The Works of E. P. Roe
A DAY OF FATE
"Some shallow story of deep love."
CHAPTER I AIMLESS STEPS
CHAPTER II A JUNE DAY DREAM
CHAPTER III A SHINING TIDE
CHAPTER IV REALITY
CHAPTER V MUTUAL DISCOVERIES
CHAPTER VI A QUAKER TEA
CHAPTER VII A FRIEND
CHAPTER VIII THE MYSTERY OF MYSTERIES
CHAPTER IX "OLD PLOD"
CHAPTER X A BIT OF EDEN
CHAPTER XI "MOVED"
CHAPTER XII ONE OF NATURE'S TRAGEDIES
CHAPTER XIII THE LIGHTNING AND A SUBTLER FLAME
CHAPTER XIV KINDLING A SPARK OF LIFE
CHAPTER XV MY FATE
CHAPTER I THE DAY AFTER
CHAPTER II "IT WAS INEVITABLE"
CHAPTER III RETURNING CONSCIOUSNESS
CHAPTER IV IN THE DARK
CHAPTER V A FLASH OF MEMORY
CHAPTER VI WEAKNESS
CHAPTER VII OLD PLOD IDEALIZED
CHAPTER VIII AN IMPULSE
CHAPTER IX A WRETCHED FAILURE
CHAPTER X IN THE DEPTHS
CHAPTER XI POOR ACTING
CHAPTER XII THE HOPE OP A HIDDEN TREASURE
CHAPTER XIII THE OLD MEETING-HOUSE AGAIN
CHAPTER XIV LOVE TEACHING ETHICS
CHAPTER XV DON'T THINK OF ME
CHAPTER XVI "RICHARD"
CHAPTER XVII MY WORST BLUNDER
CHAPTER XVIII MRS. YOCOMB'S LETTERS
CHAPTER XIX ADAH
CHAPTER XX THANKSGIVING DAY
CHAPTER XXI RIPPLES ON DEEP WATER
"Another month's work will knock Morton into 'pi,'" was a remark that caught my ear as I fumed from the composing-room back to my private office. I had just irately blamed a printer for a blunder of my own, and the words I overheard reminded me of the unpleasant truth that I had recently made a great many senseless blunders, over which I chafed in merciless self-condemnation. For weeks and months my mind had been tense under the strain of increasing work and responsibility. It was my nature to become absorbed in my tasks, and, as night editor of a prominent city journal, I found a limitless field for labor. It was true I could have jogged along under the heavy burden with comparatively little wear and loss, but, impelled by both temperament and ambition, I was trying to maintain a racer's speed. From casual employment as a reporter I had worked my way up to my present position, and the tireless activity and alertness required to win and hold such a place was seemingly degenerating into a nervous restlessness which permitted no repose of mind or rest of body. I worked when other men slept, but, instead of availing myself of the right to sleep when the world was awake, I yielded to an increasing tendency to wakefulness, and read that I might be informed on the endless variety of subjects occupying public attention. The globe was becoming a vast hunting-ground, around which my thoughts ranged almost unceasingly that I might capture something new, striking, or original for the benefit of our paper. Each day the quest had grown more eager, and as the hour for going to press approached I would even become feverish in my intense desire to send the paper out with a breezy, newsy aspect, and would be elated if, at the last moment, material was flashed in that would warrant startling head-lines, and correspondingly depressed if the weary old world had a few hours of quiet and peace. To make the paper "go," every faculty I possessed was in the harness.
The aside I had just overheard suggested, at least, one very probable result. In printer's jargon, I would soon be in "pi."
The remark, combined with my stupid blunder, for which I had blamed an innocent man, caused me to pull up and ask myself whither I was hurrying so breathlessly. Saying to my assistant that I did not wish to be disturbed for a half hour, unless it was essential, I went to my little inner room. I wished to take a mental inventory of myself, and see how much was left. Hitherto I had been on the keen run—a condition not favorable to introspection.
Neither my temperament nor the school in which I had been trained inclined me to slow, deliberate processes of reasoning. I looked my own case over as I might that of some brother-editors whose journals were draining them of life, and whose obituaries I shall probably write if I survive them. Reason and Conscience, now that I gave them a chance, began to take me to task severely.
"You are a blundering fool," said Reason, "and the man in the composing-room is right. You are chafing over petty blunders while ignoring the fact that your whole present life is a blunder, and the adequate reason why your faculties are becoming untrustworthy. Each day you grow more nervously anxious to have everything correct, giving your mind to endless details, and your powers are beginning to snap like the overstrained strings of a violin. At this rate you will soon spend yourself and all there is of you."
Then Conscience, like an irate judge on the bench, arraigned me. "You are a heathen, and your paper is your car of Juggernaut. You are ceasing to be a man and becoming merely an editor—no, not even an editor—a newsmonger, one of the world's gossips. You are an Athenian only as you wish to hear and tell some new thing. Long ears are becoming the appropriate symbols of your being. You are too hurried, too eager for temporary success, too taken up with details, to form calm, philosophical opinions of the great events of your time, and thus be able to shape men's opinions. You commenced as a reporter, and are a reporter still. You pride yourself that you are not narrow, unconscious of the truth that you are spreading yourself thinly over the mere surface of affairs. You have little comprehension of the deeper forces and motives of humanity."
It is true that I might have pleaded in extenuation of these rather severe judgments that I was somewhat alone in the world, living in bachelor apartments, without the redeeming influences of home and family life. There were none whose love gave them the right or the motive to lay a restraining hand upon me, and my associates in labor were more inclined to applaud my zeal than to curb it. Thus it had been left to the casual remark of a nameless printer and an instance of my own failing powers to break the spell that ambition and habit were weaving.
Before the half hour elapsed I felt weak and ill. The moment I relaxed the tension and will-power which I had maintained so long, strong reaction set in. Apparently I had about reached the limits of endurance. I felt as if I were growing old and feeble by minutes as one might by years. Taking my hat and coat I passed out, remarking to my assistant that he must do the best he could—that I was ill and would not return. If the Journal had never appeared again I could not then have written a line to save it, or read another proof.
Saturday morning found me feverish, unrefreshed, and more painfully conscious than ever that I was becoming little better than the presses on which the paper was printed. Depression inevitably follows weariness and exhaustion, and one could scarcely take a more gloomy view of himself than I did.
"I will escape from this city as if it were Sodom," I muttered, "and a June day in the country will reveal whether I have a soul for anything beyond the wrangle of politics and the world's gossip."
In my despondency I was inclined to be reckless, and after merely writing a brief note to my editorial chief, saying that I had broken down and was going to the country, I started almost at random. After a few hours' riding I wearied of the cars, and left them at a small village whose name I did not care to inquire. The mountains and scenery pleased me, although the day was overcast like my mind and fortunes. Having found a quiet inn and gone through the form of a dinner, I sat down on the porch in dreary apathy.
The afternoon aspect of the village street seemed as dull and devoid of interest as my own life at that hour, and in fancy I saw myself, a broken-down man, lounging away days that would be like eternities, going through my little round like a bit of driftwood, slowly circling in an eddy of the world's great current. With lack-lustre eyes I "looked up to the hills," but no "help" came from them. The air was close, the sky leaden; even the birds would not sing. Why had I come to the country? It had no voices for me, and I resolved to return to the city. But while I waited my eyes grew heavy with the blessed power to sleep—a boon, for which I then felt that I would travel to the Ultima Thule. Leaving orders that I should not be disturbed, I went to my room, and Nature took the tired man, as if he were a weary child, into her arms.
At last I imagined that I was at the Academy of Music, and that the orchestra were tuning their instruments for the overture. A louder strain than usual caused me to start up, and I saw through the open window a robin on a maple bough, with its tuneful throat swelled to the utmost. This was the leader of my orchestra, and the whole country was alive with musicians, each one giving out his own notes without any regard for the others, but apparently the score had been written for them all, since the innumerable strains made one divine harmony. From the full-orbed song from the maple by my window, down to the faintest chirp and twitter, there was no discord; while from the fields beyond the village the whistle of the meadow-larks was so mellowed and softened by distance as to incline one to wonder whether their notes were real or mere ideals of sound.
For a long time I was serenely content to listen to the myriad-voiced chords without thinking of the past or future. At last I found myself idly querying whether Nature did not so blend all out-of-door sounds as to make them agreeable, when suddenly a catbird broke the spell of harmony by its flat, discordant note. Instead of my wonted irritation at anything that jarred upon my nerves, I laughed as I sprang up, saying,
"That cry reminds me that I am in the body and in the same old world. That bird is near akin to the croaking printer."
But my cynicism was now more assumed than real, and I began to wonder at myself. The change of air and scene had seemingly broken a malign influence, and sleep—that for weeks had almost forsaken me—had yielded its deep refreshment for fifteen hours. Besides, I had not sinned against my life so many years as to have destroyed the elasticity of early manhood. When I had lain down to rest I had felt myself to be a weary, broken, aged man. Had I, in my dreams, discovered the Fountain of Youth, and unconsciously bathed in it? In my rebound toward health of mind and body I seemed to have realized what the old Spaniard vainly hoped for.
