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Title: Mrs. Farrell
Author: Howells, William Dean
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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                             MRS. FARRELL

    BOOKS BY W. D. HOWELLS


    Annie Kilburn.

    April Hopes.

    Between the Dark and Daylight. New Edition.

    Boy Life. Illustrated.

    Boy’s Town. Illustrated.

    Certain Delightful English Towns. Illustrated. Traveler’s
      Edition, Leather.

    Christmas Every Day, and Other Stories. Holiday Edition. Illustrated.

    Coast of Bohemia. Illustrated.

    Criticism and Fiction. Portrait.

    Daughter of the Storage.

    Day of Their Wedding. Illustrated.

    Familiar Spanish Travels. Illustrated.

    Fennel and Rue. Illustrated. New Edition.

    Flight of Pony Baker.

    Hazard of New Fortunes. New Edition.

    Heroines of Fiction. Illustrated. 2 vols.

    Hither and Thither In Germany.

    Imaginary Interviews.

    Imperative Duty. Paper.

    Impressions and Experiences. New Edition.

    Kentons.

    Landlord at Lion’s Head. Illustrated. New Edition.

    Letters Home.

    Literary Friends and Acquaintance. Illustrated.

    Literature and Life.

    Little Swiss Sojourn. Illustrated.

    London Films. Illustrated. Traveler’s Edition, Leather.

    Miss Bellard’s Inspiration.

    Modern Italian Poets. Illustrated.

    Mother and the Father. Illustrated. New Edition.

    Mrs. Farrell.

    My Literary Passions. New Edition.

    My Mark Twain. Illustrated.

    My Year in a Log Cabin. Illustrated.

    Open-Eyed Conspiracy.

    Pair of Patient Lovers.

    Quality of Mercy. New Edition.

    Questionable Shapes. Ill’d.

    Ragged Lady. Illustrated. New Edition.

    Roman Holidays. Illustrated. Traveler’s Edition, Leather.

    Seen and Unseen at Stratford.

    Seven English Cities. Illustrated. Traveler’s Edition, Leather.

    Shadow of a Dream.

    Son of Royal Langbrith.

    Stops of Various Quills. Illustrated. Limited Edition.

    Story of a Play.

    The Vacation of the Kelwyns.

    Their Silver Wedding Journey. Illustrated. 2 vols. In 1 vol.
       New Edition.

    Through the Eye of a Needle. New Edition.

    Traveller from Altruria. New Edition.

    World of Chance.

    Years of My Youth. Illustrated Edition.


    FARCES:

    A Letter of Introduction. Illustrated.

    A Likely Story. Illustrated.

    A Previous Engagement. Paper.

    Evening Dress. Illustrated.

    Five-o’Clock Tea. Illustrated.

    Parting Friends. Illustrated.

    The Albany Depot. Illustrated.

    The Garroters. Illustrated.

    The Mouse-Trap. Illustrated.

    The Unexpected Guests. Illustrated.


    HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
    ESTABLISHED 1817



                             MRS. FARRELL

                              A NOVEL BY
                         WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS

                       _With an Introduction by
                           Mildred Howells_

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                     HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
                          NEW YORK AND LONDON



                             MRS. FARRELL

                 Copyright, 1921, by Harper & Brothers
                Printed in the United States of America
                                  L-V



INTRODUCTION


This story of my father’s was first printed under the title of _Private
Theatricals_ in the _Atlantic Monthly_ of 1875, while he was still
editor of the magazine. It appeared a few years after Henry James’s
_Gabrielle de Bergerac_, and neither of the two short novels was ever
republished by their authors. My father’s must have been written in the
Concord Avenue house in Cambridge which he and my mother had just built
and moved into. They were very proud of the new house, even of its
mansard roof such as every house of the period was obliged to have, and
which is reflected in the newly added French roofs of some of the houses
near the church in West Pekin; but their greatest pride was in the
library. My impressions of the house are those of rather extreme youth,
but I can remember that it was lined with bookshelves bordered by bands
of red, scalloped leather that were meant, as I now suppose, to keep the
dust from the book tops but which were then pleasantly mysterious to the
infant mind. There were very satisfactory tiles of Eastlake tendencies
over the fireplace, picturing the seasons in yellow and brown, and a
vast flat-topped desk in the middle of the room with rows of drawers on
either side that went down to the floor, leaving a dark hole between
them, which was useful as a doll’s house when not occupied by my
father’s feet. The room was at the back of the house, for greater quiet,
and looked out into a deep, grassy yard divided down the center by a
hedge of lilacs, and only invaded by birds and children.

The background of _Mrs. Farrell_ is the New England farm boarding house,
which was the only form of simple country sojourn before summer cottages
were imagined, and it is interesting to compare it with the farm
boarding in _The Vacation of the Kelwyns_, written so many years after
and giving a much fuller study of the country people. The farmhouse of
this story, kept by the finer type of New England farmers, must, I
think, have been the sort of summer place that my parents were always
seeking, and the Kelwyns’ experience a picture of what they more often
found. In the latter book the country people are of much poorer stuff
than the Woodwards, but one feels in his handling of them the greater
tenderness and understanding that age teaches, and youth, no matter how
sympathetic, cannot compass.

During the later summers, while we still lived in Cambridge, we tried
many different kinds of farm board, and I wish I could remember more of
them for comparison with those of Mrs. Farrell and the Kelwyns, but I
can only recall one of all our landladies, a good-natured farmer’s wife,
so stout that her apron strings only appeared where they were tied
behind her. I made many solemn journeys around her in search of them,
and I think it must have always been while she was frying doughnuts, for
that act is firmly associated in my mind with her invisible apron
strings. I was also vaguely conscious of a feud that raged between our
hosts and their relations, over a family Bible that had reversed the
squaring of the circle by having its corners worn off until it was quite
round. It had been borrowed and wrongfully detained by a younger branch
of the family, leaving hatred and uncharitableness behind. These
reflections, I am afraid, do not throw any great light on the practical
conditions of farm boarding, but they are all I have.

It is amusing to one who started life in the eighteen-seventies, to see
it again from their angle in these pages written not only about them,
but in them. One notes with surprise, after the feminine activity of the
present, the general resignation of even faintly middle-aged ladies to
headaches and invalidism, and the walks taken through woods and meadows
in trailing draperies. The painting of cat-tails emerges from a very
dead past, and even the more modern charcoal head of Blossom brings back
the day of William Hunt’s classes, when charcoal heads prevailed, and
every Boston young lady of artistic taste longed to be among his pupils.
Rachel Woodward’s little red schoolhouse must be deserted to-day and
quietly dropping apart on its country road, as so many others are doing
now that their scholars have been concentrated in big graded schools;
but her practical view of her own talent and her firmness in returning
what she thought more than her drawings worth to Mrs. Gilbert are of no
epoch, but still endure in the New England character, unalterable as its
native granite. Coming from southern Ohio, my father could, perhaps, see
the New England people more clearly than if he had been one of them, and
the Woodward family gives what he felt and valued in their stern
uprightness and self-restraint.

The echoes of the Civil War, in the injustice of Easton’s advancement in
military rank over the head of his friend, come strangely to us who have
just lived through another terrible conflict which has left this world
weary and discouraged. In speaking of the two wars, my father said that
a great difference lay in the spirit that came after them, for when the
Civil War was done people in the North felt that all the troubles of the
world were over, and that in the future everything was going to be
right. Easton’s ideas about hunting and fishing, and his desire to help
the helpless, are a reflection, I think, of the writer’s own feelings;
and in the scene where Easton stops the rearing horse one wonders
whether there survive faint traces of those early literary traditions
that made my father, as he once said, feel when he began writing novels
that he must have his hero do something to win the heroine, like
rescuing her from a wild bull, until he observed that in real life
nothing of the sort was necessary. His minute study of Easton’s emotions
as a lover makes one feel the sympathetic interest of a writer who was
young enough to go fully into them, and form a temptation to quote from
a letter written in his later middle age, in which he says, “I do not
think I can ever write of mating and marriage again.”

Mrs. Gilbert’s desire in her first talk with Mrs. Farrell of “a good
stupid wooing--at least a year of it” for her, shows an early distrust
of Romance as a foundation for life, but in their second talk together
Mrs. Farrell’s answer, “Nothing that’s wrong can be one’s own affair, I
suppose: it belongs to the whole world,” is of his latest, as well as
his earliest philosophy.

MILDRED HOWELLS.



MRS. FARRELL



Chapter I


West Pekin is one of those country places which have yielded to changing
conditions and have ceased to be the simple farming towns of a past
generation. The people are still farmers, but most of them are no longer
farmers only. In the summer they give up the habitable rooms of their
old square wooden houses to boarders from the cities, and lurk about in
the nooks and crannies of their L’s and lean-to’s; and, whatever their
guests may have to complain of, have hardly the best of the bargains
they drive with them. But in this way they eke out the living grudged
them by their neglected acres, and keep their houses in a repair that
contrasts with the decay of their farming. Each place has its grove of
maples, fantastically gnarled and misshapen from the wounds of many
sugar seasons; and an apple orchard, commonly almost past bearing with
age, stretches its knotted boughs over a slope near the house. Every
year the men-folk plow up an area of garden ground, and plant it with
those vegetables which, to the boarders still feeding in mid-July on
last year’s potatoes and tough, new-butchered beef, seem so reluctant in
ripening; but a furrow is hardly turned elsewhere on the farm. It yields
a crop of hay about the end of June, in which the boarders’ children
tumble, and a favorable season may coax from it a few tons of rowen
grass. The old stone walls straggle and fall down even along the
roadside; in the privacy of the wood lots and berry pastures they
abandon themselves to reckless dilapidation.

Many houses in the region stand empty, absently glaring on the passer
with their cold windows, as if striving in vain to recall the
households, long since gone West, to whom they were once homes. By and
by they will drop to ruin; or some shrewd Irishman, who has made four or
five hundred dollars in a Massachusetts suburb, will buy one of them,
and, stocking the farm with his stout boys and girls, will have the
best-looking place about. He thrives where the son of the soil starved;
and if the bitter truth must be owned, he seems to deserve his better
fortune. He has enterprise and energy and industry, and to the summer
boarder, used to the drive and strain of the city, the Yankee farmer
often seems to have none of these qualities. It may be that the summer
boarder judges him rashly; I dare say he would not be willing himself to
take his landlord’s farm as a gift, if he must live on those stony
hillsides the year round, and find himself at each year’s end a year
older but not a day nearer the competence to which all men look forward
as the just reward of long toil. I always fancied a dull discouragement
in the native farming race; an effect of the terrible winter that drowns
a good half of the months in drifts of snow, and of the dreary solitude
of the country life. Great men have come from the rural stock in our
nation before now; and perhaps the people of West Pekin have earned the
right to lie fallow; but whether this is so or not, it is certain that
they often evince an aptness to open the mouth and stand agape at
unusual encounters, which one cannot well dissociate from ideas of a
complete mental repose. If they have no thoughts, they have not the
irrelevance and superfluity of words. They are a signally silent race. I
have seen two of them, old neighbors, meet after an absence, and when
they had hornily rattled their callous palms together, stand staring at
each other, their dry, serrated lips falling apart, their jaws mutely
working up and down, their pale-blue eyes vacantly winking, and their
weather-beaten faces as wholly discharged of expression as the gable
ends of two barns confronting each other from opposite sides of the
road; no figure can portray the grotesqueness of their persons, with
their feet thrust into their heavy boots, and their clothes--originally
misshapen in a slop-shop after some bygone fashion, and now curiously
warped, outgrown, outworn--climbing up their legs and mounting upon
their stooping shoulders. But if they are silent they are not surly;
give them time and they are amiable enough, and they are first and last
honest. They do not ask too much for board, and they show some slow
willingness to act upon a boarder’s suggestions for his greater
comfort. But otherwise they remain unaffected by the contact. They learn
no greater glibness of tongue, or liveliness of mind, or grace of
manner; if their city guests bring with them the vices of wine or beer
at dinner and tobacco after it, the farmers keep themselves
uncontaminate. The only pipe you smell is that of the neighboring
Irishman as he passes with his ox-team; the gypsying French Canadians,
as they wander southward, tipsy by whole families, in their rickety open
buggies, lend the sole bacchanal charm to the prospect that it knows.
These are of a race whose indomitable light-heartedness no rigor of
climate has appalled, whereas our Anglo-Saxon stock in many country
neighborhoods of New England seems weather-beaten in mind as in face;
and this may account for the greater quick-wittedness of the women,
whose indoor life is more protected from the inclemency of our skies. It
is certain that they are far readier than the men, more intelligent,
gracious, and graceful, and with their able connivance the farmer stays
the adversity creeping upon his class, if he does not retrieve its old
prosperity. In the winter his daughters teach school, and in the summer
they help their mother through her enterprise of taking boarders. The
farm feeds them all, but from the women’s labor comes thrice the ready
money that the land ever yields, and it is they who keep alive the sense
of all higher and finer things, Heaven knows with what heroic patience
and devoted endeavor. The house shines, through them, with fresh paper
and paint; year by year they add to those comforts and meek aspirations
toward luxury which the summer guest accepts so lightly when he comes,
smiling askance at the parlor organ in the corner, and the
black-walnut-framed chromo-lithographs on the walls.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nehemiah Woodward left West Pekin in his youth, after his preparation in
the academy, which still rests its classic pediment upon a pair of
fluted pine pillars above the village green, and went to Andover, where
he studied divinity and married his landlady’s daughter. She was a
still, somewhat austere girl, and she had spread no lures for the
affections of her lover, who was of tenderer years than herself; he was
not her first love; perhaps he was at last rather her duty, or her
importuning fate. In any case she did not deny him in the end; they were
married after his ordination and went away to the parish in New York
State over which he was settled, and she left behind her the grave in
which the hopes of her youth were buried. The young minister knew about
it; she told him everything when he first spoke to her of marriage; they
went together to bid farewell to the last resting place of the dead
rival whom he had never seen; and his sublime generosity touched her
heart with a lifelong gratitude.

It was his only inspiration, poor soul! he was a dreadfully dull
man--too dull even for the inarticulate suffering of country
congregations. Parish after parish shifted him from its aching
shoulders; they loved him for his goodness, but they could not endure
him, they hardly knew why; it was really because his sermons were of
lead, and finally none the lighter that they were beaten out so thin. He
had thus worn westward, leaving a deeply striated human surface behind
him, in the line of the New England emigration, as far as to the farther
border of Iowa, and he was an elderly man with a half-grown family, when
his father died and left the ancestral farm at West Pekin, to which none
of the other sons would return from their prosperity in the neighboring
towns or the new countries where they had settled. But it was not a
fortune that Nehemiah could refuse; possibly he had always had his own
secret yearnings for those barren pastures of his boyhood; at any rate,
he gladly parted from his last willing parish and went back to the farm.
Once returned, he seemed never to have been away; he looked as much a
fixture of the landscape as any outbuilding of the place. He quickly
shed whatever clerical dignity had belonged to his outward man, and
slouched into the rusty boots and scarecrow coats and hats that costume
our farmers at their work, as easily as if he had only laid them off
overnight. The physical shape of the farm was favorable to his luckless
gift of going downhill, but the energy of his wife now stayed his
further descent as effectually as if he had been a log propped on the
edge of a slope by some jutting point of granite. She had indeed always
done more than her half toward keeping her family’s souls and bodies
together; now, with a lasting basis to work upon, she took the share on
which Nehemiah’s lax hold had faltered. The house was built with the
substantial handsomeness which a farmer could afford who two generations
ago sent his boys to the academy. It was large and square, with ample
halls crossing each other from side to side, and dividing it into four
spacious rooms below and answering chambers overhead, some of which,
after a season or two of summer boarders, Mrs. Woodward was able to cut
in two and still leave large enough for single beds. In time a series of
very habitable chambers grew out over the one-story wing; a broad new
piazza invited the breeze and shade around two sides of the house, from
whose hilltop perch you could look out over a sea of rolling fields and
woods, steeply shored on the south by the long flank of Scatticong
Mountain. The air was a luxury, the water was delicious; the walks and
drives through the white-birch groves were lovely beyond compare; and
long before the summer of which I write, the fame of Mrs. Woodward’s
abundant table and educated kitchen had made it a privilege to be her
boarders for which people endeavored by engaging her rooms a year
beforehand. Whoever abode there reported it a house flowing with
unstinted cream and eggs; peas, beans, squash, and sweet corn in their
season, of a flavor that the green grocery never knew; blueberries,
raspberries, blackberries, after their kind; and bread with whose just
praise one must hesitate to tax the credulity of one’s hearer.

Mrs. Woodward not only knew how to serve her guests well, but how to
profit by serving them well. She made it her business, and mixed no
sentiment of any sort with it. She abolished herself socially and none
of her boarders offered her slight at the point to which she retreated
from association with them. She left them perfect freedom in the house,
but she kept them rigidly distinct from her own family, whom she devoted
each in his or her way to the enterprise she had undertaken. The family
ate at their own table, and never appeared in the guests’ quarter except
upon some affair connected with their comfort; but they were all willing
in serving. Even Nehemiah himself, under the discipline centering in his
wife, showed a sort of stiff-jointed readiness in hitching up the horse
for the ladies when the boys happened to be out of the way; and he had
thus late in life discovered a genius for gardening. It was to his skill
and industry that the table owed its luxury of vegetables; and he was
wont to walk out at twilight, and stand, bent-kneed and motionless,
among the potatoes, and look steadfastly upon the peas, in serene
emulation of the simulacrum posted in a like attitude in another part of
the patch. He was the most approachable member of the family, and would
willingly have talked with one, no doubt, if he could have found
anything in the world to say. The others were civil, but invisibly held
aloof by the mother’s theory of business, or secret pride, which,
whatever it was, interfered with no one’s rights or pleasures, and so
was generally accepted by amiable newcomers after a few good-natured
attempts to overcome it. There was only one of them who had succeeded
in breaking the circle of this reserve, and her intimacy with the
Woodwards seemed rather another of her oddities than anything
characteristic of them.

The household of the boarders displayed that disparity between the sexes
which is one of the sad problems of the New England civilization, and
perhaps enforced it a little more poignantly than was just. They were
not all single ladies; a good third of the fifteen were married; of the
rest, some were yet too young to think or to despair of marrying, and it
could not be confidently said of others that they wished to change their
state. Nevertheless, one’s first sense of their condition was vaguely
compassionate. It seemed a pity that for six days in the week they
should have to talk to one another and dress only for their own sex. Not
that their toilettes were elaborate; they all said that they liked to
come to the Woodwards’ because you did not have to dress there, but
could go about just as you pleased; yet, having the taste of all
American women in dress, they could not forbear making themselves look
charming, and were always appearing in some surprising freshness and
fragrance of linen, or some gayety of flannel walking costume. The same
number of men would have lapsed into unshaven chins and unblacked boots
in a single week; but these devoted women had their pretty looks on
their consciences, and never failed to honor them. Some of them even
wore flowers in their hair at dinner-- Heaven knows why; and the young
girls were always coming home from the woods with nodding plumes of
bracken in their hats, and walking out in the dusk with coquettish
headgear on, to be seen by no one more important than some barefooted,
half-grown, bashful farm boy driving home his cows. The mothers started
their children out every morning in clean, whole clothes, and patiently
put aside at night the grass-stained, battered, dusty, dishonored
fragments. Even one or two old ladies who were there for the country air
were zealous to be neatly capped. The common sentiment seemed to be that
as you never knew what might happen, you ought to be prepared for it.
What actually happened was the occasional arrival of the stage with an
express package for one of the boarders, and a passenger for some
farmhouse beyond, who at very rare and exciting intervals was a man.
Once a day the young ladies went down to the village after the mail, and
indulged themselves with the spectacle of gentlemen dismounting from the
stage at the hotel, which at such moments poured forth on piazza and
gallery a disheartening force of lady boarders. Regularly, also, at ten
o’clock on Saturday night, when everybody had gone to bed, this
conveyance drove up to the door of the farmhouse, and set down the five
husbands of five of the married ladies, for whom it called again on
Monday morning, before anybody was up. These husbands were almost as
unfailing as the fish-balls at the Sunday breakfast; and when any one of
them was kept in Boston it made a great talk; his wife had got word from
him why he could not come; or she had not got word: it was just as
exciting in either case. The ladies all made some attractive difference
in their dress, which the wives when they went to their rooms asked the
husbands if they had noticed, and which the husbands had not noticed, to
a man. After breakfast, each husband took by the hand the child or two
which his wife had scantly provided him (a family of four children was
thought pitiably large, and a marvel of responsibility to the mother),
and went off to the woods, whence he returned an hour before dinner, and
read the evening papers which he had brought up in his pocket. In the
afternoon he was reported asleep, being fatigued by the ride from town
the day before, or he sat and smoked, or sometimes went driving with his
family. His voice as the household heard it next morning at dawn had a
gayer note than at any other time in the last thirty-eight hours, and
his wife, coming down to breakfast, met the regulation jest about her
renewed widowhood with a cheerfulness that was apparently sincere.

It may not have been so dull a life for the ladies as men would flatter
themselves; they all seemed to like it, and not a woman among them was
eager to get back to her own house and its cares. Perhaps the
remembrance of these cares was the secret of her present content;
perhaps women, when remanded to a comparatively natural state, are more
easily satisfied then men. It is certain that they are always enduring
extremes of ennui that appear intolerable to the other sex. Here at
Woodward farm they had their own little world, which I dare say was all
the better and kindlier for being their own. They were very kind to one
another, but preferences and friendships necessarily formed themselves.
Certain ladies were habitually visiting, as they called it, in one
another’s rooms, and one lady on the ground floor was of a hospitable
genius that invited the other boarders to make her room the common
lounging and gossiping place. Whoever went in or out stopped there; and
the mail, when it was brought from the post-office, was distributed and
mostly read and talked over, there.

Till a bed was put into the parlor, one of the young ladies used to play
a very little on the organ after breakfast on rainy days. One of the
married ladies, who had no children, painted; she painted cat-tail
rushes, generally; not very like, and yet plainly recognizable. Another
embroidered; she sat with her work in the wide doorway, and those
passing her used to stop and take up one edge of it as it hung from her
fingers, and talk very seriously about it, and tell what they had seen
of the kind. Some of them were always writing letters; two or three had
a special gift of sleep, both before and after dinner, which
distinguished them from several nervous ladies, who _never_ could sleep
in the daytime. The young girls went up the mountain a good deal
whenever they could join a party; twice when one of their brothers came
from the city they camped out on the mountain; it was a great thing to
see their camp fire after dusk; once they came home in a rain, and that
was talk for two days, and always a joke afterward. They had a lot of
novels, not very new to our generation, which they read aloud to one
another sometimes; they began to write a novel of their own, each
contributing a chapter, but I believe they never finished it; the
youngest kept a journal, but she did not write in it much. She could
also drive; and her timid elders who rode out with her said they felt
almost as safe with her as with a man. All the ladies said that the air
was doing them a great deal of good, and, if not, that the complete rest
was everything; none of them had that wornout feeling with which she had
come; if any did not pick up at once, she was told that she would see
the change when she got home in the fall. Two or three, in the meantime,
were nearly always sick in bed, or kept from meals by headache. From
time to time the well ones had themselves weighed at the village store,
to know whether they had gained or lost. They all talked together a good
deal about their complaints, of which, whether they were sick or well,
they each had several.

These were the interests and occupations, this the life, at Woodward
farm, to the entire simplicity of which I am afraid I have not done
justice, when a thing happened that complicated the situation and for
the moment robbed it of its characteristic repose. It appears that while
Mrs. Stevenson was quietly multiplying cat-tail rushes in her cool,
airy, upstairs room, one of the Woodward girls, who taught school and in
vacation waited on the boarders at the table, had also been
employed--somewhere in the mysterious L part, where her family bestowed
itself--on a work of art, a head of the Alderney cow known to the whole
household as Blossom. Whether it was ever meant to be seen or not is
scarcely certain; that lady who alone had the intimacy of the Woodwards
came out with it from the kitchen one morning, as by violence, and
showed it to the boarders after breakfast, while they still loitered at
the table, none of the artist’s kindred appearing. They all recognized
Blossom in a moment, but the exhibitor let them suffer and guess awhile
who did it. Then she exploded the fact upon them, and the excitement
began to rise. They said that it was a real Rosa Bonheur; and Mrs.
Stevenson, who was indeed in another line of art and need feel no envy,
set her head on one side, held the picture at arm’s length in different
lights, and pronounced it perfect, simply perfect, for a charcoal
sketch. They had looked at it in a group; now they looked at it singly
and from a distance, cautioning one another that the least touch would
ruin it. Then they began to ask the exhibitress if she had known of Miss
Woodward’s gift before, the young girls listening to her replies with
something of the zeal and reverence they felt for the artist. At last
they said Mrs. Gilbert must see it, and followed it in procession to the
room of the public-spirited lady on the first floor. She had been having
her breakfast in bed, and now sat in a beruffled, sweet-scented
dishabille, which became her pale, middle-aged, invalid good looks--her
French-marquise effect, one young girl called it, Mrs. Gilbert’s hair
being quite gray, and her thick eyebrows dark, like those of a powdered
old-regime beauty. They set the drawing on her chimney-piece, and she
considered it a long while with her hands lying in her lap. “Yes,” she
sighed at last, “it’s very fair indeed, poor thing.”

“Blossom or Rachel, Mrs. Gilbert?” promptly demanded the lady who had
been chaperoning the picture, with a tremor of humorous appreciation at
the corners of her mouth, and a quick glance of her very dark-brown
eyes.

“Rachel,” answered Mrs. Gilbert. “Blossom is a blessed cow. But a woman
of genius in a New England farmhouse where they take summer boarders--oh
dear me! Yes, it’s quite as bad as that, I should say,” she added,
thoughtfully, after another stare at the picture.

“Quite.”

The company had settled and perched and poised upon the different pieces
of furniture, as if they expected Mrs. Gilbert to go on talking; but she
seemed to be out of the mood, and chose rather to listen to their
applauses of the picture. The sum of their kindly feeling appeared to be
that something must be done to encourage Miss Woodward, but they were
not certain how she ought to be encouraged, and they began to stray away
from the subject before anything was concluded. When the surprise had
been drained to the dregs, a natural reaction began, and they left Mrs.
Gilbert somewhat sooner than usual and with signs of fatigue. Presently
no one remained but the lady who had exhibited the picture; her, as she
made a movement to take it from the mantel, Mrs. Gilbert stopped, and
began to ask about the artistic history of Miss Woodward.



Chapter II


Mrs. Belle Farrell, one of the summer boarders, stood waiting at the
side of the road for Rachel Woodward, who presently appeared on the
threshold of the red schoolhouse, with several books on her arm. It was
Saturday afternoon; her school term had ended the day before, and she
had returned now for some property of hers left in the schoolhouse
overnight. She laid down the books while she locked the door and put the
key in her pocket, and then she gathered them up and moved somewhat
languidly toward Mrs. Farrell. This lady was slender enough to seem of
greater height than she really was, but not slender enough to look
meager, and she wore a stuff that clung to her shape, and, without
defining it too statuesquely, brought out all its stylishness. Her dress
was not so well suited to walking along country roads as it was to some
pretty effects of pose; caught with the left hand, and drawn tightly
across from behind, its plaited folds expanded about Mrs. Farrell’s
feet, and as she turned her head for a sidelong glance at her skirt it
made her look like a lady on a Japanese fan. The resemblance was
heightened by Mrs. Farrell’s brunette coloring of dusky red and white,
and very dark eyes and hair; but for the rest her features were too
regular; she knitted her level brows under a forehead overhung with
loose hair like a French painter’s fancy of a Roman girl of the
decadence, and she was not a Buddhist half the time. This afternoon, for
example, she had in the hand with which she swept her skirt forward, a
very charming little English copy of Keble’s _Christian Year_, in
mouse-colored, flexible leather, with red edges. It was a book that she
had carried a good deal that summer.

She now looked up and down the road, and, seeing no one but Rachel, she
undid her attitude and pinned her draperies courageously out of the way.
“Let us go home through the berry pasture,” she said, and at the same
time she stepped out toward the bars of the meadow with a stride that
showed the elastic beauty of her ankles and the neat fit of her stout
walking shoes; she mounted and was over before the country girl could
let down one of the bars and creep through. In spite of Mrs. Farrell’s
stylishness, the pasture and she seemed joyously to accept each other as
parts of nature; as she now lounged over the tough, springy knolls and
leaped from one gray-lichened rock to another, and glided in and out of
the sun-shotten clumps of white birches, she suggested a well-millinered
wood nymph not the least afraid of satyrs; she suffered herself to
whistle fragments of opera as she stooped from time to time and examined
the low bushes to see if there were any ripe berries yet. Such as she
found she ate with a frank, natural, charming greed; but there were not
many of them.

“We shall have to stick to custard pie for another week,” she said;
“I’m glad it’s so good. Don’t let’s go home at once, Rachel. Sit down
and have a talk, and I’ll help you through afterward, or get you out of
the trouble somehow. Halt!” she commanded.

The girl showed a conscientious hesitation, while Mrs. Farrell sank down
at the base of a bowlder on which the sunset had been shining. The day
was one of that freshness which comes often enough to the New England
hills even late in July; Mrs. Farrell leaned back with her hands clasped
behind her head, and closed her eyes in luxury. “Oh, you nice old rock,
you! How warm you are to a person’s back!”

Rachel crouched somewhat primly near her, with her books on her knee,
and glanced with a slight anxiety at the freedom of Mrs. Farrell’s
self-disposition, whose signal grace might well have justified its own
daring.

“Rachel,” said Mrs. Farrell, subtly interpreting her expression, “you’re
almost as modest as a man; I’m always putting you to the blush. There,
will that do any better?” she asked, modifying her posture. She gazed
into the young girl’s face with a caricatured prudery, and Rachel
colored faintly and smiled.

“Perhaps I wasn’t thinking what you thought,” she said.

“Oh yes, you were, you sly thing; don’t try to deceive my youth and
inexperience. I suppose you’re glad your school’s over for the summer,
Rachel.”

“I don’t know. Yes, I’m glad; it’s hard work. I shall have a change, at
least, helping about home.”

“What shall you do?”

“I suppose I shall wait on table.”

“Well, then, you shall _not_. I’ll arrange _that_ with your mother,
anyway. I’ll wait on table myself, first.”

“I don’t see what difference it makes whether I work for the boarders in
the kitchen or wait on them at the table.”

“It makes a great difference: you can’t be bidden by them if you’re not
in the way, and I’m not going to have a woman of genius asking common
clay if it will take some more of the hash or another help of pie in
_my_ presence. Yes, I say _genius_, Rachel; and Mrs. Gilbert said so,
too,” cried Mrs. Farrell, at some signs in the girl, who seemed a little
impatient of the subject, as of something already talked over; “and I’m
proud of having been in the secret of it. I never _shall_ forget how
they all looked when I came dancing out with it and stood it up at the
head of the table, where they could see it! They thought I did it, and
they had quite a revulsion of feeling when they found it was yours.
Where are you going, Rachel? To Florence, or the Cooper Institute, or
Doctor Rimmer?”

“I have no idea of going anywhere. I have no money; father couldn’t
afford to send me. I don’t expect to leave home.”

“Well, then, I’ll tell you: you must. Why can’t you come and stay with
me in Boston, this winter? I’ve got two rooms, and money enough to keep
a couple of mice--especially if one’s a country mouse--and we’ll study
art together. I might as well do that as anything--or nothing. Come, is
it a bargain?”

“If I could get the money to pay for my boarding, I think I should like
it very much. But I couldn’t,” answered Rachel, quietly.

“Why, Rachel, can’t you understand that you are to be my guest?”

Even the women of West Pekin are slow to melt in gratitude, and Rachel
replied without effusion:

“Did you mean that? It is very good of you--but I could never think of
it,” she added, firmly. “I never could pay you back in any way. It would
come to a great deal in a winter--city board.”

“Do I understand you to refuse this handsome offer, Rachel?”

“I must.”

“All right. Then I shall certainly count upon your being with me, for it
would be foolish not to come, and whatever you are, Rachel, you’re not
foolish. I’m going to talk with your mother about it. Why, you
little--chipmunk,” cried Mrs. Farrell, adding the term of endearment
after some hesitation for the precise expression, “I want you to come
and do me credit. When your things are on exhibition at Williams and
Everett’s, and Doll and Richards’s, I’m going to gather a few small
spears of glory for myself by slyly telling round that _I_ gave you your
first instruction, and kept you from blushing unseen in West Pekin. I’ve
felt the want of a protégée a good while, and here you are, just made
to my hand. I heard before I came away that they were going to get up a
life class next winter. Perhaps we could get a chance to join that.”

“Life class?”

“Yes; to draw from the nude, you know.”

“From the--” Rachel hesitated.

“Yes, yes, yes! my wild-wood flower. From the human being, the
fellow-creature, with as little _on_ as possible,” shouted Mrs. Farrell.
“How can you learn the figure any other way?”

A puzzled, painful look came into the girl’s eyes, and “Do--do--ladies
go?” she asked, faintly.

“Of _course_ they go!” said Mrs. Farrell. “It’s a regular part of
art-education. The ladies have separate classes in New York; but they
don’t abroad.”

Rachel seemed at a loss what to answer. She dropped her eyes under Mrs.
Farrell’s scrutiny, and softly plucked at a tuft of grass. At last she
said, without looking up, “It wouldn’t be necessary for me to go. I only
want to paint animals.”

“Well, and aren’t _men_ animals?” demanded Mrs. Farrell, leaning forward
and trying to turn the girl about so as to look into her averted face.

“Don’t!” said the other, in a wounded tone.

“Rachel, Rachel!” cried Mrs. Farrell, tenderly, “I’ve really shocked
you, haven’t I? Don’t be mad at me, my little girl: _I_ didn’t invent
the life class, and I never went to one. I don’t know whether it’s
exactly nice or not. I suppose people wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. Come,
look round at me, Rachel: I’m so glad of your liking me that if you
stop it for half a second you’ll break my heart!” She spoke in tones of
anxious appeal, and then suddenly added, “If you’ll visit me this winter
we won’t go to the life class; we’ll sleep together in the parlor and
keep a cow in the back room.”

Rachel gave way to a laugh, with her face hidden in her hands, and Mrs.
Farrell fell back, satisfied, against her comfortable rock again, and
put her hand in her pocket. “Look here, Rachel,” she said, drawing it
out. “Here’s something of yours.” She tossed a crisp, rattling
ten-dollar note into the girl’s lap, and nodded as Rachel turned a face
of question upon her. “I sold your Blossom for that this morning; I
forgot to tell you before. No, ma’am; I didn’t buy it. Mrs. Gilbert
bought it. The others praised it, Mrs. Gilbert paid for it: that’s Mrs.
Gilbert. I told her something about you and how you owed everything to
my instruction, and she offered ten dollars for Blossom. I tried to beat
her down to five,” she continued, while Rachel stared dumbly at the
money, “but it was no use. She wouldn’t fall a cent. She.... Ugh! What’s
that?” cried Mrs. Farrell.

She gathered her dispersed picturesqueness hastily up, threw her head
alertly round, and confronted a mild-faced cow, placidly pausing twenty
paces off under the bough of a tree, through which she had advanced her
visage, and softly regarding them with her gentle brown eyes. “Why,
Blossom, Blossom!” complained the lady. “How could you come up in that
startling way? I thought it was a man! Though of course,” she added,
less dramatically, “I might have remembered that there isn’t a man
within a hundred miles.”

She was about to lean back again in her lazy posture, when voices made
themselves heard from the wood beside the pasture out of which Blossom
had emerged. “Men’s voices, Rachel!” she whispered. “An adventure! I
suppose we must run away from it!”

Mrs. Farrell struggled up from her sitting posture, and, entangling her
foot in her skirt, plunged forward with graceful awkwardness, but did
not fall. She caught the pins out of her drapery, and Rachel and she
were well on their way to the bars which would let them into the road,
when two men emerged from the birch thicket out of which Blossom had
appeared. One was tall and dark, with a firm, very dark mustache
branching across a full beard. The other was a fair man, with a delicate
face; he was slight of frame, and of the middle stature; in his whole
bearing there was an expression of tacit resolution, which had also a
touch of an indefinable something that one might call fanaticism. Both
were city-clad, but very simply and fitly for faring through woods and
fields; the dark man wore high boots; he carried a trouting rod, and at
his side was a fish basket.

They looked after the two women with eyes that clung charmed to the
figure of Mrs. Farrell, as she drifted down the sloping meadow-path.

“Magnificent!” said the dark man, carelessly. “‘A daughter of the gods,
divinely tall and most divinely fair!’”

A flush came over the cheek of the other, but he said nothing, while he
absently advanced to the rock beside which the women had been sitting,
as if that superb shape had drawn him thus far after her. A little book
lay there, which he touched with his foot before he saw it. As he
stooped to pick it up, Mrs. Farrell stopped fleetly, as a deer stops,
and, wheeling round, went rapidly back toward the two men. When Mrs.
Farrell advanced upon you, you had a sense of lustrous brown eyes
growing and brightening out of space, and then you knew of the airy
looseness of the overhanging hair and of the perfection of the face, and
last of the sweeping, undulant grace of the divine figure. So she came
onward now, fixing her unfrightened, steadfast eyes upon the young man,
out of whose face went everything but worship. He took off his hat, and
bent forward with a bow, offering the pretty volume, at which he had
hardly glanced.

“Thanks,” she breathed, and for an instant she relaxed the severe
impersonality of her regard, and flooded him with a look. He stood
helpless, while she turned and swiftly rejoined her companion, and so he
remained standing till she and Rachel had passed through the meadow bars
and out of sight.

Then the dark man moved and said, solemnly, “Don’t laugh, Easton; you
wouldn’t like to be seen through, yourself.”

“Laugh, Gilbert?” retorted Easton, with a start. “What do you mean? What
is there to laugh at?” he demanded.

“Nothing. It was superbly done. It was a stroke of genius in its way.”

“I don’t understand you,” cried Easton.

“Why, you don’t suppose she left it here on purpose, and meant one of us
to pick it up, so that she could come back and get it from him, and see
just what manner of men we were; and--”

“No! I _don’t_ suppose that.”

“Neither do I,” said Gilbert, nonchalantly. “I never saw anything more
unconscious. Come, let’s be going; there’s nothing to call her back,
now.”

He put his hand under the fish basket, and weighed it mechanically,
while he used the mass of his uncoupled rod staffwise, and moved away.
Easton followed with a bewildered air, at which Gilbert, when he
happened to glance round at him, broke into a laugh.



Chapter III


In the evening Gilbert walked over to Woodward farm from the hotel where
he and Easton had stopped that morning, and called on his sister-in-law.
He had brought word from her husband in Boston, whom he had gone out of
his course to see on his journey up from New York. When she found out
that he had been in West Pekin all day, he owned that he had spent the
time fishing. “I didn’t suppose you’d be in any hurry to hear of Bob’s
detention; and really, you know, I _came_ for the fishing.”

“You needn’t be so explicit, William,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “I’m not
vain.”

“I was merely apologizing.”

“Were you? What luck did you have?”

“The brooks are fished to death. I’ve had bad enough luck to satisfy
even Easton, who had a conscience against fishing, among other things.”

“Easton! _Your_ Easton? Is Wayne Easton with you?” demanded Mrs.
Gilbert, with impetuous interest. “You don’t mean it!”

“No, but I say it,” answered Gilbert, unperturbed.

“What in the world brought him?” pursued his sister-in-law more
guardedly, as if made aware by some lurking pain that an impetuous
interest was not for invalids.

“The ideal of friendship. I happened to say that I was feeling a little
out of sorts and was coming up here, and he jumped at the chance to
disarrange himself by coming with me. He was illustrating his great
principle that New York is the best place to spend the summer, and it
cost him something of a struggle to give it up, but he conquered.”

“Is he really so queer?”

“He or we. I won’t make so bold as to say which.”

“Has he still got that remarkable protégé of his on his hands?”

“No; Rogers has given Easton his freedom. He’s gone on to a farm, with
all Easton’s board and lodging, Latin and French, in him. His modest
aspiration is finally to manage a market garden.”

“What a wicked waste of beneficence!”

“Easton looks at it differently. He says that no one else would ever
have given Rogers an education, and that the learning wasn’t more thrown
away on him than on many, perhaps most, people who are sent to college;
learning has to be thrown away somehow. Besides, he economized by
sharing his room with Rogers, you know.”

“No, I didn’t know that. Don’t you think that was rather more than
Providence required of Mr. Easton?”

“I can’t say, Mrs. Gilbert.”

“But to take such a hopeless case--so hopelessly common!”

“There are some odd instances of the kind on record. The Christian
religion was originally sent to rather a common lot.”

“Yes, but Latin wasn’t, and French wasn’t, and first-class board wasn’t.
You needn’t try to gammon me with that sort of thing, William. I won’t
stand it.”

“Well, I wouldn’t, myself. But I thought perhaps a lady might. Why did
you put me on the defensive? _I_ didn’t try to form Rogers, or _re_form
him.”

“No, but you countenanced your Mr. Easton in it. He ought to have
married and supported a wife, instead of risking his money on such a
wild venture; it’s no better than gambling.”

“That’s your old hobby, Susan. A man can’t always be marrying and
supporting a wife. And as for countenancing Easton, if he thought a
thing was right, it’s very little of my cheek he would want to uphold
him.”

“Oh, I dare say. That’s his insufferable conceit; conscientious people
are always _so_ conceited! They’re always so sure that they know just
what is right and wrong. Ugh! I can’t endure ’em.”

“I don’t think Easton’s conscientiousness is of that aggravating type,
exactly,” said Gilbert, with a lazy laugh.

