures incensed her
beyond endurance.

“I do know,” she said in response to the foregoing question. “Ruth is
not a sneak,--she tells me everything; but her enterprises are so mild
that there would be no harm if she left them untold. She called on a
poor young girl who, after a long illness, desires pupils in Spanish.”

“A friend of Dr. Kemp.”

“Exactly.”

“A young girl, unmarried, who, a few weeks ago, through a merciful fate,
lost her child at its birth.”

The faint flush on Mrs. Levice’s cheek receded.

“Who told you this?” she questioned in an even, low voice.

“I thought you could not know. Mrs. Blake, the landlady where the girl
lives, told me.”

“And how, pray, do you connect Ruth with this girl?”

“I will tell you. Mrs. Blake does my white sewing. I was there this
morning; and just as I went into her room, I saw Ruth leaving another
farther down the hall. Naturally I asked Mrs. Blake who had the room,
and she told me the story.”

“Naturally.” The cutting sarcasm drove the blood to Mrs. Lewis’s face.

“For me it was; and in this case,” she retorted with rising accents, “my
vulgar curiosity had its vulgar reward. I heard a scandalous account of
the girl whom my cousin was visiting, and, outside of Dr. Kemp, Ruth is
the only visitor she has had.”

“I am sorry to hear this, Jennie.”

“I know you are, Aunt Esther. But what I find so very queer is that Dr.
Kemp, who pretends to be her friend,--and I have seen them together many
times,--should have sent her there. Don’t you?”

“I do not understand it at all,--neither Ruth nor him.”

“Surely you don’t think Ruth knew anything of this?” questioned Mrs.
Lewis, leaning forward and raising her voice in horror.

“Of course not,” returned Mrs. Levice, rather lamely. She had long ago
acknowledged to herself that there were depths in her daughter’s nature
that she had never gauged.

“I know what an idol his patients make of him, but he is a man
nevertheless; and though you may think it horrible of me, it struck me
as very suggestive that he was that girl’s only friend.”

“Therefore he must have been a good friend.”

Mrs. Lewis bounded from her chair and turned a startled face to Mr.
Levice, who had thus spoken, standing in the doorway. Mrs. Levice
breathed a sigh of hysterical relief.

“Good-afternoon, Jennie,” he said, coming into the room and shaking her
hand; “sit down again. Good-afternoon Esther;” he stooped to kiss his
wife.

Mrs. Lewis’s hands trembled; she looked, to say the least, ashamed. She
had been caught scandal-mongering by her uncle, Jules Levice, the head
and pride of the whole family.

“I am sorry I heard what I did, Jennie; sorry to think that you are
so poor as to lay the vilest construction on an affair of which you
evidently know nothing, and sorry you could not keep your views to
yourself.” It was the habit of all of Levice’s relatives to listen in
silence to any personal reprimand the dignified old man might offer.

“I heard a good part of your conversation, and I can only characterize
it as--petty. Can’t you and your friends see anything without springing
at shilling-shocker conclusions? Don’t you know that people sometimes
enjoy themselves without any further design? So much for the theatre
talk. What is more serious is the fact that you could so misjudge my
honorable friend, Dr. Kemp. Such a thing, Jennie, my girl, would be as
remote from Dr. Kemp’s possibilities as the antipodes. Remember, what I
say is indisputable. Whether Ruth knew the story of this girl or not,
I cannot say, but either way I feel assured that what she did was
well done--if innocently; if with knowledge, so much the better. And I
venture to assert that she is not a whit harmed by the action. In
all probability she will tell us all the particulars if we ask her.
Otherwise, Jennie, don’t you think you have been unnecessarily alarmed?”
 The benign gentleness of his question calmed Mrs. Lewis.

“Uncle,” she replied earnestly, “in my life such things are not
trivial; perhaps because my life is narrower. I know you and Ruth take a
different view of everything.”

“Don’t disparage yourself; people generally do that to be contradicted
or to show that they know their weaknesses and have never cared to
change them. A woman of your intelligence need never sink to the level
of a spiteful chatterbox; every one should keep his tongue sheathed, for
it is more deadly than a sword. Your higher interests should make you
overlook every little action of your neighbors. You only see or hear
what takes place when the window is open; you can never judge from this
what takes place when the window is shut. How are the children?”

By dint of great tenderness he strove to make her more at ease.

Ruth, confronted with their knowledge, confessed, with flushed cheeks
and glowing eyes, her contretemps.

“And,” she said in conclusion, “Father, Mamma, nothing you can say will
make me retract anything I have done or purpose doing.”

“Nothing?” repeated her father.

“I hope you won’t ask me to, but that is my decision.”

“My darling, I dislike to hear you call yourself a mule,” said her
father, looking at her with something softer than disapproval; “but in
this case I shall not use the whip to turn you from your purpose. Eh,
Esther?”

“It is Quixotic,” affirmed Mrs. Levice; “but since you have gone so far,
there is no reasonable way of getting out of it. When next I see the
doctor, I shall speak to him of it.”

“There will be no occasion, dear,” remonstrated the indulgent father, at
sight of the annoyed flash in Ruth’s eyes; “I shall.”

By which it will be seen that the course of an only child is not so
smooth as one of many children may think; every action of the former
assumes such prominence that it is examined and cross-examined, and very
often sent to Coventry; whereas, in a large family, the happy-go-lucky
offspring has his little light dimmed, and therefore less remarked,
through the propinquity of others.



Chapter XII

If Ruth, in the privacy of her heart, realized that she was sailing
toward dangerous rapids, the premonition gave her no unpleasant fears.
Possibly she used no lens, being content to glide forever on her smooth
stream of delight. When the sun blinds us, we cannot see the warning
black lurking in the far horizon. Without doubt the girl’s soul and
sympathies were receiving their proper food. Life was full for her, not
because she was occupied,--for a busy life does not always prove a
full one,--but because she entered thoroughly into the lives of others,
struggled with their struggles, triumphed in their triumphs, and was
beginning to see in everything, good or bad, its necessity of existence.
Under ordinary circumstances one cannot see much misery without
experiencing a world of disillusion and futile rebellion of spirit; but
Ruth was not living just at that time under ordinary circumstances.

Something of the nature of electricity seemed to envelop her, that made
her pulses bound, her lips quick to smile, and her eyes shine like twin
dreamstars. She seemed to be moving to some rapturous music unheard save
only by herself. At night, alone with her heart, she dared hardly name
to herself the meaning of it all, a puritanic modesty withheld her.
Yet all the sweet humility of which she was possessed could not banish
from her memory the lingering clasp of a hand, the warm light that
fell from eyes that glanced at her. For the present, these were grace
sufficient for her daily need. Given the perfume, what need to name the
flower?

Her family, without understanding it, noted the difference in their
different ways. Mrs. Levice saw with a thrill of delight that she was
growing more softly beautiful. Her father, holding his hands a few
inches from her shoulders, said, one morning, with a drolly puzzled
look, “I am afraid to touch you; sparks might fly.”

Arnold surprised her standing in the gloaming by a window, her hands
clasped over her head, a smile parting her lips, her eyes haunting in
the witchery of their expression. By some occult power her glance
fell unconsciously on him; and he beheld, with mingled amazement and
speculation, a rosy hue overspread her face and throat; her hands went
swiftly to her face as if she would hide something it might reveal, and
she passed quickly from the room. Arnold sat down to solve this problem
of an unknown quantity.

Ruth’s birthday came in its course, a few days after her meeting with
Rose Delano.

The family celebrated it in their usual simple way, which consisted
only in making the day pass pleasantly for the one whose day of days it
was,--a graceful way of showing that the birth has been a happy one for
all concerned.

On this evening of her twenty-second birthday, Ruth seemed to be in her
element. She had donned, in a spirit of mischief, a gown she had worn
five years before on the occasion of some festivity. The girlish fashion
of the white frock, with its straight, full skirt to her ankles, the
round baby waist, and short puffs on her shoulders made a very child of
her.

“Who can imagine me seventeen?” she asked gayly as she entered the
library, softly lighted by many wax candles. Her mother, who was again
enjoying the freedom of the house, and who was now snugly ensconced in
her own particular chair, looked up at her.

“That little frock makes me long to take you in my lap,” said she,
brightly.

“And it makes me long to be there,” answered Ruth, throwing herself into
her mother’s arms and twining her arms about her neck.

“How now, Mr. Arnold, you can’t scare me tonight with your sarcastic
disapproval!” she laughed, glancing provokingly over at her cousin
seated in a deep blue-cushioned chair.

“I have no desire to scare you, little one,” he answered pleasantly. “I
only do that to children or grown-up people.”

“And what am I, pray, good sir?”

“You are neither; you are neither child or woman; you are neither flesh
nor spirit; you are uncanny.”

“Dear me! In other words, I am a conundrum. Who will guess me?”

“You are the Sphinx,” replied her cousin.

“I won’t be that ugly-faced thing,” she retorted; “guess again.”

“Impossible. Once acquire a sphinx’s elusiveness and you are a mystery
perpetual. You alone can unriddle the riddle.”

“I can’t. I give myself up.”

“Not so fast, young woman,” broke in her father, shutting his magazine
and settling his glasses more firmly upon his nose; “that is an office I
alone can perform. Who has been hunting on my preserves?”

“Alas! They are not tempting, so be quite calm on that score.” She sat
up with a forlorn sigh, adding, “Think of it, Father, twenty-two, and
not a heart to hang on my chatelaine.”

“Hands are supposed to mean hearts nowadays,” said Louis, reassuringly;
“I am sure you have mittened one or two.”

“Oh, yes,” she answered, laughing evasively, “both of little Toddie
Flynn’s. Mamma, don’t you think I am too big a baby for you to hold
long?” She sprang up, and drawing a stool before her father’s chair,
exclaimed,--

“Now, Father, a grown-up Mother-Goose story for my birthday; make it
short and sweet and with a moral like you.”

Mr. Levice patted her head and rumpled the loosely gathered hair.

“Once upon a time,” he began, “a little boy went into his father’s
warehouse and ate up all the sugar in the land. He did not die, but he
was so sweet that everybody wanted to bite him. That is short and sweet;
and what is the moral?”

“Selfishness brings misery,” answered Ruth, promptly; “clever of both of
us, but what is the analogy? Louis, you look lonesome over there. I feel
as if I were masquerading; come nearer the footlights.”

“And get scorched for my pains? Thanks; this is very comfortable.
Distance adds to illusion.”

“You don’t mean to admit you have any illusions, do you? Why, those
glasses of yours could see through a rhinoceros, I verily believe. Did
you ever see anything you did not consider a delusion and a snare?”

“Yes; there is a standing institution of whose honest value there is no
doubt.”

“And that is?”

“My bed.”

“After all, it is a lying institution, my friend; and are you not
deposing your masculine muse,--your cigar? Oh, that reminds me of the
annual peace-pipe.”

She jumped up, snatched a candle, and left the room. As she turned
toward the staircase she was arrested by the ringing of the doorbell.
She stood quite still, holding the lighted candle while the maid opened
the door.

“Is Miss Levice in?” asked the voice that made the little candle-light
seem like myriads of swimming stars. As the maid answered in the
affirmative, she came mechanically forward and met the bright-glancing
eyes of Dr. Kemp.

“Good-evening,” she said, holding out her disengaged hand, which he
grasped and shook heartily.

“Is it Santa Filomena?” he asked, smiling into her eyes.

“No, only Ruth Levice, who is pleased to see you. Will you step into the
library? We are having a little home evening together.”

“Thank you. Directly.” He slipped out of his topcoat, and turning
quietly to her, said, “But before we go in, and I enact the odd number,
I wish to say a few words to you alone, please.”

She bent a look of inquiry upon him, and meeting the gaze of his
compelling eyes, led him across the hall into the drawing-room. He
noticed how the soft light she held made her the only white spot in the
dark room, till, touching a tall silver lamp, she threw a rosy halo over
everything. That it was an exquisite, graceful apartment he felt at a
glance.

She placed her candle upon a tiny rococo table, and seated herself in
a quaint, low chair overtopped by two tiny ivory horns that spread like
hands of blessing above her head. The doctor declined to sit down, but
stood with one hand upon the fragile table and looked down at her.

“I am inclined to think, after all,” he said slowly, “that you are in
truth the divine lady with the light. It is a pretty name and a pretty
fame,--that of Santa Filomena.”

What had come over her eyelids that they refused to be raised?

“I think,” he continued with a low laugh, “that I shall always call you
so, and have all rights reserved. May I?”

“I am afraid,” she answered, raising her eyes, “that your poem would
be without rhyme or reason; a candle is too slight a thing for such an
assumption.”

“But not a Rose Delano. I saw her to-day, and at least one sufferer
would turn to kiss your shadow. Do you know what a wonderfully beautiful
thing you have done? I came to-night to thank you; for any one who makes
good our ideals is a subject for thanks. Of course, the thing had no
personal bearing upon myself; but being an officious fellow, I thought
it proper to let you know that I know. That is my only excuse for
coming.”

“Did you need an excuse?”

“That, or an invitation.”

“Oh, I never thought of you--as--as--”

“As a man?”

How to answer this? Then finally she said,--

“As caring to waste an evening.”

“Would it be a waste? There is an old adage that one might adapt, then,
‘A wilful waste makes a woful want.’ Want is a bad thing, so economy
would not be a half-bad idea. Shall we go in to your family now, or will
they not think you have been spirited away?”

He took the candle from her, and they retraced their steps. As she
turned the handle of the door, she said,--

“Will you give me the candle, please, and walk in? I am going upstairs.”

“Are you coming down again?” he asked, standing abruptly still.

“Oh, yes. Father,” she called, opening wide the door, “here is Dr.
Kemp.”

With this announcement she fled up the staircase.

She had come up for some cigars; but when she got into her father’s
room, she seated herself blindly and looked aimlessly down at her hands.
What a blessed reprieve this was! If she could but stay here! She could
if it were not for the peace-pipe. Such a silly performance too! Father
kept those superfine cigars over in the cabinet there. Should she bring
only two as usual? Then she was going? Why not? It would look very rude
not to do so. Besides, she wondered what they were talking about. She
supposed she must have looked very foolish in that gown with her hair
all mussed; and then his eyes---- She arose suddenly and walked to the
dressing-table with her light. After all, it was not very unbecoming.
Had her face been so white all the evening? Louis liked her face to be
colorless. Oh, she had better hurry down.

“Here comes the chief!” cried her mother as she entered. “Now, Doctor,
you can see the native celebrating her natal day.”

“She enacts the witch,” said her father “and sends us, living, to the
happy hunting-grounds. Will you join us, Doctor?”

“If Lachesis thinks me worthy. Is the operation painful?”

He received no answer as Ruth came forward with a box of tempting
Havanas. She selected one, and placing the box on a chair, reached to
the high-tiled mantel-shelf, whence she took a tiny pair of scissors and
deftly cut off the point of the cigar. She seemed quite unconscious that
all were watching her. Louis handed her a lighted match, and putting the
cigar between her lips, she lit it into life. The doctor was amused.

She blew up a wreath of the fragrant smoke and handing it to her father,
said,--

“With this year’s love, Father.”

The doctor grew interested.

She took another, and lighting it as gracefully, and without the
slightest approach to Bohemianism, gave it into Louis’s outstretched
hand.

“Well?” he suggested, holding it from his lips till she had spoken.

“I can think of nothing you care for sufficiently to wish you.”

“Nothing?”

“Unless,” with sudden mischief, “I wish you a comfortable bed all the
year round--and pleasant dreams, Louis.”

“That is much,” he answered dryly as he drew a cloud of smoke.

The doctor became anticipative.

Ruth’s embarrassment was evident as she turned and offered him a cigar.

“Do you smoke?” she asked, holding out the box.

“Like a chimney,” he replied, looking at her, but taking none, “and in
the same manner as other common mortals.”

She stood still, but withdrew her hand a little as if repelling the hint
his words conveyed; whereupon he immediately selected a cigar, saying
as he did so, “So you were born in summer,--the time of all good things.
Well, ‘Thy dearest wish, wish I thee,’ and may it not pass in the
smoking!”

She swept him a deep, mock courtesy.

After this, Ruth sat a rather silent listener to the conversation. She
knew that they were discussing the pros and cons of the advantages for
a bachelor of club life over home life. She knew that Louis was making
some brilliantly cynical remarks,--asserting that the apparent privacy
of the latter was delusive, and that the reputed publicity of the former
was deceptive, as it was even more isolated than the latter. All of
which the doctor laughed down as untruly epigrammatic.

“Then there is only one loophole for the poor bachelor,” Mrs. Levice
summed up, “and that is to marry. Louis complains of the club, and
thinks himself a sort of cynosure in a large household. You, Doctor,
complain of the want of coseyness in a bachelor establishment. To state
it simply, you need a wife.”

“And oust my Pooh-ba! Madame, you do not know what a treasure that old
soldier of mine is. If I call him a veritable Martha, I shall but be
paying proper tribute to the neatness with which he keeps my house and
linen; he entertains my palate as deliciously as a Corinne her salon,
and--is never in my way or thoughts. Can you commend me any woman so
self-abnegatory?”

“Many women, but no wife, I am glad to say. But you need one.”

“So! Pray explain wherein the lack is apparent.”

“Oh, not to me, but--”

“You mean you consider a wife an adjunct to a doctor’s certificate.”

“It is a great guarantee with women,” put in Louis, “as a voucher
against impatience with their own foibles. They think only home practice
can secure the adequate tolerance. Eh, Aunt Esther?”

“Nonsense, Louis!” interrupted Mr. Levice; “what has that to do with
skill?”

“Skill is one thing; the manner of man is another--with women.”

“That is worth considering--or adding to the curriculum,” observed Kemp,
turning his steady, quiet gaze upon Arnold.

Ruth noticed that the two men had taken the same position,--vis--vis to
each other in their respective easy-chairs, their heads thrown back upon
the cushions, their arms resting on the chair-arms. Something in Louis’s
veiled eyes caused her to interpose.

“Will you play, Louis?” she asked.

“Not to-night, ma cousine,” he replied, glancing at her from lowered
lids.

“It is not optional with you to-night, Louis,” she insisted playfully,
rising; “we--desire you to play.”

“Or be punished for treason? Has your Majesty any other behest?”

“No; I shall even turn the leaves for you.”

“The leaves of what,--memory? I’ll play by rote.”

He strolled over to the piano and sat down. He struck a few random
chords, some soft, some florid, some harsh, some melting; he strung them
together and then glided into a dreamy, melodious rhythm, that faded
into a bird-like hallelujah,--swelling now into grandeur, then fainting
into sobs, then rushing into an allegro so brilliantly bewildering that
when the closing chords came like the pealing tones of an organ, Ruth
drew a long sigh with the last lingering vibrations.

“What is that?” asked Levice, looking curiously at his nephew, who,
turning on his music-chair, took up his cigar again.

“That,” he replied, flecking an ash from his coat lapel, “has no name
that I know of; some people call it ‘The Soul.’”

A pained sensation shot through Ruth at his words, for he had plainly
been improvising, and he must have felt what he had played.

“Here, Ruth, sing this,” he continued, turning round and picking up a
sheet of music.

“What?” she asked without moving.

“‘The bugle;’ I like it.”

Kemp looked at her expectantly. He said he had not known she sang; but
since she did, he was sure her voice was contralto.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because your face is contralto.”

She turned from his eyes as if they hurt her, and walked over to Louis’s
side.

It could hardly be called singing. Louis had often said that her voice
needed merely to be set to rhythmic time to be music; in pursuance of
which idea he would put into her hand some poem that touched his
fancy, tell her to read it, and as she read, he would adapt to it
an accompaniment according to the meaning and measure of the
lines,--grandly solemn, daintily tripping, or wildly inspiriting. It was
more like a chant than a song. To-night he chose Tennyson’s Bugle-song.
Her voice was subservient to the accompaniment, that shook its faint,
sweet bugle-notes at first as in a rosy splendor; it rose and swelled
and echoed and reverberated and died away slowly as if loath to depart.
Arnold’s playing was the poem, Ruth’s voice the music the poet
might have heard as he wrote, sweet as a violin, deep as the feeling
evolved,--for when she came to the line beginning, “oh, love, they die
in yon rich sky,” she might have stood alone with one, in some high,
clear place, so mellow was the thrill of her voice, so rapt the
expression of her face. Kemp looked as if he would not tire if the sound
should “grow forever and forever.”

Mrs. Levice was wakeful after she had gone to bed. Her husband also
seemed inclined to prolong the night, for he made no move to undress.

“Jules,” said she in a low, confidential tone, “do you realize that our
daughter is twenty-two?”

He looked at her with a half-smile.

“Is not this her birthday?”

“Her twenty-second, and she is still unmarried.”

“Well?”

“Well, it is time she were. I should like to see it.”

“So should I,” he acquiesced with marked decision.

Mrs. Levice straightened herself up in bed and looked at her husband
eagerly.

“Is it possible,” she exclaimed, “that we have both thought of the same
parti?”

It was now Mr. Levice’s turn to start into an interested position.

“Of whom,” he asked with some restraint, “are you speaking?”

“Hush! Come here; I have longed for it for some time, but have never
breathed it to a soul,--Louis.”

“Levice had become quite pale, but as she pronounced the familiar name,
the color returned to his cheek, and a surprised look sprang into his
eyes.

“Louis? Why do you think of such a thing?”

“Because I think them particularly well suited. Ruth, pardon me,
dear, has imbibed some very peculiar and high-flown notions. No merely
commonplace young man would make her happy. A man must have some ideas
outside of what his daily life brings him, if she is to spend a moment’s
interested thought on him. She has repelled some of the most eligible
advances for no obvious reasons whatever. Now, she does not care a rap
for society, and goes only because I exact it. That is no condition
for a young girl to allow herself to sink into; she owes a duty to
her future. I am telling you this because, of course, you see nothing
peculiar in such a course. But it is time you were roused; you know
one look from you is worth a whole sermon from me. As to my thinking of
Louis, well, in running over my list of eligibles, I found he fulfilled
every condition,--good-looking, clever, cultivated, well-to-do, and--of
good family. Why should it not be? They like each other, and see enough
of each other to learn to love. We, however, must bring it to a head.”

“First provide the hearts, little woman. What can I do, ask Louis or
Ruth?”

“Jules,” she returned with vexation, “how childish! Don’t you feel well?
Your cheeks are rather flushed.”

“They are somewhat warm. I am going in to kiss the child good-night; she
ran off while I saw Dr. Kemp out.”

Ruth sat in her white dressing-gown, her heavy dark hair about her,
her brush idle in her hand. Her father stood silently in the doorway,
regarding her, a great dread tugging at his heart. Jules Levice was a
keen student of the human face, and he had caught a faint glimpse of
something in the doctor’s eyes while Ruth sang. He knew it had been
harmless, for her back had been turned, but he wished to reassure
himself.

“Not in bed yet, my child?”

She started up in confusion as he came in.

“Of what were you thinking, darling?” he continued, putting his hand
under her soft white chin and looking deeply into her eyes.

“Well,” she answered slowly, “I was not thinking of anything important;
I was thinking of you. We are going to Beacham’s next week--and have you
any fine silk shirts?”

He laughed a hearty, relieved laugh.

“Well, no,” he answered; “I leave all such fancies to your care. So we
go next week. I am glad; and you?”

“I? Oh, I love the country in its summer dress, you know.”

“Yes. Well, good-night, love.” He took her face between his hands, and
drawing it down to his, kissed it. Still holding her, he said with sweet
solemnity,--

“‘The Lord bless thee and keep thee.

“‘The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee.

“‘The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.’”



Chapter XIII

It was August. The Levices had purposely postponed leaving town until
the gay, merry-making crowds had disappeared, when Mrs. Levice, in the
quiet autumn, could put a crown to her recovery.

Ruth had quite a busy time getting all three ready, as she was to
continue the management of the household affairs until their return, a
month later. Besides which, numerous little private incidentals had to
be put in running order for a month, and she realized with a pang at
parting with some of her simple, sincere proteges that were this part of
her life withdrawn, the rest would pall insufferably.

The evening before their departure she stood bareheaded upon the steps
of the veranda with Louis, who was enjoying a post-prandial smoke.
Mr. and Mrs. Levice, in the soft golden gloaming of late summer,
were strolling arm-in-arm among the flower-beds. Mrs. Levice, without
obviously looking toward them, felt with satisfaction that Ruth was
looking well in a plain black gown which she had had no time to change
after her late shopping. She did not know that, close and isolated
as the young man and woman stood, not only were they silent, but each
appeared oblivious of the other’s presence.

Ruth, with her hands clasped behind her, and Arnold, blowing wreaths
of blue smoke into the heliotrope-scented air, looked as if under a
dream-spell.

As Mrs. Levice passed within ear-shot, Ruth heard snatches of the broken
sentence,--

“Jennie--good-by--to-day.”

This roused her from her revery, and she called to her mother,--

“Why, I forgot to drop in at Jennie’s this afternoon, as I promised.”

“How annoying! When you know how sensitive she is and how angry she gets
at any neglect.”

“I can run out there now. It is light enough.”

“But it will be dark in less than an hour. Louis, will you go out to
Jennie’s with Ruth?”

“Eh? Oh, certainly, if she wishes me.”

“I wish you to come if you yourself wish it. I’ll run in and get my hat
and jacket while you decide.”