I dressed in haste, eager to be out in the early June sunshine. There had been a shower in the night, and the air had a fine exhilarating quality, in contrast with the close sultriness of the previous afternoon.
Instead of nibbling at breakfast while I devoured the morning dailies, I ate a substantial meal, and only thought of papers to bless their absence, and then walked down the village street with the quick glad tread of one whose hope and zest in life have been renewed. Fragrant June roses were opening on every side, and it appeared to me that all the sin of man could not make the world offensive to heaven that morning.
I wished that some of the villagers whom I met were more in accord with Nature's mood; but in view of my own shortcomings, and still more because of my fine physical condition, I was disposed toward a large charity. And yet I could not help wondering how some that I saw could walk among their roses and still look so glum and matter-of-fact. I felt as if I could kiss every velvet petal.
"You were unjust," I charged back on Conscience; "this morning proves that I am not an ingrained newsmonger. There is still man enough left within me to revive at Nature's touch;" and I exultantly quickened my steps, until I had left the village miles away.
Before the morning was half gone I learned how much of my old vigor had ebbed, for I was growing weary early in the day. Therefore I paused before a small gray building, old and weather-stained, that seemed neither a barn, nor a dwelling, nor a school-house. A man was in the act of unlocking the door, and his garb suggested that it might be a Friends' meeting-house. Yielding to an idle curiosity I mounted a stone wall at a point where I was shaded and partially screened by a tree, and watched and waited, beguiling the time with a branch of sweetbriar that hung over my resting-place.
Soon strong open wagons and rockaways began to appear drawn by sleek, plump horses that often, seemingly, were gayer than their drivers. Still there was nothing sour in the aspect or austere in the garb of the people. Their quiet appearance took my fancy amazingly, and the peach-like bloom on the cheeks of even well-advanced matrons suggested a serene and quiet life.
"These are the people of all others with whom I would like to worship to-day," I thought; "and I hope that that rotund old lady, whose face beams under the shadow of her deep bonnet like a harvest moon through a fleecy cloud, will feel moved to speak." I plucked a few buds from the sweet-briar bush, fastened them in my button-hole, and promptly followed the old lady into the meeting-house. Having found a vacant pew I sat down, and looked around with serene content. But I soon observed that something was amiss, for the men folk looked at each other and then at me. At last an elderly and substantial Friend, with a face so flushed and round as to suggest a Baldwin apple, arose and creaked with painful distinctness to where I was innocently infringing on one of their customs.
"If thee will follow me, friend," he said, "I'll give thee a seat with the men folks. Thee's welcome, and thee'll feel more at home to follow our ways."
His cordial grasp of my hand would have disarmed suspicion itself, and I followed him meekly. In my embarrassment and desire to show that I had no wish to appear forward, I persisted in taking a side seat next to the wall, and quite near the door; for my guide, in order to show his goodwill and to atone for what might seem rudeness, was bent on marshalling me almost up to the high seats that faced the congregation, where sat my rubicund old Friend lady, whose aspect betokened that she had just the Gospel message I needed.
I at once noted that these staid and decorous people looked straight before them in an attitude of quiet expectancy. A few little children turned on me their round, curious eyes, but no one else stared at the blundering stranger, whose modish coat, with a sprig of wild roses in its buttonhole, made him rather a conspicuous contrast to the other men folk, and I thought—
"Here certainly is an example of good-breeding which could scarcely be found among other Christians. If one of these Friends should appear in the most fashionable church on the Avenue, he would be well stared at, but here even the children are receiving admonitory nudges not to look at me."
I soon felt that it was not the thing to be the only one who was irreverently looking around, and my good-fortune soon supplied ample motive for looking steadily in one direction. The reader may justly think that I should have composed my mind to meditation on my many sins, but I might as well have tried to gather in my hands the reins of all the wild horses of Arabia as to curb and manage my errant thoughts. My only chance was for some one or something to catch and hold them for me. If that old Friend lady would preach I was sure she would do me good. As it was, her face was an antidote to the influences of the world in which I dwelt, but I soon began to dream that I had found a still better remedy, for, at a fortunate angle from my position, there sat a young Quakeress whose side face arrested my attention and held it. By leaning a little against the wall as well as the back of my bench, I also, well content, could look straight before me like the others.
The fair profile was but slightly hidden by a hat that had a perceptible leaning toward the world in its character, but the brow was only made to seem a little lower, and her eyes deepened in their blue by its shadow. My sweet-briar blossoms were not more delicate in their pink shadings than was the bloom on her rounded cheek, and the white, firm chin denoted an absence of weakness and frivolity. The upper lip, from where I sat, seemed one half of Cupid's bow. I could but barely catch a glimpse of a ripple of hair that, perhaps, had not been smoothed with sufficient pains, and thus seemed in league with the slightly worldly bonnet. In brief, to my kindled fancy, her youth and loveliness appeared the exquisite human embodiment of the June morning, with its alternations of sunshine and shadow, its roses and their fragrance, of its abounding yet untarnished and beautiful life.
No one in the meeting seemed moved save myself, but I felt as if I could become a poet, a painter, and even a lover, under the inspiration of that perfect profile.
A JUNE DAY-DREAM
Moment after moment passed, but we all sat silent and motionless. Through the open windows came a low, sweet monotone of the wind from the shadowing maples, sometimes swelling into a great depth of sound, and again dying to a whisper, and the effect seemed finer than that of the most skilfully touched organ. Occasionally an irascible humble-bee would dart in, and, after a moment of motionless poise, would dart out again, as if in angry disdain of the quiet people. In its irate hum and sudden dartings I saw my own irritable fuming and nervous activity, and I blessed the Friends and their silent meeting. I blessed the fair June face, that was as far removed from the seething turmoil of my world as the rosebuds under her home-windows.
Surely I had drifted out of the storm into the very haven of rest and peace, and yet one might justly dread lest the beauty which bound my eyes every moment in a stronger fascination should evoke an unrest from which there might be no haven. Young men, however, rarely shrink from such perils, and I was no more prudent than my fellows. Indeed, I was inclining toward the fancy that this June day was the day of destiny with me; and if such a creature were the remedy for my misshapen life it would be bliss to take it.
In our sweet silence, broken only by the voice of the wind, the twitter of birds beguiling perhaps with pretty nonsense the hours that would otherwise seem long to their brooding mates on the nests, and the hum of insects, my fancy began to create a future for the fair stranger—a future, rest assured, that did not leave the dreamer a calm and disinterested observer.
"This day," I said mentally, "proves that there is a kindly and superintending Providence, and men are often led, like children in the dark, to just the thing they want. The wisdom of Solomon could not have led me to a place more suited to my taste and need than have my blind, aimless steps; and before me are possibilities which suggest the vista through which Eve was led to Adam."
My constant contact with men who were keen, self-seeking, and often unscrupulous, inclined me toward cynicism and suspicion. My editorial life made me an Arab in a sense, for if there were occasion, my hand might be against any man, if not every man. I certainly received many merciless blows, and I was learning to return them with increasing zest. My column in the paper was often a tilting-ground, and whether or no I inflicted wounds that amounted to much, I received some that long rankled. A home such as yonder woman might make would be a better solace than newspaper files. Such lips as these might easily draw the poison from any wound the world could make. Wintry firelight would be more genial than even June sunlight, if her eyes would reflect in into mine. With such companionship, all the Gradgrinds in existence would prose in vain; life would never lose its ideality, nor the world become a mere combination of things. Her woman's fancy would embroider my man's reason and make it beautiful, while not taking from its strength. Idiot that I was, in imagining that I alone could achieve success! Inevitably I could make but a half success, since the finer feminine element would be wanting. Do I wish men only to read our paper? Am I a Turk, holding the doctrine that women have no souls, no minds? The shade of my mother forbid! Then how was I, a man, to interpret the world to women? Truly, I had been an owl of the night, and blind to the honest light of truth when I yielded to the counsel of ambition, that I had no time for courtship and marriage. In my stupid haste I would try to grope my way through subjects beyond a man's ken, rather than seek some such guide as yonder maiden, whose intuitions would be unerring when the light of reason failed. In theory, I held the doctrine that there was sex in mind as truly as in the material form. Now I was inclined to act as if my doctrine were true, and to seek to double my power by winning the supplemental strength and grace of a woman's soul.
Indeed, my day-dream was becoming exceedingly thrifty in its character, and I assured ambition that the companionship of such a woman as yonder maiden must be might become the very corner-stone of success.