“He has got a good many principles, ready cut and dried, but I should
say life in general was something of a puzzler to him. He’s one of the
wrecks of the war. Easton was peculiarly fitted to go on fighting
forever in a sacred cause; he’s a born crusader; and this piping time
of peace takes him at a disadvantage. He hates rest, and ease, and all
the other nice things; what he wants is some good, disagreeable, lasting
form of self-sacrifice: I believe it’s a real grief to him that he
didn’t lose a leg; a couple of amputations would have made him perfectly
happy; though of course he would _choose_ another war of emancipation,
for he wouldn’t want to be happy in such a useless way. As it is, he is
a wretched castaway on the shores of the Fortunate Isles.”

“Why doesn’t he do something? Why does he idle away even the
contemptible hours of peace and prosperity?”

“He does; he doesn’t. He’s at work on that book of his, all the time.”

“Oh, I don’t call that work.”

“He makes it work. Even if he went merely to literature for his
material, his Contributions to the Annals of Heroism might be a serious
labor; but he goes to life for it. He hunts up his heroes in the streets
and in the back alleys, in domestic service, in the newspaper offices,
in bank parlors, and even in the pulpits: he has a most catholic taste
in heroism; he spares neither age, sex, nor condition. I suppose it
isn’t an idle thing to instruct the world that all the highest dreams of
self-devotion and courage and patience are daily realized in our
blackguard metropolis: we leave culture and refinement to Boston. And if
it were so, it must be allowed that even with a futile object in view,
Easton does some incidental good: he half supports about half of his
heroes, and he’s always wasting his time and substance in good deeds.”

“Well, well,” said Mrs. Gilbert, “I can’t admire such an eccentric, and
you needn’t ask me.”

“I don’t. But this is just what shows the hopeless middlingness of your
character. If you were a very much better or a very much worse woman,
you _would_ admire him immensely.”

“Oh, don’t talk to me, William! He’s a man’s man, and that’s the end of
him. Why didn’t you bring him with you to-night?”

“He wouldn’t come.”

“Did you tell him there were fifteen ladies in the house?”

“It was that very stroke of logic which seemed to settle his mind about
it. He _is_ a man’s man, you’re right; he’s shyer of your admirable sex
than any country boy; it’s no use to tell him you’re not so dangerous as
you look. But even if he hadn’t been afraid of your ladies, the force of
my argument might have been weakened by the fact of the twenty-five at
the hotel. What are the superior inducements of your fifteen?”

“They are all very nice.”

“How many?”

“Well, three or four: and none of them are disagreeable.”

“Are you going to introduce me?”

“They’re in bed now--it’s half past eight--and they’d be asleep if it
didn’t keep them awake to wonder who you are. If you’ll come to-morrow
I’ll introduce you.”

“Good! Now I’ve been pretty satisfactory about Easton, I think--”

“I don’t see how you could have said less. Every word was extorted from
you.”

“What I want to know,” continued Gilbert, “is whether the loveliest
being in West Pekin, not to say the world, counts among your fair
fifteen.”

When Mrs. Gilbert married, her husband’s youngest brother, William, had
come to live with them, his father and mother being dead, and his
brothers and sisters preoccupied with their own children. He was not in
his teens yet, and she had taken the handsome, dark-eyed, black-headed
boy under the fond protection which young married ladies sometimes like
to bestow upon pretty boy brothers-in-law. This kindness, at first a
little romantic, became, with the process of years that brought her no
children of her own, a love more like that of mother and son between
them. Her condescension had vastly flattered the handsome lad; as he
grew older, she seemed to him the brightest as well as the kindest woman
in the world; and now, after a score of years, when the crow was
beginning to leave his footprints at the corners of her merry eyes, and
she had fallen into that permanent disrepair which seems the destiny of
so much youthful strength and spirit among our women, he knew no one
whose company was more charming. The tacit compliment of his devotion
doubtless touched a woman who was long past compliments in most things;
something like health and youth he always seemed to bring back to her
whenever he returned to her from absences that grew longer and longer
after her husband removed to Boston--Mrs. Gilbert’s native city--and
left William to follow his young man’s devices in New York. Through all
changes and chances she had remained constant to this pet of her early
matronhood, now a man past thirty. It was her great affliction that she
could not watch over him at that distance in the dangerous and important
matter of marriage, for she was both zealous and jealous that he should
marry to the utmost advantage that the scant resources of her sex
allowed, and it was but a partial consolation that she still had him to
be anxious about.

They were sitting together in her hospitable room by the light of a
kerosene lamp, with the mosquitoes, which swarm in West Pekin up to the
end of July, baffled by window nettings. She rose dramatically, shut the
window that opened upon the piazza, and said, “You haven’t seen her
already! Where?”

“In one of the back pastures.”

“I’ll never believe it! How did she look? Dark or fair?”

“Dark; Greek; hair fluffy over the forehead; eyes that ‘stared on you
silent and still, like the eyes in the house of the idols.’ I know it
was she, for there can’t be two of her.” Gilbert gave a brief account of
their meeting.

“It was, it was,” sighed Mrs. Gilbert, tragically. “It was Mrs. Belle
Farrell!”

“Mrs?”

“A widow. The most opportunely bereft of women!”

“Susan, you interest me.”

“Oh, very likely! So will she. She must be famishing for a flirtation,
and it’s you she’ll bend her devouring eyes upon, for I infer that your
Mr. Easton, whatever he is, isn’t a flirt.”

“Easton? Well, no, I should think he wasn’t.”

Mrs. Gilbert leaned back, staring with a vacant smile across the room.
But directly, as she began to talk of Mrs. Farrell, her eyes lighted up
with the enjoyment that women feel in analyzing one of themselves for a
man who likes women and knows how to make the due allowances and supply
all the skipped details of the process. Gilbert had taken his place in
her easy-chair when she shut the window, and she had disposed herself
among the cushions and pillows of her lounge; he listened with lazy
luxury and a smile of intelligence.

“Yes, she will interest you, William; she interests me, and I don’t
dislike her as I might if I were a youthful beauty myself. In fact, she
fascinates me, and I rather like her, on the whole. And I don’t see why
I don’t approve of her. I don’t know anything against her.”

Gilbert laughed. “That’s rather a damaging thing to say of a lady.”

“Yes,” answered his sister-in-law, “I wouldn’t say it to everybody. But
really, it seems odd that one _doesn’t_ know anything against her. She’s
very peculiar--for a woman; and I don’t know whether her peculiarity
comes from her character or from her circumstances. It’s a trying thing
to be just the kind of handsome young widow that Mrs. Farrell is in
Boston.”

Gilbert did not comment audibly, but he lifted his eyebrows, and his
sister-in-law went on: “Not but that we approve of youth and beauty as
much as any one. In fact, if Mrs. Farrell had simply devoted herself to
youth and beauty, and waited for the right man, she could have married
again splendidly and been living abroad by this time. But, no! And
that’s been her ruin.”

“She’s rather a picturesque ruin--to look at,” said Gilbert. “What has
she done to desolate herself? What was she when in good repair?”

“Well, that isn’t quite so easy to make you understand. Originally she
was something in the seafaring line. Her father was a ship’s captain,
from somewhere in Maine, I believe; and when her mother died, this young
lady was left at a tender age with her seafaring father on her hands,
and they didn’t know what to do with each other. But the paternal pirate
had a particular friend in a Mr. Farrell, the merchant who owned most of
his vessel, and this Mr. Farrell had the little girl brought up and
educated with his half sisters--he was a bachelor and very much their
elder. One day the captain came home from a voyage, and was drowned by
the capsizing of his sailboat in the bay; I believe that’s the death
that old sea captains generally die; and this seemed to suggest a new
idea to old Mr. Farrell. He thought he would get married, and he
observed that the little girl under his charge was an extremely
beautiful young woman, and he fell in love with her, _and_ married
her--to the disgust of his half sisters, who didn’t like her. He was a
very respectable old party; Robert knew him quite well in the way of
business, but I never saw anything of _her_ in society; and if she liked
age and respectability, it was all very well, especially as he died
pretty soon afterward-- I don’t know exactly how soon.”

“He left her his money, I suppose?”

“Yes, he did; and that’s the oddest part of it; there was very little
_of_ the money, and Mr. Farrell was supposed to be rich. Still, there
was enough to have supported her in comfort while she quietly waited for
her second husband, if she’d been _content_ to wait quietly; and she
could easily have kept Mr. Farrell’s level in society if she had
remained with his family. In fact, she could have risen some notches
higher; there are plenty of people who would have been glad of her as a
sort of ornamental protégée, don’t you know; and if she _had_ got a few
snubs, it would have done her good. But she wouldn’t be patronized and
she wouldn’t wait quietly.”

“Perhaps you’ve grown to be something of a snob, Susan.”

“I know it; I own it. Did I ever deny it? It’s the only safe ground for
a woman. But Mrs. Farrell preferred to go living on in that
demi-semi-Bohemian way--”

“What demi-semi-Bohemian way?”

“Oh, skirmishing round from one shabby-genteel boarding house to
another, and one family hotel to another, and setting up housekeeping in
rooms, and studying music at the Conservatory, and taking lessons in all
the fine arts, and trying to give parlor readings, and that--and not
doing it in earnest, but making a great display and spectacle of it. And
so instead of keeping her little income to dress on, and getting
invitations to Newport for the summer, she’s here in a farmhouse with us
old fogies and decayed gentles and cultivated persons of small means.
But it’s rather odd about Mrs. Farrell. I don’t believe she would enjoy
herself in society; it has limitations; it doesn’t afford her the kind
of scope she wants; it doesn’t respond with the sort of immediate
effects that she likes--at least Boston society doesn’t. What Mrs. Belle
Farrell wishes to do is something vivid, stunning; and that isn’t quite
what society smiles upon--in Boston. Besides, society may be very
selfish, but it really requires great self-sacrifice, and I don’t
believe Mrs. Belle Farrell is quite equal to that. Don’t you see?”

“Dimly. Did she ever try the Cause of Woman, among her other
experiments?”

“Well, _that_ requires self-sacrifice, too, in its way; and Mrs. Farrell
doesn’t like women very much, and she does like men very much; and she
couldn’t bear to be grotesque in men’s eyes. Not that she would
_respect_ men much, or more than she does women. She’s very queer. I
suppose she has streaks of genius; just enough to spoil her for human
nature’s daily food.”

“We _do_ find genius indigestible--in women,” allowed Gilbert,
thoughtfully. “But isn’t life a little less responsive to her vivid
intentions at Woodward farm than it would be anywhere else? Forgive the
remark if there seems to be any unpleasant implication in it.”

“You’ve nothing to be forgiven, William. We know we are dull; we glory
in our torpidity. But I suppose Mrs. Farrell has had the immense relief,
here, of not trying to produce any effect. Consciously, I mean;
unconsciously, she never can stop trying it till she’s in her grave.”

Gilbert, who had leaned forward with interest, in the course of Mrs.
Gilbert’s tale, now fell back again in his chair, and said: “Oh, I see.
You are prejudiced against Mrs. Belle Farrell. You have among you here a
woman of extraordinary beauty, who strives in her own fashion after the
ideal, who struggles to escape from the stupid round of your cares and
duties and proprieties, and you want to hem her in with the same dread
and misapprehension that imprison her life in your brutal Boston. She
longs for a breath of free mountain air, and you stifle her with your
dense social atmosphere. I see it all, plainly enough. You misinterpret
that sensitive, generous, proud spirit. But no matter; I shall soon be
able to make my own version.”

“She’ll give you every facility. I have no doubt she’s in her room now,
preparing little hints and suggestions for your fancy to-morrow. Her
dress at breakfast will tell the tale. But you needn’t flatter yourself,
William, that she’ll care for you personally or individually; it’s you
in the abstract that will interest her, as a handsome young man that
certain effects of posture and drapery and gesture may be tried upon. I
should like to know just how she stood and stared when you met her, you
two, there in the berry pasture, alone. Did she look magnificently
startled, splendidly frightened? The woman wouldn’t really have minded
meeting a panther.”

“I didn’t say she was alone.”

“So you didn’t! Who was with her?”

“Oh, a little thrush of a girl, slim and shy-looking.”

“Well, William! You may as well take your Mr. Easton and go back to your
New York at once.”

“What have I done?”

“Nothing; you have simply exhausted our resources; you have devoured
with the same indiscriminate glance our Beauty and our Genius.”

“What do you mean?”

“That little thrush of a girl is the Rosa Bonheur of West Pekin.”

“Truly? Do I understand that the young lady does horse fairs for a
living?”

“Not exactly, or not yet. She is the daughter of our landlady. She
teaches school for a living, and last year she waited on table in
vacation. I don’t know how long she may have been in the habit of doing
horse fairs in secret, but she produced her first work in public this
morning--or rather Mrs. Farrell did for her; the exhibition was too much
for the artist’s modesty, and we no chance to congratulate her. She had
done a head of Blossom, the Alderney cow, in charcoal.”

“Was it good?” asked Gilbert, indifferently.

“That was the saddest part of it: if it had been bad, I should have had
some hopes of her, but it was really very promising; and it made my
heart ache to think of another woman of talent struggling with the
world. She would be so much happier if she had no talent. I suppose, now
it’s out, she’ll be obliged by public opinion to take some sort of
lessons, and go abroad, and worry commissions out of people. Honestly,
don’t you think it’s a pity, William?”

“It isn’t a winning prospect,” said Gilbert. “What did you all say and
do?”

Mrs. Gilbert relaxed the half seriousness of her face. “Oh, it was a
very pretty scene, I can tell you. They brought the sketch into my room
after breakfast, with Mrs. Belle Farrell at the head of the procession,
and set it down on my mantelpiece, and all crowded round it, and praised
it with that enthusiasm for genius which Boston people always feel.”

Gilbert smiled insult, and his sister-in-law went on.

“It was really very touching to hear our two youngest girls rave over it
in that fresh, worshiping way young Boston girls have; and we have
another artist in the house (she paints cat-tail rushes, and has her
whole room looking like a swamp) who hailed it with effusion. She said
that Miss Woodward’s talent was God-given, and ought to be cultivated.”

“Of course.”

“Then everybody else said so, too, and wondered that they hadn’t thought
of God-given before Mrs. Stevenson did. It seemed to describe it so
exactly.”

“I see,” said Gilbert. “Mrs. Stevenson embodies the average Boston art
feeling. How long has she left off chromos? How does her husband like
the cat-tails?”

“He thinks they’re beautiful and he attributes all sorts of sentiment to
them. He’s a very good man.”

Gilbert laughed aloud. “He must be. What did the Woodward family think
of Blossom’s head in charcoal?”

“Nobody knows what the Woodward family think of that or of anything
else,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “I hope they don’t despise us, for I respect
Mrs. Woodward very much; she has character, and she looks as if she had
history; but they draw the line very strictly between themselves and the
boarders, all except Mrs. Farrell.”

“Ah?” said Gilbert, who had visibly not cared to hear about the
Woodwards, “and why except Mrs. Farrell?”

“Well, nobody exactly knows. She thawed their ice, I suppose, by having
a typhoid fever here, summer before last, when she first came; they
nursed her through it, and did her no end of kindness, and of course
that made them fond of her--so perverse is human nature. Besides, I
think she fascinates their straight-up-and-downness by the graceful
convolutions of her circuitous character; _that’s_ human nature, too.”

Gilbert laughed again, but did not say anything; and his sister-in-law,
after waiting for him to speak, returned to what she had been saying of
Rachel Woodward.

“You had better tell Mr. Easton about our artist. He may be on the
lookout for another beneficiary, now Rogers is gone, and would like her
for a protégée. If some one could only marry her, poor girl, and put her
out of her misery in that way! As it stands, it’s a truly deplorable
case.”

“I’m sorry you still think so meanly of woman, Susan,” said Gilbert,
rising.

“Yes, it _is_ sorrowful; but it’s an old story to you. I take my cue
from Nature; she never loses an occasion to show her contempt for us;
she knows us so well. Do you see anything hopeful in Miss Woodward’s
predicament?”

“I’m a man. If I were a woman I would never go back on my sex.”

“Oh, you can’t tell; a man can have no idea how very little women think
of one another. Is Robert really so very busy? I don’t blame him for
finding a substitute for West Pekin when he can; but I do blame him for
trying to spare my feelings now, when he hasn’t been here but twice this
summer. Of course, he hates to come, and I’m going to give him his
freedom for the rest of the season.”

“I think he’ll like it,” said Gilbert. He offered his hand for good
night, and his sister-in-law allowed him to go, like a wise invalid who
knows her own force and endurance.

Gilbert found Easton waiting for him on the upper gallery of the hotel,
which overlooked a deep, broad hollow. At the bottom of this the white
mist lay so dense that it filled the space of the valley like a shallow
lake, and the clumps of trees stood out of it here and there like little
isles. The friends sat looking at the pretty illusion in the silence
which friends need not break, and Easton’s cigar flashed and darkened in
the shadow like the spark of a farseen revolving light. He often
lamented this habit of his in vigorous self-reproach, not chiefly as a
thing harmful to himself, but as a public wrong and an oppression to
many other people; if any one had asked him to give it up, he would
gladly have done so; but no one did, and he clung to his cigar with a
constancy which Gilbert, who did not smoke, praised as the saving virtue
of his character, the one thing that kept him from being a standing
rebuke to humanity.

After a while Easton drew the last shameful solace from his cigar and
flung the remaining fragment over the rail. He rose to look after it and
see that it set nothing on fire; then he returned to his seat and,
clasping his hands outside his knees, said, “I’ve been thinking over
that encounter of ours with that girl to-day, and I believe you are
right. She did leave the book there that she might have an excuse to
come back and see what we were like.”

“Well?”

“And I see no harm in her having done so. We shouldn’t have thought it
out of the way in a man; and a woman had as much right to do it. The
subterfuge is the only thing; I don’t like that, though it was a very
frank artifice, and the whole relation of the sexes is a series of
subterfuges: it seems to be the design of Nature, who knows what she’s
about, I dare say. No doubt we should lose a great deal that’s very
pleasant in life without them.”

“There could be no flirting without them,” answered Gilbert, “and no
lovely Farrells, consequently.” Easton turned his face toward him, and
Gilbert continued: “Farrell is her name: Mrs. Belle Farrell; she is a
widow.”

“A widow?” echoed Easton, rather disappointedly.

“Yes,” said Gilbert. “I dare say she would be willing to mend the fault.
She’s passing the summer at the Woodward farm; my sister-in-law has been
telling me all about her,” he said. He reproduced Mrs. Gilbert’s facts
and impressions, but in his version it did not seem to be much about
her, after all.

Easton rose from his chair and struck a light on his match case, but he
absently suffered it to burn out before lighting his cigar. When he had
done this a second time he began to walk nervously up and down the
gallery.

“It’s a face to die for!” he said, half musingly.

“Very well,” said Gilbert. “I think Mrs. Farrell would be much pleased
to have some one die for her face, and on the whole it would be better
than to live for it. But these are abstractions, my dear fellow; I’m
going to bed now; there’s no use in being out of sorts if I don’t. Good
night.”

“I’m not--yet awhile,” said Easton. “Good night. Are you going over to
the farm again in the morning?”

“Yes. Will you go with me?”

“I don’t know; I thought I should go to church.”

“All right. Very likely the Farrell may be there. But I prefer to chance
it at the farm.”

Easton did not answer. He struck a third match, and this time lit a
cigar. Gilbert went his way, and left him seated on the gallery, looking
over into the mist-flooded hollow.



Chapter IV


They were at work on the foundations of the First Church in West Pekin
when tidings came of the battle of Lexington, and the masons laid down
their trowels, and the carpenters their chisels, to take up their
flintlocks for the long war then so bravely beginning. After the close
of the struggle, it appears that a sufficient number of the parishioners
survived to finish the building in all the ugliness of the original
design. It stands there yet, a vast, barnlike monument of their
devotion, and after the lapse of a hundred years is beginning slowly to
clothe itself in the interest which we feel in the quaint where we
cannot have the beautiful. Some of the neighboring houses, restored and
improved for the accommodation of summer boarders, have the languishing
curves of the American version of the French roof, and are here and
there blistered with bay windows; and by contrast with these, the
uncompromising gables and angular oblongness of the old church acquire a
sort of grave merit. There is no folly of portico, or pediment, or
pillars; the front and flanks of the edifice are as blank and bare as
life in West Pekin, but they are also as honest. It is well built; the
inhabitants have, of course, the tradition that when its timbers were
exposed for some modern repairs, the oak was found so hard that you
could not drive a nail into it. From time to time its weary expanses of
clapboarding are freshened with a coat of white paint, under which
whatever picturesque effects time might have bestowed are scrupulously
smothered, so that it has not a stain or touch of decay to endear it.
Every spring a colony of misguided swallows stucco the eaves with their
mud-nests, placed at such regular intervals as to form a cornice of the
rude material not displeasing to the eye of the summer boarder; and
every spring when their broods are half fledged the sexton mounts to the
roof and knocks away such of their nests as he can reach, strewing the
ground with the cruel wreck and slaughter. But he is old and purblind,
and a fair percentage of the swallows escape his single burst of
murderous zeal, to wheel and shriek around the grim edifice all summer
long, and to renew their hazardous enterprise another year.

The old church has no other grace than they give it, as it stands
staring white on the border of the village green, and sends out over the
valleys and uplands the wild, plangent summons of its Sabbath bell. It
is not an unmusical note, but it is terrible, and seems always to warn
of the judgment day, so that one lounging over the fields or through the
woods, or otherwise keeping away from the sermon, must hear it with a
shudder of alarm. It is a bell to bring a bird’s-nesting boy to his
knees; and to the youth of West Pekin in former days I could imagine it
a peculiarly awful sound, which would pursue them through life and in
all their wanderings over the sea and land. It could now no longer call
many youth to worship, but mostly a thinned and faltering congregation
of old men and women responded to its menace, and sparsely scattered
themselves among the long rows of pews. The stalwart boys and ambitious,
eager girls had emigrated or married out of the town, till now the very
graves beside the church received none but aged dead, and the newest
stones hardly remembered any one under sixty. From time to time an
octogenarian or nonagenarian wearied of his place in the census, and
irreparably depopulated West Pekin, to the loud sorrow of the bell,
which made haste to number his years to the parish as soon as the breath
was out of his body. The few young people who remained in the town after
marriage limited their offspring to the fashionable city figures, and
the lingering grandsires counted their posterity in the lessening
procession which would soon leave the family names entirely to the
family tombs. Their frosty heads nodded to the sermon with the
involuntary assents of slumber or of palsy, and on the cushions beside
them sat their gray wives, ruminating with a pleasant fragrance the
Sabbath spray of dill or caraway, unvexed by thoughts of boys disorderly
in the back pews or the gallery, or, if tormented by vague
apprehensions, awaking to find their fears and boys alike an empty
dream.

Even the theology preached them was changed. It was the same faith, no
doubt, but it seemed to be made no longer the personal terror it had
been, nor the personal comfort; the good man who addressed them was more
wont to dwell upon generalities of reward and punishment, and
abstractions in morals and belief, and he could easily have been
attainted of a vague liberality, if there had been vigor of faith enough
left in his congregation to accuse him. But faith, like all life in West
Pekin, had shrunken till one might say it rattled in its shell; and this
great empty church seemed all the emptier for the diminution of fixed
beliefs as to the condition of sinners in the world to come. A choir and
a parlor organ rendered most of the psalms or hymns that the minister
gave out, and when the congregation raised its cracked basses and
trebles in song, it was doubtless an acceptable sacrifice, but it was
not a joyful noise.

In West Pekin no one walks who can drive, even for a short distance;
doubtless because of the mud of spring and fall, and the heavy winter
snows, which make walking in New England, anywhere off the city pave, a
martyrdom, three fourths of the inhospitable year; and Easton watched
the church people arrive in their dusty open buggies, which they led,
after dismounting, into the long sheds beside the church, hitching their
horses in the stalls, there to gnaw the deeply nibbled posts and
ineffectually to fight the embattled flies, and exchange faint whinnies
and murmurs of disapprobation among themselves.

Easton was standing at the hotel door, dressed with whatever of New York
nattiness he had been able to transport to West Pekin in the small
valise he had allowed himself. He was not a man of society in any sense,
but he always, upon a fixed principle, kept himself scrupulously
tailored, and it would have been a disrespect of which he could not be
capable, to appear before the West Pekin congregation in anything but
his best. The vehicles straggled slowly up the hill; the bell began to
falter in its clamor, and to toll in a dismal _staccato_ before it
should stop altogether; and now the village people issued from their
doors and moved hurriedly across the green to the church. Easton went
back for a moment to Gilbert’s room, and found his friend, whom he had
left in bed, lazily dressing. Gilbert looked at him in the glass, and
said, “I’m going over to the farm when I’ve finished. You’d better come
too, after sermon.”

“I don’t know. Shall you be on the lookout for me?”

“You wouldn’t have the courage to hunt me up in that houseful of women?
All right. I’ll sit on the piazza and watch. I’ll expect you.” He went
on tying his cravat, while the other took his way to church, and entered
as the last note of the bell was dying away.

The choir began to sing, and Easton rose with the people and faced the
singers. Mrs. Belle Farrell stood singing from the same book with Rachel
Woodward, and she cast her regard carelessly over the church, and let
her eyes rest upon him with visible recognition.

She was a woman whose presence would have been magnificent anywhere;
here her grace and style and beauty simply annulled all other aspects,
and a West Pekin congregation could never have looked so old and thin
and pale and awkward. Easton did not know music, and was ignorant that
she sang with courageous error. She had a rich voice, from which tragedy
would have come ennobled, but she had little tune or time. The subdued
country girl at her side sang truer and with wiser art. Rachel was then
twenty; her scarcely rounded cheeks had the delicate light and pallor of
the true New England type; her hair was rather brown than golden; her
eyes serenely gray; and her face, when she closed her lips, composed
itself instantly into a somewhat austere quiescence. The girl glanced at
Easton in sympathy with her companion--instinctively, perhaps, and
perhaps because of some secret touch or push.

The sermon was of the little captive Hebrew maid who remembered the
famous cures of leprosy by a prophet of her nation, and was thus a means
to the healing of Naaman, her Philistine lord. From this the minister
drew the moral that even a poor slave girl was not so lowly but she
could do some good; he did not attempt the difficult application to West
Pekin conditions. From the sandy desert of his discourse a dim mirage of
Oriental fancies rose before Easton, with sterile hills, palms, gleaming
lakes, cities, temples of old faith, and priestesses who had the dark
still eyes, the loose overshadowing hair, the dusky bloom of Mrs.
Farrell; a certain familiarity in her splendor he accounted for
suddenly by remembering a figure and face he had once seen in the chorus
of the opera of Nabucco. This was in his mind still when he rose and
confronted the Babylonian priestess as she sang the closing hymn in the
West Pekin choir.

Without, the July noon had ripened to a perfect mellow heat which the
yesterday’s chill kept from excess, and over all the world was the
unclouded cup of the blue heavens. The village people silently and
quickly dispersed to their houses, and the farmers sought their
different vehicles under the sheds, while their wives stood about the
church door and in a still way talked together; as fast as the carriages
came up, each mounted into her own, and drove off, passing Easton as he
strolled down the hillside road winding away from the village. The
weather was dry, and the dust powdered the reddening blackberries of the
wayside and gave a gray tone to the foliage of the drooping elm and
birch boughs, and to the branches of the apple trees thrust across the
stone walls and fantastically dressed with wisps caught during the week
from towering hay wagons. When the road left the open hill slopes and
entered a wood, Easton yielded to an easy perch on the stone wall and
sat flicking the long, slim wood-plants with his cane. Between the walls
the highway was bordered all along with young white birches; some were
the bigness round of a girl’s waist, and, clasped with the satiny
smoothness of their bark, showed a delicate snugness of corsage to which
an indwelling dryad might have given shape; they drooped everywhere
about in pretty girlish attitudes; and Easton, whose fancy was at once
reverent and rich, as that of an unspoiled young man may be, sat there
in a sort of courtship of their beauty, which was all the fresher in
him, for he was a life-long cockney, and, so far from sentimentalizing
Nature, had hardly an acquaintance with her.

He had started on his stroll with the unconfessed hope that the road
might somehow bring him to Woodward farm, and as he walked he had been
upbraiding himself for his irresolution, without being able either to
turn back or boldly to ask the driver of some passing team his way to
the farm. In the joy of this coolness and silence and beauty of the
woods his conscience left him at peace, and he lounged upon the broad
top of the wall with no desire to do anything but remain there, when a
wagon came in sight under the meeting tops of the trees at the crest of
the hill, and his heart leaped at what he now knew he had been really
waiting for. Yet as it came nearer and nearer he perceived that he had
been waiting for it with no motive upon which he could act; and he felt
awkwardly unaccounted for where he was. Mrs. Farrell was driving on the
front seat, and behind her sat Rachel Woodward with her mother; they all
three seemed to be concerned about some part of the equipage: they
leaned forward and looked anxiously at the horse, which presently, as
they came to a little slope, responded to whatever fears they had by
rearing violently and dashing aside into a clump of bushes, where he
stood breathing hoarsely till Easton ran up and took him by the head.

“I don’t think you need get out,” he said, as the women rose. “It’s only
something the matter with the holdback.” He turned the horse again to
the road and began to examine the harness. “That’s all,” he said; “one
side of the holdback is broken, and lets the wagon come on him. If I had
a piece of twine-- Or, never mind.” He took his handkerchief out of his
pocket.

“Oh no; don’t!” pleaded the eldest of the women. “We sha’n’t need it,
now. It’s uphill all the rest of the way to the house.”

But Easton said, “It’ll be safer,” and went on to supply the place of
the broken strap, while Mrs. Belle Farrell, turning upon Rachel, made a
series of faces expressing a mock-heroical gratitude. Suddenly she gave
a little shriek as the horse darted off with an ugly spring and lurch.
“Oh, do stop him! stop him!” she implored, and Easton had him by the
bridle again before her words were spoken.

“Well, Mrs. Woodward,” said Mrs. Farrell, excitedly, “_I_ should whip
that horse.”

“No, don’t whip him,” said the elderly woman. “I don’t believe he’s to
blame; I don’t think he was hitched up just right in the first place.
The boys said there was something the matter with the harness; but they
guessed it would go.”

“Very well,” answered Mrs. Farrell; “he’s your horse, but if he were
_mine, I_ should whip him; that’s what _I_ should do.”

Her eyes lightened as she stooped forward to gather up the reins, which
had been twitched out of her hands, and the horse started and panted
again, while Easton stood beside him in grave embarrassment. He made
several efforts to clear his throat, and then said, huskily, “What do
you want me to do? Shall I lead him? I don’t know much about horses.”

He addressed himself doubtfully to the whole party, but Mrs. Woodward
answered: “Won’t you please get in alongside of that lady? I shouldn’t
want he should think he had scared us; and he would, if we let you lead
him.”

Easton obediently mounted to Mrs. Farrell’s side. She was going to offer
him the reins, but Mrs. Woodward interposed. “No, you drive, Mrs.
Farrell, so long as he behaves;” and the horse now moved tremulously but
peaceably off. “We’re very much obliged to you for what you’ve done,”
she added; and then Easton sat beside Mrs. Farrell, with nothing to do
but to finger his cane and study the horse’s mood. He glanced shyly at
her face; from her silks breathed those intoxicating mysterious odors of
the toilette; the light wind blew him the odor of her hair; when by and
by the horse began to sadden, under the long uphill strain, into a
repentant walk, and she gave him a smart cut with the whip, Easton
winced as if he had himself been struck. But the lady paid him very
little attention for some time; then, when her anxieties about the horse
seemed to have subsided somewhat, she looked him in the face and
demanded, “If you know so little about horses how came you to stop him
so well?”

“I don’t know,” said Easton. “It was rather sudden; I didn’t-- I had no
choice--”

“Oh,” exulted Mrs. Farrell, “then if you could have chosen, you’d have
let him go dancing on with us. I withdraw _my_ gratitude for your
kindness. But,” she added, owning her recognition of him with a courage
he found charming, “I’ll thank you again for picking up that little book
of mine, yesterday. You certainly might have chosen to let it lie.”

Easton, if brought to bay in his shyness, had a desperate sort of laugh,
in which he uttered his heart as freely as a child; he set his teeth
hard, and while he looked at you with gleaming eyes the laughter gurgled
helplessly from his throat. It had a sound that few could hear without
liking. It made Mrs. Farrell laugh too, and he began to breathe more
freely in the rarefied atmosphere that had at first fluttered his
pulses. She spoke from time to time to Mrs. Woodward or Rachel, who, the
first excitement over, appeared distinctly to relinquish him to her as
part of that summer-boarding world with which they could have only
business relations.

They came presently to a turn in the road which brought the farmhouse in
sight, and Mrs. Farrell lifted her whip to encourage the horse for the
sharper ascent now before him; but she abruptly dropped her hand, and
bowed her face on the back of it.

Then very gravely, “I beg your pardon,” she said to Easton, “but I
don’t know how we are going to account for you to the people in the
house. What should you say you were doing here?”

“Upon my word,” said Easton, “I don’t know.”

Mrs. Farrell asked as seriously as before, “Were you going anywhere in
particular? Have we taken you out of your way? This is Woodward farm.”

“Yes, I know it. I was coming here to find a friend.”

“Well, then, you have a choice this time. You can say we were passing
you on the way and we gave you a lift; or you can say that you saved us
all from destruction and got in to see us safe home. You’d better choose
the first; nobody’ll ever believe this horse was running away.”

“We won’t say anything about it,” Easton suggested. “That will be the
easiest way.”

“Oh, do you think so?” cried Mrs. Farrell. “Wait till you’re asked by
each of our lady boarders.”

They now drove out of the woods and came upon a shelving green in front
of the farmhouse. Here, at one side of the door, there were evidences of
attempted croquet. The wickets were in the ground and the mallets were
scattered about; the balls had rolled downhill into desuetude; there was
not a level in West Pekin vast enough for a croquet ground. On the
piazza fronting the road were most of the lady boarders; the five
regular husbands were also there, and Gilbert, lounging on a step at the
feet of his sister-in-law, dressed the balance disordered by the absence
of the irregular sixth. He rose in visible amazement to see Easton
arrive in the Woodward wagon at the side of Mrs. Farrell, and walked
down to the barn near which she had chosen to stop. The other
spectators, penetrated by the sense that something must have happened,
ranged themselves in attitudes of expectancy along the edge of the
piazza. Mrs. Woodward and Rachel, dismounting, renounced all part in the
satisfaction of the public curiosity by entering the house at a side
door, but Mrs. Farrell marched, with the two gentlemen beside her, up to
where Mrs. Gilbert sat, and gave a succinct statement of the affair,
which neither omitted to celebrate Easton’s action nor overpraised it.
She ended by saying, “I wish you’d be good enough to introduce my
preserver, Mrs. Gilbert.”

“I will, the very instant I have his acquaintance,” replied Mrs.
Gilbert. “William!”

“It’s my friend Mr. Easton. Easton--present you to Mrs. Gilbert.”

“I’m glad to see you, Mr. Easton,” said Mrs. Gilbert, shaking hands;
“you’re no stranger. This is Mrs. Farrell, whose life you have just had
the pleasure of preserving. Mrs. Farrell, let me introduce Mr. Gilbert,
also.”

Mrs. Farrell kept her eyes steadily on the gentlemen, and bowed gravely
at their names. Then she gathered her skirt into her hand to mount the
step, gave them a slight nod, smiled with radiant indifference upon the
rest of the company, and disappeared indoors. Mrs. Gilbert made
proclamation of the facts to the ladies next her, and casually
introduced her guests to two or three who presently left them to her
again, as they went to give themselves the last touches before dinner.
Mrs. Gilbert then turned to Easton and said, “Mrs. Farrell ran a very
fortunate risk. I don’t believe anything less would have brought you
here.”

“Oh yes,” answered Easton, “I was on my way. The only difference is that
I rode instead of walking.”

“Well, no matter, so you’ve come. I’ve been persuading my brother to
stay to dinner, and he says _he_ will, if _Easton_ will. Will you?”

At every word Mrs. Gilbert kept studying Easton’s face, which the young
man had a trick of half averting from any woman who spoke to him, with
fugitive glances at her, from time to time. The light of frank liking
for him came into Mrs. Gilbert’s eyes when he turned with a sort of
hopeless appeal to Gilbert, and then said, “Yes. I shall be very glad to
stay.”

“You’re ever so good to be glad,” she said, “but after saving one lady’s
life, you couldn’t do less than dine with another. My brother says you
and he are to be at West Pekin for a fortnight. That’s very nice; and I
hope you’ll come here often. We consider _any_ gentleman a treat; and
the only painful thing about having two brilliant young New Yorkers in
West Pekin is that perhaps we can never quite live up to our
privileges.”

“One of us might go away,” said Easton, taking heart to return this easy
banter, but speaking with a quick, embarrassed sigh. “Do you think you
could live up to the other?”

Mrs. Gilbert smiled her approval of his daring and of his sigh.

“We will make an effort to deserve you both. Has your friend here told
you anything about us?”

“How can you ask it, Susan? Did you ever know me to be guilty of such
behavior toward you?” demanded Gilbert.

“No, William, I never did; and I must add that it’s no fault of yours if
I didn’t. He means, Mr. Easton, that he’s been generous to a little
foible of mine. I do like to lecture upon people when I can get a fresh,
uncorrupted listener, I won’t deny it; and I should have been
inconsolable if William had exploited us to you, as he certainly would
have done if he had liked to expatiate and expound--which he doesn’t;
and I believe men never do, however much they like being expatiated and
expounded _to_. Well now, as I’m not going to have any partiality shown
by any guests of mine, and as I’m going to introduce you to every lady
at dinner recollect, you’ve _promised_ to stay-- I’m going to give you a
little synopsis of each of them. Mrs. Farrell you’ve already had the
pleasure of meeting; once in the berry pasture, yesterday afternoon, and
once this morning when you saved her life--yes, her life; I insist upon
giving the adventure a decent magnitude, and I will listen to no
mannish, minifying scruples--saved her _life_; and so I will only say
that she is young, beautiful, and singularly attractive. The absence of
any perceptible husband does not necessarily imply that she is a widow;
though in this case it _does_ happen that Mrs. Farrell _is_ a _widow_.
Have I got the logical sequences all right, William? Yes? Well, I’m glad
of that; not that I care the least for them, but I like to consult the
weakness of a sex that can’t reason without them. As I was saying, she
is young, beautiful, and attractive; the fact might not strike you at
first, but she is. The only drawback is her _extreme unconsciousness_.
But for all that, if I were a man, I should simply go raving distracted
over Mrs. Belle Farrell.”

“I won’t speak for Easton,” said Gilbert, “but I think men generally
prefer a spice of coquetry in the objects of their raving distraction.
This simplicity, this excessive singleness of motive--it doesn’t wear
well.”

Mrs. Gilbert owned, “It does render one _forgetful_ and _liable to
accidents_, but it isn’t the worst fault. You gentlemen are very
exacting; I see that you’re bent upon decrying every one of our ladies,
whatever I say of them, and I believe I shall leave you to form your own
perverse opinions. Yes, I’ve changed my mind, Mr. Easton, and instead of
lecturing you on them beforehand, I shall confine myself to satisfying
any curiosity you may happen to feel about them when you’ve seen them.
Isn’t that the way a man would do?”

“Perhaps,” answered Easton. “But he wouldn’t like it--in a woman.”

“I dare say. That’s his tyrannical unreasonableness. What was the sermon
about this morning? Mrs. Belle Farrell?”

It was impossible not to enjoy the mock innocence with which Mrs.
Gilbert put this question. Easton’s eyes responded to the fun of it,
while his blushes came and went, and he kept thrusting his cane into the
turf where he stood, just below the step on which she sat. She went on:
“We seldom go to church from the farm; we come to the country to enjoy
ourselves. Mrs. Farrell goes, and sings in the choir, I think. Some of
us went to hear her sing once, and came home perfectly satisfied. She’s
a great friend of young Miss Woodward’s, and is the only boarder
admitted into the landlord’s family on terms of social equality. The
regime at Woodward farm is very peculiar, Mr. Easton, and will form the
topic of a future discourse. I shall also want to inquire your views of
the best method of extinguishing talent in the industrial classes; I
believe you’ve experimented in that way.” Easton lifted his downcast
face and looked at Gilbert with a queer alarm that afforded Mrs. Gilbert
visible joy. “Miss Woodward is the victim of a capacity, lately
developed, for drawing; your friend Mrs. Farrell has fostered this
abnormal condition, and it is the part of humanity to stop it. Now
perhaps your experience with Mr. Rogers--”

The dinner bell sounded as Mrs. Gilbert reached forward and appealingly
touched Easton’s arm with her fan; and she stopped.

“Go on,” said Gilbert; “you might as well have your say out now, if
there’s anything left on your mind. Easton’s made up _his_ mind to
renounce me, and you can’t do me any more harm.”

“Stuff! Mr. Easton and I understand each other, and we know well enough
that you haven’t been disloyal to him. At least we won’t believe it on
the insinuation of a malicious, backbiting old woman; if Mr. Easton has
any doubts of you, I’ll teach him better. Come, it’s dinner. This is a
great day with us: we have our first string-beans, to-day; that’s one of
the reasons why I asked you to stop.”



