[Transcriber's note: There was no table of contents in the original book; one has been added in this project to ease the navigation.]
by Kate Chopin
I. The Mistress of Place-du-Bois. II. At the Mill. III. In the Pirogue. IV. A Small Interruption. V. In the Pine Woods. VI. Melicent Talks. VII. Painful Disclosures. VIII. Treats of Melicent. IX. Face to Face. X. Fanny's Friends. XI. The Self-Assumed Burden. XII. Severing Old Ties.
I. Fanny's First Night at Place-du-Bois. II. "Neva to See You!" III. A Talk Under the Cedar Tree. IV. Therese Crosses the River. V. One Afternoon. VI. One Night. VII. Melicent Leaves Place-du-Bois. VIII. With Loose Rein. IX. The Reason Why. X. Perplexing Things. XI. A Social Evening. XII. Tidings That Sting. XIII. Melicent Hears the News. XIV. A Step Too Far. XV. A Fateful Solution. XVI. To Him Who Waits. XVII. Conclusion.
The Mistress of Place-du-Bois.
When Jerome Lafirme died, his neighbors awaited the results of his sudden taking off with indolent watchfulness. It was a matter of unusual interest to them that a plantation of four thousand acres had been left unincumbered to the disposal of a handsome, inconsolable, childless Creole widow of thirty. A betise of some sort might safely be looked for. But time passing, the anticipated folly failed to reveal itself; and the only wonder was that Therese Lafirme so successfully followed the methods of her departed husband.
Of course Therese had wanted to die with her Jerome, feeling that life without him held nothing that could reconcile her to its further endurance. For days she lived alone with her grief; shutting out the appeals that came to her from the demoralized "hands," and unmindful of the disorder that gathered about her. Till Uncle Hiram came one day with a respectful tender of sympathy, offered in the guise of a reckless misquoting of Scripture—and with a grievance.
"Mistuss," he said, "I 'lowed 'twar best to come to de house an' tell you; fur Massa he alluz did say 'Hi'urm, I counts on you to keep a eye open endurin' my appersunce;' you ricollic, marm?" addressing an expanse of black bordered cambric that veiled the features of his mistress. "Things is a goin' wrong; dat dey is. I don't wants to name no names 'doubt I'se 'bleeged to; but dey done start a kiarrin' de cotton seed off de place, and dats how."
If Hiram's information had confined itself to the bare statement of things "goin' wrong," such intimation, of its nature vague and susceptible of uncertain interpretation, might have failed to rouse Therese from her lethargy of grief. But that wrong doing presented as a tangible abuse and defiance of authority, served to move her to action. She felt at once the weight and sacredness of a trust, whose acceptance brought consolation and awakened unsuspected powers of doing.
In spite of Uncle Hiram's parting prediction "de cotton 'll be a goin' naxt" no more seed was hauled under cover of darkness from Place-du-Bois.
The short length of this Louisiana plantation stretched along Cane River, meeting the water when that stream was at its highest, with a thick growth of cotton-wood trees; save where a narrow convenient opening had been cut into their midst, and where further down the pine hills started in abrupt prominence from the water and the dead level of land on either side of them. These hills extended in a long line of gradual descent far back to the wooded borders of Lac du Bois; and within the circuit which they formed on the one side, and the irregular half circle of a sluggish bayou on the other, lay the cultivated open ground of the plantation—rich in its exhaustless powers of reproduction.
Among changes which the railroad brought soon after Jerome Lafirme's death, and which were viewed by many as of questionable benefit, was one which drove Therese to seek another domicile. The old homestead that nestled to the hill side and close to the water's edge, had been abandoned to the inroads of progressive civilization; and Mrs. Lafirme had rebuilt many rods away from the river and beyond sight of the mutilated dwelling, converted now into a section house. In building, she avoided the temptations offered by modern architectural innovations, and clung to the simplicity of large rooms and broad verandas: a style whose merits had stood the test of easy-going and comfort-loving generations.
The negro quarters were scattered at wide intervals over the land, breaking with picturesque irregularity into the systematic division of field from field; and in the early spring-time gleaming in their new coat of whitewash against the tender green of the sprouting cotton and corn.
Therese loved to walk the length of the wide verandas, armed with her field-glass, and to view her surrounding possessions with comfortable satisfaction. Then her gaze swept from cabin to cabin; from patch to patch; up to the pine-capped hills, and down to the station which squatted a brown and ugly intruder within her fair domain.
She had made pouting resistance to this change at first, opposing it step by step with a conservatism that yielded only to the resistless. She pictured a visionary troop of evils coming in the wake of the railroad, which, in her eyes no conceivable benefits could mitigate. The occasional tramp, she foresaw as an army; and the travelers whom chance deposited at the store that adjoined the station, she dreaded as an endless procession of intruders forcing themselves upon her privacy.
Gregoire, the young nephew of Mrs. Lafirme, whose duty on the plantation was comprehended in doing as he was bid, qualified by a propensity for doing as he liked, rode up from the store one day in the reckless fashion peculiar to Southern youth, breathless with the information that a stranger was there wishing audience with her.
Therese at once bristled with objections. Here was a confirmation of her worst dread. But encouraged by Gregoire's reiteration "he 'pear to me like a nice sort o' person," she yielded a grudging assent to the interview.
She sat within the wide hall-way beyond the glare and heat that were beating mercilessly down upon the world out of doors, engaged in a light work not so exacting as to keep her thoughts and glance from wandering. Looking through the wide open back doors, the picture which she saw was a section of the perfect lawn that encircled the house for an acre around, and from which Hiram was slowly raking the leaves cast from a clump of tall magnolias. Beneath the spreading shade of an umbrella-China tree, lay the burly Hector, but half awake to the possible nearness of tramps; and Betsy, a piece of youthful ebony in blue cottonade, was crossing leisurely on her way to the poultry yard; unheeding the scorching sun-rays that she thought were sufficiently parried by the pan of chick feed that she balanced adroitly on her bushy black head.
At the front, the view at certain seasons would have been clear and unbroken: to the station, the store, and out-lying hills. But now she could see beyond the lawn only a quivering curtain of rich green which the growing corn spread before the level landscape, and above whose swaying heads appeared occasionally the top of an advancing white sun-shade.
Therese was of a roundness of figure suggesting a future of excessive fullness if not judiciously guarded; and she was fair, with a warm whiteness that a passing thought could deepen into color. The waving blonde hair, gathered in an abundant coil on top of her head, grew away with a pretty sweep from the temples, the low forehead and nape of the white neck that showed above a frill of soft lace. Her eyes were blue, as certain gems are; that deep blue that lights, and glows, and tells things of the soul. When David Hosmer presented himself, they were intense only with expectancy and the color was in her cheek like the blush in a shell.
He was a tall individual of perhaps forty; thin and sallow. His black hair was streaked abundantly with grey, and his face marked with premature lines; left there by care, no doubt, and, by a too close attention to what men are pleased to call the main chances of life.
"A serious one," was Therese's first thought in looking at him. "A man who has never learned to laugh or who has forgotten how." Though plainly feeling the effects of the heat, he did not seem to appreciate the relief offered by the grateful change into this shadowy, sweet smelling, cool retreat; used as he was to ignore the comforting things of life when presented to him as irrelevant to that dominant main chance. He accepted under protest a glass of ice water from the wide-eyed Betsy, and suffered a fan to be thrust into his hand, seemingly to save his time or his timidity by its possibly unheeded rejection.
"Lor'-zee folks," exclaimed the observant Betsy on re-entering the kitchen, "dey'se a man in yonda, look like he gwine eat somebody up. I was fur gittin' 'way quick me."
It can be readily imagined that Hosmer lost little time in preliminary small talk. He introduced himself vaguely as from the West; then perceiving the need of being more specific as from Saint Louis. She had guessed he was no Southerner. He had come to Mrs. Lafirme on the part of himself and others with a moneyed offer for the privilege of cutting timber from her land for a given number of years. The amount named was alluring, but here was proposed another change and she felt plainly called on for resistance.
The company which he represented had in view the erection of a sawmill some two miles back in the woods, close beside the bayou and at a convenient distance from the lake. He was not wordy, nor was he eager in urging his plans; only in a quiet way insistent in showing points to be considered in her own favor which she would be likely herself to overlook.
Mrs. Lafirme, a clever enough business woman, was moved by no undue haste to give her answer. She begged for time to think the matter over, which Hosmer readily agreed to; expressing a hope that a favorable answer be sent to him at Natchitoches, where he would await her convenience. Then resisting rather than declining all further hospitality, he again took his way through the scorching fields.
Therese wanted but time to become familiar with this further change. Alone she went out to her beloved woods, and at the hush of mid-day, bade a tearful farewell to the silence.
At the Mill.
David Hosmer sat alone in his little office of roughly fashioned pine board. So small a place, that with his desk and his clerk's desk, a narrow bed in one corner, and two chairs, there was scant room for a man to more than turn himself comfortably about. He had just dispatched his clerk with the daily bundle of letters to the post-office, two miles away in the Lafirme store, and he now turned with the air of a man who had well earned his moment of leisure, to the questionable relaxation of adding columns and columns of figures.
The mill's unceasing buzz made pleasant music to his ears and stirred reflections of a most agreeable nature. A year had gone by since Mrs. Lafirme had consented to Hosmer's proposal; and already the business more than gave promise of justifying the venture. Orders came in from the North and West more rapidly than they could be filled. That "Cypresse Funerall" which stands in grim majesty through the dense forests of Louisiana had already won its just recognition; and Hosmer's appreciation of a successful business venture was showing itself in a little more pronounced stoop of shoulder, a deepening of pre-occupation and a few additional lines about mouth and forehead.