Time passed, and still no one was "moved." Was my presence the cause of the spiritual paralysis? I think not, for I was becoming conscious of reverent feeling and deeper motives. If the fair face was my Gospel message, it was already leading me beyond the thoughts of success and ambition, of mental power and artistic grace. Her womanly beauty began to awaken my moral nature, and her pure face, that looked as free from guile as any daisy with its eye turned to the sun, led me to ask, "What right have you to approach such a creature? Think of her needs, of her being first, and not your own. Would you drag her into the turmoil of your world because she would be a solace? Would you disturb the maidenly serenity of that brow with knowledge of evil and misery, the nightly record of which you have collated so long that you are callous? You, whose business it is to look behind the scenes of life, will you disenchant her also? It is your duty to unmask hypocrisy, and to drag hidden evil to light, but will you teach her to suspect and distrust? Should you not yourself become a better, truer, purer man before you look into the clear depths of her blue eyes? Beware, lest thoughtlessly or selfishly you sully their limpid truth."
"If she could be God's evangel to me, I might indeed be a better man," I murmured.
"That is ever the way," suggested Conscience; "there is always an 'if' in the path of duty; and you make your change for the better depend on the remote possibility that yonder maiden will ever look on you as other than a casual stranger that caused a slight disturbance in the wonted placidity of their meeting hour."
"Hush," I answered Conscience, imperiously; "since the old Friend lady will not preach, I shall endure none of your homilies. I yield myself to the influences of this day, and during this hour no curb shall be put on fancy. In my soul I know that I would be a better man if she is what she seems, and could be to me all that I have dreamed; and were I tenfold worse than I am, she would be the better for making me better. Did not Divine purity come the closest to sinful humanity? I shall approach this maiden in fancy, and may seek her in reality, but it shall be with a respect so sincere and an homage so true as to rob my thoughts and quest of bold irreverence or of mere selfishness. Suppose I am seeking my own good, my own salvation it may be, I am not seeking to wrong her. Are not heaven's best gifts best won by giving all for them? I would lay my manhood at her feet. I do not expect to earn her or buy her, giving a quid pro quo. A woman's love is like the grace of heaven—a royal gift; and the spirit of the suitor is more regarded than his desert. Moreover, I do not propose to soil her life with the evil world that I must daily brush against, but through her influence to do a little toward purifying that world. Since this is but a dream, I shall dream it out to suit me.
"That stalwart and elderly Friend who led me to this choice point of observation is her father. The plump and motherly matron on the high seat, whose face alone is a remedy for care and worry, is her mother. They will invite me home with them when meeting is over. Already I see the tree-embowered farmhouse, with its low, wide veranda, and old- fashioned roses climbing the lattice-work. In such a fragrant nook, or perhaps in the orchard back of the house, I shall explore the wonderland of this maiden's mind and heart. Beyond the innate reserve of an unsophisticated womanly nature there will be little reticence, and her thoughts will flow with the clearness and unpremeditation of the brook that I crossed on my way here. What a change they will be from the world's blotted page that I have read too exclusively of late!
"Perhaps it will appear to her that I have become smirched by these pages, and that my character has the aspect of a printer at the close of his day's tasks.
"This source of fear, however, is also a source of hope. If she has the quickness of intuition to discover that I know the world too well, she will also discern the truth that I would gladly escape from that which might eventually destroy my better nature, and that hers could be the hand which might rescue my manhood. To the degree that she is a genuine woman there will be fascination in the power of making a man more manly and worthy of respect. Especially will this be true if I have the supreme good-fortune not to offend her woman's fancy, and to excite her sympathy; without awakening contempt.
"But I imagine I am giving her credit for more maturity of thought and discernment than her years permit. She must be young, and her experiences would give her no means of understanding my life. She will look at me with the frank, unsuspecting gaze of a child. She will exercise toward me that blessed phase of charity which thinketh no evil because ignorant of evil.
"Moreover, while I am familiar with the sin of the world, and have contributed my share toward it, I am not in love with it; and I can well believe that such a love as she might inspire would cause me to detest it. If for her sake and other good motives, I should resolutely and voluntarily; turn my back on evil, would I not have the right to walk at the side of one who, by the goodhap of her life, knows no evil? At any rate, I am not sufficiently magnanimous to forego the opportunity should it occur. Therefore, among, the lengthening shadows of this June day I shall woo with my utmost skill one who may be able to banish the deeper shadows that are gathering around my life; and if I fail I shall carry the truth of her spring-time beauty and girlish innocence back to the city, and their memory will daily warn me to beware lest I lose the power to love and appreciate that which is her pre-eminent charm.
"But enough of that phase of the question. There need be no failure in my dream, however probable failure may be in reality. Let me imagine that in her lovely face I may detect the slight curiosity inspired by a stranger passing into interest. She will be shy and reserved at first; but as the delicious sense of being understood and admired gains mastery, her thoughts will gradually reveal her heart like the opening petals of a rose, and I can reverently gaze upon the rich treasures of which she is the unconscious possessor, and which I may win without impoverishing her.
"Her ready laugh, clear and mellow as the robin's song that woke me this morning, will be the index of an unfailing spring of mirthfulness—of that breezy, piquant, laughing philosophy which gives to some women an indescribable charm, enabling them to render gloom and despondency rare inmates of the home over which they preside. When I recall what dark depths of perplexity and trouble my mother often hid with her light laugh, I remember that I have never yet had a chance even to approach her in heroism. In my dream, at least, I can give to my wife my mother's laugh and courage; and surely Nature, who has endowed yonder maiden with so much beauty, has also bestowed every suitable accompaniment. Wherefore I shall discover in her eyes treasures of sunshine that shall light my home on stormy days and winter nights.
"As I vary our theme of talk from bright to sad experiences, I shall catch a glimpse of that without which the world would become a desert —woman's sympathy. Possibly I may venture to suggest my own need, and emphasize it by a reference to Holy Writ. That would be appropriate in a Sunday wooing. Surely she would admit that if Adam could not endure being alone in Eden, a like fate would be far more deserving of pity in such a wilderness as New York.
"Then, as a sequel to her sympathy, I may witness the awakening of that noble characteristic of woman—self-sacrifice—the generous impulse to give happiness, even though at cost to self.
"As the winged hours pass, and our glances, our words, our intuitions, and the subtle laws of magnetism that are so powerful, and yet so utterly beyond the ken of reason, reveal us to each other, I detect in the depths of her blue eyes a light which vanishes when I seek it, but returns again—a principle which she does not even recognize, much less understand, and yet which she already unconsciously obeys. Her looks are less frank and open, her manner grows deliciously shy, she hesitates and chooses her words, but is not so happy in their choice as when she spoke without premeditation. Instead of the wonted bloom on her cheek her color comes and goes. Oh, most exquisite phase of human power! I control the fountain of her life; and by an act, a word, a glance even, can cause the crimson tide to rise even to her brow, and then to ebb, leaving her sad and pale. Joy! joy! I have won that out of which can be created the best thing of earth, and the type of heaven—a home!"
At this supreme moment in my day-dream, an elderly Friend on the high seat gave his hand to another white-haired man who had, for the last hour, leaned his chin on his stout cane, and meditated under the shadow of his broad-brimmed hat, and our silent meeting was over. The possessor of the exquisite profile who had led me through a flight of romance such as I had never known before, turned and looked directly at me.
The breaking of my dream had been too sudden, and I had been caught too high up to alight again on the solid ground of reality with ease and grace. The night-editor blushed like a school-girl under her glance, at which she seemed naturally surprised. She, of course, could imagine no reason why her brief look of curiosity should cause me confusion and bring a guilty crimson to my face. I took it as a good omen, however, and said mentally, as I passed out with the others,
"My thoughts have already established a subtle influence over her, drawing her eyes and the first delicate tendril of interest toward one to whom she may cling for life."
THE SHINING TIDE
As I was strenuously seeking to gain possession of my wits, so that I could avail myself of any opportunity that offered, or could be made by adroit, prompt action, the stalwart and elderly Friend, who had seemed thus far one of the ministers of my impending fate, again took my hand and said:
"I hope thee'll forgive me for asking thee to conform to our ways, and not think any rudeness was meant."
"The grasp of your hand at once taught me that you were friendly as well as a Friend," I replied.
"We should not belie our name, truly. I fear thee did not enjoy our silent meeting?"
"You are mistaken, sir. It was just the meeting which, as a weary man, I needed."
"I hope thee wasn't asleep?" he said, with a humorous twinkle in his honest blue eyes.
"You are quite mistaken again," I answered, smiling; but I should have been in a dilemma had he asked me if I had been dreaming.
"Thee's a stranger in these parts," he continued, in a manner that suggested kindness rather than curiosity.
"Possibly this is the day of my fate," I thought, "and this man the father of my ideal woman." And I decided to angle with my utmost skill for an invitation.
"You are correct," I replied, "and I much regret that I have wandered so far from my hotel, for I am not strong,"
"Well, thee may have good cause to be sorry, though we do our best; but if thee's willing to put up with homely fare and homely people, thee's welcome to come home with us."
Seeing eager acquiescence in my face, he continued, without giving me time to reply, "Here, mother, thee always provides enough for one more. We'll have a stranger within our gates to-day, perhaps."