Chapter V


Mrs. Gilbert kept her word, and presented the young men to each of the
boarders; but for all that, the talk did not become general. After
dinner she went off for a nap, and the young men both followed Mrs.
Farrell to the piazza, where they seemed to forget that there was anyone
else. She was very amiable to both, but a little meek and subdued in her
manner; if she encouraged one more than the other, it was Gilbert. She
was disposed to talk of serious things, and said that one could not
realize the New England Sabbath in town as one could in the country;
that here in these hills the stillness, the repose, seemed to have
something almost holy about it. Two young girls in gay flannel walking
skirts and branching shade hats passed Mrs. Farrell where she sat with
her court, and she who passed nearest dropped a demure glance out of the
corner of her eye, and a demurely arch “good-by” from the corner of her
mouth.

“What for?” asked Mrs. Farrell, breaking abruptly from her pensive mood.

“Those brakes,” said the girl over her shoulder, having now got by.

“Oh, come! Won’t you go, too?” cried Mrs. Farrell. “It’s an old
engagement. Wait, please!” she called to the girls, and ran in to get
her hat, while they loitered down the path.

Gilbert walked forward to join them, and Easton stayed for Mrs. Farrell,
who delayed a little, and then came out in walking-gear which had the
advantage over the dresses of the young girls that foliage or plumage
has over dress always--it seemed part of her.

“If you’ll be so kind--yes,” she said, giving Easton her light shawl,
while she fitted her hat cord under the knot of her hair. “It’s a little
coolish sometimes in the deep woods, and it’s best to bring one. Don’t
you think,” she asked, dazzling him with the radiant, immortal youth of
her glance and smile, “that the worst thing about growing older is that
you have to be so careful about your miserable, perishable body? I hope
I’ve not made you do anything against your principles, Mr. Easton, in
getting you to go with me after brakes on Sunday? We don’t often do such
things, ourselves.”

“No,” said Easton; “unfortunately, I have no principles on that point. I
suppose it’s a thing to be regretted.”

“Oh yes, indeed!” said Mrs. Farrell, earnestly. “I think one ought
always to be one thing or the other. I find nothing so wretched as this
sort of betwixt-and-betweenity that most people live in nowadays; and I
envy Rachel Woodward her fixed habits of religious observance. I wish
she could have gone with us this afternoon; but the Woodwards never do.
You must get acquainted with her, Mr. Easton. She’s a splendid girl;
she has a great deal of talent and a great deal of character; more than
all of us lady boarders put together--except Mrs. Gilbert, of course.”

It vaguely troubled Easton, he did not know why, to have her talk of
Rachel Woodward; at that moment it vexed him that there should be any
other woman in the world than herself. But he contrived to say that Mrs.
Gilbert had mentioned Miss Woodward’s talent for drawing.

“Isn’t she nice--Mrs. Gilbert?” asked Mrs. Farrell, looking into
Easton’s face, and no doubt seeing there a consciousness of his having
heard from Mrs. Gilbert something not to her advantage. “She’s the only
one of our boarders that one cares to talk with; she’s such a humorous
old thing that I like to hear her even when I know she’s looking me
through and through. She’s a very keen observer, and such a wonderful
judge of character! Don’t you think so?”

“I hardly know; I’m scarcely acquainted with her or the people she talks
about.”

“To be sure. But then, I think you can often see whether a person
understands people, even if you don’t know any of them.”

“Oh yes--yes,” answered Easton.

They had crossed the road from the farmhouse and, traversing some
sloping meadows, were at the border of the wood in which the tall brakes
grew, with delicate shapes of fern slowly waving and swaying in the
breeze. He was offering her his hand to help her over the wall into the
wood, and she was throwing half her elastic weight upon his happy arm.
Gilbert and the young girls were far ahead among the brakes, which their
movement tossed about them with a continual, gracious rise and fall of
the stately plumes, the bright colors of the girls’ dresses deepening
their tint as they glimmered through the undulant greenery.

“How lovely!” cried Mrs. Farrell. She chose to sit still a moment on the
wall. “And isn’t your friend superb in his white flannel and his
planterish-looking hat? When I was a little girl I was traveling with my
father on the Mississippi, and one night a New Orleans boat landed
alongside of us. The most that I can remember is those iron baskets of
burning pine-knots they stick into the shore, and the slim, dark young
Southerners, in white linen from head to foot, as they came on and off
the boat in the red light. I felt then that I never could marry anybody
but a young Southerner in white linen. Your friend reminds me of them.
But he isn’t Southern?”

“No; he was South before the war, awhile, and he tried a cotton
plantation after the war; but he’s a New-Yorker.”

“How picturesque he is!” sighed Mrs. Farrell. “Was he a soldier?”

“Yes. He’s Major Gilbert, if you like.”

“Was that where you met him, in the army?”

“Yes.”

“And were you a major, too?”

“I went in as a private,” said Easton.

“But you didn’t come out a private?”

“Our regiment suffered a great deal, and the promotions were pretty
rapid.”

“And so you came out a captain?”

“Not exactly.”

“A major--a colonel?”

“I couldn’t very well help it.”

“Oh, I dare say you’re not to blame!” cried Mrs. Farrell. “You and
Mr.--Major Gilbert, were you in the same regiment?”

“Yes. I owed my first commission to his interest. He was my captain
before I got my company.”

“Well, how was it, then, that you came out a colonel and he only came
out a major?” asked Mrs. Farrell, innocently.

Easton turned about and looked after the others, whose voices, in talk
and laughter, came over the bracken with a light, hollow sound that
voices have in the woods.

“Oh, don’t snub me!” implored Mrs. Farrell; “I didn’t mean to ask
anything wrong. You soldiers are always so queer about the war; one
would think you were ashamed of it.”

“It was full of unjust chances,” answered Easton, almost fiercely. “All
that I did Gilbert would have done better, and if he had done it he
would have got the promotion that I got. I ought to have refused it;
it’s my lasting shame and sorrow that I didn’t.” A look of strange
dismay and of selfcontempt came into Easton’s face with the last words,
which sounded like the expression of an old remorse.

“Oh, excuse me!” said Mrs. Farrell with a quick sympathy of tone. “I’ve
made you talk of something-- I didn’t think--your men’s friendships are
so much more tenderly brought up than women’s, that a woman can scarcely
understand,” she added, a little mockingly; but she made obvious haste
to get away from the subject that annoyed him.

“Here are tall enough brakes,” she said, “if it’s tallness we’re after;
but I think we’d better get ferns. I want to show you a place down here
in the hollow where I found some maidenhair the other day. Don’t you
think that’s the prettiest of the ferns? Did you ever find it in any
part of the South where you were stationed? I should fancy it might be
in the Everglades--or some other damp place.”

“I don’t know what it is,” said Easton, absently.

“Not know maidenhair? Then I’ve the chance to show you something novel,
as well as very pretty. Come!” She sprang lightly from the wall and
swept through the bowing brakes and down the slope of the hollow to a
spot where clustering maples, flinging their shadows one upon another,
made a cool gloom beneath their boughs, and the delicate maidenhair
balanced its crest upon its slender purple stems and trembled in the
silent air. “Here, here!” called Mrs. Farrell. “Did you ever see
anything lovelier? But doesn’t it seem a pity to pull it? Well, it must
die for women, as humming-birds and pheasants do; we can’t look pretty
without them, poor things! I’m going to sit down here, Mr. Easton, and
you’re going to gather maidenhair for me and show your taste; you
haven’t experience in it, but you are to have instinct.”

She sat down on the broad flat top of a rock, and though her seat was in
a spot where the slighter texture of the shade let the sunlight flicker
through upon her, she gave a slight tremor and shrugged her shoulders.
“You must let me have my shawl, Mr. Easton--my poor health, you know;
there’s rheumatism and typhoid fever in every breath of this delicious
air.”

He went to lay the shawl upon her shoulders reverently, but she dragged
it down and adjusted it about her waist in a very much prettier effect.
“There, now, give me your hat. One of the penalties that a gentleman
pays for the pleasure of going braking with a lady is to have his hat
trimmed with ferns and to be made to look silly. You may have your
revenge in trimming my hat.” She began to undo the elastic from her
hair; but there were hairpins upon which it was entangled, and she
dropped her arms from the attempt, and with a quick, “Ah!” she tried to
unloose her glove. It was fastened by one of those little clasps which
are so hard to undo, and after many attempts she was obliged to look up
at Easton in despair.

“May I try to help you?” he dared to ask.

“Why, if you will be so very kind,” she answered, and she held out her
beautiful wrist, from which her hand drooped like a flower from its
stem. It was a task of some moments, and the young man wrought at it in
silence; when it was done, she did not instantly withdraw her hand, but
“Oh, is it really finished?” she asked, and then took it from him and
pulled off the glove. She put it up to her hair again, and began to feel
about with those women fingers that seem to have all the five senses in
their tips; but now they were wise in vain. “I’m afraid, Mr. Easton,”
she appealed with a well-embarrassed little laugh, “that I must tax your
kindness once more. Would you be so _very_ good as to look what can be
the matter?” and she turned the wonder of her neck toward him and bent
down her head. “Is it caught, anywhere?”

“It’s caught,” he answered, gravely, “on a hairpin.”

“Oh dear!” sighed Mrs. Farrell.

“May I?” asked Easton, after a pause.

“Why--yes--please,” she answered, faintly.

He knelt down on the rock beside her and with trembling hands touched
the warm, fragrant, silken mass, and lightly disengaged the string. When
he handed her the hat she thanked him for it very sweetly, and with an
air of simple gratitude laid it in her lap, and drew out its long,
hanging ribbons through her fingers. She did this looking with a
downcast, absent gaze at her hat. When she lifted her eyes again they
were full of a gentle sadness. “I hope you won’t think I spoke too
lightly of the war and of soldiers, just now.”

“I can’t think you spoke amiss,” he answered, fervently.

“I am sure I _meant_ nothing amiss,” said Mrs. Farrell, humbly. “But
everything one does or says in this world,” she continued, “is so
liable to misconstruction, that if one values--if one cares for the
opinion of others, one feels like doing almost _anything_ to prevent
it.”

Her eyes fell again, and she twisted the ribbons of her hat into long
curls. “I’m glad that at least _you_ understood me, and I _do_ thank
you--yes, more than you can know. How still and beautiful it is here! Do
you know, I sometimes think that the boundary, the invisible wall
between the two worlds, is nowhere so thin as in the deep woods like
this?” Mrs. Farrell looked up at Easton with the eyes of a nun. “It
seems as if one could draw nearer to better influences here than
anywhere else. Not, of course, but what one can be good anywhere if one
wants to be, but it isn’t everywhere that one does want to be good.
Don’t laugh at my moralizing, please,” she besought him. “There, take
your hat. I won’t make a victim of you. I know you’d hate to wear
ferns.”

Easton protested that though he had never worn ferns, he did not believe
he should hate to wear them.

“No matter,” said Mrs. Farrell, “the mood is past, now; but you’d better
pull a few of them, because one mustn’t come for ferns without getting
them.”

She put together in pretty clusters the ferns with which he heaped her
lap, holding them up from time to time and viewing them critically to
get the effect, and talked as she worked, while he reclined on a sloping
rock near by. “Isn’t that rather nice?” she asked, displaying the
finest group, and letting the tips of the ferns drip through her fingers
as she softly caressed their spray. “I suppose you’ll laugh if I tell
you what my great passion in life would be, if I could indulge a great
passion--millinery! Bonnets, caps, hats, ribbons, feathers!” Nothing so
enraptures a man as to hear the woman of his untold love belittle
herself; it intoxicates him that this adorable preciousness can hold
itself cheap--as Mrs. Farrell possibly knew. “You know,” she went on, “I
think I have some little artistic talent--not really enough for
painting, but quite enough for clothes. I might set up a studio, and
everybody would smile on my efforts, but if I set up a shop, nobody
would associate with me. You wouldn’t, yourself! Don’t pretend to be so
much better than other people,” cried Mrs. Farrell, with nothing of the
convent left in her look.

“I don’t know about being better,” said Easton. “But I’ve lived too
little in the world to be quite of it, I suppose. I’m afraid I am not
shocked at the notion of anybody’s being a milliner that likes.”

“Oh yes, I know. Cheap ideas of equality. But you wouldn’t marry a
milliner, if she was ever such a genius in her art.”

“If I were in love with her, and she were in love with me and would have
me, I would marry her. But why do you make marrying the test of a man’s
respect for a woman?”

“Isn’t it?”

Easton pondered awhile. “Well, yes, it does seem to be,” he said, a
little sadly. “But it narrows the destiny of half the world.”

“Are you woman’s rights?” asked Mrs. Farrell, trailing a plume of fern
through the air.

“Oh, I’m woman’s anything,” said Easton; “anything that women really
want; but rights are a subject that they don’t seem very certain of,
themselves.”

“Yes,” sighed Mrs. Farrell, “that’s the trouble with women; from day to
day, and from dress to dress, they don’t really know what they want.
There’s Rachel Woodward; she has this decided talent, but she don’t seem
to want decidedly to use it, as a man would. I’m not even sure that if
all the world were propitious I should open a milliner shop. But I
_think_ I should. If I ever do, Mr. Easton, and you marry one of my
’prentices, I want you to promise that you’ll let her buy her bonnets of
me. That isn’t asking a great deal, is it?” She was scrutinizing a crest
of maidenhair and making it tilt on its stem, as if in doubt just where
to put it in the cluster, and she began softly and as if unconsciously,
to whistle in a low, delicious note. Then she suddenly stopped, made a
little prim mouth, threw up her eyebrows, and said: “Why, excuse me,
excuse me! What awful behavior in company!”

Easton gave himself to the joy of being played upon by her charming
insolence, with a glad laugh, full of a sort of happy wonder; but she
seemed not to notice, while she went on gravely adding spray to spray.

“What are you making all those for?” he asked, when he was willing to
change the delight of her silence for the delight of her speech.

“I don’t know--for Mrs. Gilbert, I think. She’s so much of an invalid
that she can’t come after things that she doesn’t want, as the rest of
us can, and so we’re always carrying them to her. I often wonder how she
gets rid of them. You never see them next day. Isn’t it strange?” asked
Mrs. Farrell, with a serious face; and abruptly, “What makes you come to
the country if you don’t know anything about it?”

“Well, I take an ignorant pleasure in it. On this occasion I came
because I thought Gilbert would like it.”

“Ah, Damon and Pythias! Do New York gentlemen commonly desert their
business at the beck of their men friends in that way? We have six
Boston husbands belonging to the wives of Woodward farm, and _they_
can’t leave their business one workday in the week.”

“But I’m not a business man. I’m no more useless here than in New York.”

Mrs. Farrell looked interested, and Easton went on. “I went into the
army too young to have a profession, and came out of it too old--or
something--to study one. So I live upon a little money left me by a
better man.”

“And you don’t actually do anything?”

“I can’t quite say that. I try not to keep other people from working;
that’s something; and I have my little pursuits.”

“But you have no business occupation?”

“No.”

“Really! And your friend, Pythias--is _he_ a gentleman of elegant
leisure, too?”

“He’s a lawyer, if you mean Gilbert.”

“Yes, I mean Gilbert,” said Mrs. Farrell, abstractedly. “He didn’t go in
too young, then?”

“He’s a little older than I.”

“‘I said an older soldier, not a better,’” quoted Mrs. Farrell. “Is
he--why, excuse me! I seem to be actually _pumping_ you.”

“I hope you’ll believe that I’m not in the habit of exploiting myself
and my affairs,” said Easton.

But Mrs. Farrell did not seem to heed what he said. She looked him
steadily in the face with her bewildering eyes, and asked, “Why doesn’t
_he_ live on some better man’s money, too?” and laughed to see his shame
painted in his face.

“I have been so silly as to talk of my own business, and you’ve punished
me as I deserved; but I don’t think I’ll enter into my friend’s
concerns, even for the honor of making you laugh,” he answered, hotly.

“Then you don’t like being laughed at?” she gravely questioned. Easton
rose to his feet. “What! Are you actually going away from me? I beg you
to forgive me-- I do indeed! I really meant nothing. You haven’t said a
word that I don’t respect you for. I thought you wouldn’t mind it. Tell
me how I shall treat you. It’s only for a week; I should be so sorry to
be enemies with you while you stay. What shall I do to make peace? What
shall I say?”

She rose quickly, and stretched her hand appealingly toward him. A
mastering impulse of tenderness filled his heart at her words of regret.
Before he knew, he had pressed her hand in a quick kiss against his
lips, and then stood holding it fast, awestruck at what he had done.

“Oh! What are you doing?” cried Mrs. Farrell, starting away from him in
a panic. “Don’t; you mustn’t! Mr. Easton! Oh dear, there’ll be somebody
coming in a moment!” She wrung her hand loose and, casting one look of
fear, wonder, and reproach upon him, turned and walked sadly away. He
followed her as silently, and without a word they mounted the slope of
the hollow, and passed through the brakes and over the walls, which she
mounted now without his help. When they came to the last, which divided
the wood from the open meadow, she turned her aggrieved face upon him
again and said, meekly: “I shall have to beg you to go back and get me
those ferns we left there in the hollow. It won’t do to go home without
anything. I’ll wait here;” and she sat down upon the low broken wall,
and averted her face from him again. He went back as he was bidden, and
with a little search found the place, the sight of which somehow sent a
shiver through him as if it were haunted, and, gathering up the clusters
of ferns, returned with them to her. He tried to say something, but
could not. She took some of them, and began to talk in a curiously
animated way, looking at them and comparing them; and then, not far
off, he saw Gilbert and the young girls approaching. Mrs. Farrell sprang
down from the wall and hurried to meet them. They were covered with
brakes and ferns and a gay laughing and talking broke forth among the
women. Mrs. Farrell attached Gilbert to her for the walk home; and it
fell to Easton to accompany the two young girls. When he left them they
said he was very nice-looking, and he was very hard to get along with,
much harder than Mr. Gilbert, who always kept saying something to make
you laugh. They did not know whether Mr. Easton was really stupid or
not; he did not look stupid, and it was quite delightful to have a man
so bashful.

In the meantime he had parted in a blank, opaque sort of way from Mrs.
Farrell, with whom he left Gilbert, and was walking moodily homeward
over that road where he had met her in the morning. He found the hotel
intolerable, and after a cup of its Japan tea, and a glance at its hot
biscuit, its cold slices of corned beef, its little blocks and wedges of
cheese, its small satellite dishes of prunes and preserves, and its
twenty-five Sunday evening toilettes, he went out again, and walked far
and long in a direction that he knew nothing of except that it was away
from where he had spent the day. His heart was still thickly beating in
his ears when he got back and found Gilbert alone on the piazza.

“Hello!” said Gilbert. “Developing into a pedestrian? Why did you go
away so soon? I think the lovely Farrell missed you. She was quite
pensive and _distraite_ at first; though I must own she cheered up and
collected herself after a while. She looked extremely attractive in her
melancholy.”

Easton sat down in the next chair without answering, and, drawing a
match along the bottom of the seat, lighted his cigar. After a few
whiffs he took it from his lips and held it till it went out.

Gilbert went on with a quick laugh, “She’s a most amusing creature!”

“I don’t understand what you mean by that,” said Easton, turning his
face halfway toward his friend, in a fashion he had.

“Well, it’s hard to say. I suppose because she’s so deep and so
transparent. She does everything for an effect, and she isn’t at peace
with herself for a moment.”

“I suppose we all do that,” commented Easton.

“Yes, but not with her motive.”

“What is her motive?”

“That’s not so easy to explain. It’s a pity you haven’t the data for
comprehending her, Easton, and enjoying her character; you don’t know
other women, and you can’t see how sublimely perfect Mrs. Farrell is in
her way. She’s one of the most beautiful women I ever saw; one of the
brightest, the most amiable. But I should be sorry to marry her; I
shouldn’t want my wife so amiable--to everybody. She isn’t meant for the
domesticities. There’s no harm in her; she simply wants excitement,
luxury, applause, all in one, all the time. By Jove! the man that gets
her will wish she was _his_ widow, and so will she, as soon as she has
him. She’s an inspired flirt; and I don’t mean that she’s like young
girls who can’t help their innocent coquetries with a man or two; but
her flirtatiousness is vast enough for the whole world, and enduring
enough for all time. As long as she lives she’ll be wanting to try her
power upon some one; and there can’t be any game so high or so low that
she won’t fly at it. What a life that would be for her husband!”

Easton sat still while Gilbert spoke, and he remained silent when he
ceased. But the words had given him a supreme satisfaction; they had
lifted a load from his heart; they had made the way clear and straight.
He was infinitely far from resenting what left her, as concerned Gilbert
at least, so solely to his love and worship. With his passion their
reason or unreason had not a feather’s weight.

“Shall you stay any longer than the end of the fortnight?” he asked at
last.

“No,” said Gilbert, who was used to Easton’s way of suddenly turning
from the matter of their talk, and coming as suddenly back to it some
other time; “I don’t think I could stand it longer.”

Easton made a motion to replace his cigar in his lips, then looked at it
with sudden disgust and flung it over the rail. His mind ran off in wild
reverie upon the kiss, which he now feigned again and again upon her
hand. His eccentric life and his peculiar temperament had kept him so
unlike other young men that he had no trouble for the violated
conventionality; it could only be a question of right or wrong with him;
he believed that he had taken an unfair advantage of her attempt at
reparation, but the fire that burned in his heart seemed to purge it of
whatever wrong there was in his violence. He was reclining there near
her on the rock under the hovering shade, with the bracken in light
undulation all around above their heads, and the summer at its sweetest
in the air and earth; then he despaired to think that the night must
pass before he could see her again, that life itself might pass and no
such moment come again. His reverie broke in a long, deep sigh.

Gilbert gave a sudden laugh. “Why, I believe, Easton, you are _hit_! You
had forgotten I was here,” he continued, as Easton looked round in a
stupefied way. “Well, I’ll leave you to your raptures.”

“I’m going to bed, too,” said Easton. “I’m tired to death;” and he rose
from his chair with a leaden sense of fatigue in every fiber.

Their rooms opened into each other, and Easton was abed when Gilbert
rapped on the dividing door. “Come in,” he called.

Gilbert came into the room, which the bright moon would have made
uncomfortable for any but a lover. “Look here, old fellow,” he said,
bending over his friend, with one arm stretched along the headboard,
“you didn’t think to-day, from anything my sister-in-law said, that I’d
been making light of you, did you?”

“What did she say?”

“Oh, about Rogers, you know.”

“Certainly not.”

“Then it isn’t necessary to say I hadn’t?”

“Oh no,” said Easton, turning his head impatiently. “I never thought of
it again.” Gilbert’s anxious loyalty annoyed him, for since they had
bidden each other good night the consciousness that he had, however
against his will, suffered something to be extorted from him that might
be construed as derogation of his friend had troubled him, but he had
rather arrogantly dismissed the thought as unworthy of their friendship.
Besides, without placing himself in a false light he could not speak of
it, and it was vexatious to be reminded of it by Gilbert’s scruples.

“Then it’s all right?” asked Gilbert.

“Why, certainly!” said Easton, impatiently.

Gilbert slowly withdrew his arm from where it lay, and stood a moment in
hesitation; then he said, “Good night,” and went into his own room.

Easton felt the vague disappointment in his manner, but was helpless to
make the reparation to which his heart urged him. He could not expose
Mrs. Farrell’s part in what had been said to his friend’s
interpretation; the wrong done was one of those things which must be
lived down.



Chapter VI


It was much later than his wonted hour when Easton woke next morning,
and found a scrap of paper stuck between the mirror and its frame, on
which Gilbert had written: “Off for the trout brooks. See you at
dinner.” This gave him a moment’s pause, and then he went on dressing.
He had a lover’s single purpose of seeing her he loved, and a lover’s
insensibility to questions of ways and means; and after breakfast he
walked away toward the farm, thinking what he should say and do when he
met Mrs. Farrell.

At Woodward farm there was no organization for the reception of callers
upon the guests. There was no bell, and there would have been no one to
answer it if there was a bell. But in a house where there was so much
leisure and so much curiosity, this was ordinarily a small deprivation.
Some of the ladies were always looking out, and if they saw any of their
friends coming they ran forth to meet them with a great deal of pleasant
twitter, having shouted a voluble welcome to them from the time they
came in sight. If it was some one whom the lookers-out recognized as the
friend of another lady, they went to alarm her in ample season, and by
the time the visitor ascended the piazza steps the lady was at the
door. Besides, some one or other was always sitting about outdoors, and
if unknown visitors approached, it was a grateful little excitement to
ask them, when they had vainly inspected the door frame for a bell, if
one could call her whom they wished to see.

But when Mr. Easton was descried approaching, people were quite
undecided what to do, and he was on the piazza before he had himself
perceived that he had something to do besides walking up to Mrs. Farrell
and telling her that he loved her. It appeared to him impossible that
she should not be there to receive him; he had been so rapt in his
meditation upon her that he had not believed but he must meet her as
soon as he reached the door; and now she was not there! Several heads
were decently taken in from the upper windows, and the broad piazza was
empty but for the two young ladies whom he had walked home with
yesterday; they sat half in the sunlight at the corner, and one was
looking down upon the work in her hand, and the other looking down upon
the book she was reading aloud, and he fancied himself unperceived by
them. A mighty disappointment fell upon him; he had stormed the
fortress, to find it empty and equipped with Quaker guns. As he stood
there helpless, the young girl who was reading discreetly chanced to
look round, and to her evident great surprise discovered him. She gave
him a friendly little nod, and as he came toward her she rose with a
pretty air and offered her hand, and the other did the same. They talked
excitedly for a minute or two, and then the conversation began to flag,
and Easton uneasily shifted his attitude. No doubt they would have liked
to keep him with them for a little while, but perhaps they did not know
how, or thought they ought to give him a chance to get away if he
wanted; or perhaps she who spoke was quite sincere in asking, with a
bright smile, “Did you want to see Mrs.”--his heart began to beat in his
ears--“Gilbert?”

“Yes,” Said Easton, stupidly.

“I will go and tell her,” said the young girl, laying her book down
open, and lightly turning away.

“Thanks-- I’m very sorry to trouble you,” said Easton; and neither he nor
she with whom he was left contrived to speak one word more while the
other was gone. When she came back she said, with some trepidation:
“Mrs. Gilbert is very, very sorry. She has one of her bad headaches, and
she can’t see any one. She’s so sorry to miss your call.”

“Oh, no matter--no matter,” answered Easton. “I’m sorry she’s not well;
please give her my--please say I was sorry. Good morning!” he added,
abruptly, and cast a wistful, despairing look at the front of the house,
and could not go. “Is--is Mrs. Farrell at home?” he asked, desperately.

The young girl cruelly smiled, and her companion cruelly cast down her
eyes, and then they both blushed.

“No,” said the first, “she isn’t at home. She said she was going with
Miss Rachel to help pick peas.”

“Oh!” was all that Easton could say; and as he turned away the girls
said it was a perfect shame, and they were rude girls, too flat for
anything.

Easton forgot them both, and walked back toward his hotel. On the way
down the slope from the house he looked in the direction of the
vegetable garden, and faltered. Mrs. Farrell’s voice floated over to him
in a gay laugh from the ranks of the pea vines, and an insane longing to
behold her filled him to the throat. But he could not go and tell her he
loved her, there among the pea pods; even he felt that. He twisted his
mustache into the corner of his mouth, beat the ground with his stick,
and hurried away, hurt, tormented, but not at all daunted or moved from
his mind to have speech with her as soon as ever he could.

When she had finished her part of the work, which was to gather peas
with fitful intensity and then to talk for long intervals to Rachel’s
taciturn perseverance, she emptied her small harvest into the basket
that one of the Woodward boys carried, and walked picturesquely back to
the house under her broad hat, which dropped its shade just across her
lips like a grace veil, and left her dark eyes to glow, starlike, from
its depths. In this becoming effect she sat down on the kitchen
threshold, with the wide doors open round her, and took some of the peas
into her lap and shelled them with a lazy ease, moving her arms from the
elbows resting on her knees, and managing chiefly with her flexile
wrists, and went on talking with Rachel of a picnic excursion to the
mountain which she wished to plan. “We shall not want any one along but
the youngest Miss Jewett and Jenny Alden and Ben, and we can have a
splendid time. It’s just the right season, now. Come, Mrs. Woodward,”
she called into the kitchen, “are you going to let me go?”

“You mostly do what you like, Mrs. Farrell,” answered Mrs. Woodward’s
voice, “and the only way I get any obedience out of you is to forbid you
to do what you don’t like. Yes, go. All I ask is that you don’t take
me.”

“Now, then, Miss Prim,” said Mrs. Farrell to Rachel, “you see you’re
commanded to go. What had we better wear?”

“Oh, wear all your worst things,” said Mrs. Woodward.

“Yes, but I’m one of those poor people who can’t afford to have any but
best things. I’m going to get you to lend me some of your worst, Mrs.
Woodward, and I’m going to borrow Ben’s hat. Will you lend it to me,
Ben?” she tenderly asked of the grave young fellow who stood near, and
who had to shift himself from one foot to the other and turn his face
away before he could assent. She laughed at his trepidation, as if she
knew the reason of it. But by the time he could confront Mrs. Farrell
again, she apparently did not care for his answer. Her eyes were fixed
upon the figure of Gilbert as he came up the road toward the house. He
came in sight suddenly, as if he had climbed the wall from one of the
birch-bordered meadows. He was better worth looking at than Ben
Woodward, being very brave in his high boots and his straw hat, with
his bundled rod and his trout basket, a strong, sinewy shape, and a face
very handsome in its fashion. As he drew nearer, he turned aside and
slanted his course toward the door where Mrs. Farrell sat. Before he
came up to her place Rachel had silently vanished within, and Mrs.
Farrell sat there alone.

“Good morning,” he called out, taking off his hat.

“Good morning,” returned Mrs. Farrell, without changing her posture.
“Don’t you want to stop and help shell peas?”

Either their acquaintance had prospered rapidly after Easton had left
them together the afternoon before, or else this was Mrs. Farrell’s
indifference to social preliminaries.

“No, thanks,” said Gilbert, tranquilly, wiping his forehead with his
handkerchief. “My domestic gifts are small. But I was thinking, as I
came along, that I would give you people my trout.”

“Really? How very handsome of you!”

“Yes, there’s nothing mean about me. They sometimes object to cooking
them at the hotel, and I don’t quite like to throw them away.”

“Why, this is true charity! If I’m to accept them in the name of the
farm, I must see them first.”

Gilbert took off his basket and laid it at her feet; she opened it and
cried out, “What beauties! Like flowers! But”--she gave ever so little a
pretty grimace--“not exactly the same perfume!”

“No,” said he, “they can’t very well help that. But they improve with
frying.”

“That’s true,” said Mrs. Farrell. “Well, we’ll take them. And you must
get Mrs. Gilbert to ask you to supper. _I_ can’t do it.”

“No,” answered Gilbert, “my generosity shall be unblemished. I never eat
the trout I’ve taken, any more. Easton’s religion has had that much
effect upon me.”

“Easton’s religion?”

“Yes; he thinks it’s atrocious to kill anything for the pleasure of it.”

“How very droll! And you’re able to behave so nobly with your fish
because you couldn’t get them cooked, and wouldn’t eat them if you
could!” Gilbert had been standing beside the pile of maple firewood
which flanked the kitchen door and sent up a pleasant odor in the sun;
Mrs. Farrell said, “Sit down,” and he sat down on a broad block used for
splitting kindling. “I wonder what Mr. Easton would have had to say to
some of the apostles on the subject of fishing.”

“That’s what I asked him once; but he says they didn’t fish for fun.”

“He distinguishes! Well, but what about the clergymen who make it their
diversion, and then boast about their prowess in books?”

“Ask Easton for his opinion. I can assure you it’s worth hearing--if you
like contempt red hot.”

“I don’t believe I do! I’d rather ask you. Is that his whole creed,
anti-trouting?”

“No; hardly. He has a kindness for most of the human race as well as the
lower animals. The only creature he really hates is the horse,” said
Gilbert, with a laugh as of recollected mirth; and in fact Easton had
been known in his army days for his antipathy to his chargers. He always
got full service out of them by sheer force of will; but he never liked
them, and never professed to understand them; the horse, he contended,
was unfitted for a gentleman’s society by the blackguard company he
habitually kept. “But I don’t think he’d do even a horse a wanton
injury,” concluded Gilbert.

“Yes?” said Mrs. Farrell. “And the rest of his opinions?”

“Why, there are very few things that Easton hadn’t an opinion upon. It’s
rather odd, don’t you think, to find a man in our age and country really
caring enough for matters in general to make up his mind about them?”

“Very,” said Mrs. Farrell, twisting her slim shape round to take a
handful of peas out of the basket behind her and putting them into her
lap. “Go on.”

“That was all I had to say,” returned Gilbert, with a mocking light in
his eyes.

“Oh, how can you be so cruel?--when I had just got ready to listen! Do
go on!”

“Why, I was thinking--” began Gilbert.

“Yes, yes!” eagerly prompted Mrs. Farrell, “thinking (really thinking!
Of course you can’t have been doing it long!)--thinking--”

“That it was a very inconvenient practice to inquire into the right and
wrong of many things,” proceeded Gilbert, in solid indifference to her
light impertinences; whereupon she seemed to suffer some evanescent
confusion. “It gives you no sort of moral leeway. Suppose you want to do
something--anything--out of the ordinary line of things that you do or
don’t do; well, if you haven’t considered too impertinently of right and
wrong in general, you do it without once thinking whether you ought or
oughtn’t, and there you are on the safe side, anyway.”

“Oh, what a beautiful philosophy!” moaned Mrs. Farrell, clasping her
hands together without moving her elbows from their careless pose. She
rested her cheek a moment on her folded hands; then she asked with a
voice full of mock emotion, “Do you think it would do for Woman, Mr.
Gilbert? It seems just made for her!”

“I hadn’t thought about Woman,” said Gilbert; “that’s a matter still to
be considered. You must give me time.”

“Oh yes, we will be patient--patient!” and Mrs. Farrell began to shell
the peas with an air of tragical endurance. “Take any length of time you
wish. But in the meanwhile, can’t you state the Eastonian principle more
fully?”

“Only by saying that it’s the opposite of the system you admire and
covet. Easton isn’t a man to formulate his ideas very freely. You’re
astounded every now and then by some extraordinary piece of apparently
quite uncalled-for uprightness, and then you find that he had long
contemplated some such exigency, and had his conscience in perfect
training.”

“How very droll!” said Mrs. Farrell. Then she said, looking at him
through her eyelashes, “It’s quite touching to see such attached
friends.”

Gilbert stirred uneasily on his block, and answered, “It’s a great honor
to form part of a spectacle affecting to you, Mrs. Farrell--if you mean
Easton and me.”

“Yes, I do. Don’t scoff at my weak impressibility. You must see that
it’s a thing calculated to rouse a woman’s curiosity. You seem so very
different!”

“Men and women are very different, in some respects,” calmly responded
Gilbert, “but there have been quite strong attachments between them.”

“True,” rejoined Mrs. Farrell with burlesque thoughtfulness. “But in
this case they’re both men.”

“Nothing escapes you, Mrs. Farrell,” said Gilbert, bowing his head.

“You praise me more than I deserve. I didn’t take all your meaning. One
of you is so mightily, so heroically manly, that the other necessarily
womanizes in comparison. Isn’t that it? But which is which?”

“Modesty forbids me to claim either transcendent distinction.”

“Oh, I know! Mr. Easton is your ideal man. But I should want _my_ ideal
man to _do_ something in the world, to devote himself to some one great
object. That’s what I should do, if I were a man.”

“Of course. How do you know Easton doesn’t?”

“I merely have his word for it.”

Gilbert looked surprised and perplexed. At length he said, rather
dryly: “I congratulate you on getting Easton to talk about himself. Not
many people have succeeded.”

“Oh, is he so reticent?” asked Mrs. Farrell. “I didn’t find him so. He
was quite free in mentioning his little pursuits, as he called it.”

“His book!” cried Gilbert. “Did he talk to you about _that_, already?”

“Why, it seems that you don’t know your friend very well, after all!”
mocked Mrs. Farrell with a laugh of triumph. “Why shouldn’t he talk to
me about his book? He knew I would be interested in the subject; any
woman would.”

“Upon my word, I don’t see what should particularly interest you in a
history of heroism.”

Mrs. Farrell celebrated her fresh advantage with another laugh. “Why
not?” she asked, taking some of the peas up in her hand and letting them
drop through her fingers. “We’re all heroes till we’ve been tried, and I
haven’t been tried. He’s going to put me into it. Do tell me his plan in
writing it,” she entreated.

“Look here, Mrs. Farrell,” said Gilbert, bending forward and looking
keenly at her, “do you mean to tell me that Easton has actually been
talking to you about his book, which I now perceive I mentioned first?”

“Look here, Mr. Gilbert,” said she, with an audaciously charming
caricature of his attitude and manner, “do you mean to tell me that you
doubt my word?”

“Well,” said Gilbert, with a laugh, “I own myself beaten. Did you ever
hear of Miss Lillian-- I forget her name--the St. Louis lawyeress? Why
don’t you study our profession? At a cross-examination no witness could
resist you, if I may judge from my own experience in helplessly blabbing
what you never would have known otherwise. Come, Mrs. Farrell, you have
triumphed so magnificently that you can afford to be frank; own, now,
that all you know of Easton’s book is what I’ve told.”

He rose and stood looking down admiringly upon her uplifted face.

“No,” she answered, “I shall not do _that_, Colonel--I beg your pardon;
I mean _Major_--Gilbert. Mr. Easton’s the colonel,” she added,
parenthetically. “What _was_ the reason,” she continued with
well-studied innocence, “that he came out a colonel and you came out
only a major, when you had so much the advantage of him at first?”

Gilbert’s face had hardened in the lines of a smile, and it kept the
shape of a smile while all mirth died out of it, and he stared into the
eyes of Mrs. Farrell, from which a sudden panic looked.

“Oh, dear me!” she said, naturally. “Don’t--don’t mind. I didn’t mean to
do anything. What have I done? Oh, I wish--don’t answer, please!” she
implored.

But Gilbert gravely responded, “Because he was a better soldier. I am
sorry if I alarm you by the statement of the fact. Did you experience
any fright when Mr. Easton told you?”

“Oh, he never told me that he was braver than you. I don’t think he
meant to talk of the matter at all.”

“I can believe that,” replied Gilbert; “neither do I.”

Mrs. Farrell made no comment, but, taking a fresh handful of the peas,
shelled them, with such downcast eyes that it was impossible to say
whether she was looking at Gilbert through her lashes or not. Nor could
one tell with just what feeling the corners of her mouth trembled, but
his sternness seemed to have frightened and silenced her. Gilbert
breathed quickly as he regarded her, but after waiting awhile,
irresolute, he gave a short, sardonic laugh and rose. “Good morning,” he
said.

“Good morning,” returned Mrs. Farrell, woundedly, and meekly added,
“Thank you for the fish,” to which he bowed his reply and then walked
round the house.

He knocked at Mrs. Gilbert’s door, and received from her own lips the
same answer which had already turned Easton away, and so went quickly
down the road in the direction of the hotel. In the meantime Easton had
not been able to turn his steps far from the farm; whichever way he went
they tended indirectly thither, and at last he started boldly back. At
the moment he mounted the front piazza steps Mrs. Farrell, having
finished or relinquished her domestic task, came round the gallery from
the side of the house and met him.

“Good morning, Mr. Easton,” she said, pensively. “Did you want to see
Mrs. Gilbert? I believe she has a very bad headache to-day.”

“No, I didn’t want to see Mrs. Gilbert. I came to see you.”

“Oh! Then will you sit down here?” she asked, and took her place where
the two young girls, who were now away in the fields, had been sitting.

“I came here some time ago,” said Easton, “and, not finding you, I tried
to find that place where we got the ferns yesterday.”

Mrs. Farrell’s broad hat-brim thrust uncomfortably against the house
where she sat on the settle beside the wall, and she took her hat off; a
mass of her dark hair tumbled in a rich disorder on her back. She laid
her hat in her lap and waited.

“I went there,” pursued Easton, “because I had a stupid hope that the
place might inspire me with some faint shadow of reason, of excuse,
for--”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Farrell, interpreting his hesitation with candid
reproachfulness; “it was not fair, and, considering all things, Mr.
Easton, I don’t think it was quite kind.”

“Kind? Kind!” cried Easton, with an inexpressible pang. Then after a
moment’s thought he added: “No, it was not kind; it was base,
tyrannical, brutal! It was worthy of a savage!”

Mrs. Farrell turned her face slightly away, and if she had been acting
wounded innocence she could hardly have known it.

“There was no excuse for such a thing but the one thing in the world
which it is least like. That is its excuse to me; it seems an insolent
affront to suppose that it can atone for it to you.”

“I suppose,” said Mrs. Farrell, demurely, “that women’s actions are
often misconstrued. Indeed, I ought to know it from bitter experience in
my own case. I ought to remember that men seem even _eager_ to
misinterpret any confidence put in them; but yesterday--I--I couldn’t!”

There was a sort of passionate reproach, a tacit confession that she had
singularly trusted him to her hurt, in the close of this speech, which
went to Easton’s heart. “No, there is nothing for me to say in
extenuation. Even if I tell you--”

“‘Sh!” cried Mrs. Farrell, putting her hand down at her side and
electrically touching that wrist of his next to her; “I thought somebody
was coming. Yes, I know. Even if you tell me that you meant no harm--and
I don’t believe you did--still, don’t you know-- Oh!” she broke off, “why
is it that there isn’t some common ground for men and women to meet on,
and be helpful to each other? Must they always be either lovers or
enemies? Yes, enemies; it’s really a state of almost warfare; there
can’t be any kindness, any freedom, any sincerity. And yet there are
times in every woman’s life when she does long so for the intelligence
as well as the sympathy of some good man; and she can’t have it unless
she’s married or engaged. She often wants to see how some action of her
own looks through a man’s eyes, and the wisest woman can’t tell her!
Every new disappointment that she meets with is harder to bear. I didn’t
mind your kissing my hand; that’s nothing; it might even be something
that a woman would be proud of; but by the way you did it you shocked
and frightened me; I saw that you had misunderstood me, and I--I was
afraid you didn’t--respect me.”