Hardly had the clerk gone with his letters than a light footstep sounded on the narrow porch; the quick tap of a parasol was heard on the door-sill; a pleasant voice asking, "Any admission except on business?" and Therese crossed the small room and seated herself beside Hosmer's desk before giving him time to arise.
She laid her hand and arm,—bare to the elbow—across his work, and said, looking at him reproachfully:—
"Is this the way you keep a promise?"
"A promise?" he questioned, smiling awkwardly and looking furtively at the white arm, then very earnestly at the ink-stand beyond.
"Yes. Didn't you promise to do no work after five o'clock?"
"But this is merely pastime," he said, touching the paper, yet leaving it undisturbed beneath the fair weight that was pressing it down. "My work is finished: you must have met Henry with the letters."
"No, I suppose he went through the woods; we came on the hand-car. Oh, dear! It's an ungrateful task, this one of reform," and she leaned back, fanning leisurely, whilst he proceeded to throw the contents of his desk into hopeless disorder by pretended efforts at arrangement.
"My husband used sometimes to say, and no doubt with reason," she continued, "that in my eagerness for the rest of mankind to do right, I was often in danger of losing sight of such necessity for myself."
"Oh, there could be no fear of that," said Hosmer with a short laugh. There was no further pretext for continued occupation with his pens and pencils and rulers, so he turned towards Therese, rested an arm on the desk, pulled absently at his black moustache, and crossing his knee, gazed with deep concern at the toe of his boot, and set of his trouser about the ankle.
"You are not what my friend Homeyer would call an individualist," he ventured, "since you don't grant a man the right to follow the promptings of his character."
"No, I'm no individualist, if to be one is to permit men to fall into hurtful habits without offering protest against it. I'm losing faith in that friend Homeyer, who I strongly suspect is a mythical apology for your own short-comings."
"Indeed he's no myth; but a friend who is fond of going into such things and allows me the benefit of his deeper perceptions."
"You having no time, well understood. But if his influence has had the merit of drawing your thoughts from business once in a while we won't quarrel with it."
"Mrs. Lafirme," said Hosmer, seeming moved to pursue the subject, and addressing the spray of white blossoms that adorned Therese's black hat, "you admit, I suppose, that in urging your views upon me, you have in mind the advancement of my happiness?"
"Then why wish to substitute some other form of enjoyment for the one which I find in following my inclinations?"
"Because there is an unsuspected selfishness in your inclinations that works harm to yourself and to those around you. I want you to know," she continued warmly, "the good things of life that cheer and warm, that are always at hand."
"Do you think the happiness of Melicent or—or others could be materially lessened by my fondness for money getting?" he asked dryly, with a faint elevation of eyebrow.
"Yes, in proportion as it deprives them of a charm which any man's society loses, when pursuing one object in life, he grows insensible to every other. But I'll not scold any more. I've made myself troublesome enough for one day. You haven't asked about Melicent. It's true," she laughed, "I haven't given you much chance. She's out on the lake with Gregoire."
"Yes, in the pirogue. A dangerous little craft, I'm afraid; but she tells me she can swim. I suppose it's all right."
"Oh, Melicent will look after herself."
Hosmer had great faith in his sister Melicent's ability to look after herself; and it must be granted that the young lady fully justified his belief in her.
"She enjoys her visit more than I thought she would," he said.
"Melicent's a dear girl," replied Therese cordially, "and a wise one too in guarding herself against a somber influence that I know," with a meaning glance at Hosmer, who was preparing to close his desk.
She suddenly perceived the picture of a handsome boy, far back in one of the pigeon-holes, and with the familiarity born of country intercourse, she looked intently at it, remarking upon the boy's beauty.
"A child whom I loved very much," said Hosmer. "He's dead," and he closed the desk, turning the key in the lock with a sharp click which seemed to add—"and buried."
Therese then approached the open door, leaned her back against its casing, and turned her pretty profile towards Hosmer, who, it need not be supposed, was averse to looking at it—only to being caught in the act.
"I want to look in at the mill before work closes," she said; and not waiting for an answer she went on to ask—moved by some association of ideas:—
"How is Jocint doing?"
"Always unruly, the foreman tells me. I don't believe we shall be able to keep him."
Hosmer then spoke a few words through the telephone which connected with the agent's desk at the station, put on his great slouch hat, and thrusting keys and hands into his pocket, joined Therese in the door-way.
Quitting the office and making a sharp turn to the left, they came in direct sight of the great mill. She quickly made her way past the huge piles of sawed timber, not waiting for her companion, who loitered at each step of the way, with observant watchfulness. Then mounting the steep stairs that led to the upper portions of the mill, she went at once to her favorite spot, quite on the edge of the open platform that overhung the dam. Here she watched with fascinated delight the great logs hauled dripping from the water, following each till it had changed to the clean symmetry of sawed planks. The unending work made her giddy. For no one was there a moment of rest, and she could well understand the open revolt of the surly Jocint; for he rode the day long on that narrow car, back and forth, back and forth, with his heart in the pine hills and knowing that his little Creole pony was roaming the woods in vicious idleness and his rifle gathering an unsightly rust on the cabin wall at home.
The boy gave but ugly acknowledgment to Therese's amiable nod; for he thought she was one upon whom partly rested the fault of this intrusive Industry which had come to fire the souls of indolent fathers with a greedy ambition for gain, at the sore expense of revolting youth.
In the Pirogue.
"You got to set mighty still in this pirogue," said Gregoire, as with a long oar-stroke he pulled out into mid stream.
"Yes, I know," answered Melicent complacently, arranging herself opposite him in the long narrow boat: all sense of danger which the situation might arouse being dulled by the attractiveness of a new experience.
Her resemblance to Hosmer ended with height and slenderness of figure, olive tinted skin, and eyes and hair which were of that dark brown often miscalled black; but unlike his, her face was awake with an eagerness to know and test the novelty and depth of unaccustomed sensation. She had thus far lived an unstable existence, free from the weight of responsibilities, with a notion lying somewhere deep in her consciousness that the world must one day be taken seriously; but that contingency was yet too far away to disturb the harmony of her days.
She had eagerly responded to her brother's suggestion of spending a summer with him in Louisiana. Hitherto, having passed her summers North, West, or East as alternating caprice prompted, she was ready at a word to fit her humor to the novelty of a season at the South. She enjoyed in advance the startling effect which her announced intention produced upon her intimate circle at home; thinking that her whim deserved the distinction of eccentricity with which they chose to invest it. But Melicent was chiefly moved by the prospect of an uninterrupted sojourn with her brother, whom she loved blindly, and to whom she attributed qualities of mind and heart which she thought the world had discovered to use against him.
"You got to set mighty still in this pirogue."
"Yes, I know; you told me so before," and she laughed.
"W'at are you laughin' at?" asked Gregoire with amused but uncertain expectancy.
"Laughing at you, Gregoire; how can I help it?" laughing again.
"Betta wait tell I do somethin' funny, I reckon. Ain't this a putty sight?" he added, referring to the dense canopy of an overarching tree, beneath which they were gliding, and whose extreme branches dipped quite into the slow moving water.
The scene had not attracted Melicent. For she had been engaged in observing her companion rather closely; his personality holding her with a certain imaginative interest.
The young man whom she so closely scrutinized was slightly undersized, but of close and brawny build. His hands were not so refinedly white as those of certain office bred young men of her acquaintance, yet they were not coarsened by undue toil: it being somewhat an axiom with him to do nothing that an available "nigger" might do for him.
Close fitting, high-heeled boots of fine quality incased his feet, in whose shapeliness he felt a pardonable pride; for a young man's excellence was often measured in the circle which he had frequented, by the possession of such a foot. A peculiar grace in the dance and a talent for bold repartee were further characteristics which had made Gregoire's departure keenly felt among certain belles of upper Red River. His features were handsome, of sharp and refined cut; and his eyes black and brilliant as eyes of an alert and intelligent animal sometimes are. Melicent could not reconcile his voice to her liking; it was too softly low and feminine, and carried a note of pleading or pathos, unless he argued with his horse, his dog, or a "nigger," at which times, though not unduly raised, it acquired a biting quality that served the purpose of relieving him from further form of insistence.
He pulled rapidly and in silence down the bayou, that was now so entirely sheltered from the open light of the sky by the meeting branches above, as to seem a dim leafy tunnel fashioned by man's ingenuity. There were no perceptible banks, for the water spread out on either side of them, further than they could follow its flashings through the rank underbrush. The dull plash of some object falling into the water, or the wild call of a lonely bird were the only sounds that broke upon the stillness, beside the monotonous dipping of the oars and the occasional low undertones of their own voices. When Gregoire called the girl's attention to an object near by, she fancied it was the protruding stump of a decaying tree; but reaching for his revolver and taking quiet aim, he drove a ball into the black upturned nozzle that sent it below the surface with an angry splash.
"Will he follow us?" she asked, mildly agitated.
"Oh no; he's glad 'nough to git out o' the way. You betta put down yo' veil," he added a moment later.
Before she could ask a reason—for it was not her fashion to obey at word of command—the air was filled with the doleful hum of a gray swarm of mosquitoes, which attacked them fiercely.
"You didn't tell me the bayou was the refuge of such savage creatures," she said, fastening her veil closely about face and neck, but not before she had felt the sharpness of their angry sting.
"I reckoned you'd 'a knowed all about it: seems like you know everything." After a short interval he added, "you betta take yo' veil off."
She was amused at Gregoire's authoritative tone and she said to him laughing, yet obeying his suggestion, which carried a note of command: "you shall tell me always, why I should do things."