To my joy the Friend lady, with a face like a benediction, turned at his words. At the same moment a large, three-seated rockaway, with a ruddy boy as driver, drew up against the adjacent horse-block, while the fair unknown, who had stood among a bevy of young Quakeresses like a tall lily among lesser flowers, came toward us holding a little girl by the hand. The family group was drawing together according to my prophetic fancy, and my heart beat thick and fast. Truly this was the day of fate!
"Homely people" indeed! and what cared I for "fare" in the very hour of destiny!
"Mother," he said, with his humorous twinkle, "I'm bent on making amends to this stranger who seemed to have a drawing toward thy side of the house. Thee didn't give him any spiritual fare in the meeting- house, but I think thee'll do better by him at the farmhouse. When I tell thee that he is not well and a long way from home, thee'll give him a welcome."
"Indeed," said the old lady, taking my hand in her soft, plump palm, while her face fairly beamed with kindness; "it would be poor faith that did not teach us our duty toward the stranger; and, if I mistake not, thee'll change our duty into a pleasure."
"Do not hope to entertain an angel," I said.
"That's well," the old gentleman put in; "our dinner will be rather too plain and substantial for angels' fare. I think thee'll be the better for it though."
"I am the better already for your most unexpected kindness, which I now gratefully accept as a stranger. I hope, however, that I may be able to win a more definite and personal regard;" and I handed the old gentleman my card.
"Richard Morton is thy name, then. I'll place thee beside Ruth Yocomb, my wife. Come, mother, we're keeping Friend Jones's team from the block. My name is Thomas Yocomb. No, no, take the back seat by my wife. She may preach to thee a little going home. Drive on, Reuben," he added, as he and his two daughters stepped quickly in, "and give Friend Jones a chance. This is Adah Yocomb, my daughter, and this is little Zillah. Mother thought that since the two names went together in Scripture they ought to go together out of it, and I am the last man in the world to go against the Scripture. That's Reuben Yocomb driving. Now thee knows all the family, and I hope thee don't feel as much of a stranger as thee did;" and the hearty old man turned and beamed on me with a goodwill that I felt to be as warm and genuine as the June sunshine.
"To be frank," I exclaimed, "I am at a loss to understand your kindness. In the city we are suspicious of strangers and stand aloof from them; but you treat me as if I had brought a cordial letter of introduction from one you esteemed highly."
"So thee has, so thee has; only the letter came before thee did. 'Be not forgetful to entertain strangers'—that's the way it reads, doesn't it, mother?"
"Moreover, Richard Morton," his wife added, "thee has voluntarily come among us, and sat down with us for a quiet hour. Little claim to the faith of Abraham could we have should we let thee wander off to get thy dinner with the birds in the woods, for the village is miles away."
"Mother'll make amends to thee for the silent meeting," said Mr. Yocomb, looking around with an impressive nod.
"I trust she will," I replied. "I wanted to hear her preach. It was her kindly face that led to my blunder, for it so attracted me from my perch of observation on the wall that I acted on my impulse and followed her into the meeting-house, feeling in advance that I had found a friend."
"Well, I guess thee has, one of the old school," laughed her husband.
The daughter, Adah, turned and looked at me, while she smiled approvingly. Oh, blessed day of destiny! When did dream and reality so keep pace before? Was I not dreaming still, and imagining everything to suit my own fancy? When would the perverse world begin to assert itself?
Sitting just before me, on the next seat, so that I could often see the same perfect profile, was the maiden that I had already wooed and won in fancy. Though she was so near and in the full sunlight, I could detect no cloudiness in her exquisite complexion, nor discover a fault in her rounded form. The slope of her shoulders was grace itself. She did not lean back weakly or languidly, but sat erect, with a quiet, easy poise of vigor and health. Her smile was frank and friendly, and yet not as enchanting as I expected. It was an affair of facial muscles rather than the lighting up of the entire visage. Nor did her full face—now that my confusion had passed away and I was capable of close observation—give the same vivid impression of beauty made by her profile. It was pretty, very pretty, but for some reasons disappointing. Then I smiled at my half-conscious criticism, and thought, "You have imagined a creature of unearthly perfection, and expect your impossible ideal to be realized. Were she all that you have dreamed, she would be much too fine for an ordinary mortal like yourself. In her rich, unperverted womanly nature you will find the beauty that will outlast that of form and feature."
"I fear thee found our silent meeting long and tedious," said Mrs. Yocomb, deprecatingly.
"I assure you I did not," I replied, "though I hoped you would have a message for us."
"It was not given to me," she said meekly. Then she added, "Those not used to our ways are troubled, perhaps, with wandering thoughts during these silent hours."
"I was not to-day," I replied with bowed head; "I found a subject that held mine."
"I'm glad," she said, her face kindling with pleasure. "May I ask the nature of the truth that held thy meditations?"
"Perhaps I will tell you some time," I answered hesitatingly; then added reverently, "It was of a very sacred nature."
"Thee's right," she said, gravely. "Far be it from me to wish to look curiously upon thy soul's communion."
For a moment I felt guilty that I should have so misled her, but reassured myself with the thought, "That which I dwelt upon was as sacred to me as my mother's memory."
I changed the subject, and sought by every means in my power to lead her to talk, for thus, I thought, I shall learn the full source of womanly life from which the peerless daughter has drawn her nature.
The kind old lady needed but little incentive. Her thoughts flowed freely in a quaint, sweet vernacular that savored of the meeting- house. I was both interested and charmed, and as we rode at a quiet jog through the June sunlight felt that I was in the hands of a kindly fate that, in accordance with the old fairy tales, was bent on giving one poor mortal all he desired.
At last, on a hillside sloping to the south, I saw the farmhouse of my dream. Two tall honey locusts stood like faithful guardians on each side of the porch. An elm drooped over the farther end of the piazza. In the dooryard the foliage of two great silver poplar or aspen trees fluttered perpetually with its light sheen. A maple towered high behind the house, and a brook that ran not far away was shadowed by a weeping willow. Other trees were grouped here and there as if Nature had planted them, and up one a wild grape-vine clambered, its unobtrusive blossoms filling the air with a fragrance more delicious even than that of the old-fashioned roses which abounded everywhere.
"Was there ever a sweeter nook?" I thought as I stepped out on the wide horse-block and gave my hand to one who seemed the beautiful culmination of the scene.
Miss Adah needed but little assistance to alight, but she took my hand in hers, which she had ungloved as she approached her home. It was her mother's soft, plump hand, but unmarked, as yet, by years of toil. I forgot we were such entire strangers, and under the impulse of my fancy clasped it a trifle warmly, at which she gave me a look of slight surprise, thus suggesting that there was no occasion for the act.
"You are mistaken," I mentally responded; "there is more occasion than you imagine; more than I may dare to tell you for a long time to come."
A lady who had been sitting on the piazza disappeared within the house, and Adah followed her.
"Now, mother," said Mr. Yocomb, "since thee did so little for friend Morton's spiritual man, see what thee can do for the temporal. I'll take the high seat this time, and can tell thee beforehand that there'll be no silent meeting."
"Father may seem to thee a little irreverent, but he doesn't mean to be. It's his way," said his wife, with a smile. "If thee'll come with me I'll show thee to a room where thee can rest and prepare for dinner."
I followed her through a wide hall to a stairway that changed its mind when half-way up and turned in an opposite direction. "It suggests the freedom and unconventionality of this home," I thought, yielding to my mood to idealize everything.
"This is thy room so long as thee'll be pleased to stay with us," she said, with a genial smile, and her ample form vanished from the doorway.
I was glad to be alone. The shining tide of events was bearing me almost too swiftly. "Can this be even the beginning of true love, since it runs so smoothly?" I queried. And yet it had all come about so simply and naturally, and for everything there was such adequate cause and rational explanation, that I assured myself that I had reason for self-congratulation rather than wonder.
Having seen such a maiden, it would be strange indeed if I had not been struck by her beauty. With an hour on my hands, and thoughts that called no one master, it would have been stranger still if I had not been beguiled into a dream which, in my need, promised so much that I was now bent on its fulfilment. Kind Mr. and Mrs. Yocomb had but carried out the teachings of their faith, and thus I was within the home of one who, developing under the influences of such a mother and such surroundings, would have the power beyond most other women of creating another home. I naturally thought that here, in this lovely and sheltered spot, and under just the conditions that existed, might be perfected the simple, natural flower of womanhood that the necessities of my life and character required.
I was too eager to prove my theories, and too strongly under the presentiment that my hour of destiny had come, to rest, and so gladly welcomed the tinkle of the dinner-bell.
The apparent mistress of my fate had not diminished her unconscious power by exchanging her Sunday-morning costume for a light muslin, that revealed more of her white throat than the strict canons of her sect would warrant perhaps, but none too much for maidenly modesty and artistic effect. Indeed, the gown harmonized with her somewhat worldly hat. I regarded these tendencies as good omens, however, felicitating myself with the thought that while her Quaker antecedents would always give to her manner and garb a beautiful simplicity, they would not trammel her taste with arbitrary custom. Though now more clearly satisfied that the beauty of her full face by no means equalled that of her profile, I was still far more than content with a perfection of features that sustained a rigorous scrutiny.