Ruth came back in a few minutes with a jaunty little sailor hat on and a
light gray jacket, which she handed to Louis to hold for her.

“New?” he asked, pulling it into place in the back.

“Yes,” she answered; “do you like it for travelling?”

“Under a duster. Otherwise its delicate complexion will be rather
freckled when you arrive at Beacham’s.”

He pulled his hat on from ease to respectability and followed her
down to the gate. They turned the corner, walking southward toward the
valley. Mrs. Levice and her husband stood at the gate and watched them
saunter off. When they were quite out of sight, Mrs. Levice turned
around and sang gayly to Mr. Levice, “‘Ca va bien!’”

The other two walked on silently. The evening was perfect. To the west
and sweeping toward Golden Gate a hazy glory flushed the sky rose-color
and molten gold, purple and silver; and then seas of glinting pale green
to the northward held the eye with their beauty. The air was soft and
languorous after a very warm day; now and then a piano, violin, or
mandolin sounded through open windows; the peace and beauty of rest was
over all.

They continued down Van Ness Avenue a few blocks, and unconsciously
turned into one of the dividing streets toward Franklin. Suddenly Arnold
felt his companion start, and saw she had taken her far-off gaze from
the landscape. Following the direction of her eyes, he also straightened
up. The disturbing object was a slight black column attached to a garden
fence and bearing in small gold letters the simple name, Dr. Herbert
Kemp.

As they approached nearer, Arnold knew of a certainty that there would
be more speaking signs of the doctor’s propinquity. His forecasting was
not at fault.

Dr. Kemp’s quaint, dark-red cottage, with its flower-edged lawn, was
reached by a flight of low granite steps, at the top of which lounged
the medical gentleman in person. He was not heaven-gazing, but seemed
plunged in tobacco-inspired meditation of the flowers beneath him.
Arnold’s quick eye detected the pink flush that rose to the little ear
of his cousin. The sound of their footsteps on the stone sidewalk
came faintly to Kemp; he raised his eyes slowly and indifferently. The
indifference vanished when he recognized them.

With a hasty movement he threw the cigar from him and ran down the
steps.

“Good-evening,” he called, raising his old slouch hat and arresting
their evident intention of proceeding on their way. They came up,
perforce, and met him at the foot of the steps.

“A beautiful evening,” he said originally, holding out a cordial hand to
Arnold and looking with happy eyes at Ruth. She noticed that there was a
marked difference in his appearance from anything she had been used
to. His figure looked particularly tall and easy in a loose dark velvet
jacket, thrown open from his broad chest; the large sombrero-like hat
which had settled on the back of his head left to view his dark hair
brushed carelessly backward; an unusual color was on his cheek, and a
warm glow in his gray eyes.

“I hope,” he went on, frankly transferring his attention to Ruth, “this
weather will continue. We shall have a magnificent autumn; the woods
must be beginning to look gorgeous.”

“I shall know better to-morrow.”

“To-morrow?”

“Yes; we leave for Beacham’s to-morrow, you know.”

“No, I did not know;” an indefinable shadow over-clouded his face, but
he said quickly,--

“That is an old hunting-ground of mine. The river teems with speckled
treasures. Are you a disciple of old Walton, Mr. Arnold?” he added,
turning with courtesy to the silent Frenchman.

“You mean fishing? No; life is too short to hang my humor of a whole day
on the end of a line. I have never been at Beacham’s.”

“It is a fine spot. You will probably go down there this year.”

“My business keeps me tied to the city just at present. A professional
man has no such bond; his will is his master.”

“Hardly, or I should have slipped cables long ago. A restful night is an
unknown indulgence sometimes for weeks.”

His gaze moved from Arnold’s peachy cheek, and falling upon Ruth,
surprised her dark eyes resting upon him in anxious questioning. He
smiled.

“We shall have to be moving on,” she said, holding out a gloved hand.

“Will you be gone long?” he asked, pressing it cordially.

“About a month.”

“You will be missed--by the Flynns. Good-by.” He raised his hat as he
looked at her.

Arnold drew her arm within his, and they walked off.

They say that the first thing a Frenchman learns in studying the English
language is the use of that highly expressive outlet of emotion, “Damn.”
 Arnold was an old-timer, but he had not outgrown the charm of his first
linguistic victory; and now as he replaced his hat in reply to Kemp, he
distinctly though coolly said, “Damn him.”

Ruth looked at him, startled; but the composed, non-committal expression
of his face led her to believe that her ears had deceived her.

A few more blocks were passed, and they stopped at a pretentious,
many-windowed, Queen Anne house. Ruth ran lightly up the steps, her
cousin following her leisurely.

She had scarcely rung the bell when the door was opened by Mrs. Lewis
herself.

“Good-evening, Ruth; why, Mr. Arnold doesn’t mean to say that he does us
the honor?”

Mr. Arnold had said nothing of the kind; but he offered no disclaimer,
and giving her rather a loose hand-shake, walked in.

“Come right into the dining-room,” she continued. “I suppose you were
surprised to find me in the hall; I had just come from putting the
children to bed. They were in mischievous spirits and annoyed their
father, who wished to be very quiet this evening.”

By this time they had reached the room at the end of the hall, the door
of which she threw open.

Jewish people, as a rule, use their dining-rooms to sit in, keeping the
drawing-rooms for company only. This is always presupposing that they
have no extra sitting-room. After all, a dining-room is not a bad place
for the family gathering, having a large table as an objective plane for
a round game, which also serves as a support for reading matter; while
from an economical point of view it preserves the drawing-rooms in
reception stiffness and ceremonious newness.

The apartment they entered was large and square, and contained the
regulation chairs, table, and silver and crystal loaded sideboard.

Upon the mantel-piece, the unflickering light from a waxen taper burning
in a glass of oil lent an unusual air of Sabbath quiet to the room.

“I have ‘Yahrzeit’ for my mother,” explained Jo Lewis, glancing toward
the taper after greeting his visitors. He sat down quietly again.

“Do you always burn the light?” asked Arnold.

“Always. A light once a year to a mother’s memory is not much to ask of
a son.”

“How long is it since you lost your mother?” questioned Ruth, gently.

Jo Lewis was a man with whom she had little in common. To her he
seemed to have but one idea,--the amassing of wealth. With her more
intellectual cravings, the continual striving for this, to the exclusion
of all higher aspirations, put him on a plane too narrow for her
footing. Unpolished he certainly was, but the rough, exposed grain of
his unhewn nature showed many strata of strength and virility. In this
gentle mood a tenderness had come into view that drew her to him with a
touch of kinship.

“Thirty years,” he answered musingly,--“thirty years. It is a long time,
Ruth; but every year when I light the taper it seems as if but yesterday
I was a boy crying because my mother had gone away forever.” The strong
man wiped his eyes.

“The little light casts a long ray,” observed Ruth. “Love builds its
own lighthouse, and by its gleaming we travel back as at a leap to that
which seemed eternally lost.”

Jo Lewis sighed. Presently the thoughts that so strongly possessed him
found an outlet.

“There was a woman for you!” he cried with glowing eyes. “Why, Arnold,
you talk of men being great financiers; I wonder what you would have
said to the powers my mother showed. We were poor, but poor to a degree
of which you can know nothing. Well, with a large family of small
children she struggled on alone and managed to keep us not only alive,
but clean and respectable. In our village Sara Lewis was a name that
every man and woman honored as if it belonged to a princess. Jennie is
a good woman, but life is made easy for her. I often think how grand my
mother would feel if she were here, and I were able to give her every
comfort. God knows how proud and happy I would have been to say, ‘You
have struggled enough, Mother; life is going to be a heaven on earth to
you now.’ Well, well, what is the good of thinking of it? To-morrow
I shall go down town and deal with men, not memories; it is more
profitable.”

“Not always,” said Arnold, dryly. The two men drifted into a business
discussion that neither Mrs. Lewis nor Ruth cared to follow.

“Are you quite ready?” asked Mrs. Lewis, drawing her chair closer to
Ruth’s.

“Entirely,” she replied; “we start on the 8.30 train in the morning.”

“You will be gone a month, will you not?”

“Yes; we wish to get back for the holidays. New Year’s falls on the 12th
of September, and we must give the house its usual holiday cleaning.”

“I have begun already. Somehow I never thought you would mind being
away.”

“Why, we always go to the Temple, you know; and I would not miss the
Atonement services for a great deal.”

“Why don’t you say ‘Yom Kippur,’ as everybody else does?”

“Because ‘Atonement’ is English and means something to me. Is there
anything odd about that?”

“I suppose not. By the way, if there is anything you would like to have
done while you are away, let me know.”

“I think I have seen to everything. You might run in and see Louis now
and then.”

“Louis,” Mrs. Lewis called instantly, “be sure to come in often for
dinner while the folks are gone.”

“Thank you; I shall. The last dinner I ate with you was delicious enough
to do away with any verbal invitation to another.”

He arose, seeing Ruth had risen and was kissing her cousins good-by.

Mrs. Lewis beamed with pleasure at his words.

“Now, won’t you take something before you go?” she asked. “Ruth, I have
the loveliest cakes.”

“Oh, Jennie,” remonstrated Ruth, as her cousin bustled off, “we have
just dined.”

“Let her enjoy herself,” observed Louis; “she is never so happy as when
she is feeding somebody.”

The clink of glasses was soon heard, and Mrs. Lewis’s rosy face appeared
behind a tray with tiny glasses and a plate of rich, brown-looking
little cakes.

“Jo, get the Kirsch. You must try one, Ruth; I made them myself.”

When they had complimented her on her cakes and Louis had drunk to his
next undertaking, suggested by Jo Lewis, the visitors departed.

They had been walking in almost total silence for a number of blocks,
when Ruth turned suddenly to him and said with great earnestness,--

“Louis, what is the matter with you? For the last few days you have
hardly spoken to me. Have I done anything to annoy you?”

“You? Why, no, not that I remember.”

“Then, please, before we go off, be friendly with me again.”

“I am afraid I am not of a very hilarious temperament.”

“Still, you manage to talk to others.”

“Have you cared very much who talked to you lately?”

Her cheek changed color in the starlight.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Anything or nothing.”

Ruth looked at him haughtily.

“If nothing,” he continued, observing her askance from lowered lids,
“what I am about to say will be harmless. If anything, I still hope you
will find it pardonable.”

“What are you about to say?”

“It won’t take long. Will you be my wife?”

And the stars still shone up in heaven!

Her face turned white as a Niphetos rose.

“Louis,” she said finally and speaking with difficulty, “why do you ask
me this?”

“Why does any man ask a woman to be his wife?”

“Generally because he loves her.”

“Well?”

If he had spoken outright, she might have answered him; but the simple
monosyllable, implying a world of restrained avowal, confronted her like
a wall, before which she stood silent.

“Answer me, Ruth.”

“If you mean it, Louis, I am very, very sorry.”

“Why?”

“Because I can never be your wife.”

“Why not?”

“I do not love you--like that.”

Silence for half a block, the man’s lips pressed hard together under
his mustache, the girl’s heart beating suffocatingly. When he spoke, his
voice sounded oddly clear in the hushed night air.

“What do you mean by ‘like that’?”

Her little hand was clinched tight as it lay on his arm. The perfect
silence that followed the words of each made every movement significant.

“You know,--as a woman loves the man she would marry, not as she loves a
brotherly cousin.”

“The difference is not clear to me--but--how did you learn the
difference?”

“How dare you?” she cried, flashing a pair of dark, wet eyes upon him.

“In such a case, ‘I dare do all that may become a man.’ Besides, even
if there is a difference, I still ask you to be my wife. You would not
regret it, Ruth, I think.”

His voice was not soft, but there was a certain strained pleading about
it that pained her inexpressibly.

“Louis,” she said, with slow distinctness, her hand moving down until
it touched his, “I never thought of this as a possibility. You know how
much I have always loved you, dear; but oh, Louis, will it hurt you very
much, will you forgive me if I have to say no, I cannot be your wife?”

“Wait. I wish you to consider this well. I am offering you all that I
have in the world; it is not despicable. Your family, I know, would be
pleased. Besides, it would be well for you--God knows, not because I am
what I am, but for other reasons. Wait. I beg of you not to answer me
till you have thought it over. You know me; I am no saint, but a man who
would give his life for you. I ask of you nothing but the right to guard
yours. Do not answer me now.”

They had turned the corner of their block.

“I need no time,” said Ruth, with a sad sob in her voice; “I cannot
marry you, Louis. My answer would be the same to-morrow or at the end of
all time,--I can never, never be your wife.”

“It is then as I feared,--anything.”

The girl’s bowed head was the only answer to his bitter words.

“Well,” he said, with a hard laugh, “that ends it, then. Don’t let it
bother you. Your answer has put it entirely from my mind. I should be
pleased if you would forget it as readily as I shall. I hardly think
we shall meet in the morning. I am going down to the club now. Good-by;
enjoy yourself.”

He held out his hand carelessly; Ruth carried it in both hers to her
lips. Being at the gate, he lifted his hat with a smile and walked away.
Ruth did not smile; neither did Arnold when he had turned from her.



Chapter XIV

Beacham’s lies in a dimple of the inner coast range, and is reached
nowadays through one of the finest pieces of engineering skill in the
State. The tortuous route through the mountains, over trestle-bridges
that span what seem, from the car-windows, like bottomless chasms,
needs must hold some compensation at the end to counterbalance the fears
engendered on the way. The higher one goes the more beautiful becomes
the scenery among the wild, marvellous redwoods that stand like mammoth
guides pointing heavenward; and Beacham’s realizes expectation.

It is a quiet little place, with its one hotel and two attached
cottages, its old, disused saw-mill, its tiny schoolhouse beyond the
fairy-like woods, its one general merchandise store, where cheese
and calico, hats and hoes, ham and hominy, are forthcoming upon
solicitation. It is by no means a fashionable resort; the Levices had
searched for something as unlike the Del Monte and Coronado as milk is
unlike champagne. They were looking for a pretty, healthful spot, with
good accommodations and few social attractions, and Beacham’s offered
this.

They were not disappointed. Ruth’s anticipation was fulfilled when she
saw the river. Russian River is about as pretty a stream as one can view
upon a summer’s day. Here at Beacham’s it is very narrow and shallow,
with low, shelving beaches on either bank; but in the tiny row-boat
which she immediately secured, Ruth pushed her way into enchantment. The
river winds in and out through exquisite coves entangled in a wilderness
of brambles and lace-like ferns that are almost transparent as they
bend and dip toward the silvery waters; while, climbing over the rocky
cliffs, run bracken and the fragrant yerba-buena, till, on high, they
creep as if in awe about the great redwoods and pines of the forest.

Morning and night Ruth, in her little boat, wooed the lisping waters.
Often of a morning her mother was her companion; later on, her father or
little Ethel Tyrrell; in the evening one of the Tyrrell boys, generally
Will, was her gallant chevalier. But it was always Ruth who rowed,--Ruth
in her pretty sailor blouses, with her strong round arms and steadily
browning hands; Ruth, whose creamy face and neck remained provokingly
unreddened, and took on only a little deeper tint, as if a dash
of bistre had been softly applied. It was pleasant enough rowing
down-stream with Ruth; she always knew when to sing “Nancy Lee,” and
when “White Wings” sounded prettiest. There were numerous coves
too, where she loved to beach her boat,--here to fill a flask with
honey-sweet water from a rollicking little spring that came merrily
dashing over the rocks, here to gather some delicate ferns or
maiden-hair with which to decorate the table, or the trailing
yerba-buena for festooning the boat. But Ethel Tyrrell, aged three,
thought they had the “dolliest” time when she and Ruth, having rowed a
space out of sight, jumped out, and taking off their shoes and stockings
and making other necessary preliminaries to wading, pattered along
over the pebbly bottom, screaming when a sharp stone came against their
tender feet, and laughing gleefully when the water rose a little higher
than they had bargained for; then, when quite tired, they would retire
to the beach or the boat and dry themselves with the soft damask of the
sun.

Ruth was happy. There were moments when the remembrance of her
last meeting with Louis came like a summer cloud over the ineffable
brightness of her sky, and she felt a sharp pang at her heart; still,
she thought, it was different with Louis. His feeling for her could not
be so strong as to make him suffer poignantly over her refusal. She
was almost convinced that he had asked her more from a whim of
good-fellowship, a sudden desire, perhaps a preference for her close
companionship when he did marry, than from any deeper emotion. In
consequence of these reflections her musings were not so sad as they
might otherwise have been.

Her parents laughed to see how she revelled in the freedom of the
old-fashioned little spot, which, though on the river, was decidedly
“out of the swim.” It was late in the season, and there were few guests
at the hotel. The Levices occupied one of the cottages, the other being
used by a pair of belated turtle-doves,--the wife a blushing dot of a
woman, the husband an overgrown youth who bent over her in their walks
like a devoted weeping-willow; there was a young man with a consumptive
cough, a natty little stenographer off on a solitary vacation, and the
golden-haired Tyrrell family, little and big, for Papa Tyrrell could
not enjoy his hard-earned rest without one and all. They were such a
refined, happy, sweet family, for all their pinched circumstances, that
the Levices were attracted to them at once. To be with Mrs. Tyrrell
one whole day, Mrs. Levice said was a liberal education,--so bright, so
uncomplaining, so ambitious for her children was she, and such a help
and inspiration to her hard-worked husband. Mr. Levice tramped about
the woods with Tyrrell and brier-wood pipes, and appreciated the moral
bravery of a man who struggled on with a happy face and small hope for
any earthly rest. But the children!--Floy with her dreamy face and busy
sketch-book, Will with his halo of golden hair, his manly figure and
broad, open ambitions, Boss with his busy step and fishing-tackle, and
baby Ethel, the wee darling, who ran after Ruth the first time she saw
her and begged her to come and play with her; ever since, she formed
a part of the drapery of Ruth’s skirt or a rather cumbersome necklace
about her neck. Every girl who has been debarred the blessing of babies
in the house loves them promiscuously and passionately. Ruth was no
exception; it amused the ladies to watch her cuddle the child and wonder
aloud at all her baby-talk.

Will was her next favorite satellite. A young girl with a winsome,
sympathetic face, and hearty manner, can easily become the confidante of
a fine fellow of fourteen. Will, with his arm tucked through hers, would
saunter around after dusk and tell her all his ambitions.

The soft, starry evenings up in the mountains, where heaven seems so
near, are just the time for such talk.

They were walking thus one evening toward the river, Ruth in a creamy
gown and with a white burnous thrown over her head, Will holding his hat
in his hand and letting the sweet air play through his hair, as he loved
to do.

“What do you think are the greatest professions, Miss Ruth?” asked the
boy suddenly.

“Well, law is one--” she began.

“That’s the way Papa begins,” he interrupted impatiently; “but I’ll tell
you what I think is the greatest. Guess, now.”

“The ministry?” she ventured.

“Oh, of course; but I’m not good enough for that,--that takes
exceptions. Guess again.”

“Well, there are the fine arts, or soldiery,--that is it. You would be a
brave soldier, Willikins, my man.”

“No, sir,” he replied, flinging back his head; “I don’t want to take
lives; I want to save them.”

“You mean a physician, Will?”

“That’s it--but not exactly--I mean a surgeon. Don’t you think that
takes bravery? And it’s a long sight better than being a soldier; he
draws blood to kill, we do it to save. What do you think, Miss Ruth?”

“Indeed, you are right,” she answered dreamily, her thoughts wandering
beyond the river. So they walked along; and as they were about to
descent the slope, a man in overalls and carrying a leather bag came
suddenly upon them in the gloaming. He stood stock-still, his mouth
gaping wide.

When Ruth saw it was Ben, the steward, she laughed.

“Why, Ben!” she exclaimed.

The man’s mouth slowly closed, and his hand went up to his cap.

“Begging your pardon, Miss,--I mean Her pardon,--the Lord forgive me, I
took you for the Lady Madonna and the blessed Boy with the shining hair.
Now, don’t be telling of me, will you?”

“Indeed, we won’t; we’ll keep the pretty compliment to ourselves. Have
you the mail? I wonder if there is a letter for me.”

Ben immediately drew out his little pack, and handed her two. It was
still light enough to read; and as Ben moved on, she stood and opened
them.

“This,” she announced in a matter-of-course way, “is from Miss Dorothy
Gwynne, who requests the pleasure of my company at a high-tea next
Saturday. That, or the hay-ride, Will? And this--this--”

It was a simple envelope addressed to

                Miss RUTH LEVICE--
                   Beacham’s--
                 ... County--
                         Cal.

It was the sight of the dashes that caused the hiatus in her sentence,
and made her heart give one great rushing bound. The enclosure was to
the point.


SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 18, 188--.

MISS RUTH LEVICE:

MY DEAR FRIEND,--That you may not denounce me as too presumptuous, I
shall at once explain that I am writing this at Bob’s urgent desire. He
has at length got the position at the florist’s, and tells me to tell
you that he is now happy. I dropped in there last night; and when he
gave me this message, I told him that I feared you would take it as an
advertisement. He merely smiled, picked up a Marechal Niel that lay on
the counter, and said, “Drop this in. It’s my mark; she’ll understand.”
 So here are Bob’s rose and my apology.

HERBERT KEMP.

She was pale when she turned round to the courteously waiting boy. It
was a very cold note, and she put it in her pocket to keep it warm. The
rose she showed to Will, and told him the story of the sender.

“Didn’t I tell you,” he cried, when she had finished, “a doctor has the
greatest opportunity in the world to be great--and a surgeon comes near
it? I say, Miss Ruth, your Dr. Kemp must be a brick. Isn’t he?”

“Boys would call him so,” she answered, shivering slightly.

It was so like him, she thought, to fulfil Bob’s request in his hearty,
friendly way; she supposed he wanted her to understand that he wrote to
her only as Bob’s amanuensis,--it was plain enough. And yet, and
yet, she thought passionately, it would have been no more than common
etiquette to send a friendly word from himself to her mother. Still the
note was not thrown away. Girls are so irrational; if they cannot have
the hand-shake, they will content themselves with a sight of the glove.

And Ruth in the warm, throbbing, summer days was happy. She was not
always active; there were long afternoons when mere existence was
intensely beautiful. To lie at full length upon the soft turf in the
depths of the small enchanted woods, and hear and feel the countless
spells of Nature, was unspeakable rapture.

“Ah, Floy,” she cried one afternoon, as she lay with her face turned up
to the great green boughs that seemed pencilled against the azure sky,
“if one could paint what one feels! Look at these silent, living trees
that stand in all their grandeur under some mighty spell; see how the
wonderful heaven steals through the leaves and throws its blue softness
upon the twilight gloom; here at our feet nestle the soft, green ferns,
and over all is the indescribable fragrance of the redwoods. Turn there,
to your right, little artist, high up on that mountain; can you see
through the shimmering haze a great team moving as if through the air?
It is like the vision of the Bethshemites in Dore’s mystic work, when in
the valley they lifted up their eyes and beheld the ark returning. Oh,
Floy, it is not Nature; it is God. And who can paint God?”

“No one. If one could paint Him, He would no longer be great,” answered
the girl, resting her sober eyes upon Ruth’s enraptured countenance.

One afternoon Ruth took a book and Ethel over the tramway to this fairy
spot. It was very warm and still. Mrs. Levice had swung herself to sleep
in the hammock, and Mr. Levice was dozing and talking in snatches to the
Tyrrells, who were likewise resting on the Levices’ veranda. All Nature
was drowsy, as Ruth wandered off with the little one, who chattered on
as was her wont.

“Me and you’s yunnin’ away,” she chatted; “we’s goin’ to a fowest, and
by and by two ‘ittle birdies will cover us up wid leaves. My! Won’t my
mamma be sorry? No darlin’ ‘ittle Ethel to pank and tiss no more. Poor
Mamma!”

“Does Ethel think Mamma likes to spank her?”

“Yes; Mamma does des what she likes.”

“But it is only when Ethel is naughty that Mamma spanks her. Here,
sweetheart, let me tie your sunbonnet tighter. Now Ruth is going to lie
here and read, and you can play hide-and-seek all about these trees.”

“Can I go wound and sit on dat log by a bwook?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, I’s afwaid. I’s dweffully afwaid.”

“Why, you can turn round and talk to me all the time.”

“But nobody’ll be sitting by me at all.”

“I am here just where you can see me; besides, God will be right next to
you.”

“Will He? Ven all yight.”

Ruth took off her hat and prepared to enjoy herself. As her head touched
the green earth, she saw the little maiden seat herself on the log, and
turning her face sideways, say in her pleasant, piping voice,--

“How-de-do, Dod?” And having made her acknowledgments, all her fears
vanished.

Ruth laughed softly to herself, and straightway began to read. The
afternoon burned itself away. Ethel played and sang and danced about
her, quite oblivious of the heat, till, tired out, she threw herself
into Ruth’s arms.

“Sing by-low now,” she demanded sleepily; “pay it’s night, and you and
me’s in a yockin’-chair goin’ to by-low land.”

Ruth realized that the child was weary, and drawing her little head to
her bosom, threw off the huge sunbonnet and ruffled up the damp, golden
locks.

“What shall I sing, darling?” she mused: she was unused to singing
babies to sleep. Suddenly a little kindergarten melody she had heard
came to her, and she sang softly in her rich, tender contralto the
swinging cradle-song:--

                “In a cradle, on the treetop,
                        Sleeps a tiny bird;
                Sweeter sound than mother’s chirping
                        Never yet was heard.
                See, the green leaves spread like curtains
                        Round the tiny bed,
                While the mother’s wings, outstretching,
                        Shield--the--tiny--head?”