Mrs. Farrell’s grieving mood was so admirably represented in the outline
of her cheek, the downward curve of the corner of her mouth, the low
sweep of her long eyelash, and at the same time it was so discreetly
_felt_, so far from overcharged or exaggerated, that even an indifferent
spectator must have been affected with reverent sympathy. Easton’s heart
was wrung with unspeakable tenderness and regret and shame. He could not
break the silence that followed her words for some moments. At last he
said, “I see how it must have appeared to you; but it was not so. I have
as little hope as I deserve to have when I say--”

“There! Don’t speak of it any more,” Mrs. Farrell interrupted, with
signs of returning cheerfulness, but with beams not too speedily
tricked. “Let’s not think of it. I know there must have been something
to blame in me. I have a way,” she continued regretfully, “which I’m
sure no one feels the disadvantage of more than I do--a sort of perverse
impulse; I don’t know what else to call it--that leads me to try
people’s patience, and see how far I can go with them; and I’m afraid I
must have abused your good-nature yesterday in speaking as I did of your
friend.”

“You said nothing against him that I remember.”

“I ought to be very grateful, then. I thought I was wrong in asking you
about your military rank and his, when I saw that you were avoiding the
subject. I couldn’t help it, and yet I meant no harm.”

“I know you meant none. I won’t deny that I was trying to avoid the
subject. It was placing me in the ugly light of seeming to boast at the
expense of my friend.”

“Yes, yes; I knew that; and I suppose it was just that which made me
keep on; I liked to see your modesty put to the blush. It was wrong; but
you don’t think I had any very bad motive in it?”

“No, none!” said Easton, quickly.

“I am so glad. I know Mr. Gilbert isn’t so generous!” Easton looked at
her inquiringly, and “Oh, Mr. Easton,” she broke out, “what have I been
doing? It must really look very black to you. Mr. Gilbert has just been
here, and I have been talking to _him_ about it--I don’t know _why_ I
did; and he went away very angry. It seems just as if I had been trying
to make a quarrel between you!” She hid her face in her hands, while
Easton remained gravely silent. “Why don’t you speak to me?” she
implored him, without taking away her hands. “It will kill me if you
don’t. Say something, anything; blame me, scold me! You know you think
I’ve behaved very wickedly. You do!”

“No, I don’t think so,” replied Easton, seriously. He looked at her
hopeless face, from which she had now withdrawn her hands, and he seemed
to be losing his fast hold upon things, upon truth and right and wrong.
Two days ago he had not seen this face or known that it was in the
world; now it was so heavenly dear to him that it seemed to describe all
knowledge and being. It was not a question whether she had a right to
violate the secrecy to which Gilbert’s silence and his own had consigned
the fact she had so recklessly played with; rightly or wrongly she had
done this, and he had now to ask himself whether he could forgive her
error to her penitence. Yet he did not ask himself that; she had done
it; and he loved her; and there was an end. How could he believe ill of
her? What oblique motive could he attribute to her that his heart’s
tenderness would suffer?

“Ah,” she broke out again, “you can never forgive me--and I can never
forgive myself. Why did you come here to make me so unhappy!”

“Don’t--don’t say that!” the young man implored. “There is no harm done.
I was to blame for ever talking with you about the matter. How could I
expect you to treat it with seriousness or secrecy? You couldn’t know
that it had ever been a sore affair with us. Don’t be troubled.
Gilbert’s friendship isn’t built upon such a slight basis that it can’t
bear--” A stifling recollection of the delicacy, passing the love of
women, with which they had always treated each other smote upon him:
what could Gilbert think of _his_ delicacy now? “I can make it all right
with him,” he continued, as soon as he could get breath.

“With _him_?” murmured Mrs. Farrell. “Then _you_ forgive me?”

“I had nothing to forgive,” said Easton, with all his love in his face;
so that she looked away and blushed. “Don’t think of it any more; it’s
nothing.”

“How generous you are! Oh, women couldn’t be like that! How shall I
thank you? I’ll never forgive myself in the world--that’s how,” she
said, a faint smile dawning on her contrite face.

“That would be a poor way. I want you to be friends with those I--like.”

“Do you mean Mr. Gilbert?”

“No, I don’t mean Gilbert.”

Mrs. Farrell cast down her eyes. Then she bravely lifted them. “I will
do whatever you say,” she breathed, and a radiant light came from her
face as she rose and stood fronting him. “After what I’ve done you have
a right to _command_ me. But now you must let me go. I have some things
to do. You’ve made me _so_ happy.”

“And you me!” he said, and he took her hand, which he dropped after a
moment, and walked away, giddy with his insensate joy. All his soul was
flattered by the far-hinting sweetness with which she had used him, and
he was contented in every pulse. When he despaired he had felt that he
must tell her he loved her, and let any effect follow that would, but
now he was patient with the hope which he hoped she had given him; for
his confidence did not go beyond this. He loved too much to believe
himself loved or to perceive that he was encouraged. To the supreme
modesty of his passion her kindness was but leave to live; and he was
abjectly grateful for it. He lifted his thoughts to her with worshiping
reverence; it was heaven to dwell in the beauty of her looks, her
attitudes, her movements; the sense of her self-reproachful meekness
possessed him with the tenderest rapture. How could he expose this to
the harsh misconception of his friend? How could he explain her
blamelessness as he felt it? He knew the sort of sarcastic quiet that
Gilbert would keep when he should set about making him understand that
he, Easton, was alone guilty in any wrong done him; that he, Easton, had
given her the clue which she had afterward followed up, from an ignorant
caprice, in her talk with Gilbert; that she had bitterly upbraided
herself for her error, and had dreaded its effects with a terror that he
had hardly known how to appease. When he thought of Gilbert’s
incredulity, his heart beat fiercely; and he felt that he could not
suffer it. Yet the thing could not go without some effort on his part to
assure his friend that he had not been disloyal, and how to give him
this assurance he did not see. No, he could not speak of it; and yet he
must. A veritable groan burst from his lips as he mounted a little
hillock in the road and took off his hat to wipe away the drops of sweat
from his forehead. Whither had all his bliss vanished? A thrush sat in
the elm tree over him and sang long and sweet, and his heart ached in
time with the pulses of that happy music. A little way off, under the
shadow of this tree, Gilbert lay upon the grass, with his face up to the
sky; and it was to Easton, when directly he caught sight of him, as if
he had laid him there dead. He fearfully made a little noise, and
Gilbert opened his eyes, and, looking at him, sat up. “I was waiting for
you,” he said, gravely and not unkindly. “I supposed you had gone over
to the farm, for I did not find you at the hotel. Easton,” he continued,
“I saw Mrs. Farrell a little while ago. Perhaps you’ve just come from
seeing her?”

“Yes,” answered Easton.

“Perhaps you don’t know what we talked of?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I suppose it was her use of what you told her that annoyed me; but I
can’t understand how you came to mention the matter to her at all; much
less to go into particulars, as you seem to have done.”

Easton colored, but did not speak.

“Have you anything to say to me, Easton? I can’t bear to have the
slightest thing between us.”

“Not--not now.”

They were both silent; and Easton doggedly cast down his eyes.

“Very well, Easton,” said Gilbert, rising and going toward him, “if you
intend to say something by and by, and can justify yourself to yourself
in making me wait, it’s all right; I can wait.”

He held out his hand, and Easton yearned to grasp it as it was offered,
but his cold clasp relaxed upon it, and the severed friends trudged
silently on through the dust toward the hotel.



Chapter VII


That evening Gilbert found his sister-in-law well of her headache, and
disposed to celebrate the charm of a headache that always went off with
the going down of the sun. He responded at random, and then she began to
talk to him of Easton, and he listened with a restlessness which she
could not help noticing. “You don’t seem to care to sing the praises of
your idol, this evening,” she said.

“One can’t always be singing the praises of one’s idols,” he answered,
“if you like to call them so. One wants a little variety. You know how
the Neapolitans give themselves up to comfortable cursing in the case of
saints who don’t indicate the winning lottery numbers.”

“I don’t exactly see the application, William, but I’m always ready to
curse anybody; and we will devote Mr. Easton to a little malediction.
Have you had a tiff?”

“I thought you were going to curse, and you commence questioning.”

“That’s true; my curiosity _is_ uppermost. Do tell me about it. I
suppose Mrs. Farrell is somehow at the bottom of it. I wouldn’t have
such a friendship as yours and Easton’s on any account. It has cost too
much. I wonder you haven’t assassinated each other long ago.”

“I’m glad your headache’s gone,” said Gilbert.

“Yes, that’s gone--thanks to the sunset or the headache pill. But I’m
getting what no pill has yet been patented for; I mean a heartache, and
for you, my poor boy. Oh, you open book! Don’t you suppose I can read
where that woman has written Finis in her high-shouldered English hand
against the chapter of your friendship with Easton?”

“You are taking it seriously, Susan.”

“Well, well. See if I’m not right. I thought you told me your friend was
afraid of ladies. Mrs. Farrell seems to have persuaded him that they’re
not so dangerous. He’s been here all afternoon. Oh, one can know such a
thing as that even with the headache in a darkened room. No, not the
whole afternoon; they were gone a long while on a walk. He follows her
all about with his eyes when she won’t let him follow on foot; he’s
making a perfect trophy of himself. That’s the report.”

“Very likely,” said Gilbert. “Easton never does things by halves.”

“He’d better, then--some things.”

“Why, I don’t know. Why shouldn’t he marry her if he wants?”

“I don’t believe _she_ wants. He can’t take her fancy long, though very
likely now she thinks he can. That was very pretty of you to give her
your trout, this morning,” said Mrs. Gilbert, with a sharp look at her
brother-in-law. “She had them for supper, and ate a great many--for
your sake, I suppose. It’s you that she wants, William!”

“Does she?” asked Gilbert, with a bitterish accent. “She has an odd way
of going about to get me.”

“What has she done?” demanded Mrs. Gilbert, making an instant rush for
the breach. Gilbert covered it with a quizzical smile. “Oh!” she
continued, plainly enjoying her own discomfiture, “when will men learn
that the boomerang is the natural weapon of woman? We’re all cross-eyed
when it comes to love-glances; you can’t tell where we’re looking. You
think she’s aiming at Easton! Poor fellow!”

“If I stay here talking,” said Gilbert, rising, “I shall bring on your
headache again. Good night.”

“Oh, William,” Mrs. Gilbert appealed, “something sad has happened
between you and Easton; and I’m very, very sorry. _I_ liked him, too;
and I’m grieved to have your old friendship touched. But I know _you_
are not to blame--and don’t you be! I shall hate him if he breaks with
you. Good night, my dear. Don’t tell me anything you don’t want to.”

“I won’t,” said Gilbert, kissing his hand to her at the door.

She could not help laughing, but when he was gone she turned to the
glass with an anxious air, and after a while began to let down the
loose, hastily ordered folds of her hair. She stood there a long time,
thoughtfully brushing it out, taking hold of it near her head with the
left hand, and bending sidewise as she smoothed it down. In the light
of the kerosene lamps which she had set on either side of the mirror,
her reflected face looked up from the lucid depths with an invalid’s
wanness, which the whimsicality of her mouth and eyes made the more
pathetic. Suddenly she glanced round at the door with an unchanging
face, and said, “Come in,” in answer to a light rap; and Rachel Woodward
entered with a shy, cold hesitation.

“Oh!--Why, Miss Rachel! Do come in!” repeated Mrs. Gilbert, contriving
in the last words to subdue the surprise of her first tones. “You won’t
mind my brushing my hair? There’s so very little of it! Sit down.”

She went on to give the last touches, with friendly looks at the girl in
the glass, and with various little arts of inattention trying to make it
easy for her visitor to disembarrass herself. Then she sat down in her
rocking-chair, facing Rachel, who had received her kindliness not
unkindly, but now came promptly to her business.

“I oughtn’t to disturb you to-night, Mrs. Gilbert,” she said, “and I
should have come Saturday night, but I knew you had company; and last
night was Sabbath. I wanted to thank you for buying that picture of
mine. I never thought of anyone’s buying it; and I’m afraid you gave
more than you ought. I couldn’t bear you should do that. I’ve been
talking about it with mother, and she thinks I ought to offer you part
of the money back.”

Mrs. Gilbert listened without interruption of any sort, and the girl,
doubtless knowing better how to deal with this impassiveness than with
that second-growth impulse which in city New-Englanders has sprung up on
surfaces shorn so bare by Puritanism, went on tranquilly.

“We think it is like this: it isn’t probable, even if this picture is
worth all of what you paid, that I can do any more as good, and if
you’ve bought it to encourage me, I might disappoint you in the end.
Besides, we should not be willing to be beholden to anybody.”

Having said her say, Rachel waited for Mrs. Gilbert’s response, who
answered, quietly, “I know that you and your mother are perfectly
sincere, and I am glad you came to say this to me. How much should you
think I ought to take back?”

Rachel thought a moment and said, soberly, “The paper cost twenty-five
cents; then I used some of a preparation of Mrs. Farrell’s to keep the
charcoal from rubbing, but that didn’t come to anything. If my picture
took the first premium at the county fair--we did think some of sending
it there at first--it would be three dollars, but we should have had to
pay seventy-five cents for entering it. If you really _want_ the
picture, Mrs. Gilbert, and are not buying it for any other reason, you
can have it for two and a quarter.”

“Very well,” said Mrs. Gilbert, gravely, “have you brought me the
change? Then please hand it to me, as I’m an old lady and very much
settled in my rocking-chair.” The girl obeyed, and approached her with
some bank-notes in her hand. The elder woman leaned forward and caught
her by either wrist, and held her, while she exclaimed, “Rachel, you’re
the manliest girl, and your mother’s the manliest woman, I know of--and
I can’t say anything better! But don’t think you can take advantage of
my sex, for all that. You shall not give me back a mill--if there is
such a thing outside of the arithmetic. Two dollars and a quarter! Upon
my word I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at you! I didn’t know there
was so much uncorruption left in the world. What do you suppose Mrs.
Stevenson will be asking by and by for her cat-tails, when she’s learned
to paint them for door-panels? Why--no, I won’t blot your innocence with
a knowledge of that swindling. Your Blossom is worth all I paid for her.
Don’t be afraid that I bought her to encourage you. No, my dear, that
isn’t my line. I’m the great American _dis_courager. I suppose Mrs.
Farrell has been babbling to you about the admiration your picture
excited. She’s a foolish woman. It _was_ admired, and I think you might
be a painter. But, oh, dear me! why should anyone encourage you on that
account? Talent is a trouble and a vexation even to men, who are strong
enough to fight against it; but for women it’s nothing but misery. The
only hope for you that I can see is that you’ve got something of a man’s
honesty and modesty to help you through. Draw up your chair and sit down
by me, Rachel. I want to talk to you, I want to catechise you. Oh, you
needn’t be afraid of me! I’m not going to do you any favor; and you
shall keep me at a proper distance in everything you say!”

She smiled quizzically at the girl’s constraint, and added, “But I’m
older than you, and I’ve seen more of the world, and maybe I’ll be able
to tell you some things it would be useful for you to know. You shall
pay me what you think is right, if I do. Why don’t you want to be
beholden to anyone? Why shouldn’t I give you more for your picture than
it’s worth, if I like?”

“I don’t know,” answered Rachel, shyly puzzled. “It’s a kind of feeling.
The laborer is worthy of his hire; but he isn’t if he takes any more.”

“Good! first-rate! And you shouldn’t think it pleasant to have things
given to you?”

“Oh no!” cried the girl quickly, with a kind of shiver; “we had enough
of that when father was preaching, and we used to have to take
everything we ate or wore as a sort of gracious gift. We children didn’t
feel it as my mother did, of course. When we came here--” but at this
word she stopped and set her lips firmly.

“Go on,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “When you came here your mother said you
should starve and go in rags before you took a shred or a morsel from
anybody.”

“How did you know?” inquired Rachel, lifting her eyes in a calm, grave
surprise.

“I knew it because I respect your mother. When I order a great ideal
picture of America from you, you shall paint me your mother’s portrait.
Only in these days they’ll say it isn’t in the least like America. No
matter: it’s like what she has been and hasn’t forgotten how to be
again.”

“Yes,” said Rachel, simply, “we all tell mother there’s not many like
her nowadays, and folks won’t understand her way with them, and will lay
it to pride.”

“Oh, let them lay it to what they like!” cried Mrs. Gilbert, with
enthusiasm. “If she can keep the black burden of gratitude off your
souls, it’s no matter. It hardens the heart worse than prosperity.”

Rachel looked sober at the expression of these cynical ideas, and edged
ever so little away from Mrs. Gilbert, who burst into a laugh. “Don’t
mind my harum-scarum paradoxes, Rachel! I’ve had a great many kind
things said and done to me, and there are several of my benefactors whom
I don’t hate at all. But how is it,” she asked, being perhaps unable to
deny herself the pleasure of looking further into this sincere nature,
even if she used an unfair pressure in her questions--“how is it that
you have let Mrs. Farrell give you lessons in drawing for nothing?”

Rachel colored and was silent some moments before she answered with
dignity, “We can take it off her board, when we find out what it ought
to be. I don’t know as they could rightly be called lessons. I never
copied anything of hers.”

“I can very well imagine it,” said Mrs. Gilbert, dryly. “Do you admire
her pictures?”

Rachel paused again before answering. “No, I can’t say I do. But she has
told me a great many useful things, and she has corrected what I was
doing. I wish you hadn’t asked me that, Mrs. Gilbert; I don’t think--”

“It was quite generous? No, it wasn’t; but I couldn’t help it. I’ve
never seen any of Mrs. Farrell’s work, and if she’s been of use to you,
I never want to. Don’t be troubled. You haven’t been disloyal to your
friend. Dear me, you should hear how _I_ talk about _my_ friends! Don’t
go yet, my dear,” coaxed Mrs. Gilbert, “it’ll be a real charity to stay
with me a little while, to-night. I’m fretted. Do you like to draw? Did
you enjoy doing Blossom’s portrait?”

“I hardly know about enjoying it. I didn’t think of my own feelings.
But--yes, I was glad when I seemed to be getting it right.”

“I don’t quite know what to think of you,” said Mrs. Gilbert, gravely,
and the calm-faced young girl returned her absent look with one that
claimed a mutual uncertainty. Mrs. Gilbert resumed suddenly with,
“Rachel! has anybody ever been so silly as to talk to you about
_genius_?”

Rachel smiled a little, and said evasively that she did not mind such
talk.

“That’s right!” said Mrs. Gilbert. “Don’t get that into your head; it’s
worse poison than gratitude. I’m always twaddling about it; it’s my
besetting sin; but I hope I see the folly and wickedness of it. If you
are going to be an artist, think of pictures as hard work; don’t get to
supposing that all your little efforts are inspirations. God has got
something else to do. Don’t be alarmed at my way of putting things; it
doesn’t _sound_ like religion, but it _is_. If he’s given you a decided
talent in this way--and it’s altogether too soon yet for you to be
certain--it’s probably because he finds you able to ‘endure hardness,’
as Paul says, to work and to be consoled and occupied by working. After
all, my dear, it’s like every other thing here below; it’s only a kind
of toy; and you mustn’t let it be your whole life; don’t be selfishly
devoted to it. Sometimes it seems to me that the Lord must smile to see
how seriously and rapaciously we take things. I can look back and see
how balls and parties were once my toys, and my engagement was only a
precious plaything! When I got married, what a toy that was! A new
husband--just think of it! What an amusement for a young girl! And my
first house, how I played with it, and petted it, and made it pretty,
and adored it! When my health gave way, it all changed, but I had my
toys still. I have had doctors of every age and sex for dolls. I’ve
played with every school of medicine; just now I’ve a headache pill that
I idolize; not that it keeps me from having the headache. The main
thing, as I said, is not to be selfish with your toys. I would share my
pills with my worst enemy.”

Mrs. Gilbert seemed to enjoy the gravity with which the girl listened,
and to be as well satisfied as if she had taken her lightness lightly.
Rachel answered what had been said, so far as it related to herself, by
saying that she had scarcely thought of painting as a profession, and
that she did not see how she could afford to study it. But she presumed
that if it were meant she should, a way would be found for her to help
herself.

“But have you no ambition to distinguish yourself?” asked Mrs. Gilbert,
in some surprise at her coldness.

“I do not know as I have,” answered the girl. “If I was sure I could
make a living by painting, I should like it better than anything else;
but unless I took portraits, I don’t suppose I could make it pay, and I
don’t think I could paint likenesses of people.”

“Well, I’m glad you have been thinking it over so soberly, for your own
sake, Rachel. I suppose you didn’t get these ideas from Mrs. Farrell?”
asked Mrs. Gilbert.

“Oh no! she’s very hopeful, and thinks I should succeed at once.”

“Humph!” commented Mrs. Gilbert. “When is your school out?”

“It ended on Friday.”

“Oh, indeed! And are you going to help your mother, now?”

“Yes. She’s not so well as common, this summer, and we can’t get hired
help--any that’s worth having.”

“Shall you wait on table?” asked Mrs. Gilbert, with a keen look.

“No--not just at first,” said Rachel, with a little hesitation. Mrs.
Gilbert lifted her eyebrows, and the girl blushed and added, “I wanted
to, but mother thought it wasn’t best till the boarders had forgotten
about--about the--the picture.”

“Your mother is right. They’ll forget it sooner than you think,”
answered Mrs. Gilbert, looking to see if this arrow hit. But it seemed
to fall blunted from Rachel’s armor; she rose and said she must bid
Mrs. Gilbert good night. Mrs. Gilbert followed her to the door. “Don’t
think, my dear,” she said, “that I meant to wound your feelings by
saying that they’d soon forget your picture. Perhaps it’s true. But I
wanted merely to see if you’d any false pride about you. I know how to
strike it, for I’m full of it myself. Good night, Rachel; I wish you’d
come again. Do let me be of use to you, if I can; and tell your mother
that I couldn’t consent to give less than I did for Blossom. I bought it
at the lowest price conscience would let me. You don’t blame me for
having my way about it, do you?” Rachel dropped her eyes as Mrs. Gilbert
took her passive hand.

She turned, as Rachel closed the door, to her bureau, near which the
girl had paused; some loose bills lay on it; a five, a two, three
quarters. Mrs. Gilbert’s talk had ended as it began, and she had paid
two dollars and a quarter for Rachel’s picture, after all, as Rachel had
steadfastly meant from the first. She gave a sharp “Ah!” and flung the
money on the bureau again in disgust. “The girl’s granite!”



Chapter VIII


At the best, love is fatal to friendship; the most that friendship can
do is to listen to love’s talk of itself and be the confident of its
rapturous joys, its transports of despair. The lover fancies himself all
the fonder of his friend because of his passion for his mistress, but in
reality he has no longer any need of the old comrade. They cannot talk
sanely and frankly together any more; there is something now that they
cannot share; even if the lover desired to maintain the old affectionate
relation, the mistress could not suffer it. The specter of friendship is
sometimes invited to haunt the home of the lovers after marriage; but
when their happiness has been flaunted in its face, when it has been
shown the new house, the new china, the new carpets, the new garden, it
is tacitly exorcised, and is not always called back again except to be
shown the new baby. The young spouses are ever so willing to have the
poor ghost remain; the wife learns whether it takes two or three lumps
of sugar in its tea; the husband bids it smoke anywhere it likes, and
the wife smiles a menacing acquiescence; but all the same they turn it
out-of-doors. They praise it when it is gone, and they feel so much more
comfortable to be alone.

Mrs. Farrell had only hastened a natural result from Easton’s passion
for her, which now declared itself without any of the conventional
reserves. It was the degree of passion which is called a perfect
infatuation by the tranquil spectator, but which probably appears a
reasonable enough condition both to the subject and the object of it. In
fact, there is no just cause why every woman should not reduce some man
to it; it is a hardship that she cannot; in a better state of things no
doubt she could.

Easton found in Mrs. Farrell’s presence a relief from thoughts that
troubled him when away from her; when he beheld her, or heard her speak,
his bliss was so great that his heart could not harbor self-reproach;
but at other times it upbraided him that he was making Gilbert wait for
the explanation that was his instant due. His love had revealed to him a
whole new world of rights and duties which seemed at war with those of
the world he had always lived in before. This new passion claimed
reverence for an ideal as exacting as that of the old friendship; and
perfect loyalty to both seemed beyond him.

Gilbert neither shunned nor sought him; and it was Easton’s constraint
under his friend’s patience that made their being together intolerable.
When they met they never spoke of Mrs. Farrell, or indeed of anything
but passing trifles; and Easton avoided his friend as much as he could
until the inspired moment should come to do him justice; the moment
which seemed to retreat farther and farther from him the more he tasted
the supreme bliss which life now held to his lip. Their affairs had come
to this pass when, on Friday, Gilbert abruptly announced that he had
arranged with one of the men at the hotel to spend a few days in camp on
the northern side of the mountain, where the brooks were less accessible
and less fished than those of West Pekin. He made no pretense of asking
Easton to go with him; and he parted from him with a nod when his wagon
with the camping outfit in it drove up to the door. They had often
parted as carelessly, but with a difference. Easton watched the wagon
out of sight, and then started toward Woodward farm with a sigh of sad
relief.

He was seen coming every morning by the ladies on watch, who had made so
careful a study of his face that they knew by its changes from desperate
courage and endurance to all-forgetting ecstasy the very moment when he
caught sight of Mrs. Farrell; and they could not help rejoicing in the
perfect abandon of his loverhood. It was indeed a devotion not less than
heroic, which none but a primitive soul, nurtured in high and pure
ideals, could have been capable of; it was so unlike the languid
dangling which they had been used to call attentions, that they could
not help regarding it with a tender admiration; they were all half in
love with a man who could be so wholly in love, and they began to
respect the woman who could inspire such a passion. They even liked the
unsparing directness with which he made it appear that he came to see
Mrs. Farrell and no one else; that he cared to speak to no other, to
look at none but her; they sweetly bore, they even approved, the almost
savage frankness with which he went away when she was absent. He made no
pretenses of any sort; he did not bring a book as excuse for coming to
see her; he had no scruple about asking her before half a piazza full of
people to walk or drive with him; when he sat down beside her, in
whatever presence, he always seemed to be alone with her.

She would perhaps have been satisfied with a less perfect surrender; it
looked sometimes as if his worship alarmed and puzzled her; but for the
most she received it in good part; and if she ever found it necessary to
administer a snub, he took it with heroic patience; it plainly hurt him
to his heart’s core, but plainly it did not daunt him; the next day he
wooed as ardently, and he never dreamed of resenting it.

They walked a good deal, the following week, to the wood where they had
sat on the first Sunday among the ferns, and there he read to her, or
talked to her in the freedom of a heart never opened to a woman before.
Love baptizes us with a new youth whenever it comes; the talk of all
lovers is like the babble of childhood, and a heavenly simpleness
inspires it. This is so, whatever the number of the passion; it is true
in even greater degree if first love comes when the lover is well toward
his thirties. Easton was one of the most single-hearted of men, but
pride had kept him one of the most reserved. Now love came, and, taking
away his pride toward her he loved, seemed to leave him no reserve. He
told her what his life had been, what his theories of life were; his
likes, his dislikes; things that had happened to him as a boy at school;
about his uncle who had brought him up and left him his money; that he
looked like this uncle; he even told of curious dreams that he had
dreamt. A load lay on his heart all the time: it was the thought of
Gilbert, whom alone he would not speak of, though the talk seemed to be
always drifting toward him.

They were sitting in the old place on the Saturday afternoon of the week
after Gilbert’s departure. Gilbert was staying longer than his
sister-in-law had expected, and there had begun to be a vague wonder,
not yet deepened to anxiety, at his prolonged absence, which Easton
inwardly shared. He began to speak now, with the intention of talking of
Gilbert, as if it would be some sort of reparation to praise him to Mrs.
Farrell.

“Do you remember,” he asked, “being surprised that afternoon when I told
you what an idler in the world I was?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Farrell, “we were both rather foolish that afternoon,”
and she looked at him demurely from under her fallen lashes.

Easton laughed a flattered lover’s laugh. “But you have forgiven me.”

“And you me. So sweet to be forgiven!”

They both laughed, and she went on. “How funny it seems, after such a
very unpromising start, that you should be sitting here with me again,
and really quite tolerating me.”

“Yes,” he said in a hoarse undertone, “very droll”; but he was thinking
in a rapturous absence how far her word was from painting his attitude
toward her. In the same sense one might tolerate the hope of heaven.
Mrs. Farrell laughed again, and he smiled his happiness.

“You seem to like being laughed at better than you did at first, Mr.
Easton,” she said, gravely. “Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know; perhaps it’s practice. It would be a pity if we
learned nothing from experience.”

“Very true, very true indeed. I’ve no doubt you could learn a great many
useful things. For instance, now you like being laughed at before your
face, perhaps you will come to like being laughed at behind your back.”

“I think that would be more difficult.”

“Well, let us try: I laughed at you to the Woodwards that morning when
you mended our broken holdback with your handkerchief. It seemed such a
wanton waste of handkerchief; and you did it with the air of laying down
your life, of shedding your last drop of blood, for our sakes. It was
too ridiculous! There; how do you like that?”

“I don’t mind it--much.”

“Well, you’re really getting on. Shall I tell you now how I made fun of
you to Mr. Gilbert?”

The name gave Easton a shock. Gilbert had gone wholly out of his mind;
but that was not the worst. He grew pale, and remained silently
frowning.

“Oh dear! now I’ve done it again,” cried Mrs. Farrell. “I wonder which
cord of your high-strung friendship I’ve snapped this time. I wish you’d
never brought it near a plain, every-day person like me. I can weep for
my crime, if that will do any good.” She drew out a handkerchief, and
began to make a conspicuous pretense of drying her tears. Then she
dropped it, and as Easton made a movement to restore it to her he
suddenly arrested himself.

“Why, this is my handkerchief,” he said.

“Excuse me, Mr. Easton,” retorted Mrs. Farrell with exaggerated hauteur,
“the handkerchief is mine. Will you give it back, or shall I scream for
help? This wood is inhabited, and a lady doesn’t cry out in vain. Come,
sir; my property!”

She reached forward for it, and Easton withheld it. “How came it yours?”
he asked.

“Ben Woodward found it on the buggy harness two weeks ago, and brought
it to me. I washed it and ironed it nicely with my own hands. ‘That
handkerchief did an Egyptian to my mother give. She was a charmer, and
could almost read the thoughts of people. There’s magic in the web of
it. A sibyl, that had numbered in the world the sun to course two
hundred compasses, in her prophetic fury sewed the work.’” Mrs. Farrell
declaimed the words with fire, and at the last caught quickly at the
handkerchief, which Easton still held beyond her reach. Then she made a
fascinating pretense of taking up a point of her overskirt in her left
hand to wipe her eyes with it as with an apron.

“What will you give me in exchange for it?”

“Nothing,” she said, coldly. “Why should I wish to buy your handkerchief
of you? I have enough of my own;” and while Easton looked in unguarded
embarrassment at her face, to see if she were really offended or not,
she caught the handkerchief from him and ran it swiftly into that fold
of her dress where her pocket lurked. “Now!” she said, and looked at him
with beautiful mocking.

He gave a laugh of confusion and pleasure, and, “Oh, you carry it off
very well,” said Mrs. Farrell.

“Where did you study Shakespeare?” he asked.

“At school, where he wasn’t in the course. Look here, Mr. Easton: I
think you ought to be punished, instead of rewarded, for your attempt on
my handkerchief. But I am so forgiving that I can’t be harsh with the
basest offenders. So I am really going to let you have something in
exchange for this handkerchief, and I hope you’ll read it often and
often.” She drew her hand from her pocket and offered him a little book.
“Don’t you remember the book you picked up for me in the meadow? Here it
is. You won’t find my name in it?” She put up her hand to waive his
thanks, and added, hastily: “Spare your gratitude. I want to get rid of
the book. It’s a constant reproach to me, and a constant reminder of my
very bold behavior that day. But I couldn’t help it. Oh, Mr. Easton! You
_know_ I left that book there so that I could come back and get a better
look at you two, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know that.”

“And could you really pardon such a shameless trick?”

“I rather liked to have you look at me.”

“Don’t prevaricate! Do you approve of such actions?”

“You did it.”

“Oh, but that’s personal. Why, you’re actually shuffling! Now, tell me
whether you don’t think it was very unladylike and unbecoming.”

“I saw no harm in it.”

“Well, you _are_ large-minded. If I had been in your place I should
certainly have suspected some ulterior motive.”

“Like what?”

“Like what? Why, like my wanting you to see me!”

Easton merely laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. Her daring
was delicious; he wanted her to talk on so forever. But she sat looking
at him a full minute before she spoke.

“Well,” she said at last, “I don’t know what to make of such
mercifulness. I’m not used to it. I think I might have been different if
I hadn’t always been so sharply judged. What I do isn’t so very bad,
that I can see, but people seem to think it is awful. The only people
I’ve ever seen who could make any allowance for me are the Woodwards. I
suppose it must seem very odd to you, my being with them so much, and so
little with the other boarders. But you go where you find sympathy. It
seems to me I’ve always been alone,” she said with passionate self-pity
that dimmed her eyes. She dried them with Easton’s handkerchief, and
turned her face away.

He could not have spoken now without pouring out his whole heart, and to
speak of love to her in this mood would be like seizing an advantage
which his fantastic notions of justice forbade him to take.

“You don’t know what good people they are,” she resumed, with her face
still averted. “When I was sick with a fever here, two summers ago, they
cared for me as if I were their own child. And there isn’t anything I
wouldn’t do for them--anything! I was very sick indeed,” she went on,
turning her eyes upon him now, and speaking very solemnly, “and I
suppose that I could not have lived without their nursing. It was in
their busiest time, and they sent people away so that they could have a
chance to care for me. Mr. Easton,” she cried, as if fired with a
generous inspiration, “you must get better acquainted with Rachel
Woodward. She and you are just of a piece. She’s quite as large-minded
as you are, and as unsuspicious and--good. Yes, I know you’re good; you
needn’t try to deceive me. I’m not. I’m full of vanity and vexation of
spirit. I don’t know what I want; I’m restless, and perturbated, and
horrid. But there’s nothing of that kind about Rachel Woodward; she’s a
born saint, and goes round accepting self-sacrifice as if it were her
birthright. For all she’s got such a genius for drawing, I suppose she’d
settle down into a common country drudge without a murmur, if she found
it in the line of duty. Duty! what is duty? It’s the greatest imposition
of the age, _I_ think.” Mrs. Farrell had now quite emerged from her
clouds, and was able to share Easton’s joy in her nonsense. “I know Mr.
Gilbert didn’t think so kindly of my coming back after that book,” she
said, as if this were the natural sequence of what had gone before, and
had been in her mind all the time.

Easton’s embarrassment appeared in his face, but he said nothing.

“Oh well, never mind,” said Mrs. Farrell, rising, “he’s welcome to hate
me if he likes; and I suppose he’ll end by making you hate me, too. I’m
sure it’s very good of you to respite me so long.” She gave the faintest
sigh, and began to arrange her dress for walking away, looking first
over one shoulder, and then over the other, at her skirt behind.

Neither of them said anything, as they quitted the place where they had
been sitting, by a path that led homeward through a rocky dell, farther
around than that they usually came and went by. In this dell there was a
shade of maples thicker than elsewhere in the woods, and the heavy
granite bowlders started from the soil in fantastic and threatening
shapes, very different from the sterile repose that they kept in the
neighboring fields and woods. Something of the old, elemental strife
lingered there yet; the aspect of the place was wild, almost fierce; the
trout-brook, that stole so still through the flat meadows on either side
of the dell, quarreled along its rocky course in this narrow solitude,
and filled it with a harsh din of waters. But the soil in the crevices
and little spaces between the granite masses was richer than anywhere
else on the farm. Earlier in the season, wherever the sun could look
through the maple boughs it saw a host of wild flowers, and in its turn
the shade detained the spring, and there were still violets here in
July, and the shy water plants unfolded their bloom at every point along
the margin of the fretted brook where they could find foothold. No
maples yielded a more bounteous sweet than these in the shrewish April
weather, when the Woodward boys came and tapped their gnarled trunks;
and in the lower end of the valley stood the sugar house, with its rusty
iron pans and kettles, and its half-ruinous brick oven and chimney,
where they boiled the sap. Because the brook perhaps ran cooler here
than in the meadows, the cattle from the neighboring pastures came to
drink at the pool which its waters gathered into at one place, just
before it took the final fray with the rocks and broke out into the open
sunlight beyond, where it lulled itself among the grassy levels. An
oriole had made its nest in the boughs that overhung this pool; and
higher up in the same tree lived a family of red squirrels, some member
of which was pretty sure to challenge every passer. In the bushes that
thickened about the meadow-border in sight of the farmhouse lived
thrushes and catbirds; and in the very heart of the dell, a rain crow
often voiced his lugubrious foreboding.

Mrs. Farrell entered by the vagrant path that the cattle’s hoofs had
made, and midway of the hollow she paused and, resting her arm on a tall
bowlder, looked round the place with a certain joy in her face, as of
kindred wildness. Her rich eyes glowed, her bosom rose, and her breaths
were full and deep. If she could indeed have been some wild, sylvan
thing, with no amenability to our criterions, one could not have asked
more of her than to be as she was; but behind her came a man who loved
her as a woman, and whose heart was building from its hopes of her that
image of possession and of home which love bids the most hapless passion
cherish. When he came up with her he looked into her face and said, as
if no silence had followed her last speech, his thoughts had been so
voluble to him, “Why do you talk to me about hating you?”

“Why?” she echoed with a look of alarm, and signs of that inward
trepidation which every woman must feel at such a moment. “Oh,” she
added, with a weak effort to jest fate aside, “I suppose that I thought
you ought to hate me.”

“No,” said Easton, with a passionate force that nothing could have
stayed, “you know I love you!”

Her dark bloom went, but in an instant came again, with what swiftly
blended emotions no man may guess and possibly no woman could tell, and
“How can you say such a thing to me?” she demanded with the
imperiousness of fear. “You--you hardly know me--it’s hardly a week
since we met.”

“A week? What does it matter? I have never loved any other woman; I know
that you are free to love me, if you can; I don’t care for any other
knowledge of you. Oh, don’t answer me yet! Listen: I don’t ask you to
love me now; what right have I to do that? But only let me love you! I
can wait. I can be silent, if you say so. You are my whole life, and my
whole life is yours, if you choose to make me wait so long. How could it
be better spent?”

She sank down upon a shelf of rock beside that she had leaned upon, and
he fell at her feet, and then with the unsparingness of love which
claims nothing and takes all, “Oh, my darling!” he murmured, and
stretched his arms toward her.

She stayed him with a little electric touch. “Don’t!” she whispered, and
after a look at him she hid her face.

He did not move; his attitude did change, but still expressed his
headlong hope, as if a sculptor had caught it in immutable stone; but
when she drew out his handkerchief and, pressing it to her eyes, handed
it to him and said, with trembling lips, “Take it; give me my book,” a
terrible despair blanched his face.

“Oh!” he moaned.

“Yes,” she said, “I must be free. I can’t think if I’m not free;” and
she put the book, which he mechanically surrendered, into her pocket.

“You shall be as free of me as you will,” he answered. “I ask nothing of
you--only leave to love you. I will go away, if you say it. I must be to
blame for speaking, if it gives you so much pain. I would rather have
died than hurt you.”

An imploring humility, an ineffable tenderness evoked by her trouble,
shook his voice. She did not answer at once, but, “You are not to
blame; I should be very ungrateful and very cruel to suffer it,” she
said, after a while, “but, oh, I’m afraid that _I_ must have been
behaving very badly, very boldly, to make you talk so to me, so soon.
I’m afraid,” she said, bowing her head, “that you don’t respect me--that
you think I was trying to make you care for me.”

“Respect you!” he echoed. “I _love_ you.”

“Yes, yes, I know that. But it isn’t the same thing!”

He stood bewildered, where he had risen from her feet, and looked down
into her face, which she now lifted toward him. “If I had been another
kind of woman, you wouldn’t have said it to me!”

“No; if you had been other than you are, I should not have loved you,”
said the young man, gravely.

“Oh, I don’t mean that. I mean-- Oh, Mr. Easton, what is it you find to
love in me? What did I ever do or say that you ought to love me? Why
_do_ you love me?”

“I don’t know. Because--you are--you are my love.”

“Is it my looks you care for?”

“Your looks? Yes, you are beautiful. I hadn’t thought of that.”

“But if I wasn’t, you would never have cared for me.”

“How can I tell? I have no reasons. You are the one human creature in
all the world whose being or doing I can’t question. You are what I
love, whatever you are.”

“Is it true? How strange!” said Mrs. Farrell. “And if I had always been
very cold and reserved and stiff with you, and not come back after that
book, and not let you take a hairpin out of my chignon, and not made
mischief between you and your friend, and not been so ready to walk and
ride with you in season and out of season, and not rather--well!--_cut
up_ with you to-day about that handkerchief, would you have loved me all
the same?”

She was still looking very seriously into his face, so very seriously
that he could not help the smile that the contrast of her words and mien
brought to his lips.

“Don’t! Don’t laugh!” she pleaded piteously. “I’m trying to get at
something.”

“But there is nothing, nothing for you to get at!” he cried out. “If I
tried forever, I could only say at last that I love you.”

“Yes, but you oughtn’t to,” said Mrs. Farrell, with a sigh. “You don’t
know anything about me. You don’t know who or what I am.” She restrained
a movement of impatience on his part. “I’m not at all like other people.
My father was nothing but a ship’s captain, and he had been a common
sailor; and he ran off with my mother, I’ve heard, and they were married
against her parents’ will. I can remember how handsome he was, with blue
eyes and a yellow beard, and how he used to swear at the men--I went a
voyage with him once after my mother died. I was brought up at a convent
school in Canada, along with the half sisters of Mr. Farrell, who owned
my father’s ship; and when I came out he married me. I didn’t love him;
no, I never pretended to; he was too old. But I married him, and I would
have been a good enough wife, I believe, but he died; he died very soon
after we were married. I never said so, but I was sorry that he should
die, for he was very good to me; and yet I was glad to be free again.
There, Mr. Easton, that’s all about me.”

Apparently this history had not given his passion the pause of a single
pulse. She was all that she had been to him, or more; his face showed
that.

“Well?” she asked, triumphantly.

“Then you don’t forbid me to love you?” he questioned in turn.

“Oh, I ought to! You are too generous and too good for me! No, no, you
mustn’t love me. I should be sure to bring harm upon you. It was all
true about Mr. Farrell, but it wasn’t about my father. In his last years
he joined the church, and he used to pray in the cabin to be forgiven
for swearing on deck. So I’m not so bad as I said, but I’m not good
enough for you to love.”

“Won’t you let me judge of that?” asked Easton, with a smile, too happy
to do else, whatever name she had given herself. He crouched again at
her feet, near the base of the flat rock on which she had sunk, and
while he spoke she looked beamingly upon him. “I could parade a few
defects of my own,” he said, “but just now I am anxious to have you
think all the good of me that you can; I shall be infinitely far from
good enough.”

“No, no; don’t do that. I want you to tell me something very disgraceful
of yourself. If you don’t make yourself out the blackest kind of
character, I shall not let you care for me.”

“Another time; not now.”

“Yes, now. Come.”

Easton laughed. “I can’t think of anything heinous enough for your
purpose on such short notice.”

“Oh, Mr. Easton! Do you mean to say that you have never done anything to
be ashamed of? Have you nothing on your conscience? What was that thing
you said you oughtn’t to have done to Mr. Gilbert?”

The shadow of his lurking remorse fell over the bliss of the lover’s
face, and he gave a sigh like those we heave when we wake from the
forgetfulness of care to the remembrance of it. “Do you really want to
know?”

“Yes, I do,” answered Mrs. Farrell. “If you’d been guilty of something
really shabby, I should have felt more at home with you; but no matter,
even if it isn’t strictly disgraceful. Go on.”

Easton did not laugh. “Yes, I will tell you,” he said; nevertheless, he
did not tell her at once; he fell into a moody, unhappy silence, from
which he suddenly started.

“I told you once before,” he began, “when I didn’t mean to tell you
anything, that Gilbert and I were in the army together. I knew nothing
of the business, and I chose to enter the ranks, where I should at least
do no harm to the cause I wanted to serve. Gilbert was my captain; we
had not known each other before; but he had known of me, and he made a
point of finding me out among those poor fellows, and in spite of the
gulf fixed between officers and men, he made himself my friend at once;
we were younger than we are now--”

“How interesting!” said Mrs. Farrell; “it’s quite like a love-affair.”

“And after our first engagement he urgently recommended me and I got a
lieutenant’s commission in another company of our regiment. The next
battle vacated the captaincy above me.”

“Do you mean that the officer above you was killed?”

“That’s the way most promotions are got.”

“Well, it’s shocking! I don’t see how you could accept it. To profit by
the death of others!”

Easton winced. “Oh,” he said, bitterly, “I did worse than that. Our
general was killed, and the colonel who took his place as brigade
commandant had an old feud with Gilbert--something that had begun before
the war. I don’t know whether he planned to strike him with my hand,
when he saw what friends we were, or whether it was a sudden, infernal
inspiration. But just as we were going into action he detached Gilbert
for staff duty; we were fighting on toward the end of the war by that
time, and there had been many changes and losses, so that I now stood
next to him in seniority, and took his place in the regiment. The
colonel and the lieutenant-colonel were killed, and I brought the
remnant of the regiment out as well as I could. The colonel commanding
had been a truckling politician at home, and he never took his hands off
the wires that work officeholders.”

Easton stopped, and it seemed as if he did not mean to go on, the
absence which he fell into was so long. He stared at her with a look of
pain, when recalled by an eager “Well?” from Mrs. Farrell.

“It all fell out with such malignant fatality that I don’t think that
part of it could have been planned. But one day Gilbert and I sat
talking before his tent, and an orderly came up with an official letter
for me. Gilbert made a joke of pretending to open it; I told him to go
on, and then he opened it and looked at what was in it. He handed me the
inclosure without a word: it was my commission as colonel; I had been
advanced two steps over his head.”

Mrs. Farrell broke out, with a pitiless frankness that seemed to strike
Easton like a blow, “I don’t see how he could forgive you!”

Easton passed his hand over his face. “It was a great deal to forgive;
if it hadn’t seemed to make us closer friends, I should say it was too
much to forgive; that such a thing ought to have separated us at once
and forever.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Farrell, “I don’t understand how you got over it. What
did you do? What did you say?”

“I hardly know,” answered Easton, gloomily, “what I did or said. I
wanted to tear the commission to pieces and leave the service. But
Gilbert said I hadn’t any right to refuse the promotion, I hadn’t any
right to leave the army; and he added things about my fitness for the
place, and my duty. If I declined this commission, he should not get it;
but if he could get it, what sort of face could he carry it off with?
What we must do was not to let it make bad blood between us. There was a
great deal more talk, but it all came to that in the end. He might often
have had promotion after that in many ways--in other regiments
recruiting or reorganizing--but he refused everything; he even refused
the brevet that was offered him after the war; he said he had some
doubts about this, for he knew what I had done to have his case made
known and justice done him. But if I didn’t mind, he said, he would
rather stay what he was. He didn’t go into the army for glory.”

“How grand!” said Mrs. Farrell.

“Yes,” returned Easton, sadly, “it was grand enough.”

“But, after all,” she said, “I don’t know why you shouldn’t be at peace
about it now. It’s all over and done with, long ago. Besides, you
thought you did right, didn’t you?”

“Yes. But in such a case, one ought to do wrong,” said Easton, sadly.

Mrs. Farrell laughed. “Oh, well,” said she, “you did wrong to let me
surprise the weak place in your friendship, and that makes it just
right. Why, Mr. Easton!” she exclaimed, “are you actually worried about
that silly business?”

Easton did not answer.

“You’re rather too sensitive, I think.”

“Excuse me,” said Easton. “A man needn’t be very sensitive to dislike to
exploit himself at the expense of a friend who has already forgiven him
too much.”

“But why don’t you _tell_ him you didn’t?” demanded Mrs. Farrell, in
amazement. “Why don’t you tell him that I got it out of you--what little
you said--before you knew what you were talking about?”

“Why? How could I do that?” asked Easton, in as great amaze.

“Easily!” retorted Mrs. Farrell, with enthusiasm. “Don’t mind me! Why,
if such a man as that had liked me, and I had offended him, there isn’t
anyone I wouldn’t sacrifice, there isn’t anything so shabby I wouldn’t
do, to get into his good graces again. Why, he’s sublime, don’t you
know. Who would ever have thought he was that sort of man?”

Easton fell into a somber reverie from which even her presence could not
save him; for the wretched moment he forgot her presence, and her voice
seemed to be coming from a long way off as she bent down her face and
peered into his with a sidelong, mock-serious glance.

“Don’t let me intrude upon your thoughts, Mr. Easton. I can wait till
you’re quite at leisure for my answer.”

“Your answer?”

“Yes. Or no, it was _you_ who wanted an answer--about something, wasn’t
it? Oh, Mr. Easton!

    ‘Was ever woman in such humor wooed?
     Was ever woman in such humor won?’

It’s a good thing I’m not proud. Come, begin over again. I’m quite ready
to be persuaded that you’re still perishing of unrequited affection for
me.”

Easton gave a sigh of torment. She dropped her mocking manner and said
with an earnest air, “You are thinking of the matter too morbidly. It
isn’t any such hopeless affair. You must speak to Mr. Gilbert and show
him that no wrong was meant, and if you sacrifice yourself from any
foolish idea of sparing me, I shall never forgive you. He won’t care for
what I’ve done to make trouble; he hates me, anyway; and then you can
both go away as good as new--and forget me.”

“I shall never go away,” said Easton, “till you send me, and I shall
never forget you while I live.”

“No? I thought you had forgotten me just now. Well, you had better go
away; I don’t send you, but you had better go; and you had better forget
me. Your fortnight is just up to-day: better go to-day. Come, here are
both my hands for good-by. When you’ve put two hundred miles between us,
perhaps you can think more clearly about it all.”

He took her hands, which she held out to him, smiling, and bowed his
lips upon them in the utter surrender of his love.

“Why, you are really in my hands,” she murmured. A light of triumph
burned in her dark eyes, but one could not have said that as a woman she
had not a right to the few and fleeting triumphs that love gives her
sex, on which it lays so many heavy burdens. “Then,” she said, “you
must do as I bid you. Come, let me go, now;” and she withdrew her hands
and rose to her feet, and flung her shawl over her arm. “You must not
talk of liking me, any more, till you are friends with Gilbert again.
You may make up with him how and when you will, but you must not speak
to me till you tell me you are reconciled. I can’t forgive myself till I
know that you’ve made up at my expense. Tell him that it piqued and
irritated me to see you such friends, and that I could not rest till I
had got a clew to your secret; that I didn’t really mean any harm; but
that I was altogether to blame. Will you obey?”

“No!” said Easton, so fiercely that Mrs. Farrell started with a sudden
shock of panic that left no trace of persiflage in her tone, while she
walked humbly before him with downcast head. How could he be angry with
her? His whole heart yearned upon her as they moved on through the
hollow, and came from its gloom at last upon the open meadow. “I didn’t
mean to offend you,” she added, then. “I was only trying to show you how
much in earnest I was about having you and Gilbert friends again; I
couldn’t be happy if I thought I had hurt your feelings.”

“I will obey you,” said Easton, sadly.

“You will make up with him?” she asked.

“If he will let me. God knows I want to do it.”

“Then you may spare me all you like. You’re not angry now?”

“Only with myself.”

“And you’re going to be real patient with me, about--that little
answer?”

“As patient as you can ask.”

“Because,” she explained, “we have scarcely the advantage of each
other’s acquaintance as yet”; and added, “I would rather you wouldn’t go
back to the farm with me, to-day. I’m afraid,” she said, glancing at
him, “that you’ll look as if you had been saying something. Those women
have got such sharp eyes! Should you care if you left me at the corner
of the lane and let me walk to the house alone? Shouldn’t you, really?
And you don’t think it’s asking too much?”

“It would be too much if anyone else asked me to leave you sooner than I
must. But it’s for you to command.”

“I don’t command,” said Mrs. Farrell. Just then they came upon a rise in
the meadow, which showed the road and Rachel Woodward walking down
toward the red schoolhouse. “Oh, how lucky!” cried Mrs. Farrell.
“Rachel, Rachel!” she called, “wait!” and Rachel stopped till they
joined her. “I want to go with you to the schoolhouse. May Mr. Easton
come, too?” she asked, with a glance at him.

“I won’t put Miss Woodward to the pain of refusing. I think I shall find
my friend Gilbert at the hotel, about this time, and I want to see him.”

Mrs. Farrell rewarded his surprising duplicity with a brave, strong
clasp of the hand, said heartily, “Good-by,” and turned away with
Rachel, while he walked slowly, with his head down, in the other
direction. She had not gone far when she stopped and looked back at him
over her shoulder, holding her dress out of the dust with one hand; but
he did not turn to look at her, and presently a downward slope of the
road hid him.

“He’s handsome enough, I should hope,” said Mrs. Farrell, only half to
Rachel, who made no comment, and Mrs. Farrell asked, “What have you been
doing, all the week? I’ve scarcely had a chance to speak to you.”

“No,” said Rachel. “I don’t like walking in the woods so much as you do,
and I haven’t time for it.”

“Rachel!” cried Mrs. Farrell, with affected sternness, “do you mean
anything personal? I won’t have it, ma’am. Withdraw those vile
insinuations. Do you wish to imply that I have gone walking in the woods
with Mr. Easton? How very unkind of you, Rachel! But I forgive you; this
sarcastic habit of yours is one of the eccentricities of genius. Here we
are at the little sanctuary itself. How nicely it will read in the
newspapers when you exhibit your first cattle-piece in Boston:

     “During the summer, the fair artist, having dismissed her little
     flock of pupils, consecrated the red schoolhouse at the corner of
     the road to the labors of her genius, devoting to them such moments
     as she could steal from household cares and the demands of her
     mother’s boarders, who little dreamt with what visions of beauty
     and fame she glorified the dim old farmhouse kitchen, albeit she
     was familiarly known among them as the Rosa Bonheur of West Pekin,
     and they duly reverenced her God-given talent.

There!” triumphed Mrs. Farrell, falling into her natural tone from that
in which she had seemed to read these sentences aloud, “that’s from ‘a
lady correspondent,’ and anybody could tell that Mrs. Stevenson wrote
it. _Now_, will you say anything about my walking with Mr. Easton?
Rachel!” she exclaimed, as the girl answered nothing, “have I trodden on
some of your outlying sensibilities? Oh, I’m ever so sorry!” and she
fell upon her like a remorseful wolf and devoured her with kisses.
“There, I forgive you again. I’ve got my hand in--been forgiving Mr.
Easton the whole afternoon.”

Rachel made no response, but when Mrs. Farrell had sufficiently wreaked
her regret upon her she felt in her pocket for the schoolhouse key.
“Why, I’ve come without it!” she exclaimed, in dismay.

“Splendid!” returned Mrs. Farrell; “that will oblige us to break in, and
I’ve always had an ungratified taste for burglary. It won’t do for us to
be seen getting in at the _front_ window; it wouldn’t be professional;
we must go round to the back,” she said, leading the way, while Rachel
followed.

“It’s fastened with a stick from the frame to the top of the lower sash,
and it’s no use trying to get in,” said the girl.

“Oh, isn’t it!” retorted Mrs. Farrell. “Have you brought your knife?”

She took the knife, and half opened the blade, when it snapped to again,
and she flung it away with a shriek and looked to see if it had cut her
finger. “I’m still in one piece, I’m thankful to say,” she said,
presently; “but you open the knife, Rachel.” She took it again, and,
sliding the blade vertically between the upper and lower sash, sent the
fastening flying out upon the floor. “That’s a little trick I read of,
once,” she said, handing the open knife back to Rachel, and throwing up
the sash.

The next moment she gave her two strong arms to Rachel and helped her
in; and then she went straight to the teacher’s desk, took out a
portfolio, and pinned about the walls the sketches that she found in it,
Rachel making no resistance.

“Why it _is_--quite like a studio, Rachel,” she said, and made a show of
conscientiously examining each of the sketches in turn.

At last she came to one from which she abruptly turned with the tragic
appeal of “Rachel!” It was the first of a series of three, and it
represented Mrs. Farrell seated at the foot of a rock and turning an
anxious face to confront Blossom’s visage thrust through the
birch-trees, with a mildly humorous gleam in her great calm eyes, as if
she relished the notion of having been mistaken for a man. The next
represented Blossom driven from her shelter, and at a few paces distant
indignantly regarding Gilbert and Easton, who had just appeared, while
Mrs. Farrell and Rachel were shown sailing down the meadow with
extravagant swiftness. The third was Mrs. Farrell confronting Easton, to
whom she had returned to claim her book; Blossom looked on with grave
surprise. The cow’s supposed thoughts, and feelings were alone
suggested; the figures of the men were caricatures, and the
fashionableness and characteristic beauty of Mrs. Farrell were extremely
burlesqued.

“Oh, this is how you spend your time, is it?” she asked.

“I thought I would have something ready to exhibit if I went to Boston
this winter,” said Rachel, very demurely. “Do you like the subjects?”

“This circumscribes me fearfully,” said Mrs. Farrell, not heeding the
question. “I can never snub you any more, Rachel. From this moment I’m
afraid of you. I’m not hurt or angry; I’m frightened. Aren’t they
splendid?” she asked, joyously, of Rachel, as if they were two
indifferent connoisseurs of the work. “You’ve got me exactly; and
Blossom, why, she looks perfectly shocked. Anybody can see what an
unsophisticated cow _she_ is; you’re a country cow, Blossom, or you
wouldn’t be astonished at such an innocent little maneuver as that. Your
men are not so good as your cows and women, Rachel. Mr. Easton isn’t
such a stick as that; you know he isn’t. Oh, Rachel,” said Mrs. Farrell,
sinking upon a seat behind a school desk and leaning her elbow on it,
chin in hand, while she brooded on the last sketch with effective eyes,
“how awfully embarrassing men are! Here is Mr. Easton, for example, who
has known me a week--a week but barely two--and guess what he’s been
saying to me this afternoon!” She changed her posture and sat with her
hands in her lap, regarding Rachel as one does the person whom one has
posed with a conundrum.

“Why, I don’t know,” said Rachel, in a voice as faint as the blush on
her cheek.

“Not,” resumed Mrs. Farrell, “that he seems to consider it at all
precipitate! I’ve had to fight it off ever since last Sunday; I’ve no
doubt he thinks he’s waited a proper time, as they say of widowers. Why,
Rachel, he’s been making love to me, that’s what.”

Rachel hung down her head a little, as if the confidence scared her, and
played with a corner of some paper on the desk before her, but she did
not say anything. She was not apparently surprised, but silenced.

“Well,” said Mrs. Farrell, after a while, “haven’t you any observations
to offer, Rachel? What should you do to him if you were in my place?
Come!”

“I should think you would know,” faltered the girl, “if you liked him.”

“Like him? Oh, _don’t_ I like a blond, regular-featured young man of
good mind and independent property, and no more pretense than--well, say
_pie_, for instance! But that isn’t the question. The question is
whether I ought to marry such a man. Yes, I really think I have a
scruple or two, on this point. I _do_ love him--sort of. But, oh dear
me! I don’t suppose I love him rightly, or enough of it. I could imagine
myself doing it. I can see myself,” said Mrs. Farrell, half-closing her
eyes as if to examine the scene critically, “in some moods that I could
love him with unutterable devotion in. But I should have to have
something tremendous to draw me out; a ten-horse-power calamity; and
then perhaps I shouldn’t _stay_ drawn out. It brings the tears into my
eyes to think how, if he had lost the use of his limbs, say, and we
were dreadfully poor, I would slave myself to the bone for his sake--for
about ten minutes! But a saint, a hero in perfect repair, with plenty of
money, it’s quite another thing.”

“If you were ever in earnest, Mrs. Farrell,” said Rachel, sternly, “you
ought to be afraid to talk as you do.”

“Why, so I am, aunty--so I am,” retorted Mrs. Farrell, incorrigibly. “It
sends the cold chills over me to talk as I do, but I can’t help it.
Don’t you suppose I know how nice Mr. Easton is? I do. He is the very
soul of truth and honor and all uprightness. He is the noblest and best
man in the world. But what could I do with him, or he with me? No,
ma’am, it isn’t such a simple affair as liking or not liking. This is a
case of conscience, I’d have you to know, such as doesn’t often turn up
in West Pekin.”

Mrs. Farrell rose and made some tragic paces across the schoolroom floor
to where the girl sat, and fell on her knees before her, having with a
great show of neatness arranged a bit of paper to kneel upon. She took
Rachel’s hands in her own, and with uplifted face implored, “Advise me,
my friend,” which rendered the girl helpless with laughter.

“Oh, for shame, for shame, Mrs. Farrell!” she said, when she could get
breath; “you make fun of everything.”

“No, no, Rachel, I don’t! I never made fun of Mr. Easton. Would you like
to know how he behaved when he made love to me? No? Well, you shall.
Now, you are the fatally beautiful Mrs. Farrell, and you’re sitting on a
rock in the hollow near the sugar house. Your head is slightly downcast,
so--yes, very good--and you are twiddling the handle of your sun
umbrella and poking the point of it into the dirt. Mr. Easton is
standing before you with his arms folded thus--ahem!--waiting life or
death at your hands.” She folded her arms, and gave that intensely
feminine interpretation of a man’s port and style which is always so
delicious. “‘Oh, Mr. Easton,’ you are faltering, ‘I am afraid that you
have deceived yourself in me; I am indeed. I am not at all the party you
think you love. I was--listen!--I was changed at nurse. She whom you
love, the real Mrs. Farrell, is my twin sister, and the world knows her
as--Rachel Woodward!’”

Rachel had been struggling to release herself from a position so
scandalous; but Mrs. Farrell, who had never risen from her knees, had
securely hemmed her in. At the climax of the burlesque the girl flung
herself back and gave way to a rush of sobs and tears. Mrs. Farrell
attempted to throw her arms about her and console her, but Rachel shrank
resolutely aside. “Don’t touch me!” she cried, when she could speak.
“It’s horrible! You have no pity; you have no heart! You have no peace
of yourself, and you are never at rest unless you are tormenting some
one else. I wish you would go away from our house and never come back
again!”

Mrs. Farrell rose from her knees, all her jesting washed away, for that
moment, at least, by this torrent of feeling from a source habitually
locked under an icy discipline.

“Rachel,” she said, “do you really hate me?”

“No,” said the girl, fiercely. “If I hated you I could bear it! Nothing
is sacred to you. You only care for yourself and your own pleasure, and
you don’t care how you make others suffer, so you please yourself.”

“Yes, I do, Rachel,” said Mrs. Farrell, humbly. “I know I’m selfish. But
I do care for you, and I’m very, very sorry that I’ve wounded you. You
needn’t forgive me; I don’t deserve it, but I’m sorry all the same.”

The afternoon was waning when they came into the schoolhouse, and now a
level ray of the setting sun struck across Rachel’s head, fallen on the
desk before her, and illumined Mrs. Farrell’s stricken beauty. They sat
there till after the sunset had faded away. Then Mrs. Farrell went
softly about the room, taking down the sketches, which she brought and
laid before Rachel. The girl lifted her head and took out the three
sketches in which Mrs. Farrell figured, and, tearing them in pieces,
thrust them into the stove which stood, red with rust, in the middle of
the room. She would not let Mrs. Farrell help her out of the window, and
that lady followed her meekly homeward when they left the schoolhouse.

Before she slept she came and knocked at Mrs. Farrell’s door, and
entered in response to her cheerful “Come in, come in!”

“I’m awfully glad to see you, Rachel,” said Mrs. Farrell, who was lying
on her lounge, reading Shakespeare. “Do sit down and visit;” and she
shut her book and rose upon her elbow.

“No,” said Rachel, stiffly, as she stood shading with one hand the
kerosene lamp she held in the other, “I have come to say that I think I
have treated you badly; for whatever you did, I had no right to say the
things to you that I said. I--”

“Oh, never mind about that,” said Mrs. Farrell. “_You’re_ all right. I
dare say it was all true enough. But what I can’t understand is this,
Rachel: when I’ve been doing anything wrong, I’m as sorry as can be, and
I have no rest till I go off and make a glib apology. That’s as it
should be, of course, but it isn’t like your repentance. You’ve been
abusing me, frightfully, and you come here and fire your regrets into
the air, so to speak; you don’t seem to care whether they hit me or not;
you discharge ’em, and there you are all nicely, with a perfectly clean
conscience. Well now, you know, when I apologize to any one, I like to
see the apology hit them; I like to see them writhe and quiver under it,
and go down before it, and I feel a good deal wickeder after I’ve
repented than I did before. What do you suppose is the reason?”

Rachel made no reply, and Mrs. Farrell seemed not to have expected any.
She went on: “Well, now, I’ll tell you what _I_ think it is; I think
it’s sense of duty. I’m sorry when I’m sorry because it’s so very
uncomfortable to think of people suffering; it’s like stepping on
something that squirms; but when _you’re_ sorry, it’s because you’ve
done wrong. There! Now I’m going to keep that distinction clearly in
mind, and go in for a sense of duty--at the earliest opportunity.”

Mrs. Farrell fell back upon her lounge with an air of refreshment and
relief, which nobody could resist, and Rachel laughed a reluctant,
protesting laugh, while the other kept a serious face.

“Crimps, I suppose,” she mused, aloud, “would be very unbecoming to a
person who was going in for a sense of duty, and I must give them up. I
ought to have my hair brushed perfectly flat in front, and I shall come
down with it so to breakfast. I wonder how I shall look?” She went to
the bureau, took a brush, and smoothed down the loose hair above her
forehead; then holding it on either side with her hands to keep it down
she glanced into the mirror. “Oh, oh, oh!” she cried out with a great
laugh, “I look slyer than anything in the world! No! A sense of duty
will never do for me. I must chance it with unregenerate nature. But you
can’t say after this that I didn’t _try_ to be good, can you, Rachel?”
She put her hand on Rachel’s cheek and pressed the girl’s head against
her breast, while she looked down into her clear eyes. “I do love you,
Rachel, and I’m glad you felt sorry for having flown out at me. _I_
didn’t mean anything--I didn’t indeed;” and she tenderly kissed Rachel
good night.



Chapter IX


It had been rather too warm on Saturday. On Sunday the breeze that draws
across Woodward farm almost all summer long, from over the shoulder of
Scatticong, had fallen, and the leaves of the maples along the roadside
and in the grove beyond the meadow hung still as in a picture; the old
Lombardy poplars at the gate shook with a faint, nervous agitation. Up
the valley came the vast bath of the heat, which inundated the continent
and made that day memorable for suffering and sudden death. In the
cities there were sunstrokes at ten o’clock in the morning; some who
kept withindoors perished from exhaustion when the sun’s fury was spent.
The day was famous for the heat by the seashore, where the glare from
the smooth levels of the salt seemed to turn the air to flame; at the
great mountain resorts, the summer guests, sweltering among the
breathless tops and valleys, longed for the sea.

Easton lay awake all night, and at dawn dressed and watched the morning
gray turn to clear rose, and heard the multitude of the birds sing as if
it were still June; then he lay down in his clothes again, and, meaning
to wait till he could go out and sit in the freshness of the daybreak,
fell asleep. When he woke, the sun was high in his window and the room
was full of a sickly heat. He somehow thought Gilbert had come back, but
he saw, by a glance through the door standing ajar, that his room was
yet empty.

After breakfast, which could be only a formality on such a morning, even
for a man not in love, he went out on the gallery of the hotel, and, as
he had done the first Sunday, watched the people going to church. The
village folk came as usual, but the bell brought few of the farmers and
their wives. The meadows were veiled in a thin, quivering haze of heat;
far off, the hilltops seemed to throb against the sky.

Easton saw the Woodwards drive up to the church; but Mrs. Farrell was
not with them. He had not meant to go, even if she had come; yet it was
a disappointment not to see her come. He went indoors and looked
listlessly about the office, which had once been a barroom, and could
not have been so dreary in its wicked days as now. Its manners had not
improved with its morals. It was stained with volleys adventurously
launched in the direction of a spittoon, it smelled of horse and
hostler, and it was as dull as a water cooler, a hotel register, a
fragment of circus bill, a time-table of the Pekin & Scatticong
Railroad, can make a place. Easton went and sat upon the gallery till
the people came out of church and dispersed; then he abruptly left the
porch and struck out through the heat, across the graveyard and along
the top of a bare ridge of pasture, toward the woods that lay between
the village and Woodward farm. He could think of no other place to pass
the time but that which had yesterday heard him say he loved her. The
whole affair had taken a dozen different phases during the night, as he
turned from side to side in his sleeplessness. Once he had even beheld
her in that character of arch-flirt in which Gilbert had denounced her.
He saw a reckless design in what she had done, a willful purpose to test
her power upon them both. But for the instant that this doubt lasted he
did not cease to love her, to feel her incomparable charm. However she
had wronged them, he could not do otherwise than remain true to her
against every consequence. His love, which had seemed to spring into
full life at the first sight of her, had been poisoned from the very
beginning by the suspicion of others, and every day since then she had
said or done things that were capable of being taken in the sense of
consciously insolent caprice; yet all her audacity might be innocent in
the very measure of its excess; and there was mixed with that potential
slight toward her in his heart such tenderness and sweet delight, such
joy in her beauty, grace, and courage, that every attempt to analyze her
acts or motives ended in a rapturous imagination of her consent to be
loved by him. He could not help feeling that she had not discouraged
him; he excused the delay which she had imposed; how, when he thought of
the conditions which she had made, could he doubt her goodness or fail
to know her regret? He went, thinking, on toward the spot he was
seeking, and sometimes he walked very swiftly and sometimes he found he
had stopped stock still, under the blazing sun, in attitudes of
perplexity and musing. When at last he entered the dell, from the field
on which they had yesterday emerged, drops of perspiration rolled down
his forehead, and the shadow of the place had a sultriness of its own,
in which his breath came almost as faintly as in the open sunshine of
the meadows. He went toward the pool where the cattle drank, and bathed
his face; then, seeking out that shelf of rock where she had sat, he
laid himself down on the ledge below it and fondly strove to make her
seem still there.

He fell into a deep reverie, in which he was at first sensible of a
great fatigue, and then of a lightness and ease of heart such as he had
not felt for the whole week past. While he lay in this tranquillity, he
seemed to see Gilbert and Mrs. Farrell come laughing and talking up the
glen together: Gilbert was dressed in his suit of white flannel, but she
wore a gown of dark crimson silk, stiff with its rich texture, and
trailing after her on the gray rocks and over the green ferns. Her head
was bare, and in the dark folds of her hair was wound a string of what
seemed red stones at first, like garnets in color, but proved, as she
came nearer, to be the translucent berries of a poisonous vine. When she
saw that they had caught his eye, she took Gilbert by the hand and
called out to Easton, “Now you can’t escape. He’s going to make up with
you whether you will or no. I’ve told him everything and he understands.
Isn’t it so--_Major_?” They looked at each other, and, with a swift,
significant glance at Easton, burst into a laugh, which afflicted him
with inexpressible shame and pain. He shuddered as Gilbert took him in
his arms in token of reconciliation, and then he found himself in a
clutch from which he could not escape. Mrs. Farrell had vanished, but
“Easton, Easton!” he heard the voice of Gilbert saying, “what’s the
matter?” And opening his eyes, he found his friend kneeling over him and
looking anxiously into his face.

“I’ve been asleep, haven’t I?” he asked, stupidly.

“Yes, and going it on rather a high-stepping nightmare,” answered
Gilbert, with his old smile. “Better have a little dip at the brook;”
and Easton mechanically obeyed. He drew out his handkerchief to dry his
face, and knew by the perfume it shed that it was the handkerchief Mrs.
Farrell had restored. His heart somehow ached as he inhaled its
fragrance, and he felt the old barrier, which had not existed for the
moment, re-established between himself and Gilbert. He came and sat down
constrainedly where he had been lying.

“I hope you won’t be the worse, my dear fellow, for your little nap,”
said Gilbert. “Fortunately, there isn’t a spot in the universe where a
man could take cold to-day.”

“I think I’m all right,” said Easton, and he looked down, to avoid
Gilbert’s eyes.

Gilbert continued to gaze at him with the amused smile of patronage
which people wear at the sight of one not yet wholly emerged from the
mist of dreams, and waited for a while before he spoke again. Then he
said, “Easton, if you’re perfectly awake, I wish you’d hear me say what
a very extraordinary kind of ass I think I’ve been for the past week or
so.”

Easton looked up, and there was his friend holding out his hand to him
and gazing at him with shining eyes. He could not say anything, but he
took the hand and pressed it as he had that day when they had pledged
each other not to let harm come between them.

“Confound it!” Gilbert went on, “I knew all the time that I was wrong,
but I had to get away before I could face the thing and fairly look it
out of countenance.”

“Did you have a good time?” asked Easton, his voice husky with the
emotion to which he refused sentimental utterance.

“Glorious! But I missed you awfully, old fellow--after I’d made it all
right with you--and I wish you had been with me. The trout bit like fish
that had nothing on their consciences; and there was an old couple over
there near the lake who supplied me with bread and milk; they could have
gone into your Annals just as they are, without a change of clothing.
They had three sons killed in the last fight before Petersburg; I’ll
tell you all about them.”

“You’re back later than you expected,” said Easton.

“Yes; I wanted a few nights more on the pine boughs, and so we waited
for an early start this morning. We broke camp about four o’clock, and
started for West Pekin with the sun. But he beat us. I never knew heat
like it; it was a good thing for me that I had been toughened by a few
days outdoors. We stopped for a wash in a brook about three miles back
on the road, and then we steamed along again. I reached the hotel pretty
soon after you left, and put on the thinnest clothes I had; and then I
started for the farm. They had spied you making in this direction, and
their information was so accurate that I hadn’t any trouble in finding
you.”

In spite of a visible effort to be at ease there was a note of
constraint in Gilbert’s voluble talk, and he seemed eager to find some
matter not personal to them. He recurred to those old people at the
lake, and told about them; he described the place where he had camped;
he gave characteristic stories of the man whom he had taken with him and
whose whole philosophy of life he had got at in the last three days.

At the end of it all Easton said: “I’m glad you don’t think I meant you
any harm, Gilbert, and I’ve wanted to tell you so. But for once in my
life I didn’t seem to be able to do the thing I ought. I couldn’t
understand my own action. It was mortifying to think that I could have
been so little myself as to have talked of that matter, and I was
ashamed to recur to it; I couldn’t. I don’t see now what I can say.
There _is_ nothing to say except that I was entirely guiltless in
wounding you, and that I am altogether to blame for it.”

Gilbert smiled at the paradox. “Oh, never mind it, Easton; I tell you
it’s all right. I really saw the thing in its true light at first; and
if the devil hadn’t been in me, I shouldn’t have mentioned it. Nobody
blames _you_.”

There was ever so slight an implication of superiority in the last words
which stung Easton, however unmeant he knew it to be, and he rejoined
anxiously, “Yes, but I _was_ to blame; it’s unjust _not_ to blame me.”

Gilbert had thrown himself back on the flat rock, and was looking at the
leaves above, with the back of his head resting in the hollow of his
clasped hands. He turned his face a little toward Easton, and asked,
with a smile: “Aren’t you making it a little difficult? Let it all go,
my dear old fellow. There never _was_ anything of it. Why should we make
something of it now?”

“How can I let it go?” cried Easton. “I either wronged you and was to
blame, or else was not to blame because I was simply the helpless means
of wronging you. It leaves me in a very cruel position; I must refuse
your forgiveness or accept it at the cost of one who was entirely
innocent. If I let it go as it is, I skulk behind a woman, who, as far
as you are concerned, was really the victim of my own folly and
weakness.”

Gilbert rose to a sitting posture and looked coldly at his friend. “I
want you to take notice,” he said, “that I have mentioned no one, that I
have tried to pass the matter _all_ over. You have no right to put it as
you do.” His eyes began to flash, and he went on recklessly, “And if
you come to talk of cruel positions, I leave you to say what you can for
a man who will let his friend go as long as you have let me go, without
saying the word that might have removed his sense of a cruelly injurious
slight.”

Easton hung down his head. “I have nothing to say in my defense.”

“Oh!” groaned Gilbert. “I beg your pardon; I do indeed, Easton. I didn’t
mean to say that.”

“It makes very little difference whether you say or think your contempt
of me,” rejoined Easton, gloomily. “It can’t be greater than the
contempt I feel for myself.”

He looked so piteously abased, so hopelessly humiliated, that Gilbert
came and laid his arm across his shoulder--the nearest that an American
can come to embracing his friend. “Look here, let’s stop this thing
right here, or it will get the upper hand of us in another minute. Come,
now, I won’t make another apology if you won’t! Is it quits?”

Easton caught Gilbert’s humor, and laughed the ghost of his odd,
reluctant laugh. “It’s safest,” he said; “it seems to be the only way to
keep from coming to blows. Besides, it’s superfluous on your part.”

“Oh, I can’t allow that,” retorted Gilbert, “if I may say so without
offense,” he added, with mock anxiety.

“Gilbert,” Easton began, after a little silence, “I suppose you must
know what I would like to tell you?”

Gilbert, who had resumed his former place, glanced at his friend from
the corner of his eye. “Yes, I think I can guess it.”

“Well?”

“Why, my dear fellow, it’s so very completely and rightly your own
affair, that I can have nothing to say if you tell it. A man doesn’t ask
his friend for advice in such matters; he asks him for sympathy, for
congratulation.”

Easton gave a little sigh. “And that you’re not prepared to offer,” he
said, with a miserable smile.

“Why, Easton!” exclaimed the other. “Isn’t this rather a new line for
you? Since when have you wanted _my_ approval of any course you were to
take? You used to make up your mind to a thing and do it, and _then_ ask
my approval.”

“Approval isn’t the question, quite,” said Easton, nettled. “There’s
nothing to approve or to disapprove.”

“I admit the word’s clumsy,” answered Gilbert, shortly.

Easton said nothing for a little while, and then he spoke soberly: “I
don’t want to force any confidence on you, Gilbert; and after what’s
passed I know it’s natural for you to shrink from having anything to do
with this affair of mine; it is completely my own, as you say. But I
can’t have things remain as they are in your mind in regard to--to Mrs.
Farrell. You know that I’m in love with her; it’s no secret; I wouldn’t
mind shouting it from the housetop, even if she had refused me a hundred
times. But she hasn’t. I have told her that I love her; and she hasn’t
forbidden me; I don’t know whether she has warranted me in hoping, or
not; but she has imposed conditions on my speaking to her again, and
that is something.”

He glanced appealingly at Gilbert, who sat up and confronted him.
“Easton,” he said, with an indefinable air of uncandor, “we never spoke
of Mrs. Farrell together but once, and then I said things which, if I
could have supposed you were going to take her so seriously, I wouldn’t
have said. You know that.”

“Yes, I know that, Gilbert,” answered Easton, affectionately.

“Well; and now what do you want me to say? You must let me hold my
tongue. It’s the only way. I will respect you in whatever you do. As for
the lady who may some day forbid you to bring me to dinner any more, the
least said is the soonest mended.”

“Yes; but you are very unjust to her.” The words seemed to have escaped
from Easton, who looked a trifle alarmed after speaking them.

“Unjust? Unjust! You’re right; I revise my opinion; I think I didn’t do
her justice.”

“What do you mean?” demanded Easton.

Gilbert gave a short laugh.

“You must know, Gilbert,” said Easton, breathing quickly, “that this is
very insulting to me.”

“I beg your pardon. I don’t mean to insult you, Heaven knows. But I do
ask your leave to be silent.”

“And I ask you to hear me patiently. Will you?”

“I will, indeed.”

Easton opened his lips as if to speak, but he did not speak at once; he
did not seem to find the words or the thoughts so ready as he expected.

“I never blamed you,” he began, finally, “for any judgment you formed of
her character, and I certainly invited the expression of it. I know that
what she says and does sometimes can be harshly interpreted,” and again
he hesitated, “but I’m sure anyone who will make a generous
interpretation--”

“I’ll try,” interrupted Gilbert; “I’ll adopt any generous interpretation
you offer of her experiment upon the strength of our regard. How does
she explain it herself?”

“She explains it--” began Easton, “she made it a condition of my
speaking to her again--she told me to say--”

He choked with the words, and Gilbert was silent. “Oh, my dear, dear old
Easton,” he broke out at last, “do let it all go! What’s Mrs. Farrell to
me or I to her? If you are in love with her, why, marry her and be done
with it. I could imagine any woman’s turning constant by virtue of your
loving her, and I’ve no doubt she’ll be the best wife in the world for
you. I take back all I said of her.”

“It isn’t that; it’s what you haven’t said. It’s what you think,” said
Easton, hotly.

“Oh, good Lord! And what is it I think?”

“You exonerate me from all blame in the cause of our disagreement.”

“Yes, I _do_!”

“But if you exonerate me at her expense, you disgrace and dishonor me;
you offer me a reconciliation that no man can accept.”

Gilbert did not answer, and seemed to have made up his mind not to
answer. Easton went on, “She feels so deeply the trouble between us that
she charged me to make friends with you at any cost; not to spare her in
the least--to--”

Easton hesitated, and Gilbert said, “Well?” but the other did not go on.
Then Gilbert said: “I have no comment to make on all this. What do you
wish me to do?”

“To do? What do I wish? Do you think you don’t owe it to her to say--”

Gilbert laughed aloud. “That she acted from the highest motives
throughout? No, I certainly don’t think that,” he said, and then he
began to grow pale, while Easton reddened angrily. “By Heaven!” Gilbert
broke out, “it seems that I have misunderstood this case. I supposed
that between you you had somehow used me ill, but it appears that I have
done an injury to a meek and long-suffering angel. I supposed that she
had cunningly turned the chance you gave her against me, and meant, if
she couldn’t make me feel her power one way, to make me feel it another.
I supposed she intended to break us apart, and to be certain of _you_ at
any cost. But I’ll interpret her _generously_, since you wish me to.
I’ll say that I acquit her of any particular malevolence. I’ll say that
she merely wanted to over-punish me, like a woman, for some offense in
my words or manner; or I’ll say that she acted from an empty and
reckless caprice; that it was curiosity drove her to follow up the clew
which you had given her--for motives of your own; I won’t judge them.
I’ll say that I believe she was frightened when she saw the mischief she
had done, and would have undone it if she could; though I’m not so sure
of that, either! You think she might be induced to forgive me, do you?
Will you undertake to tell her what I say, and make my peace with her?”
he asked offensively, his nostrils dilating. “I’ve had enough of this!”
and he rose.

Easton had sat silent under this torrent of bitterness. He now sprang to
his feet.