"Richard Morton," said Mrs. Yocomb, "let me make thee acquainted with Emily Warren."
I turned and bowed to a young woman, who seemed very colorless and unattractive to my brief glance, compared with the radiant creature opposite me. It would appear that I made no very marked impression on her either, for she chatted with little Zillah, who sat beyond her, and with Reuben across the table, making no effort to secure my attention.
If Mrs. Yocomb's powers as a spiritual provider were indicated by the table she had spread for us, the old meetinghouse should be crowded every Sunday, on the bare possibility that she might speak. From the huge plate of roast-beef before her husband to the dainty dish of wild strawberries on the sideboard, all was appetizing, and although it was the day of my destiny, I found myself making a hearty meal. My beautiful vis-a-vis evidently had no thoughts of destiny, and proved that the rich blood which mantled her cheeks had an abundant and healthful source. I liked that too. "There is no sentimental nonsense about her," I thought, "and her views of life will never be dyspeptic."
I longed to hear her talk, and yet was pleased that she was not garrulous. Her father evidently thought that this was his hour and opportunity, and he seasoned the ample repast with not a little homely wit and humor, in which his wife would sometimes join, and again curb and deprecate.
I began to grow disappointed that the daughter did not manifest some of her mother's quaint and genial good sense, or some sparkle and piquancy that would correspond to her father's humor: but the few remarks she made had reference chiefly to the people at the meeting, and verged toward small gossip.
I broached several subjects which I thought might interest her, but could obtain little other response than "Yes," with a faint rising inflection. After one of these unsuccessful attempts I detected a slight, peculiar smile on Miss Warren's face. It was a mischievous light in her dark eyes more than anything else. As she met my puzzled look it vanished instantly, and she turned away. Everything in my training and calling stimulated alertness, and I knew that smile was at my expense. Why was she laughing at me? Had she, by an intuition, divined my attitude of mind? A plague on woman's intuitions! What man is safe a moment?
But this could scarcely be, for the one toward whom my thoughts had flown for the last three hours, and on whom I had bent glances that did her royal homage, was serenely unconscious of my interest, or else supremely indifferent to it. She did not seem unfriendly, and I imagined that she harbored some curiosity in regard to me. My dress, manner, and some slight personal allusions secured far more attention than any abstract topic I could introduce. Her lips, however, were so exquisitely chiselled that they made, for the time, any utterance agreeable, and suggested that only tasteful thoughts and words could come from them.
"Now, mother," said Mr. Yocomb, leaning back in his chair after finishing a generous cup of coffee, "I feel inclined to be a good Christian man. I have a broad charity for about every one except editors and politicians. I am a man of peace, and there can be no peace while these disturbers of the body politic thrive by setting people by the ears. I don't disparage the fare, mother, that thee gives us at the meetinghouse, that is, when thee does give us any, but I do take my affirmation that thee has prepared a gospel feast for us since we came home that has refreshed my inner man. As long as I am in the body, roast-beef and like creature comforts are a means of grace to me. I am now in a contented frame of mind, and am quite disposed to be amiable. Emily Warren, I can even tolerate thy music—nay, let me speak the truth, I'd much like to hear some after my nap. Thee needn't shake thy head at me, mother, I've caught thee listening, and if thee brings me up before the meeting, I'll tell on thee. Does thee realize, Emily Warren, that thee is leading us out of the straight and narrow way?"
"I would be glad to lead you out of a narrow way," she replied, in a tone so quiet and yet so rich that I was inclined to believe I had not yet seen Miss Warren. Perhaps she saw that I was becoming conscious of her existence, for I again detected the old mirthful light in her eyes. Was I or Mr. Yocomb's remark the cause?
Who was Emily Warren anyway, and why must she be at the farmhouse at a time when I so earnestly wished "the coast clear?" The perverse world at last was asserting its true self, and there was promise of a disturbance in my shining tide. Moreover, I was provoked that the one remark of this Emily Warren had point to it, while my perfect flower of womanhood had revealed nothing definitely save a good appetite, and that she had no premonitions that this was the day of her destiny.
"Father," said my fair ideal abruptly, as if a bright idea had just struck her, "did thee notice that Friend Jones's rockaway had been painted and all fixed up? I guess he rather liked our keeping him there before all the meeting."
"Mother, I hope thee'll be moved to preach about the charity that thinketh no evil," said her father gravely.
The young girl tossed her head slightly as she asserted, "Araminta Jones liked it anyway. Any one could see that."
"And any one need not have seen it also," her mother said, with a pained look. Then she added, in a low aside, as we rose from the table, "Thee certainly need not have spoken about thy friend's folly."
The daughter apparently gave little heed to her mother's rebuke, and a trivial remark a moment later proved that she was thinking of something else.
"Adah, thee can entertain Richard Morton for a time, while mother attends to the things," said her father.
The alacrity with which she complied was flattering at least, and she led me out on the piazza, that corresponded with my day-dream.
"Zillah," called Mrs. Tocomb to her little girl, "do not bother Emily Warren. She may wish to be alone. Stay with Adah till I am through."
"Oh, mother, please, let me go with Emily Warren. I never have a good time with Adah."
"There, mother, let her have her own way," said Adah, pettishly. "Emily Warren, thee shouldn't pet her so if thee doesn't want to be bothered by her."
"She does not bother me at all," said Miss Warren quietly. "I like her."
The little girl that had been ready to cry turned to her friend a radiant face that was eloquent with the undisguised affection of childhood.
"Zillah evidently likes you, Miss Warren," I said, "and you have given the reason. You like her."
"Not always a sufficient reason for liking another," she answered.
"But a very good one," I urged.
"There are many better ones."
"What has reason to do with liking, anyway?" I asked.
The mirthfulness I had noted before glimmered in her eyes for a moment, but she answered demurely, "I have seen instances that gave much point to your question, but I cannot answer it," and with a slight bow and smile she took her hat from Zillah and went down the path with an easy, natural carriage, that nevertheless suggested the city and its pavements rather than the country.
"What were you two talking about?" asked Adah, with a trace of vexed perplexity on her brow, for I imagined that my glance followed Miss Warren with some admiration and interest.
"You must have heard all we said."
"Where was the point of it?"
"What I said hadn't any point, so do not blame yourself for not seeing it. Don't you like little Zillah? She seems a nice, quiet child."
"Certainly I like her—she's my sister; but I detest children."
"I can't think that you were detested when you were a child."
"I don't remember: I might have been," she replied, with a slight shrug.
"Do you think that, as a child, you would enjoy being detested?"
"Mother says it often isn't good for us to have what we enjoy."
"Undoubtedly your mother is right."
"Well, I don't see things in that way. If I like a thing I want it, and if I don't like it I don't want it, and won't have it if I can help myself."
"Your views are not unusual," I replied, turning away to hide my contracting brow. "I know of others who cherish like sentiments."
"Well, I'm glad to meet with one who thinks as I do," she said complacently, and plucking a half-blown rose that hung near her, she turned its petals sharply down as if they were plaits of a hem that she was about to stitch.
"Here is the first harmonic chord in the sweet congeniality of which I dreamed," I inwardly groaned; but I continued, "How is it that you like Zillah as your sister, and not as a little girl?"
"Oh, everybody likes their brothers and sisters after a fashion, but one doesn't care to be bothered with them when they are little. Besides, children rumple and spoil my dress," and she looked down at herself approvingly.
"Now, there's Emily Warren," continued my "embodiment of June." "Mother is beginning to hold her up to me as an example. Emily Warren is half the time doing things that she doesn't like, and I think she's very foolish. She is telling Zillah a story over there under that tree. I don't think one feels like telling stories right after dinner."
"Yes, but see how much Zillah enjoys the story."
"Oh, of course she enjoys it. Why shouldn't she, if it's a good one?"
"Is it not possible that Miss Warren finds a pleasure in giving pleasure?"
"Well, if she does, that is her way of having a good time."
"Don't you think it's a sweet, womanly way?"
"Ha, ha, ha! Are you already smitten with Emily Warren's sweet, womanly ways?"
I confess that I both blushed and frowned with annoyance and disappointment, but I answered lightly, "If I were, would I be one among many victims?"
"I'm sure I don't know," she replied, with her slight characteristic shrug, which also intimated that she didn't care.
"Miss Warren, I suppose, is a relative who is visiting you?"
"Oh, no, she is only a music teacher who is boarding with us. Mother usually takes two or three boarders through the summer months, that is if they are willing to put up with our ways."
"I suppose it's correct to quote Scripture on Sunday afternoon. I'm sure your mother's ways are those of pleasantness and peace. Do you think she would take me as a boarder?"
"I fear she'll think you would want too much city style."
"That is just what I wish to escape from."
"I think city style is splendid."