As her voice died slowly into silence, she found Ethel looking over her
shoulder and nodding her head.

“No; I won’t tell,” she said loudly.

“Tell what?” asked Ruth, amused.

“Hush! He put his finger on his mouf--sh!”

“Who?” asked Ruth, turning her head hurriedly. Not being able to see
through the tree, she started to her feet, still holding the child.
Between two trees stood the stalwart figure of Dr. Kemp,--Dr. Kemp in
loose, light gray tweeds and white flannel shirt; on the back of his
head was a small, soft felt hat, which he lifted as she turned,--a wave
of color springing to his cheek with the action. As for Ruth,--a woman’s
face dare not speak sometimes.

“Did I startle you?” he asked, coming slowly forward, hat in hand, the
golden shafts of the sun falling upon his head and figure.

“Yes,” she answered, trying to speak calmly, and failing, dropped into
silence.

She made no movement toward him, but let the child glide softly down
till she stood at her side.

“I interrupted you,” he continued; “will you shake hands with me,
nevertheless?”

She put her hand in his proffered one, which lingered in the touch; and
then, without looking at her, he stooped and spoke to the child. In that
moment she had time to compose herself.

“Do you often come up this way?” she questioned.

He turned from the child, straightened himself, and leaning one arm
against the tree, answered,--

“Once or twice every summer I run away from humanity for a few days,
and generally find myself in this part of the country. This is one of my
select spots. I knew you would ferret it out.”

“It is very lovely here. But we are going home now; the afternoon is
growing old. Come, Ethel.”

A shadow fell upon his dark eyes as she spoke, scarcely looking at him.
Why should she hurry off at his coming?

“I am sorry my presence disturbs you,” he said quietly; “But I can
easily go away again.”

“Was I so rude?” she asked, looking up with a sudden smile. “I did not
mean it so; but Ethel’s mother will want her now.”

“Ethel wants to be carried,” begged the child.

“All right; Ruth will carry you,” and she stooped to raise her; but as
she did so, Kemp’s strong hand was laid upon her arm and held her back.

“Ethel will ride home on my shoulder,” he said in the gay, winning voice
he knew how so well to use with children. The baby’s blue eyes smiled in
response to his as he swing her lightly to his broad shoulder. There
is nothing prettier to a woman than to see the confidence that a little
child reposes in a strong man.

So through the mellow, golden sunlight they strolled slowly homeward.



Chapter XV

Mr. Levice, sauntering down the garden-path, saw the trio approaching.
For a moment he did not recognize the gentleman in his summer attire.
When he did, surprise, then pleasure, then a spirit of inquietude,
took possession of him. He had been unexpectedly startled on Ruth’s
birthnight by a vague something in Kemp’s eyes. The feeling, however,
had vanished gradually in the knowledge that the doctor always had
a peculiarly intent gaze, and, moreover, no one could have helped
appreciating her loveliness that night. This, of itself, will bring
a softness into a man’s manner; and without doubt his fears had been
groundless,--fears that he had not dared to put into words. For old man
as he was, he realized that Dr. Kemp’s strong personality was such as
would prove dangerously seductive to any woman whom he cared to honor
with his favor; but with a “Get thee behind me, Satan” desire, he
had put the question from him. He could have taken his oath on Ruth’s
heart-wholeness, yet now, as he recognized her companion, his misgivings
returned threefold. The courteous gentleman, however, was at his ease as
they came up.

“This is a surprise, Doctor,” he exclaimed cordially, opening the gate
and extending his hand. “Who would have thought of meeting you here?”

Kemp grasped his hand heartily.

“I am a sort of surprise-party,” he answered, swinging Ethel to the
ground and watching her scamper off to the hotel; “and what is more,” he
continued, turning to him, “I have not brought a hamper, which makes one
of me.”

“You calculate without your host,” responded Levice; “this is a
veritable land of milk and honey. Come up and listen to my wife
rhapsodize.”

“How is she?” he asked, turning with him and catching a glimpse of
Ruth’s vanishing figure.

“Feeling quite well,” replied Levice; “she is all impatience now for a
delirious winter season.”

“I thought so,” laughed the doctor; “but if you take my advice, you will
draw the bit slightly.”

Mrs. Levice was delighted to see him; she said it was like the sight of
a cable-car in a desert. He protested at such a stupendous comparison,
and insisted that she make clear that the dummy was not included. The
short afternoon glided into evening, and Dr. Kemp went over to the hotel
and dined at the Levices’ table.

Ruth, in a white wool gown, sat opposite him. It was the first time
he had dined with them; and he enjoyed a singular feeling over the
situation. He noticed that although Mrs. Levice kept up an almost
incessant flow of talk, she ate a hearty meal, and that Ruth, who was
unusually quiet, tasted scarcely anything. Her father also observed it,
and resolved upon a course of strict surveillance. He was glad to hear
that the doctor had to leave on the early morning’s train, though, of
course, he did not say so. As they strolled about afterward, he managed
to keep his daughter with him and allowed Kemp to appropriate his wife.

They finally drifted to the cottage-steps, and were enjoying the beauty
of the night when Will Tyrrell presented himself before them.

“Good-evening,” he said, taking off his hat as he stood at the foot of
the steps. “Mr. Levice, Father says he has at last scared up two other
gentlemen; and will you please come over and play a rubber of whist?”

Mr. Levice felt himself a victim of circumstances. He and Mr. Tyrrell
had been looking for a couple of opponents, and had almost given up the
search. Now, when he decidedly objected to moving, it would have been
heartless not to go.

“Don’t consider me,” said the doctor, observing his hesitancy. “If it
ill relieve you, I assure you I shall not miss you in the least.”

“Go right ahead, Jules” urged his wife; “Ruth and I will take care of
the doctor.”

If she had promised to take care of Ruth, it would have been more to
his mind; but since his wife was there, what harm could accrue that his
presence would prevent? So with a sincere apology he went over to the
hotel.

He hardly appreciated what an admirable aide he had left behind him in
his wife.

Kemp sat upon the top step, and leaned his back against the railing;
although outwardly he kept up a constant low run of conversation with
Mrs. Levice, who swayed to and fro in her rocker, he was intently
conscious of Ruth’s white figure perched on the window-sill.

How Mrs. Levice happened to broach the subject, Ruth never knew; but she
was rather startled when she perceived that Kemp was addressing her.

“I should like to show my prowess to you, Miss Levice.”

“In what?” she asked, somewhat dazed.

“Ruth, Ruth,” laughed her mother, “do you mean to say you have not heard
a word of all my glowing compliments on your rowing?”

“And I was telling your mother that in all modesty I was considered a
fine oar at my Alma Mater.”

“And I hazarded the suggestion,” added Mrs. Levice, “that as it is such
a beautiful night, there is nothing to prevent your taking a little row,
and then each can judge of the other’s claim to superiority?”

“My claim has never been justly established,” said Ruth. “I have never
allowed any one to usurp my oars.”

“As yet,” corrected Kemp. “Then will you wrap something about you and
come down to the river?”

“Certainly she will,” answered her mother; “run in and get some wraps,
Ruth.”

“You will come too, Mamma?”

“Of course; but considering Dr. Kemp’s length, a third in your little
boat will be the proverbial trumpery. Still, I suppose I can rely on you
two crack oarsmen, though you know the slightest tremble in the boat in
the fairest weather is likely to create a squall on my part.”

If Dr. Kemp wished to row, he should row; and since the Jewish Mrs.
Grundy was not on hand, anything harmlessly enjoyable was permissible.

Ruth went indoors. This was certainly something she had not bargained
for. How could her mother be so blind as not to know or feel her desire
to evade Dr. Kemp? She felt a positive contempt for herself that his
presence should affect her as it did; she dared not look at him lest her
heart should flutter to her eyes. Probably the display amused him. What
was she to him anyway but a girl with whom he could flirt in his
idle moments? Well (with a passionate fling of her arms), she would
extinguish her uncontrollable little beater for the nonce; she would
meet and answer every one of his long glances in kind.

She wound a black lace shawl around her head, and with some wraps for
her mother, came out.

“Hadn’t you better put something over your shoulders?” he asked
deferentially as she appeared.

“And disgust the night with lack of appreciation?”

She turned to a corner of the porch and lifted a pair of oars to her
shoulder.

“Why,” he said in surprise, coming toward her, “you keep your oars at
home?”

“On the principle of ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be;’ we find it
saves both time and spleen.”

She held them lightly in place on her shoulder.

“Allow me,” he said, placing his hand upon the oars.

A spirit of contradiction took possession of her.

“Indeed, no,” she answered; “why should I? They are not at all heavy.”

He gently lifted her resisting fingers one by one and raised the broad
bone of contention to his shoulder. Then without a look he turned and
offered his arm to Mrs. Levice.

The crickets chirped in the hedges; now and then a firefly flashed
before them; the trees seemed wrapped in silent awe at the majesty of
the bewildering heavens. As they approached the river, the faint susurra
came to them, mingled with the sound of a guitar and some one singing in
the distance.

“Others are enjoying themselves also,” he remarked as their feet touched
the pebbly beach. A faint crescent moon shone over the water. Ruth went
straight to the little boat aground on the shore.

“It looks like a cockle-shell,” he said, as he put one foot in after
shoving it off. “Will you sit in the stern or the bow, Mrs. Levice?”

“In the bow; I dislike to see dangers before we come to them.”

He helped her carefully to her place; she thanked him laughingly for his
exceptionally strong arm, and he turned to Ruth.

“I was waiting for you to move from my place,” she said in defiant
mischief, standing motionless beside the boat.

“Your place? Ah, yes; now,” he said, holding out his hand to her, “will
you step in?”

She took his hand and stepped in; they were both standing, and as the
little bark swayed he made a movement to catch hold of her.

“You had better sit down,” he said, motioning to the rower’s seat.

“And you?” she asked.

“I shall sit beside you and use the other oar,” he answered
nonchalantly, smiling down at her.

With a half-pleased feeling of discomfiture Ruth seated herself in the
stern, whereupon Kemp sat in the contested throne.

“You will have to excuse my turning my back on you, Mrs. Levice,” he
said pleasantly.

“That is no hindrance to my volubility, I am glad to say; a back is not
very inspiring or expressive, but Ruth can tell me when you look bored
if I wax too discursive.”

It was a tiny boat; and seated thus, Kemp’s knees were not half a foot
from Ruth’s white gown.

“Will you direct me?” he said, as he swept around. “I have not rowed on
this river for two or three years.”

“You can keep straight ahead for some distance,” she said, leaning back
in her seat.

She could not fail to notice the easy motion of his figure as he rowed
lightly down the river. His flannel shirt, low at the throat, showed his
strong white neck rising like a column from his broad shoulders, and
his dark face with the steady gray eyes looked across at her with grave
sweetness. She would have been glad enough to be able to turn from the
short range of vision between them; but the stars and river afforded her
good vantage-ground, and on them she fixed her gaze.

Mrs. Levice was in bright spirits, and seemed striving to outdo
the night in brilliancy. For a while Kemp maintained a sort of
Roland-for-an-Oliver conversation with her; but with his eyes
continually straying to the girl before him, it became rather
difficult. Some merry rowers down the river were singing college songs
harmoniously; and Mrs. Levice soon began to hum with them, her voice
gradually subsiding into a faint murmur. The balmy, summer-freighted
air made her feel drowsy. She listened absently to Ruth’s occasional
warnings to Kemp, and to the swift dip of the oars.

“Now we have clear sailing for a stretch,” said Ruth, as they came to a
broad curve. “Did you think you were going to be capsized when we shot
over that snag, Mamma?”

She leaned a little farther forward, looking past Kemp.

“Mamma!”

Then she straightened herself back in her seat. Kemp, noting the sudden
flush that had rushed to and from her cheek, turned halfway to look at
Mrs. Levice. Her head was leaning against the flag-staff; her eyes were
closed, in the manner of more wary chaperones,--Mrs. Levice slept.

Dr. Kemp moved quietly back to his former position.

Far across the river a woman’s silvery voice was singing the sweet old
love-song, “Juanita;” overhead, the golden crescent moon hung low from
the floor of heaven pulsating with stars; it was a passionate, tender
night, and Ruth, with her face raised to the holy beauty, was a dreamy
part of it. Against the black lace about her head her face shone like
a cameo, her eyes were brown wells of starlight; she scarcely seemed to
breathe, so still she sat, her slender hands loosely clasped in her lap.

Dr. Kemp sat opposite her--and Mrs. Levice slept.

Slowly and more slowly sped the tiny boat; long gentle strokes touched
the water; and presently the oars lay idle in their locks,--they were
unconsciously drifting. The water dipped and lapped about the sides; the
tender woman’s voice across the water stole to them, singing of love;
their eyes met--and Mrs. Levice slept.

Ever, in the after time, when Ruth heard that song, she was again
rocking in the frail row-boat upon the lovely river, and a man’s deep,
grave eyes held hers as if they would never let them go, till under his
worshipping eyes her own filled with slow ecstatic tears.

“Doctor,” called a startled voice, “row out; I am right under the
trees.”

They both started. Mrs. Levice was, without doubt, awake. They had
drifted into a cove, and she was cowering from the over-hanging boughs.

“I do not care to be Absalomed; where were your eyes, Ruth?” she
complained, as Kemp pushed out with a happy, apologetic laugh. “Did not
you see where we were going?”

“No,” she answered a little breathlessly; “I believe I am growing
far-sighted.”

“It must be time to sight home now,” said her mother; “I am quite
chilly.”

In five minutes Kemp had grounded the boat and helped Mrs. Levice out.
When he turned for Ruth, she had already sprung ashore and had started
up the slope; for the first time the oars lay forgotten in the bottom of
the boat.

“Wait for us, Ruth,” called Mrs. Levice, and the slight white figure
stood still till they came up.

“You are so slow,” she said with a reckless little laugh; “I feel as if
I could fly home.”

“Are you light-headed, Ruth?” asked her mother, but the girl had fallen
behind them. She could not yet meet his eyes again.

“Come, Ruth, either stay with us or just ahead of us.” Mrs. Levice,
awake, was an exemplary duenna.

“There is nothing abroad here but the stars,” she answered, flitting
before them.

“And they are stanch, silent friends on such a night,” remarked Kemp,
softly.

She kept before them till they reached the gate, and stood inside of it
as they drew near.

“Then you will not be home till Monday,” he said, taking Mrs. Levice’s
hand and raising his hat; “and I am off on the early morning train.
Good-by.”

As she turned in at the gate, he held out his hand to Ruth. His fingers
closed softly, tightly over hers; she heard him say almost inaudibly,--

“Till Monday.”

She raised her shy eyes for one brief second to his glowing ones; and he
passed, a tall, dark figure, down the shadowy road.

When Mr. Levice returned from his game of whist, he quietly opened the
door of his daughter’s bedroom and looked in. All was well; the wolf had
departed, and his lamb slept safe in the fold.

But in the dark his lamb’s eyes were mysteriously bright. Sleep! With
this new crown upon her! Humble as the beautiful beggar-maid must have
felt when the king raised her, she wondered why she had been thus
chosen by one whom she had deemed so immeasurably above her. And this
is another phase of woman’s love,--that it exalts the beloved beyond all
reasoning.



Chapter XVI

At six o’clock the hills in their soft carpet of dull browns and greens
were gently warming under the sun’s first rays. At seven the early train
that Dr. Kemp purposed taking would leave. Ruth, with this knowledge
at heart, had softly risen and left the cottage. Close behind the depot
rose a wooded hill. She had often climbed it with the Tyrrell boys; and
what was to prevent her doing so now? It afforded an excellent view of
the station.

It was very little past six, and she began leisurely to ascend the hill.
The sweet morning air was in her nostrils, and she pushed the broad
hat form her happy eyes. She paused a moment, looking up at the wooded
hill-top, which the sun was jewelling in silver.

“Do you see something beautiful up there?”

With an inarticulate cry she wheeled around and faced Dr. Kemp within a
hand’s breadth of her.

“Oh,” she cried, stepping back with burning cheeks, “I did not mean--I
did not expect--”

“Nor did I,” he said in a low voice; “chance is kinder to us than
ourselves--beloved.”

She turned quite white at the low, intense word.

“You understood me last night--and I was not--deceived?”

Her head drooped lower till the broad brim of her hat hid her face.

With one quick step he reached her side.

“Ruth, look at me.”

She never had been able to resist his compelling voice; and now with a
swift-drawn breath she threw back her head and looked up at him fairly,
with all her soul in her eyes.

“Are you satisfied?” she asked tremulously.

“Not yet,” he answered as with one movement he drew her to him.

“My Santa Filomena,” he murmured with his lips against her hair, “this
is worth a lifetime of waiting; and I have waited long.”

In his close, passionate clasp her face was hidden; she hardly dared
meet his eyes when he finally held her from him.

“Why, you are not afraid to look at me? No one knows you better than I,
dear; you can trust me, I think.”

“I know,” she said, her hand fluttering in his; “but isn’t--the train
coming?”

“Are you so anxious to have me go?”

Her hand closed tightly around his.

“Because,” laying his bearded cheek against her fair one, “I have
something to ask you.”

“To ask me?”

“Yes; are you surprised, can’t you guess? Ruth, will you bless me still
further? Will you be my wife, love?”

A strange thrill stole over her; his voice had assumed a bewildering
tenderness. “If you really want me,” she replied, with a sobbing laugh.

“Soon?” he persisted.

“Why?”

“Because you must. You will find me a tyrant in love, my Ruth.”

“I am not afraid of you, sir.”

“Then you should be. Think, child, I am an old man, already thirty-five;
did you remember that when you made me king among men?”

“Then I am quite an old lady; I am twenty-two.”

“As ancient as that? Then you should be able to answer me. Make it soon,
sweetheart.”

“Why, how you beg--for a king. Besides, there is Father, you know; he
decides everything for me.”

“I know; and I have already asked him on paper. There is a note awaiting
him at the hotel; you will see I took a great deal for granted last
night, and--Ah, the whistle! What day is this, Ruth?”

“Friday.”

“Good Friday, sweet, I think.”

“Oh, I am not at all superstitious.”

“And Monday is four days off; well, it must make up for all we lose.
Monday will be four days rolled into one.”

“Remember,” he continued hurriedly, “you are doubly precious now,
darling, and take good care of yourself till our ‘Auf Wiedersehn.’”

“And--and--you will remember that for me too, D-doctor?”

“Who? There is no doctor here that I know of.”

“But I know one--Herbert.”

“God bless you for that, dear!” he answered gravely.

Mr. Levice, sleepily turning on his pillow, heard the whistle of the
out-going train with benignant satisfaction. It was taking Dr. Kemp
where he belonged,--to his busy practice,--and leaving his child’s peace
undisturbed. Confound the man, anyway! he mused; what had possessed him
to drop down upon them in that manner and rob Ruth of her appetite and
happy talk? No doubt she had been flattered by the interest he had shown
in her; but he was too old and too dignified a gentleman to resort
to flirtation, and anything deeper was out of the question. He must
certainly have a little plain talk with the child this morning, and,
well, he could cry “Ebenezer!” on his departure. With this conclusion,
he softly rose, taking care not to disturb his placidly sleeping wife,
who never dreamed of waking till nine.

Ruth generally waited for him for breakfast, but not seeing her around,
he went in and took a solitary meal. Sauntering out afterward toward the
hotel porch, his hat on, his stick under his are, and busily lighting a
cigar, he was met at the door of the billiard-room by one of the clerks.

“Dr. Kemp left this for you this morning,” said he, holding out a small
envelope. A flush rose to the old gentleman’s sallow cheek as he took
it.

“Thank you,” he said; “I believe I shall come in here for a few
minutes.”

He passed by the clerk and seated himself in a deep, cane-bottomed chair
near the window. He fumbled for the cord of his glasses in a slightly
nervous manner, and adjusted them hastily. The missive was addressed to
him, certainly; and with no little wonder he tore it open and read:--


BEACHAM’S Friday morning.

MR. LEVICE:

MY DEAR SIR,--Pardon the hurried nature of this communication, but I
must leave shortly on the in-coming train, having an important operation
to undertake this morning; otherwise I should have liked to prepare you
more fully, but time presses. Simply, then, I love your daughter. I told
her so last night upon the river, and she has made me the proudest and
happiest of men by returning my love. I am well aware what I am asking
of you when I ask her of you to be my wife. You know me personally; you
know my financial standing; I trust to you to remember my failings with
mercy in the knowledge of our great love. Till Monday night, then, I
leave her and my happiness to your consideration and love.


With the greatest respect,

Yours Sincerely,

HERBERT KEMP.


“My God!”

The clerk standing near him in the doorway turned hurriedly.

“Any trouble?” he asked, moving toward him and noticing the ashy pallor
of his face.

The old man’s hand closed spasmodically over the paper.

“Nothing,” he managed to answer, waving the man away; “don’t notice me.”

The clerk, seeing his presence was undesirable, took up his position in
the doorway again.

Levice sat on. No further sound broke from him; he had clinched his
teeth hard. It had come to this, then. She loved him; it was too late.
If the man’s heart alone were concerned, it would have been an easy
matter; but hers, Ruth’s. God! If she really loved, her father knew
only too well how she would love. Was the man crazy? Had he entirely
forgotten the gulf that lay between them? Great drops of perspiration
rose to his forehead. Two ideas held him in a desperate struggle,--his
child’s happiness; the prejudice of a lifetime. Something conquered
finally, and he arose quietly and walked slowly off.

Through the trees he heard laughter. He walked round and saw her
swinging Will Tyrrell.

“There’s your father,” cried Boss, from the limb of a tree.

She looked up, startled. With a newborn shyness she had endeavored to
put off this meeting with her father. She gave the swing another push
and waited his approach with beating heart.

“The boys will excuse you, Ruth, I think; I wish you to come for a short
walk with me.”

At his voice, the gentle seriousness of which penetrated even to the
Tyrrell boys’ understanding, she felt that her secret was known.

She laid her arm about his neck and gave him his usual morning kiss,
reddening slowly under his long searching look as he held her to him.
She followed him almost blindly as he turned from the grounds and struck
into the lane leading to the woods. Mr. Levice walked along, aimlessly
knocking off with his stick the dandelions and camomile in the hedges.
It was with a wrench he spoke.

“My child,” he said, and now the stick acted as a support, “I was just
handed a note from Dr. Kemp. He has asked me for your hand.”

In the pause that followed Ruth’s lovely face was hidden in her hat.

“He also told me that he loves you,” he continued slowly, “and that you
return his love. Will you turn your face to me, Ruth?”

She did so with dignity.

“You love this man?”

“I do.” As reverently as if at the altar, she faced and answered her
father. All her love was in the eyes she raised to his. Beneath their
happy glow Levice’s sank and his steady lips grew pale.

They were away from mankind in the shelter of the woods, the birds gayly
carolling their matins above them.

“And you desire to become his wife?”

Neck, face, and ears were suffused with color as she faltered
unsteadily,--

“Oh, Father, he loves me.” Then at the wonder of it, she exclaimed,
throwing her arms about his neck impulsively and hiding her face in his
shoulder, “I am so happy, so happy! It seems almost too beautiful to be
true.”

The old man’s trembling hand smoothed the soft little tendrils of hair
that had escaped from their pins. He stifled a groan as he was thus
disarmed.

“And what,” she asked, her sweet eyes holding his as she stepped back,
“what do you think of Herbert Kemp, M. D.? Will you be proud of your
son-in-law, Father darling?”

Levice’s hand fell suddenly on her shoulder. He schooled himself to
smile quietly upon her.

“Dr. Kemp is a great friend of mine. He is a gentleman whom all the
world honors, not only for his professional worth, but for his manly
qualities. I am not surprised that you love him, nor yet that he loves
you--except for one thing.”

“And that?” she asked, smiling confidently at him.

“Child, you are a Jewess; Dr. Kemp is a Christian.”

And still his daughter smiled trustingly.

“What difference can that make, since we love each other?” she asked.

“Will you believe me, Ruth, when I say that all I desire is your
happiness?”

“Father, I know it.”

“Then I tell you I can never bring myself to approve of a marriage
between you and a Christian. There can be no true happiness in such a
union.”

“Why not? Inasmuch as all my life you have taught me to look upon
my Christian friends as upon my Jewish, and since you admit him
irreproachable from every standpoint, why can he not be my husband?”

“Have you ever thought of what such a marriage entails?”

“Never.”

“Then do so now: think of every sacrifice, social and religious, it
enforces; think of the great difference between the Jewish race and
the Christians; and if, after you have measured with the deadliest
earnestness every duty that married life brings, you can still believe
that you will be happy, then marry him.”

“With your blessing?” Her lovely, pleading eyes still held his.

“Always with my blessing, child. One thing more: did Dr. Kemp mention
anything of this to you?”

“No; he must have forgotten it as I did, or rather, if I ever thought of
it, it was a mere passing shadow. I put it aside with the thought that
though you and I had never discussed such a circumstance, judging by all
your other actions in our relations with Christians, you would be above
considering such a thing a serious obstacle to two people’s happiness.”

“You see, when it comes to action, my broad views dwindle down to
detail, and I am only an old man with old-fashioned ideas. However, I
shall remind Dr. Kemp of this grave consideration, and then--you will
not object to this?”