“Stop!” he shouted. “You have got to take back every word--”

“Don’t be a fool, Easton!”

Easton ground his teeth. “You take a base advantage of what has passed
between us; you rely on my forbearance to--”

“Oh! Passed between us!” sneered Gilbert. “Your forbearance! What do you
think of the forbearance of a man who could lend himself to an infamous
scoundrel’s revenge; who could consent to rise at his friend’s expense,
and then live to boast of it to a woman?”

Easton choked. “What do you think,” he cried with equal outrage, “of a
man who could urge me to do what I did, and always refuse to do or be
anything that could cancel my regret, holding my consent in reproach
over me through years of fraud and hypocrisy, to fling it in my face at
last?”

Their friendship, honored and dear so long, was in the dust between
them, and they trampled it under foot with the infernal hate that may
have always lurked, a possible atrocity, in their hearts, silenced,
darkened, put to shame by the perpetual kindness of their daily lives.

It remained for Gilbert, with all the insult he could wreak in the
demand, to ask, “Is that Mrs. Farrell’s interpretation of my motives?”
and then they were in the mood to kill, if they had been armed. But so
much of the personal sanctity in which they had held each other remained
instinctive with them that they could not inflict the final shame of
blows.

They stood face to face in silence, and then Gilbert turned and walked
slowly down toward the opening of the glen; Easton made a few mechanical
paces after him. When Gilbert reached the border of the meadow he
stopped and, with whatever motive, went swiftly back to the scene of
their quarrel. He came in sight of the spot, but Easton was not to be
seen there; he quickened his going almost to a run; and then he saw
Easton lying at the brink of the pool. There was a slight cut along his
temple, from which the blood ran curling into the clear basin, where it
hung distinct, like a spire of smoke in crystal air.



Chapter X


Gilbert knelt at the side of the man who was his friend again, and
caught up his head and dashed his face from the pool, while a groan
broke from his own lips--the anguish of the sex which our race forbids
to weep. He stanched the blood with his handkerchief, and then felt in
Easton’s pocket for another to bind over the wound; and as he folded it
in his hands it emitted a fragrance that pierced him with a certain
puzzling suggestion, and added to his sorrow a keener sting of
remorseful shame.

Easton unclosed his eyes at last, and looked up at him. “Did you strike
me, Gilbert?” he asked.

“No, no--oh no! God knows I didn’t! How could I strike you, my dear old
boy?”

“I thought you did; you would have done well to kill me. I had outraged
you to the death.”

“Oh, Easton, I came here wanting to be friends with you, to make it all
right again. And now--”

“I know that. It _is_ all right. Whose blood is this? Were you hurt?
Oh--mine! Yes, I must have fainted, and cut myself in falling. I’ve felt
queer all day. This heat has been too much for me. How long ago was it?”

“How long? I don’t know. Just now.”

“I thought it was longer. It seems a great while ago.”

He closed his eyes wearily, and Gilbert stood looking ruefully down upon
him. After a little while he rose giddily to his feet. “Will you help me
home, Gilbert?” he asked, as he leaned tremulously against a rock.

“You could never walk to the hotel, Easton,” said Gilbert. Easton sat
down again, and Gilbert stared at him in perplexed silence. “By
heavens!” he broke out, “I don’t know what to do, exactly. If you were
over at the farm we could get that carryall and drive you to the hotel;
but your room would be horribly close and hot after you got there.”

“I can’t go to the farmhouse,” said Easton, with languid impatience,
“and run the chances of making a scene; I couldn’t stand _that_, you
know.”

“No; you couldn’t stand that,” assented Gilbert, gloomily. “But it would
be much the same thing at the hotel, with more women to assist. Faint?”
he asked, looking anxiously at Easton’s face.

“A little. You’d better wet my head,” answered Easton, taking off the
handkerchief that bound up his face. Gilbert did so, and then left the
dripping handkerchief on Easton’s head. “Thanks. That’s good. We’ll stay
here awhile. It’s the best place, after all. It’s cool as any,” he said,
looking refreshed.

Gilbert watched his face anxiously; but he was at his wits’ end, and
they both sat silent. He looked at his watch; it was two o’clock. He
grimly waited half an hour, exchanging a word with Easton now and then,
and freshening the handkerchief at the pool from time to time. The
opening of the glen darkened, and the steady glare on the meadow beyond
ceased. Gilbert walked down to the edge of the pasture and looked out. A
heavy cloud hid the sun. “Look here, Easton, this won’t do,” he said
when he came back. “It’s going to rain, and you’ve got to get under
shelter, somehow. We must run the gantlet to the back of the farmhouse,
and try to find some conveyance to the hotel. Do you think you could
manage to walk with my help across the meadow? The sun’s behind a cloud,
now, and I don’t think it would hurt you.”

“Oh yes,” said Easton, “I can walk very well. Just give me your arm, a
little way.”

They set out and toiled slowly up the long meadow slope, slanting their
course in the direction of the orchard behind the house. Easton hung
more heavily on his friend’s arm as they drew nearer. “Do you suppose
we’ve been seen?” he panted, as they stepped through a gap in the
orchard wall.

“No; there isn’t a woman on watch; not a solitary soul. They’re everyone
asleep--confound ’em,” said Gilbert, in the fervent irrelevancy of his
gratitude. “Now you sit here, Easton, and I’ll run up to the kitchen
door and tell one of the boys to get out his team, and we’ll have you
out of harm’s way in half a minute.”

Easton sank upon a stone, and Gilbert ran toward the house under cover
of the orchard trees. He was not out of sight when Easton heard women’s
voices behind a cluster of blackberry brambles near the wall on the
left; then, without being able to stir, he heard the sweep of dresses
over the grass toward him; he knew that in the next instant he was to be
discovered; he rose with a desperate effort and confronted Mrs. Farrell
and the two young girls, Miss Alden and Miss Jewett, who were lamenting
the heat and wondering how soon it would rain.

He felt rather than heard them stop, and he made some weak paces toward
them, essaying a ghastly smile as he lifted his eyes to Mrs. Farrell’s
face. Then he saw her blanch at his pallor, and saw her see the cut on
his temple. “I’ve had a fall, and a little scratch. It’s nothing. Don’t
mind it. Gilbert--”

A killing chagrin, such as only a man can feel who finds himself
unmanned in the presence of her he loves, was his last sensation as he
sank in the grass before her. The young girls fled backward, but she
rushed toward him with a wild cry, “Oh, he’s dead!” and in another
moment the people came running out of the house and thronged round them
with question, and injurious good will, and offers to have him taken to
their rooms. Gilbert came with them and flung up his fists in despair.
Mrs. Farrell had Easton’s head upon her knee, and was sprinkling his
face from one of many proffered flagons of cologne. “No, he shall not go
to your room,” she vehemently retorted upon the last hospitable zealot;
“he shall go to mine; he is _mine_!” she said. “Here, Rachel, Ben, Mrs.
Woodward--will you help me?”

The others fell back at her brave confession, and they all began to like
her. They meekly suffered themselves to be dispersed, and they cowered
together on the piazza while a messenger ran for the doctor. Then, while
the ladies waited his report, they talked together in low tones, though
they were separated from Mrs. Farrell’s room by the whole depth of the
house. Not a voice dissented from the praises of the heroine of a love
episode whose dramatic interest reflected luster upon them all. The
ladies were even more enthusiastic than the men, and several rebuked
their husbands, who had formerly been too forward in doing justice to
Mrs. Farrell, for coldness in responding now to their own pleasure in
her.

“George, how _can_ you smoke?” asked the youngest of the married ladies,
and reproachfully drew her husband’s newspaper away from him and sent
him into the orchard with his cigar. Another made her husband take the
children away for a walk, in order that the ladies might not be
distracted by their play while attending the verdict of the physician.
The common belief was that Easton would die, and in the meantime they
excited themselves over the question as to how, when, and where he had
fallen. The husband with the cigar was suffered to approach and say that
he had known an old fellow once who had been out in the heat a good
deal, and had gone into the woods to cool off, and had come home in the
evening with a cut in his head and a story that he had been attacked and
knocked down.

“Yes,” said one of the ladies, who had a logical mind, “but Mr. Easton
doesn’t pretend to have been knocked down, and--and he isn’t an old
fellow.”

“I was going to say,” retorted the smoker, taking a good long whiff,
with half-closed eyes, insensible to the frantically gesticulated
protest of his wife, “that this old fellow was supposed not to have been
attacked at all; he had got giddy with the heat and tumbled over and
barked his skull against a tree, and then fancied he’d been knocked
down; they often do.”

The theory seemed to have reason in it, but the language in which it was
clothed made it too repulsive for acceptance, and there was open
resentment of it by the tribunal before which it was offered. At this
moment the doctor was seen slanting down the grass toward the gate from
the side door; the ladies called after him and captured him.

“The wound is a very slight matter,” said the doctor; “but Mr. Easton
had something like a sunstroke this summer in New York, and is very
sensitive to the heat.”

“Yes, yes,” said the spokeswoman, eager for all, “but what happened to
him? How did he get hurt?”

“His friend thinks he was overcome by the heat and struck his face
against a point of rock in falling, over there in the valley by the
sugar orchard.”

“There!” said the young wife, who at heart had felt keenly injured by
the indifference to her husband’s theory, “it’s just as George said.
Oh, _George_!” She took him by the arm, joying in his wisdom, and looked
fondly into his face, while he smoked imperturbably.

“Yes, but will he get well?” tremulously demanded the spokeswoman of the
group, pursuing the doctor on his way to the gate.

“Oh, I think so,” said the doctor; “he’s got the temperature in his
favor now”; for though the threatened storm had passed without rain, it
had left the air much cooler.

The doctor mounted into his buggy and chirruped to his horse and drove
off. He came again in the evening, and said they had better not move
Easton to the hotel that night, left his prescriptions, and went away.

Mrs. Woodward and Rachel began to talk together about where they should
put Easton.

“Put him!” cried Mrs. Farrell, emerging upon them where they stood in a
dimly lighted group, with Gilbert and Mrs. Gilbert just outside the
door. She had an armful of draperies of which she had been dismantling
her closet. “He’s not to be put _any_where. I’m going to stay with
Rachel, and he’s to stay where he is till he gets perfectly well. It
would kill him to move him!” The women were impressed, and looked to see
conviction in Gilbert’s face.

“It would kill him to keep him where he is, Mrs. Farrell,” said Gilbert,
dryly. “A man can’t stand too much kindness in his sensitive state. You
must have some regard for his helplessness. He would never let you turn
out of your room for him in the world; and if you try to make him it
will simply worry him to death. It’ll be gall and wormwood to him,
anyway, to think of the trouble he’s given. You must have a little mercy
on him.”

Gilbert had to make a long fight in behalf of his friend; he ended by
painting Easton’s terrors of a scene when they were coming toward the
farmhouse from the glen.

Opinion began to veer round to his side. “Well, well,” cried Mrs.
Farrell, passionately, “take him away from me--take him where you will!
You let me do nothing for him; you think him nothing to me!”

“If he could stay where he is for the night,” said Mrs. Woodward, “he
could have Mrs. Burroughs’s room to-morrow; she’s going to the seaside
and won’t want it any more.”

This matter-of-fact proposal seemed so reasonable that it united the
faltering opposition, and Mrs. Farrell had to give way. In their hearts,
no doubt, all the women sighed over the situation’s loss of ideality. At
parting, Mrs. Gilbert took Mrs. Farrell’s hand and went so far as to
kiss her. “I don’t think you need be anxious,” the older woman said.
“The doctor says he needs nothing but care and quiet, and he’ll be well
again in a few days. Even now I can’t help congratulating you. I didn’t
know matters had gone so far--so soon. My dear,” she added, after a
little hesitation, “I’m afraid I haven’t quite done you justice. I
thought--excuse my saying it now--I thought perhaps you were amusing
yourself. I beg your pardon in all humbleness.”

“Oh don’t, _don’t_, Mrs. Gilbert!” cried Mrs. Farrell, and cast her arms
about her neck, and sobbed there. She went to Rachel’s room, and changed
her dress for a charming gown in which she could just lie down and jump
up in an instant. She bound her hair in a simple knot, and when she came
back to her own room with her lamp held high and shaded with one hand,
she looked like a stylish Florence Nightingale with a dash of Lady
Macbeth.

Gilbert was sitting there in the dark, beside a table on which the light
revealed a curious store of medicines and restoratives, the contribution
of all the boarders: five or six flagons of cologne and one of bay rum;
a case bottle of brandy; a bottle of Bourbon whisky; a pint of Bass’s
pale ale; the medicines left by the doctor; some phials of homœopathic
pellets from Mrs. Stevenson, who used the high-potency medicines; a tiny
bottle of liquid nux from Mrs. Gilbert, who preferred the appreciable
doses, and despised all who did not; a lemon; three oranges; a box of
guava jelly--from one of the young girls. Mrs. Farrell’s tragic gaze met
Gilbert’s lowering eyes and wandered with them to this array; they both
smiled, but she was the first to frown. She beckoned him from the room,
and “Here is your lamp,” she said. “Don’t turn it down or it will smoke,
but set it where it won’t shine in his eyes. I’m going to be there in
that room.” She pointed down the passageway toward Rachel’s door. “If he
needs the least thing you’re to call me.” Her severity would have
admonished any levity that lingered in Gilbert’s heavy heart, as she put
the lamp in his hand.

“Let me light you back to your room,” he said, with moody humility.

“No, I can find the way perfectly well in the dark,” she answered.
“Or--yes, you had better come, so as to make sure of the right door in
case you need me. You think I tried to make you quarrel!” she said in a
swift undertone, as they passed down the hall; “but I never meant it,
and you _know_ that, whatever you think. Oh, I have been punished,
punished! But I’m glad you held out against me about the room,” she
added. “He would have been as true to you; and if you had let me do
anything to make him seem silly, I should have hated you!”

He saw with a man’s helplessness the tremor of her lips, and then she
had opened and closed the door, and he stood blankly staring at it.

In the morning Easton was well enough to sit up in an easy-chair, and
was fretfully eager to return to his hotel. It was clear that he was
intensely vexed at having caused the sensation of the day before, and
that the fear of giving further trouble galled him with the keenest
shame. They were only too glad to release him from the fond imprisonment
to which Mrs. Farrell would have sentenced him, on condition that he
would consent to occupy the room vacated by Mrs. Burroughs for a few
days, and be cared for better than he could be at the hotel, until he
was quite well again.

But in a few days he was not quite so well. He fell from his dull
languor into a low fever, and from feebly lounging about his room and
drowsing in an easy-chair it came to his not rising one morning at all.

Thus his hold upon the happiness so fiercely pursued, and now within his
grasp, relaxed, and a vast vagueness encompassed him, in which he strove
with one colossal task: to make Gilbert see a certain matter as he saw
it, which was not at all the matter of their quarrel, but some strange
abstraction, he never could make out what, though their agreement upon
it was a vital necessity. He was never delirious, but he was never sure
of anything; a veil was drawn between his soul and all experience; he
could not tell, when he had been asleep, that he had slept; his waking
was a dream; the world moved round him in elusive shadow.

He was what one of the ladies called comfortably sick. It was not
thought from the first that he was in danger, and as it turned out he
was not. But if he had lain for a month at the point of death, he could
not have been more precious to that houseful of women, who enjoyed every
instant of the poetic situation; maid and matron, those tender hearts
were alike glad of the occasion to renew in this fortunate reality their
faith in romance, and they turned fondly to Mrs. Farrell for a
fulfillment of their ideal of devotion. It looked on the face of things
rather like expecting devotion from a Pompeian fresco, so little did her
signal beauty seem related to the exigency, so far should sickness and
sorrow have been from her world. But here Mrs. Farrell most disappointed
those who most feared her picturesque inadequacy. She threw herself into
her part with inspiration; rising far above the merely capable woman,
she made her care of Easton a work of genius, and not only divined his
wants and ministered to his comfort with a success that surprised all
experience, but dealt so cunningly with his moods that he was at last
flattered into submission if not resignation. In the beginning he was
indeed a most refractory object of devotion; he chafed so bitterly
against his helpless lapse into the fever, he was in such a continual
revolt against his hospitable detention at the farmhouse, and was so
weighed down, through all the hazy distance in which his life ebbed from
actual events, with the shame of being a burden, that no magic less than
hers could have consoled him. But she overcame his scruples and
reconciled him to fate, so that it did not seem an unfair advantage to
inflict the kindness against which he could not struggle; and she had
her way with him, even to excess. Since she was not allowed to give up
her room to him, she devoted herself in the moments of her leisure to
the decoration of his chamber. She upholstered it almost anew with
contributions from the ladies of scraps of chintz, mosquito-netting, and
dotted muslin; she shut out the garish light with soft curtains; she put
on the plain mirror and toilet table what Gilbert called a French cap
and overskirt, and she furbelowed the mantelpiece. She took Mrs.
Woodward’s ivies and trained them up the corners, and she had a great
vase on the table, often renewed with autumnal wild flowers, ferns, and
the firstlings of the reddening sumac leaves. As a final offering she
brought in her spinning-wheel--the mania was then just beginning--and
set it by the hearth. It must be owned that when all was done the place
had a certain spectacularity; the furniture and ornaments wore somehow
the air of properties; on the window seats, which she had contrived for
greater coziness of effect, it was not quite safe to sit down. But her
friends--and all the ladies were her friends now--easily forgave this to
her real efficiency and her unsparing self-sacrifice; the two young
girls worshiped the carpets she trod upon, and the whole sympathetic
household sighed in despair at the perfection with which she, as one may
say, costumed the part. She had ordinarily indulged a taste for those
strong hues that went best with her Southern beauty, but now her robes
were of the softest color and texture; she moved in slippers that made
no sound; in emblem of devotion to the sick-room she denied herself
every ornament; at first she even left off her Etruscan ear-rings, and
kept only a limp scarf of dark red silk, tied at her throat in a
sentiment of passionate neglect. In behalf of Easton’s peaceful dreams
she banished the Japanese fans, with their nightmare figures, and as she
sat fanning him with a quaint, old-fashioned fan of white feathers,
which she had skillfully mounted on a long handle, her partisans
declared, some that she looked like an Eastern queen, other some, like
an Egyptian slave. They remembered her afterward in this effect, and
also how she used to look as she stood at dusk lighting the little
tapers which she had found at a queer country store in an out-of-the-way
village of the neighborhood, and setting them afloat in a vase of oil,
to illumine the chamber during the night. She realized the character as
thoroughly in other respects; she met the friendliness all round her
with gentle appreciation, availed herself of it little or nothing, and
for the most part quietly withdrew from it. Her defiant airs were all
laid aside; her prevailing mood was serious; she often spoke earnestly
of matters which certainly had not commanded her open reverence before;
there was a great change in her in every way, and some, who had always
longed to like her, liked her now with thankful hearts for the
opportunity. Among these Mrs. Gilbert made her advances like one who has
an atonement to offer; Mrs. Farrell frankly accepted the tacit regret,
and visited a good deal in her room.

But as the sick man’s disorder slowly ran its course, and the days took
him further and further from any joy in her, Mrs. Farrell seemed to lose
her hold of the situation, and another change came over her, in which
she fell from her high activities into a kind of dull and listless
patience, and dragged out the time, uncheered by the inspiration that
had hitherto upheld her. She seemed not to know what to do. The spring
was gone, the impulse exhausted, in that strange nature, which knew
itself perhaps as little as others knew it. Those were the days when she
surrendered her authority to Rachel, and served under her about Easton,
who had also fallen largely to the care of Gilbert and Ben Woodward. Few
young ladies would not willingly assume the task of nursing a young man
through a low fever in a romance, but the reality is different. If it
had been something short and sharp, a matter of a week’s supreme
self-devotion, it would doubtless have been otherwise with her; she was
capable of great things, but a long trial of her endurance must finally
lose its meaning. She had times of melancholy in which she sat behind
her closed doors for hours, or when she went lonely walks through the
woods or fields. She withdrew herself more and more from the society
that sought her, and got a habit of consorting with poor old Nehemiah as
he dug his potatoes or gathered his beans, and seemed to find him a
relief and shelter. Heaven knows what they talked of. Doubtless, as she
followed him from one potato hill to another, and listened to his
discourse, he admired her taste for serious conversation, and was
obscurely touched that such resplendent beauty should be so meekly
contented with his company. She no longer teased Ben Woodward, whose
open secret of a passion for her she used to recognize so freely; she
was the boy’s very humble servant in manner; and to Rachel’s efficiency
and constancy she was the stricken thrall. It was touching to see how
willingly subservient she was to the girl, and how glad she was to be of
any use that Rachel could think of. One night, after they had sat a long
time silent by the taper’s glimmer while Easton slept, she suddenly
caught Rachel by the arm and whispered, “Why don’t you say it? How can
you keep thinking it and thinking it, and never say it? For pity’s sake,
speak this once, and tell me that you know I did it all, and that you
despise me!”

“I don’t judge you,” said Rachel; “and I have no right to despise
anyone. You know, yourself, whether you are to blame for anything.”

“Do you think I acted heartlessly that day when I made fun of him--there
in the schoolhouse?”

“I _did_ think so, then.”

“Do you now? Do you believe I’m sorry?”

“How can I tell? You seemed unfeeling then, but I don’t believe you
were; and you seem sorry now--”

“And you don’t believe I am! Oh me, I wonder if I am! Rachel, you do
believe I know how to feel, don’t you?”

“How can you ask such a thing as that?” returned the girl in a startled
accent.

“I wonder if I do! It seems to me that I know how to feel, but that I
never feel. It seems to me that I am always acting out the thing I ought
to be or want to be, and never being it. Don’t trust me, Rachel--not
even now; I think that I’m very remorseful and sorry, but who knows if I
am? I keep asking myself what I should do if he were to die--what would
become of me. I try to scare myself about it; but my soul seems to be in
a perfect torpor; I can’t stir it. Rachel, Rachel! I _did_ try to make
him in love with me--all I could. There was such a deadly charm in
it--his perfect faith in me, whatever I said or did. But it frightened
me at last, too; and I didn’t know what to do; and that day when I
behaved so about him, I was frantic; if I hadn’t made fun of him, the
thought of what I had done would have killed me. But I honored him all
the time. Oh, he was my true, true lover; and when I thought how
recklessly I had gone on, it almost drove me wild. Rachel, do you know
what I did?” She poured out the whole story, and then she said, “But now
I seem not to be able to care any more. It’s all like a dream: it’s some
one running and running after me, and I am laughing and beckoning him
on, and all of a sudden there he lies without help or motion; it can’t
give him any pleasure to see me, now; I can’t do anything for him that
some one else can’t do better, or that he won’t be as glad of from
another. It’s as if he were in prison, and I sat at the door outside,
waiting in this horrible lethargy. When he comes out, what will he say
to me? I think that I should die if he upbraided me; but if he didn’t I
should go mad. No, no! That’s what some other woman would do. Rachel,
isn’t it awful to bring all these things home to yourself, and yet not
suffer from them? Oh, but I care--I care because I can’t care. My heart
lies like a stone in my breast, and I’m furious because I can’t break
it, or hurt it. Rachel, if you give way before me I don’t know where I
shall end. You must never yield to me, no matter what mood I’m in, or
else I shall lose the one real friend I have in the world--the only one
I can be myself to, if there is really anything of me.”

As she ceased to speak, Gilbert came in to take his place for the night.
He asked Rachel in a low voice what was next to be done, but he took no
notice of Mrs. Farrell save to give her a slight nod.

No one else treated her with coldness now; but in his manner toward her
there still lingered a trace of resentment. It had a tone of irony, to
which she submitted meekly, like one resolved to bear a just penalty;
and if there were times when he forgot to be severe and she forgot to be
sad, then afterward he was the more satirical and she the more patient.
It began to be said by some of the ladies that Mr. Gilbert had rather a
capricious temper; but he had his defenders, who maintained that he was
merely run down with worry and confinement over his friend.

One day he came into Mrs. Gilbert’s room, and found Mrs. Farrell with
her. He offered to go away if he had burst upon a confidential
interview, seeing that they fell silent at his coming, but Mrs. Farrell
said that they had just finished their talk, and that now she was going.

Gilbert did not sit down after he had closed the door upon her, but took
two or three lounging turns about the room. “It’s very pleasant to see
you and Mrs. Farrell such friends, Susan,” he said, at last. “It’s
really millennial. But which is the wolf and which is the lamb?”

He laughed his short laugh, and Mrs. Gilbert answered, nervously, “You
know very well I told you, the first time we talked of her, that I liked
her.”

“You said she fascinated you. The spell seems to have deepened. You
used to find some little imperfections in her.”

“Well, and who pretends that I don’t see them now?”

“Oh, not I. But I’m affected to see you so lenient to them of late. Did
you know that she was a person of strong religious convictions?”

“What _do_ you mean, William?”

“Nothing. She has found out that Easton and I are in a sort of suspense
about such matters, and she says it is terrible. She can only account
for our being able to endure it by supposing that men are different,
more self-centered, not so dependent as women. She considers the
Woodwards a high example of the efficacy of a religious training in the
formation of character. She says she is not like Rachel; that she has an
undisciplined nature, and was too irregularly trained, first in her
father’s belief and then in a convent. What was her father’s belief? I
suppose some sort of marine Methodism of the speaking-trumpet pitch. She
wants my advice as to a course of reading in the modern philosophy; she
thinks every Christian ought to know how his faith is being assailed.”

Gilbert stopped in his walk and looked gravely at his sister-in-law, who
gave a troubled sigh.

“What right have you to suppose she isn’t perfectly in earnest now,
William?”

“None; I think she thinks she is.”

“She has shown so much more character, so much more heart, than I ever
supposed she had, in this affair, that I’m glad to believe we were
mistaken about her in several essential ways. The fact is, I always did
have a sort of sneaking fondness for her, and now I’m determined to
indulge it; so you needn’t come to laugh about her in _my_ sleeve,
William. I’m an ardent Farrellite, and have been ever since I found out
that she was in love with your friend. Don’t you think she’s very
devoted to him?”

“Oh, I dare say. He’s not in a state for devotion to tell upon,
exactly.”

Mrs. Gilbert looked baffled. Presently she asked, “Are she and Rachel
Woodward as good friends as ever?”

“How do I know?” returned Gilbert, resuming his walk. “_That’s_ a
curious girl, Susan. One meets enough good women in the world; I’ve
always been able to believe in them,” he said, stopping at Mrs.
Gilbert’s side to take her hand and kiss it; “in fact, the worst women
seem pretty good, if one will only compare them with oneself; but I
don’t think I’ve understood, before, just the sort of feminine goodness
that the unbroken tradition of your New England religiousness produces.
Puritanism has fairly died out of the belief--I don’t care what people
profess to believe--but in such a girl as Rachel Woodward, all that was
good in it seems to survive in the life. She’s more like Easton than any
other human being I know; they’re both unerringly sincere; they’re both
faithful through thick and thin to what they think is right; only you
can’t help feeling that there’s something Quixotic in Easton’s noblest
moods, and that he has an arrogant scorn of meaner morals than his own.
But her purity doesn’t seem to judge anything but itself, and her
goodness and veracity always seem to refer themselves to something
outside of her. You can see before she speaks how she is considering her
phrase, and choosing just the words that shall give her mind with
scriptural scruple against superfluity; if you know the facts, you know
what she will say, for she’s almost divinely without variableness or
shadow of turning where the truth is concerned. It’s awful; it makes me
hang my head for shame, to watch the working of that vestal soul of
hers. And with all this inflexibility--you might call it angularity--of
rectitude, she has a singular charm, a distinctly feminine charm.”

“Oh, indeed! And what is her charm?”

“Poh, Susan!” said Gilbert, looking askance at her. “Don’t make me think
you can be guilty of bad taste.”

“Oh, well; I won’t, I won’t, my dear boy! I didn’t mean to,” cried Mrs.
Gilbert. “It _was_ rather foolish in me to interrupt you.”

“I can’t call it an interruption, exactly; I had got to the end of my
say.”

He went off to Easton’s room, where he found Rachel Woodward putting
things in order for the evening, and he smiled to see with what
conscientious regard she preserved Mrs. Farrell’s arrangements, as
matters having a sacred claim to which no reforms of her own could have
pretended, and yet managed somehow to imbue all that picturesqueness
with a quality of homelike comfort. He nodded to her, and said he was
going out for a short walk.

On the road he overtook Mrs. Farrell, who was moving rather sadly along
by herself. Her face brightened as she turned and saw him, but she
waited for him to speak.

“Where are your inseparable comrades?” he asked.

“Oh!” said she. “Jenny Alden isn’t very well, this afternoon, and Miss
Jewett has gone over with Mrs. Stevenson to Quopsaug.”

“Quop--_what?_” asked Gilbert, stopping short.

“Quopsaug,” repeated Mrs. Farrell, simply. “Did you never hear of it?”

“No, I never heard of Quopsaug. Is it--vegetable or mineral?”

“It’s vegetable, I believe. At least it vegetates. It’s a place--a
huddle of unpainted wooden houses in a little hollow at the foot of
Scatticong, on the east side. It has a Folly and it has a Bazar. But I
wonder Quopsaug hasn’t come up long ago in our poverty-stricken
conversation. I suppose everyone must have thought everybody else had
talked you to death about it.”

“No,” said Gilbert. “What do people go to Quopsaug for?”

“To see the Folly--that’s the storekeeper’s mansion; and to buy things
out of the Bazar--that’s his store. And to wheedle the inhabitants
generally out of their spinning-wheels; at least that’s what Mrs.
Stevenson’s gone for to-day.”

“And is Quopsaug a nickname?”

“No; it’s one of those musical Indian names we’re so fond of in New
England. The people adopted it thirty or forty years ago, when they
started a cotton mill--which failed--there. The place used to be called
East Leander, but they rechristened it Quopsaug, after a chief who
scalped the first settler, and then became a praying Indian, and lies
over there in the Quopsaug graveyard, under a Latin epitaph. You ought
to go to Quopsaug.”

“I must,” said Gilbert, absently; the talk dropped, and they walked on
in silence till they came to a rise in the road overlooking a swampy
meadow. In the midst of this stood a slim, consumptive young maple in a
hectic of premature autumnal tints, and with that conscious air which
the first colored trees have.

“I suppose you would like a branch of that,” said Gilbert, “for your
vase.”

“Why, yes,” assented Mrs. Farrell. When he brought it to her, she had
turned about and was facing homeward. “An olive branch?” she asked, with
a tentative little burlesque.

“If you like,” said Gilbert, with a laugh that was not gay. “It isn’t
quite the color; but it’s olive branch enough for all the peace you
probably mean, and it’s sufficiently angry-looking for war when you
happen to feel like making trouble again.”

The leaves were mainly of a pallid yellow, but their keen points and
edges were red as if dipped in blood. She flung the bough away and
started forward, dashing the back of her hand passionately across her
eyes.

It was as though he had struck her. He made haste to come up with her.
“Mrs. Farrell,” he faltered, dismayed at the words that had escaped him,
“I’ve been atrociously rude.”

“Oh, not unusually so!” she said, darting a look upon him from gleaming
eyes, while her lips quivered. “You seem to feel authorized to give me
pain whenever you like. You needn’t do so much to make me know the
difference between yourself and Mr. Easton.”

Gilbert’s face darkened. “Upon my word,” he said, “I think the less you
say about that the better.”

“Why?” she retorted, trembling all over with excitement. “You force me
every moment to remember his magnanimity and generosity; all your words
and acts teach me how friendless I am without him. He never could
believe so ill of a woman as you do; but if the case were changed, I
don’t think he would choose the part of my torturer. And you are his
_friend_!” She broke, and the tears fell down her face.

Gilbert walked speechless beside her. “It’s true,” he said at last,
“Easton is a better man than I; he’s a manlier man, if you like--or if
you mean that.”

She did not speak, but she slightly slackened her fierce pace, and
seemed to be waiting for him to speak again.

“But I didn’t know that I had been giving you so much pain. I’m
sorry--I’m ashamed--with all my heart. I ask your pardon.”

“Yes, yes! I know how you say all that. Oh, I know the superior stand
you take! I know how you say to yourself, ‘It’s my business to treat her
handsomely for Easton’s sake, whatever I think of her. Come, I’ll do the
right thing, at any rate!’ You ask my pardon. Thanks, thanks; I give it
in all meekness. Yes, let there be a truce between us. I can’t choose
but be glad to be let alone. Will you walk on and leave me now, Mr.
Gilbert, or let me leave you?”

“No, I can’t part from you so. Let it be peace, not a truce. I make no
such reservations as you imagine. I beseech you to pardon my brutality
and to forget my rudeness.”

She halted, and impulsively stretched out her hand toward him, and then
suddenly withdrew it before he could take it. “Wait,” she said,
seriously. “I can’t be friends with you yet, till I know whether you
really think me worthy. If you don’t, you shall have no forgiveness of
mine. You must be more than sorry that you hurt my feelings.”

“I will be as much sorry, and about as many things, as you like.”

“Oh, don’t try to turn it into a joke! You know what I mean. Did Mr.
Easton tell you what I told him to say about the trouble between you?
Did he lay the whole blame upon me? Did he say that I did it willfully
and recklessly, because your friendship piqued me, and
because--because--though I never thought of that before!--I was jealous
of it?”

Gilbert did not smile at the slight confusion of ideas, but answered,
gravely, “Easton was not the man to lay blame upon you--he would like
it too well himself. Besides, I was unfair with him, and gave him no
chance to speak in your defense.”

“Oh, how could you be so cruel as that? He was so true to you! I should
think you never could forgive yourself for that. You ought to have heard
him praise you. He told me everything. Yes, you did act grandly. But he
could have done as much for you, and more, or he never would have
suffered your self-sacrifice.”

“There is only one Easton in the world,” said Gilbert, gloomily; and he
went on to talk of Easton’s character, his noble eccentricities, his
beneficent life, and his heroic ideals. He spoke with a certain effect
of self-compulsion very different from the light-hearted liking with
which he had once before talked with her of Easton, but she listened
reverently, and at the end she said with a sigh: “No, I see that I
didn’t know him. Why, I hadn’t even imagined it! Why _should_ he care
for _me_?”

Gilbert did not undertake to answer the question, and she said, “But I
am so glad you have told me so much about him. How proud I shall be to
surprise him with it all!”

Gilbert made no sign of sharing her rapture, but she seemed not to heed
him.

They were very near the house, now, and she turned on him an upward,
sidelong look, as her lower stature obliged, and asked, “And you really
think me worthy to be sorry?”

“Yes,” said Gilbert, with a heavy breath.

“Then I’ll forget your cruelty,” she said; “but don’t do it any more.”
She dropped him a little nod, and went into the house without him. He
stood there watching the black doorway through which she had vanished,
but it was as if he had followed her, so wholly had all sense fled after
her out of his face. He stirred painfully from his posture, and cast his
eye upward at Easton’s room. The cold window met his glance with a gleam
from which he shrank, with a sudden shock at the heart, as though he had
caught Easton’s eye, and he turned and walked away into the nightfall.



Chapter XI


Easton began to show signs of decided convalescence. Day by day he
became more susceptible of the kindnesses which his sympathizers yearned
to lavish upon him, all the more ardently for being so long held aloof
by the certainty that the best thing they could do was to let him alone;
the ladies got out their recipes for sick-room delicacies again, and
broths and broils were debated. One day he sat up in a chair to have his
bed made, and then a great wave of rejoicing ran through the house. Mrs.
Farrell created a wine jelly which, when it was turned out of the mold
upon a plate, was as worshipfully admired as if it had been the
successful casting in bronze of some great work of art.

Her spirits had begun to rise; that day she moved as if on air, and as
he grew better and better she put off the moral and material tokens of
her lingering bondage to fear. For some time she had suffered herself to
wear those great hoops of Etruscan gold in her ears; now she replaced
her penitential slippers and sober shoes with worldly boots; she
blossomed again in the rich colors that became her; on the following
Sunday she celebrated her release in a silk that insulted her past
captivity, and sang for joy as she swooped through the house in it. On
Monday she bought out the small stock of worsteds at the West Pekin
store, and sat matching them in her lap when Gilbert came out upon the
piazza. He stopped to look at her, and she asked him if he had any taste
in colors. “Men have, a great deal oftener than women will allow,” she
said. “At least they are quite apt to have inspirations in color.”

“I don’t believe I have,” answered Gilbert, still looking at her
radiance and not at the worsteds. “I lived long and happily without
knowing some colors from others by name.”

Mrs. Farrell laughed. “Oh, I didn’t mean the names. Women are glibber
than men with those. But you’d have been able to criticize the effect,
wouldn’t you? You’d have known that blue wouldn’t do for a brunette, if
you’d seen it on her?”

“I’m not so sure,” said Gilbert.

“Why, look!” cried Mrs. Farrell, taking up a delicate shade of blue and
holding it against one cheek, while she fixed her eyes upon his with
businesslike preoccupation. “There! don’t you see how we take the life
out of each other? Don’t you see that it perfectly kills me?”

“Well, I don’t know. I should say that the worsted was getting the worst
of it.”

“Worsted and worsted; a pun or an opinion?” demanded Mrs. Farrell, still
holding the color to her cheek, and her eyes on his.

“Oh, either; one’s as good as the other.”

“I don’t believe you meant either. I’m sorry you can’t help me about
matching these wools, and I’ve a great mind to make use of you in
another way. But I don’t suppose you would do it,” she said, glancing up
at him as she straightened the skeins of yarn by slipping them over her
two hands.

“What do you wish to do?”

“Why, I wish to wind these skeins into little balls, and--”

“Me to hold them, as you’re doing, whilst you wind? I don’t mind that.”

“Really? I think it’s the silliest position in the world for a man; and
I can’t let you. No, no; you shall not.”

“Yes, but I will. Come. I wish to show you that my manly dignity can
rise superior to holding worsteds.”

He took up a skein and stretched it on his hands; she loosened a thread
and began to wind; both with gloomy brows. When she had half done, she
flung down the ball, and burst into a laugh. “No, no; you can’t face it
out. You look silly in spite of that noble frown. How do you suppose you
appear to those ladies down there under the trees, with your hands
raised in that gesture of stage-supplication? You look as if you were
imploring me for your life--or something; and here I am making all these
cabalistic motions,” she resumed her winding, “as if I were weaving a
spell around you! Do let us stop it! And I’ll get Miss Jewett to help
me.

“No, go on,” said Gilbert. “If you offer to stop, I shall clasp my
hands!”

“Oh, oh!” shouted Mrs. Farrell. “Don’t, for pity’s sake! Was ever a poor
sorceress so at her victim’s mercy before? This skein is nearly done.
Will you put down your hands, you cruel object of my unhallowed arts?”

“I will, if you’ll let me put them up again, and help finish the other
skeins. If you don’t consent, I’ll keep holding them so.”

“Well, then I’ll leave you in that interesting attitude.”

“If you dare to rise, I’ll follow you all about in it.”

“Oh dear me! I really believe you would. There, take up another skein.”

“No, you must put it on, yourself; I’ve just got my hands in the right
places.”

“But you said you’d put them down if I’d let you put them up again,”
lamented Mrs. Farrell.

“I’ve changed my mind. I said that before I perceived that I had you in
my power. If you don’t hurry, I’ll exaggerate the attitude. Quick!”

She was laughing so that she could hardly arrange the yarn upon the
framework so rigidly presented to her.

“Don’t hold your thumbs like sticks,” she besought him. “Have a little
flexibility, if you have no pity. It’s some satisfaction to think you
_do_ look foolish.”

“I have the consolation of suspecting that you _feel_ so. I’m quite
willing to do the looking.”

Mrs. Farrell said nothing, but swiftly wound the yarn upon the ball,
and, “Don’t hurry!” commanded Gilbert. “I’m not going to put my hands
down till I like, anyway. So you may as well take your time.”

“Oh, Mr. Gilbert,” pleaded Mrs. Farrell. “How can you threaten me, when
I’m so meekly letting you have your own way! I never should have
supposed you were that kind of man.”

“Neither should I,” said Gilbert. “This is the first opportunity I’ve
had to play the tyrant to one of your amiable sex, and I’m determined to
abuse it.”

“Oh, that’s a likely story! With that conceited air of yours, when you
are so good as to address a woman! Don’t be a humbug, if you _are_ a
faithless despot.”

“And don’t you employ harsh language in addressing me, Mrs. Farrell, or
I’ll sit here all day with my hands outstretched to you.”

“All day? Oh--happy thought! Wind very slowly and tire him out!”

“Do! I could stop here until I changed into a mere figure in a
bas-relief--a profile and the back of a lifted hand; and you a classic
shape intent upon the flying thread--”

“That’s not fair, Mr. Gilbert. To make remarks upon me when you know I
can’t help myself.”

“Don’t you like to have remarks made upon you?”

“Not when I can’t help myself.”

“Why not? I haven’t forbidden you to answer back.”

“But you would, if my answers didn’t suit you. How is it, if you don’t
know anything about colors, that you dress in such very tolerable
taste?”

“Do I? Mrs. Farrell, don’t take advantage of my helplessness to flatter
me! I suppose it’s my tailor’s taste--which I always go against. And
then, it’s New York.”

“Yes, New York _is_ well dressed,” sighed Mrs. Farrell. “Oh dear me! The
_style_ of some New York girls that I’ve seen! I suppose men can’t feel
it as _we_ do.”

“Don’t be so sure of that. We can’t give any but the elementary names of
things that a woman has on, but I don’t believe the subtlest effect of a
dress is ever lost upon men; and I believe the soul of any man of
imagination is as much taken with style in dressing as with beauty.
Americans all adore it--perhaps because it’s so characteristic of
American women that they seem almost to have invented it. It’s a curious
thing--something different from beauty, something different from grace,
something more charming than either, and as various as both. I should
say it was the expression of personal character, and that American women
have more style than any other women because they have more freedom, and
utter themselves in dry-goods more fearlessly.”

Mrs. Farrell stopped winding the yarn a moment, and instinctively cast
down her eyes over her draperies. He smiled.

“For shame!” she cried, indignantly, while her eyes dimmed with
mortification at her self-betrayal. But she boldly grappled with the
situation. “Did you think I was thinking you thought _me_ stylish? I
know I am so; I had no need to think that. I was thinking that if ever
you left the law and followed the true bent of your genius, New York
ladies needn’t go to Worth for their dresses.”

“Isn’t that an unnecessarily elaborate bit of insult, considering that I
hadn’t said a word to provoke it?”

“You smiled.”

“Why, you’ve been laughing all the time.”

“But I wasn’t laughing at you.”

“Whom were you laughing at?”

“I was laughing at myself.”

“Well, I merely smiled at you.”

But Mrs. Farrell was plainly hurt past jesting for the present. She
wound furiously at the worsted, and they both kept silence.

At last Gilbert asked, “What is all this yarn for?”

“To knit a smoking-cap for Mr. Easton,” she said, coldly, and then
neither spoke again. Presently she caught a half-finished skein from his
hand, tossed the balls and skeins together in her lap, and, gathering
them up, swept indoors, leaving him planted where he had sat confronting
her.

In spite of the careless gayety of his banter, Gilbert had worn a look
that was neither easy nor joyous. He did not seem much irritated by her
excessive retaliation, but presently rose and walked listlessly up to
the village to get his letters, and when he came back he went to his
sister-in-law’s room with a letter which he showed her.

“Shall you go?” she asked, eagerly.

“I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m not on fire to go, but I don’t
happen to be so. There’s a day or two for thinking it over. If it were
not for Easton--”

“He’s a long while getting well,” said Mrs. Gilbert with an impatient
sigh; “I don’t see why he’s so slow about it.”

“Well, Susan,” languidly reasoned Gilbert, “you’ve been about fifteen
years yourself getting well, and you haven’t quite finished yet. You
can’t consistently complain of a few weeks, more or less, in Easton. I
dare say he would be well at once, if he could; but it isn’t a matter
that he can hurry, exactly.”

“No,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “But aren’t you losing a great deal of time
here, William? You came for two weeks, and you’ve stayed nearly six.
Don’t you think Easton could get on without you, now?”

“Why, considering that Easton came here because he thought I’d like to
have him, when I was merely a little under the weather, I don’t think it
would be quite the thing for me to go off now, and leave him before he’s
fairly on his legs.”

“That’s true,” sighed Mrs. Gilbert. “And I’m glad to have you so
faithful to your friend, William. I’m sure you never could forgive
yourself if you were recreant to him in the slightest thing. Your
friendship has sacred claims upon you both. I have sometimes thought it
was a little too romantic, but it’s a great thing to have the highest
standard in such matters, and you could never let your fidelity be less
than Easton’s.”

Gilbert looked at her and pulled his mustache uneasily, but Mrs. Gilbert
kept her eyes upon the sewing she had in hand. “_You_ and Mrs. Farrell
seem to be friends at present. I have heard of your holding worsted for
her to wind, just now. The ladies who saw you at a little distance
thought it a very picturesque group, and seemed grateful for the topic
you had given them. They talked about it a good deal. I suppose it _was_
picturesque--at least her part of it. I don’t think manly grace is at
its best under such circumstances, though I dare say you weren’t posing
for spectators.”

“I had no quarrel with Mrs. Farrell,” said Gilbert, choosing to ignore
the other points.

“No? I thought there seemed to be a little coldness at one time.”

“Perhaps the shyness of comparative strangers, Mrs. Gilbert.”

“William,” said Mrs. Gilbert, “I wish you would talk seriously with me a
moment.”

“Then you must start a serious subject. You can’t expect me to be very
earnest about genteel comedy, or even melodrama.”

“Do you mean that she’s always playing a part? Why, don’t you believe--”

“Excuse me, Susan,” said Gilbert, “I haven’t formulated any creed on
that subject, and I’d rather you’d make your conversation a little less
Socratic, this morning, if it’s quite the same to you.”

“I beg your pardon, William; I know that with your notions to loyalty
to your friend, you wouldn’t allow yourself to speculate about the
nature of the woman he hoped to make his wife, and I honor you for your
delicacy, though she’s only another woman to me. Easton would deal the
same with himself, if the case were yours.”

Gilbert listened with a stolid but rather a haggard air, and his
sister-in-law continued:

“I suppose she must make it difficult to treat her at times with the
lofty respect that you’d like to use, and that you have to keep _him_ in
mind pretty constantly. And yet, I don’t know, after all. It seems to me
that if you interpret her behavior generously”--Gilbert winced a little
at the words, used almost as Easton had once used them--“and make due
allowance for his histrionic temperament, it can’t be so very hard for
an honorable man.”

“The clemency of your sentiments in regard to Mrs. Farrell is a
continual surprise to me, Susan, when I remember what an outfit you gave
her the time we first talked of her,” said Gilbert.

“Oh, you can easily convict me of inconsistency on any point,” answered
his sister-in-law. “But why shouldn’t I see a change for the better in
her? Why shouldn’t I sincerely believe her capable of nobler things than
I once did?”

“You have all the reasons in the world; and if you had none, still,
optimism is amiable. But really, do you know this is getting very
tiresome? Am I to spend all my leisure moments with you in
philosophizing Mrs. Farrell? I’m willing to take any version of her
that you give me. How can I doubt her devotion to Easton when I see her
getting ready to knit him a smoking-cap? I know she’s sorry for having
made that misunderstanding between him and me, for she said she was. Who
wouldn’t believe a handsome young woman when she says she’s sorry?
Perhaps another handsome young woman. Not I.”

“Now you’re talking in a very silly, cynical way, William, and you’d
better say good morning, and come again when you’re in a different
mood.”

“I’m willing enough to say good morning,” returned Gilbert, and went.

He went by an attraction which he could not resist to Easton’s room, and
experienced again that heartquake with which he now always met his
friend’s eye, and which he was always struggling to prevent or avert. It
was a thing which his nerves might be reasoned out of, with due thought,
and it did not come, when he was once in Easton’s presence and
confronted him from time to time. But in the morning, when their eyes
first met, or after any little absence, the shock was inevitable; and he
knew, though he would not own it to himself, that he had been trying
somehow to shun the encounter. The bitterest rage he had felt against
his friend was bliss to this fear of the trust he saw in Easton’s face.
He could best endure it when he could meet him in Mrs. Farrell’s
presence. In the gay talk which he held with them together he could
persuade himself that the harmless pleasure of the moment was all. He
found a like respite when alone with her. He did not pretend to himself
that he tried to avoid her; he knew that he sought her with feverish
eagerness; now and then in the pauses of her voice a haggard
consciousness blotted his joy in her charm, but when he parted from her
he was sensible of a stupid and craven apprehension, as if the
fascination of her presence were also a safeguard beyond which he could
not hope for mercy from himself. At such times it was torture to meet
Rachel Woodward, and the shy friendship which had sprung up between them
died of this pain. His haunting inward blame seemed to look at him again
from her clear eyes; he accused himself in the tones of her voice; she
confronted him like an outer conscience, even when her regard seemed
explicitly to refuse intelligence of what was in his heart.

At dinner, that day, Mrs. Farrell was very bright-eyed and rather
subdued; she looked like a woman who had been having a cry. She talked
amiably with everybody, as was now her wont, and when she found herself,
late in the afternoon, again on the piazza with Gilbert, she said,
“You’re sorry, I suppose.”

“Not the least,” he answered, with nervous abruptness. “Why should I be
sorry? Because you made an outrageous speech to me?”

“You are rather a vindictive person, aren’t you?” she asked, beginning
again.

“No--I don’t think so,” returned Gilbert. “Do you?”

“You cherished a grudge against me a good while, and if you hadn’t
happened to overdo it you’d be still bearing malice, I suppose.”

“And because you overdid it this morning you’re able to pardon me now. I
see the process of your reasoning. Well, hereafter I shall not offend
you by smiling; I’m going to frown at everything you do.”

“No, don’t do that! I want you to be very kind to me.”

“Yes? How is a gentleman to be kind to a lady?”

“Everything depends upon character and circumstance. If she isn’t the
wisest of her sex--so few of us are--and has been used to doing and
saying quite what she pleased, without regard to consequences, and she
finds herself in a position where circumspection is her duty, he ought
to look about for her and guard her.”

“From what?”

“Oh--hawks, and lynxes, and--cats. They’re everywhere.”

Mrs. Farrell sat down on the benching and drew from her pocket the balls
of worsted which she had loosely rolled in a handkerchief, together with
some knitting already begun, and went on with the work, while Gilbert
stood before her, looking down at her.

“You oughtn’t to have helped me with these this morning,” she said,
pushing the little balls about and sorting them for the right colors.

“You asked me to do it!”

“But you ought to have refused. It was because I thought you were trying
to embarrass me, and take advantage of my foolishness, that I got angry
and was rude to you.”

Gilbert said nothing, and after a little more comparison of the worsteds
Mrs. Farrell made her decision, and took her knitting in her hand.

“Help me, don’t hinder me!” she went on in a low voice. “Don’t be amused
at me; let me alone; keep away from me; don’t make me talked about!”

“Shall I go now?” asked Gilbert, huskily.

Mrs. Farrell looked up at him in astonishment that dispersed all other
emotions. “Oh, good gracious!” she cried, “they’re all alike, after all!
No, you poor--_man_, you! You must stay, now, till some one comes up;
and don’t run off the instant they do come! And you must keep on
talking, _now_. Come, let us converse of various matters--

    “‘Whether the sea is boiling hot,
     And whether pigs have wings.’

There, thank Heaven! there comes Mrs. Stevenson. Pay some attention to
her. Ask her about her art, as she calls it, and try to seem interested.
Mrs. Stevenson, I’m in despair over these worsteds. I can make nothing
of them. Did you see any at the Bazar, the other day, when you were at
Quopsaug? There ought to be crewels in that immense assortment. Where is
that lavender? Where, oh, tell me where, is that little lavender gone?
Perhaps it’s in my pocket! Perhaps it’s rolled under the bench. No! Then
I’ve left it in my room, and I’ll have to go after it. Excuse!” She
caught her worsteds against her dress, and, turning a sidelong glance
upon him as she whirled past, made “Talk!” with mute lips, and left
him.

When she came back, neither he nor Mrs. Stevenson was there. They had
apparently dispersed each other. She sat down awhile and knitted
contentedly, and then went with her work to visit Mrs. Gilbert, who had
not been at dinner.

“I’m very glad to see you,” said Mrs. Gilbert, who had a flask of
cologne in her hand, and moistened her forehead with it from time to
time as she talked.

“Headache?” suggested Mrs. Farrell.

“Yes, only a minor headache--nothing heroic at all. It’s merely
something to occupy the mind. Do you happen to know where my brother
is?”

“I left him with Mrs. Stevenson on the piazza, a few moments
ago--talking art, I suppose.” Mrs. Farrell adventured this. “They’re not
there, now; perhaps he’s gone to look at her works.”

“That’s the smoking-cap, is it?” asked Mrs. Gilbert.

Mrs. Farrell held up at arm’s length the small circle of the crown which
she had so far knitted, and, gazing at it in deep preoccupation,
answered, “Yes. These are the colors,” she added. She leaned toward the
other, and held them forward in both hands. “I think it’s pretty well
for West Pekin.”

“I’ve no doubt it will be charming,” said Mrs. Gilbert. “I don’t approve
of smoking, of course, but I hope he’ll soon be able to use his
smoking-cap. I was just thinking about you, Mrs. Farrell. I want Mr.
Easton to get well as soon as possible, so that you can begin to have a
good, long, commonplace courtship. If you were a daughter of mine--”

“I should be a pretty old daughter for you, Mrs. Gilbert,” said Mrs.
Farrell, flatteringly.

“Oh, I fancy not so very. How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-four.”

“And I’m forty-five, and look fifty. You’re still in your first youth,
and I’m in my first old age. I could easily be your mother.”

“I wish you were! I should be the better for being your daughter, Mrs.
Gilbert.”

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t like to promise you that. But sometimes I
think I could have been a good mother, or at least that children would
have made a good mother of me, for I believe that half the goodness that
women get credit for is forced upon them by those little helpless
troubles. Men could be just as good if they had the care and burden of
children--men are so very near being very good as it is.”

“I _know_ it,” sighed Mrs. Farrell. “I never knew my own mother,” she
added; “if I had, I might have been a better woman. But are we to blame,
I wonder, that we are not so good as we might have been--you if you’d
had children, and I if I had had a mother?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I dare say we shall never be judged so harshly
anywhere else as we are in this world.”

“That’s true!” said Mrs. Farrell, bitterly.

“Not that we don’t stand in need of judgment,” continued the other, “as
much as we do of mercy. It’s wholesome, and I’ve never been unjustly
blamed yet that I didn’t feel I deserved it all, and more. Oh, Mrs.
Farrell, if I were really to speak to you as my daughter--”

“Don’t call me Mrs. Farrell! Call me by my own name,” cried the younger
woman, impulsively. “Call me--Rosabel.”

“Is that your name? I took it for granted you were Isabel. It’s a very
pretty name, very sweet and quaint; but I won’t call you by it; it would
make you more of a stranger to me than Mrs. Farrell does.”

“Well, no matter. You shall call me what you like. Come; you said if you
were to speak to me as your daughter--”

“Oh, I’m not certain whether I can go on, after all. Perhaps what I was
going to say would degenerate into a kind of lecture on love and
marriage in the abstract. If I had a daughter whose love affair had been
so romantic as yours, I believe I should tell her to make all the surer
of her heart on account of the romance. I’m afraid that in matters of
love, romance is a dangerous element. Love ought to be perfectly
ordinary, regular, and every-day like.”

“Those are very heretical ideas!” said Mrs. Farrell, shaking her head.

“Yes, yes, I dare say,” answered Mrs. Gilbert; “but, as I said before, I
hope for both your sakes that you and Mr. Easton will have a good stupid
wooing--at least a year of it--when he gets well.”

“I shall not object to that, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Farrell, demurely.

“No, I should hope you were too much of a woman. That’s a woman’s reign,
the time of courtship. Her lover is never truly subject to her again.
Make it as long as you can--long enough to get the romance out of your
heads. And I wish you a sound quarrel or two.”

“Oh! Now you _are_ joking.”

“Yes, I am. I hope you may never say an unkind word to each other. Have
you a temper?”

“Not much, I believe.”

“Has he?”

“I’ve been a little afraid of him once or twice.”

“Already? Well, I think it’s a pity you haven’t a temper, too. Don’t be
one of the coldly self-possessed kind when he is angry; it’s far better
to be frightened.”

“I will try always to be frightened. But I’m not sure that it was any
violence of his that scared me, so much as his--”

“What?”

“Well, his goodness--or somebody else’s badness. Mine, for example.”

“Ah yes! He is a good man. It’s a merit in a husband, goodness is;
though I doubt very much if young people often think of that; they’re so
blinded by each other’s idolatry that they have no sense of good or bad;
they adore one quite as much as the other. And you must consider
yourself a young person. You must have been very young when you were
married, Mrs. Farrell.”

“Yes, I was very young indeed. It seems a great while ago. And afterward
my life was very unhappy--after his death--they made it so. Mrs.
Gilbert,” she cried, “I know you don’t like a great many things in me;
but perhaps you would like more if you knew more.”

“Yes, but don’t tell them. One must have something to disapprove of in
others, or how can one respect oneself?”

“I don’t say that the fault was all theirs; I don’t pretend that I was a
very meek or manageable sister, but only that I could have been better
with better people. They were vulgar to the tips of their fingers. And
that drove me from them at last.”

They sat some moments without saying anything, Mrs. Gilbert keeping her
eyes intent upon Mrs. Farrell’s face, whose fallen eyes in turn were
fixed upon her work. Then the former said with a little sigh, “So you
think I don’t like some things about you! My dear, I like altogether too
many. Yes,” she continued, absently, studying the beautiful face, “I
suppose _I_ should, too.”

“Should what?” asked Mrs. Farrell.

“Make a fool of myself, if I were a man. I never could resist such a
face as yours; I only wonder they don’t have more power. But recollect,
my dear, that somehow, sometime, you’ll be held responsible for your
power, if you abuse it, even though we poor mortals seem to ask nothing
better than to be made fools of by you.”

“Was that what you were going to say?” asked Mrs. Farrell, lifting her
eyes from her work and looking keenly at Mrs. Gilbert.

“No, it wasn’t. But I’m so far off the track, now, I won’t say it.
After all, it might seem like a glittering generality about--”

The women relaxed their wary regard; the elder did not offer to go on,
and the younger did not urge her. Mrs. Farrell knitted half a round on
the smoking-cap, as if to gain a new starting point, and then dropped
her work in her lap and laid her hands, one on top of the other, over
it. “Did you ever try inhaling the fumes of coffee for your headaches?”
she asked.

“Oh, my dear, I gave that up away back in the Dark Ages,” returned Mrs.
Gilbert, resorting to the cologne.

“I suppose the cologne does you no good?”

“Not the least in the world. But one must do something.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Farrell, drawing the word in with a long breath, “one
must do something.” She took up her work again and knitted awhile before
she added, “I wonder if a man would go on forever doing something that
he knew did him no good, as a woman does?”

“No, I suppose not. Men are very queer,” said Mrs. Gilbert, gravely.
“They’re quite inert. But that gives them some of their advantages.”

“They have pretty nearly all the advantages, haven’t they?” asked Mrs.
Farrell, quickly. “Even when some woman makes fools of them! At least
when that happens they have all the other women on their side.” As she
knitted rapidly on she had now and then a little tremulous motion of the
head that shook the gold hoops in her ears against her neck.

“Well, then they have a right to our pity.”

“Oh, do you think so? It seems to me that she has a right to more.” She
looked down on either side of her at the floor. “I thought I brought
both balls of that ashes of roses with me.” Mrs. Gilbert looked about
the carpet in her vicinity. “Don’t trouble yourself. It’s no matter. I
think I won’t use it here, after all. I’ll use this brown. A woman never
makes a fool of a man unless she respects him very much. Of course there
must be something fascinating about him, or she wouldn’t care to have
him care for her, at all; it would be disgusting.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Gilbert.

“And then,” continued Mrs. Farrell, keeping her eyes on her work and
knitting faster and faster, “if she has any heart at all, it must be
half broken to think of what she’s done. The falsest coquette that ever
was would feel like bowing down to true love in a man; and what is she
to do if ever the worst comes to the worst and she finds she’s afraid
she doesn’t love him? She must know that his good faith is ten million
times stronger than her looks, and that it has a claim which she must
try to answer somehow. Shall she marry him out of pity, and put him to
the shame of finding it out some day? That would be the worst kind of
treachery. No, no; she couldn’t do that! And can she tell him how wicked
she has been, and ask him never to see her face or breathe her name or
hear it spoken again? That would be easy, if it were only for her! But
if she did this, if she could have the courage to kill his faith in her
with such a blow as that, and to blacken his life with shame for having
loved her, what better would she be than a murderess?”

She grew pale as she spoke, but no tremor now shook the hoops in her
ears; she only wrought the more swiftly and kept her eyes upon the
flying needle, while a kind of awe began to express itself in the gaze
that Mrs. Gilbert bent upon her.

“What should you think _then_ of the power of a pretty face?” asked Mrs.
Farrell, flashing a curious look of self-scorn upon her. “What could the
pretty face do for her, or for him? Could it help her to forgive
herself, or help him to forget her? And which would have the greatest
claim to the pity of the spectators?--supposing there were spectators of
the tragedy, and there nearly always are. Come, imagine some such woman,
Mrs. Gilbert, and imagine her your daughter--you were imagining _me_
your daughter, just now--and tell me what you would say to her. You
wouldn’t know what to say, even to your own daughter? Oh! I thought you
might throw some light upon such a case.” She had lifted her eyes with
fierce challenge to Mrs. Gilbert’s, but now she dropped them again upon
her work. “But what if the case were still worse? Can you imagine so
much as its being worse?”

“Yes, I can imagine its being worse,” said Mrs. Gilbert, whose visage
seemed to age suddenly with a premonition that a thing long dreaded,
long expected, was now coming, in spite of all attempted disbelief.

“Oh yes, certainly! You were wondering just now that beauty didn’t have
greater power! Suppose that even in all this wretchedness, this
miserable daughter of yours was afraid-- Ah! Mrs. Gilbert,” she cried,
starting violently to her feet, “you were trying a minute ago--don’t you
think I knew your drift?--to peep into my heart! How do you like to have
it flung wide open to you?” She confronted Mrs. Gilbert, who had risen
too, with a wild reproach, as if she had made the wrong another’s by
tearing the secret of it from her own breast. Mrs. Gilbert answered her
nothing, and in another instant she faltered, “Don’t blame him, don’t be
harsh with him. But, oh, in the name of mercy, send him away!”



Chapter XII


It was already dark when Gilbert knocked at his sister-in-law’s door.
She was sitting in the chair from which she had risen at parting with
Mrs. Farrell, and into which she sank again at her going. Gilbert sat
down before her, but did not speak.

“Have you made up your mind when you shall go, William?” she asked,
gently.

“I haven’t made up my mind that I shall go at all,” he answered, in a
sullen tone.

“But I think you had better,” she said as before.

“I am always glad, Susan, of advice that costs me nothing,” he returned,
with an affectation of his habitual lightness.

“I have been thinking about you, William, and I want you to go to New
York at once. Your friend is out of all danger, now, and it’s you who
are in danger.”

“You know I never was good at conundrums, Mrs. Gilbert. May I ask what
particular peril is threatening me at present?”

“A peril that an honest man runs from--the danger of doing a great
wrong, of committing a cowardly breach of faith.”

“Upon my word, Susan, you are using words--”

“Oh, don’t catch at my words, my poor boy. Have you nothing to reproach
yourself with? If you haven’t, I beg your pardon with all my heart, and
I will be glad to take back my words, yes, take them back upon my
knees!”

“What is all this coil about? What are you worrying me with these
emotional mysteries for?” demanded Gilbert, angrily, yet with a note of
ungenuine bluster in his voice. “What are you trying to get at?”

“Your heart, William; your conscience, your honor, your self-respect. Do
you think I am blind? Do you think I have not seen it all? If you will
tell me you don’t know what I mean, and make me believe it, I will never
call myself unhappy again.”

“If you have suffered yourself to be made uncomfortable by any affair or
condition of mine,” said Gilbert, “I advise you to console yourself by
reflecting that it doesn’t really concern you. How long is it,” he
demanded, savagely, “since you have felt authorized to interfere in my
questions of honor and conscience?”

“Ever since a motherless boy let a childless woman love him. Oh, think
that I do love you, my dear, and speak to you out of my jealousy for
your stainless good faith, your sacred friendship, your unsullied life!
You know what I mean. Think that she is pledged by everything that is
good in her to your friend. If you believe she does not love him, let
her break with him how and when she will. But don’t you be her wicked
hope--wickeder a thousand times than she!--don’t be the temptation, the
refuge of her falseness. Leave her to herself! You could only add your
treason to hers by staying!”

“Wicked hope, temptation, treason--this is all rather theatrical for
you, Susan,” said Gilbert, with an attempt to smile. He frowned instead.
“And what do I owe to Easton in the way of loyalty? Do you know how
little care he has had for me? Do you know--”

“No, no, no! I don’t know, I _won’t_ know! If he has wronged you in any
way, you are only the more bound to be faithful to him in such a case as
this. But I will never believe that Easton has wronged you willingly,
and you don’t believe it, either, whatever the trouble is that she made
between you--you know you don’t. You are talking away your own sense of
guilt, or trying to. Well, I can’t blame you for that; but keep these
things to silence your conscience with when you are alone; you will need
them all. How long have you watched by your friend’s pillow with the
hope of revenge in your heart?”

Mrs. Gilbert rose from her chair and walked to one of the windows, and
then came and paused in front of Gilbert, where he now stood leaning
against the mantelpiece. “Come,” she entreated, “you _will_ go away,
won’t you, William? I know you never meant him wrong. It has all been
something that has stolen upon you, but you will go now, won’t you?”

“No, I will not go!”

“You will remain?”

“Till such time as I see fit. I am not a boy, to be sent hither and
thither.”

“What good will you remain for?” demanded the woman, sternly. “Or do you
choose to remain for evil? Every hour that you remain deepens your
responsibility. Some things have been talked of already. How long will
it be before the whole house sees that you are in love with the woman
promised to your friend?”

“Do you suppose I care what this houseful of spying, tattling women see
or say?”

“There are no spies and no tattlers; but if they were, a man who hadn’t
shut his senses against his own conscience _would_ care. No one blames
you as yet, but the time will soon be when you will make the blame all
your own.”

“I wouldn’t ask her to share it.”

“Oh, very fine! you think your brave words will make a brave affair of a
cowardly, sneaking treason!”

“Susan!”

“William! These people who are beginning to talk you over do not know
what I know. They see that you are beginning to be fascinated with her,
as _he_ was. They don’t know that you have believed her false and
shallow from the first, and that if you have any hopes of her love now,
they are in your belief that after all that has happened she is still
too false and shallow to be true to him. _He_ was taken with what was
best in her, with all that he believed was good. But you have dared to
love her in the hope that she had no principles and no heart. You are
ready to lay your honor at her feet, to give all that makes life worth
having for what would make your whole life a sorrow and a shame. If you
could commit this crime against Easton and yourself and her, if you
could win the heart you think so empty and so fickle, what would you do
with it? If you could make her false enough to love you, how could you
ever have peace again? How could you ever meet each other’s eyes without
seeing the memory of your common falsehood in them? Think-- Oh, my dear,
dear boy, forgive me! I know that it isn’t your _fault_; I take it all
back, all that I have said against you; I don’t blame you for loving
her--how could you help it? She is charming--yes, she charms me, too;
and to a man she must make all other women seem so blank and poor and
plain! But now you mustn’t love her: she cannot be yours without a wrong
that when you’re away from her you must shudder at. And--and--you will
go, won’t you, William?”

Gilbert’s arm dropped from the mantel where it lay, to his side. “I will
go,” he said, sullenly. “But I acknowledge nothing of all that you have
chosen to attribute to me, motive or fact. And you must be aware that
you have said things to me that are not to be forgiven.”

He turned to go out of the room, without looking at her, but she cried
after him: “Never mind forgiving me, my dear. Only go now, in time to
forgive yourself, and I will gladly let you hate me all your life.
Good-by, good-by; God bless you and keep you!”

He did not answer, nor turn about, but closed the door behind him and
left her standing with her hands clenched, in the gesture of her final
appeal. She sank into her chair, spent by the victory she had won.

Gilbert went to the room which he had been occupying since his constant
attendance upon Easton had ceased to be necessary, and began to gather
together the things scattered about the room. It was a great and
bewildering labor, but he had succeeded in heaping many of them into his
valise when Rachel Woodward appeared with his lighted lamp. Then he knew
that he had been working in the dark. “Oh, thank you, thank you,” he
said, in a strange voice of unconscious, formal politeness. “I--I was
just going away, and it’s rather difficult getting these things together
without a light.”

“You are going away?” she asked.

“Yes; I had a letter this morning recalling me to New York, but I hadn’t
made up my mind to go until just now. I’m going to try to catch the
express; I’ll get a man to drive me over from the hotel, and I’ll send
him back from there for this bag.”

“And you are going at once?” she said, almost gladly.

“Yes,” he said; and he gave her an address, to which he asked her to
have her mother send the account of her charges against him. With a
little hesitation he offered her his hand, and she took it with
something like a show of penitence. “Good-by,” said he, “I hope if you
ever have occasion to think of me, you’ll be lenient to my memory; and
if it isn’t the thing for me to say that I feel as if I somehow owed you
a debt of gratitude for being what you are, why, I hope you’ll excuse it
to the confusion of the parting moment.”

Rachel’s face flushed a little, but she did not try to respond to the
odd compliment, and Gilbert said he must go and take leave of Easton. He
went abruptly to his friend’s room, but faltered a moment before he
softly turned the door-knob. It was dark within, and the long and even
breathing from the bed where Easton lay revealed that he was asleep.
Gilbert stood a moment beside him, and then leaned over and peered
through the darkness with his face close to the sleeper’s. Neither
stirred. Gilbert waited another moment, and with a heavy sigh crept from
the room. He went to his sister’s door, at which he knocked, but
impatiently opened it without waiting to be bidden enter. Mrs. Gilbert
looked at him without surprise.

“I came back on a small matter of business, Susan. I neglected to say, a
moment ago, that I think myself an infamous wretch, totally unworthy of
your pains and affection. You are right in everything. I thought I’d
mention it in justice to you; we all like to have our little impressions
confirmed. Good-by.”

“Oh, my dear, good boy! I knew you wouldn’t leave me so; I knew you
would come back.” She took his hand between her own, and he bent over
and kissed the pale fingers that clasped his with their weak, nervous
stress. “You’re so good, my dear, that I’ve half a mind not to let you
go; but I think you had better go. Don’t you?”

“Yes; I don’t wish to stay. Very likely I should be able to behave
myself; but it would be an experiment, and I haven’t time for it. On the
whole,” he said, with a smile, “I’d as lief be innocent as virtuous.”

“Oh, yes indeed,” answered Mrs. Gilbert, “it’s preferable in some cases,
decidedly. You’re not so young as you were when I used to kiss you,
William,” she added, “but neither am I, and I’m really going to give you
a kiss now for your exemplary obedience, and for good-by.”

“You overwhelm me, Susan. _None_ of the women at Woodward farm seem able
to resist my fascinations. I think perhaps I had better go away on
_your_ account.”

He stooped down and took the kiss she had volunteered, and then with
another clasp of the hand he went.

The moon had risen, and was striking keenly through the thin foliage of
the avenue of white birches which the highway became in its approach to
the farmhouse, and in the leaf-broken light he saw drifting before him a
figure which he knew. He stopped, and trembled from head to foot. Then,
whatever may have seemed the better part for him to choose, he plunged
forward again, and overtook her.

“You are going away,” she said, half turning her face upon him. “I came
here so that you could not go without seeing me. I could not bear to
have you go away thinking I was such a heartless woman as you do, with
no care or regret for all the trouble I’ve made you.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” said Gilbert; “I wasn’t thinking so much of
you as of a man--excuse the egotism--who has a great deal more to answer
for.”

“Oh no, no!”

“Sometime, when you tell Easton about it all, as you must, I want you to
excuse me to him; no one else can. Tell him--tell him that all I had to
urge in my own behalf was that I loved you.”

“No, no, no! You mustn’t speak to me in that way! It’s too dreadful.”

“Oh yes, it’s dreadful. But you can excuse it if he couldn’t. How could
you excuse me if I didn’t love you? Why else should we be parting? I
must have loved you from the first--before I knew. What else could have
made me so bitter with poor Easton about what he told you? I knew he
never meant me any harm; I knew he couldn’t; he was a man to have died
for me. I was mad with jealousy. Did you mean it? You managed it well!
But I loved you-- What a fool I am! Don’t come any farther; in Heaven’s
name go back! No,” he said, perceiving that she faltered in her steps,
as if she were about to sink, “don’t stop--come on.” He had caught her
hand, and now he drew it through his arm, and hurried forward. “Yes,
come! I have something to ask you. I want you to tell me that since you
have felt yourself bound to him, you have never--I want you to tell me
that I was altogether in a delusion about you, and that you have done
nothing to make me recreant to him.”

“Oh, oh, oh!” she moaned. “How pitiless you are! How hard, how hard you
make it for me!” She released her hand and pressed it against his arm in
the eagerness of her entreaty. “Leave me--do leave me--the poor hope
that I have seemed worse than I was!”

He threw up his arm across his forehead and started a few paces onward.

She hastened after him. “And do believe,” she implored him, “that I only
wanted to meet you to-night to say--to--to--somehow to make it easier
for you to go. Indeed, indeed--Don’t leave me to despair!”

He halted, and confronted her. “Was that what you came for? I thought it
might have been to see if you couldn’t make me say what I have just
said; I fancied you might have wished to send me away beggared in
everything that makes a man able to face the past and the future, and to
meet the eyes of honest men. I deserved it. But I was mistaken, was I?”
he asked, with a bitter derision. “Well, good-by!”

“No, no! You shall never go, believing such a thing as that! If I
_hated_ you--hated you to death--how could I wish to do that to you? Ah,
you _don’t_ believe it. You--”

But he turned from her, and hurried swiftly down the lane without
another look or word.



Chapter XIII


The summer was past, but the pageant of autumn was yet undimmed. In the
wet meadows of the lowlands, even in the last days of August, before the
goldenrod was in its glory, the young maples lit their torches; and what
might have seemed their dropping fires crept from sumac to sumac, by the
vines in the grass and over the walls, till all the trees, kindling day
by day, stood at last a flame of red and gold against the sky. The jay
scolded among the luminous boughs; across the pale heaven the far-voiced
crows swam in the mellow sunshine. The pastures took on again the green
of May; the patches of corn near the farmhouses rustled dry in the soft
wind; between the ranks of the stalks lolled the rounded pumpkins.

Many of the summer boarders at Woodward farm had already gone home. The
two young girls had gone with each a box full of fern roots and an
inordinate pasteboard case full of pressed ferns. Mrs. Stevenson had
stayed later than she had meant, in order to complete a study of
cat-tails with autumn foliage. It was the best thing that she had done,
and really better than anybody had ever expected her to do. It sold
afterward for enough money to confirm her in her belief that wifehood
was no more the whole of womanhood than husbandhood was of manhood, and
that to expect her to keep house would be the same as asking every man,
no matter what his business might be, to make his own clothes and mend
his own shoes.

The husbands of three of the married ladies came one final Saturday
night, and departed with them by a much later train than they had ever
taken before, on the Monday morning following. These ladies were going
home to take up their domestic burdens again for the sake of the men who
had toiled all summer long in the city for them. It was a sacrifice,
but, thanks to the wonderful air of West Pekin, and to Mrs. Woodward’s
excellent country fare, they were equal to it; at least they did not
complain, or said they did not, which is the same thing. The driver from
the station came to fetch them away with his yellow Concord stage, and
the ladies got upon the outside seats with him, and waved their
handkerchiefs to those left behind. The husbands tried to shout back
something epigrammatic as they drove off, but these things are usually
lost in the rattle of the wheels, and, even when heard, often prove
merely an earnest of good will in the humorous direction, and are apt to
fall flat upon the kindliest ear.

Mrs. Gilbert was among the latest who remained. Under the circumstances
she might not have chosen to remain, and perhaps her prolonged stay was
an offering to appearances, the fetish before which women will put
themselves to any torment. Her husband was not coming for her, and she
sat alone amid her preparations for departure when Mrs. Farrell, in
passing her open door, lingered half wistfully and looked in upon her.
Since that day which was doubtless always in both their minds whenever
they met, they had neither shunned nor sought each other, but there had
been no intimacy between them.

“Won’t you come in, Mrs. Farrell?” asked the elder lady, with a glance
at the jaded beauty of the other.

“You are really on the wing at last,” said Mrs. Farrell, evasively
accepting the invitation. She came in, looking sad and distraught, and
sat down with an impermanent air.

“Yes, I suppose one may call it _wing_, for want of a better word,” said
Mrs. Gilbert, who indeed did not look much like flying. Presently she
added, in the silence that ensued, “You are not looking very well, Mrs.
Farrell.”

“No?” said Mrs. Farrell. “Why should I look well? But I don’t know that
I don’t feel as well as usual in the way I suppose you mean.”

“I’m sorry you don’t feel well in every way,” said Mrs. Gilbert,
responding to so much of an advance as might be made to her in Mrs.
Farrell’s dispirited words; and after another little silence, she said,
“Mr. Easton seems to have gained a great deal in the last week.”

“Yes, he is very much better; he is going away soon; he will not be here
many days longer.”

“Mrs. Farrell,” said Mrs. Gilbert, “I wish you would let me say
something to you.”

“Oh, say anything you like. Why shouldn’t you?” returned Mrs. Farrell,
not resentfully, but in the same dispirited tone.

“I know you don’t trust me,” began Mrs. Gilbert.

“There isn’t much trust lost between us, is there?” asked Mrs. Farrell
as before.

“But I hope you will believe,” continued Mrs. Gilbert, “that when we
last spoke here together I wasn’t trying to interfere with what you
might consider entirely your own affair from any mean or idle motive. If
I was trying to pry into your heart, as you said then, it was because it
seemed to me that it was partly my affair, too.”

“I didn’t mean to resent anything you did or said,” answered Mrs.
Farrell. “It wasn’t my own affair altogether. Nothing that’s wrong can
be one’s own affair, I suppose; it belongs to the whole world.” Mrs.
Gilbert looked a little surprised at the wisdom of this, which had its
own curious pathos, coming from whom it did, and Mrs. Farrell spoke
again with sudden impetuosity, “Oh, Mrs. Gilbert, I hope you are not
judging me harshly!”

“No, I am trying not to judge you at all.”

“Because,” continued Mrs. Farrell, “whatever I have done, I am not doing
my own pleasure now, and my part isn’t an easy one to play.”

“I’m sorry you must play a part at all--my dear,” said Mrs. Gilbert,
with impulsive kindness. “Why must you? Or, no, now it _is_ all your
affair, and I have no right to ask you anything. Don’t tell me--don’t
speak to me about it!”

“But if I don’t speak to you, whom shall I speak to? And I shall go wild
if I don’t speak to some one! Oh, what shall I do?”

“Do?”

“Yes, yes; it drives me to despair! Ought I to break with him now, at
once, or wait and wait? Or shall I go on and marry him? I respect and
honor him with my whole heart, indeed I do; and if he took me away with
him--away to Europe, somewhere--for years and years, I know I should be
good, and I should try hard to make him happy, and never, never let him
know that I didn’t care for him as he did for me. Women often marry for
money, for ambition, for mere board and lodging; you know they do; and
why shouldn’t I marry him because I can’t bear to tell him I’m afraid I
don’t love him?”

“That’s a question that nobody can answer for you,” said Mrs. Gilbert.
“But all those marriages are abominable; and even to marry from respect
seems wrong--hideous.”

“Yes, oh yes, it _is_ hideous; it would be making this wearisome deceit
a lifelong burden. I know what it would be better than anyone could tell
me. I feel the horror of it every minute, and it isn’t for myself that I
care now; it’s the shame to him; it seems to ridicule and degrade him;
it’s ghastly! And he so generous and high-minded, he never could think
that I wasn’t always just as good and constant as he was. No, I’m not
fit for him, and I never was. He’s whole worlds above me, and it would
wear my life out trying to be what he thinks me, and even then I
couldn’t be it. Oh, why did he fall in love with _me_, when there are so
many women in the world who would have been so happy in the love of such
a man? Why did he ever see me? Why did he come here? Good-by, Mrs.
Gilbert, good-by! I wish I were dead!”

Mrs. Gilbert caught her in an impetuous embrace of pity and atonement.
Yet, an hour after, when she finally parted from her, it was by no means
with equal tenderness; it was guardedly, almost coldly.

A week later, Ben Woodward asked his mother’s leave to go visit his
married sister, who lived at Rock Island, Illinois. He urged that, now
her boarders were mostly gone, she did not need him so much about the
house; he hung his head and kicked the chips of the woodpile by which
they stood. She looked at him a moment, and, fetching a long breath,
said he was a good son and she wished he should please himself.

The next morning he kissed her and Rachel, shook hands with his father,
nodded to his brothers, and started off toward the village, carrying his
bag. At the foot of the hill on which the village stood he met Mrs.
Farrell, who was coming from the post-office with letters in one hand.
With the other she held by their stems some bright autumn leaves, and
she stooped from time to time and added to them from the fallen
splendors about her feet. It ought to have been a poet or a painter who
met Mrs. Farrell in the country road, under the tinted maples, that
morning, but it was only a simple farm boy whose soul was inarticulate
in its tender pain. When she saw him she put the leaves and letters
together in one hand, and began to feel in her pocket with the other.
His face flushed as he came up to her, where she stood waiting for him,
and blanched with a foolish, hopeless pleasure in the sight of her.

“Why, Ben!” she said, sadly, yet with an eye that would gleam a little
as she let it stray over the poor fellow’s uncouth best clothes, “are
you going away?” She must have known that he was.

“Yes,” said Ben, uneasily.

“And did you mean to go without saying good-by to me?” she asked, with
soft reproach.

“Well, I didn’t see what good it was going to do.”

“Why, we might never meet again, Ben,” she said, solemnly. And as Ben
shifted his bag from his one hand to the other, she took the hand left
free and tried to make its great red fingers close over something she
pressed into the palm. “I want you to take this to remember me by, Ben,”
she said; but the young fellow, glancing at the gold pencil she had left
in his grasp, shook his head and put the gift back in her hand.

“I don’t need anything to remember you by, Mrs. Farrell,” he said,
huskily, looking at her half-amused, half-daunted face. “If you can give
me anything to forget you by, I’ll take it,” and Ben, as if he had made
a point which he might not hope to surpass, was going to press by her,
when she placed herself full in front of him and would not let him.

“Oh, Ben,” she said, “how can you talk so to me? You know I have always
thought you such a friend of mine, and you know I like you and think
ever so much of your good opinion. I shall never let you pass till you
take back those cruel words. Will you take them back?”

“Yes,” said Ben, helpless before those still, dark eyes, “I will if you
want I should.”

“And will you try to remember me--remember me kindly, and not think
hardly of anything I’ve done?”

“You know well enough, Mrs. Farrell,” said the boy, with a sort of
ireful pathos, “that I would do anything you asked me to, and always
would. Don’t, don’t mind what I said. You know how I like you, and
wouldn’t forget you if I could.”

“Oh, Ben, Ben, I’m very unhappy,” she broke out.

“Don’t mind it,” said Ben, with the egotism of love, but touchingly
unselfish even in this egotism. “You needn’t be troubled about me. I
always knew just as well as you that it was all foolishness, and I
didn’t ever mean to let it vex you. Don’t mind it; I shall get over it,
I suppose, and if I never do, I hope even when you’re a married woman it
won’t be any harm for me to think you cared enough for me to be sorry
that--that I was such a fool.”

She looked at him, puzzled by his misconception, but, divining it, she
said instantly, “No indeed, Ben; whatever becomes of me, I shall be only
too proud to think of you as my dear, dear friend. I haven’t had so many
that I could spare you. I only wish I half deserved you. Ben!” cried
Mrs. Farrell, abruptly, “do you know what I wish I was? I wish I was
five or six years younger, so as to be a little younger than you; and I
wish I was a good, simple girl, like some of these about here, and you
had bought a farm out in Iowa, and you were taking me out there with you
this peaceful, lovely morning.”

“Don’t, Mrs. Farrell!” implored Ben.

“I do, Ben, I do! And if I were such a girl as that, I would work for
you like a slave from morning till night; and I would obey you in
everything; and all that I should ask would be that you should keep me
there out of sight of everybody, and never let me go anywhere, or speak
to a living soul but you. And, oh, Ben, you would be very kind and
patient with me, wouldn’t you? But it can’t be, it can’t be.”

She stooped down and gathered up some letters which had slipped from her
hand; Ben let her; he had his bag to hold, and he was not used to
offering little services to ladies. When she lifted her face again and
confronted him, “_He_ is a good man, too; don’t you think he is, Ben?”
she asked, brushing her hand across her eyes.

“Yes; there a’n’t many like him,” answered Ben, soberly.

“Do you think he’s too good for me?”

“I don’t think anybody could be that, you know well enough, Mrs.
Farrell,” said Ben, with a note of indignation, as if he suspected a
latent mockery in this appeal to his judgment.

“Yes, yes, that’s true, I know that,” said Mrs. Farrell, hastily. “I
meant, don’t you think he’s better than--than Mr. Gilbert?”

“I never had anything against Mr. Gilbert,” answered Ben, loyally. “He
took good care of his friend.”

“Oh yes! But--but--Ben,” she faltered, “there is something--something I
would like to ask you. It’s a very strange thing to ask you; but there
is no one else. Did you ever think--sometimes I was afraid, you know,
that Mr. Gilbert--it makes me very, very unhappy--was getting to--to
care for me--”

“No, I never thought so,” answered Ben.

“Oh, I’m _so_ glad. But if he had?”

“I should say such a man ought to be shot.”

“Yes, oh yes--he ought to be shot,” she assented, hysterically. “But,
Ben--but _you_ cared for me, didn’t you?”

“Yes. But that was a very different thing. Mr. Easton wasn’t my friend,
as he was Mr. Gilbert’s, and I commenced caring for you long before he
was laid there sick and helpless. He would be just as much to blame as
if you was married to Mr. Easton already. I don’t see any difference.
But I don’t think he could. You must have been mistaken.”

“Perhaps I was. Yes, I must have been mistaken. I’m glad to have you
speak so frankly, Ben. It _is_ too horrible to believe. For if he had
been so, of course it could only be because he saw, or thought he saw,
something in me that would let him. And you never could think anything
so bad, so heartless, of me, could you, Ben?”

“No, I couldn’t, Mrs. Farrell,” answered Ben, decidedly. “What’s the
use--”

“Thank you, Ben--thank you. I knew you couldn’t; it would be too
monstrous. Oh yes, it’s just like some horrid dream. Such a woman as
that wouldn’t deserve any mercy--not if she had allowed him to think so
for one single instant. Would she?”

“Why, we can all find mercy, I suppose, if we go the right way to the
right place for it,” answered Ben, seriously.

“Yes--but I don’t mean that kind. I mean, she wouldn’t deserve--Ben, if
you were in Mr. Easton’s place, and the girl you were engaged to had
allowed some one else--just for the excitement, you know; not because
she wanted him to, or was so wicked and heartless, but just foolish--to
think she might let him like her, you never would speak to her again,
would you, Ben? You never would forgive her?”

“No, I don’t know as I could overlook a thing like that.”

“Of course you couldn’t! You always see things in the right light, Ben;
you are so good--oh! how cruel, how perfectly unrelenting you are! That
is--I don’t mean that--I mean-- Oh, Ben, if you felt toward her--I
oughtn’t to say it, I know; but just for instance--as you feel, as you
used to feel, toward _me_, Ben”--she implored, while her tearful eyes
dwelt on his--“could you forgive me--_her_, I mean?”

“I--I don’t know,” faltered Ben.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, Ben! But you oughtn’t, you oughtn’t!” she
cried. “I mustn’t keep you, Ben. Good-by. And now you’ll let me give you
the pencil, won’t you? It isn’t for you. It’s for some nice girl you’ll
be sure to find, out there. Tell her I sent it to her; and, oh, tell her
the best thing she can do is to be good! I hope you’ll have a pleasant
time and get back safely; I sha’n’t be here when you come home.”

She did not shake hands with him at parting, and they went their several
ways. At the turn of the road she looked back and saw him watching her.
She took out her handkerchief and waved it to him; then, rounding the
corner, she pressed it to her eyes, and stooped and made a little hasty
toilet at the brook that ran along the roadside. When she rose she saw
Easton at the head of the avenue, coming slowly down toward her. She
went courageously to meet him. “Are my eyes red?” she asked. “I have
just been shedding the parting tear over poor Ben. He’s a good boy, and
I felt sorry for him. I’ve been his first love for several years, you
know.”

“Yes,” said Easton, with the superiority that men feel toward much
younger men’s passions. “That was plain enough from the beginning.”

Mrs. Farrell looked at him. He was pale and thin from his long lying in
bed, but his old tone and manner were coming back, and he was growing
better, though he was still far from strong. They were lingering at the
farm while the fair weather lasted, that he might profit by the air as
long as it could do him good, though he had meant to go before this
time.

“I’ve brought you about all the letters there were in the office, this
morning,” she said. “Do you want them now?”

“I suppose they must be read. Yes; let us go back to the piazza and open
them there. You’ll be glad to rest after your walk to the village.”

“Is that why you want to get at your letters? I’m not tired at all, and
I’d rather walk on.”

“Well, whatever you like. You’ve unmasked my deceit about the letters. I
certainly don’t care to read them. I see that I had better never try to
keep anything from you.”

“Should you like me to tell you everything about myself?”

“Why, you did that once, didn’t you?”

“Oh, that was nothing. I mean everything I think and feel and do.”

“If you wished to tell me. I can’t know too much about you.”

“Don’t be so sure of that. Suppose I had something that lay very heavy
on my conscience, and that I didn’t like to tell you. I ought to,
oughtn’t I?”

“Why, if it didn’t concern me--”

“But if it did concern you?”

“Well, still, I’m not so sure about your obligation to tell it. If you
could endure to keep it, you might have a greater right to keep it than
I should have to know it. The only comfort of confession is that it
seems to disown our wrong and make it a sort of public property, a part
of evil in general, and lets us begin new, like people who have taken
the benefit of the bankrupt law.” He spoke these truisms in a jesting
tone. “I shall always be willing to adopt half of your sins. How have
you been injuring me, Rosabel?” he asked, with the smile which Mrs.
Farrell’s speculative seriousness was apt to call forth; the best men
find it so hard to believe that a charming woman can be in earnest about
anything but her good looks.

“Oh, I was supposing a case,” she answered, with a sigh. “You do think I
have some faults, then?”

“Yes, I think you have; but that doesn’t make any difference.”

“But you can’t pretend you like them?”

“Let me think! Do I like your faults?”

“Don’t joke. Which do you think is the worst?” she demanded, stopping
and confronting him with a look of solemnity which he found amusing.

“Upon my word,” he answered, with a laugh, “I don’t believe I could
say.”

“What are any of my faults?”

“How can I tell?”

“Am I willful? Am I proud? Am I bad-tempered? What’s the thing you would
find it hardest to forgive me?”

“You must give me time to think. And when I’ve forgiven you a great many
times for a great variety of offenses I will tell you which I found the
hardest. You must remember that I’ve had no sort of experience yet.”

“That’s because you don’t know at all how badly I’ve treated you. What
do you think of my laughing at you that day when I went off to the
schoolhouse with Rachel Woodward? Don’t you consider it heartless? If I
hadn’t been the worst person in the world, could I have done it?”

Easton smiled at the zeal of her self-condemnation. “I dare say there
had been something very ridiculous in my behavior. If you can remember
any particular points that amused you, I shouldn’t mind laughing them
over with you, now.”

“How good you are!” she murmured, regarding him absently. “I should be
the worst woman in the world, shouldn’t I, if I deceived you in the
least thing? But I never will; no, no, I couldn’t! Your not thinking it
anything would only make it the harder to bear. Don’t you know how
killing it is to have people suppose you’re too good to do things when
you’ve done them? It’s awful. That’s one good thing about Rachel
Woodward. She thinks I’m a miserable sinner, but she likes me; and you
mustn’t like me unless you think I’m a miserable sinner. Oh no, I
couldn’t let you. I’ll tell you: I want you to think me perfectly
reckless and fickle; I want you to believe that I’m so foolish, don’t
you know, that even while you were lying sick there, if he’d let me, I
should have been quite capable of flirting with--with Ben Woodward.”

Easton burst into a laugh: “That’s altogether too abominable for anybody
to believe, Rosabel. Can’t you try me with something a shade less
atrocious? Come, I’m willing to think ill of you, since you wish it; but
do be reasonable! Won’t you?” he asked, looking round into her face, as
they walked along. “Well, then, try to help me in another way. What
shall I do about Rachel Woodward? I don’t know how I’m to express my
gratitude fitly or acceptably for all the trouble she’s had with me in
this most humiliating sickness of mine. Do you suppose she could be
persuaded into accepting any sort of help? Do you think she would care
to become a painter, if she had the facilities quite to her mind?”

“She would,” replied Mrs. Farrell, “if she didn’t expect sometime to get
married, like other people; there’s always that _if_ in a woman’s
aspirations. But that’s neither here nor there. If you think you can
ever contrive to reward Rachel Woodward for doing what she thinks her
duty, you’re very much mistaken.”

“It’s rather hard to be left so much in her debt.”

“Yes; but she doesn’t consider you indebted; that’s one comfort.”

Easton mused awhile. “Do you know,” he said, presently, “I sometimes
wonder Gilbert didn’t take a fancy to our difficult little friend.
They’re sufficiently unlike, and he would be just the man to feel the
pale charm of her character.”

“Do you think so?” asked Mrs. Farrell, with cold evasion. “I supposed
Mr. Gilbert was too worldly a man to care for a simple country girl like
Rachel Woodward.”

“Oh, you’re very much mistaken. He’d be altogether unworldly in a matter
of that kind. He would be true to himself at any cost. That was what
always charmed me so in Gilbert. He had the air and talk of a light man,
but he was as true as steel under it all. Every day a man has a hundred
occasions to prove himself mean or great, and Gilbert, without any show
of being principled this way or that, always did the manly and generous
and loyal thing.”

“Shall we go back, now?” asked Mrs. Farrell. “I _am_ rather tired, after
all.”

“Will you take my arm?” asked Easton. “It isn’t of much use yet, I’m
ashamed to think, but it will be. Did you despise me when I was lying
there sick?”

“Despise you?”

“Why, I think a sick man is a contemptible kind of creature. You women
seem to be able to make anything gracious and appropriate, even
suffering; but a sick man can only be an odious burden. We ought to be
allowed to crawl away like hurt animals into holes and clefts of rocks,
and take the chances, unseen, of dying or living. Were you able to pity
me very much?”

“I don’t see why you ask such things,” she faltered. “Don’t you think I
did?”

“Oh yes, too much. Sometimes I’m afraid that, without your knowing it,
it’s been all pity from the beginning. I dare say every decently modest
man wonders what a woman finds to love in him. I wanted you to love me
from the first instant I saw you, but I never concealed from myself that
I wasn’t worth a thought of yours. What a curious thing it is that
makes one willing to receive everything for nothing.” He laid his left
hand upon her fingers where they passively clung to his right arm. “Why,
how cold your hand is!” he said. “It seems incredible that it’s going to
be _my_ hand some day! Everything else under the sun has its price; you
slave for it, you risk your life for it, you buy it somehow. But the
divinest thing in the world is _given_, it has no price, it’s
invaluable; we can’t _merit_ a woman’s love any more than we can merit
God’s mercy. Come, take yourself from me again! I’ve never given you a
fair chance to say me nay. You must acknowledge that you never had time
to answer that question of mine. Before you could decide whether you
could endure me or not you had to pity me so much that you were biased
in my favor. I ought to set you free, and let you judge again whether
you would have me!”

Her breath went and came quickly, as he spoke in this mixed jest and
earnest. He tried to make her meet his eye, peering round into her face,
but she would not look at him. If this was the release, the opportunity,
so long and wildly desired, it found her helpless to seize it. She moved
her head from side to side like one stifling. “Oh, don’t! How can you?”
she gasped. “Don’t talk so any more,” she entreated. “I can’t bear it!”

She turned her face away; he tenderly pressed her arm against his side.
They were near the house again, and she slipped her hand from his arm
and fled indoors. He blushed with joy, and walked on down the birch
avenue, where she saw him sitting, after a while, on a stone by the
wayside. She went to join him, holding forward, as she drew near him, a
handful of letters. “We both forgot these,” she said, with a dim smile.

“Oh yes,” he laughed. She glanced down at the stone where he sat, and up
at that clump of birches through whose thin foliage the sun fell upon
him, and shivered with the recognition of the spot where she had parted
from Gilbert. “Sit down, Rosabel,” he said, making a place for her at
his side. “This stone is large enough for both of us. I want you to help
me read my letters.”

“No, no!” she faintly pleaded; “let me stand awhile. And do you--do you
think it’s well for you to sit--just here?”

“Why, yes,” he returned. “It seems a sufficiently salubrious spot, and
this is a most obliging rock. If you won’t share it with me--here!” he
said, touching another stone in front of his own seat, “sit here! Then I
can see your face whenever I look up, and that will be better even than
having you at my side. Ah! Now for the letters,” he cried, when she had
suffered him to arrange her as he would, and she gave them into his
hand.

He ran them quickly over before opening any, and, “Why!” he exclaimed,
holding up one of them, “did you know whom we have kept waiting?
Gilbert! It’s too bad, poor old fellow! Didn’t you notice his letter,
you incurious Fatima?”

“I never saw his handwriting. How could I know his letter?”

“Of course! That might have occurred to me if I hadn’t known it so well
myself. Never mind! We’ll keep Gilbert a little longer, since we’ve kept
him so long already, and have him last of all, to take away the bad
taste, if these are not pleasant reading.” He laid Gilbert’s letter
aside, and opened the others and commented on them one after another;
but her eyes continually wandered to the unopened letter, do what she
might to keep them on the level of the page he was reading. At last he
took up Gilbert’s letter; a shiver ran through her as he tore open the
envelope, and she drew herself closer together.

“Why, are you cold, my dear?” he asked, glancing at her before he began
to read. “Aren’t you well? Let us go up to the house, and read the
letter there.”

“No, no,” she answered, steadily; “I’m not cold, I’m perfectly well. I
was curious to know what he said; that was all. Do go on.”

Easton opened the sheet, and began to read to himself, as people often
do with letters when they propose to read them aloud. “Oh!” he said,
presently, “excuse me! I didn’t know what I was doing. Do you think
you’ll be able to stand all this?” He held up the eight pages of
Gilbert’s letter, and then he began faithfully with the date, and read
on to the end. The first part of the letter was given to Gilbert’s
regrets at not having been able to write before. He took it for granted
that his sister-in-law had told Easton of his sudden call to go to South
America on that business of Mitchell & Martineiro, who wished him to
look after some legal complications of their affairs in Brazil, which
needed an American lawyer’s eye; and that she had made all amends she
could for his going so suddenly.

     You were asleep [he wrote] when I went to take leave of you, and on
     the whole I’m not sorry. A good-by is good at any distance, and I
     knew I could send you mine. I didn’t suppose I should be so long
     about it; but the truth is that what with putting my own business
     in order before going, and instructing myself about Mitchell &
     Martineiro’s, in a case where I can represent their interests only
     in an exterior sort of way, I have not had a moment that I could
     call yours. I might have sent you a line, of course, but I waited
     till I could do more than that. I knew you were getting well, and I
     need not worry about leaving you before you were quite well. And
     now, after all, when I have a few hours before sailing, and I sit
     down to write to you, I do not know that I have much to say.
     Perhaps if I had had days before this, it would have come to the
     same thing. In fact, it could have come only to one thing under any
     circumstances. It could have come only to my telling you, with
     whatever force I had, that in all our recent unhappiness I felt
     myself wholly and solely at fault. I do not merely mean that you
     were blameless, but that everyone else but myself was so. I hope
     this will not come to your eye like an impertinence; it lies under
     mine like a very vital thing. I do not know what your measure of my
     blame is, whether it has grown greater or not since we parted; but
     in my own sight my treatment of you seems inexpiable. Of course I
     feel that in this separation of ours there are many chances that we
     may not meet again; but I should like to say this to you if we were
     to meet every day all our lives. I will not appeal to the kindness
     of your heart; there ought to be none for me in it. But do not
     forget me, Easton; and if ever in the future you can think more
     leniently of me than I deserve, I shall be glad of your pity.

“Is that all?” asked Mrs. Farrell, hoarsely.

“Yes, that’s all,” returned Easton, turning the pages absently over,
and looking up and down the leaves.

Whatever had been her purposes, or hopes, or dreads, the moment had come
from which she could not recoil, and in which she stood as absolutely
unfriended as in the face of death. Everything had led to this at last;
it might have been said that she was born for this alone, so supreme was
it over all other fates and chances. If she had hoped for help from any
source--from Easton’s possible suspicion, from the light in which she
had tried to see what she had done with others’ eyes, from some
confession of Gilbert’s in this letter of his--it was all in vain.
Everything was remanded to her, and she was to make her choice, with
none to urge or stay her. She sat and stared at the man who, she knew,
would have given his life to defend her from others, but who was so
powerless now to help her against herself. Of all the contending
passions of her soul--shame, fear, resentment, and chiefly a frantic
longing to discredit the reality of what was, and had been--a momentary
scorn came uppermost.

“So!” she cried. “And that’s all he had to say!” She caught the letter
from Easton’s hand, ran her eye swiftly over the closing page, and flung
it back to him. “Yes, he was afraid to write it, two hundred miles away;
he leaves it all to me. Well, then, I will tell you-- Oh,” she broke off,
“do you love me very, very much? Yes, _I_ must tell you, for there is no
one else, and, no matter what happens, you _must_ know it.” She looked
at him in an agony of terror and pity; she could not take her eyes from
him while she spoke the words that now came. “He was in love with me; he
said so the last moment I saw him; he was so from the first. It was that
which made him quarrel with you, and it is that which makes him--he
thinks I’ve told you--ask your pity now.”

In the ghastly silence that ensued, they found that they had both risen,
and he stood with one hand resting against the trunk of the birch
beneath which they had been sitting; Gilbert’s letter had fallen, and
lay on the ground between them.

Easton made no answer, and tried to make none, standing in a hapless
maze. The silence seemed interminable; but it was also intolerable; she
recalled him to himself with a wild “Well!” Then he seemed to find his
voice a great way off, and a husky murmur preceded his articulate
speech.

“Have I kept you apart?” he asked. “Do you love him?”

“_Love_ him? I _loathe_ him!”

She shuddered to see the hope that rushed into his face, when he said,
“Then I pity him with all my heart. How could he help loving you?”

She wrung her hands in despair. “Oh, why don’t you kill me, and spare me
this. How can I tell you and make you understand? He never would have
dared to speak to me if I had not-- He never would have dared to speak if
he had believed I loved you!”

“_Do_ you love me?” he asked, as if he regarded nothing else but that,
and he searched with his clear gaze the eyes which she was powerless to
avert. She tried to speak, and could not. The shame, more cruel than
any crime can bring, which a man feels in such a disillusion, crimsoned
his pale visage, and his head fell upon his breast. Again the terrible
silence held them both.

“Oh, don’t, don’t!” she wailed, at last. “What must you think of me? I
_did_ believe that I loved you once--that day when you asked me; and
then when you were taken sick, and I thought you might die, how could I
help caring for you? And afterward, when you were better, and you never
showed any misgiving, I _couldn’t_ undeceive you; it had to go on. I
_always_ respected you more than anyone in the world; you’re the best
man I ever saw; better than I ever dreamed of; it frightened me to think
how far too good for me you were. And why do you blame me so much, now?”
she piteously implored. “You said, once, that you didn’t ask me to love
you; that all you wanted was to love me.”

Easton rubbed his hand wearily over his forehead, and drew a long
breath. “If I blamed you I was wrong,” he answered, gravely. “It was my
fault.”

His hand began to tremble on the birch, and he sank down on the rock
where he had been sitting. She saw his faltering, and dropped on her
knees before him, and instinctively cast one arm about him to support
him. He put it away. “I’m perfectly well,” he said, with his deathly
face. “But I shall sit here awhile before I go back to the house.
Don’t--don’t let me keep you.”

The dismissal seemed to strike her back from him, but she did not rise.
She only dropped her face in the hollow of her rejected arm, and moaned,
“Oh, how you must despise me! But don’t drive me from you!”

“I didn’t mean that,” he said; “I thought of sparing you.”

“But don’t spare me! It’s that that drives me wild. I want you to tell
me what it is I’ve done. I want you to judge me.”

“Judge yourself, Rosabel. I will not.”

“But I can’t have any mercy on myself! Oh, keep me from myself! Don’t
cast me off! I know I’m not worthy of you, but if you love me, _take_
me! I will be a good wife to you, indeed I will.”

“Oh no,” said Easton, in the tone of a man hurt beyond all solace, who
faintly refuses some compassionately proffered, impossible kindness. “I
have loved you, Heaven knows how dearly, and I could have waited
patiently any length of time in the hope of your love; that was what I
meant when I said I didn’t ask you to love me then. But now--”

She must have felt the exquisite manliness of his intention toward her.
Perhaps she contrasted the grandeur which would not reproach her by a
word or look, with the relentless bitterness in which Gilbert had
retaliated all upon her. She had always admired Easton; it may be that
in this moment she felt a thrill of the supreme tenderness. She suddenly
clung to his arm. “But I _want_ you to take me!” she cried. “Don’t you
trust me? Don’t you think I know my own heart, even now? Oh, if you
will only believe in me again, I know I _shall_ love you!”

“No!” said Easton. “I love you too much for that.”

“And it is all over, then? Do you break your engagement?”

“It’s broken. You must go free of me. I know you would try to give me
what you cannot; but only misery could come of trying. It would be worse
than my mistake with Gilbert, when I accepted a sacrifice from him that
no man should accept from another, because I believed that I could have
done as much for him. We thought it our bond of friendship, but it must
always have been a galling chain to him. And you are asking to do a
thousand times more than he did! No, no; you would only be starving
yourself to beggar me. If you loved me, all that’s happened would be
nothing; but if you had married me, without loving me, you would have
done me a wrong that I could never have pardoned. Don’t accuse
yourself,” he said. “If you had loved me, nothing of all this could have
happened. Think of that. It was my mistake more than yours; you were
unfairly bound to me. Come,” he said, rising with a sudden access of
strength that belied his pale looks, “I must go to-day.” And he led the
way back to the house in a silence which neither broke.

She did not answer him by words, then or afterward. But when they
entered the dark of the hall doorway together, she expressed all by an
action which was not the less characteristic for being so humble and
childlike; she caught up his hand, and, holding it a moment with a
clinging stress, carried it to her mouth and reverently kissed it. That
was their farewell, and it was both silent and passive on his part. He
looked at her with eyes that she did not meet, and moved his lips as if
he would say something, but made no sound.



Chapter XIV


The next morning, after Mrs. Farrell had gone, Rachel went with
mechanical exactness about the work of putting in order the room where
Easton had lain sick. Her mother came to the door and, looking in,
hesitated a moment before she crossed the threshold and sat down in the
chair that stood just inside.

“I don’t know as you’ve got any call to hurry so about it, Rachel,” she
said, with a granite quiet.

“I’d just as soon, mother; I’d rather,” answered the girl, as stonily,
not ceasing from her work.

The mother put her hand to her passive mouth and then rubbed it up over
her cheek and across her forehead, and drew a long, noiseless breath,
following the movements of her daughter about the room with her eyes. “I
suppose we sha’n’t hear from Benny, hardly, for a week or more,” she
said, after a pause of several minutes. Rachel did not reply, and her
mother asked, after another pause, “Rachel, what do you believe made him
so set on going away? Do you think it was--”

“I don’t want you should ask me, mother, _anything_,” answered Rachel,
nervously.

The mother waited a moment before she said, perhaps with that
insensibility to others’ nerves which years often bring, “I was afraid
the boy might have got to caring about _her_. Do you think he had?”

“Yes, I think he had,” replied Rachel, abruptly, as if the words had
been wrenched from her.

Once more the mother waited before she spoke. She had never talked
gossip with her children, and perhaps she was now reconciling to her
conscience the appearance of gossip in what she had to say. “I always
thought,” she began, “that they were both as fine young men as I almost
ever saw. I never saw more of a friend than the other one was to this
one. Do you think she was much sorry for what she did to part them?”

“Yes, I think she was. She did more than she meant, and I don’t know as
we ought to be made to answer for more harm than we mean.”

“No,” said Mrs. Woodward. “At least it isn’t for us to say, here. Did
you like her as well at the last as you used to?”

“Yes, I liked her,” answered Rachel. “Nobody could help that. She was
very unhappy, and I never had any call to feel hard against her--on my
own account.”

“I don’t know as I ever knew a person quite like her,” mused Mrs.
Woodward. “I don’t know as I should ever rightly understand her, and I
won’t judge her, for one; she’ll find plenty to do that. I don’t believe
but what her feelings were led away for a while by the other one, and I
don’t see as they ever rightly came back to this one, even supposing
that she ever did care much for him.”

“Oh, mother, mother, mother!” the girl broke out, and cast herself into
a chair, and hid her face on the bed.

A distress passed over the stony composure of the elder woman’s face,
but she sat quiet, and did not go near her child or touch her. What
comfort her children got from her went from heart to heart, or rather
from conscience to conscience, without open demonstration; she hid her
natural affections as if they were sins, but they ruled her in secret,
and doubtless now her heart bled with the pity her arms withheld. She
did not move from her place, and while the girl sobbed out the secret of
a love which she had never yet owned to herself, the mother did not show
by any sign or change of countenance that the revelation either
surprised or shocked her. She may indeed have always suspected it, but
however that was, she now accepted the fact as she would any calamity,
in silence, and whatever inward trouble it gave her did not appear even
to the solitude in which Rachel’s hidden face left her. She waited
patiently, but when at last the girl lifted her face and sat with her
head thrown back and her eyelids fallen, the mother still did not speak;
she left her to deal with her pain alone, as was best. But that evening
she came to Rachel’s chamber with her lamp in her hand, and took her
place near her where she lay listless in her rocking-chair.

“Before Mrs. Gilbert went away,” the mother abruptly began, “she came
and had a little talk with me about you, Rachel. I never told you, and I
don’t know as I ever should.”

Rachel gave no token of interest. Mrs. Woodward went on:

“She seemed to think a good deal of that picture of yours, and she spoke
as if you’d ought not to neglect any providence that put it in your way
to improve yourself. I don’t use her words, but that’s what they come to
in the end. She said if you would like to go down and study drawing in
Boston or New York, this winter, she wanted I should let her lend you
the money to do it. I was put to it what to say without seeming to hurt
her feelings. I didn’t make any direct answer at the time, and I haven’t
since. I wa’n’t sure in my own mind whether we should do right to accept
of such an offer unless we could see our way clear to pay the money
back, and what made me more doubtful was her saying that you’d ought to
be very certain of your own feelings, whether you really wanted to be a
painter or not, for if you didn’t it would be a misery every way if you
was one. I don’t know a great deal about such things, but I thought that
was sensible. She said there wa’n’t any doubt about your making a living
that way, if once you gave your mind to it.”

Still Rachel did not change her posture or expression, but she passed
her fingers over the hem of her apron across her lap.

“As to the money,” Mrs. Woodward went on, “there’s your school money in
the bank; you’ve worked hard enough for that, and it’s rightfully yours.
I know you meant to give it to James for his schooling, but now it don’t
seem quite fair you should. Why don’t you take it yourself, and go off
somewheres, and study, the way Mrs. Gilbert said?”

“I don’t want the money, mother,” said the girl, coldly.

Mrs. Woodward waited awhile before she asked, “Don’t you feel sure ’t
you want to study in that way?”

“Yes, I think I could do it. Of course it isn’t as if I were a man, but
I believe I could be a painter, and I should like it better than
teaching.”

“Then why don’t you take up with the idea? It would be a little change
for you; and maybe, if you was away from the place for a while, you
might--get to feeling differently.”

The mother was patient with her daughter while the girl sat thinking.
The countenance of neither changed when at last the girl broke silence
and said, very steadily, “I might go in the spring, mother. But I’m
going to stay here this winter. If I’ve got any trouble, I can’t run
away from it, and I wouldn’t if I could. If the trouble is here, the
help is here, too, I presume.” After a little pause, she added, “I don’t
want you should speak to me about it again, mother--ever.”

The mother said nothing, but awkwardly rose, and moved shyly to where
her daughter sat. Her mouth trembled, but, whatever intent she had, she
ended by merely laying on the girl’s head her large, toil-worn,
kitchen-coarsened hand, with its bony knuckles and stubbed, broken
nails. She let it rest there a moment and then went softly out of the
room.



Chapter XV


In an orchestra chair at the theater sat a stout, good-natured-looking
gentleman, iron gray where he was not bald, with a double chin
smooth-shaven between iron-gray whiskers, and beside him sat a lady
somewhat his junior in appearance, pale and invalid-like, to whom the
strong contrast of her silvery hair and her thick, dark eyebrows gave a
singular distinction; from some little attentions and neglects it could
be seen that they were husband and wife. The husband seemed tranquilly
expectant, and the wife nervously so, and as they talked together,
waiting for the curtain to rise, he spoke in a slow, rich, easy voice,
with a smile of amiable humor, while she had a more eager and sarcastic
air, which at times did not veil a real anxiety of feeling.

“And that is just where you misconceive the whole affair,” the lady was
saying.

“I don’t see,” said the gentleman.

“Why,” demanded the lady, despairingly, “can’t you imagine a woman’s
liking to triumph over people with her beauty, and yet meaning it to be
a purely æsthetic triumph?”

“No, I can’t,” said the gentleman, with placid candor.

“Well, women can,” said the lady, conclusively, and the gentleman
submitted in silence.

Presently he asked, “Isn’t she rather old for a novice?”

“She’s twenty-six, if you call that old. She’s a novice to the stage,
but she’s been an actress all her life.”

The gentleman laughed in the contented fashion of gentlemen who think
their wives are wits, and said: “I think you’re decidedly hard upon her
to-night, Susan. It seems to me you have been more merciful at times.”

“Oh, at times! I’ve never been of one mind about her half an hour
together, and I don’t expect to be hard upon her the whole evening, now.
The last day I saw her at the farm, as I’ve often told you, I pitied her
from the bottom of my heart, but before we said good-by I suspected that
I had been the subject of one of her little dramatic effects. Can’t you
imagine a person who really feels all she thinks she ought to feel at
any given time?”

“No,” said the gentleman, with cheerful resignation, “that’s beyond my
depth again.”

“Well, she’s that kind; or I’ve fancied so in my skeptical moods about
her. If she dramatizes her part to-night half as well as she used to
dramatize herself, she’ll be a great actress. But that remains to be
seen. When I first heard she was going on the stage, it seemed like a
clew to everything; she says she always wanted to be an actress; and I
felt that it was a perfect inspiration. It would give her excitement
and admiration, and it would multiply the subjects of her effects to any
extent. It always did seem a ridiculous waste that she should merely
fascinate one man at a time; she ought to have had thousands. But I’m
not so certain, now, after all, that she’s found her destiny.”

“Why?”

“Why, a stage success might be very much to her taste, while she
mightn’t at all like the trouble of making it. I think she has a real
theatrical genius, but I suppose the stage takes a great deal of
self-denial and constancy, and she’s fickle as the wind.”

“Oh, come, now, Susan, you know you said yesterday that, after all, you
did believe she had a lasting regard for William’s friend.”

“Yes, that’s a great puzzle and mystery. Perhaps it was because she had
broken with him. I didn’t infer from anything she said that their
acquaintance now was of anything but a friendly sort. I wish I had felt
authorized to ask just how it was renewed,” said the lady, regretfully.

“I wish you had. I should have liked to know. There must be something
extraordinary about her to enable her to keep him for a friend after all
that happened.”

“Oh, did I ever pretend there wasn’t something extraordinary about her?
There was everything extraordinary about her! And there are times when I
can’t help admiring a sort of moral heroism she had. I think she was
fascinated for a while with the dreadfulness of flirting with William
under the circumstances; but not one woman in a thousand would have had
the courage to do what she did when she found it was becoming serious
with him.”

“Very likely. But I have a higher opinion of women. My sense of right
and wrong has not been shaken, like some people’s, by this enchantress.
I can’t help thinking it might not have been so rough on _him_ if her
moral heroism had begun a little sooner--say before the flirtation.”

“Oh, the more I think about it, the less I pity him in that matter. He
knew perfectly well that he was doing wrong. Men ought to do right, even
if it doesn’t please women.”

The gentleman bowed his bald head in a fit of laughter. “I have no doubt
those were Eve’s very words to Adam,” he chuckled; but the lady, without
laughing, continued--

“And when the worst had come to the worst with Easton, it seems she
didn’t spare herself. She told him everything.”

“Perhaps she might have spared _him_ somewhat if she had not been quite
so frank.”

“It was her _duty_ to tell him!” rejoined the lady, sternly, “and I
honor her for doing it. She never could have gone on and married him,
with all that in her heart.”

“At any rate she didn’t go on and marry him. And I shall always contend
that she was a hardly used woman; engaging herself to a man she merely
pitied, under the mistaken impression that she was in love with him, and
then--when she found that she didn’t want his friend either--dismissing
the poor fellow with a final misgiving that perhaps she _did_ like him,
after all. I say it’s a case of unmerited suffering, if ever there was
one.”

“Oh, it’s all very well to talk! But how do you reconcile such
contradictions?”

“I don’t. But I’m certain of one thing: she wasn’t trying any of her
little dramatic effects on you when she called yesterday and made you
her confidante.” The gentleman here laughed so loud that the sound of
his own voice alarmed him. He looked round, and saw that the seats about
them were rapidly filling up, and he fell to studying his play-bill with
conscious zeal.

By and by he turned again to his wife, and whispered, “I don’t think
William’s peace of mind was permanently affected by his romance with
your friend; he appeared to be in good spirits the other day when I saw
him in New York, and was taking a good deal of interest in the fine
arts, I fancied, from his behavior to your little protégée.”

“William has been very polite and very good; I shall always feel
grateful to him for his kindness to her. He must have found it difficult
at first; she’s very odd and doesn’t invite attention, though of course
she’s glad of it, at heart. Yes, it was very, very considerate, and I
shall take it as the greatest favor that William could have done me.”

“Well, I don’t know. He didn’t seem to be regarding the affair in the
light of a self-sacrifice. Suppose he had rather lost the sense of it’s
being a favor to you?”

“I should like that all the better.”

Those who remember the impression made among people who knew of her, by
the announcement that Mrs. Farrell was going upon the stage, will recall
the curiosity which attended her appearance in Boston, after her debut
in a Western city, where she had played a season. There is always
something vastly pitiable in the first attempts of a woman to please the
public from the stage; this is especially the case if she is not to the
theater born, and confronts in her audience the faces she has known in
the world; and her audience may have felt a peculiar forlornness in Mrs.
Farrell’s position: at any rate it showed itself the kindest of houses,
and seized with eager applause every good point of her performance. Her
beauty in itself was almost sufficient to achieve success for her. It
had never appeared to greater advantage. During the first two acts, it
seemed to prosper from moment to moment, under all those admiring eyes,
like the immediate gift of Heaven, as if she were inspired to be more
and more beautiful by her consciousness of her beauty’s power; and
whether she walked or sat, or only stirred in some chosen posture amid
the volume of her robes, she expressed a grace that divinely fascinated.
Her girlish presence enabled her to realize that Juliet to many whose
sensitive ideal refused the robust pretensions of more mature actresses;
she might have played the part well or not, but there could be no
question but she looked it. She had costumed it with a splendor which
the modern taste might have accused of overdressing, but which was not
discordant with a poetic sense of the magnificence of mediæval Verona.
Her Juliet was no blond, Gretchen-like maiden in blue and white, but an
impassioned southern girl in the dark reds and rich greens that go well
with that beauty; she might have studied her dress from that of some
superb patrician in a canvas of Cagliari. But with her beauty, her
grace, and her genius for looking and dressing the character, her
perfect triumph ended; there was something perplexingly indefinite in
the nature or the cause of her failure, at those points where she
failed. To some she simply appeared unequal to a sustained imagination
of the character. Others thought her fatigued by the physical effort,
which must be a very great one. Perhaps no one was of a very decided
mind about her performance.

“It was good, yes--and it wasn’t good, either,” said one of those
critical spirits, rather commoner in Boston than elsewhere, who analyze
and refine and re-refine and shrink from a final impression, with a
perseverance that leaves one in doubt whether they have any opinion
about the matter. “I should say she had genius, yes; genius for
something-- I don’t know; I suppose the drama. I dare say I saw her
without the proper perspective; I was crowded so close to her by what
I’d heard of her off the stage, don’t you know. I don’t think the part
was well chosen; and yet she did some things uncommonly well; all that
passionate lovemaking of the first part was magnificent; but there was
some detracting element, even there-- I don’t know what; I suppose she
didn’t let you think enough of Juliet; you couldn’t help thinking how
very charming _she_ was, herself; she realized the part the wrong way.
There was inspiration in it, and I should say study; yes, there was a
good deal of study; but, after all, it wasn’t so much art as it was
nature and artifice. It wanted smoothness, unity; perhaps that might
come, by and by. She had a very kind house; you know what our audiences
usually are; they wouldn’t turn the thumb down, but they’d make an
unlucky gladiator _wish_ they would. But they were very good to her,
last night, and applauded her hits like a little man. She didn’t seem to
have given _herself_ a fair chance. Perhaps she wasn’t artistically
large enough for the theater. I shouldn’t have said, at first, that she
was particularly suggestive of the home circle; very likely, if I’d met
her off the stage, I should have pronounced her too theatrical; and yet
there was a sort of appealing domesticity about her, after
all--especially in her failures. It’s a pity she couldn’t take some
particular line of the profession, in which she could somehow produce a
_social_ effect, don’t you know! I’ll tell you what; she could do
something perfectly charming in the way of what they call
sketches--character sketches--little morsels of drama that she could
have all to herself, with the audience in her confidence--a sort of
partner in the enterprise, like the audience at private theatricals.
That’s it; that’s the very thing! She’d be the greatest possible success
in private theatricals.”

“Well, Robert, it’s better than I ever dreamt she could do,” said Mrs.
Gilbert, as they drove home from the theater. “But what a life for a
woman! How hard and desolate at the best. Well, she’s sufficiently
punished!”

“Yes,” said her husband, “it’s a great pity they couldn’t somehow make
up their minds to marry each other.”

“Never! There are things they can never get over.”

“Oh, people get over all sorts of things. And even according to your own
showing, she behaved very well when it came to the worst.”

“Yes, I shall always say that of her. But she was to blame for it’s
coming to the worst. No, a whole lifetime wouldn’t be enough to atone
for what she’s done.”

“It wouldn’t, in a romance. But in life you have to make some allowance
for human nature. I had no idea she was so charming.”

“Robert,” said Mrs. Gilbert, sternly, “do you think it would be right
for a woman to be happy after she had made others so wretched?”

“Well, not at once. But I don’t see how her remaining unhappy is to help
matters. You say that you really think she does like him, after all?”

“She would hardly talk of anything else--where he was, and what he saw,
and what he said. Yes, I should say she does like him.”

“Then I don’t see why he shouldn’t come back from Europe and marry her,
when she makes her final failure on the stage. I would, in his place.”

“My dear, you _know_ you wouldn’t!”

“Well, then, _he_ would in _my_ place. Have it your own way, my love.”

Mr. Gilbert seemed to think he had made a joke, but his wife did not
share his laugh.

“Robert,” she said, after a thoughtful pause, “the lenient way in which
you look at her is worse than wrong; it’s weak.”

“Very likely, my dear; but I can’t help feeling it’s a noble weakness.
Why, of course I know that she spread a ruin round, for a while, but, as
you say, it seems to have been more of a ruin than she meant; and
there’s every probability that she’s been sorry enough for it since.”

“Oh! And so you think such a person as that can change by trying--and
atone for what she’s done by being _sorry_ for it!” said Mrs. Gilbert,
with scorn.

“Well, Susan, I should not like to be such a heathen as _not_ to think
_so_,” responded her husband, with an assumption none the less
intolerable because, while his position was in itself impregnable, it
left a thousand things to be said.



THE END

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