"Oh, the city is gay and full of life and people. I once took walks down Fifth Avenue when making a visit in town, and I would be perfectly happy if I could do so every day."
"Perfectly happy? I wish I knew of something that would make me perfectly happy. Pardon me, I am only a business man, and can't be expected to understand young ladies very well. I don't understand why walking down Fifth Avenue daily would make you happy."
"Of course not. A man can't understand a girl's feelings in such matters."
"There is nothing in New York so beautiful as this June day in the country."
"Yes, it's a nice day: but father says we need more rain dreadfully."
"You have spoiled your rose."
"There are plenty more."
"Don't you like roses?"
"Certainly. Who does not like roses?"
"Let me give you another. See, here is one that has the hue of your cheeks."
"I suppose a city pallor like Emily Warren's is more to your taste."
"I am wholly out of humor with the city, and I do not like that which is colorless and insipid. I think the rose I have just given you very beautiful."
"Thanks for your roundabout compliment," and she looked pleased.
"I suppose your quiet life gives you much time for reading?"
"I can't say that I enjoy father and mother's books."
"I doubt whether I would myself, but you have your own choice?"
"I read a story now and then; but time slips away; and I don't do much reading. We country girls make our own clothes, and you have no idea how much time it takes."
"Will you forgive me if I say that I think you make yours very prettily?"
Again she looked decidedly pleased; and, as if to reward me, she fastened the rose on her bosom. "If she would only keep still," I thought, "and I could simply look at her as at a draped statue, I could endure another half-hour; but every word she speaks is like the note of that catbird which broke the spell of harmony this morning. I have not yet seen a trace of ideality in her mind. Not a lovable trait have I discovered beyond her remarkable beauty, which mocks one with its broken promise. What is the controlling yet perverse principle of her life which makes her seem an alien in her own home? I am glad she does not use the plain language to me, since by nature she is not a Friend."
Miss Yocomb interrupted my thoughts by saying:
"I thought my dress would be much too simple and country-like for your taste. I can see myself that Emily Warren's dress has more style."
Resolving to explore a little, I said:
"I know a great many men in town."
"Indeed!" she queried, with kindling interest.
"Yes, and some of them are fine artists; and the majority have cultivated their tastes in various ways, both at home and abroad: but I do not think many of them have any respect for what you mean by 'style.' Shop-boys, clerks, and Fifth Avenue exquisites give their minds to the arbitrary mode of the hour; but the men in the city who amount to anything rarely know whether a lady's gown is of the latest cut. They do know, however, whether it is becoming and lady-like. The solid men of the city have a keen eye for beauty, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to enjoy its various phases. But half of the time they are anathematizing mere style. I have seen fashion transform a pretty girl into as near an approach to a kangaroo as nature permitted. Now, I shall be so bold as to say that I think your costume this afternoon has far better qualities than mere style. It is becoming, and in keeping with the day and season, and I don't care a fig whether it is the style or not."
My "perfect flower of womanhood" grew radiant, and her lips parted in a smile of ineffable content. In bitter disappointment I saw that my artifice had succeeded, and that I had touched the key-note of her being. To my horror, she reminded me of a pleased, purring kitten that had been stroked in the right direction.
"Your judgment is hasty and harsh," I charged myself, in half-angry accusation, loth to believe the truth. "You do not know yet that a compliment to her dress is the most acceptable one that she can receive. She probably takes it as a tribute to her good taste, which is one of woman's chief prerogatives."
I resolved to explore farther, and continued:
"A lady's dress is like the binding of a book—it ought to be suggestive of her character. Indeed, she can make it a tasteful expression of herself. Our eye is often attracted or repelled by a book's binding. When it has been made with a fine taste, so that it harmonizes with the subject under consideration, we are justly pleased; but neither you nor I believe in the people who value books for the sake of their covers only. Beauty and richness of thought, treasures of varied truth, sparkling wit, droll humor, or downright earnestness are the qualities in books that hold our esteem. A book must have a soul and life of its own as truly as you or I; and the costliest materials, the wealth of a kingdom, cannot make a true book any more than a perfect costume and the most exquisite combination of flesh and blood can make a true woman." (I wondered if she were listening to me; for her face was taking on an absent look. Conscious that my homily was growing rather long, I concluded.) "The book that reveals something new, or puts old truths in new and interesting lights—the book that makes us wiser, that cheers, encourages, comforts, amuses, and makes a man forget his stupid, miserable self, is the book we tie to. And so a man might well wish himself knotted to a woman who could do as much for him, and he would naturally be pleased to have her outward garb correspond with her spiritual beauty and worth."
My fair ideal had also reached a momentous conclusion, for she said, with the emphasis of a final decision:
"I won't cut that dress after Emily Warren's pattern. I'll cut it to suit myself."
I had been falling from a seventh heaven of hope for some time, but at this moment I struck reality with a thump that almost made me sick and giddy. The expression of my face reminded her of the irrelevancy of her remark, and she blushed slightly, but laughed it off, saying:
"Pardon me, that I followed my own thoughts for a moment rather than yours. These matters, no doubt, seem mere trifles to you gentlemen, but they are weighty questions to us girls who have to make a little go a great way. Won't you, please, repeat what you said about that lady who wrote a book for the sake of its binding? I think it's a pretty idea."
I was so incensed that I answered as I should not have done. "She was remarkably successful. Every one looked at the binding, but were soon satisfied to look no farther."
I was both glad and vexed that she did not catch my meaning, for she said, with a smile:
"It would make a pretty ornament."
"It would not be to my taste," I replied briefly. "The beautiful binding would hold out the promise of a good book, which, not being fulfilled, would be tantalizing."
"Do you know the lady well?"
"Yes, I fear I do."
"How strangely you look at me!"
"Excuse me," I said, starting. "I fear I followed your example and was thinking of something else."
But I let what I was thinking about slip out.
"It was indeed a revelation. My thoughts will not interest you, I fear. The experience of a man who saw a mirage in the desert came into my mind."
"I don't see what put that into your head."
"Nor do I, now. The world appears to me entirely matter-of-fact."
"I'm glad to hear you say that. Mother is always talking to me about spiritual meanings and all that. Now I agree with you. Things are just what they are. Some we like, and some we don't like. What more is there to say about them? I think people are very foolish if they bother themselves over things or people they don't like. I hope mother will take you to board, for I would like to have some one in the house who looks at things as I do."
"Thanks. Woman's intuition is indeed unerring."
"I declare, there comes Silas Jones with his new top-buggy. You won't mind his making one of our party, will you?"
"I think I will go to my room and rest awhile, and thus I shall not be that chief of this world's evils—the odious third party." And I rose decisively.
"I'd rather you wouldn't go," she said. "I don't care specially for him, and he does not talk half so nicely as you do. You needn't go on his account. Indeed, I like to have half a dozen gentlemen around me."
"You are delightfully frank."
"Yes, I usually say what I think."
"And do as you please," I added.
"Certainly. Why shouldn't I when I can? Don't you?"
"But I came from the wicked city." "So does Emily Warren."
"Is she wicked?"
"I don't know; she keeps it to herself if she is; and, by the way, she is very quiet, I can never get her to talk much about herself. She appears so good that mother is beginning to quote her as an example, and that, you know, always makes one detest a person. I think there is some mystery about her. I'm sorry you will go, for I've lots of questions I'd like to ask you now we are acquainted."
"Pardon me; I'm not strong, and must have a rest. Silas Jones will answer just as well."
"Not quite," she said softly, with a smile designed to be bewitching.
As I passed up the hall I heard her say, "Silas Jones, I'm pleased to see thee."
I threw myself on the lounge in my room in angry disgust.
"O Nature!" I exclaimed, "what excuse have you for such perverseness? By every law of probability—by the ordinary sequence of cause and effect—this girl should have been what I fancied her to be. This, then, forsooth, is the day of my fate! It would be the day of doom did some malicious power chain me to this brainless, soulless, heartless creature. What possessed Nature to make such a blunder, to begin so fairly and yet reach such a lame and impotent conclusion? To the eye the girl is the fair and proper outcome of this home and beautiful country life. In reality she is a flat contradiction to it all, reversing in her own character the native traits and acquired graces of her father and mother.
"As if controlled and carried forward by a hidden and malign power, she goes steadily against her surrounding influences that, like the winds of heaven, might have wafted her toward all that is good and true. Is not sweet, quaint Mrs. Yocomb her mother? Is not the genial, hearty old gentleman her father? Has she not developed among scenes that should ennoble her nature, and enrich her mind with ideality? There is Oriental simplicity and largeness in her parents' faith. Abraham sitting at the door of his tent, could scarcely have done better. Hers is the simplicity of silliness, which reveals what a woman of sense, though no better than herself, would not speak of. It is exasperating to think that her eyes and fingers are endowed with a sense of harmony and beauty, so that she can cut a gown and adorn her lovely person to perfection, and yet be so idiotic as to make a spectacle of herself in her real womanhood. As far as I can make out, Nature is more to blame than the girl. There is not a bat blinking in the sunlight more blind than she to every natural beauty of this June day; and yet her eyes are microscopic, and she sees a host of little things not worth seeing. A true womanly moral nature seems never to have been infused into her being. She detests children, her little sister shrinks from her; she speaks and surmises evil of the absent; to strut down Fifth Avenue in finery, to which she has given her whole soul, is her ideal of happiness—there, stop! She is the daughter of my kind host and hostess. The mystery of this world's evil is sadly exemplified in her defective character, from which sweet, true womanliness was left out. I should pity her, and treat her as if she were deformed. Poor Mrs. Yocomb! Even mother-love cannot blind her to the truth that her fair daughter is a misshapen creature." After a little, I added wearily, "I wish I had never seen her; I am the worse for this day's mirage," and I closed my eyes in dull apathy.