"All right," he replied; "because they ain't any mo' mosquitoes; because I want you to see somethin' worth seein' afta while; and because I like to look at you," which he was doing, with the innocent boldness of a forward child. "Ain't that 'nough reasons?"
"More than enough," she replied shortly.
The rank and clustering vegetation had become denser as they went on, forming an impenetrable tangle on either side, and pressing so closely above that they often needed to lower their heads to avoid the blow of some drooping branch. Then a sudden and unlooked for turn in the bayou carried them out upon the far-spreading waters of the lake, with the broad canopy of the open sky above them.
"Oh," cried Melicent, in surprise. Her exclamation was like a sigh of relief which comes at the removal of some pressure from body or brain.
The wildness of the scene caught upon her erratic fancy, speeding it for a quick moment into the realms of romance. She was an Indian maiden of the far past, fleeing and seeking with her dusky lover some wild and solitary retreat on the borders of this lake, which offered them no seeming foot-hold save such as they would hew themselves with axe or tomahawk. Here and there, a grim cypress lifted its head above the water, and spread wide its moss covered arms inviting refuge to the great black-winged buzzards that circled over and about it in mid-air. Nameless voices—weird sounds that awake in a Southern forest at twilight's approach,—were crying a sinister welcome to the settling gloom.
"This is a place thet can make a man sad, I tell you," said Gregoire, resting his oars, and wiping the moisture from his forehead. "I wouldn't want to be yere alone, not fur any money."
"It is an awful place," replied Melicent with a little appreciative shudder; adding "do you consider me a bodily protection?" and feebly smiling into his face.
"Oh; I ain't 'fraid o' any thing I can see an on'erstan'. I can han'le mos' any thing thet's got a body. But they do tell some mighty queer tales 'bout this lake an' the pine hills yonda."
"W'y, ole McFarlane's buried up there on the hill; an' they's folks 'round yere says he walks about o' nights; can't res' in his grave fur the niggas he's killed."
"Gracious! and who was old McFarlane?"
"The meanest w'ite man thet ever lived, seems like. Used to own this place long befo' the Lafirmes got it. They say he's the person that Mrs. W'at's her name wrote about in Uncle Tom's Cabin."
"Legree? I wonder if it could be true?" Melicent asked with interest.
"Thet's w'at they all say: ask any body."
"You'll take me to his grave, won't you Gregoire," she entreated.
"Well, not this evenin'—I reckon not. It'll have to be broad day, an' the sun shinin' mighty bright w'en I take you to ole McFarlane's grave."
They had retraced their course and again entered the bayou, from which the light had now nearly vanished, making it needful that they watch carefully to escape the hewn logs that floated in numbers upon the water.
"I didn't suppose you were ever sad, Gregoire," Melicent said gently.
"Oh my! yes;" with frank acknowledgment. "You ain't ever seen me w'en I was real lonesome. 'Tain't so bad sence you come. But times w'en I git to thinkin' 'bout home, I'm boun' to cry—seems like I can't he'p it."
"Why did you ever leave home?" she asked sympathetically.
"You see w'en father died, fo' year ago, mother she went back to France, t'her folks there; she never could stan' this country—an' lef' us boys to manage the place. Hec, he took charge the firs' year an' run it in debt. Placide an' me did'n' have no betta luck the naxt year. Then the creditors come up from New Orleans an' took holt. That's the time I packed my duds an' lef'."
"And you came here?"
"No, not at firs'. You see the Santien boys had a putty hard name in the country. Aunt Therese, she'd fallen out with father years ago 'bout the way, she said, he was bringin' us up. Father, he wasn't the man to take nothin' from nobody. Never 'lowed any of us to come down yere. I was in Texas, goin' to the devil I reckon, w'en she sent for me, an' yere I am."
"And here you ought to stay, Gregoire."
"Oh, they ain't no betta woman in the worl' then Aunt Therese, w'en you do like she wants. See 'em yonda waitin' fur us? Reckon they thought we was drowned."
A Small Interruption.
When Melicent came to visit her brother, Mrs. Lafirme persuaded him to abandon his uncomfortable quarters at the mill and take up his residence in the cottage, which stood just beyond the lawn of the big house. This cottage had been furnished de pied en cap many years before, in readiness against an excess of visitors, which in days gone by was not of infrequent occurrence at Place-du-Bois. It was Melicent's delighted intention to keep house here. And she foresaw no obstacle in the way of procuring the needed domestic aid in a place which was clearly swarming with idle women and children.
"Got a cook yet, Mel?" was Hosmer's daily enquiry on returning home, to which Melicent was as often forced to admit that she had no cook, but was not without abundant hope of procuring one.
Betsy's Aunt Cynthy had promised with a sincerity which admitted not of doubt, that "de Lord willin' " she would "be on han' Monday, time to make de mornin' coffee." Which assurance had afforded Melicent a Sunday free of disturbing doubts concerning the future of her undertaking. But who may know what the morrow will bring forth? Cynthy had been "tuck sick in de night." So ran the statement of the wee pickaninny who appeared at Melicent's gate many hours later than morning coffee time: delivering his message in a high voice of complaint, and disappearing like a vision without further word.
Uncle Hiram, then called to the breach, had staked his patriarchal honor on the appearance of his niece Suze on Tuesday. Melicent and Therese meeting Suze some days later in a field path, asked the cause of her bad faith. The girl showed them all the white teeth which nature had lavished on her, saying with the best natured laugh in the world: "I don' know how come I didn' git dere Chewsday like I promise."
If the ladies were not disposed to consider that an all-sufficient reason, so much the worse, for Suze had no other to offer.
From Mose's wife, Minervy, better things might have been expected. But after a solemn engagement to take charge of Melicent's kitchen on Wednesday, the dusky matron suddenly awoke to the need of "holpin' Mose hoe out dat co'n in the stiff lan."
Therese, seeing that the girl was really eager to play in the brief role of housekeeper had used her powers, persuasive and authoritative, to procure servants for her, but without avail. She herself was not without an abundance of them, from the white-haired Hiram, whose position on the place had long been a sinecure, down to the little brown legged tot Mandy, much given to falling asleep in the sun, when not chasing venturesome poultry off forbidden ground, or stirring gentle breezes with an enormous palm leaf fan about her mistress during that lady's after dinner nap.
When pressed to give a reason for this apparent disinclination of the negroes to work for the Hosmers, Nathan, who was at the moment being interviewed on the front veranda by Therese and Melicent, spoke out.
"Dey 'low 'roun' yere, dat you's mean to de black folks, ma'am: dat what dey says—I don' know me."
"Mean," cried Melicent, amazed, "in what way, pray?"
"Oh, all sort o' ways," he admitted, with a certain shy brazenness; determined to go through with the ordeal.
"Dey 'low you wants to cut de little gals' plaits off, an' sich—I don' know me."
"Do you suppose, Nathan," said Therese attempting but poorly to hide her amusement at Melicent's look of dismay, "that Miss Hosmer would bother herself with darkies' plaits?"
"Dat's w'at I tink m'sef. Anyways, I'll sen' Ar'minty 'roun' to-morrow, sho."
Melicent was not without the guilty remembrance of having one day playfully seized one of the small Mandy's bristling plaits, daintily between finger and thumb, threatening to cut them all away with the scissors which she carried. Yet she could not but believe that there was some deeper motive underlying this systematic reluctance of the negroes to give their work in exchange for the very good pay which she offered. Therese soon enlightened her with the information that the negroes were very averse to working for Northern people whose speech, manners, and attitude towards themselves were unfamiliar. She was given the consoling assurance of not being the only victim of this boycott, as Therese recalled many examples of strangers whom she knew to have met with a like cavalier treatment at the darkies' hands.
Needless to say, Araminty never appeared.
Hosmer and Melicent were induced to accept Mrs. Lafirme's generous hospitality; and one of that lady's many supernumeraries was detailed each morning to "do up" Miss Melicent's rooms, but not without the previous understanding that the work formed part of Miss T'rese's system.
Nothing which had happened during the year of his residence at Place-du-Bois had furnished Hosmer such amusement as these misadventures of his sister Melicent, he having had no like experience with his mill hands.
It is not unlikely that his good humor was partly due to the acceptable arrangement which assured him the daily society of Therese, whose presence was growing into a need with him.
In the Pine Woods.
When Gregoire said to Melicent that there was no better woman in the world than his Aunt Therese, "W'en you do like she wants," the statement was so incomplete as to leave one in uncomfortable doubt of the expediency of venturing within the influence of so exacting a nature. True, Therese required certain conduct from others, but she was willing to further its accomplishment by personal efforts, even sacrifices—that could leave no doubt of the pure unselfishness of her motive. There was hardly a soul at Place-du-Bois who had not felt the force of her will and yielded to its gentle influence.
The picture of Jocint as she had last seen him, stayed with her, till it gave form to a troubled desire moving her to see him again and speak with him. He had always been an unruly subject, inclined to a surreptitious defiance of authority. Repeatedly had he been given work on the plantation and as many times dismissed for various causes. Therese would have long since removed him had it not been for his old father Morico, whose long life spent on the place had established a claim upon her tolerance.
In the late afternoon, when the shadows of the magnolias were stretching in grotesque lengths across the lawn, Therese stood waiting for Uncle Hiram to bring her sleek bay Beauregard around to the front. The dark close fitting habit which she wore lent brilliancy to her soft blonde coloring; and there was no mark of years about her face or figure, save the settling of a thoughtful shadow upon the eyes, which joys and sorrows that were past and gone had left there.
As she rode by the cottage, Melicent came out on the porch to wave a laughing good-bye. The girl was engaged in effacing the simplicity of her rooms with certain bizarre decorations that seemed the promptings of a disordered imagination. Yards of fantastic calico had been brought up from the store, which Gregoire with hammer and tacks was amiably forming into impossible designs at the prompting of the girl. The little darkies had been enlisted to bring their contributions of palm branches, pine cones, ferns, and bright hued bird wings—and a row of those small recruits stood on the porch, gaping in wide-mouthed admiration at a sight that stirred within their breasts such remnant of savage instinct as past generations had left there in dormant survival.
One of the small audience permitted her attention to be drawn for a moment from the gorgeous in-door spectacle, to follow the movements of her mistress.
"Jis' look Miss T'rese how she go a lopin' down de lane. Dere she go—dere she go—now she gone," and she again became contemplative.
Therese, after crossing the railroad, for a space kept to the brow of the hill where stretched a well defined road, which by almost imperceptible degrees led deeper and always higher into the woods. Presently, leaving this road and turning into a bridle path where an unpracticed eye would have discovered no sign of travel, she rode on until reaching a small clearing among the pines, in the center of which stood a very old and weather beaten cabin.
Here she dismounted, before Morico knew of her presence, for he sat with his back partly turned to the open door. As she entered and greeted him, he arose from his chair, all trembling with excitement at her visit; the long white locks, straggling and unkept, falling about his brown visage that had grown old and weather beaten with his cabin. Sinking down into his seat—the hide covered chair that had been worn smooth by years of usefulness—he gazed well pleased at Therese, who seated herself beside him.
"Ah, this is quite the handsomest you have made yet, Morico," she said addressing him in French, and taking up the fan that he was curiously fashioning of turkey feathers.
"I am taking extra pains with it," he answered, looking complacently at his handiwork and smoothing down the glossy feathers with the ends of his withered old fingers. "I thought the American lady down at the house might want to buy it."
Therese could safely assure him of Melicent's willingness to seize on the trophy.
Then she asked why Jocint had not been to the house with news of him. "I have had chickens and eggs for you, and no way of sending them."
At mention of his son's name, the old man's face clouded with displeasure and his hand trembled so that he was at some pains to place the feather which he was at the moment adding to the widening fan.
"Jocint is a bad son, madame, when even you have been able to do nothing with him. The trouble that boy has given me no one knows; but let him not think I am too old to give him a sound drubbing."
Jocint meanwhile had returned from the mill and seeing Therese's horse fastened before his door, was at first inclined to skulk back into the woods; but an impulse of defiance moved him to enter, and gave to his ugly countenance a look that was far from agreeable as he mumbled a greeting to Therese. His father he did not address. The old man looked from son to visitor with feeble expectancy of some good to come from her presence there.
Jocint's straight and coarse black hair hung in a heavy mop over his low retreating forehead, almost meeting the ill-defined line of eyebrow that straggled above small dusky black eyes, that with the rest of his physique was an inheritance from his Indian mother.
Approaching the safe or garde manger, which was the most prominent piece of furniture in the room, he cut a wedge from the round loaf of heavy soggy corn bread that he found there, added a layer of fat pork, and proceeded to devour the unpalatable morsel with hungry relish.
"That is but poor fare for your old father, Jocint," said Therese, looking steadily at the youth.
"Well, I got no chance me, fu' go fine nuttin in de 'ood" (woods), he answered purposely in English, to annoy his father who did not understand the language.
"But you are earning enough to buy him something better; and you know there is always plenty at the house that I am willing to spare him."
"I got no chance me fu' go to de 'ouse neider," he replied deliberately, after washing down the scant repast with a long draught from the tin bucket which he had replenished at the cistern before entering. He swallowed the water regardless of the "wiggles" whose presence was plainly visible.
"What does he say?" asked Morico scanning Therese's face appealingly.
"He only says that work at the mill keeps him a good deal occupied," she said with attempted carelessness.
As she finished speaking, Jocint put on his battered felt hat, and strode out the back door; his gun on his shoulder and a yellow cur following close at his heels.
Therese remained a while longer with the old man, hearing sympathetically the long drawn story of his troubles, and cheering him as no one else in the world was able to do, then she went away.
Jocint was not the only one who had seen Beauregard fastened at Morico's door. Hosmer was making a tour of inspection that afternoon through the woods, and when he came suddenly upon Therese some moments after she had quitted the cabin, the meeting was not so wholly accidental as that lady fancied it was.
If there could be a situation in which Hosmer felt more than in another at ease in Therese's company, it was the one in which he found himself. There was no need to seek occupation for his hands, those members being sufficiently engaged with the management of his horse. His eyes found legitimate direction in following the various details which a rider is presumed to observe; and his manner freed from the necessity of self direction took upon itself an ease which was occasional enough to mark it as noteworthy.
She told him of her visit. At mention of Jocint's name he reddened: then followed the acknowledgment that the youth in question had caused him to lose his temper and forget his dignity during the afternoon.
"In what way?" asked Therese. "It would be better to dismiss him than to rail at him. He takes reproof badly and is extremely treacherous."
"Mill hands are not plentiful, or I should send him off at once. Oh, he is an unbearable fellow. The men told me of a habit he has of letting the logs roll off the carriage, causing a good deal of annoyance and delay in replacing them. I was willing enough to believe it might be accidental, until I caught him today in the very act. I am thankful not to have knocked him down."
Hosmer felt exhilarated. The excitement of his encounter with Jocint had not yet died away; this softly delicious atmosphere; the subtle aroma of the pines; his unlooked for meeting with Therese—all combined to stir him with unusual emotions.
"What a splendid creature Beauregard is," he said, smoothing the animal's glossy mane with the end of his riding whip. The horses were walking slowly in step, and close together.
"Of course he is," said Therese proudly, patting the arched neck of her favorite. "Beauregard is a blooded animal, remember. He quite throws poor Nelson in the shade," looking pityingly at Hosmer's heavily built iron-grey.
"Don't cast any slurs on Nelson, Mrs. Lafirme. He's done me service that's worthy of praise—worthy of better treatment than he gets."
"I know. He deserves the best, poor fellow. When you go away you should turn him out to pasture, and forbid any one to use him."
"It would be a good idea; but—I'm not so certain about going away."
"Oh I beg your pardon. I fancied your movements were directed by some unchangeable laws."
"Like the planets in their orbits? No, there is no absolute need of my going; the business which would have called me away can be done as readily by letter. If I heed my inclination it certainly holds me here."
"I don't understand that. It's natural enough that I should be fond of the country; but you—I don't believe you've been away for three months, have you? and city life certainly has its attractions."
"It's beastly," he answered decidedly. "I greatly prefer the country—this country; though I can imagine a condition under which it would be less agreeable; insupportable, in fact."
He was looking fixedly at Therese, who let her eyes rest for an instant in the unaccustomed light of his, while she asked "and the condition?"
"If you were to go away. Oh! it would take the soul out of my life."
It was now her turn to look in all directions save the one in which his glance invited her. At a slight and imperceptible motion of the bridle, well understood by Beauregard, the horse sprang forward into a quick canter, leaving Nelson and his rider to follow as they could.
Hosmer overtook her when she stopped to let her horse drink at the side of the hill where the sparkling spring water came trickling from the moist rocks, and emptied into the long out-scooped trunk of a cypress, that served as trough. The two horses plunged their heads deep in the clear water; the proud Beauregard quivering with satisfaction, as arching his neck and shaking off the clinging moisture, he waited for his more deliberate companion.
"Doesn't it give one a sympathetic pleasure," said Therese, "to see the relish with which they drink?"
"I never thought of it," replied Hosmer, cynically. His face was unusually flushed, and diffidence was plainly seizing him again.
Therese was now completely mistress of herself, and during the remainder of the ride she talked incessantly, giving him no chance for more than the briefest answers.
"David Hosmer, you are the most supremely unsatisfactory man existing."
Hosmer had come in from his ride, and seating himself in the large wicker chair that stood in the center of the room, became at once absorbed in reflections. Being addressed, he looked up at his sister, who sat sidewards on the edge of a table slightly removed, swaying a dainty slippered foot to and fro in evident impatience.
"What crime have I committed now, Melicent, against your code?" he asked, not fully aroused from his reverie.
"You've committed nothing; your sin is one of omission. I absolutely believe you go through the world with your eyes, to all practical purposes, closed. Don't you notice anything; any change?"
"To be sure I do," said Hosmer, relying on a knowledge lent him by previous similar experiences, and taking in the clinging artistic drapery that enfolded her tall spare figure, "you've a new gown on. I didn't think to mention it, but I noticed it all the same."
This admission of a discernment that he had failed to make evident, aroused Melicent's uncontrolled mirth.
"A new gown!" and she laughed heartily. "A threadbare remnant! A thing that holds by shreds and tatters."
She went behind her brother's chair, taking his face between her hands, and turning it upward, kissed him on the forehead. With his head in such position, he could not fail to observe the brilliant folds of muslin that were arranged across the ceiling to simulate the canopy of a tent. Still holding his face, she moved it sidewards, so that his eyes, knowing now what oflice was expected of them, followed the line of decorations about the room.
"It's immense, Mel; perfectly immense. When did you do it all?"
"This afternoon, with Gregoire's help," she answered, looking proudly at her work. "And my poor hands are in such condition! But really, Dave," she continued, seating herself on the side of his chair, with an arm about his neck, and he leaning his head back on the improvised cushion, "I wonder that you ever got on in business, observing things as little as you do."
"Oh, that's different."
"Well, I don't believe you see half that you ought to," adding naively, "How did you and Mrs. Lafirme happen to come home together this evening?"
The bright lamp-light made the flush quite evident that arose to his face under her near gaze.
"We met in the woods; she was coming from Morico's."
"David, do you know that woman is an angel. She's simply the most perfect creature I ever knew."
Melicent's emphasis of speech was a thing so recurrent, so singularly her own, as to startle an unaccustomed hearer.
"That opinion might carry some weight, Mel, if I hadn't heard it scores of times from you, and of as many different women."
"Indeed you have not. Mrs. Lafirme is exceptional. Really, when she stands at the end of the veranda, giving orders to those darkies, her face a little flushed, she's positively a queen."
"As far as queenliness may be compatible with the angelic state," replied Hosmer, but not ill pleased with Melicent's exaggerated praise of Therese.
Neither had heard a noiseless step approaching, and they only became aware of an added human presence, when Mandy's small voice was heard to issue from Mandy's small body which stood in the mingled light and shadow of the door-way.
"Aunt B'lindy 'low supper on de table gittin' cole."
"Come here, Mandy," cried Melicent, springing after the child. But Mandy was flying back through the darkness. She was afraid of Melicent.
Laughing heartily, the girl disappeared into her bedroom, to make some needed additions to her toilet; and Hosmer, waiting for her, returned to his interrupted reflections. The words which he had spoken during a moment of emotion to Therese, out in the piny woods, had served a double purpose with him. They had shown him more plainly than he had quite been certain of, the depth of his feeling for her; and also had they settled his determination. He was not versed in the reading of a woman's nature, and he found himself at a loss to interpret Therese's actions. He recalled how she had looked away from him when he had spoken the few tender words that were yet whirling in his memory; how she had impetuously ridden ahead,—leaving him to follow alone; and her incessant speech that had forced him into silence. All of which might or might not be symptoms in his favor. He remembered her kind solicitude for his comfort and happiness during the past year; but he as readily recalled that he had not been the only recipient of such favors. His reflections led to no certainty, except that he loved her and meant to tell her so.
Therese's door being closed, and moreover locked, Aunt Belindy, the stout negress who had superintended the laying of supper, felt free to give low speech to her wrath as she went back and forth between dining-room and kitchen.
"Suppa gittin' dat cole 'tain' gwine be fittin' fu' de dogs te' tech. Believe half de time w'ite folks ain't got no feelin's, no how. If dey speck I'se gwine stan' up heah on my two feet all night, dey's foolin' dey sef. I ain't gwine do it. Git out dat doo' you Mandy! you want me dash dis heah coffee pot at you—blockin' up de doo's dat away? W'ar dat good fu' nuttin Betsy? Look yonda, how she done flung dem dere knife an forks on de table. Jis let Miss T'rese kotch'er. Good God A'mighty, Miss T'rese mus' done gone asleep. G'long dar an' see."
There was no one on the plantation who would have felt at liberty to enter Therese's bedroom without permission, the door being closed; yet she had taken the needless precaution of bringing lock and bolt to the double security of her moment of solitude. The first announcement of supper had found her still in her riding habit, with head thrown back upon the cushion of her lounging chair, and her mind steeped in a semi-stupor that it would be injustice to her brighter moments to call reflection.
Therese was a warm-hearted woman, and a woman of clear mental vision; a combination not found so often together as to make it ordinary. Being a woman of warm heart, she had loved her husband with the devotion which good husbands deserve; but being a clear-headed woman, she was not disposed to rebel against the changes which Time brings, when so disposed, to the human sensibilities. She was not steeped in that agony of remorse which many might consider becoming in a widow of five years' standing at the discovery that her heart which had fitted well the holding of a treasure, was not narrowed to the holding of a memory,—the treasure being gone.
Mandy's feeble knock at the door was answered by her mistress in person who had now banished all traces of her ride and its resultant cogitations.
The two women, with Hosmer and Gregoire, sat out on the veranda after supper as their custom was during these warm summer evenings. There was no attempt at sustained conversation; they talked by snatches to and at one another, of the day's small events; Melicent and Gregoire having by far the most to say. The girl was half reclining in the hammock which she kept in a slow, unceasing motion by the impetus of her slender foot; he sitting some distance removed on the steps. Hosmer was noticeably silent; even Jocint as a theme failing to rouse him to more than a few words of dismissal. His will and tenacity were controlling him to one bent. He had made up his mind that he had something to say to Mrs. Lafirme, and he was impatient at any enforced delay in the telling.
Gregoire slept now in the office of the mill, as a measure of precaution. To-night, Hosmer had received certain late telegrams that necessitated a return to the mill, and his iron-grey was standing outside in the lane with Gregoire's horse, awaiting the pleasure of his rider. When Gregoire quitted the group to go and throw the saddles across the patient animals, Melicent, who contemplated an additional hour's chat with Therese, crossed over to the cottage to procure a light wrap for her sensitive shoulders against the chill night air. Hosmer, who had started to the assistance of Gregoire, seeing that Therese had remained alone, standing at the top of the stairs, approached her. Remaining a few steps below her, and looking up into her face, he held out his hand to say good-night, which was an unusual proceeding, for they had not shaken hands since his return to Place-du-Bois three months before. She gave him her soft hand to hold and as the warm, moist palm met his, it acted like a charged electric battery turning its subtle force upon his sensitive nerves.
"Will you let me talk to you to-morrow?" he asked.
"Yes, perhaps; if I have time."
"Oh, you will make the time. I can't let the day go by without telling you many things that you ought to have known long ago." The battery was still doing its work. "And I can't let the night go by without telling you that I love you."
Gregoire called out that the horses were ready. Melicent was approaching in her diaphanous envelope, and Hosmer reluctantly let drop Therese's hand and left her.
As the men rode away, the two women stood silently following their diminishing outlines into the darkness and listening to the creaking of the saddles and the dull regular thud of the horses' feet upon the soft earth, until the sounds grew inaudible, when they turned to the inner shelter of the veranda. Melicent once more possessed herself of the hammock in which she now reclined fully, and Therese sat near enough beside her to intertwine her fingers between the tense cords.
"What a great difference in age there must be between you and your brother," she said, breaking the silence.
"Yes—though he is younger and I older than you perhaps think. He was fifteen and the only child when I was born. I am twenty-four, so he of course is thirty-nine."
"I certainly thought him older."
"Just imagine, Mrs. Lafirme, I was only ten when both my parents died. We had no kindred living in the West, and I positively rebelled against being separated from David; so you see he's had the care of me for a good many years."
"He appears very fond of you."
"Oh, not only that, but you've no idea how splendidly he's done for me in every way. Looked after my interest and all that, so that I'm perfectly independent. Poor Dave," she continued, heaving a profound sigh, "he's had more than his share of trouble, if ever a man had. I wonder when his day of compensation will come."
"Don't you think," ventured Therese, "that we make too much of our individual trials. We are all so prone to believe our own burden heavier than our neighbor's."
"Perhaps—but there can be no question about the weight of David's. I'm not a bit selfish about him though; poor fellow, I only wish he'd marry again."
Melicent's last words stung Therese like an insult. Her native pride rebelled against the reticence of this man who had shared her confidence while keeping her in ignorance of so important a feature of his own life. But her dignity would not permit a show of disturbance; she only asked:—
"How long has his wife been dead?"
"Oh," cried Melicent, in dismay. "I thought you knew of course; why—she isn't dead at all—they were divorced two years ago."
The girl felt intuitively that she had yielded to an indiscretion of speech. She could not know David's will in the matter, but since he had all along left Mrs. Lafirme in ignorance of his domestic trials, she concluded it was not for her to enlighten that lady further. Her next remark was to call Therese's attention to the unusual number of glow-worms that were flashing through the darkness, and to ask the sign of it, adding "every thing seems to be the sign of something down here."
"Aunt Belindy might tell you," replied Therese, "I only know that I feel the signs of being very sleepy after that ride through the woods to-day. Don't mind if I say good night?"
"Certainly not. Good night, dear Mrs. Lafirme. Let me stay here till David comes back; I should die of fright, to go to the cottage alone."
Therese possessed an independence of thought exceptional enough when considered in relation to her life and its surrounding conditions. But as a woman who lived in close contact with her fellow-beings she was little given to the consideration of abstract ideas, except in so far as they touched the individual man. If ever asked to give her opinion of divorce, she might have replied that the question being one which did not immediately concern her, its remoteness had removed it from the range of her inquiry. She felt vaguely that in many cases it might be a blessing; conceding that it must not infrequently be a necessity, to be appealed to however only in an extremity beyond which endurance could scarcely hold. With the prejudices of her Catholic education coloring her sentiment, she instinctively shrank when the theme confronted her as one having even a remote reference to her own clean existence. There was no question with her of dwelling upon the matter; it was simply a thing to be summarily dismissed and as far as possible effaced from her remembrance.
Therese had not reached the age of thirty-five without learning that life presents many insurmountable obstacles which must be accepted, whether with the callousness of philosophy, the revolt of weakness or the dignity of self-respect. The following morning, the only sign which she gave of her mental disturbance, was an appearance that might have succeeded a night of unrefreshing sleep.
Hosmer had decided that his interview with Mrs. Lafirme should not be left further to the caprice of accident. An hour or more before noon he rode up from the mill knowing it to be a time when he would likely find her alone. Not seeing her he proceeded to make inquiry of the servants; first appealing to Betsy.
"I don' know whar Miss T'rese," with a rising inflection on the "whar." "I yain't seed her sence mornin', time she sont Unc' Hi'um yonda to old Morico wid de light bread an' truck," replied the verbose Betsy. "Aunt B'lindy, you know whar Miss T'rese?"
"How you want me know? standin' up everlastin' in de kitchen a bakin' light-bread fu' lazy trash det betta be in de fiel' wurkin' a crap like people, stid o' 'pendin' on yeda folks."
Mandy, who had been a silent listener, divining that she had perhaps better make known certain information that was exclusively her own piped out:—
"Miss T'rese shet up in de parla; 'low she want we all lef 'er 'lone."
Having as it were forced an entrance into the stronghold where Therese had supposed herself secure from intrusion, Hosmer at once seated himself beside her.
This was a room kept for the most part closed during the summer days when the family lived chiefly on the verandas or in the wide open hall There lingered about it the foreign scent of cool clean matting, mingled with a faint odor of rose which came from a curious Japanese jar that stood on the ample hearth. Through the green half-closed shutters the air came in gentle ripples, sweeping the filmy curtains back and forth in irregular undulations. A few tasteful pictures hung upon the walls, alternating with family portraits, for the most part stiff and unhandsome, except in the case of such as were of so remote date that age gave them a claim upon the interest and admiration of a far removed generation.
It was not entirely clear to the darkies whether this room were not a sort of holy sanctuary, where one should scarce be permitted to breathe, except under compulsion of a driving necessity.
"Mrs. Lafirme," began Hosmer, "Melicent tells me that she made you acquainted last night with the matter which I wished to talk to you about to-day."
"Yes," Therese replied, closing the book which she had made a pretense of reading, and laying it down upon the window-sill near which she sat; adding very simply, "Why did you not tell me long ago, Mr. Hosmer?"
"God knows," he replied; the sharp conviction breaking upon him, that this disclosure had some how changed the aspect of life for him. "Natural reluctance to speak of a thing so painful—native reticence—I don't know what. I hope you forgive me; that you will let it make no difference in whatever regard you may have for me."
"I had better tell you at once that there must be no repetition of—of what you told me last night."
Hosmer had feared it. He made no protest in words; his revolt was inward and showed itself only in an added pallor and increased rigidity of face lines. He arose and went to a near window, peering for a while aimlessly out between the partly open slats.
"I hadn't thought of your being a Catholic," he said, finally turning towards her with folded arms.
"Because you have never seen any outward signs of it. But I can't leave you under a false impression: religion doesn't influence my reason in this."
"Do you think then that a man who has had such misfortune, should be debarred the happiness which a second marriage could give him?"
"No, nor a woman either, if it suit her moral principle, which I hold to be something peculiarly one's own."
"That seems to me to be a prejudice," he replied. "Prejudices may be set aside by an effort of the will," catching at a glimmer of hope.
"There are some prejudices which a woman can't afford to part with, Mr. Hosmer," she said a little haughtily, "even at the price of happiness. Please say no more about it, think no more of it."
He seated himself again, facing her; and looking at him all her sympathetic nature was moved at sight of his evident trouble.
"Tell me about it. I would like to know every thing in your life," she said, feelingly.
"It's very good of you," he said, holding a hand for a moment over his closed eyes. Then looking up abruptly, "It was a painful enough experience, but I never dreamed that it could have had this last blow in reserve for me."
"When did you marry?" she asked, wishing to start him with the story which she fancied he would feel better for the telling.
"Ten years ago. I am a poor hand to analyze character: my own or another's. My reasons for doing certain things have never been quite clear to me; or I have never schooled myself to inquiry into my own motives for action. I have been always thoroughly the business man. I don't make a boast of it, but I have no reason to be ashamed of the admission. Socially, I have mingled little with my fellow-beings, especially with women, whose society has had little attraction for me; perhaps, because I have never been thrown much into it, and I was nearly thirty when I first met my wife."
"Was it in St. Louis?" Therese asked.
"Yes. I had been inveigled into going on a river excursion," he said, plunging into the story, "Heaven knows how. Perhaps I was feeling unwell—I really can't remember. But at all events I met a friend who introduced me early in the day to a young girl—Fanny Larimore. She was a pretty little thing, not more than twenty, all pink and white and merry blue eyes and stylish clothes. Whatever it was, there was something about her that kept me at her side all day. Every word and movement of hers had an exaggerated importance for me. I fancied such things had never been said or done quite in the same way before."
"You were in love," sighed Therese. Why the sigh she could not have told.
"I presume so. Well, after that, I found myself thinking of her at the most inopportune moments. I went to see her again and again—my first impression deepened, and in two weeks I had asked her to marry me. I can safely say, we knew nothing of each other's character. After marriage, matters went well enough for a while." Hosmer here arose, and walked the length of the room.
"Mrs. Lafirme," he said, "can't you understand that it must be a painful thing for a man to disparage one woman to another: the woman who has been his wife to the woman he loves? Spare me the rest."
"Please have no reservations with me; I shall not misjudge you in any case," an inexplicable something was moving her to know what remained to be told.
"It wasn't long before she attempted to draw me into what she called society," Hosmer continued. "I am little versed in defining shades of distinction between classes, but I had seen from the beginning that Fanny's associates were not of the best social rank by any means. I had vaguely expected her to turn from them, I suppose, when she married. Naturally, I resisted anything so distasteful as being dragged through rounds of amusement that had no sort of attraction whatever for me. Besides, my business connections were extending, and they claimed the greater part of my time and thoughts.
"A year after our marriage our boy was born." Here Hosmer ceased speaking for a while, seemingly under pressure of a crowding of painful memories.
"The child whose picture you have at the office?" asked Therese.
"Yes," and he resumed with plain effort: "It seemed for a while that the baby would give its mother what distraction she sought so persistently away from home; but its influence did not last and she soon grew as restless as before. Finally there was nothing that united us except the child. I can't really say that we were united through him, but our love for the boy was the one feeling that we had in common. When he was three years old, he died. Melicent had come to live with us after leaving school. She was a high-spirited girl full of conceits as she is now, and in her exaggerated way became filled with horror of what she called the mesalliance I had made. After a month she went away to live with friends. I didn't oppose her. I saw little of my wife, being often away from home; but as feebly observant as I was, I had now and again marked a peculiarity of manner about her that vaguely troubled me. She seemed to avoid me and we grew more and more divided.
"One day I returned home rather early. Melicent was with me. We found Fanny in the dining-room lying on the sofa. As we entered, she looked at us wildly and in striving to get up grasped aimlessly at the back of a chair. I felt on a sudden as if there were some awful calamity threatening my existence. I suppose, I looked helplessly at Melicent, managing to ask her what was the matter with my wife. Melicent's black eyes were flashing indignation. 'Can't you see she's been drinking. God help you,' she said. Mrs. Lafirme, you know now the reason which drove me away from home and kept me away. I never permitted my wife to want for the comforts of life during my absence; but she sued for divorce some years ago and it was granted, with alimony which I doubled. You know the miserable story now. Pardon me for dragging it to such a length. I don't see why I should have told it after all."
Therese had remained perfectly silent; rigid at times, listening to Hosmer often with closed eyes.
He waited for her to speak, but she said nothing for a while till finally: "Your—your wife is still quite young—do her parents live with her?"
"Oh no, she has none. I suppose she lives alone."
"And those habits; you don't know if she continues them?"
"I dare say she does. I know nothing of her, except that she receipts for the amount paid her each month."
The look of painful thought deepened on Therese's face but her questions having been answered, she again became silent.
Hosmer's eyes were imploring her for a look, but she would not answer them.
"Haven't you a word to say to me?" he entreated.
"No, I have nothing to say, except what would give you pain."
"I can bear anything from you," he replied, at a loss to guess her meaning.
"The kindest thing I can say, Mr. Hosmer, is, that I hope you have acted blindly. I hate to believe that the man I care for, would deliberately act the part of a cruel egotist."
"I don't understand you."
"I have learned one thing through your story, which appears very plain to me," she replied. "You married a woman of weak character. You furnished her with every means to increase that weakness, and shut her out absolutely from your life and yourself from hers. You left her then as practically without moral support as you have certainly done now, in deserting her. It was the act of a coward." Therese spoke the last words with intensity.
"Do you think that a man owes nothing to himself?" Hosmer asked, in resistance to her accusation.
"Yes. A man owes to his manhood, to face the consequences of his own actions."
Hosmer had remained seated. He did not even with glance follow Therese who had arisen and was moving restlessly about the room. He had so long seen himself as a martyr; his mind had become so habituated to the picture, that he could not of a sudden look at a different one, believing that it could be the true one. Nor was he eager to accept a view of the situation that would place him in his own eyes in a contemptible light. He tried to think that Therese must be wrong; but even admitting a doubt of her being right, her words carried an element of truth that he was not able to shut out from his conscience. He felt her to be a woman with moral perceptions keener than his own and his love, which in the past twenty-four hours had grown to overwhelm him, moved him now to a blind submission.
"What would you have me do, Mrs. Lafirme?"
"I would have you do what is right," she said eagerly, approaching him.
"O, don't present me any questions of right and wrong; can't you see that I'm blind?" he said, self accusingly. "What ever I do, must be because you want it; because I love you."
She was standing beside him and he took her hand.
"To do a thing out of love for you, would be the only comfort and strength left me."
"Don't say that," she entreated. "Love isn't everything in life; there is something higher."
"God in heaven, there shouldn't be!" he exclaimed, passionately pressing her hand to his forehead, his cheek, his lips.
"Oh, don't make it harder for me," Therese said softly, attempting to withdraw her hand.
It was her first sign of weakness, and he seized on it for his advantage. He arose quickly—unhesitatingly—and took her in his arms.
For a moment that was very brief, there was danger that the task of renunciation would not only be made harder, but impossible, for both; for it was in utter blindness to everything but love for each other, that their lips met.
The great plantation bell was clanging out the hour of noon; the hour for sweet and restful enjoyment; but to Hosmer, the sound was like the voice of a derisive demon, mocking his anguish of spirit, as he mounted his horse, and rode back to the mill.
Treats of Melicent.
Melicent knew that there were exchanges of confidence going on between her brother and Mrs. Lafirme, from which she was excluded. She had noted certain lengthy conferences held in remote corners of the verandas. The two had deliberately withdrawn one moonlight evening to pace to and fro the length of gravel walk that stretched from door front to lane; and Melicent had fancied that they rather lingered when under the deep shadow of the two great live-oaks that overarched the gate. But that of course was fancy; a young girl's weakness to think the world must go as she would want it to.
She was quite sure of having heard Mrs. Lafirme say "I will help you." Could it be that David had fallen into financial straights and wanted assistance from Therese? No, that was improbable and furthermore, distasteful, so Melicent would not burden herself with the suspicion. It was far more agreeable to believe that affairs were shaping themselves according to her wishes regarding her brother and her friend. Yet her mystification was in no wise made clearer, when David left them to go to St. Louis.
Melicent was not ready or willing to leave with him. She had not had her "visit out" as she informed him, when he proposed it to her. To remain in the cottage during his absence was out of the question, so she removed herself and all her pretty belongings over to the house, taking possession of one of the many spare rooms. The act of removal furnished her much entertainment of a mild sort, into which, however, she successfully infused something of her own intensity by making the occasion one to bring a large detachment of the plantation force into her capricious service.
Melicent was going out, and she stood before her mirror to make sure that she looked properly. She was black from head to foot. From the great ostrich plume that nodded over her wide-brimmed hat, to the pointed toe of the patent leather boot that peeped from under her gown—a filmy gauzy thing setting loosely to her slender shapely figure. She laughed at the somberness of her reflection, which she at once set about relieving with a great bunch of geraniums—big and scarlet and long-stemmed, that she thrust slantwise through her belt.
Melicent, always charming, was very pretty when she laughed. She thought so herself and laughed a second time into the depths of her dark handsome eyes. One corner of the large mouth turned saucily upward, and the lips holding their own crimson and all that the cheeks were lacking, parted only a little over the gleaming whiteness of her teeth. As she looked at herself critically, she thought that a few more pounds of flesh would have well become her. It had been only the other day that her slimness was altogether to her liking; but at present she was in love with plumpness as typified in Mrs. Lafirme. However, on the whole, she was not ill pleased with her appearance, and gathering up her gloves and parasol, she quitted the room.
It was "broad day," one of the requirements which Gregoire had named as essential for taking Melicent to visit old McFarlane's grave. But the sun was not "shining mighty bright," the second condition, and whose absence they were willing enough to overlook, seeing that the month was September.
They had climbed quite to the top of the hill, and stood on the very brink of the deep toilsome railroad cut all fringed with matted grass and young pines, that had but lately sprung there. Up and down the track, as far as they could see on either side the steel rails glittered on into gradual dimness. There were patches of the field before them, white with bursting cotton which scores of negroes, men, women and children were dexterously picking and thrusting into great bags that hung from their shoulders and dragged beside them on the ground; no machine having yet been found to surpass the sufficiency of five human fingers for wrenching the cotton from its tenacious hold. Elsewhere, there were squads "pulling fodder" from the dry corn stalks; hot and distasteful work enough. In the nearest field, where the cotton was young and green, with no show of ripening, the overseer rode slowly between the rows, sprinkling plentifully the dry powder of paris green from two muslin bags attached to the ends of a short pole that lay before him across the saddle.
Gregoire's presence would be needed later in the day, when the cotton was hauled to gin to be weighed; when the mules were brought to stable, to see them properly fed and cared for, and the gearing all put in place. In the meanwhile he was deliciously idle with Melicent.
They retreated into the woods, soon losing sight of everything but the trees that surrounded them and the underbrush, that was scant and scattered over the turf which the height of the trees permitted to grow green and luxuriant.
There, on the far slope of the hill they found McFarlane's grave, which they knew to be such only by the battered and weather-worn cross of wood, that lurched disreputably to one side—there being no hand in all the world that cared enough to make it straight—and from which all lettering had long since been washed away. This cross was all that marked the abiding place of that mist-like form, so often seen at dark to stalk down the hill with threatening stride, or of moonlight nights to cross the lake in a pirogue, whose substance though visible was nought; with sound of dipping oars that made no ripple on the lake's smooth surface. On stormy nights, some more gifted with spiritual insight than their neighbors, and with hearing better sharpened to delicate intonations of the supernatural, had not only seen the mist figure mounted and flying across the hills, but had heard the panting of the blood-hounds, as the invisible pack swept by in hot pursuit of the slave so long ago at rest.
But it was "broad day," and here was nothing sinister to cause Melicent the least little thrill of awe. No owl, no bat, no ill-omened creature hovering near; only a mocking bird high up in the branches of a tall pine tree, gushing forth his shrill staccatoes as blithely as though he sang paeans to a translated soul in paradise.
"Poor old McFarlane," said Melicent, "I'll pay a little tribute to his memory; I dare say his spirit has listened to nothing but abuse of himself there in the other world, since it left his body here on the hill;" and she took one of the long-stemmed blood-red flowers and laid it beside the toppling cross.
"I reckon he's in a place w'ere flowers don't git much waterin', if they got any there."
"Shame to talk so cruelly; I don't believe in such places."
"You don't believe in hell?" he asked in blank surprise.
"Certainly not. I'm a Unitarian."
"Well, that's new to me," was his only comment.
"Do you believe in spirits, Gregoire? I don't—in day time."
"Neva mine 'bout spirits," he answered, taking her arm and leading her off, "let's git away f'om yere."
They soon found a smooth and gentle slope where Melicent sat herself comfortably down, her back against the broad support of a tree trunk, and Gregoire lay prone upon the ground with—his head in Melicent's lap.
When Melicent first met Gregoire, his peculiarities of speech, so unfamiliar to her, seemed to remove him at once from the possibility of her consideration. She was not then awake to certain fine psychological differences distinguishing man from man; precluding the possibility of naming and classifying him in the moral as one might in the animal kingdom. But short-comings of language, which finally seemed not to detract from a definite inheritance of good breeding, touched his personality as a physical deformation might, adding to it certainly no charm, yet from its pathological aspect not without a species of fascination, for a certain order of misregulated mind.
She bore with him, and then she liked him. Finally, whilst indulging in a little introspection; making a diagnosis of various symptoms, indicative by no means of a deep-seated malady, she decided that she was in love with Gregoire. But the admission embraced the understanding with herself, that nothing could come of it. She accepted it as a phase of that relentless fate which in pessimistic moments she was inclined to believe pursued her.
It could not be thought of, that she should marry a man whose eccentricity of speech would certainly not adapt itself to the requirements of polite society.
He had kissed her one day. Whatever there was about the kiss—possibly an over exuberance—it was not to her liking, and she forbade that he ever repeat it, under pain of losing her affection. Indeed, on the few occasions when Melicent had been engaged, kissing had been excluded as superfluous to the relationship, except in the case of the young lieutenant out at Fort Leavenworth who read Tennyson to her, as an angel might be supposed to read, and who in moments of rapturous self-forgetfulness, was permitted to kiss her under the ear: a proceeding not positively distasteful to Melicent, except in so much as it tickled her.
Gregoire's hair was soft, not so dark as her own, and possessed an inclination to curl about her slender fingers.
"Gregoire," she said, "you told me once that the Santien boys were a hard lot; what did you mean by that?"
"Oh no," he answered, laughing good-humoredly up into her eyes, "you did'n year me right. W'at I said was that we had a hard name in the country. I don' see w'y eitha, excep' we all'ays done putty much like we wanted. But my! a man can live like a saint yere at Place-du-Bois, they ain't no temptations o' no kine."
"There's little merit in your right doing, if you have no temptations to withstand," delivering the time worn aphorism with the air and tone of a pretty sage, giving utterance to an inspired truth.
Melicent felt that she did not fully know Gregoire; that he had always been more or less under restraint with her, and she was troubled by something other than curiosity to get at the truth concerning him. One day when she was arranging a vase of flowers at a table on the back porch, Aunt Belindy, who was scouring knives at the same table, had followed Gregoire with her glance, when he walked away after exchanging a few words with Melicent.
"God! but dats a diffunt man sence you come heah."
"Different?" questioned the girl eagerly, and casting a quick sideward look at Aunt Belindy.
"Lord yas honey, 'f you warn't heah dat same Mista Gregor 'd be in Centaville ev'y Sunday, a raisin' Cain. Humph—I knows 'im."
Melicent would not permit herself to ask more, but picked up her vase of flowers and walked with it into the house; her comprehension of Gregoire in no wise advanced by the newly acquired knowledge that he was liable to "raise Cain" during her absence—a proceeding which she could not too hastily condemn, considering her imperfect apprehension of what it might imply.
Meanwhile she would not allow her doubts to interfere with the kindness which she lavished on him, seeing that he loved her to desperation. Was he not at this very moment looking up into her eyes, and talking of his misery and her cruelty? turning his face downward in her lap—as she knew to cry—for had she not already seen him lie on the ground in an agony of tears, when she had told him he should never kiss her again?
And so they lingered in the woods, these two curious lovers, till the shadows grew so deep about old McFarlane's grave that they passed it by with hurried step and averted glance.
Face to Face.
After a day of close and intense September heat, it had rained during the night. And now the morning had followed chill and crisp, yet with possibilities of a genial sunshine breaking through the mist that had risen at dawn from the great sluggish river and spread itself through the mazes of the city.
The change was one to send invigorating thrills through the blood, and to quicken the step; to make one like the push and jostle of the multitude that thronged the streets; to make one in love with intoxicating life, and impatient with the grudging dispensation that had given to mankind no wings wherewith to fly.
But with no reacting warmth in his heart, the change had only made Hosmer shiver and draw his coat closer about his chest, as he pushed his way through the hurrying crowd.
The St. Louis Exposition was in progress with all its many allurements that had been heralded for months through the journals of the State.
Hence, the unusual press of people on the streets this bright September morning. Home people, whose air of ownership to the surroundings classified them at once, moving unobservantly about their affairs. Women and children from the near and rich country towns, in for the Exposition and their fall shopping; wearing gowns of ultra fashionable tendencies; leaving in their toilets nothing to expediency; taking no chances of so much as a ribbon or a loop set in disaccordance with the book.
There were whole families from across the bridge, hurrying towards the Exposition. Fathers and mothers, babies and grandmothers, with baskets of lunch and bundles of provisional necessities, in for the day.
Nothing would escape their observation nor elude their criticism, from the creations in color lining the walls of the art gallery, to the most intricate mechanism of inventive genius in the basement. All would pass inspection, with drawing of comparison between the present, the past year and the "year before," likely in a nasal drawl with the R's brought sharply out, leaving no doubt as to their utterance.
The newly married couple walking serenely through the crowd, young, smiling, up-country, hand-in-hand; well pleased with themselves, with their new attire and newer jewelry, would likely have answered Hosmer's "beg pardon" with amiability if he had knocked them down. But he had only thrust them rather violently to one side in his eagerness to board the cable car that was dashing by, with no seeming willingness to stay its mad flight. He still possessed the agility in his unpracticed limbs to swing himself on the grip, where he took a front seat, well buttoned up as to top-coat, and glad of the bodily rest that his half hour's ride would bring him.
The locality in which he descended presented some noticeable changes since he had last been there. Formerly, it had been rather a quiet street, with a leisurely horse car depositing its passengers two blocks away to the north from it; awaking somewhat of afternoons when hordes of children held possession. But now the cable had come to disturb its long repose, adding in the office, nothing to its attractiveness.
There was the drug store still at the corner, with the same proprietor, tilted back in his chair as of old, and as of old reading his newspaper with only the change which a newly acquired pair of spectacles gave to his appearance. The "drug store boy" had unfolded into manhood, plainly indicated by the mustache that in adding adornment and dignity to his person, had lifted him above the menial office of window washing. A task relegated to a mustacheless urchin with a leaning towards the surreptitious abstraction of caramels and chewing gum in the intervals of such manual engagements as did not require the co-operation of a strategic mind.
Where formerly had been the vacant lot "across the street," the Sunday afternoon elysium of the youthful base ball fiend from Biddle Street, now stood a row of brand new pressed-brick "flats." Marvelous must have been the architectural ingenuity which had contrived to unite so many dwellings into so small a space. Before each spread a length of closely clipped grass plot, and every miniature front door wore its fantastic window furnishing; each set of decorations having seemingly fired the next with efforts of surpassing elaboration.
The house at which Hosmer rang—a plain two-storied red brick, standing close to the street—was very old-fashioned in face of its modern opposite neighbors, and the recently metamorphosed dwelling next door, that with added porches and appendages to tax man's faculty of conjecture, was no longer recognizable for what it had been. Even the bell which he pulled was old-fashioned and its tingle might be heard throughout the house long after the servant had opened the door, if she were only reasonably alert to the summons. Its reverberations were but dying away when Hosmer asked if Mrs. Larimore were in. Mrs. Larimore was in; an admission which seemed to hold in reserve a defiant "And what if she is, sir."
Hosmer was relieved to find the little parlor into which he was ushered, with its adjoining dining-room, much changed. The carpets which he and Fanny had gone out together to buy during the early days of their housekeeping, were replaced by rugs that lay upon the bare, well polished floors. The wall paper was different; so were the hangings. The furniture had been newly re-covered. Only the small household gods were as of old: things—trifles—that had never much occupied or impressed him, and that now, amid their altered surroundings stirred no sentiment in him of either pleased or sad remembrance.
It had not been his wish to take his wife unawares, and he had previously written her of his intended coming, yet without giving her a clue for the reason of it.
There was an element of the bull-dog in Hosmer. Having made up his mind, he indulged in no regrets, in no nursing of if's and and's, but stood like a brave soldier to his post, not a post of danger, true—but one well supplied with discomfiting possibilities.
And what had Homeyer said of it? He had railed of course as usual, at the submission of a human destiny to the exacting and ignorant rule of what he termed moral conventionalities. He had startled and angered Hosmer with his denunciation of Therese's sophistical guidance. Rather—he proposed—let Hosmer and Therese marry, and if Fanny were to be redeemed—though he pooh-poohed the notion as untenable with certain views of what he called the rights to existence: the existence of wrongs—sorrows—diseases—death—let them all go to make up the conglomerate whole—and let the individual man hold on to his personality. But if she must be redeemed—granting this point to their littleness, let the redemption come by different ways than those of sacrifice: let it be an outcome from the capability of their united happiness.
Hosmer did not listen to his friend Homeyer. Love was his god now, and Therese was Love's prophet.
So he was sitting in this little parlor waiting for Fanny to come.
She came after an interval that had been given over to the indulgence of a little feminine nervousness. Through the open doors Hosmer could hear her coming down the back stairs; could hear that she halted mid-way. Then she passed through the dining-room, and he arose and went to meet her, holding out his hand, which she was not at once ready to accept, being flustered and unprepared for his manner in whichever way it might direct itself.
They sat opposite each other and remained for a while silent; he with astonishment at sight of the "merry blue eyes" faded and sunken into deep, dark round sockets; at the net-work of little lines all traced about the mouth and eyes, and spreading over the once rounded cheeks that were now hollow and evidently pale or sallow, beneath a layer of rouge that had been laid on with an unsparing hand. Yet was she still pretty, or pleasing, especially to a strong nature that would find an appeal in the pathetic weakness of her face. There was no guessing at what her figure might be, it was disguised under a very fashionable dress, and a worsted shawl covered her shoulders, which occasionally quivered as with an inward chill. She spoke first, twisting the end of this shawl.
"What did you come for, David? why did you come now?" with peevish resistance to the disturbance of his coming.
"I know I have come without warrant," he said, answering her implication. "I have been led to see—no matter how—that I made mistakes in the past, and what I want to do now is to right them, if you will let me."
This was very unexpected to her, and it startled her, but neither with pleasure nor pain; only with an uneasiness which showed itself in her face.
"Have you been ill?" he asked suddenly as the details of change in her appearance commenced to unfold themselves to him.
"Oh no, not since last winter, when I had pneumonia so bad. They thought I was going to die. Dr. Franklin said I would 'a died if Belle Worthington hadn't 'a took such good care of me. But I don't see what you mean coming now. It'll be the same thing over again: I don't see what's the use, David."
"We won't talk about the use, Fanny. I want to take care of you for the rest of your life—or mine—as I promised to do ten years ago; and I want you to let me do it."
"It would be the same thing over again," she reiterated, helplessly.
"It will not be the same," he answered positively. "I will not be the same, and that will make all the difference needful."
"I don't see what you want to do it for, David. Why we'd haf to get married over again and all that, wouldn't we?"
"Certainly," he answered with a faint smile. "I'm living in the South now, in Louisiana, managing a sawmill down there."
"Oh, I don't like the South. I went down to Memphis, let's see, it was last spring, with Belle and Lou Dawson, after I'd been sick; and I don't see how a person can live down there."
"You would like the place where I'm living. It's a fine large plantation, and the lady who owns it would be the best of friends to you. She knew why I was coming, and told me to say she would help to make your life a happy one if she could."
"It's her told you to come," she replied in quick resentment. "I don't see what business it is of hers."
Fanny Larimore's strength of determination was not one to hold against Hosmer's will set to a purpose, during the hour or more that they talked, he proposing, she finally acquiescing. And when he left her, it was with a gathering peace in her heart to feel that his nearness was something that would belong to her again; but differently as he assured her. And she believed him, knowing that he would stand to his promise.
Her life was sometimes very blank in the intervals of street perambulations and matinees and reading of morbid literature. That elation which she had felt over her marriage with Hosmer ten years before, had soon died away, together with her weak love for him, when she began to dread him and defy him. But now that he said he was ready to take care of her and be good to her, she felt great comfort in her knowledge of his honesty.
It was on the day following Hosmer's visit, that Mrs. Lorenzo Worthington, familiarly known to her friends as Belle Worthington, was occupied in constructing a careful and extremely elaborate street toilet before her dressing bureau which stood near the front window of one of the "flats" opposite Mrs. Larimore's. The Nottingham curtain screened her effectually from the view of passers-by without hindering her frequent observance of what transpired in the street.
The lower portion of this lady's figure was draped, or better, seemingly supported, by an abundance of stiffly starched white petticoats that rustled audibly at her slightest movement. Her neck was bare, as were the well shaped arms that for the past five minutes had been poised in mid-air, in the arrangement of a front of exquisitely soft blonde curls, which she had taken from her "top drawer" and was adjusting, with the aid of a multitude of tiny invisible hair-pins, to her own very smoothly brushed hair. Yellow hair it was, with a suspicious darkness about the roots, and a streakiness about the back, that to an observant eye would have more than hinted that art had assisted nature in coloring Mrs. Worthington's locks.