“Oh, no; but I know--I know--” What did she know except of the greatness
of his love that would annihilate all her father’s forebodings?

“Yes,” her father answered the half-spoken thought; “I know too. But
ponder this well, as I shall insist on his doing; then, on Monday night,
when you have both satisfactorily answered to each other every phase of
this terrible difference, I shall have nothing more to say.”

Love is so selfish. Ruth, hugging her happiness, failed, as she had
never failed before, to mark the wearied voice, the pale face, and the
sad eyes of her father.

“Your mother will soon be awake,” he said; “had you not better go back?”

Something that she had expected was wanting in this meeting; she looked
at him reproachfully, her mouth visibly trembling.

“What is it?” he asked gently.

“Why, Father, you are so cold and hard, and you have not even--”

“Wait till Monday night, Ruth. Then I will do anything you ask me. Now
go back to your mother, but understand, not a word of this to her yet. I
shall not recur to this again; meanwhile we shall both have something to
think of.”

That afternoon Dr. Kemp received the following brief note:--


BEACHAM’S, August 25, 188--

DR. KEMP:

DEAR SIR,--Have you forgotten that my daughter is a Jewess; that you
are a Christian? Till Monday night I shall expect you to consider this
question from every possible point of view. If then both you and my
daughter can satisfactorily override the many objections I undoubtedly
have, I shall raise no obstacle to your desires.

Sincerely your friend,

JULES LEVICE.


In the mean time Ruth was thinking it all out. Love was blinding her,
dazzling her; and the giants that rose before her were dwarfed into
pygmies, at which she tried to look gravely, but succeeded only in
smiling at their feebleness. Love was an Armada, and bore down upon the
little armament that thought called up, and rode it all to atoms.

Small wonder, then, that on their return on Monday morning, as little
Rose Delano stood in Ruth’s room looking up into her friend’s face, the
dreamy, starry eyes, the smiles that crept in thoughtful dimples about
the corners of her mouth, the whole air of a mysterious something,
baffled and bewildered her.

Upon Ruth’s writing-table rested a basket of delicate Marechal Niel
buds, almost veiled in tender maiden-hair; the anonymous sender was not
unknown.

“It has agreed well with you, Miss Levice,” said Rose, in her gentle,
patient voice, that seemed so out of keeping with her young face. “You
look as if you had been dipped in a love-elixir.”

“So I have,” laughed Ruth, her hand straying to the velvety buds; “it
has made a ‘nut-brown mayde’ of me, I think, Rosebud. But tell me the
city news. Everything in running order? Tell me.”

“Everything is as your kind help has willed it. I have a pleasant little
room with a middle-aged couple on Post Street. Altogether I earn ten
dollars over my actual monthly expenses. Oh, Miss Levice, when shall I
be able to make you understand how deeply grateful I am?”

“Never, Rose; believe me, I never could understand deep things; that is
why I am so happy.”

“You are teasing now, with that mischievous light in your eyes. Yet the
first time I saw your face I thought that either you had or would have a
history.”

“Sad?” The sudden poignancy of the question startled Rose.

She looked quickly at her to note if she were as earnest as her voice
sounded. The dark eyes smiled daringly, defiantly at her.

“I am no sorceress,” she answered evasively but lightly; “look in the
glass and see.”

“You remind me of Floy Tyrrell. Pooh! Let us talk of something else.
Then it can’t be Wednesdays?”

“It can be any day. The Page children can have Friday.”

“Do you know how Mr. Page is?”

“Did you not hear of the great operations he--Dr. Kemp--performed
Friday?”

“No.” She could have shaken herself for the telltale, inevitable rush of
blood that overspread her face. If Rose saw, she made no sign; she had
had one lesson.

“I did not know such a thing was in his line. I had been giving Miss
Dora a lesson in the nursery. The old nurse had brought the two little
ones in there, and kept us all on tenter-hooks running in and out. One
of the doctors, Wells, I think she said, had fainted; it was a very
delicate and dangerous operation. When my lesson was over, I slipped
quietly out; I was passing through the corridor when Dr. Kemp came out
of one of the rooms. He was quite pale. He recognized me immediately;
and though I wished to pass straight on, he stopped me and shook my
hand so very friendly. And now I hear it was a great success. Oh, Miss
Levice, he has no parallel but himself!”

It did not sound exaggerated to Ruth to hear him thus made much of. It
was only very sweet and true.

“I knew just what he must be when I saw him,” the girl babbled on; “that
was why I went to him. I knew he was a doctor by his carriage, and his
strong, kind face was my only stimulus. But there, you must forgive me
if I tire you; you see he sent you to me.”

“You do not tire me, Rose,” she said gravely. And the same expression
rested upon her face till evening.



Chapter XVII

Monday night had come. As Ruth half hid a pale yellow bud in her heavy,
low-coiled hair, the gravity of her mien seemed to deepen. This was
partially the result of her father’s expressive countenance and voice.
If he had smiled, it had been such a faint flicker that it was forgotten
in the look of repression that had followed. In the afternoon he had
spoken a few disturbing words to her:

“I have told your mother that Dr. Kemp is coming to discuss a certain
project and desires your presence. She intends to retire rather early,
and there is nothing to prevent your receiving him.”

At the distantly courteous tone she raised a pair of startled eyes. He
was regarding her patiently, as if awaiting some remark.

“Surely you do not wish me to be present at this interview?” she
questioned, her voice slightly trembling.

“Not only that, but I desire your most earnest attention and calm
reasoning powers to be brought with you. You have not forgotten what I
told you to consider, Ruth?”

“No, Father.”

She felt, though in a greater degree, as she had often felt in
childhood, when, in taking her to task for some naughtiness, he had worn
this same sad and distant look. He had never punished her nominally; the
pain he himself showed had always affected her as the severest reprimand
never could have done.

She looked like a peaceful, sweet-faced nun in her simple white gown,
that fell in long straight folds to her feet; not another sign of color
was upon her.

A calmness pervaded her whole person as she paced the softly lighted
drawing-room and waited for Kemp.

When he was shown into the room, this tranquillity struck him
immediately.

She stood quite still as he came toward her. He certainly had some
old-time manners, for the reverence he felt for her caused him first of
all to raise her hand to his lips. The curious, well-known flush rose
slowly to her sensitive face at the action; when he had caught her
swiftly to him, a sobbing sigh escaped her.

“What is it?” he asked, drawing her down to a seat beside him. “Are you
tired of me already, love?”

“Not of you; of waiting,” she answered, half shyly meeting his look.

“I hardly expected this,” he said after a pause; “has your father flown
bodily from the enemy and left you to face him alone?”

“Not exactly. But really it was kind of him to keep away for a while,
was it not?” she asked simply.

“It was unusually kind. I suppose, however, you will have to make your
exit on his entrance.”

“No,” she laughed quietly; “I am going to play the role of the audience
to-night. He expressly desires my presence; but if you differ--”

He looked at her curiously. The earnestness with which she had greeted
him settled like a mask upon his face. The hand that held hers drew it
quickly to his breast.

“I think it is well that you remain,” he said, “because we agree at any
rate on the main point,--that we love each other. Always that, darling?”

“Always that--love.”

The low, sweet voice that for the first time so caressed him thrilled
him oddly; but a measured step was heard in the hall, and Ruth moved
like a bird to a chair. He could not know that the sound of the step had
given her the momentary courage thus to address him.

He arose deferentially as Mr. Levice entered. The two men formed a
striking contrast. Kemp stood tall, stalwart, straight as an arrow;
Levice, with his short stature, his stooping shoulders, and his silvery
hair falling about and softening somewhat his plain Jewish face, served
as a foil to the other’s bright, handsome figure.

Kemp came forward to meet him and grasped his hand. Nothing is more
thoroughly expressive than this shaking of hands between men. It is a
freemasonry that women lack and are the losers thereby. The kiss is a
sign of emotion; the hand-clasp bespeaks strong esteem or otherwise.
Levice’s hand closed tightly about the doctor’s large one; there was a
great feeling of mutual respect between these two.

“How are you and your wife?” asked the doctor, seating himself in a low,
silken easy-chair as Levice took one opposite him.

“She is well, but tired this evening, and has gone to bed. She wished
to be remembered to you.” As he spoke, he half turned his head to where
Ruth sat in a corner, a little removed.

“Why do you sit back there, Ruth?”

She arose, and seeing no other convenient seat at hand, drew up the
curious ivory-topped chair. Thus seated, they formed the figure of an
isosceles triangle, with Ruth at the apex, the men at the angles of
the base. It is a rigid outline, that of the isosceles, bespeaking each
point an alien from the others.

There was an uncomfortable pause for some moments after she had seated
herself, during which Ruth noted how, as the candle-light from the
sconce behind fell upon her father’s head, each silvery hair seemed to
speak of quiet old age.

Kemp was the first to speak, and, as usual, came straight to the point.

“Mr. Levice, there is no use in disguising or beating around the bush
the thought that is uppermost in all our minds. I ask you now, in
person, what I asked you in writing last Friday,--will you give me your
daughter to be my wife?”

“I will answer you as I did in writing. Have you considered that you are
a Christian; that she is a Jewess?”

“I have.”

It was the first gun and the answering shot of a strenuous battle.

“And you, my child?” he addressed her in the old sweet way that she had
missed in the afternoon.

“I have also done so to the best of my ability.”

“Then you have found it raised no barrier to your desire to become Dr.
Kemp’s wife?”

“None.”

The two men drew a deep breath at the sound of the little decisive word,
but with a difference. Kemp’s face shone exultantly. Levice pressed his
lips hard together as the shuddering breath left him; his heavy-veined
hands were tightly clinched; when he spoke, however, his voice was quite
peaceful.

“It is an old and just custom for parents to be consulted by their
children upon their choice of husband or wife. In France the parents are
consulted before the daughter; it is not a bad plan. It often saves some
unnecessary pangs--for the daughter. I am sorry in this case that we are
not living in France.”

“Then you object?” Kemp almost hurled the words at him.

“I crave your patience,” answered the old man, slowly; “I have grown
accustomed to doing things deliberately, and will not be hurried in this
instance. But as you have put the question, I may answer you now. I do
most solemnly and seriously object.”

Ruth, sitting intently listening to her father, paled slowly. The doctor
also changed color.

“My child,” Levice continued, looking her sadly in the face, “by
allowing you to fall blindly into this trouble, without warning, with my
apparent sanction for any relationship with Christians, I have done you
a great wrong; I admit it with anguish. I ask your forgiveness.”

“Don’t, Father!”

Dr. Kemp’s clinched hand came down with force upon his knee. He
was white to the lips, for though Levice spoke so quietly, a strong
decisiveness rang unmistakably in every word.

“Mr. Levice, I trust I am not speaking disrespectfully,” he began,
his manly voice plainly agitated, “but I must say that it was a great
oversight on your part when you threw your daughter, equipped as she
is, into Christian society,--put her right in the way of loving or being
loved by any Christian, knowing all along that such a state of affairs
could lead to nothing. It was not only wrong, but, holding such views,
it was cruel.”

“I acknowledge my culpability; my only excuse lies in the fact that such
an event never presented itself as a possibility to my imagination. If
it had, I should probably have trusted that her own Jewish conscience
and bringing-up would protest against her allowing herself to think
seriously upon such an issue.”

“But, sir, I do not understand your exception; you are not orthodox.”

“No; but I am intensely Jewish,” answered the old man, proudly regarding
his antagonist. “I tell you I object to this marriage; that is not
saying I oppose it. There are certain things connected with it of
which neither you nor my daughter have probably thought. To me they
are all-powerful obstacles to your happiness. Being an old man and more
experienced, will you permit me to suggest these points? My friend, I
am seeking nothing but my child’s happiness; if, by opening the eyes
of both of you to what menaces her future welfare, I can avert what
promises but a sometime misery, I must do it, late though it may be. If,
when I have stated my view, you can convince me that I am wrong, I shall
be persuaded and admit it. Will you accept my plan?”

Kemp bowed his head. The dogged earnestness about his mouth and eyes
deepened; he kept his gaze steadily and attentively fixed upon Levice.
Ruth, who was the cause of the whole painful scene, seemed remote and
shadowy.

“As you say,” began Levice, “we are not orthodox; but before we become
orthodox or reform, we are born, and being born, we are invested with
certain hereditary traits that are unconvertible. Every Jew bears in his
blood the glory, the triumph, the misery, the abjectness of Israel. The
farther we move in the generations, the fainter grown the inheritance.
In most countries in these times the abjectness is vanishing; we have
been set upon our feet; we have been allowed to walk; we are beginning
to smile,--that is, some of us. Those whose fathers were helped on
are nearer the man as he should be than those whose fathers are still
grovelling. My child, I think, stands a perfect type of what culture and
refinement can give. She is not an exception; there are thousands like
her among our Jewish girls. Take any intrinsically pure-souled Jew from
his coarser surroundings and give him the highest advantages, and he
will stand forth the equal, at least, of any man; but he could not mix
forever with pitch and remain undefiled.”

“No man could,” observed Kemp, as Levice paused. “But what are these
things to me?”

“Nothing; but to Ruth, much. That is part of the bar-sinister between
you. Possibly your sense of refinement has never been offended in my
family; but there are many families, people we visit and love, who,
though possessing all the substrata of goodness, have never been moved
to cast off the surface thorns that would prick your good taste as
sharply as any physical pain. This, of course, is not because they are
Jews, but because they lack refining influences in their surroundings.
We look for and excuse these signs; many Christians take them as the
inevitable marks of the race, and without looking further, conclude that
a cultured Jew is an impossibility.”

“Mr. Levice, I am but an atom in the Christian world, and you who
number so many of them among your friends should not make such sweeping
assertions. The world is narrow-minded; individuals are broader.”

“True; but I speak of the majority, who decide the vote, and by whom my
child would be, without doubt, ostracized. This only by your people; by
ours it would be worse,--for she will have raised a terrible barrier by
renouncing her religion.”

“I shall never renounce my religion, Father.”

“Such a marriage would mean only that to the world; and so you would be
cut adrift from both sides, as all women are who move from where they
rightfully belong to where they are not wanted.”

“Sir,” interrupted Kemp, “allow me to show you wherein such a state of
affairs would, if it should happen, be of no consequence. The friends we
care for and who care for us will not drop off if we remain unchanged.
Because I love your daughter and she loves me, and because we both
desire our love to be honored in the sight of God and man, wherein have
we erred? We shall still remain the same man and woman.”

“Unhappily the world would not think so.”

“Then let them hold to their bigoted opinion; it is valueless, and
having each other, we can dispense with them.”

“You speak in the heat of passion; and at such a time it would be
impossible to make you understand the honeymoon of life is made up of
more than two, and a third being inimical can make it wretched. The
knowledge that people we respect hold aloof from us is bitter.”

“But such knowledge,” interrupted Ruth’s sweet voice, “would be robbed
of all bitterness when surrounded and hedged in by all that we love.”

Her father looked in surprise at the brave face raised so earnestly to
his.

“Very well,” he responded; “count the world as nothing. You have just
said, my Ruth, that you would not renounce your religion. How could that
be when you have a Christian husband who would not renounce his?”

“I should hope he would not; I should have little respect for any man
who would give up his sacred convictions because I have come into his
life. As for my religion, I am a Jewess, and will die one. My God is
fixed and unalterable; he is one and indivisible; to divide his divinity
would be to deny his omnipotence. As to forms, you, Father, have bred in
me a contempt for all but a few. Saturday will always be my Sabbath, no
matter what convention would make me do. We have decided that writing
or sewing or pleasuring, since it hurts no one, is no more a sin on that
day than on another; to sit with idle hands and gossip or slander is
more so. But on that day my heart always holds its Sabbath; this is the
force of custom. Any day would do as well if we were used to it,--for
who can tell which was the first and which the seventh counting from
creation? On our New Year I should still feel that a holy cycle of time
had passed; but I live only according to one record of time, and my New
Year falls always on the 1st of January. Atonement is a sacred day to
me; I could not desecrate it. Our services are magnificently beautiful,
and I should feel like a culprit if debarred from their holiness. As to
fasting, you and I have agreed that any physical punishment that keeps
our thoughts one moment from God, and puts them on the feast that is to
come, is mere sham and pretence. After these, Father, wherein does our
religion show itself?”

“Surely,” he replied with some bitterness, “we hold few Jewish rites.
Well, and so you think you can keep these up? And you, Dr. Kemp?”

Dr. Kemp had been listening attentively while Ruth spoke. His eyes
kindled brightly as he answered,--

“Why should she not? If all her orisons have made her as beautiful, body
and soul, as she is to me, what is to prevent her from so continuing?
And if my wife would permit me to go with her upon her holidays to your
beautiful Temple, no one would listen more reverently than I. Loving
her, what she finds worshipful could find nothing but respect in me.”

Plainly Mr. Levice had forgotten the wellspring that was to enrich their
lives; but he perceived that some impregnable armor encased them that
made every shot of his harmless.

“I can understand,” he ventured, “that no gentleman with self-respect
would, at least outwardly, show disrespect for any person’s religion.
You, Doctor, might even come to regard with awe a faith that has
withstood everything and has never yet been sneered at, however its
followers have been persecuted. Many of its minor forms are slowly dying
out and will soon be remembered only historically; this history belongs
to every one.”

“Certainly. Let us, however, stick to the point in question. You are a
man who has absorbed the essence of his religion, and cast off most
of its unnecessary externals. You have done the same for my--for your
daughter. This distinguishes you. If I were to say the characteristic
has never been unbeautiful in my eyes, I should be excusing what needs
no excuse. Now, sir, I, in turn, am a Christian broadly speaking; more
formally, a Unitarian. Our faiths are not widely divergent. We are both
liberal; otherwise marriage between us might be a grave experiment. As
to forms, for me they are a show, but for many they are a necessity,--a
sort of moral backbone without which they might fall. Sunday is to me a
day of rest if my patients do not need me. I enjoy hearing a good sermon
by any noble, broad-minded man, and go to church not only for that,
but for the pleasure of having my spiritual tendencies given a gentle
stirring up. There is one holiday that I keep and love to keep; that is
Christmas.”

“And I honor you for it; but loving this day of days, looking for
sympathy for it from all you meet, how will it be when in your own home
the wife whom you love above all others stands coldly by and watches
your feelings with no answering sympathy? Will this not breed
dissension, if not in words, at least in spirit? Will you not feel the
want and resent it?”

Dr. Kemp was silent. The question was a telling one and required
thought; therefore he was surprised when Ruth answered for him. Her
quiet voice carried no sense of hysteric emotion, but one of grave
grace.

She addressed her father; each had refrained from appealing to the
other. The situation in the light of their new, great love was strained
and unnatural.

“I should endeavor that he should feel no lack,” she said; “for so far
as Christmas is concerned, I am a Christian also.”

“I do not understand.” Her father’s lips were dry, his voice husky.

“Ever since I have been able to judge,” explained the girl, quietly,
“Christ has been to me the loveliest and one of the best men that ever
lived. You yourself, Father, admire and reverence his life.”

“Yes?” His eyes were half closed as if in pain; he motioned to her to
continue.

“And so, in our study, he was never anything but what was great and
good. Later, when I had read his ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ I grew to see
that what he preached was beautiful. It did not change my religion; it
made me no less a Jewess in the true sense, but helped me to gentleness.
To me he became the embodiment of Love in the highest,--Love perfect,
but warm and human; human Love so glorious that it needs no divinity
to augment its power over us. He was God’s attestation, God’s symbol of
what Man might be. As a teacher of brotherly love, he is sublime. So I
may call myself a christian, though I spell it with a small letter. It
is right that such a man’s birthday should be remembered with love; it
shows what a sweet power his name is, when, as that time approaches,
everybody seems to love everybody better. Feeling so, would it be wrong
for me to participate in my husband’s actions on that day?”

She received no answer. She looked only at her father with loving
earnestness, and the look of adoration Kemp bent upon her was quite
lost.

“Would this be wrong, Father?” she urged.

He straightened himself in his chair as if under a load. His dark,
sallow face seemed to have grown worn and more haggard.

“I have always imagined myself just and liberal in opinion,” he
responded; “I have sought to make you so. I never thought you could leap
thus far. It were better had I left you to your mother. Wrong? No;
you would be but giving your real feelings expression. But such an
expression would grieve--Pardon; I am to consider your happiness.” He
seemed to swallow something, and hastily continued: “While we are still
on this subject, are you aware, my child, that you could not be married
by a Jewish rabbi?”

She started perceptibly.

“I should love to be married by Doctor C----.” As she pronounced the
grand old rabbi’s name, a tone of reverential love accompanied it.

“I know. But you would have to take a justice as a substitute.”

“A Unitarian minister would be breaking no law in uniting us, and I
think would not object to do so; that is, of course, if you had no
objection.” The doctor looked at him questioningly. Levice answered by
turning to Ruth. She passed her hand over her forehead.

“Do you think,” she asked, “that after a ceremony had been performed,
Dr. C---- would bless us? As a friend, would he have to refuse?”

“He would be openly sanctioning a marriage which according to the
rabbinical law is no marriage at all. Do you think he would do this,
notwithstanding his friendship for you?” returned her father. They both
looked at him intently.

“Ah, well,” she answered, throwing back her head, a half-smile coming to
her pale lips, “it is but a sentiment, and I could forego it, I suppose.
One must give up little things sometimes for great.”

“Yes; and this would be but the first. My children, there is something
radically wrong when we have to overlook and excuse so much before
marriage. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;’ and why should
we add trouble to days already burdened before they come?”

“We should find all this no trouble,” said Kemp; “and what is to trouble
us after? We have now the wherewithal for our happiness; what, in God’s
name, do you ask for more?”

“As I have said, Dr. Kemp, we are an earnest people. Marriage is a step
not entered into lightly. Divorce, for this reason, is seldom heard
of with us, and for this reason we have few unhappy marriages. We know
beforehand what we have to expect from every quarter. No question I
have put would be necessary with a Jew. His ways are ours, and, with few
exceptions, a woman has nothing but happiness to expect from him. How am
I sure of this with you? In a moment of anger this difference of faith
may be flung in each other’s teeth, and what then?”

“You mean you cannot trust me.”

The quiet, forceful words were accompanied by no sign of emotion. His
deep eyes rested as respectfully as ever upon the old gentleman’s face.
But the attack was a hard one upon Levice. A vein on his temple sprang
into blue prominence as he quickly considered his answer.

“I trust you, sir, as one gentleman would trust another in any
undertaking; but I have not the same knowledge of what to expect from
you as I should have from any Jew who would ask for my daughter’s hand.”

“I understand that,” admitted the other; “but a few minutes ago you
imputed a possibility to me that would be an impossibility to any
gentleman. You may have heard of such happenings among some, but an
event of that kind would be as removed from us as the meeting of the
poles. Everything depends on the parties concerned.”

“Besides, Father,” added Ruth, her sweet voice full with feeling, “when
one loves greatly, one is great through love. Can true married love ever
be divided and sink to this?”

The little white and gold clock ticked on; it was the only sound.
Levice’s forehead rested upon his hand over which his silvery hair hung.
Kemp’s strong face was as calm as a block of granite; Ruth’s was pale
with thought.

Suddenly the old man threw back his head. They both started at the
revelation: great dark rings were about his eyes; his mouth was set in a
strained smile.

“I--I,” he cleared his throat as if something impeded his utterance,--“I
have one last suggestion to make. You may have children. What will be
their religion?”

The little clock ticked on; a dark hue overspread Kemp’s face. As for
the girl, she scarcely seemed to hear; her eyes were riveted upon her
father’s changed face.

“Well?”

The doctor gave one quick glance at Ruth and answered,--

“If God should so bless us, I think the simple religion of love enough
for childhood. Later, as their judgment ripened, I should let them
choose for themselves, as all should be allowed.”

“And you, my Ruth?”

A shudder shook her frame; she answered mechanically,--

“I should be guided by my husband.”

The little clock ticked on, backward and forward, and forward and back,
dully reiterating, “Time flies, time flies.”

“I have quite finished,” said Levice, rising.

Kemp did likewise.

“After all,” he said deferentially, “you have not answered my question.”

“I--think--I--have,” replied the old man, slowly. “But to what question
do you refer?”

“The simple one,--will you give me your daughter?”

“No, sir; I will not.”

Kemp drew himself up, bowed low, and stood waiting some further word,
his face ashy white. Levice’s lips trembled nervously, and then he spoke
in a gentle, restrained way, half apologetically and in strange contrast
to his former violence.

“You see, I am an old man rooted in old ideas; my wife, not so old,
holds with me in this. I do not know how wildly she would take such a
proposition. But, Dr. Kemp, as I said before, though I object, I shall
not oppose this marriage. I love my daughter too dearly to place my
beliefs as an obstacle to what she considers her happiness; it is
she who will have to live the life, not I. You and I, sir, have been
friends; outside of this one great difference there is no man to whom I
would more gladly trust my child. I honor and esteem you as a gentleman
who has honored my child in his love for her. If I have hurt you in
these bitter words, forgive me; as my daughter’s husband, we must be
more than friends.”

He held out his hand. The doctor took it, and holding it tightly in his,
made answer somewhat confusedly,--

“Mr. Levice, I thank you. I can say no more now, except that no son
could love and honor you more than I shall.”

Levice bent his head, and turned to Ruth, who sat, without a movement,
looking straight ahead of her.

“My darling,” said her father, softly laying his hand on her head and
raising her lovely face, “if I have seemed selfish and peculiar, trust
me, dear, it was through no lack of love for you. Do not consider me;
forget, if you will, all I have said. You are better able, perhaps, than
I to judge what is best for you. Since you love Dr. Kemp, and if after
all this thought, you feel you will be happy with him, then marry him.
You know that I hold him highly, and though I cannot honestly give you
to him, I shall not keep you from him. My child, the door is open; you
can pass through without my hand. Good-night, my little girl.”

His voice quavered sadly over the old-time pet name as he stooped and
kissed her. He wrung the doctor’s hand again in passing, and abruptly
turned to leave the room. It was a long room to cross. Kemp and Ruth
followed with their eyes the small, slightly stooped figure of the old
man passing slowly out by himself. As the heavy portiere fell into place
behind him, the doctor turned to Ruth, still seated in her chair.



Chapter XVIII

She was perfectly still. Her eyes seemed gazing into vacancy.

“Ruth,” he said softly; but she did not move. His own face showed signs
of the emotions through which he had passed, but was peaceful as if
after a long, triumphant struggle. He came nearer and laid his hand
gently upon her shoulder.

“Love,” he whispered, “have you forgotten me entirely?”

His hand shook slightly; but Ruth gave no sign that she saw or heard.

“This has been too much for you,” he said, drawing her head to his
breast. She lay there as if in a trance, with eyes closed, her face
lily-white against him. They remained in this position for some minutes
till he became alarmed at her passivity.

“You are tired, darling,” he said, stroking her cheek; “shall I leave
you?”

She started up as if alive to his presence for the first time, and
sprang to her feet. She turned giddy and swayed toward him. He caught
her in his arms.

“I am so dizzy,” she laughed in a broken voice, looking with dry,
shining eyes at him; “hold me for a minute.”

He experienced a feeling of surprise as she clasped her arms around his
neck; Ruth had been very shy with her caresses.

His eyes met hers in a long, strange look.

“Of what are you thinking?” he asked in a low voice.

“There is an old German song I used to sing,” she replied musingly;
“will you think me very foolish if I say it is repeating itself to me
now, over and over again?”

“What is it, dear?’ he asked, humoring her.

“Do you understand German? Oh, of course, my student; but this is a sad
old song; students don’t sing such things. These are some of the words:
‘Beh te Gott! es war zu schoen gewesen.’ I wish--”

“It is a miserable song,” he said lightly; “forget it.”

She disengaged herself from his arms and sat down. Some late roisterers
passing by in the street were heard singing to the twang of a mandolin.
It was a full, deep song, and the casual voices blended in perfect
accord. As the harmony floated out of hearing, she looked up at him with
a haunting smile.

“People are always singing to us; I wish they wouldn’t. Music is so sad;
it is like a heart-break.”

He knelt beside her; he was a tall man, and the action seemed natural.

“You are pale and tired,” he said; “and I am going to take a doctor’s
privilege and send you to bed. To-morrow you can answer better what I
so long to hear. You heard what your father said; your answer rests
entirely with you. Will you write, or shall I come?”

“Do you know,” she answered, her eyes burning in her pale face, “you
have very pretty, soft dark hair? Does it feel as soft as it looks?”
 She raised her hand, and ran her fingers lingeringly through his short,
thick hair.

“Why,” she said brightly, “here are some silvery threads on your
temples. Troubles, darling?”

“You shall pull them out,” he answered, drawing her little hand to his
lips.

“There, go away,” she said quickly, snatching it from him and moving
from her chair as he rose. She rested her elbow on the mantel-shelf,
and the candles from the silver candelabra shone on her face; it looked
strained and weary. Kemp’s brows gathered in a frown as he saw it.

“I am going this minute,” he said; “and I wish you to go to bed at once.
Don’t think of anything but sleep. Promise me you will go to bed as soon
as I leave.”

“Very well.”

“Good-night, sweetheart,” he said, kissing her softly, “and dream happy
dreams.” He stooped again to kiss her hands, and moved toward the door.

“Herbert!” His hand was on the portiere, and he turned in alarm at her
strange call.

“What is it?” he asked, taking a step toward her.

“Nothing. Don’t--don’t come back, I say. I just wished to see your face.
I shall write to you. Good-night.”

And the curtain fell behind him.

As he passed down the gravel walk, a hack drew up and stopped in front
of the house. Louis Arnold sprang out. The two men came face to face.

Arnold recognized the doctor immediately and drew back. When Kemp saw
who it was, he bowed and passed on. Arnold did likewise, but he went in
where the other went out.

It was late, after midnight. He had just arrived on a delayed southern
train. He knew the family had come home that morning. Dr. Kemp was
rather early in making a visit; it had also taken him long to make it.

Louis put his key in the latch and opened the door. It was very quiet;
he supposed every one had retired. He flung his hat and overcoat on a
chair and walked toward the staircase. As he passed the drawing-room,
a stream of light came from beneath the portiere. He hesitated in
surprise, everything was so quiet. Probably the last one had forgotten
to put out the lights. He stepped noiselessly up and entered the room.
His footfall made no sound on the soft carpet as he moved about putting
out the lights. He walked to the mantel to blow out the candles, but
stopped, dumfounded, within a foot of it. The thing that disturbed him
was the motionless white figure of his cousin. It might have been a
marble statue, so lifeless she seemed, though her face was hidden in her
hands.

For a moment Arnold was terrified; but the feeling was immediately
succeeded by one of exquisite pain. He was a man not slow to conjecture;
by some intuition he understood.

He regained his presence of mind and turned quietly to quit the room;
his innate delicacy demanded it. He had but turned when a low, moaning
sound arrested him; he came back irresolutely.

“Did you call, Ruth?”

Silence.

“Ruth, it is I, Louis, who is speaking to you. Do you know how late it
is?”

With gentle force he drew her fingers from her face. The mute misery
there depicted was pitiful.

“Come, go to bed, Ruth,” he said as to a child.

She made a movement to rise, but sank back again.

“I am so tired, Louis,” she pleaded in a voice of tears, like a weary
child.

“Yes, I know; but I will help you.” The unfamiliar, gentle quality of
his voice penetrated even to her numbed senses.

She had not seen him since the night he had asked her to be his wife. No
remembrance of this came to her, but his presence held something new
and restful. She allowed him to draw her to her feet; and as calmly as a
brother he led her upstairs and into her room. Without a question he lit
the gas for her.

“Good-night, Ruth,” he said, blowing out the match. “Go right to bed;
your head will be relieved by sleep.”

“Thank you, Louis,” she said, feeling dimly grateful for something his
words implied; “good-night.”

Arnold noiselessly closed the door behind him. She quickly locked it and
sat down in the nearest chair.

Her hands were interlaced so tightly that her nails left imprints in
the flesh. She had something to consider. Oh dear, it was such a simple
thing; was she to break her father’s heart, or her own and--his? Her
father’s, or his.

It was so stupid to sit and repeat it. Surely it was decided long ago.
Such a long time ago, when her father’s loving face had put on its
misery. Would it look that way always? No, no, no! She would not have
it; she dared not; it was too utterly wretched.

Still, there was some one else at the thought of whom her temples
throbbed wildly. It would hurt him; she knew it. The thought for a
moment was a miserable ecstasy; for he loved her,--her, simple Ruth
Levice,--beyond all doubting she knew he loved her; and, oh, father,
father, how she loved him! Why must she give it all up? she questioned
fiercely; did she owe no duty to herself? Was she to drag out all the
rest of her weary life without his love? Life! It would be a lingering
death, and she was young yet in years. Other girls had married with
graver obstacles, in open rupture with their parents, and they had been
happy. Why could not she? It was not as if he were at fault; no one
dared breathe a word against his fair fame. To look at his strong,
handsome face meant confidence. That was when he left the room.

Some one else had left the room also. Some one who had loved her all
her life, some one who had grown accustomed in more than twenty years to
listen gladly for her voice, to anticipate every wish, to hold her as
in the palm of a loving hand, to look for and rest on her unquestioned
love. He too had left the room; but he was not strong and handsome,
poor, poor old father with his small bent shoulders. What a wretched
thing it is to be old and have the heart-strings that have so
confidently twisted themselves all these years around another rudely cut
off,--and that by your only child!

At the thought an icy quiet stole over her. How long she sat there,
musing, debating, she did not know. When the gray dawn broke, she rose
up calmly and seated herself at her writing-table. She wrote steadily
for some time without erasing a single word. She addressed the envelope
without a falter over the name.

“That is over,” she said audibly and deliberately.

A cock crowed. It was the beginning of another day.



Chapter XIX

Dr. Kemp tossed the reins to his man, sprang from his carriage, and
hurried into his house. “Burke!” he called while closing the door,
“Burke!” He walked toward the back of the house and into the kitchen,
still calling. Finding it empty, he walked back again and began a
still hunt about the pieces of furniture in the various rooms. Being
unsuccessful, he went into his bedroom, made a hasty toilet, and hurried
again to the kitchen.

“Where have you been, Burke?” he exclaimed as that spare-looking
personage turned, spoon in hand, from the range.

“Right here, General,” he replied in surprise, “except when I went out.”

“Well; did any mail come here for me?”

“One little Billy-do, General. I put it under your dinner-plate; and
shall I serve the soup?” the last was bellowed after his master’s
retreating form.

“Wait till I ring,” he called back.

He lifted his solitary plate, snatched up the little letter, and sat
down hastily, conscious of a slight excitement.

His name and address stared at him from the white envelope in a round,
firm hand. There was something about the loop-letters that reminded him
of her, and he passed his hand caressingly over the surface. He did not
break the seal for some minutes,--anticipation is sometimes sweeter than
realization. Finally it was done, but he closed his eyes for a
second,--a boyish trick of his that had survived when he wished some
expected pleasure to spring suddenly upon him. How would she address
him? The memory of their last meeting gave him courage, and he opened
his eyes. The denouement was disconcerting. Directly under the tiny
white monogram she had begun without heading of any description:--

It was cruel of me to let you go as I did: you were hopeful when you
left. I led you to this state for a purely selfish reason. After all, it
saved you the anguish of knowing it was a final farewell; for even then
I knew it could never be. Never! Forever!--do you know the meaning of
those two long words? I do. They have burned themselves irrevocably into
my brain; try to understand them,--they are final.

I retract nothing that I said to my father in your presence; you know
exactly how I still consider what is separating us. I am wrong. Only I
am causing this separation; no one else could or would. Do not blame my
father; if he were to see me writing thus he would beg me to desist; he
would think I am sacrificing my happiness for him. I have no doubt you
think so now. Let me try to make you understand how different it really
is. I am no Jephthah’s daughter,--he wants no sacrifice, and I make
none. Duty, the hardest word to learn, is not leading me. You heard my
father’s words; but not holding him as I do, his face could not recoil
upon your heart like a death’s hand.

I am trying to write coherently and to the point: see what a coward I
am! Let me say it now,--I could never be happy with you. Do you remember
Shylock,--the old man who withdrew from the merry-making with a breaking
heart? I could not make merry while he wept; my heart would weep also.
You see how selfish I am; I am doing it for my own sake, and for no
one’s else.

And that is why I ask you now to forgive me,--because I am not noble
enough to consider you when my happiness is at stake. I suppose I am
a light person seemingly to play thus with a man’s heart. If
this reflection can rob you of regret, think me so. Does it sound
presumptuous or ironical for me to say I shall pray you may be happy
without me? Well, it is said hearts do not break for love,--that is, not
quickly. If you will just think of what I have done, surely you will
not regret your release; you may yet find a paradise with some other and
better woman. No, I am not harsh or unreasonable; even I expect to be
happy. Why should not you, then,--you, a man; I, a woman? Forget me. In
your busy, full life this should be easy. Trust me, no woman is worthy
of spoiling your life for you.

My pen keeps trailing on; like summer twilight it is loath to depart. I
am such a woman. I may never see your face again. Will you not forgive
me?

RUTH.

He looked up with a bloodless face at Burke standing with the smoking
soup.

“I--I--thought you had forgotten to ring,” he stammered, shocked at the
altered face.

“Take it away,” said his master, hoarsely, rising from his chair. “I
do not wish any dinner, Burke. I am going to my office, and must not be
disturbed.”

The man looked after him with a sadly wondering shake of his head, and
went back to his more comprehensible pots and kettles.

Kemp walked steadily into his office, lit the gas, and sat down at his
desk. He began to re-read the letter slowly from the beginning. It took
a long time, for he read between the lines. A deep groan escaped him as
he laid it down. It was written as she would have spoken; he could see
the expression of her face in the written words, and a miserable empty
feeling of powerlessness came upon him. He did not blame her,--how could
he, with that sad evidence of her breaking heart before him? He got up
and paced the floor. His head was throbbing, and a cold, sick feeling
almost overpowered him. The words of the letter repeated themselves to
him. “Paradise with some other, better woman,”--she might have left that
out; she knew better; she was only trying to cheat herself. “I too
shall be happy.” Not that, not some other man’s wife,--the thought was
demoniacal. He caught his reflection in the glass in passing. “I must
get out of this,” he laughed with dry, parched lips. He seized his hat
and went out. The wind was blowing stiffly; for hours he wrestled with
it, and then came home and wrote to her:--

I can never forgive you; love’s litany holds no such word. Be happy if
you can, my santa Filomena; it will help me much,--the fact that you are
somewhere in the world and not desolate will make life more worth the
living. If it will strengthen you to know that I shall always love you,
the knowledge will be eternally true. Wherever you are, whatever the
need, remember--I am at hand.

HERBERT KEMP.

Mr. Levice’s face was more haggard than Ruth’s when, after this answer
was received, she came to him with a gentle smile, despite the heavy
shadows around her eyes.

“It is all over, Father,” she said; “we have parted forever. Perhaps I
did not love him enough to give up so much for him. At any rate I shall
be happier with you, dear.”

“Are you sure, my darling?”

“Quite sure; and there is no more to be said of it. Remember, it is
dead and buried; we must never remind each other of it again. Kiss me,
Father, and forget that it has been.”

Mr. Levice drew a long sigh, partly of relief, partly of pain, as he
looked into her lovely, resolute face.



Chapter XX

We do not live wholly through ourselves. What is called fate is but the
outcome of the spinning of other individuals twisted into the woof of
our own making; so no life should be judged as a unit.

Ruth Levice was not alone in the world; she was neither recluse nor
a genius, but a girl with many loving friends and a genial home-life.
Having resolved to bear to the world an unchanged front, she outwardly
did as she had always done. Her mother’s zealous worldliness returned
with her health; and Ruth fell in with all her plans for a gay
winter,--that is, the plans were gay; Ruth’s presence could hardly be
termed so. The old spontaneous laugh was superseded by a gentle smile,
sympathetic perhaps, but never joyous. She listened more, and seldom now
took the lead in a general conversation, though there was a charm about
a tete-a-tete with her that earnest persons, men and women, felt without
being able to define it. For the change, without doubt, was there.
It was as if a quiet hand had been passed over her exuberant, happy
girlhood and left a serious, thoughtful woman in its stead. A subtile
change like this is not speedily noticed by outsiders; it requires usage
before an acquaintance will account it a characteristic instead of a
mood. But her family knew it. Mrs. Levice, wholly in the dark as to the
cause, wondered openly.

“You might be thirty, Ruth, instead of twenty-two, by the staidness
of your demeanor. While other girls are laughing and chatting as girls
should, you look on with the tolerant dignity of a woman of grave
concerns. If you had anything to trouble you, there might be some
excuse; but as it is, why can’t you go into enjoyments like the rest of
your friends?”

“Don’t I? Why, I hardly know another girl who lives in such constant
gayety as I. Are we not going to a dinner this evening and to the ball
to-morrow night?”

“Yes; but you might as well be going to a funeral for all the pleasure
you seem to anticipate. If you come to a ball with such a grandly
serious air, the men will just as soon think of asking a statue to dance
as you. A statue may be beautiful in its niche, but people do not care
to study its meaning at a ball.”

“What do you wish me to do, Mamma? I should hate the distinction of a
wall-flower, which you think imminent. I am afraid I am too big a woman
to be frolicsome.”

“You never were that, but you were at least a girl. People will begin
to think you consider yourself above them, or else that you have some
secret trouble.”

The smile of incredulity with which she answered her would have been
heart-breaking had it been understood. No flush stained the ivory pallor
of her face at these thrusts in the dark; Louis was never annoyed
in this way now. Her old-time excited contradictions never obtruded
themselves in their conversations. A silent knowledge lay between them
which neither, by word or look, ever alluded to. Mrs. Levice noted with
delight their changed relations. Louis’s sarcasm ceased to be directed
at Ruth; and though the familiar sparring was missing, Mrs. Levice
preferred his deferential bearing when he addressed her, and Ruth’s
grave graciousness with him. She drew her own conclusions, and accepted
Ruth’s quietness with more patience on this account.

Louis understood somewhat; and in his manliness he could not hide that
her suffering had cost him a new code of actions. But he could not
understand as her father did. Despite her brave smile, Levice could
almost read her heart-beats, and the knowledge brought a hardness and a
bitter regret. He grew to scanning her face surreptitiously, looking
in vain for the old, untroubled delight in things; and when the
unmistakable signs of secret anguish would leave traces at times, he
would turn away with a groan. Yet there was nothing to be done. He knew
that her love had been no light thing nor could her giving up be so;
but feeling that no matter what the present cost, the result would
compensate, he trusted to time to heal the wound. Meanwhile his own
self-blame at these times left its mark upon him.

For Ruth lived a dual life. The real one was passed in her quiet
chamber, in her long solitary walks, and when she sat with her book,
apparently reading. She would look up with blank, despairing eyes,
clinched hands, and hard-set teeth when the thought of him and all her
loss would steal upon her. Her father had caught many such a look upon
her face. She had resolved to live without him, but accomplishment is
not so easy. Besides, it was not as if she never saw him. San Francisco
is not so large a city but that by the turning of a corner you may not
come across a friend. Ruth grew to study the sounds the different kinds
of vehicles made; and the rolling wheels of a doctor’s carriage behind
her would set her pulses fluttering in fright.

She was walking one day along Sutter Street toward Gough from Octavia.
The street takes a sudden down-grade midway in the block. She was
approaching this declension just before the Boys’ High School when a
carriage drove quickly up the hill toward her. The horses gave a bound
as if the reins had been jerked; there was the momentary flash of a
man’s stern, white face as he raised his hat; and Ruth was walking down
the hill, trembling and pale. It was the first time; and for one minute
her heart seemed to stop beating and then rushed wildly on. Whether she
had bowed or made any sign of recognition, she did not know. It did
not matter, though; if he thought her cold or strange or anything, what
difference could it possibly make? For her there would be left forever
this dead emptiness. These casual meetings were inevitable; and she
would come home after them worn-out and heavy-eyed. “A slight headache”
 was a recurrent excuse with her.

They had common friends, and it would not have been surprising had she
met him at the different affairs to which she went, always through her
mother’s desire. But the dread of coming upon him slowly departed as
the months rolled by and with them all token of him. Time and again she
would hear allusions to him. “Dr. Kemp has developed into a misogynist,”
 pouted Dorothy Gwynne. “He was one of the few decided eligibles on the
horizon, but it requires the magnet of illness to draw him now. I really
must look up the symptoms of a possible ache; the toilet and expression
of an invalid are very becoming, you know.”

“Dr. Kemp made a splendid donation to our kindergarten to-day. I have
not seen him since we were in the country, and he thought me looking
very well. He inquired after the family, and I told him we had a
residence, at which he smiled.” This from Mrs. Levice. Ruth would have
given much to have been able to ask after him with self-possession, but
the muscles of her throat seemed to swell and choke her while silent.
She went now and then to see Bob Bard in his flower-store; he would
without fail inquire after “our friend” or tell her of his having passed
that day. Here was her one chance of inquiring if he was looking well,
to which the answer was invariably “yes.”

She sat one night at the opera in her wonted beauty, with her soft,
dusky hair rolled from her sweet Madonna face. Many a lorgnette was
raised a second and a third time toward her. Louis, seated next to her,
resented with unaccountable ferocity this free admiration that she did
not see or feel.

As the curtain went down on the first act, he drew her attention to
some celebrity then passing out. She raised her glass, but her hand fell
nerveless in her lap. Immediately following him came Dr. Kemp. Their
eyes met, and he bowed low, passing on immediately. The rest of the
evening passed like a nightmare; she heard nothing but her heart-throbs,
saw nothing but his beloved face regarding her with simple courtesy.
Louis knew that for her the opera was over; the tell-tale bistrous
shadows grew around her eyes, and she became deadly silent.

“What a magnificent man he is,” murmured Mrs. Levice, “and what an
impressive bow he has!” Ruth did not hear her; but when she reached
her own room, she threw herself face downward on her bed in intolerable
anguish. She was not a girl who cried easily. If she had been, her
suffering would not have been so intense,--when the flood-gates are
opened, the river finds relief. Over and over again she wished she might
die and end this eager, passionate craving for some token of love from
him, or for the power of letting him know how it was with her. And it
would always be thus as long as she lived. She did not deceive herself;
no mere friendship would have sufficed,--all or nothing after what had
been.

Physically, however, she bore no traces of this continual restraint. On
the contrary, her slender figure matured to womanly proportions. Little
children, seeing her, smiled responsively at her, or clamored to be
taken into her arms, there was such a tender mother-look about her. By
degrees her friends began to feel the repose of her intellect and
the sympathy of her face, and came to regard her as the queen of
confidantes. Young girls with their continual love episodes and
excitements, ambitious youths with their whimsical schemes of life and
aspirations of love, sought her out openly. Few of these latter dared
hope for any individual thought from her, though any of the older men
would have staked a good deal for the knowledge that she singled him for
her consideration.

Arnold viewed it all with inward satisfaction. He regarded memory but
as a sort of palimpsest; and he was patiently waiting until his own
name should appear again, when the other’s should have been sufficiently
obliterated.

It was a severe winter, and everybody appreciated the luxury of a warm
home. December came in wet and cold, and la grippe held the country in
its disagreeable hold. The Levices were congratulating themselves one
evening on their having escaped the epidemic.

“I suppose the secret of it lies in the fact that we do not coddle
ourselves,” observed Levice.

“If you were to coddle yourself a little more,” retorted his wife, “you
would not cough every morning as you do. Really, Jules, if you do not
consult a physician, I shall send for Kemp myself. I actually think it
is making you thin.”

“Nonsense!” he replied carelessly; “it is only a little irritation of
the throat every morning. If the weather is clear next week, I must go
to New York. Eh, Louis?”

“At this time of the year!” cried Mrs. Levice, in expostulation.

“Some one has to go, and the only one that should is I.”

“I think I could manage it,” said Louis, “if you would see about the
other adjustment while I am gone.”

“No, you could not,”--when Levice said “no,” it seldom meant an ultimate
“yes.” “Besides, the trip will do me good.”

“I shall go with you,” put in Mrs. Levice, decidedly.

“No, dear; you could not stand the cold in New York, and I could not be
bothered with a woman’s grip-sack.”

“Take Ruth, then.”

“I should love to go with you, Father,” she replied to the questioning
glance of his eyes. He seemed to ponder over it for a while, but shook
his head finally.

“No,” he said again; “I shall be very busy, and a woman would be a
nuisance to me. Besides, I wish to be alone for a while.”

They all looked at him in surprise; he was so unused to making testy
remarks.

“Grown tired of womankind?” asked Mrs. Levice, playfully. “Well, if
you must, you must; don’t overstay your health and visit, and bring us
something pretty. How long will you be gone?”

“That depends on the speediness of the courts. No more than three weeks
at the utmost, however.”

So the following Wednesday being bright and sunny, he set off; the
family crossed the bay with him.

“Take care of your mother, Ruth,” he said at parting, “and of yourself,
my pale darling.”

“Don’t worry about me, Father,” she said, pulling up his furred collar;
“indeed, I am well and happy. If you could believe me, perhaps you would
love me as much as you used to.”

“As much! My child, I never loved you better than now; remember that. I
think I have forgotten everybody else in you.”

“Don’t, dear! it makes me feel miserable to think I should cause you a
moment’s uneasiness. Won’t you believe that everything is as I wish it?”

“If I could, I should have to lose the memory of the last four months.
Well, try your best to forgive me, child.”

“Unless you hate me, don’t hurt me with that thought again. I forgive
you? I, who am the cause of it all?”

He kissed her tear-filled eyes tenderly, and turned with a sign to her
mother.

They watched to the last his loved face at the window, Ruth with a sad
smile and a loving wave of her handkerchief.

Over at the mole it is not a bad place to witness tragedies. Pathos
holds the upper hand, and the welcomes are sometimes as heart-rending as
the leave-takings. A woman stood on the ferry with a blank, working face
down which the tears fell heedlessly; a man, her husband, turned from
her, drew his hat down over his eyes, and stalked off toward the
train without a backward glance. Parting is a figure of death in this
respect,--that only those who are left need mourn; the others have
something new beyond.



Chapter XXI

The fire-light threw grotesque shadows on the walls. Ruth and Louis in
the library made no movement to ring for lights; it was quite cosey as
it was. They had both drawn near the crackling wood-blaze, Ruth in a low
rocker, Arnold in Mr. Levice’s broad easy-chair.

“I surely thought you intended going to the concert this evening,
Louis,” she said, looking across at him. “I fancy Mamma expected you to
accompany her.”

“What! Voluntarily put myself into the cold when there is a fire blazing
right here? Ah, no. At any rate, your mother is all right with the
Lewises, and I am all right with you.”

“I give you a guarantee I shall not bite; you look altogether too hard
for my cannibalistic propensities.”

“It is something not to be accounted soft. I think a redundancy of flesh
overflows in trickling sentimentality. My worst enemy could not accuse
me of either fault.”

“But your best friend would not mind a little thaw now and then. One of
the girls confided to me today that walking on and over-waxed floor was
nothing to attempting an equal footing in conversation with you.”

“I am sorry I am such a slippery customer. Does not the fire burn your
face? Shall I hand you a screen?”

“No; I like to toast.”

“But your complexion might char; move your chair a little forward.”

“In two minutes I intend to have lights and to bring my work down. Will
it make you tired to watch me?”

“Exceedingly. I prefer your undivided attention; it is not often we are
alone, Ruth.”

She looked up slightly startled; he seldom made personal remarks. Her
pulses began to flutter with the premonition that reference to a tacitly
buried secret was going to be made.

“We have been going out and receiving a good deal lately, though somehow
I don’t feel festive, with Father away in freezing New York. Mamma would
gladly have stayed at home to-night if Jennie had not insisted.”

“You think so? I fancy she was a very willing captive; she intimated as
much to me.”

“How?”

“Not in words, but her eyes were interesting reading: first,
capitulation to Jennie, then, in rapid succession, inspiration, command,
entreaty, a challenge and retreat, all directed at me. Possibly this
eloquence was lost upon you.”

“Entirely. What was your interpretation?”

“Ah, that was confidential. Perhaps I even endowed her with these
thoughts, knowing her desires were in touch with my own.”

“It is wanton cruelty to arouse a woman’s curiosity and leave it
unsatisfied.”

“It is not cruelty; it is cowardice.”

She gazed at him in wonder. His apple-blossom cheeks wore a rosier glow
than usual. He seized a log from the box, threw it on the blaze that
illumined their faces, grasped the poker, and leaning forward in his
chair let it grow hot as he held it to the flames. His glasses fell off,
dangling from the cord; and as he adjusted them, he caught the curious,
half-amused smile on Ruth’s attentive face. He gave the fire a sharp
raking and addressed her, gazing into the leaping flames.

“I was wondering why, after all, you could not be happy as my wife.”

A numbness as of death overspread her.

“I think I could make you happy, Ruth.”

In the pregnant silence that followed he looked up, and meeting her sad,
reproachful eyes, laid down the poker softly but resolutely; there was
method in the action.

“In fact, I know I could make you happy.”

“Louis, have you forgotten?” she cried in sharp pain.

“I have forgotten nothing,” he replied incisively. “Listen to me, Ruth.
It is because I remember that I ask you. Give me the right to care
for you, and you will be happier than you can ever be in these
circumstances.”

“You do not know what you ask, Louis. Even if I could, you would never
be satisfied.”

“Try me, Ruth,” he entreated.

She raised herself from her easy, reclining position, and regarded him
earnestly.

“What you desire,” she said in a restrained manner, “would be little
short of a crime for me. What manner of wife should I be to you when my
every thought is given to another?”

His face put on the set look of one who has shut his teeth hard
together.

“I anticipated this repulse,” he said after a pause; “so what you have
just assured me of does not affect my wish or my resolution to continue
my plea.”

“Would you marry a woman who feels herself as closely bound to another,
or the memory of another, as if the marriage rite had been actually
performed? Oh, Louis, how could you force me to these disclosures?”

“I am seeking no disclosure, but it is impossible for me to continue
silent now.”

“Why?”

“Why? Because I love you.”

They sat so close together he might have touched her by putting out his
hand, but he remained perfectly still, only the pale excitement of long
repression speaking from his face; but she shrank back at his words and
raised her hand as if about to receive a blow.

“Do not be alarmed,” he continued, noticing the action; “my love cannot
hurt you, or it would have killed you long ago.”

“Oh, Louis,” she murmured, “forgive me; I never thought you cared so
much.”

“How should you? I am not a man to wear my heart upon my sleeve. I think
I have always loved you; but living as familiarly as we have lived,
seeing you whenever I wished, the thought that some day this might end
never occurred to me. It was only when the possibility of some other
man’s claiming your love and taking you from me presented itself, that
my heart rose up in arms against it,--and then I asked you to be my
wife.”

“Yes,” she replied, raising her pale face; “and I refused. The same
cause that moved me then, and to which you submitted without protest,
rules me now, and you know it.”

“No; I do not know it. What then might have had a possible issue is now
done with--or do I err?”

Her mouth trembled piteously, but no tears came as she lowered her head.

“Then listen to me. You may think me a poor sort of a fellow even to
wish you to marry me when you assure me that you love another. That
means that you do not love me as a husband should be loved, but it does
not prove that you never could love me so.”

“It proves just that.”

“No, you may think so now, but let me reason you into seeing the falsity
of your thought,--for I do not wish to force or impel you to do a thing
repugnant to your reason as well as to your feelings. To begin with, you
do not dislike me?”

His face was painful in its eagerness.

“I have always loved you as a dear brother.”

“Some people would consider that worse than hostility; I do not. Another
question: Is there anything about my life or personality to which you
object, or of which your are ashamed?”

“You know how proud we all are of you in your bearing in every relation
of life.”

“I was egotist enough to think as much at any rate; otherwise I
could not approach you so confidently. Well, love--indifferent if you
will--and respect are not a bad foundation for something stronger. Will
you, for the sake of argument, suppose that for some reason you have
forgotten your opposition and have been led into marrying me?”

The sad indulgence of her smile was not inspiriting, but he continued,--

“Now, then, say you are my wife; that means I am your husband, and I
love you. You do not return my love, you say; you think you would be
wretched with me because you love another. Still, you are married to me;
that gives me rights that no other man can possess, no matter how much
you love him. You are bound to me, I to you and your happiness; so I
pledge myself to make you happier than you are now, because I shall make
you forget this man.”

“You could not, and I should only grow to hate you.”

“Impossible,” the pallor of his face intensifying; “because I should
so act that my love would wait upon your pleasure: it would never push
itself into another’s place, but it would in time overshadow the other.
For, remember, I shall be your husband. I shall give you another life;
I shall take you away with me. You will leave all your old friends
and associations for a while, and I shall be with you always,--not
intrusively, but necessarily. I shall give you every pleasure and
novelty that the Old World can afford. I shall shower my love on you,
not myself. In return I shall expect your tolerance. In time I will make
you love me.”

His voice shook with the strength of his passion, while she listened in
heart-sick fear. Carried away by his manner, she almost felt as if he
had accomplished his object. He quieted down after this.

“Don’t you see, Ruth, that all this change must make you forget? And if
you tried to put the past from you for no other reason than that your
wifehood would be less untrue, you would be but following the instincts
of a truly honorable woman. After that, all would be easy. In every
instance you would be forced to look upon me as your husband, for you
would belong to me. I should be the author of all your surroundings; and
always keeping in mind how I want you to regard me, I should woo you so
tenderly that without knowing it you would finally yield. Then, and only
then, when I had filled your thought to the exclusion of every other
man, I should bring you home; and I think we should be happy.”

“And you would be satisfied to give so much and receive so little?”

“The end would repay me.”

“It is a pretty story,” she said, letting her hands fall listlessly into
her lap, “but the denouement is a castle in Spain that we should never
inhabit. You think your love is strong enough to kill mine first of
all; well, I tell you, nothing is strong enough for that. With this fact
established the rest is needless to speak of. It is only your dream,
Louis; forgive me that I unwittingly intruded into it; reality would
mean disillusion,--we are happy only when we dream.”

“You are bitter.”

“Our relations are turned, then; I have put into practice your old
theories of the uselessness of life. No; I am wrong. It is better to die
than not to have loved.”

“You think you have lived your life, then. I can’t convince you
otherwise now; but I am going to beg you to think this over, to try
to imagine yourself my wife. I will not hasten your decision, but in a
week’s time you should be able to answer me yes or no. If anything can
help my cause, I cannot overlook it; so I may tell you now that for some
occult reason your mother’s one wish is to see you my wife.”

“And my father?” her voice was harsh now.

“Your father has expressed to your mother that such a course would make
him happy.”

She rose suddenly as if oppressed. Her face looked hard to a degree. She
stood before him, tall and rigid. He stood up and faced her, reading
her face so intently that he straightened himself as if to receive an
attack.

“I will consider what you have said,” she said mechanically.

The reaction was so unexpected that he turned giddy and caught on to the
back of a chair to steady himself.

“It will not take me a week,” she went on with no change in her
monotone; “I can give you an answer in a day or two. To-morrow night,
perhaps.”

He made a step forward, a movement to seize her hand; but she stepped
back and waved him off.

“Don’t touch me,” she cried in a suppressed voice; “at least you are not
my husband--yet.”

She turned hastily toward the door without another word.

“Wait!”

His vibrant voice compelled her to turn.

“I want no martyr for a wife, nor yet a tragedy queen. If you can come
to me and honestly say, ‘I trust my happiness to you,’ well and good.
But as I told you once before, I am not a saint, and I cannot always
control myself as I have been forced to do tonight. If this admission is
damaging, it is too true to be put lightly aside. I shall not detain you
longer.”

He looked haughty and cold regarding her from this dim distance. Her
gentleness struggled to get the better of her, and she came back and
held out her hand.

“I am sorry if I offended you, Louis; good-night. Will you not pardon my
selfishness?”

His eyes gleamed behind their glasses; he did not take her hand, but
merely bent over the little peace-offering as over a sacrament. Seeing
that he had no intention of doing more, her hand fell passively to her
side, and she left the room.

As the door closed softly, Arnold sank with a hopeless gesture into
a chair and buried his face in his hands. He was not a stoic, but a
man,--a Frenchman, who loved much; but Arnold, half-blinded by his own
love, scarcely appreciated the depths of self-forgetfulness to which
Ruth would have to succumb in order to accept the guaranty of happiness
which he offered her.

The question now presented itself in the light of a duty: if by this
action she could undo the remorse that her former offence had inflicted,
had she the right to ignore the opportunity? A vision of her own sad
face obtruded itself, but she put it sternly from her. If she were to do
this thing, the motive alone must be considered; and she rigidly kept
in view the fact that her marriage would be the only means by which her
father might be relieved of the haunting knowledge of her lost peace
of mind. Had she given one thought to Louis, the possibility of the act
would have been abhorrent to her. One picture she kept constantly before
her,--her father’s happy eyes.



Chapter XXII

Mrs. Levice’s gaze strayed pensively from the violets she was
embroidering to Ruth’s pale face. Every time the latter stirred, her
mother started expectantly; but the anxiously awaited disclosure was not
forthcoming. Outside the rain kept up a sullen downpour, deepening the
feeling of comfort indoors; but Mrs. Levice was not what one might call
comfortably-minded. Her frequent inventories of Ruth’s face had at last
led her to believe that the pallor there depicted and the heavy, dark
shadows about her eyes meant something decidedly not gladsome.

“Don’t you feel well, Ruth?” she asked finally with some anxiety.

Ruth raised her heavy eyes.

“I? Oh, I feel perfectly well. Why do you ask? Do I look ill?”

“Yes, you do; your face is pale, and your eyes look tired. Did you sit
up late last night?”

This was a leading move, but Ruth evaded the deeper meaning that was so
evident to her now.

“No,” she replied; “I believe it could not have been nine when I went
upstairs.”

“Why? Were you too fatigued to sit up, or was Louis’s company
unpleasant?”

“Oh, no,” was the abrupt response, and her eyes fell on the open page
again.

Mrs. Levice, once started on the trail, was not to be baffled by such
tactics. Since Ruth was not ill, she had had some mental disturbance of
which her weary appearance was the consequence. She felt almost
positive that Louis had made some advances last night, from the flash
of intelligence with which he had met her telegraphic expression. It
was natural for her to be curious; it was unnatural for Ruth to be so
reserved. With feelings not a little hurt she decided to know something
more.

“For my part,” she observed, as if continuing a discussion, “I
think Louis charming in a tete-a-tete,--when he feels inclined to
be interesting he generally succeeds. Did he tell you anything worth
repeating? It is a dull afternoon, and you might entertain me a little.”

She looked up from the violet petal she had just completed and
encountered Ruth’s full, questioning gaze.

“What is it you would like to know, Mamma?” she asked in a gentle voice.

“Nothing that you do not wish to tell,” her mother answered proudly, but
regarding her intently.

Ruth passed her hand wearily across her brow, and considered a moment
before answering.

“I did not wish to hurt you by my silence, Mamma; but before I had
decided I hardly thought it necessary to say anything. He asked me
to--marry him.”

The avowal was not made with the conventional confusion and trembling.

Mrs. Levice was startled by the dead calm of her manner.

“You say that as if it were a daily occurrence for a man like Louis
Arnold to offer you his hand and name.”

“I hope not.”

“But you do. I confess I think you are not one tenth as excited as I am.
Why didn’t you tell me before? Any other girl would have sat up to tell
her mother in the night. Oh, Ruth darling, I am so glad. I have been
looking forward to this ever since you grew up. What did you mean by
saying you wished to wait till you had decided? Decided what?”

“Upon my answer.”

“As if you could question it, you fortunate girl! Or were you waiting
for me to help you to it? I scarcely need tell you how you have been
honored.”

“Honor is not everything, Mamma.”

At that moment a desperate longing for her mother’s sympathy seized
her; but the next minute the knowledge of the needless sorrow it would
occasion came to her, and her lips remained closed.

“No,” responded her mother, “and you have more than that; surely Louis
did not neglect to tell you.”

“You mean his love, I suppose,--yes, I have that.”

“Then what else would you have? You probably know that he can give you
every luxury within reason,--so much for honest practicality. As to
Louis himself, the most fastidious could find nothing to cavil at,--he
will make you a perfect husband. You are familiar enough with him to
know his faults; but no man is faultless. I hope you are not so silly
as to expect some girlish ideal,--for all the ideals died in the Golden
Age, you know.”

“As mine did. No; I have outgrown imagination in that line.”

“Then why do you hesitate?” Her mother’s eyes were shining; her face
was alive with the excitement of hope fulfilled. “Is there anything else
wanting?”

“No,” she responded dully; “but let us not talk about it any more,
please. I must see Louis again, you know.”

“If your father were here, he could help you better, dear;” there was no
reproach in Mrs. Levice’s gentle acceptance of the fact; “he will be so
happy over it. There, kiss me, girlie; I know you like to think things
out in silence, and I shall not say another word about it till you give
me leave.”

She kept her word. The dreary afternoon dragged on. By four o-clock it
was growing dark, and Mrs. Levice became restless.

“I am going to my room to write to your father now,--he shall have a
good scolding for the non-receipt of a letter to-day;” and forthwith she
betook herself upstairs.

Ruth closed her book and moved restlessly about the room. She wandered
over to the front window, and drawing aside the silken curtain, looked
out into the storm-tossed garden. The pale heliotropes lay wet and sweet
against the trellises; some loosened rose-petals fluttered noiselessly
to the ground; only the gorgeous chrysanthemums looked proudly
indifferent to the elements; and the beautiful, stately palm-tree just
at the side of the window spread its gracious arms like a protecting
temple. She felt suddenly oppressed and feverish, and threw open the
long French window. The rain had ceased for the time, and she stepped
out upon the veranda. The fragrance of the rain-soaked flowers stole to
her senses; the soft, sweet breeze caressed her temples; she stood still
in the perfumed freshness and enjoyed its peace. By and by she began to
walk up and down. Evening was approaching, and Louis would soon be home.
She had decided to meet him on his return and have it over with. She
must school herself to some show of graciousness. The thing must not be
done by halves or it must not be done at all. Her father’s happiness;
over and over she repeated it. She went so far as to picture herself in
his arms; she heard the old-time words of blessing; she saw his smiling
eyes; and a gentleness stole over her whole face, a gentle nobility that
made it strangely sweet. The soft patter of rain on the gravel roused
her, and she went in; but she felt better, and wished Louis might come
in while the mood was upon her.

It was nearing six when Mrs. Levice came back humming a song.

“I thought you would still be here. Make a light, will you, Ruth; it is
as pitchy as Hades, only that smouldering log looks purgatorial.”

Ruth lit the gas; and as she stood with upturned eyes adjusting the
burner, her mother noticed that the heaviness had departed from her
face. She sank into a rocker and took up the evening paper.

“What time is it, Ruth?”

“Twenty minutes to six,” she answered, glancing at the clock.

“As late as that?” She meant to say, “And Louis not home yet?” but
forbore to mention his name.

“It is raining heavily now,” said Ruth, throwing a log upon the fire.
Mrs. Levice unfolded the crackling newspaper, and Ruth moved over to the
window to draw down the blinds. As she stood looking out with her hand
on the chair, she saw the gate swing slowly open, and a messenger-boy
came dawdling up the walk as if the sun were streaming full upon him.

Ruth stepped noiselessly out, meaning to anticipate his ring. A vague
foreboding drove the blood from her lips as she stood waiting at
the open hall-door. Seeing the streaming light, the boy managed to
accelerate his snail’s pace.

“Miss Ruth Levice live here?” he asked, stopping in the doorway.

“Yes.” She took the packet he handed her. “Any charges or answers?” she
asked.

“Nom,” answered the boy; and noticing her pallor and apprehension, “I’ll
shet the door for you,” he added, laying his hand on the knob.

“Thank you. Here, take two cars if necessary; it is too wet to walk.”
 She handed him a quarter, and the boy went off, gayly whistling.

She closed the heavy door softly and sat down on a chair. She recognized
Louis’s handwriting on the wrapper, and her heart fluttered ominously.
She tore off the damp covering, and the first thing she encountered was
another wrapper on which was written in large characters:--

DEAR RUTH,--Do not be alarmed; everything is all right. I had to leave
town on the overland at 6 P.M. Read the letter first, then the telegram;
they will explain.

LOUIS

The kindly feeling that had prompted this warning was appreciated; one
fear was stilled. She drew out the letter; she saw in perplexity that it
was from her father. She hurriedly opened it and read:

NEW YORK, Jan. 21, 188--.

DEAR LOUIS,--I am writing this from my bed, where I have been confined
for the last week with pneumonia, although I managed to write a daily
postal. Have been quite ill, but am on the mend and only anxious to
start home again. I really cannot rest here, and have made arrangements
to leave to-morrow. Have taken every precaution against catching cold,
and apart from feeling a trifle weak and annoyed by a cough, am all
right. Shall come home directly. Say nothing of this to Esther or Ruth;
shall apprise them by telegram of my home-coming. Had almost completed
the business, and can leave the rest to Hamilton.

My love to you all.

Your loving Uncle,

JULES LEVICE.


Under this Louis had pencilled,

Received this this morning at 10.30.

Ruth closed her eyes as she unfolded the telegram; then with every nerve
quivering she read the yellow missive:--

RENO, Jan. 27, 188--.

LOUIS ARNOLD, San Francisco, Cal.:

Have been delayed by my cough. Feeling too weak to travel alone. Come if
you can.

JULES LEVICE.

Her limbs shook as she sat; her teeth chattered; for one minute she
turned sick and faint. Under the telegram Arnold had written:--

Am sure it is nothing. He has never been ill, and is more frightened
than a more experienced person would be. There is no need to alarm your
mother unnecessarily, so say nothing till you hear from me. Shall wire
you as soon as I arrive, which will be to-morrow night.

LOUIS.

How could she refrain from telling her mother? She felt suddenly weak
and powerless. O God, good God, her heart cried, only make him well!

The sound of the library door closing made her spring to her feet; her
mother stood regarding her.

“What is it, Ruth?” she asked.

“Nothing,” she cried, her voice breaking despite her effort to be
calm,--“nothing at all. Louis has just sent me word that he had to leave
town this evening, and says not to wait dinner for him.”

“That is very strange,” mused her mother, moving slowly toward her and
holding out her hand for the note; but Ruth thrust the papers into her
pocket.

“It is to me, Mamma; you do not care for second-hand love-letters, do
you?” she asked, assuming a desperate gayety. “There is nothing strange
about it; he often leaves like this.”

“Not in such weather and not after---- There won’t be a man in the house
to-night. I wish your father were home; he would not like it if he
knew.” She shivered slightly as they went into the dining-room.



Chapter XXIII

The next day passed like a nightmare. To add to the misery of her
secret, her mother began to fidget over the continued lack of any
communication from her husband. Had the weather been fair, Ruth would
have insisted on her going out with her; but to the rain of the day
before was added a heavy windstorm that made any unnecessary expedition
from home absurd.

Mrs. Levice worried herself into a headache, but would not lie down. She
was sure that the next delivery would bring something. Was it not time
for the second delivery? Would not Ruth please watch for the postman?
By half-past one she took up her station at the window only to see the
jaunty little rubber-encased man go indifferently by. At half-past four
this scene was repeated, and then she decided to act.

“Ring up the telegraph-office, Ruth; I am going to send a despatch.”

“Why, Mamma, probably the mail is delayed; it always is in winter.
Besides, you will only frighten Father.”

“Nonsense; two days is a long delay without the excuse of a blockade. Go
to the telephone, please.”

“The telephone was broken yesterday, you know.”

“I had forgotten. Well, one of the girls must go; I can’t stand it any
longer.”

“You can’t send any of the girls in such weather; both the maids have
terrible colds, and Mary would not go if you asked her. Listen! It is
frightful. I promise to go in the morning if we don’t get a letter,
but we probably shall. Let us play checkers for a while.” With a forced
stoicism she essayed to distract her mother’s thoughts, but with poor
success. The wretched afternoon drew to a close; and immediately after
a show of dining, Mrs. Levice went to bed. At Ruth’s suggestion she took
some headache medicine.

“It will make me sleep, perhaps; and that will be better than worrying
awake and unable to do anything.”

The opiate soon had its effect; and with a sigh of relief Ruth heard
her mother’s regular breathing. It was now her turn to suffer openly the
fox-wounds. Louis had said she would hear to-night; but at what time?
It was now eight o’clock, and the bell might ring at any moment. Mrs.
Levice slept; and Ruth sat dry-eyed and alert, feeling her heart rise to
her throat every time the windows shook or the doors rattled. It was
one of the wildest nights San Francisco ever experienced; trees groaned,
gates slammed, and a perfect war of the elements was abroad. The wailing
wind about the house haunted her like the desolate cry of some one
begging for shelter. The ormolu clock ticked on and chimed forth nine.
Still her mother slept. Ruth from her chair could see that her cheeks
were unnaturally flushed and that her breathing was hurried; but any
degree of oblivion was better than the impatient outlook for menacing
tidings. Despite the heated room, her hands grew cold, and she wrapped
them in the fleecy shawl that enveloped her. The action brought to her
mind the way her father used to tuck her little hands under the coverlet
when a child, after they had clung around his neck in a long good-night,
and how no sooner were they there than out they would pop for “just one
squeeze more, Father;” how long the good-nights were with this play! She
had never called him “papa” like other children, but he had always liked
it best so. She brushed a few drops from her lashes as the sweet
little chimer rang out ten bells; she began to grow heart-sick with her
thoughts; her limbs ached with stiffness, and she began a gentle walk
up and down the room. Would it keep up all night? There! surely somebody
was crunching up the gravel-walk. With one look at her sleeping mother,
she quickly left the room, closing the door carefully behind her. With a
palpitating heart she leaned over the balustrade; was it a false alarm,
after all? The next instant there was a violent pull at the bell, as
startling in the dead of the night as some supernatural summons. Before
Ruth could hurry down, Nora, looking greatly bewildered, came out of
her room and rushed to the door. In a trice she was back again with the
telegram and had put it into Ruth’s hands.

“Fifteen cents’ charges,” she said.

“Pay it,” returned Ruth.

As the maid turned away, she tore open the envelope. Before she could
open the form, a firm hand was placed upon hers.

“Give me that,” said her mother’s voice.

Ruth recoiled; Mrs. Levice stood before her unusually quiet in her white
night-dress; with a strong hand she endeavored to relax Ruth’s fingers
from the paper.

“But, Mamma, it was addressed to me”

“It was a mistake, then; I know it was meant for me. Let go instantly,
or I shall tear the paper. Obey me, Ruth.”

Her voice sounded harsh as a man’s. At the strange tone Ruth’s fingers
loosened, and Mrs. Levice, taking the telegram, re-entered the room;
Ruth followed her closely.

Standing under the chandelier, Mrs. Levice read. No change came over
her face; when she had finished, she handed the paper without a word to
Ruth. This was the message:--

RENO, Jan. 28, 188--

MISS RUTH LEVICE, San Francisco, Cal.

Found your father very weak and feverish and coughing continually.
Insists on getting home immediately. Says to inform Dr. Kemp, who will
understand, and have him at the house on our arrival at 11.30 Thursday.
No present danger.

LOUIS ARNOLD

“Explain,” commanded her mother, speaking in her overwrought condition
as if to a stranger.

“Get into bed first, Mamma, or you will take cold.”

Mrs. Levice suffered herself to be led there, and in a few words Ruth
explained what she knew.

“You knew that yesterday before the train left?”

“Yes, Mamma.”

“And why didn’t you tell me? I should have gone to him. Oh, why didn’t
you tell me?”

“It would have been too late, dear.”

“No, it is too late now; do you hear? I shall never see him again,
and it is all your fault--what do you know? Stop crying! will you stop
crying, or--”

“Mamma, I am not crying; you are crying, and saying things that are
not true. It will not be too late; perhaps it is nothing but the cough.
Louis says there is no danger.”

“Hush!” cried her mother, her whole figure trembling. “I know there is
danger now, this minute. Oh, what can I do, what can I do?” With this
cry all her strength seemed to give way; she sobbed and laughed with the
hysteria of long ago; when Ruth strove to put her arms around her, she
shook her off convulsively.

“Don’t touch me!” she breathed; “it is all your fault--he wants
me--needs me--and, oh, look at me here! Why do you stand there like a
ghost? Go away. No, come here--I want Dr. Kemp; now, at once, he said to
have him; send for him, Ruth.”

“On Thursday morning,” she managed to answer.

“No, now--I must, must, must have him! You won’t go? Then I shall; move
aside.”

Ruth, summoning all her strength, strove to hold her in her arms, all to
no avail.

“Lie still,” she said sternly; “I shall go for Dr. Kemp.”

“You can’t; it is night and raining. Oh,” she continued, half
deliriously, “I know I am acting strangely, and he will calm me. Ruth, I
want to be calm; don’t you understand?”

The two maids, frightened by the noise, stood in the doorway. Both had
their heads covered with shawls; both were suffering with heavy colds.

“Come in, girls. Stay here with my mother; I am going for the doctor.”

“Oh, Miss Ruth, ain’t you afraid? It’s a awful night, and black as
pitch, and you all alone?” asked one, with wide, frightened eyes.

“I am not afraid,” said the girl, a great calmness in her voice as she
spoke above her mother’s sobbing; “stay and try to quiet her. I shall
not be gone long.”

She flew into her room, drew on her overshoes and mackintosh, grasped a
sealskin hood, which she tied securely under her chin, and went out into
the howling, raging night.

She had but a few blocks to go, but under ordinary circumstances the
undertaking would have been disagreeable enough. The rain came down in
heavy, wild torrents; the wind roared madly, wrapping her skirts around
her limbs and making walking almost an impossibility; the darkness
was impenetrable save for the sickly, quavering light shed by the few
street-lamps, as far apart as angel visitants. Lowering her head and
keeping her figure as erect as possible, she struggled bravely on.
She met scarcely any one, and those she did meet occasioned her little
uneasiness in the flood of unusual emotions that overwhelmed her soul.
At any other time the thought of her destination would have blotted out
every other perception; now this was but one of many shuddering visions.
Trouble was making her hard; life could offer her little that would find
her unequal to the test. Down the broad, deserted avenue, with its dark,
imposing mansions, she hurried as if she were alone in the havocking
elements. The rain beat her and lashed her in the face; she faced it
unflinchingly as a small part of her trials. Without a tremor she ran
up Dr. Kemp’s steps. It was only when she stood with her finger on the
bell-button that she realized whom she was about to encounter. Then for
the first time she gave one long sob of self-recollection, and pushed
the button.

Burke almost immediately opened the door. Ruth had no intention of
entering; it would be sufficient to leave her message and hurry home.

“Who’s there?” asked Burke, peering out into the darkness. “It’s a divil
of a night for any one but--”

“Is Dr. Kemp in?” The sweet woman-voice so startled him that he opened
the door wide.

“Come in, mum,” he said apologetically; “come in out of the night.”

“No. Is the doctor in?”

“I don’t know,” he grumbled, “and I can’t stand here with the door
open.”

“Close it, then, but see if he is in, please.”

“I’ll lave it open, and ye can come in or stay out according if ye are
dry-humored or wet-soled;” and he shuffled off. The door was open! Her
father had assured her of this once long ago. Inside were warmth and
light; outside, in the shadow, were cold and darkness. Here she stood.
Would the man never return? Ah, here he came hurrying along; she drew
nearer the door; within a half-foot she stood still with locked jaw and
swimming senses.

“My good woman,” said the grave, kindly voice which calmed while it
unnerved her, “come in and speak to me here. Am I wanted anywhere? Come
in, please; the door must be closed.”

With almost superhuman will she drew herself together and came closer.
Seeing the dark, moving figure, he opened the door wide, and she stepped
in; then as it closed she faced him, turning up her white, haggard face
to his.

“You!”

He recoiled as if stunned, but quickly recovered himself.

“What trouble has brought you to me?” he cried.

“My mother,” she replied in a low, stifled voice, adding almost
instantly in a distant and formal tone, “can you come at once? She is
suffering with hysteria and calls you incessantly.”

He drew himself up and looked at her with a cold, grand air. This girl
had been the only woman who had signally affected his life; yet if her
only recognition of it was this cold manner, he could command the same.

“I will come,” he replied, looking unbendingly, with steely gray eyes,
into her white passionless face, framed in its dark hood.

She bowed her head--further words were impossible--and turned to the
door.

He watched her tugging in blind stupefaction at the strange bolt, but
did not move to her assistance. Her head was bent low over the intricate
thing; but it was useless,--it would not move, and she suddenly raised
her eyes beseechingly to him; with a great revulsion of feeling he saw
that they were swimming in tears. His own lips trembled, and his heart
gave a wild leap. Then one of those unaccountable moods that sometimes
masters the best swayed him strongly.

She was alone with him there; he could keep her if he wished. One look
at her lovely, beloved face, and his higher manhood asserted itself. He
unlatched the door, and still holding it closed, said in a deferential
tone,--

“Will you not wait till I ring for my carriage?”

“I would rather go at once.”

Nothing was left but for him to comply with her wishes; and as she
walked out, he quickly got himself into his proper vestments, seized a
vial from his office, and hurried after her. At this juncture the storm
was frightful. Up the street he could see come one trying ineffectually
to move on. Being a powerful man, he strode on, though the great gusts
carried his breath away. In a few minutes he came alongside of Ruth, who
was making small progress.

“Will you take my arm?” he asked quietly. “It will help you.”

She drew back in alarm.

“There is no necessity,” he indistinctly heard in the roar of the gale.

He kept near enough to her, however, to see her. All along this block of
Van Ness Avenue is a row of tall, heavy-foliaged eucalyptus-trees;
they tossed and creaked and groaned in the furious wind. A violent gust
almost took the two pedestrians off their feet, but not too quickly for
Dr. Kemp to make a stride toward Ruth and drag her back. At the same
moment, one of the trees lurched forward and fell with a crash upon
them. By a great effort he had turned and, holding her before him,
received the greater blow upon his back.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, bending his head so near her face that his
short wet beard brushed her cheek.

“No,” she said, wresting herself from him; “I thank you--but you have
hurt yourself.”

“You are mistaken,” he said abruptly. “Take my arm, please.”

He did not wait for her yea or nay; but drawing her arm through his,
he strode on in silence, holding it closely pinioned against his heart.
When they reached the house, they were both white and breathless. Nora
opened the door for them.

“Oh, Miss Ruth, do hurry up!” she cried, wringing her hands as the
doctor threw off his coat and hat; “all she does now is to stare at us
with her teeth all chattering.”

The doctor sprang up three steps at a time, Ruth quickly following.

The room was in a blaze of light; Mrs. Levice sat up in bed, her
large dark eyes staring into vacancy, her face as white as the snowy
counterpane.

Kemp looked like a pillar of strength as he came up to the bedside.

“Well?” he said, holding out his hand and smiling at her.

As he took her hand in his, she strove to speak; but the sobbing result
was painful.

“None of that!” he said sternly, laying his hand on her shoulders. “If
you try, you can stop this. Now see, I am holding you. Look at me, and
you will understand you must quiet down.”

He used his well-known power of magnetism. Gradually the quivering
shoulders quieted beneath his hands; the staring eyes relaxed, and he
gently laid her head upon the pillow.

“Don’t go away!” she implored piteously, as she felt his hands move from
her.

“No, indeed,” he replied in a bright, soothing voice; “see, I am going
to give you a few drops of this, which will make you all right in a
short time. Now then, open your mouth.”

“But, Doctor, I wish to speak to you.”

“After you have taken this and rested awhile.”

“And you won’t go away?” she persisted.

“I shall stay right here.” She obediently swallowed the dose; and as he
drew up an easy-chair and seated himself, the drawn lines on her face
relaxed.

“It is so strengthening to have you here,” she murmured.

“It will be more strengthening for you to close your eyes.”

Ruth, who still stood in her wet clothes, lowered the lights.

“You had better change your clothes immediately,” said Kemp, in a low
tone from his chair.

She did not look at him, but at his voice she left the room.

Quickly removing her wet garments, she slipped into a loose, dull
red gown. As the dry warmth of it reached her senses, she suddenly
remembered that his feet might be wet. She lit a candle, and going into
Louis’s room, appropriated a pair of slippers that stood in his closet.

It was now past midnight; but no thought of sleep occurred to her till,
entering her mother’s room, she perceived in the semi-darkness that the
doctor lay back with closed eyes. He was not asleep, however, for he
opened his eyes at her light footfall. She looked very beautiful in her
unconfined gown, the red tone heightening the creamy colorlessness of
her face.

“Will you put them on?” she asked in a hushed voice, holding out the
slippers.

“You are very kind,” he replied, looking with hungry eyes into her face.
Seeing that he did not take them, she placed them on the carpet. The
action recalled him to himself, and wishing to detain her, he said,--

“Do they belong to a man as big as I?”

“They are my cousin’s.”

She had half turned to leave.

“Ah,” he returned, “and will he relish the idea of my standing in his
shoes?”

No double-entendre was intended, but Ruth’s thoughts gave one miserable
bound to Arnold.

“He will be pleased to add to your comfort,” spoke Mrs. Levice from the
bed, thus saving Ruth an answer.

“I do not need them,” said the doctor, turning to her swiftly; “and,
Mrs. Levice, if you do not go to sleep, I shall leave.”

“I want Ruth to stay in the room,” she murmured petulantly.

“Very well, Mamma,” said Ruth, wearily, seating herself in a low,
soft-cushioned chair in a remote corner. She knew how to sit perfectly
still. It was a peculiar situation,--the mother, who had been the means
of drawing these two together first and last, slept peacefully; and he
and she, the only waking mortals in the house, with the miserable gulf
between them, sat there without a word.

Ruth’s temples throbbed painfully; she felt weak and tired; toward
morning she sank into a heavy sleep. Kemp did not sleep; he kept his
face turned from her, trying to quiet his thoughts with the dull lullaby
of the rain. But he knew when she slept; his gaze wandered searchingly
around the room till it fell upon a slumber-robe thrown across a divan.
He arose softly and picked it up; his light step made no sound in the
soft carpet. As he came up to Ruth, he saw with an inward groan the
change upon her sleeping face. Great, dark shadows lay about her eyes
not caused by the curling lashes; her mouth drooped pathetically at the
corners; her temples, from which her soft hair was rolled, showed the
blue veins; he would have given much to touch her hair with his hand,
but he laid the cover over her shoulders without touching her, and
tucked it lightly about her knees and feet. Then he went back to his
chair. It was five o’clock before either mother or daughter opened her
eyes; they started up almost simultaneously. Ruth noticed the warm robe
about her, and her eyes sped to the doctor. He, however, was speaking to
Mrs. Levice, who in the dim light looked pale but calm.

“I feel perfectly well,” she was saying, “and shall get up immediately.”

“Where is the necessity?” he inquired. “Lie still to-day; it is not bad
weather for staying in bed.”

“Did not Ruth tell you?”

“Tell me?” he repeated in surprise.

“Of the cause of this attack?”

“No.”

“Then I must. Briefly, my husband has been in New York for the past
five weeks; he suffered there with acute pneumonia for a week, told us
nothing, but hurried home as soon as possible,--too soon, I suppose. Day
before yesterday my nephew received a letter stating these facts, and,
later, a telegram asking him to come to Reno, where he was delayed,
feeling too ill to go farther alone. The first I heard of this was last
night, when Ruth received this telegram from Louis.” She handed it to
him.

As Kemp read, an unmistakable gravity settled on his face. As he was
folding the paper thoughtfully, Mrs. Levice addressed him again in her
unfamiliar, calm voice,--

“Will you please explain what he means by your understanding?”

“Yes; I suppose it is expedient for me to tell you at once,” he said
slowly, reseating himself and pausing as if trying to recall something.

“Last year,” he began, “probably as early as February, your husband came
to me complaining of a cough that annoyed him nights and mornings;
he further told me that when he felt it coming, he went to another
apartment so as not to disturb you. I examined him, and found he was
suffering with the first stages of asthma, and that one of his lungs
was slightly diseased already. I treated him and gave him directions for
living carefully. You knew nothing of this?”

“Nothing,” she answered hoarsely.

“Well,” he went on gently, “there was no cause for worry; if checked in
time, a man may live to second childhood with asthma, and the loss of a
small portion of a lung is not necessarily fatal. He knew this, and was
mending slowly; I examined him several times and found no increase in
the loss of tissue, while he told me the cough was not so troublesome.”

“But for some weeks before he left,” said Mrs. Levice, “he coughed every
morning and night. When I besought him to see a doctor, he ridiculed me
out of the idea. How did you find him before he left?”

“I have not seen Mr. Levice for some months,” he replied gravely.

Mrs. Levice eyed him questioningly, but he offered no explanation.

“Then do you think,” she continued, “that this asthma made the pneumonia
more dangerous?”

“Undoubtedly.”

Her fingers clutched at the sheet convulsively; but the strength of her
voice and aspect remained unbroken.

“Thank you,” she said, “for telling me so candidly. Then will you be
here to-morrow morning?”

“I shall manage to meet him at Oakland with a closed carriage.”

“May I go with you?”

“Pardon me; but it will be best for you to receive him quietly at
home. There must be nothing whatever to disturb him. Have all ready,
especially yourself.”

“I understand,” she said. “And now, Doctor, let me thank you for your
kindness to me;” she held out both hands. “Will you let Ruth show you to
a room, and will you breakfast with us when you have rested?”

“I thank you; it is impossible,” he replied, looking at his watch. “I
shall hurry home now. Good-morning, Mrs. Levice. There may be small
cause for anxiety; and, remember, the less excited you remain, the more
you can help him.”

He turned from her.

“Ruth, will you see the doctor to the door?”

She followed him down the broad staircase, as in former days, but with
a difference. Then he had waited for her to come abreast with him, and
they had descended together, talking pleasantly. Now not a word was
said till he had put on his heavy outer coat. As he laid his hand on the
knob, Ruth spoke,--

“Is there anything I can do for my father, do you think?”

She started as he turned a tired, haggard face to hers.

“I can think of nothing but to have his bed in readiness and complete
quiet about the house.”

“Yes; and--and do you think there is any danger?”

“No, no! at least, I hope not. I shall be able to tell better when I see
him. Is there anything I can do for you?”

She shook her head; she dared not trust herself to speak in the light
of his tender eyes. He hastily opened the door, and bowing, closed it
quickly behind him.



Chapter XXIV

The sun shone with its usual winter favoritism upon San Francisco this
Thursday morning. After the rain the air felt as exhilarating as a day
in spring. Young girls tripped forth “in their figures,” as the French
have it; and even the matrons unfastened their wraps under the genial
wooing of sunbeams.

Everything was quiet about the Levice mansion. Neither Ruth nor her
mother felt inclined to talk; so when Mrs. Levice took up her position
in her husband’s room, Ruth wandered downstairs. The silence seemed
vocal with her fears.

“So I tell ye’s two,” remarked the cook as her young mistress passed
from the kitchen, “that darter and father is more than kin, they is
soul-kin, if ye know what that means; an’ the boss’s girl do love him
more’n seven times seven children which such a man-angel should ‘a’
had.” For the “boss” was to those who served him “little lower than the
angels;” and their prayers the night before had held an eloquent appeal
for his welfare.

Ruth, with her face against the window, watched in sickening anxiety.
She knew they were not to be expected for some time, but it was better
to stand here than in the fear-haunted background.

Suddenly and almost miraculously, it seemed to her, a carriage stood
before the gate. She flew to the door, and as she opened it leaned for
one second blindly against the wall.

“Tell my mother they have come,” she gasped to the maid, who had entered
the hall.

Then she looked out. Two men were carrying one between them up the walk.
As they came nearer, she saw how it was. That bundled-up figure was her
father’s; that emaciated, dark, furrowed face was her father’s; but as
they carefully helped him up the steps, and the loud, painful, panting
breaths came to her, were they her father’s too? No need, Ruth, to
rush forward and vainly implore some power to tear from yourself the
respiration withheld from him. Air, air! So, man, so; one step more and
then relief. Ah!

She paused in agony at the foot of the stairs as the closing door shut
out the dreadful sound. We never value our blessings till we have lost
them; who thinks it a boon to be able to breathe without thinking of the
action?

He had not seen her; his eyes had been closed as if in exhaustion as
they gently helped him along, and she had understood at once that the
only thing to be thought of was, by some manner of means, to remove the
choking obstacle from his lungs. Oh, to be able in her young strength
to hold the weak, loved form in her arms and breathe into him her
overflowing life-breath! She walked upstairs presently; he would be
expecting her. As she reached the upper landing, Kemp came from the
room, closing the door behind him. His bearing revealed a gravity she
had never witnessed before. In his tightly buttoned morning-suit, with
the small white tie at his throat, he might have been officiating at
some solemn ceremonial. He stood still as Ruth confronted him at the
head of the stairs, and met her lovely, miserable eyes with a look of
sympathy. She essayed to speak, but succeeded only in gazing at him in
speechless entreaty.

“Yes, I know,” he responded to her silent appeal; “you were shocked at
what you heard: it was the asthma that has completely overpowered him.
His illness has made him extremely weak.”

“And you think--”

“We must wait till he has rested; the trip was severe for one in his
condition.”

“Tell me the truth, please, with no reservations; is there danger?”

Her eager, abrupt questions told clearly what she suffered.

“He has never had any serious illness; if the asthma has not overleaped
itself, we have much to hope for.”

The intended consolation conveyed a contrary admission which she
immediately grasped.

“That means--the worst,” she said, her clasped fingers speaking the
language of despair. “Oh, Doctor, you who know so much, can’t you help
him? Think, think of everything; there must be something! Only do your
best, do your utmost; you will, won’t you?”

His deep, grave eyes answered her silently as he took both her little
clasped hands in his one strong one, saying simply,--

“Trust me, but only so far as lies within my human power. He is somewhat
eased, and asks for you. Look at your mother: she is surpassing herself;
if your love for him can achieve one half such a conquest, you will but
be making good your inheritance. I shall be in again at one, and will
send some medicines up at once.” He ended in his usual businesslike
tone, and walked hastily downstairs.

There was perfect quiet in the room as Ruth entered. Propped high by
many pillows, Jules Levice lay in his bed; his wife’s arm was about him;
his head rested on her bosom; with her one disengaged hand she smoothed
his white hair. Never was the difference between them more marked than
now, when her beautiful face shone above his, which had the touch of the
destroyer already upon it; never was the love between them more marked
than now, when he leaned in his weakness upon her who had never failed
him in all their wedded years.

His eyes were half closed as if in rest; but he heard her enter, and
Mrs. Levice felt the tremor that thrilled him as Ruth approached.

“My child.”

The softly whispered love-name of old made her tremble; she smiled
through her tears, but when his feeble arms strove to draw her to him,
she stooped, and laying them about her neck, placed her cheek upon his.
For some minutes these three remained knit in a close embrace; love,
strong and tender, spoke and answered in that silence.

“It is good to be at home,” he said, speaking with difficulty.

“It was not home without you, dear,” murmured his wife, laying her lips
softly upon his forehead. Ruth, kneeling beside the bed, noticed how
loosely the dark signet-ring he wore hung upon his slender finger.

“You look ill, my Ruth,” he said, after a pause. “Lay my head down,
Esther love; you must be tired. Sit before me, dear, I want to see your
two faces together.”

His gaunt eyes flitted from one to the other.

“It is a fair picture to take with one,” he whispered.

“To keep with one,” softly trembled his wife’s voice; his eyes met hers
in a commiserating smile.

Suddenly he started up.

“Ruth,” he gasped, “will you go to Louis? He must be worn out.”

She left the room hurriedly. Her faint knock was not immediately
answered, and she called softly; receiving no reply, she turned the
knob, which yielded to her hand. Sunbeams danced merrily about the room
of the young man, who sat in their light in a dejected attitude. He
evidently had made no change in his toilet; and as Ruth stood
unnoticed beside him, her eyes wandered over his gray, unshaven face,
travel-stained and weary to a degree. She laid her hand upon his
shoulder.

“Louis,” she called gently.

He shook under her touch, but made no further sign that he knew of her
presence.

“You must be so tired, Louis,” she continued sympathetically.

It may have been the words, it may have been the tone, it may have been
that she touched some hidden thought, for suddenly, without premonition,
his breast heaved, and he sobbed heavily as only a man can sob.

She started back in pain. That such emotion could so unstring Louis
Arnold was a marvel. It did not last long; and as he rose from his chair
he spoke in his accustomed, quiet tone.

“Forgive my unmanliness,” he said; “it was kind of you to come to me.”

“You look very ill, Louis; can’t I bring you something to refresh you,
or will you lie down?”

“We shall see; is there anything you wish to ask me?

“Nothing.”

After a pause he said,--

“You must not be hopeless; he is in good hands, and everything that can
be done will be done. Is he resting now?”

“Yes; if to breathe like that is to rest. Oh, Louis, when I think how
for months he has suffered alone, it almost drives me crazy.”

“Why think of it, then? Or, if you must, remember that in his surpassing
unselfishness he saved you much anxiety; for you could not have helped
him.”

“Not with our sympathy?”

“Not him, Ruth; to know that you suffered for him was--would have been
his crowning sorrow. Is there anything I can do now?”

“No, only think of yourself for a moment; perhaps you can rest a little,
for you need it, dear.”

A flame of color burned in his cheek at the unusual endearment.

“I shall bring you a cup of tea presently,” she said as she left him.

The morning passed into afternoon. Silence hung upon the house. A card
had been pinned under the door-bell; and the many friends, who in
the short time since the sick man’s arrival had heard of his illness,
dropped in quietly and left as they came.

Dr. Kemp came in after luncheon. Mr. Levice was sleeping,--in all truth,
one could say easily, but the doctor counted much from the rest. He
expected Dr. H----- for a consultation. This he had done as a voucher
and a sort of comforting assurance that nothing would be left undone.
Dr. H----- came in blandly; he went out gravely. There was little to be
said.

Kemp walked thoughtfully upstairs after his colleague had left, and went
straight to Arnold’s room. The freedom of the house was his; he seemed
to have established himself here simply through his earnestness and
devotion.

“Mr. Arnold,” he said to the Frenchman, who quickly rose from his desk,
“I want you to prepare your aunt and your cousin for the worst. You
know this; but if he should have a spell of coughing, the end might be
sudden.”

A cold pallor overspread Louis’s face at the confirmation of his secret
fears.

He bowed slightly and cleared his throat before answering.

“There will be no necessity,” he said; “my uncle intends doing so
himself.”

“He must not hasten it by excitement,” said Kemp, moving toward the
door.

“That is unavoidable,” returned Arnold. “You must know he had an object
in hurrying home.”

“I did not know; but I shall prevent any unnecessary effort to speak. If
you can do this for him, will you not?”

“I cannot.”

“And you know what it is in detail?”

“I do.”

“Then for his sake--”

“And for the others, he must be allowed to speak.”

Kemp regarded him steadily, wondering wherein lay the impression of
concealed power which emanated from him. He left the room without
another word.

“Dr. H----- must have gone to school with you,” panted Levice, as Dr.
Kemp entered; “even his eyes have been educated to express the same
feeling; except for a little--”

“There, there,” quieted Kemp; “don’t exhaust yourself. Miss Levice, that
fan, please. A little higher? How’s that?”

“Do not go, Doctor,” he said feebly; “I have something to say, to do,
and you--I want you--give me something--I must say it now. Esther, where
are you?”

“Here, love.”

“Mr. Levice, you must not talk now,” put in Kemp, authoritatively;
“whatever you have to say will last till morning.”

“And I?”

“And you. Now go to sleep.”

Mrs. Levice followed him to the door.

“You spoke just now of a nurse,” she said through her pale lips; “I
shall not want one: I alone can nurse him.”

“There is much required; I doubt if you are strong enough.”

“I am strong.”

He clasped her hand in assent; he could not deny her.

“I shall come in and stay with you to-night,” he said simply.

“You. Why should you?”

“Because I too love him.”

Her mouth trembled and the lines of her face quivered, but she drew her
hand quickly over it.

Kemp gave one sharp glance over to the bed; Ruth had laid her head
beside her father’s and held his hand. In such a house, in every Jewish
house, one finds the best nurses in the family.



Chapter XXV

Shafts of pale sunlight darted into the room and rested on Mr. Levice’s
hair, covering it with a silver glory,--they trailed along the silken
coverlet, but stopped there; one little beam strayed slowly, and almost
as if with intention, toward Arnold, seated near the foot of the bed.
Ruth, lovely in her pallor, sat near him; Mrs. Levice, on the other
side of the bed, leaned back in her chair placed close to her husband’s
pillow; more remote, though inadvertently so, sat Dr. Kemp. It was by
Mr. Levice’s desire that these four had assembled here.

He was sitting up, supported by many pillows; his face was hollow and
colorless; his hands lay listlessly upon the counterpane. No one touches
him; bathed in sunlight, as he was, the others seemed in shadow. When he
spoke, his voice was almost a whisper, but it was distinctly audible
to the four intent listeners; only the clock seemed to accompany his
staccato speech, running a race, as it were, with his failing strength.

“It is a beautiful world,” he said dreamily, “a very beautiful world;”
 the sunbeams kissed his pale hands as if thanking him; no one stirred,
letting the old man take his time. Finally he realized that all were
waiting for him, and thought sprang, strong and powerful, to his face.

“Dr. Kemp,” he began, “I have something to say to you,--to you in
particular, and to my daughter Ruth. My wife and nephew know in brief
what I have to say; therefore I need not dwell on the painful event
that happened here last September; you will pardon me, when you see the
necessity, for my reverting to it at all.”

Every one’s eyes rested upon him,--that is, all but Arnold’s,
which seemed holding some secret communion with the cupids on the
ceiling,--and the look of convulsive agony that swept across Ruth’s face
was unnoticed.

“In all my long, diversified life,” he went on, “I had never suffered as
I did after she told me her decision,--for in all those years no one
had ever been made to suffer through me; that is, so far as I knew.
Unconsciously, or in anger, I may have hurt many, but never, as in
this case, with knowledge aforethought,--when the blow fell upon my own
child. You will understand, and perhaps forgive, when I say I gave no
thought to you. She came to me with her sweet, renunciating hands held
out, and with a smile of self-forgetfulness, said, ‘Father, you are
right; I could not be happy with this man.’ At the moment I believed
her, thinking she had adopted my views; but with all her bravery, her
real feelings conquered her, and I saw. Not that she had spoken untruly,
but she had implied the truth only in part, I knew my child loved me,
and she meant honestly that my pain would rob her of perfect happiness
with you,--my pain would form an eclipse strong enough to darken
everything. Do you think this knowledge made me glad or proud? Do you
know how love, that in the withholding justifies itself, suffers from
the pain inflicted? But I said, ‘After all, it is as I think; she
will thank me for it some day.’ I was not altogether selfish, please
remember. Then, as I saw her silent wrestling, came distrust of myself;
I remembered I was pitted against two, younger and no more fallible than
myself. As soon as doubt of myself attacked me, I strove to look on
the other side; I strove to rid myself of the old prejudices, the old
superstitions, the old narrowness of faith; it was useless,--I was too
old, and my prejudices had become part of me. It was in this state of
perturbation that I had gone one day up to the top floor of the Palace
Hotel. Thank you, Doctor.”

The latter had quietly risen and administered a stimulant. As he resumed
his seat, Levice continued:

“I was seated at a window overlooking Market Street. Below me surged a
black mass of crowding, jostling, hurrying beings, so far removed they
seemed like little dots, each as large and no larger than his fellows.
Above them stretched the same blue arch of heaven, they breathed the
same air, trod in each other’s footsteps; and yet I knew they were all
so different,--ignorance walked with enlightenment, vice with virtue,
rich with poor, low with high,--but I felt, poised thus above them,
that they were creatures of the same God. Go once thus, and you will
understand the feeling. And so I judged these aliens. Which was greater;
which was less? This one, who from birth and inheritance is able
to stand the equal of any one, or this one, who through birth and
inheritance blinks blindly at the good and beautiful? Character and
circumstance are not altogether of our own making; they are, to a
great degree, results of inherited tendencies over which we have no
control,--accidents of birthplace, in the choosing of which we had no
voice. The high in the world do not shine altogether by their own light,
not do the lowly grovel altogether in their own debasement,--I felt the
excuse for humanity. I was overwhelmed with one feeling,--only God
can weigh such circumstantial evidence; we, in our little knowledge of
results, pronounce sentence, but final judgment is reserved for a higher
court, that sees the cross-purposes in which we are blindly caught.
So with everything. Below me prayed Christian and Jew, Mohammedan and
Brahmin, idolater and agnostic. Why was one man different in this way
from his fellows? Because he was born so, because his parents were so,
because he was bred so, because it seemed natural and convenient to
remain so,--custom and environment had made his religion. Because Jesus
Christ dared to attack their existing customs and beliefs, the Jews,
then powerful, first reviled, then feared, then slew him; because the
Jews could not honestly say, ‘I believe this man to be a God,’ they were
hurled from their eminence and dragged, living, for centuries in the
dust. And yet why? Because God withheld and still withholds from this
little band the power of believing in Christ as his son. Christians call
this a wilful weakness; Jews call it strength. After all, who is to
be praised or blamed for it? God. Then instead of beating the Jew, and
instead of sneering at the Christian, let each pity the other; because
one, I know not which, is weak, and because the other, I know not which,
is strong. I left the building; I came upon the street. I felt like
saluting every one as my brother. A little ragged child touched me,
and as I laid my hand upon her curly head, the thrill of humanity shot
through me.

“It was not until I went to New York that the feelings I then
experienced took on a definite shape. There, removed from my old haunts,
I wandered alone when I could. Then I thought of you, my friend, of
you, my child, and beside you I was pitiful,--pitiful, because in my
narrowness I had thought myself strong enough to uphold a vanishing
restriction. I resolved to be practical; I have been accused of being
a dreamer. I grasped your two images before me and drew parallels.
Socially each was as high as the other. Mentally the woman was as strong
in her sphere as the man was in his. Physically both were perfect types
of pure, healthy blood. Morally both were irreproachable. Religiously
each held a broad love for God and man. I stood convicted; I was in
the position of a blind fool who, with a beautiful picture before him,
fastens his critical, condemning gaze upon a rusting nail in the rusting
wall behind,--a nail even now loosened, and which in another generation
will be displaced. Yet what was I to do? Come back and tell you that I
had been needlessly cruel? What would that avail? True, I might make you
believe that I no longer thought marriage between you wrong; but that
would not remove the fact that the world, which so easily makes us happy
or otherwise, did not see as I saw. In this vortex I was stricken ill.
All the while I wanted to hasten to you, to tell you how it was with
me, and it seemed as if I never could get to you. ‘Is this Nemesis,’ I
thought, ‘or divine interposition?’ So I struggled till Louis came. Then
all was easier. I told him everything and said, ‘Louis, what shall
I do?’ ‘only this,’ he answered simply: ‘tell them that their happy
marriage will be your happiness, and the rest of the world will be as
nothing to these two who love each other.’”

The old man paused; the little sunbeam had reached the end of the
coverlet and gave a leap upon Louis’s shoulder like an angle’s finger,
but his gaze remained fixed upon the cupids on the ceiling. Ruth had
covered her face with her hands. Mrs. Levice was softly weeping, with
her eyes on Louis. Dr. Kemp had risen and stood, tall and pale, meeting
Levice’s eyes.

“I believe--and my wife believes,” said Levice, heavily, as if the words
were so many burdens, “that our child will be happy only as your wife,
and that nothing should stand in the way of the consummation of this
happiness. Dr. Kemp, you have assured me you still love my daughter.
Ruth!”

She sprang to her feet, looking only at her father.

“Little one,” he faltered, “I have been very cruel in my ignorance.”

“Do not think of this, Father,” she whispered.

“I must,” he said, taking her hand in his. “Kemp, your hand, please.”

He grasped the strong white hand and drew the two together; and as
Kemp’s large hand closed firmly over her little one, Levice stooped his
head, kissed them thus clasped, and laid his hand upon them.

“There is one thing more,” he said. “At the utmost I have but a few days
to live. I shall not see your happiness: I shall not see you, my
Ruth, as I have often pictured you. Ah, well, darling, a father may be
permitted sweet dreams of his only child. You have always been a good
girl, and now I am going to ask you to do one thing more--you also,
Doctor. Will you be married now, this day, here, so that I may yet bless
your new life? Will you let me see this? And listen,--will you let the
world know that you were married with my sanction, and did not have to
wait till the old man was dead? Will you do this for me, my dear ones?”

“Will you, Ruth?” asked Kemp, softly, his fingers pressing hers gently.

Ruth stifled a sob as she met her father’s eager eyes.

“I will,” she answered so low that only the intense silence in the room
made it audible.

Levice separated their hands and held one on each of his cheeks.

“Always doing things for her ugly old father,” he murmured; “this time
giving up a pretty wedding-day that all girls so love.”

“Oh, hush, my darling.”

“You will have no guests, unless, Doctor, there is some one you would
like to have.”

“I think not,” he decided, noting with a pang the pale, weary face of
Levice; “we will have it all as quiet as possible. You must rest now,
and leave everything to me. Would you prefer Dr. Stephens or a justice?”

“Either. Dr. Stephens is a good man, whom I know, however; and one good
man with the legal right is as good as another to marry you.”

There was little more said then. Kemp turned to Mrs. Levice and raised
her hand to his lips. Arnold confronted him with a pale, smiling face;
the two men wrung each other’s hands, passing out together immediately
after.



Chapter XXVI

Herbert Kemp and Dr. Stephens stood quietly talking to Mr. Levice. The
latter seemed weaker since his exertion of the morning, and his head lay
back among the pillows as if the support were grateful. Still his
eager eyes were keenly fastened upon the close-lipped mouth and broad,
speaking brow of the minister who spoke so quietly and pleasantly. Kemp,
looking pale and handsome, answered fitfully when appealed to, and kept
an expectant eye upon the door. When Ruth entered, he went forward to
meet her, drawing her arm through his. They had had no word together,
no meeting of any kind but right here in the morning; and now, as she
walked toward the bed, the gentle smile that came as far as her eyes was
all for her father. Thought could hold no rival for him that day.

“This is Miss Levice, Dr. Stephens,” said Kemp, presenting them. A swift
look of wonderment passed under the reverend gentleman’s beetle-brows as
he bent over her hand. Could this tall, beautiful girl be the daughter
of little Jules Levice? Where did she get that pure Madonna face, that
regal bearing, that mobile and expressive mouth? The explanation was
sufficient when Mrs. Levice entered. They stood talking, not much, but
in that wandering, obligatory way that precedes any undertaking. They
were waiting for Arnold; he came in presently with a bunch of pale
heliotropes. He always looked well and in character when dressed for
some social event; it was as if he were made for this style of dress,
not the style for him. The delicate pink of his cheeks looked more like
the damask skin of a young girl than ever; his eyes, however, behind
their glasses, were veiled. As he handed Ruth the flowers, he said,--

“I asked the doctor to allow me to give you these. Will you hold them
with my love?”

“They are both very dear to me,” she replied, raising the flowers to her
lips.

Their fragrance filled the room while the simple ceremony was being
performed. It was a striking picture, and one not likely to be
forgotten. Levice’s eyes filled with proud, pardonable tears as he
looked at his daughter,--for never had she looked as to-day in her
simple white gown, her face like a magnolia bud, a fragrant dream;
standing next to Kemp, the well-mated forms were noticeable. Even
Arnold, with his heart like a crushed ball of lead, acknowledged it
in bitter resignation. For him the scene was one of those silent,
purgatorial moments that are approached with senses steeled and thought
held in a vice. To the others it passed, as if it had happened in a
dream. Even when Kemp stooped and pressed his lips for the first time
upon his wife’s, the real meaning of what had taken place seemed far
away to Ruth; the present held but one thing in prominence,--the pale
face upon the pillow. She felt her mother’s arms around her; she knew
that Louis had raised her hand to his lips, that she had drawn his head
down and kissed him, that Dr. Kemp was standing silently beside her,
that the minister had spoken some gravely pleasant words; but all the
while she wanted to tear herself away from it all and fold that eager,
loving, dying face close to hers. She was allowed to do so finally; and
when she was drawn into the outstretched arms, there was only the long
silence of love.

Kemp had left the room with Dr. Stephens, having a further favor to
intrust to him. The short announcement of this marriage, which Dr.
Stephens gave for insertion in the evening papers, created a world of
talk.

When Kemp re-entered, Levice called him to him, holding out his hand.
The doctor grasped it in that firm clasp which was always a tonic.

“Will you kneel?” asked Levice; Kemp knelt beside his wife, and the old
father blessed them in the words that held a double solemnity now:--

“‘The Lord bless thee and keep thee.

“‘The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee.

“‘The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.’”

“I think if you don’t mind, dear, I shall close my eyes now,” he said as
they arose.

Ruth moved about, closing the blinds.

“Don’t close out all the sun,” said her father; “I like it,--it is an
old friend. After all, I don’t think I’ll sleep; let me lie here and
look at you all awhile. Louis, my boy, must you go?”

“Oh, no,” he replied, turning back from the door and gliding into a
chair.

“Thank you; and now don’t think of me. Go on talking; it will be a
foretaste of something better to lie here and listen. Esther, are you
cold? I felt a shudder go through your hand, love. Ruth, give your
mother a shawl; don’t forget that sometimes some one should see that
your mother is not cold. Just talk, will you?”

So they talked,--that is, the men did. Their grave, deep voices and
the heavily breathing of the invalid were the only sounds in the room.
Finally, as the twilight stole in, it was quite still. Levice had
dropped into a sort of stupor. Kemp arose then.

“I shall be back presently,” he said, addressing Mrs. Levice, who
started perceptibly as he spoke. “I have some few directions to give to
my man that I entirely forgot.”

“Could not we send some one? You must not stay away now.”

“I shall return immediately. Mr. Levice does not need me while he
sleeps, and these instructions are important. Don’t stir, Arnold; I know
my way out.”

Nevertheless Arnold accompanied him to the door. Ruth gave little heed
to their movements. Her agitated heart had grasped the fact that the
lines upon her father’s face had grown weaker and paler, his breathing
shorter and more rasping; when she passed him and touched his hand, it
seemed cold and lifeless.

At nine the doctor came in again; the only appreciable difference in his
going or coming was that no one rose or made any formal remarks. He
went up to the bed and placed his hand on the sleeping head. Mrs. Levice
moved her chair slightly as he seated himself on the edge of the bed
and took Levice’s hand. Ruth, watching him with wide, distended eyes,
thought he would never drop it. Her senses, sharpened by suffering, read
every change on his face. As he withdrew his hand, she gave one long,
involuntary moan. He turned quickly to her.

“What is it?” he asked, his grave eyes scanning her anxiously.

“Nothing,” she responded. It was the first word she had spoken to him
since the afternoon ceremony. He turned back to Levice, lowering his ear
to his chest. After a faint, almost imperceptible pause he arose.

“I think you had all better lie down,” he said softly. “I shall sit with
him, and you all need rest.”

“I could not rest,” said Mrs. Levice; “this chair is all I require.”

“If you would lie on the couch here,” he urged, “you would find the
position easier.”

“No, no! I could not.”

He looked at Ruth.

“I shall go by and by,” she answered.

Arnold had long since gone out.

Ruth’s by and by stretched on interminably. Kemp took up the “Argonaut”
 that lay folded on the table. He did not read much, his eyes straying
from the printed page before him to the “finis” writing itself slowly
on Jules Levice’s face, and thence to Ruth’s pale profile; she was
crying,--so quietly, though, that but for the visible tears an onlooker
might not have known it; she herself did not,--her heart was silently
overflowing.

Toward morning Levice suddenly sprang up in bed and made as if to leap
upon the floor. Kemp’s quick, strong hand held him back.

“Where are you going?” he asked. Mrs. Levice stood instantly beside him.

“Oh,” gasped Levice, his eyes falling upon her, “I wanted to get home;
but it is all right now. Is the child in bed, Esther?”

“Here she is; lie still, Jules; you know you are ill.”

“But not now. Ah, Kemp, I can get up now; I am quite well, you know.”

“Wait till morning,” he resisted, humoring this inevitable idiosyncrasy.

“But it is morning now; and I feel so light and well. Open the shutters,
Ruth; see, Esther; a beautiful day.”

It was quite dark with the darkness that immediately precedes dawn;
the windows were bespangled with the distillations of the night, which
gleamed as the light fell on them.

Mrs. Levice seated herself beside him.

“It is very early, Jules,” she said, smiling with hope, not knowing that
this deceptive feeling was but the rose-flush of the sinking sun; “but
if you feel well when day breaks you can get up, can’t he Doctor?”

“Yes.”

Levice lay back with closed eyes for some minutes. A quivering smile
crossed his face and his eyes opened.

“Were you singing that song just now, Ruth, my angel?”

“What son, Father dear?”

“That--‘Adieu,--adieu--pays--amours’--we sang it--you know--when we left
home together--my mother said--I was too small--too small--and--too--”

Ruth looked around wildly for Kemp. He had left the room; she must go
for him. As she came into the hall, she saw him and Louis hurriedly
advancing up the corridor. Seeing her, they reached her side in a
breath.

“Go,” she whispered through pale lips; “he is breathing with that--”

Kemp laid his hand upon her shoulder.

“Stay here a second; it will be quite peaceful.”

She looked at him in agony and walked blindly in after Louis.

He was lying as they had left him, with Mrs. Levice’s hand in his.

“Keep tight hold, darling,” the rattling voice was saying. “Don’t take
it off till--another takes it--it will not be hard then.” Suddenly he
saw Louis standing pale and straight at the foot of the bed.

“My good boy,” he faltered, “my good boy, God will bless--” His eyes
closed again; paler and paler grew his face.

“Father!” cried Ruth in agony.

He looked toward her smiling.

“The sweetest word,” he murmured; “it was--my glory.”

Silence. A soul is passing; a simple, loving soul, giving no trouble in
its passage; dropping the toils, expanding with infinity. Not utterly
gone; immortality is assured us in the hearts that have touched ours.

Silence. A shadow falls, and Jules Levice’s work is done; and the first
sunbeams crept about him, lay at his feet a moment, touched the quiet
hands, fell on the head like a benediction, and rested there.



Chapter XXVII

“I thought you would be quiet at this hour,” said Rose Delano, seating
herself opposite her friend in the library, the Thursday evening after
the funeral. They looked so different even in the waning light,--Ruth
in soft black, her white face shining like a lily above her sombre gown,
Rose, like a bright firefly, perched on a cricket, her cheeks rosy, her
eyes sparkling from walking against the sharp, cold wind.

“We are always quiet now,” she answered softly; “friends come and go,
but we are very quiet. It does me good to see you, Rosebud.”

“Does it?” her sweet eyes smiled happily. “I was longing to drop in if
only to hold your hand for a minute; but I did not know exactly where to
find you.”

“Why, where could I be but here?”

“I thought possibly you had removed to your husband’s home.”

For a second Ruth looked at her wonderingly; then the slow rich color
mounted, inch by inch, back to her little ears till her face was one
rosy cloud.

“No; I have stayed right on.”

“I saw the doctor to-day,” she chatted. “He looks pale; is he too busy?”

“I do not know,--that is, I suppose so. How are the lessons, Rose?”

“Everything is improving wonderfully; I am so happy, dear Mrs. Kemp, and
what I wished to say was that all happiness and all blessings should, I
pray, fall on you two who have been so much to me. Miss Gwynne told me
that to do good was your birthright. She said that the funeral, with its
vast gathering of friends, rich, poor, old, young, strong, and crippled
of all grades of society, was a revelation of his life even to those who
thought they knew him best. You should feel very proud with such sweet
memories.”

“Yes,” assented Ruth, her eyes quickly suffused with tears.

They sat quietly thus for some time, till Rose, rising from her cricket,
kissed her friend silently and departed.

The waning light fell softly through the lace curtains, printing quaint
arabesques on the walls and furniture and bathing the room in a rich
yellow light. A carriage rolled up in front of the house. Dr. Kemp
handed the reins to his man and alighted. He walked slowly up to the
door. It was very still about the house in the evening twilight. He
pushed his hat back on his head and looked up at the clear blue sky,
as if the keen breeze were pleasant to his temples. Then with a quick
motion, as though recalling his thoughts, he turned and rang the bell.
The latchkey of the householder was not his.

Ruth, sitting in the shadows, had scarcely heard the ring. She was
absorbed in a new train of thought. Rose Delano was the first one who
had clearly brought home to her the thought that she was really married.
She had been very quiet with her other friends, and every one, looking
at her grief-stricken face, had shrunk from mentioning what would have
called for congratulation. Rose, who knew only these two, naturally
dwelt on their changed relations. Her husband! Her dormant love gave
an exultant bound. Wave upon wave of emotion beat upon her heart; she
sprang to her feet; the door opened, and he came in. He saw her standing
faintly outlined in the dark.

“Good-evening,” he said, coming slowly toward her with extended hand;
“have you been quite well to-day?” He felt her fingers tremble in
his close clasp, and let them fall slowly. “Bob sent you these early
violets. Shall I light the gas?”

“If you will.”

He turned from her and rapidly filled the room with light.

“Where is your mother?” he asked, turning toward her again. Her face was
hidden in the violets.

“Upstairs with Louis. They had something to arrange. Did you wish to see
her?” To judge from Ruth’s manner, Kemp might have been a visitor.

“No,” he replied. “If you will sit down, we can talk quietly till they
come in.”

As she resumed her high-backed chair and he seated himself in another
before her, he was instantly struck by some new change in her face. The
faraway, impersonal look with which she had met him in these sad days
had been what he had expected, and he had curbed with a strong will
every impulse for any closer recognition. But this new look,--what did
it mean? In the effort to appear unconcerned the dark color had risen to
his own cheeks.

“I had quite a pleasant little encounter to-day,” he observed; “shall I
tell it to you?”

“If it will not tire you.”

Keeping his eyes fixed on the picture over her head, he did not see the
look of anxious love that dwelt in her eyes as they swept over him.

“Oh, no,” he responded, slightly smiling over the recollection. “I was
coming down my office steps this afternoon, and had just reached the
foot, when a bright-faced, bright-haired boy stood before me with an
eager light in his eyes. ‘Aren’t you Dr. Kemp?’ he asked breathlessly,
like one who had been running. I recollected him the instant he raised
his hat from his nimbus of golden hair. ‘Yes; and you are Will Tyrrell,’
I answered promptly. ‘Why, how did you remember?’ he asked in surprise;
‘you saw me only once.’ ‘Never mind; I remember that night,’ I answered.
‘How is that baby sister of yours?’ ‘Oh, she’s all right,’ he replied
dismissing the subject with the royalty that brotherhood confers. ‘I
say, do you ever see Miss Levice nowadays?’ I looked at him with a
half-smile, not knowing whether to set him right or not, when he finally
blurted out, ‘She’s the finest girl I ever met. Do you know her well,
Doctor?’ ‘Well,’ I answered, ‘I know her slightly,--she is my wife.’”

He had told the little incident brightly; but as he came to the end, his
voice gradually lowered, and as he pronounced the last word, his eyes
sought hers. Her eyelids fluttered; her breath seemed suspended.

“I said you were my wife,” he repeated softly, leaning forward, his
hands grasping the chair-arms.

“And what,” asked Ruth, a little excited ring in her voice,--“what did
Will say?”

“Who cared?” he asked, quickly moving closer to her; “do you?” He caught
her hand in his, scarce knowing what he said, and interlaced his fingers
with hers.

“Ruth,” he asked below his breath, “have you forgotten entirely what we
are to each other?”

It was such a cruel lover’s act to make her face him thus, her bosom
panting, her face changing from white to red and from red to white.

“Have you, sweet love?” he insisted.

“No,” she whispered, trying to turn her head from him.

“No, who?”

With an irrepressible movement she sprang up, pushing his hand from
hers. He rose also, his face pale and disturbed, and indescribable fear
overpowering him.

“You mean,” he said quietly, “that you no longer love me,--say it now
and have it over.”

“Oh,” she cried in exquisite pain, “why do you tantalize me so--can’t
you see that--”

She looked so beautiful thus confessed that with sudden ecstacy he drew
her to him and pressed his lips in one long kiss to hers.

A little later Mrs. Levice and Louis came down. Mrs. Levice entered
first and stood still; Louis, looking over her shoulder, saw
too--nothing but Ruth standing encircled by her husband’s arm; her
lovely face smiled into his, which looked down at her with an expression
that drove every drop of blood from Arnold’s face. For a moment they
were unseen; but when Ruth, who was the first to feel their presence,
started from Kemp as if she had committed a crime, Arnold came forward
entirely at his ease.

Kemp met Mrs. Levice with outstretched hands and smiling eyes.

“Good-evening, Mother,” he said; “we had just been speaking of you.”
 Mrs. Levice looked into his deep, tender eyes, and raising her arm, drew
his head down and kissed him.

Ruth had rolled forward a comfortable chair, and stood beside it with
shy, sweet look as her mother sat down and drew her down beside her.
Sorrow had softened Mrs. Levice wonderfully; and looking for love, she
wooed everybody by her manner.

“What were you saying of me?” she asked, keeping Ruth’s hand in hers
and looking up at Kemp, who leaned against the mantel-shelf, his face
radiant with gladness.

“We were saying that it will do you good to come out of this great house
to our little one, till we find something better.”

Mrs. Levice looked across at Louis, who stood at the piano, his back
half turned, looking over a book.

“It is very sweet to be wanted by you all now,” she said, her
voice trembling slightly; “but I never could leave this house to
strangers,--every room is too full of old associations, and sweet
memories of him. Louis wants me to go down the coast with him soon,
stopping for a month or so at Coronado. Go to your cottage meanwhile by
yourselves; even I should be an intruder. There, Ruth, don’t I know? And
when we come back, we shall see. It is all settled, isn’t it, Louis?”

He turned around then.

“Yes, I feel that I need a change of scene, and I should like to have
her with me; you do not need her now.”

Ruth looked at his careworn face, and said with tender solicitude,--

“You are right, Louis.”

And so it was decided.





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