I must have slept for an hour or more, for when I awoke I saw through the window-lattice that the sun was declining in the west. Sleep had again proved better than all philosophy or medicine, for it had refreshed me and given something of the morning's elasticity.
I naturally indulged in a brief retrospect, conscious that while nothing had happened, since the croaking printer's remark, that I would care to print in the paper, experiences had occurred that touched me closer than would the news that all the Malays of Asia were running amuck. I felt as if thrown back on to my old life and work in precisely their old form. My expedition into the country and romance had been disappointing. It is true I had found rest and sleep, and for these I was grateful, and with these stanch allies I can go on with my work, which I now believe is the best thing the world has for me. I shall go back to it to-morrow, well content, after this day's experience, to make it my mistress. The bare possibility of being yoked to such a woman as in fancy I have wooed and won to-day makes me shiver with inexpressible dread. Her obtuseness, combined with her microscopic surveillance, would drive me to the nearest madhouse I could find. The whole business of love-making and marriage involves too much risk to a man who, like myself, must use his wits as a sword to carve his fortunes. I've fought my way up alone so far, and may as well remain a free lance. The wealthy, and those who are content to plod, can go through life with a woman hanging on their arm. Rich I shall never be, and I'll die before I'll plod. My place is in the midst of the world's arena, where the forces that shall make the future are contending, and I propose to be an appreciable part of those forces. I shall go back the wiser and stronger for this day's folly, and infinitely better for its rest, and I marched down the moody stairway, feeling that I was not yet a crushed and broken man, and cherishing also a secret complacency that I had at last outgrown my leanings toward sentimentality.
As I approached the door of the wide, low-browed parlor, I saw Miss Warren reading a paper; a second later and my heart gave a bound: it was the journal of which I was the night editor, and I greeted its familiar aspect as the face of an old friend in a foreign land. It was undoubtedly the number that had gone to press the night I had broken down, and I almost hoped to see some marks of the catastrophe in its columns. How could I beguile the coveted sheet from Miss Warren's hands and steal away to a half-hour's seclusion?
"What! Miss Warren," I exclaimed, "reading a newspaper on Sunday?"
She looked at me a moment before replying, and then asked:
"Do you believe in a Providence?"
Thrown off my guard by the unexpected question, I answered:
"Assuredly; I am not quite ready to admit that I am a fool, even after all that has happened."
There was laughter in her eyes at once, but she asked innocently:
"What has happened?"
I suppose my color rose a little, but I replied carelessly, "I have made some heavy blunders of late. You are adroit in stealing away from a weak position under a fire of questions, but your stratagem shall not succeed," I continued severely. "How can you explain the fact, too patent to be concealed, that here in good Mrs. Yocomb's house, and on a Sunday afternoon, you are reading a secular newspaper?"
"You. have explained my conduct yourself," she said, assuming a fine surprise.
"You, and most satisfactorily. You said you believed in a Providence. I have merely been reading what he has done, or what he has permitted, within the last twenty-four hours."
I looked around for a chair, and sat down "struck all of a heap," as the rural vernacular has it.
"Is that your definition of news?" I ventured at last.
"I'm not a dictionary. That's the definition of what I've been reading this afternoon."
"Miss Warren, you may score one against me."
The mischievous light was in her eyes, but she said suavely:
"Oh, no, you shall have another chance. I shall begin by showing mercy, for I may need it, and I see that you can be severe."
"Well, please, let me take breath and rally my shattered wits before I make another advance. I understand you, then, that you regard newspapers as good Sunday reading?"
"You prove your ability, Mr. Morton, by drawing a vast conclusion from a small and ill-defined premise. I don't recall making any such statement."
"Pardon me, you are at disadvantage now. I ask for no better premise than your own action; for you are one, I think, who would do only what you thought right."
"A palpable hit. I'm glad I showed you mercy. Still it does not follow that because I read a newspaper, all newspapers are good Sunday reading. Indeed, there is much in this paper that is not good reading for Monday or any other day."
"Ah!" I exclaimed, looking grave, "then why do you read it?"
"I have not. A newspaper is like the world of which it is a brief record—full of good and evil. In either case, if one does not like the evil, it can be left alone."
"Which do you think predominates in that paper?"
"Oh, the good, in the main. There is an abundance of evil, too, but it is rather in the frank and undisguised record of the evil in the world. It does not seem to have got into the paper's blood and poisoned its whole life. It is easily skipped if one is so inclined. There are some journals in which the evil cannot be skipped. From the leading editorial to the obscurest advertisement, one stumbles on it everywhere. They are like certain regions in the South, in which there is no escape from the snakes and malaria. Now there are low places in this paper, but there is high ground also, where the air is good and wholesome, and where the outlook on the world is wide. That is the reason I take it."
"I was not aware that many young ladies looked, in journals of this character, beyond the record of deaths and marriages."
"We studied ancient history. Is it odd that we should have a faint desire to know what Americans are doing, as well as what the Babylonians did?"
"Oh, I do not decry your course as irrational. It seems rather— rather—"
"Rather too rational for a young lady."
"I did not say that; but here is my excuse," and I took from a table near a periodical entitled "The Young Lady's Own Weekly," addressed to Miss Adah Yocomb.
"Have not young men their own weeklies also—which of the two classes is the more weakly?"
"Ahem! I decline to pursue this phase of the subject any further. To return to our premise, this journal," and I laid my hand on the old paper caressingly. "It so happens that I read it also, and thus learn that we have had many thoughts in common; though, no doubt, we would differ on some of the questions discussed in it. What do you think of its politics?"
"I think they are often very bad."
"That's delightfully frank," I said, sitting back in my chair a little stiffly. "I think they are very good—at any rate they are mine."
"Perhaps that is the reason they are so good?"
"Now, pardon me if I, too, am a trifle plain. Do you consider yourself as competent to form an opinion concerning politics as gray-headed students of affairs?"
"Oh, certainly not; but do I understand that you accept, unquestioningly, the politics of the paper you read?"
"Far from it: rather that the politics of this paper commend themselves to my judgment."
"And you think 'judgment' an article not among a young woman's possessions?"
"Miss Warren, you may think what you please of the politics of this paper. But how comes it that you think about them at all? I'm sure that they interest but comparatively few young ladies."
Her face suddenly became very grave and sad, and a moment later she turned away her eyes that were full of tears. "I wish you hadn't asked that question; but I will explain my seeming weakness," she said, in a low, faltering voice. "I lost my only brother in the war—I was scarcely more than a child; but I can see him now—my very ideal of brave, loyal manhood. Should I not love the country for which he died?"
Politics! a word that men so often utter with contempt, has been hallowed to me since that moment.
She looked away for a moment, swiftly pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, then turning toward me said, with a smile, and in her former tones:
"Forgive me! I've been a bit lonely and blue this afternoon, for the day has reminded me of the past. I won't be weak and womanish any more. I think some political questions interest a great many women deeply. It must be so. We don't dote on scrambling politicians; but a man as a true statesman makes a grand figure."
I was not thinking of statecraft or the craftsmen.
"By Jove!" I exclaimed mentally, "this girl is more beautiful than my 'perfect flower of womanhood.' Night-owl that I am, I am just gaining the power to see her clearly as the sun declines."
I know my face was full of honest sympathy as I said, gently and reverently:
"Tell me more of your brother. The thoughts of such men make me better."
She shot a quick, grateful glance, looked down, trembled, shook her head as she faltered:
"I cannot—please don't; speak of something far removed."
The feeling was so deep, and yet so strongly curbed, that its repression affected me more deeply than could its manifestation. Her sorrow became a veiled and sacred mystery of which I could never be wholly unconscious again; and I felt that however strong and brilliant she might prove in our subsequent talk, I should ever see, back of all, the tender-hearted, sensitive woman.
"Please forgive me. I was cruelly thoughtless," I said, in a voice that trembled slightly. Then, catching up the paper, I continued, with attempted lightness, "We have found this journal, that we mutually read, a fruitful theme. What do you think of its literary reviews?"
Mirth and tears struggled for the mastery in her eyes; but she answered, with a voice that had regained its clear, bell-like tone:
"In some I have seen indisputable proof of impartiality and freedom from prejudice."
"In what did that proof consist?"
"In the evident fact that the reviewer had not read the book."
"You are severe," I said, coloring slightly.
She looked at me with a little surprise, but continued:
"That does not happen very often. It is clear that there are several contributors to this department, and I have come to look for the opinions of one of them with much interest. I am sure of a careful and appreciative estimate of a book from his point of view. His one fault appears to be that he sees everything from one perspective, and does not realize that the same thing may strike other intelligent people very differently. But he's a fixed and certain quantity, and a good point to measure from. I like him because he is so sincere. He sits down to a book as a true scientist does to a phase of nature, to really learn what there is in it, and not merely to display a little learning, sarcasm, or smartness. I always feel sure that I know something about a book after reading one of his reviews, and also whether I could afford to spend a part of my limited time in reading it."
"I have singled out the same reviewer, and think your estimate correct. On another occasion, when we have more time, I am going to ask how you like the musical critic's opinions; for on that subject you would be at home."
"What makes you think so?"
"Miss Yocomb told me that you taught music in the city, and music is about the only form of recreation for which I have taken time in my busy life. There are many things concerning the musical tendencies of the day that I would like to ask you about. But I hear the clatter of the supper dishes. What do you think of the editorial page, and its moral tendencies? That is a good Sunday theme."
"There is evidence of much ability, but there is a lack of earnestness and definite purpose. The paper is newsy and bright, and, in the main, wholesome. It reflects public opinion fairly and honestly, but does little to shape it. It is often spicily controversial, sometimes tiresomely so. I do a good deal of skipping in that line. I wish its quarrels resulted more from efforts to right some wrong; and there is so much evil in our city, both in high and low places, that ought to be fought to the death. The editor has exceptional opportunities, and might be the knight-errant of our age. If in earnest, and on the right side, he can forge a weapon out of public opinion that few evils could resist. And he is in just the position to discover these dragons. and drive them from their hiding-places. If, for instance, the clever paragraphist in this column, whose province, it seems, is to comment at the last moment on the events of the day, were as desirous of saying true, strong, earnest words, as bright and prophetic ones, in which the news of the morrow is also outlined-why, Mr. Morton, what is the matter?"
"Are you a witch?"
She looked at me a moment, blushed deeply, and asked hesitatingly:
"Are-are you the paragraphist?"
"Yes," I said, with a burst of laughter, "as truly as yours is the only witchcraft in which I believe-that of brains." Then putting my finger on my lips, I added, sotto voce: "Don't betray me. Mr. Yocomb would set all his dogs on me if he knew I were an editor, and I don't wish to go yet."
"What have I been saying!" she exclaimed, with an appalled look.
"Lots of clever things. I never got so many good hints in the same time before."
"It wasn't fair in you, to lead me on in the dark."
"Oh, there wasn't any 'dark,' I assure you. Your words were coruscations. Never was the old journal so lighted up before."
There were both perplexity and annoyance in her face as she looked dubiously at me. Instantly becoming grave, I stepped to her side and took her hand, as I said, with the strongest emphasis:
"Miss Warren, I thank you. I have caught a glimpse of my work and calling through the eyes of a true, refined, and, permit me to add, a gifted woman. I think I shall be the better for it, but will make no professions. If I'm capable of improvement this column will show it."
Her hand trembled in mine as she looked away and said:
"You are capable of sympathy."
Then she went hastily to the piano.
Before she could play beyond a bar or two, little Zillah bounded in, exclaiming:
"Emily Warren, mother asks if thee and Richard Morton will come out to tea?"
"I may be in error, but is not a piano one of the worldly vanities?" I asked, as she turned to comply. "I did not expect to see one here."
"Mrs. Yocomb kindly took this in with me. I could scarcely live without one, so you see I carry the shop with me everywhere, and am so linked to my business that I can never be above it."
"I hope not, but you carry the business up with you. The shop may be, and ought to be, thoroughly respectable. It is the narrow, mercenary spirit of the shop that is detestable. If you had that, you would leave your piano in New York, since here it would have no money value. '
"You take a nice view of it."
"Is it not the true view?"
In mock surprise she answered:
"Mr. Morton, I'm from New York. Did you ever meet a lady from that city who was not all that the poets claimed for womanhood?"
A QUAKER TEA
"Richard Morton," said Mrs. Yocomb genially, "thee seems listening very intently to something Emily Warren is saying, so thee may take that seat beside her."
"Richard Morton," said Mr. Yocomb from the head of the table, "has thee made the acquaintance of Emily Warren?"
"No, sir, but I am making it."
"So am I, and she has been here a week."
"I should esteem that one of the highest of compliments," I said; then turning to her, I added, in an aside, "You found me out in half an hour."
"Am I such a sphinx?" she asked Mr. Yocomb with a smile; while to me she said, in a low tone: "You are mistaken. You have had something to say to me almost daily for a year or more."
"I am not acquainted with the article, and so can't give an opinion," Mr. Yocomb replied, with a humorous twinkle in his eye. "If the resemblance is close, so much the better for the sphinxes."
"Now, father, thee isn't a young man that thee should be complimenting the girls," his wife remarked.
"I've persuaded Silas Jones to stay," said Adah, entering.
"Silas Jones, I hope thee and thy parents are well," Mrs. Yocomb answered, with a courtesy somewhat constrained. "Will thee take that seat by Adah? Let me make thee acquainted with Richard Morton and Emily Warren."
We bowed, but I turned instantly to Miss Warren and said.
"Do you note how delightfully Mrs. Yocomb unites our names? I take it as an omen that we may become friends in spite of my shortcomings. You should have been named first in the order of merit."
"Mrs. Yocomb rarely makes mistakes," she replied.
"That confirms my omen."
"Omens are often ominous."
"I'm prepared for the best."
"Hush!" and she bowed her head in the grace customary before meals in this house.
I had noted that Mr. Yocomb's bow to Mr. Jones was slightly formal also. Remembering the hospitable traits of my host and hostess, I concluded that the young man was not exactly to their taste. Indeed, a certain jauntiness in dress that verged toward flashiness would not naturally predispose them in his favor. But Adah, although disclaiming any special interest in him, seemed pleased with his attentions. She was not so absorbed, however, but that she had an eye for me, and expected my homage also. She apparently felt that she had made a very favorable impression on me, and that we were congenial spirits. During the half hour that followed I felt rather than saw that this fact amused Miss Warren exceedingly.
For a few moments we sat in silence, but I fear my grace was as graceless as my morning worship had been. Miss Warren's manner was reverent. Were her thoughts also wandering? and whither? She certainly held mine, and by a constraint that was not unwelcome.
When she lifted her expressive eyes I concluded that she had done better than merely comply with a religious custom.
"The spirit of this home has infected you," I said.
"It might be well for you also to catch the infection."
"I know it would be well for me, and wish to expose myself to it to the utmost. You are the only obstacle I fear."
"Yes. I will explain after supper."
"To explain that you have good cause to ask for time,"
"Richard Morton, does thee like much sugar in thy tea?" Mrs. Yocomb asked.
"No-yes, none at all, if you please."
My hostess looked at me a little blankly, and Adah and Silas Jones giggled.
"A glass of milk will help us both out of our dilemma," I said, with a laugh.
"An editor should be able to think of two things at once," Miss Warren remarked, in a low aside.
"That depends on the subject of his thoughts. But don't breathe that word here, or I'm undone."
"Richard Morton," said Mr. Yocomb, "I hope thee feels the better for mother's ministrations since we came home. Will thee pass thy plate for some more of the same kind?"
"Mrs. Yocomb has done me good ever since I followed her into the meeting-house," I replied. "I am indeed the better for her dinner, and I ought to be. I feared you would all be aghast at the havoc I made. But it is your kindness and hospitality that have done me the most good, i would not have believed yesterday afternoon that my fortunes could have taken so favorable a turn."
"Why, what was the matter with you then?" asked Adah, with wide-eyed curiosity; and little Zillah looked at me with a pitying and puzzled glance.
"A common complaint in the city. I was committing suicide, and yesterday became conscious of the fact."
"Mr. Morton must have hit on an agreeable method of suicide, since he could commit it unconsciously," Miss Warren remarked mischievously. "I read in Emily Warren's newspaper this afternoon," said Silas Jones, with awkward malice, "of a young fellow who got a girl to marry him by pretending to commit suicide. He didn't hurt himself much though."
The incident amused Adah exceedingly, and I saw that Miss Warren's eyes were full of laughter. Assuming a shocked expression, I said:
"I am surprised that Miss Warren takes a paper so full of insidious evil." Then, with the deepest gravity, I remarked to Silas Jones, "I have recently been informed, sir, on good authority, that each one instinctively finds and reads in a newspaper that which he likes or needs. I sincerely hope, my dear sir, that the example you have quoted will not lead you to adopt a like method."
Adah laughed openly to her suitor's confusion, and the mouths of the others were twitching. With the complexion of the rose at his button- hole Mr. Jones said, a trifle vindictively: