FLOWER OF THE DUSK
G. P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1908 Copyright, 1908 by Myrtle Reed McCullough The Knickerbocker Press, New York
By MYRTLE REED.
FLOWER OF THE DUSK. LOVE AFFAIRS OF LITERARY MEN. A SPINNER IN THE SUN. LOVE LETTERS OF A MUSICIAN. LATER LOVE LETTERS OF A MUSICIAN. THE SPINSTER BOOK. LAVENDER AND OLD LACE. THE MASTER'S VIOLIN. AT THE SIGN OF THE JACK-O'-LANTERN. THE SHADOW OF VICTORY. THE BOOK OF CLEVER BEASTS. PICKABACK SONGS.
I—A MAKER OF SONGS 1
II—MISS MATTIE 15
III—THE TOWER OF COLOGNE 28
IV—THE SEVENTH OF JUNE 42
VI—A LETTER 68
VII—AN AFTERNOON CALL 83
VIII—A FAIRY GODMOTHER 98
IX—TAKING THE CHANCE 111
X—IN THE GARDEN 126
XI—BARBARA'S "TO-MORROW" 142
XIII—"WOMAN SUFFRAGE" 169
XIV—BARBARA'S BIRTHDAY 181
XV—THE SONG OF THE PINES 194
XVII—"NEVER AGAIN" 225
XVIII—THE PASSING OF FIDO 238
XIX—THE DREAMS COME TRUE 253
XXI—THE PERILS OF THE CITY 286
XXII—AUTUMN LEAVES 299
XXIII—LETTERS TO CONSTANCE 313
XXIV—THE BELLS IN THE TOWER 327
Flower of the Dusk
A Maker of Songs
The pines, darkly purple, towered against the sunset. Behind the hills, the splendid tapestry glowed and flamed, sending far messages of light to the grey East, where lay the sea, crooning itself to sleep. Bare boughs dripped rain upon the sodden earth, where the dead leaves had so long been hidden by the snow. The thousand sounds and scents of Spring at last had waked the world.
The man who stood near the edge of the cliff, quite alone, and carefully feeling the ground before him with his cane, had chosen to face the valley and dream of the glory that, perchance, trailed down in living light from some vast loom of God's. His massive head was thrown back, as though he listened, with a secret sense, for music denied to those who see.
[Sidenote: Joyful Memories]
He took off his hat and stray gleams came through the deepening shadows to rest, like an aureole, upon his silvered hair. Remembered sunsets, from beyond the darkness of more than twenty years, came back to him with divine beauty and diviner joy. Mnemosyne, that guardian angel of the soul, brought from her treasure-house gifts of laughter and tears; the laughter sweet with singing, and the bitterness of the tears eternally lost in the Water of Forgetfulness.
Slowly, the light died. Dusk came upon the valley and crept softly to the hills. Mist drifted in from the sleeping sea, and the hush of night brooded over the river as it murmured through the plain. A single star uplifted its exquisite lamp against the afterglow, near the veiled ivory of the crescent moon.
Sighing, the man turned away. "Perhaps," he thought, whimsically, as he went cautiously down the path, searching out every step of the way, "there was no sunset at all."
The road was clear until he came to a fallen tree, over which he stepped easily. The new softness of the soil had, for him, its own deep meaning of resurrection. He felt it in the swelling buds of the branches that sometimes swayed before him, and found it in the scent of the cedar as he crushed a bit of it in his hand.
Easily, yet carefully, he went around the base of the hill to the street, where his house was the first upon the right-hand side. The gate creaked on its hinges and he went quickly up the walk, passing the grey tangle of last Summer's garden, where the marigolds had died and the larkspur fallen asleep.
Within the house, two women awaited him, one with anxious eagerness, the other with tenderly watchful love. The older one, who had long been listening, opened the door before he knocked, but it was Barbara who spoke to him first.
"You're late, Father, dear."
"Am I, Barbara? Tell me, was there a sunset to-night?"
"Yes, a glorious one."
[Sidenote: Seeing with the Soul]
"I thought so, and that accounts for my being late. I saw a beautiful sunset—I saw it with my soul."
"Give me your coat, Ambrose." The older woman stood at his side, longing to do him some small service.
"Thank you, Miriam; you are always kind."
The tiny living-room was filled with relics of past luxury. Fine pictures, in tarnished frames, hung on the dingy walls, and worn rugs covered the floor. The furniture was old mahogany, beautifully cared for, but decrepit, nevertheless, and the ancient square piano, outwardly, at least, showed every year of its age.
Still, the room had "atmosphere," of the indefinable quality that some people impart to a dwelling-place. Entering, one felt refinement, daintiness, and the ability to live above mere externals. Barbara had, very strongly, the house-love which belongs to some rare women. And who shall say that inanimate things do not answer to our love of them, and diffuse, between our four walls, a certain gracious spirit of kindliness and welcome?
In the dining-room, where the table was set for supper, there were marked contrasts. A coarse cloth covered the table, but at the head of it was overlaid a remnant of heavy table-damask, the worn places carefully hidden. The china at this place was thin and fine, the silver was solid, and the cup from which Ambrose North drank was Satsuma.
On the coarse cloth were the heavy, cheap dishes and the discouraging knives and forks which were the portion of the others. The five damask napkins remaining from the original stock of linen were used only by the blind man.
[Sidenote: A Comforting Deceit]
For years the two women had carried on this comforting deceit, and the daily lie they lived, so lovingly, had become a sort of second nature. They had learned to speak, casually, of the difficulty in procuring servants, and to say how much easier it was to do their own small tasks than to watch continually over fine linen and rare china intrusted to incompetent hands. They talked of tapestries, laces, and jewels which had long ago been sold, and Barbara frequently wore a string of beads which, with a lump in her throat, she called "Mother's pearls."
Discovering that the sound of her crutches on the floor distressed him greatly, Barbara had padded the sharp ends with flannel and was careful to move about as little as possible when he was in the house. She had gone, mouse-like, to her own particular chair while Miriam was hanging up his coat and hat and placing his easy chair near the open fire. He sat down and held his slender hands close to the grateful warmth.
"It isn't cold," he said, "and yet I am glad of the fire. To-day is the first day of Spring."
"By the almanac?" laughed Barbara.
"No, according to the almanac, I believe, it has been Spring for ten days. Nature does not move according to man's laws, but she forces him to observe hers—except in almanacs."
[Sidenote: Kindly Shadows]
The firelight made kindly shadows in the room, softening the unloveliness and lending such beauty as it might. It gave to Ambrose North's fine, strong face the delicacy and dignity of an old miniature. It transfigured Barbara's yellow hair into a crown of gold, and put a new gentleness into Miriam's lined face as she sat in the half-light, one of them in blood, yet singularly alien and apart.
"What are you doing, Barbara?" The sensitive hands strayed to her lap and lifted the sheer bit of linen upon which she was working.
"Making lingerie by hand."
"You have a great deal of it, haven't you?"
"Not as much as you think, perhaps. It takes a long time to do it well."
"It seems to me you are always sewing."
"Girls are very vain these days, Father. We need a great many pretty things."
"Your dear mother used to sew a great deal. She—" His voice broke, for even after many years his grief was keenly alive.
"Is supper ready, Aunt Miriam?" asked Barbara, quickly.
"Then come, let's go in."
Ambrose North took his place at the head of the table, which, purposely, was nearest the door. Barbara and Miriam sat together, at the other end.
"Where were you to-day, Father?"
[Sidenote: At the top of the World]
"On the summit of the highest hill, almost at the top of the world. I think I heard a robin, but I am not sure. I smelled Spring in the maple branches and the cedar, and felt it in the salt mist that blew up from the sea. The Winter has been so long!"
"Did you make a song?"
[Sidenote: Always Make a Song]
"Yes—two. I'll tell you about them afterward. Always make a song, Barbara, no matter what comes."
So the two talked, while the other woman watched them furtively. Her face was that of one who has lived much in a short space of time and her dark, burning eyes betrayed tragic depths of feeling. Her black hair, slightly tinged with grey, was brushed straight back from her wrinkled forehead. Her shoulders were stooped and her hands rough from hard work.
She was the older sister of Ambrose North's dead wife—the woman he had so devotedly loved. Ever since her sister's death, she had lived with them, taking care of little lame Barbara, now grown into beautiful womanhood, except for the crutches. After his blindness, Ambrose North had lost his wife, and then, by slow degrees, his fortune. Mercifully, a long illness had made him forget a great deal.
"Never mind, Barbara," said Miriam, in a low tone, as they rose from the table. "It will make your hands too rough for the sewing."
"Shan't I wipe the dishes for you, Aunty? I'd just as soon."
"No—go with him."
The fire had gone down, but the room was warm, so Barbara turned up the light and began again on her endless stitching. Her father's hands sought hers.
"More sewing?" His voice was tender and appealing.
"Just a little bit, Father, please. I'm so anxious to get this done."
"But why, dear?"
"Because girls are so vain," she answered, with a laugh.
"Is my little girl vain?"
"Awfully. Hasn't she the dearest father in the world and the prettiest"—she swallowed hard here—"the prettiest house and the loveliest clothes? Who wouldn't be vain!"
"I am so glad," said the old man, contentedly, "that I have been able to give you the things you want. I could not bear it if we were poor."
"You told me you had made two songs to-day, Father."
[Sidenote: Song of the River]
He drew closer to her and laid one hand upon the arm of her chair. Quietly, she moved her crutches beyond his reach. "One is about the river," he began.
"In Winter, a cruel fairy put it to sleep in an enchanted tower, far up in the mountains, and walled up the door with crystal. All the while the river was asleep, it was dreaming of the green fields and the soft, fragrant winds.
"It tossed and murmured in its sleep, and at last it woke, too soon, for the cruel fairy's spell could not have lasted much longer. When it found the door barred, it was very sad. Then it grew rebellious and hurled itself against the door, trying to escape, but the barrier only seemed more unyielding. So, making the best of things, the river began to sing about the dream.
"From its prison-house, it sang of the green fields and fragrant winds, the blue violets that starred the meadow, the strange, singing harps of the marsh grasses, and the wonder of the sea. A good fairy happened to be passing, and she stopped to hear the song. She became so interested that she wanted to see the singer, so she opened the door. The river laughed and ran out, still singing, and carrying the door along. It never stopped until it had taken every bit of the broken crystal far out to sea."
"I made one, too, Father."
"What is it?"
[Sidenote: Song of the Flax]
"Mine is about the linen. Once there was a little seed put away into the darkness and covered deep with earth. But there was a soul in the seed, and after the darkness grew warm it began to climb up and up, until one day it reached the sunshine. After that, it was so glad that it tossed out tiny, green branches and finally its soul blossomed into a blue flower. Then a princess passed, and her hair was flaxen and her eyes were the colour of the flower.
"The flower said, 'Oh, pretty Princess, I want to go with you.'
"The princess answered, 'You would die, little Flower, if you were picked,' and she went on.
"But one day the Reaper passed and the little blue flower and all its fellows were gathered. After a terrible time of darkness and pain, the flower found itself in a web of sheerest linen. There was much cutting and more pain, and thousands of pricking stitches, then a beautiful gown was made, all embroidered with the flax in palest blue and green. And it was the wedding gown of the pretty princess, because her hair was flaxen and her eyes the colour of the flower."
"What colour is your hair, Barbara?" He had asked the question many times.
"The colour of ripe corn, Daddy. Don't you remember my telling you?"
He leaned forward to stroke the shining braids. "And your eyes?"
"Like the larkspur that grows in the garden."
"I know—your dear mother's eyes." He touched her face gently as he spoke. "Your skin is so smooth—is it fair?"
"I think you must be beautiful; I have asked Miriam so often, but she will not tell me. She only says you look well enough and something like your mother. Are you beautiful?"
"Oh, Daddy! Daddy!" laughed Barbara, in confusion. "You mustn't ask such questions! Didn't you say you had made two songs? What is the other one?"
Miriam sat in the dining-room, out of sight but within hearing. Having observed that in her presence they laughed less, she spent her evenings alone unless they urged her to join them. She had a newspaper more than a week old, but, as yet, she had not read it. She sat staring into the shadows, with the light of her one candle flickering upon her face, nervously moving her work-worn hands.
"The other song," reminded Barbara, gently.
[Sidenote: Song of the Sunset]
"This one was about a sunset," he sighed. "It was such a sunset as was never on sea or land, because two who loved each other saw it together. God and all His angels had hung a marvellous tapestry from the high walls of Heaven, and it reached almost to the mountain-tops, where some of the little clouds sleep.
"The man said, 'Shall we always look for the sunsets together?'
"The woman smiled and answered, 'Yes, always.'
"'And,' the man continued, 'when one of us goes on the last long journey?'
"'Then,' answered the woman, 'the other will not be watching alone. For, I think, there in the West is the Golden City with the jasper walls and the jewelled foundations, where the twelve gates are twelve pearls.'"
There was a long silence. "And so—" said Barbara, softly.
Ambrose North lifted his grey head from his hands and rose to his feet unsteadily. "And so," he said, with difficulty, "she leans from the sunset toward him, but he can never see her, because he is blind. Oh, Barbara," he cried, passionately, "last night I dreamed that you could walk and I could see!"
"So we can, Daddy," said Barbara, very gently. "Our souls are neither blind nor lame. Here, I am eyes for you and you are feet for me, so we belong together. And—past the sunset——"
"Past the sunset," repeated the old man, dreamily, "soul and body shall be as one. We must wait—for life is made up of waiting—and make what songs we can."
"I think, Father, that a song should be in poetry, shouldn't it?"
[Sidenote: The Real Song]
"Some of them are, but more are not. Some are music and some are words, and some, like prayers, are feeling. The real song is in the thrush's heart, not in the silvery rain of sound that comes from the green boughs in Spring. When you open the door of your heart and let all the joy rush out, laughing—then you are making a song."
"But—is there always joy?"
"Yes, though sometimes it is sadly covered up with other things. We must find it and divide it, for only in that way it grows. Good-night, my dear."
He bent to kiss her, while Miriam, with her heart full of nameless yearning, watched them from the far shadows. The sound of his footsteps died away and a distant door closed. Soon afterward Miriam took her candle and went noiselessly upstairs, but she did not say good-night to Barbara.
Until midnight, the girl sat at her sewing, taking the finest of stitches in tuck and hem. The lamp burning low made her needle fly swiftly. In her own room was an old chest nearly full of dainty garments which she was never to wear. She had wrought miracles of embroidery upon some of them, and others were unadorned save by tucks and lace.
When the work was finished, she folded it and laid it aside, then put away her thimble and thread. "When the guests come to the hotel," she thought—"ah, when they come, and buy all the things I've made the past year, and the preserves and the candied orange peel, the rag rugs and the quilts, then——"
[Sidenote: Dying Embers]
So Barbara fell a-dreaming, and the light of the dying embers lay lovingly upon her face, already transfigured by tenderness into beauty beyond words. The lamp went out and little by little the room faded into twilight, then into night. It was quite dark when she leaned over and picked up her crutches.
"Dear, dear father," she breathed. "He must never know!"
Miss Mattie was getting supper, sustained by the comforting thought that her task was utterly beneath her and had been forced upon her by the mysterious workings of an untoward Fate. She was not really "Miss," since she had been married and widowed, and a grown son was waiting impatiently in the sitting-room for his evening meal, but her neighbours, nearly all of whom had known her before her marriage, still called her "Miss Mattie."
[Sidenote: "Old Maids"]
The arbitrary social distinctions, made regardless of personality, are often cruelly ironical. Many a man, incapable by nature of life-long devotion to one woman, becomes a husband in half an hour, duly sanctioned by Church and State. A woman who remains unmarried, because, with fine courage, she will have her true mate or none, is called "an old maid." She may have the heart of a wife and the soul of a mother, but she cannot escape her sinister label. The real "old maids" are of both sexes, and many are married, but alas! seldom to each other.
[Sidenote: A Grievance]
In his introspective moments, Roger Austin sometimes wondered why marriage, maternity, and bereavement should have left no trace upon his mother. The uttermost depths of life had been hers for the sounding, but Miss Mattie had refused to drop her plummet overboard and had spent the years in prolonged study of her own particular boat.
She came in, with the irritating air of a martyr, and clucked sharply with her false teeth when she saw that her son was reading.
"I don't know what I've done," she remarked, "that I should have to live all the time with people who keep their noses in books. Your pa was forever readin' and you're marked with it. I could set here and set here and set here, and he took no more notice of me than if I was a piece of furniture. When he died, the brethren and sistern used to come to condole with me and say how I must miss him. There wasn't nothin' to miss, 'cause the books and his chair was left. I've a good mind to burn 'em all up."
"I won't read if you don't want me to, Mother," answered Roger, laying his book aside regretfully.
"I dunno but what I'd rather you would than to want to and not," she retorted, somewhat obscurely. "What I'm a-sayin' is that it's in the blood and you can't help it. If I'd known it was your pa's intention to give himself up so exclusive to readin', I'd never have married him, that's all I've got to say. There's no sense in it. Lemme see what you're at now."
She took the open book, that lay face downward upon the table, and read aloud, awkwardly:
"Leave to the diamond its ages to grow, nor expect to accelerate the births of the eternal. Friendship demands a religious treatment. We talk of choosing our friends, but friends are self-elected."
[Sidenote: Peculiar Way of Putting Things]
"Now," she demanded, in a shrill voice, "what does that mean?"
"I don't think I could explain it to you, Mother."
"That's just the point. Your pa couldn't never explain nothin', neither. You're readin' and readin' and readin' and you never know what you're readin' about. Diamonds growin' and births bein' hurried up, and friends bein' religious and voted for at township elections. Who's runnin' for friend this year on the Republican ticket?" she inquired, caustically.
Roger managed to force a laugh. "You have your own peculiar way of putting things, Mother. Is supper ready? I'm as hungry as a bear."
"I suppose you are. When it ain't readin', it's eatin'. Work all day to get a meal that don't last more'n fifteen minutes, and then see readin' goin' on till long past bedtime, and oil goin' up every six months. Which'll you have—fresh apple sauce, or canned raspberries?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Then I'll get the apple sauce, because the canned raspberries can lay over as long as they're kept cool."
[Sidenote: Miss Mattie's Personal Appearance]
Miss Mattie shuffled back into the kitchen. During the Winter she wore black knitted slippers attached to woollen inner soles which had no heels. She was well past the half-century mark, but her face had few lines in it and her grey eyes were sharp and penetrating. Her smooth, pale brown hair, which did not show the grey in it, was parted precisely in the middle. Every morning she brushed it violently with a stiff brush dipped into cold water, and twisted the ends into a tight knot at the back of her head. In militant moments, this knot seemed to rise and the protruding ends of the wire hairpins to bristle into formidable weapons of offence.
She habitually wore her steel-bowed spectacles half-way down her nose. They might have fallen off had not a kindly Providence placed a large wart where it would do the most good. On Sundays, when she put on shoes, corsets, her best black silk, and her gold-bowed spectacles, she took great pains to wear them properly. When she reached home, however, she always took off her fine raiment and laid her spectacles aside with a great sigh of relief. Miss Mattie's disposition improved rapidly as soon as the old steel-bowed pair were in their rightful place, resting safely upon the wart.
[Sidenote: Second-hand Things]
When they sat down to supper, she reverted to the original topic. "As I was sayin'," she began, "there ain't no sense in the books you and your pa has always set such store by. Where he ever got 'em, I dunno, but they was always a comin'. Lots of 'em was well-nigh wore out when he got 'em, and he wouldn't let me buy nothin' that had been used before, even if I knew the folks.
"I got a silver coffin plate once at an auction over to the Ridge for almost nothin' and your pa was as mad as a wet hen. There was a name on it, but it could have been scraped off, and the rest of it was perfectly good. When you need a coffin plate you need it awful bad. While your pa was rampin' around, he said he wouldn't have been surprised to see me comin' home with a second-hand coffin in the back of the buggy. Who ever heard of a second-hand coffin? I've always thought his mind was unsettled by so much readin'.
"I ain't a-sayin' but what some readin' is all right. Some folks has just moved over to the Ridge and the postmaster's wife was a-showin' me some papers they get, every week. One is The Metropolitan Weekly, and the other The Housewife's Companion. I must say, the stories in those papers is certainly beautiful.
"Once, when they come after their mail, they was as mad as anything because the papers hadn't come, but the postmaster's wife was readin' one of the stories and settin' up nights to do it, so she wa'n't to blame for not lettin' 'em go until she got through with 'em. They slip out of the covers just as easy, and nobody ever knows the difference.
[Sidenote: The Doctor's Darling]
"She was tellin' me about one of the stories. It's named Lovely Lulu, or the Doctor's Darling. Lovely Lulu is a little orphant who has to do most of the housework for a family of eight, and the way they abuse that child is something awful. The young ladies are forever puttin' ruffled white skirts into her wash, and makin' her darn the lace on their blue silk mornin' dresses.
"There's a rich doctor that they're all after and one day little Lulu happens to open the front-door for him, and he gets a good look at her for the first time. As she goes upstairs, Arthur Montmorency—that's his name—holds both hands to his heart and says, 'She and she only shall be my bride.' The conclusion of this highly fascinatin' and absorbin' romance will be found in the next number of The Housewife's Companion."
"Mother," suggested Roger, "why don't you subscribe for the papers yourself?"
Miss Mattie dropped her knife and fork and gazed at him in open-mouthed astonishment. "Roger," she said, kindly, "I declare if sometimes you don't remind me of my people more'n your pa's. I never thought of that myself and I dunno how you come to. I'll do it the very first time I go down to the store. The postmaster's wife can get the addresses without tearin' off the covers, and after I get 'em read she can borrow mine, and not be always makin' the people at the Ridge so mad that she's runnin' the risk of losin' her job. If you ain't the beatenest!"
Basking in the unaccustomed warmth of his mother's approval, Roger finished his supper in peace. Afterward, while she was clearing up, he even dared to take up the much-criticised book and lose himself once more in his father's beloved Emerson.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Childish Memories]
All his childish memories of his father had been blurred into one by the mists of the intervening years. As though it were yesterday, he could see the library upstairs, which was still the same, and the grave, silent, kindly man who sat dreaming over his books. When the child entered, half afraid because the room was so quiet, the man had risen and caught him in his arms with such hungry passion that he had almost cried out.
"Oh, my son," came in the deep, rich voice, vibrant with tenderness; "my dear little son!"
[Sidenote: The Priceless Legacy]
That was all, save a few old photographs and the priceless legacy of the books. The library was not a large one, but it had been chosen by a man of discriminating, yet catholic, taste. The books had been used and were not, as so often happens, merely ornaments. Page after page had been interlined and there was scarcely a volume which was not rich in marginal notes, sometimes questioning in character, but indicating always understanding and appreciation.
As soon as he learned to read, Roger began to spend his leisure hours in this library. When he could not understand a book, he put it aside and took up another. Always there were pictures and sometimes many of them, for in his later years Laurence Austin had contracted the baneful habit of extra-illustration. Never maternal, save in the limited physical sense, Miss Mattie had been glad to have the child out of her way.
Day by day, the young mind grew and expanded in its own way. Year by year, Roger came to an affectionate knowledge of his father, through the medium of the marginal notes. He wondered, sometimes, that a pencil mark should so long outlive the fine, strong body of the man who made it. It seemed pitiful, in a way, and yet he knew that books and letters are the things that endure, in a world of transition and decay.
The underlined passages and the marginal comments gave evidence of an extraordinary love of beauty, in whatever shape or form. And yet—the parlour, which was opened only on Sunday—was hideous with a gaudy carpet, stuffed chairs, family portraits done in crayon and inflicted upon the house by itinerant vendors of tea and coffee, and there was a basket of wax flowers, protected by glass, on the marble-topped "centre-table."
The pride of Miss Mattie's heart was a chair, which, with incredible industry, she had made from an empty flour barrel. She had spoiled a good barrel to make a bad chair, but her thrifty soul rejoiced in her achievement. Roger never went near it, so Miss Mattie herself sat in it on Sunday afternoons, nodding, and crooning hymns to herself.
[Sidenote: An Awful Chasm]
"How did father stand it?" thought Roger, intending no disrespect. He loved his mother and appreciated her good qualities, but he saw the awful chasm between those two souls, which no ceremony of marriage could ever span.
[Sidenote: Roger Austin]
In appearance, Roger was like his father. He had the same clear, dark skin, with regular features and kind, dark eyes, the same abundant, wavy hair, strong, square chin, and incongruous, beauty-loving mouth. He had, too, the lovable boyishness, which never quite leaves some fortunate men. He was studying law in the judge's office, and hoped by another year to be ready to take his examinations. After working hard all day, he found refreshment for mind and body in an hour or so at night spent with the treasures of his father's library.
"Let us buy our entrance to this guild with a long probation," read Roger. "Why should we desecrate noble and beautiful souls by intruding upon them? Why insist upon rash personal relations with your friend? Why go to his house, and know his mother and brother and sisters? Why be visited by him at your own? Are these things material to our covenant? Leave this touching and clawing. Let him be to me——"
"I've spoke twice," complained Miss Mattie, "and you don't hear me no more'n your pa did."
"I beg your pardon, Mother. I did not hear you come in. What is it?"
"I was just a-sayin' that maybe those papers would be too expensive. Maybe I ought not to have 'em."
"I'm sure they're not, Mother. Anyhow, you get them, and we'll make it up in some other way if we have to." Dimly, in the future, Roger saw long, quiet evenings in which his disturbing influence should be rendered null and void by the charms of Lovely Lulu, or the Doctor's Darling.
[Sidenote: A Morning Call]
"Barbara North sent her pa over here this morning to ask for some book. I disremember now what it was, but it was after you was gone."
Roger's expressive face changed instantly. "Why didn't you tell me sooner, Mother?" He spoke with evident effort. "It's too late now for me to go over there."
"There's no call for you to go over. They can send again. Miss Miriam can come after it any time. They ain't got no business to let a blind old man like Ambrose North run around by himself the way they do."
"He takes very good care of himself. He knew this place before he was blind, and I don't think there is any danger."
"Just the same, he ought not to go around alone, and that's what I told him this morning. 'A blind old man like you,' says I, 'ain't got no business chasin' around alone. First thing you know, you'll fall down and break a leg or arm or something.'"
Roger shrank as if from a physical hurt. "Mother!" he cried. "How can you say such things!"
"Why not?" she queried, imperturbably. "He knows he's blind, I guess, and he certainly can't think he's young, so what harm does it do to speak of it? Anyway," she added, piously, "I always say just what I think."
Roger got up, put his hands in his pockets, and paced back and forth restlessly. "People who always say what they think, Mother," he answered, not unkindly, "assume that their opinions are of great importance to people who probably do not care for them at all. Unless directly asked, it is better to say only the kind things and keep the rest to ourselves."
"I was kind," objected Miss Mattie. "I was tellin' him he ought not to take the risk of hurtin' himself by runnin' around alone. I don't know what ails you, Roger. Every day you get more and more like your pa."
[Sidenote: Dangerous Rocks]
"How long had you and father known each other before you were married?" asked Roger, steering quickly away from the dangerous rocks that will loom up in the best-regulated of conversations.
"'Bout three months. Why?"
"Oh, I just wanted to know."
"I used to be a pretty girl, Roger, though you mightn't think it now." Her voice was softened, and, taking off her spectacles, she gazed far into space; seemingly to that distant girlhood when radiant youth lent to the grey old world some of its own immortal joy.
"I don't doubt it," said Roger, politely.
"Your pa and me used to go to church together. He sang in the choir and I had a white dress and a bonnet trimmed with lutestring ribbon. I can smell the clover now and hear the bees hummin' when the windows was open in Summer. A bee come in once while the minister was prayin' and lighted on Deacon Emory's bald head. Seems a'most as if 't was yesterday.
[Sidenote: Great Notions]
"Your pa had great notions," she went on, after a pause. "Just before we was married, he said he was goin' to educate me, but he never did."
The Tower of Cologne
Roger sat in Ambrose North's easy chair, watching Barbara while she sewed. "I am sorry," he said, "that I wasn't at home when your father came over after the book. Mother was unable to find it. I'm afraid I'm not very orderly."
"It doesn't matter," returned Barbara, threading her needle again. "I steal too much time from my work as it is."
Roger sighed and turned restlessly in his chair. "I wish I could come over every day and read to you, but you know how it is. Days, I'm in the office with the musty old law books, and in the evenings, your father wants you and my mother wants me."
"I know, but father usually goes to bed by nine, and I'm sure your mother doesn't sit up much later, for I usually see her light by that time. I always work until eleven or half past, so why shouldn't you come over then?"
[Sidenote: A Happy Thought]
"Happy thought!" exclaimed Roger. "Still, you might not always want me. How shall I know?"
"I'll put a candle in the front window," suggested Barbara, "and if you can come, all right. If not, I'll understand."
Both laughed delightedly at the idea, for they were young enough to find a certain pleasure in clandestine ways and means. Miss Mattie had so far determinedly set her face against her son's association with the young of the other sex, and even Barbara, who had been born lame and had never walked farther than her own garden, came under the ban.
Ambrose North, with the keen and unconscious selfishness of age, begrudged others even an hour of Barbara's society. He felt a third person always as an intruder, though he tried his best to appear hospitable when anyone came. Miriam might sometimes have read to Barbara, while he was out upon his long, lonely walks, but it had never occurred to either of them.
[Sidenote: World-wide Fellowship]
Through Laurence Austin's library, as transported back and forth by Roger, one volume at a time, Barbara had come into the world-wide fellowship of those who love books. She was closely housed and constantly at work, but her mind soared free. When the poverty and ugliness of her surroundings oppressed her beauty-loving soul; when her fingers ached and the stitches blurred into mist before her eyes, some little brown book, much worn, had often given her the key to the House of Content.
"Shall you always have to sew?" asked Roger. "Is there no way out?"
[Sidenote: Glad of Work]
"Not unless some fairy prince comes prancing up on a white charger," laughed Barbara, "and takes us all away with him to his palace. Don't pity me," she went on, her lips quivering a little, "for every day I'm glad I can do it and keep father from knowing we are poor.
"Besides, I'm of use in the world, and I wouldn't want to live if I couldn't work. Aunt Miriam works, too. She does all the housework, takes care of me when I can't help myself, does the mending, many things for father, and makes the quilts, preserves, candied orange peel, and the other little things we sell. People are so kind to us. Last Summer the women at the hotel bought everything we had and left orders enough to keep me busy until long after Christmas."
"Don't call people kind because they buy what they want."
"Don't be so cynical. You wouldn't have them buy things they didn't want, would you?"
"Sometimes they do."
"Well, at church fairs, for instance. They spend more than they can afford for things they do not want, in order to please people whom they do not like and help heathen who are much happier than they are."
"I'm glad I'm not running a church fair," laughed Barbara. "And who told you that heathen are happier than we are? Are you a heathen?"
"I don't know. Most of us are, I suppose, in one way or another. But how nice it would be if we could paint ourselves instead of wearing clothes, and go under a tree when it rained, and pick cocoanuts or bananas when we were hungry. It would save so much trouble and expense."
"Paint is sticky," observed Barbara, "and the rain would come around the tree when the wind was blowing from all ways at once, as it does sometimes, and I do not like either cocoanuts or bananas. I'd rather sew. What went wrong to-day?" she asked, with a whimsical smile. "Everything?"
"Almost," admitted Roger. "How did you know?"
[Sidenote: Unfailing Barometer]
"Because you want to be a heathen instead of the foremost lawyer of your time. Your ambition is an unfailing barometer."
He laughed lightly. This sort of banter was very pleasing to him after a day with the law books and an hour or more with his mother. He had known Barbara since they were children and their comradeship dated back to the mud-pie days.
"I don't know but what you're right," he said. "Whether I go to Congress or the Fiji Islands may depend, eventually, upon Judge Bascom's liver."
"Don't let it depend upon him," cautioned Barbara. "Make your own destiny. It was Napoleon, wasn't it, who prided himself upon making his own circumstances? What would you do—or be—if you could have your choice?"
"The best lawyer in the State," he answered, promptly. "I'd never oppose the innocent nor defend the guilty. And I'd have money enough to be comfortable and to make those I love comfortable."
"Would you marry?" she asked, thoughtfully.
"Why—I suppose so. It would seem queer, though."
"Roger," she said, abruptly, "you were born a year and more before I was, and yet you're fully ten or fifteen years younger."
"Don't take me back too far, Barbara, for I hate milk. Please don't deprive me of my solid food. What would you do, if you could choose?"
"I'd write a book."
"What kind? Dictionary?"
"No, just a little book. The sort that people who love each other would choose for a gift. Something that would be given to one who was going on a long or difficult journey. The one book a woman would take with her when she was tired and went away to rest. A book with laughter and tears in it and so much fine courage that it would be given to those who are in deep trouble. I'd soften the hard hearts, rest the weary ones, and give the despairing ones new strength to go on. Just a little book, but so brave and true and sweet and tender that it would bring the sun to every shady place."
"Would you marry?"
[Sidenote: The Right Man]
"Of course, if the right man came. Otherwise not."
"I wonder," mused Roger, "how a person could know the right one?"
"Foolish child," she answered, "that's it—the knowing. When you don't know, it isn't it."
"My dear Miss North," remarked Roger, "the heads of your argument are somewhat involved, but I think I grasp your meaning. When you know it is, then it is, but when you don't know that it is, then it isn't. Is that right?"
"Exactly. Wonderfully intelligent for one so young."
Barbara's blue eyes danced merrily and her red lips parted in a mocking smile. A long heavy braid of hair, "the colour of ripe corn," hung over either shoulder and into her lap. She was almost twenty-two, but she still clung to the childish fashion of dressing her hair, because the heavy braids and the hairpins made her head ache. All her gowns were white, either of wool or cotton, and were made to be washed. On Sundays, she sometimes wore blue ribbons on her braids.
[Sidenote: Simply Barbara]
To Roger, she was very fair. He never thought of her crutches because she had always been lame. She was simply Barbara, and Barbara needed crutches. It had never occurred to him that she might in any way be different, for he was not one of those restless souls who are forever making people over to fit their own patterns.
"Why doesn't your father like to have me come here?" asked Roger, irrelevantly.
"Why doesn't your mother like to have you come?" queried Barbara, quickly on the defensive.
"No, but tell me. Please!"
"Father always goes to bed early."
"But not at eight o'clock. It was a quarter of eight when I came, and by eight he was gone."
"It isn't you, Roger," she said, unwillingly; "it's anyone. I'm all he has, and if I talk much to other people he feels as if I were being taken away from him—that's all. It's natural, I suppose. You mustn't mind him."
"But I wouldn't hurt him," returned Roger, softly; "you know that."
"I wish you could make him understand that I come to see every one of you."
[Sidenote: Hard Work]
"It's the hardest work in the world," sighed Barbara, "to make people understand things."
"Somebody said once that all the wars had been caused by one set of people trying to force their opinions upon another set, who did not desire to have their minds changed."
"Very true. I wonder, sometimes, if we have done right with father."
"I'm sure you have," said Roger, gently. "You couldn't do anything wrong if you tried."
"We haven't meant to," she answered, her sweet face growing grave. "Of course it was all begun long before I was old enough to understand. He thinks the city house, which we lost so long ago that I cannot even remember our having it, was sold for so high a price that it would have been foolish not to sell it, and that we live here because we prefer the country. Just think, Roger, before I was born, this was father's and mother's Summer home, and now it's all we have."
"It's a roof and four walls—that's all any house is, without the spirit that makes it home."
"He thinks it's beautifully furnished. Of course we have the old mahogany and some of the pictures, but we've had to sell nearly everything. I've used some of mother's real laces in the sewing and sold practically all the rest. Whatever anyone would buy has been disposed of. Even the broken furniture in the attic has gone to people who had a fancy for 'antiques.'"
"You have made him very happy, Barbara."
"I know, but is it right?"
"I'm not orthodox, my dear girl, but, speaking as a lawyer, if it harms no one and makes a blind old man happy, it can't be wrong."
"I hope you're right, but sometimes my conscience bothers me."
[Sidenote: A Saint's Conscience]
"Imagine a saint's conscience being troublesome."
"Don't laugh at me—you know I'm not a saint."
"How should I know?"
"Ask Aunt Miriam. She has no illusions about me."
"Thanks, but I don't know her well enough. We haven't been on good terms since she drove me out of the melon patch—do you remember?"
"Yes, I remember. We wanted the blossoms, didn't we, to make golden bells in the Tower of Cologne?"
"I believe so. We never got the Tower finished, did we?"
"No. I wasn't allowed to play with you for a long time, because you were such a bad boy."
"Next Summer, I think we should rebuild it. Let's renew our youth sometime by making the Tower of Cologne in your back yard."
"There are no golden bells."
"I'll get some from somewhere. We owe it to ourselves to do it."
Barbara's blue eyes were sparkling now, and her sweet lips smiled. "When it's done?" she asked.
[Sidenote: Like Fairy Tales]
"We'll move into it and be happy ever afterward, like the people in the fairy tales."
"I said a little while ago that you were fifteen years younger than I am, but, upon my word, I believe it's nearer twenty."
"That makes me an enticing infant of three or four, flourishing like the green bay tree on a diet of bread and milk with an occasional soft-boiled egg. I should have been in bed by six o'clock, and now it's—gracious, Barbara, it's after eleven. What do you mean by keeping the young up so late?"
As he spoke, he hurriedly found his hat, and, reaching into the pocket of his overcoat, drew out a book. "That's the one you wanted, isn't it?"
"Yes, thank you."
"I didn't give it to you before because I wanted to talk, but we'll read, sometimes, when we can. Don't forget to put the light in the window when it's all right for me to come. If I don't, you'll understand. And please don't work so hard."
Barbara smiled. "I have to earn a living for three healthy people," she said, "and everybody is trying, by moral suasion, to prevent me from doing it. Do you want us all piled up in the front yard in a nice little heap of bones before the Tower of Cologne is rebuilt?"
Roger took both her hands and attempted to speak, but his face suddenly crimsoned, and he floundered out into the darkness like an awkward school-boy instead of a self-possessed young man of almost twenty-four. It had occurred to him that it might be very nice to kiss Barbara.
[Sidenote: Back to Childhood]
But Barbara, magically taken back to childhood, did not notice his confusion. The Tower of Cologne had been a fancy of hers ever since she could remember, though it had been temporarily eclipsed by the hard work which circumstances had thrust upon her. As she grew from childhood to womanhood, it had changed very little—the dream, always, was practically the same.
[Sidenote: A Day Dream]
The Tower itself was made of cologne bottles neatly piled together, and the brightly-tinted labels gave it a bizarre but beautiful effect. It was square in shape and very high, with a splendid cupola of clear glass arches—the labels probably would not show, up so high. It stood in an enchanted land with the sea behind it—nobody had ever thought of taking Barbara down to the sea, though it was so near. The sea was always blue, of course, like the sky, or the larkspur—she was never quite sure of the colour.
The air all around the Tower smelled sweet, just like cologne. There was a flight of steps, also made of cologne bottles, but they did not break when you walked on them, and the door was always ajar. Inside was a great, winding staircase which led to the cupola. You could climb and climb and climb, and when you were tired, you could stop to rest in any of the rooms that were on the different floors.
Strangely enough, in the Tower of Cologne, Barbara was never lame. She always left her crutches leaning up against the steps outside. She could walk and run like anyone else and never even think of crutches. There were many charming people in the Tower and none of them ever said, pityingly, "It's too bad you're lame."
All the dear people of the books lived in the Tower of Cologne, besides many more, whom Barbara did not know. Maggie Tulliver, Little Nell, Dora, Agnes, Mr. Pickwick, King Arthur, the Lady of Shalott, and unnumbered others dwelt happily there. They all knew Barbara and were always glad to see her.
Wonderful tapestries were hung along the stairs, there were beautiful pictures in every room, and whatever you wanted to eat was instantly placed before you. Each room smelled of a different kind of cologne and no two rooms were furnished alike. Her friends in the Tower were of all ages and of many different stations in life, but there was one whose face she had never seen. He was always just as old as Barbara, and was closer to her than the rest.
[Sidenote: The Boy]
When she lost herself in the queer winding passages, the Boy, whose face she was unable to picture, was always at her side to show her the way out. They both wanted to get up into the cupola and ring all the golden bells at once, but there seemed to be some law against it, for when they were almost there, something always happened. Either the Tower itself vanished beyond recall, or Aunt Miriam called her, or an imperative voice summoned the Boy downstairs—and Barbara would not think of going to the cupola without him.
When she and Roger had begun to make mud pies together, she had told him about the Tower and got him interested in it, too—all but the Boy whose face she was unable to see and whose name she did not know. In the Tower, she addressed him simply as "Boy." Barbara kept him to herself for some occult reason. Roger liked the Tower very much, but thought the construction might possibly be improved. Barbara never allowed him to make any changes. He could build another Tower for himself, if he chose, and have it just as he wanted it, but this was her very own.
It all seemed as if it were yesterday. "And," mused Barbara, "it was almost sixteen years ago, when I was six and Roger 'seven-going-on-eight,' as he always said." The dear Tower still stoodin her memory, but far off and veiled, like a mirage seen in the clouds. The Boy who helped her over the difficult places was a grown man now, tall and straight and strong, but she could not see his face.
"It's queer," thought Barbara, as she put out the light. "I wonder if I ever shall."
[Sidenote: An Enchanted Land]
That night she dreamed of the Tower of Cologne, in the old, enchanted land, where a blue sky bent down to meet a bluer sea. She and the Boy were in the cupola, making music with the golden bells. Their laughter chimed in with the sweet sound of the ringing, but still, she could not see his face.
The Seventh of June
Barbara sat by the old chest which held her completed work, frowning prettily over a note-book in her lap. She was very methodical, and, in some inscrutable way, things had become mixed. She kept track of every yard of lace and linen and every spool of thread, for, it was evident, she must know the exact cost of the material and the amount of time spent on a garment before it could be accurately priced.
[Sidenote: Finishing Touches]
Aunt Miriam had carefully pressed the lingerie after it was made and laid it away in the chest with lavender to keep it from turning yellow. There remained only the last finishing touches. Aunt Miriam could have put in the ribbons as well as she could, but Barbara chose to do it herself.
[Sidenote: Ways and Means]
Three prices were put on each tag in Barbara's private cipher, understood only by Aunt Miriam. The highest was the one hoped for, the next the probable one, and the lowest one was to be taken only at the end of the season.
Already four or five early arrivals were reported at the hotel. By the end of next week, it would be proper for Aunt Miriam to go down with a few of the garments packed in a box with tissue paper, and see what she could do. Barbara had used nearly all of her material and had sent for more, but, in the meantime, she was using the scraps for handkerchiefs, pin-cushion covers, and heart-shaped corsage pads, delicately scented and trimmed with lace and ribbon.
Once, Aunt Miriam had gone to the city for material and patterns, and had priced hand-made lingerie in the shops. When she came back with an itemised report, Barbara had clapped her hands in glee, for she saw the wealth of Croesus looming up ahead. She had soon learned, however, that she must keep far below the city prices if she would tempt the horde of Summer visitors who came, yearly, to the hotel. At times, she thought that Aunt Miriam must have been dreadfully mistaken.
Barbara put down the highest price of every separate article in the small, neat hand that Aunt Miriam had taught her to write—for she had never been to school. If she should sell everything, why, there would be more than a year of comfort for them all, and new clothes for father, who was beginning to look shabby.
"But they won't," Barbara said to herself, sadly. "I can't expect them to buy it all when I'm asking so much."
Down in the living-room, Ambrose North was inquiring restlessly for Barbara. "Yes," he said, somewhat impatiently, "I know she's upstairs, for you've told me so twice. What I want to know is, why doesn't she come down?"
"She's busy at something, probably," returned Miriam, with forced carelessness, "but I think she'll soon be through."
"Barbara is always busy," he answered, with a sigh. "I can't understand it. Anyone might think she had to work for a living. By the way, Miriam, do you need more money?"
"We still have some," she replied, in a low voice.
"How much?" he demanded.
"Less than a hundred dollars." She did not dare to say how much less.
"That is not enough. If you will get my check-book, I will write another check."
[Sidenote: The Old Check-Book]
Miriam's face was grimly set and her eyes burned strangely beneath her dark brows. She went to the mahogany desk and took an old check-book out of the drawer.
"Now," he said, as she gave him the pen and ink, "please show me the line. 'Pay to the order of'——"
She guided his hand with her own, trying to keep her cold fingers from trembling. "Miriam Leonard," he spelled out, in uneven characters, "Five—hundred—dollars. Signed—Ambrose—North. There. When you have no money, I wish you would speak of it. I am fully able to provide for my family, and I want to do it."
"Thank you." Miriam's voice was almost inaudible as she took the check.
"The date," he said; "I forgot to date it. What day of the month is it?"
She moistened her parched lips, but did not speak. This was what she had been dreading.
"The date, Miriam," he called. "Will you please tell me what day of the month it is?"
"The seventh," she answered, with difficulty.
"The seventh? The seventh of June?"
There was a long pause. "Twenty-one years," he said, in a shrill whisper. "Twenty-one years ago to-day."
[Sidenote: A Dreadful Anniversary]
Miriam sat down quietly on the other side of the room. Her eyes were glittering and she was moving her hands nervously. This dreadful anniversary had, for her, its own particular significance. Upstairs, Barbara, light-hearted and hopeful, was singing to herself while she pinned on the last of the price tags and built her air-castle. The song came down lightly, yet discordantly. It was as though a waltz should be played at an open grave.
"Miriam," cried Ambrose North, passionately, "why did she kill herself? In God's name, tell me why!"
"I do not know," murmured Miriam. He had asked her more than fifty times, and she always gave the same answer.
"But you must know—someone must know! A woman does not die by her own hand without having a reason! She was well and strong, loved, taken care of and petted, she had all that the world could give her, and hosts of friends. I was blind and Barbara was lame, but she loved us none the less. If I only knew why!" he cried, miserably; "Oh, if I only knew why!"
Miriam, unable to bear more, went out of the room. She pressed her cold hands to her throbbing temples. "I shall go mad," she muttered. "How long, O Lord, how long!"
[Sidenote: Constance North]
Twenty-one years ago to-day, Constance North had, intentionally, taken an overdose of laudanum. She had left a note to her husband begging him to forgive her, and thanking him for all his kindness to her during the three years they had lived together. She had also written a note to Miriam, asking her to look after the blind man and to be a mother to Barbara. Enclosed were two other letters, sealed with wax. One was addressed "To My Daughter, Barbara. To be opened on her twenty-second birthday." Miriam had both the letters safely put away. It was not time for Barbara to have hers and she had never delivered the other to the person to whom it was addressed—so often does the arrogant power of the living deny the holiest wishes of the dead.
The whole scene came vividly back to Miriam—the late afternoon sun streaming in glory from the far hills into Constance North's dainty sitting-room, upstairs; the golden-haired woman, in the full splendour of her youth and beauty, lying upon the couch asleep, with a smile of heavenly peace upon her lips; the blind man's hands straying over her as she lay there, with his tears falling upon her face, and blue-eyed Barbara, cooing and laughing in her own little bed in the next room.
[Sidenote: Years of Torture]
Miriam had found the notes on the dressing-table, and had lied. She had said there were but two when, in reality, there were four. Two had been read and destroyed; the other two, with unbroken seals, were waiting to be read. She was keeping the one for Barbara; the other had tortured her through all of the twenty years.
The time had passed when she could have delivered it, for the man to whom it was addressed was dead. But he had survived Constance by nearly five years, and, at any time during those five years, Miriam might have given it to him, unseen and safely. She justified herself by dwelling upon her care of Barbara and the blind man, and the fact that she would give Barbara her letter upon the appointed day. Sternly she said to herself: "I will fulfil one trust. I will keep faith with Constance in this one way, bitterly though she has wronged me."
[Sidenote: Haunting Dreams]
Yet the fulfilment of one trust seemed not to be enough, for her sleep was haunted by the pleading eyes of Constance, asking mutely for some boon. Until the man died, Constance had come often, with her hands outstretched, craving that which was so little and yet so much. After his death, Constance still continued to come, but less often and reproachfully; she seemed to ask for nothing now.
Miriam had grown old, but Constance, though sad, was always young. One of Death's surpassing gifts is eternal youth to those whom he claims too soon. In her old husband's grieving heart, Constance had assumed immortal beauty as well as immortal youth. She was now no older than Barbara, who still sang heedlessly upstairs.
Every night of the twenty-one years, Miriam had closed her eyes in dread. When she dreamed it was always of Constance—Constance laughing or singing, Constance bringing "the light that never was on sea or land" to the fine, grave face of Ambrose North; Constance hugging little lame Barbara to her breast with passionate, infinitely pitying love. And, above all, Constance in her grave-clothes, dumb, reproachful, her sad eyes fixed on Miriam in pleading that was almost prayer.
"Miriam! Oh, Miriam!" The blind man in the next room was calling her. Fearfully, she went back.
"Sit down," said Ambrose North. "Sit down near me, where I can touch your hand. How cold your fingers are! I want to thank you for all you have done for us—for my little girl and for me. You have been so faithful, so watchful, so obedient to her every wish."
Miriam shrank from him, for the kindly words stung like a lash on flesh already quivering.
[Sidenote: Miriam and Ambrose]
"We have always been such good friends," he said, reminiscently. "Do you remember how much we were together all that year, until Constance came home from school?"
"I have not forgotten," said Miriam, in a choking whisper. A surge of passionate hate swept over her even now, against the dead woman whose pretty face had swerved Ambrose North from his old allegiance.
"And I shall not forget," he answered, kindly. "I am on the westward slope, Miriam, and have been, for a long time. But a few more years—or months—or days—as God wills, and I shall join her again, past the sunset, where she waits for me.
"I have made things right for you and Barbara. Roger Austin has my will, dividing everything I have between you. I should like your share to go to Barbara, eventually, if you can see your way clear to do it."
"Don't!" cried Miriam, sharply. The strain was insupportable.
"I do not wish to pain you, Sister," answered the old man, with gentle dignity, "but sometimes it is necessary that these things be said. I shall not speak of it again. Will you give me back the check, please, and show me where to date it? I shall date it to-morrow—I cannot bear to write down this day."
* * * * *
When Barbara came down, her father was sitting at the old square piano, quite alone, improvising music that was both beautiful and sad. He seldom touched the instrument, but, when he did, wayfarers in the street paused to listen.
"Are you making a song, Father?" she asked, softly, when the last deep chord died away.
[Sidenote: Too Sad for Songs]
"No," he sighed; "I cannot make songs to-day."
"There is always a song, Daddy," she reminded him. "You told me so yourself."
"Yes, I know, but not to-day. Do you know what to-day is, my dear?"
"The seventh—the seventh of June."
"Twenty-one years ago to-day," he said, with an effort, "your dear mother took her own life." The last words were almost inaudible.
Barbara went to him and put her soft arms around his neck. "Daddy!" she whispered, with infinite sympathy, "Daddy!"
He patted her arm gently, unable to speak. She said no more, but the voice and the touch brought healing to his pain. Bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, the daughter of the dead Constance was thrilled unspeakably with a tenderness that the other had never given him.
"Sit down, my dear," said Ambrose North, slowly releasing her. "I want to talk to you—of her. Did I hear Aunt Miriam go out?"
"Yes, just a few minutes ago."
"You are almost twenty-two, are you not, Barbara?"
"Then you are a woman grown. Your dear mother was twenty-two, when—" He choked on the words.
"When she died," whispered Barbara, her eyes luminous with tears.
[Sidenote: A Torturing Doubt]
[Sidenote: A Change]
"Yes, when she—died. I have never known why, Barbara, unless it was because I was blind and you were lame. But all these years there has been a torturing doubt in my heart. Before you were born, and after my blindness, I fancied that a change came over her. She was still tender and loving, but it was not quite in the same way. Sometimes I felt that she had ceased to love me. Do you think my blindness could—?"
"Never, Father, never." Barbara's voice rang out strong and clear. "That would only have made her love you more."
"Thank you, my dear. Someway it comforts me to have you say it. But, after you came, I felt the change even more keenly. You have read in the books, doubtless, many times, that a child unites those who bring it into the world, but I have seen, quite as often, that it divides them by a gulf that is never bridged again."
"Daddy!" cried Barbara, in pain. "Didn't you want me?"
"Want you?" he repeated, in a tone that made the words a caress. "I wanted you always, and every day I want you more. I am only trying to say that her love seemed to lessen, instead of growing, as time went on. If I could know that she died loving me, I would not ask why. If I could know that she died loving me—if I were sure she loved me still—"
"She did, Daddy—I know she did."
"If I might only be so sure! But the ways of the Everlasting are not our ways, and life is made up of waiting."
Insensibly relieved by speech, his pain gradually merged into quiet acceptance, if not resignation. "Shall you marry some day, Barbara?" he asked, at last.
"If the right man comes—otherwise not."
"Much is written of it in the books, and I know you read a great deal, but some things in the books are not true, and many things that are true are not written. They say that a man of fifty should not marry a girl of twenty and expect to be happy. Miriam was fifteen years older than Constance and at first I thought of her, but when your mother came from school, with her blue eyes and golden hair and her pretty, laughing ways, there was but one face in all the world for me.
"We were so happy, Barbara! The first year seemed less than a month, it passed so quickly. The books will tell you that the first joy dies. Perhaps it does, but I do not know, because our marriage lasted only three years. It may be that, after many years, the heart does not beat faster at the sound of the beloved's step; that the touch of the loving hand brings no answering clasp.
[Sidenote: Gift of Marriage]
"But the divinest gift of marriage is this—the daily, unconscious growing of two souls into one. Aspirations and ambitions merge, each with the other, and love grows fast to love. Unselfishness answers to unselfishness, tenderness responds to tenderness, and the highest joy of each is the well-being of the other. The words of Church and State are only the seal of a predestined compact. Day by day and year by year the bond becomes closer and dearer, until at last the two are one, and even death is no division.
"A grave has lain between us for more than twenty years, but I am still her husband—there has been no change. And, if she died loving me, she is still mine. If she died loving me—if—she—died—loving me——"
His voice broke at the end, and he went out, murmuring the words to himself. Barbara watched him from the window as he opened the gate. Her face was wet with tears.
Flaming banners of sunset streamed from the hills beyond him, but his soul could see no Golden City to-night. He went up the road that led to another hillside, where, in the long, dreamy shadows, the dwellers in God's acre lay at peace. Barbara guessed where he was going and her heart ached for him—kneeling in prayer and vigil beside a sunken grave, to ask of earth a question to which the answer was lost, in heaven—or in hell.
[Sidenote: A Summer Hotel]
The hotel was a long, low, rambling structure, with creaky floors and old-fashioned furniture. But the wide verandas commanded a glorious view of the sea, no canned vegetables were served at the table, and there was no orchestra. Naturally, it was crowded from June to October with people who earnestly desired quiet and were willing to go far to get it.
The inevitable row of rocking-chairs swayed back and forth on the seaward side. Most of them were empty, save, perhaps, for the ghosts of long-dead gossips who had sat and rocked and talked and rocked from one meal to the next. The paint on the veranda was worn in a long series of parallel lines, slightly curved, but nobody cared.
No phonograph broke upon the evening stillness with an ear-splitting din, no unholy piccolo sounded above the other tortured instruments, no violin wailed pitifully at its inhuman treatment, and the piano was locked.
At seasonable hours the key might be had at the office by those who could prove themselves worthy of the trust, but otherwise quiet reigned.
[Sidenote: Eloise Wynne]
Miss Eloise Wynne came downstairs, with a book under her arm. She was fresh as the morning itself and as full of exuberant vitality. She was tall and straight and strong; her copper-coloured hair shone as though it had been burnished, and her tanned cheeks had a tint of rose. When she entered the dining-room, with a cheery "good-morning" that included everybody, she produced precisely the effect of a cool breeze from the sea.
She was thirty, and cheerfully admitted it on occasion. "If I don't look it," she said, smiling, "people will be surprised, and if I do, there would be no use in denying it. Anyhow, I'm old enough to go about alone." It was her wont to settle herself for Summer or Winter in any place she chose, with no chaperon in sight.
For a week she had been at Riverdale-by-the-Sea, and liked it on account of the lack of entertainment. People who lived there called it simply "Riverdale," but the manager of the hotel, perhaps to atone for the missing orchestra and canned vegetables, added "by-the-Sea" to the name in his modest advertisements.
Miss Wynne, fortunately, had enough money to enable her to live the much-talked-of "simple life," which is wildly impossible to the poor. As it was not necessary for her to concern herself with the sordid and material, she could occupy herself with the finer things of the soul. Just now, however, she was deeply interested in the material foundation of the finest thing in the world—a home.
[Sidenote: A Passion for Lists]
She had taken the bizarre paper slip which protected the even more striking cover of a recent popular novel, and adjusted it to a bulky volume of very different character. In her chatelaine bag she had a pencil and a note-book, for Miss Eloise was sorely afflicted with the note-book habit, and had a passion for reducing everything to lists. She had lists of things she wanted and lists of things she didn't want, which circumstances or well-meaning Santa Clauses had forced upon her; little books of addresses and telephone numbers, jewels and other personal belongings, and, finally, a catalogue of her library alphabetically arranged by author and title.
Immediately after breakfast, she went off with a long, swinging stride which filled her small audience with envy and admiration. Disjointed remarks, such as "skirt a little too short, but good tailor," and "terrible amount of energy," and "wonder where she's going," followed her. These comments were audible, had she been listening, but she had the gift of keeping solitude in a crowd.
Far along the beach she went, hatless, her blood singing with the joy of life. A June morning, the sea, youth, and the consciousness of being loved—for what more could one ask? The diamond on the third finger of her left hand sparkled wonderfully in the sunlight. It was the only ring she wore.
[Sidenote: The Cook Book]
Presently, she found a warm, soft place behind a sand dune. She reared upon the dune a dark green parasol with a white border, and patted sand around the curved handle until it was, as she thought, firmly placed. Then she settled her skirts comfortably and opened her book, for the first time.
"It looks bad," she mused. "Wonder what a carbohydrate is. And proteids—where do you buy 'em? Albuminoids—I've been from Maine to Florida and have never seen any. They must be germs.
"However," she continued, to herself, "I have a trained mind, and 'keeping everlastingly at it brings success.' It would be strange if three hours of hard study every day, on the book the man in the store said was the best ever, didn't produce some sort of definite result. But, oh, how Allan would laugh at me!"
The book fell on the sand, unheeded. The brown eyes looked out past the blue surges to some far Castle in Spain. Her thoughts refused to phrase themselves in words, but her pulses leaped with the old, immortal joy. The sun had risen high in the shining East before she returned to her book.
"This isn't work," she sighed to herself; "away with the dreams."
Before long, she got out her note-book. "A fresh fish," she wrote, "does not smell fishy and its eyes are bright and its gills red. A tender chicken or turkey has a springy breast bone. If you push it down with your finger, it springs back. A leg of lamb has to have the tough, outer parchment-like skin taken off with a sharp knife. Some of the oil of the wool is in it and makes it taste muttony and bad. A lobster should always be bought when he is alive and green and boiled at home. Then you know he is fresh. Save everything for soup."
[Sidenote: The Air of Knowing]
"I will go out into the kitchen," mused Eloise, "and I will have the air of knowing all about everything. I will say: 'Mary Ann, I have ordered a lobster for you to boil. We will have a salad for lunch. And I trust you have saved everything that was left last night for to-night's soup.' Mary Ann will be afraid of me, and Allan will be so proud."
"'I thought I told you,' continued Eloise, to herself, 'to save all the crumbs. Doctor Conrad does not like to have everything salt and he prefers to make the salad dressing himself. Do not cook any cereal the mornings we have oranges or grape-fruit—the starch and acid are likely to make a disturbance inside. Four people are coming to dinner this evening. I have ordered some pink roses and we will use the pink candle-shades. Or, wait—I had forgotten that my hair is red. Use the green candle-shades and I will change the roses to white.'"
[Sidenote: A Frolicsome Wind]
A frolicsome little wind, which had long been ruffling the waves of Eloise's copper-coloured hair, took the note-book out of her lap and laid it open on the sand some little distance away. Then, after making merry with the green parasol, it lifted it bodily by its roots out of the sand dune and went gaily down the beach with it.
Eloise started in pursuit, but the wind and the parasol out-distanced her easily. Rounding the corner of another dune, she saw the parasol, with all sails set, jauntily embarked toward Europe. Turning away, disconsolate, she collided with a big blonde giant who took her into his arms, saying, "Never mind—I'll get you another."
When the first raptures had somewhat subsided, Eloise led him back to the place where the parasol had started from. "When and where from and how did you come?" she asked, hurriedly picking up her books.
"This morning, from yonder palatial hotel, on foot," he answered. "I thought you'd be out here somewhere. I didn't ask for you—I wanted to hunt you up myself."
"But I might have been upstairs," she said, reproachfully.
"On a morning like this? Not unless you've changed in the last ten days, and you haven't, except to grow lovelier."
"But why did you come?" she asked. "Nobody told you that you could."
"Sweet," said Allan, softly, possessing himself of her hand, "did you think I could stay away from you two whole weeks? Ten days is the limit—a badly strained limit at that."
The colour surged into her face. She was radiant, as though with some inner light. The atmosphere around her was fairly electric with life and youth and joy.
[Sidenote: Dr. Conrad]
Doctor Allan Conrad was very good to look at. He had tawny hair and kind brown eyes, a straight nose, and a good firm chin. He wore eye-glasses, and his face might have seemed severe had it not been discredited by his mouth. He was smooth-shaven, and knew enough to wear brown clothes instead of grey.
Eloise looked at him approvingly. Every detail of his attire satisfied her fastidious sense. If he had worn a diamond ring or a conspicuous tie, he might not have occupied his present proud position. His unfailing good taste was a great comfort to her.
"How long can you stay?" she inquired.
"Nice question," he laughed, "to ask an eager lover who has just come. Sounds a good deal like 'Here's-your-hat-what's-your-hurry?' Before I knew you, I used to go to see a girl sometimes who always said, at ten o'clock: 'I'm so glad you came. When can you come again?' The first time she did it I told her I couldn't come again until I had gone away this time."
[Sidenote: Forgetting the Clock]
"I kept going away earlier and earlier, and finally it was so much earlier that I went before I had come. If I can't make a girl forget the clock, I have no call to waste my valuable time on her, have I?"
Assuming a frown with difficulty, Miss Wynne consulted her watch. "Why, it's only half-past eleven," she exclaimed; "I thought it was much later."
"You darling," said the man, irrelevantly. "What are you reading?" Before she could stop him, he had picked up the book and nearly choked in a burst of unseemly merriment.
"Upon my word," he said, when he could speak. "A cook book! A classmate of mine used to indulge himself in floral catalogues when he wanted to rest his mind with light literature, but I never heard of a cook book as among the 'books for Summer reading' that the booksellers advertise."
"Why not?" retorted Eloise, quickly.
"No real reason. Lots of worse things are printed and sold by thousands, but, someway, I can't seem to reconcile you—and your glorious voice—with a cook-book."
"Allan Conrad," said Miss Wynne, with affected sternness, "if you hadn't studied medicine, would you be practising it now?"
"No," admitted Allan; "not with the laws as they are in this State."
"If I had no voice and had never studied music, would I be singing at concerts?"
"If a girl had never seen a typewriter and didn't know the first thing about shorthand, would she apply for a position as a stenographer?"
"They do," said Allan, gloomily.
"Don't dissemble, please. My point is simply this: If every other occupation in the world demands some previous preparation, why shouldn't a girl know something about housekeeping and homemaking before she undertakes it?"
"But, my dear, you're not going to cook."
"I am if I want to," announced Eloise, with authority. "And, anyhow, I'm going to know. Do you think I'm going to let some peripatetic, untrained immigrant manage my house for me? I guess not."
"But cooking isn't theory," he ventured, picking up the note-book; "it's practice. What good is all this going to do you when you have no stove?"
"Don't you remember the famous painter who told inquiring visitors that he mixed his paints with brains? I am now cooking with my mind. After my mind learns to cook, my hands will find it simple enough. And some time, when you come in at midnight and have had no dinner, and the immigrant has long since gone to sleep, you may be glad to be presented with panned oysters, piping hot, instead of a can of salmon and a can-opener."
"Bless your heart," answered Allan, fondly. "It's dear of you, and I hope it'll work. I'm starving this minute—kiss me."
"'Longing is divine compared with satiety,'" she reminded him, as she yielded. "How could you get away? Was nobody ill?"
"Nobody would have the heart to be ill on a Saturday in June, when a doctor's best girl was only fifty miles away. Monday, I'll go back and put some cholera or typhoid germs in the water supply, and get nice and busy. Who's up yonder?" indicating the hotel.
"Nobody we know, but very few of the guests have come, so far."
"In all our varied speech," commented Allan, "I know of nothing so exquisitely ironical as alluding to the people who stop at a hotel as 'guests.' In Mexico, they call them 'passengers,' which is more in keeping with the facts. Fancy the feelings of a real guest upon receiving a bill of the usual proportions. I should consider it a violation of hospitality if a man at my house had to pay three prices for his dinner and a tip besides."
"You always had queer notions," remarked Eloise, with a sidelong glance which set his heart to pounding. "We'll call them inmates if you like it better. As yet, there are only eight inmates besides ourselves, though more are coming next week. Two old couples, one widow, one divorcee, and two spinsters with life-works."
"No galloping cherubs?"
"School isn't out yet."
"I see. It wouldn't be the real thing unless there were little ones to gallop through the corridors at six in the morning and weep at the dinner table. What are the life-works?"
"One is writing a book, I understand, on The Equality of the Sexes. The other—oh, Allan, it's too funny."
"Spring it," he demanded.
"She's trying to have cornet-playing introduced into the public schools. She says that tuberculosis and pneumonia are caused by insufficient lung development, and that cornet-playing will develop the lungs of the rising generation. Fancy going by a school during the cornet hour."
"I don't know why they shouldn't put cornet-playing into the schools," he observed, after a moment of profound thought. "Everything else is there now. Why shouldn't they teach crime, and even make a fine art of it?"
"If you let her know you're a doctor," cautioned Eloise, "she'll corner you, and I shall never see you again. She says that she 'hopes, incidentally, to enlist the sympathies of the medical profession.'"
"She's beginning at the wrong end. Cornet manufacturers and the people who keep sanitariums and private asylums are the co-workers she wants. I couldn't live through the coming Winter were it not for pneumonia. It means coal, and repairs for the automobile, and furs for my wife—when I get one."
"Come," said Eloise, springing to her feet; "let's go up and get ready for luncheon."
"Have you told me all?" asked Allan, "or is there some gay young troubadour who serenades you in the evening and whose existence you conceal from me for reasons of your own?"
[Sidenote: A Pathetic Little Woman]
"Nary a troubadour," she replied. "I haven't seen another soul except a pathetic little woman who came up to the hotel yesterday afternoon to sell the most exquisite things you ever saw. Think of offering hand-made lingerie, of sheer, embroidered lawn and batiste and linen, to that crowd! The old ladies weren't interested, the spinsters sniffed, the widow wept, and only the divorcee took any notice of it. The prices were so ridiculous that I wouldn't let her unpack the box. I'd be ashamed to pay her the price she asked. It's made by a little lame girl up the main road. I'm to go up there sometime next week."
"Fairy godmother?" asked Allan, good-naturedly. He had known Eloise for many years.
"Perhaps," she answered, somewhat shamefaced. "What's the use of having money if you don't spend it?"
[Sidenote: A Human Interest]
They went into the hotel together, utterly oblivious of the eight pairs of curious eyes that were fastened upon them in a frank, open stare. The rocking-chairs scraped on the veranda as they instinctively drew closer together. A strong human interest, imperatively demanding immediate discussion, had come to Riverdale-by-the-Sea.
[Sidenote: Discouraging Prospects]
Miriam had come home disappointed and secretly afraid to hope for any tangible results from Miss Wynne's promised visit. Nevertheless, she told Barbara.
"Wouldn't any of them even look at it, Aunty?"
"One of them would have looked at it and rumpled it so that I'd have had to iron it again, but she wouldn't have bought anything. This young lady said she was busy just then, and she wanted to come up and look over all the things at her leisure. She won't pay much, though, even if she buys anything. She said the price was 'ridiculous.'"
"Perhaps she meant it was too low," suggested Barbara.
"Possibly," answered Miriam. Her tone indicated that it was equally possible for canary birds to play the piano, or for ducks to sing.
"How does she look?" queried Barbara.
"Well enough." Enthusiasm was not one of Miriam's attractions.
"What did she have on?"
"White. Linen, I think."
"Then she knows good material. Was her gown tailor-made?"
"Might have been. Why?"
"Because if her white linen gowns are tailored she has money and is used to spending it for clothes. I'm sure she meant the price was too low. Did she say when she was coming?"
"Next week. She didn't say what day."
"Then," sighed Barbara, "all we can do is to wait."
"We'll wait until she comes, or has had time to. In the meantime, I'm going to show my quilts to those old ladies and take down a jar or two of preserves. I wish you'd write to the people who left orders last year, and ask if they want preserves or jam or jelly, or pickles, or quilts, or anything. It would be nice to get some orders in before we buy the fruit."
Barbara put down her book, asked for the pen and ink, and went cheerfully to work, with the aid of Aunt Miriam's small memorandum book which contained a list of addresses.
"What colour is her hair, Aunty?" she asked, as she blotted and turned her first neat page.
"A good deal the colour of that old copper tea-kettle that a woman paid six dollars for once, do you remember? I've always thought she was crazy, for she wouldn't even let me clean it."
"And her eyes?"
"Brown and big, with long lashes. She looks well enough, and her voice is pleasant, and I must say she has nice ways. She didn't make me feel like a peddler, as so many of them do. P'raps she'll come," admitted Miriam, grudgingly.
"Oh, I hope so. I'd love to see her and her pretty clothes, even if she didn't buy anything." Barbara threw back a golden braid impatiently, wishing it were copper-coloured and had smooth, shiny waves in it, instead of fluffing out like an undeserved halo.
While Barbara was writing, her father came in and sat down near her. "More sewing, dear?" he asked, wistfully.
[Sidenote: Writing Letters]
"No, Daddy, not this time. I'm just writing letters."
"I didn't know you ever got any letters—do you?"
"Oh, yes—sometimes. The people at the hotel come up to call once in a while, you know, and after they go away, Aunt Miriam and I occasionally exchange letters with them. It's nice to get letters."
The old man's face changed. "Are you lonely, dear?"
"Lonely?" repeated Barbara, laughing; "why I don't even know what the word means. I have you and my books and my sewing and these letters to write, and I can sit in the window and nod to people who go by—how could I be lonely, Daddy?"
"I want you to be happy, dear."
"So I am," returned the girl, trying hard to make her voice even. "With you, and everything a girl could want, why shouldn't I be happy?"
Miriam went out, closing the door quietly, and the blind man drew his chair very near to Barbara.
"I dream," he said, "and I keep on dreaming that you can walk and I can see. What do you suppose it means? I never dreamed it before."
"We all have dreams, Daddy. I've had the same one very often ever since I was a little child. It's about a tower made of cologne bottles, with a cupola of lovely glass arches, built on the white sand by the blue sea. Inside is a winding stairway hung with tapestries, leading to the cupola where the golden bells are. There are lovely rooms on every floor, and you can stop wherever you please."
"It sounds like a song," he mused.
"Perhaps it is. Can't you make one of it?"
"No—we each have to make our own. I made one this morning."
"Tell me, please."
[Sidenote: Love Never Lost]
"It is about love. When God made the world, He put love in, and none of it has ever been lost. It is simply transferred from one person to another. Sometimes it takes a different form, and becomes a deed, which, at first, may not look as if it were made of love, but, in reality, is.
"Love blossoms in flowers, sings in moving waters, fills the forest with birds, and makes all the wonderful music of Spring. It puts the colour upon the robin's breast, scents the orchard with far-reaching drifts of bloom, and scatters the pink and white petals over the grass beneath. Through love the flower changes to fruit, and the birds sing lullabies at twilight instead of mating songs.
"It is at the root of everything good in all the world, and where things are wrong, it is only because sometime, somewhere, there has not been enough love. The balance has been uneven and some have had too much while others were starving for it. As the lack of food stunts the body, so the denial of love warps the soul.
"But God has made it so that love given must unfailingly come back an hundred-fold; the more we give, the richer we are. And Heaven is only a place where the things that have gone wrong here will at last come right. Is it not so, Barbara?"
"Then," he continued, anxiously, "all my loving must come back to me sometime, somewhere. I think it will be right, for God Himself is Love."
The blind man's sensitive fingers lovingly sought Barbara's face. His touch was a caress. "I am sure you are like your dear mother," he said, softly. "If I could know that she died loving me, and if I could see her face again, just for an instant, why, all the years of loving, with no answer, would be fully repaid."
"She loved you, Daddy—I know she did."
[Sidenote: The Old Doubt]
"I know, too, but not always. Sometimes the old, tormenting doubt comes back to me."
"It shouldn't—mother would never have meant you to doubt her."
"Barbara," cried the old man, with sudden passion, "if you ever love a man, never let him doubt you—always let him be sure. There is so much in a man's world that a woman knows nothing of. When he comes home at night, tired beyond words, and sick to death of the world and its ways, make him sure. When he thinks himself defeated, make him sure. When you see him tempted to swerve even the least from the straight path, make him sure. When the last parting comes, if he is leaving you, give him the certainty to take with him into his narrow house, and make his last sleep sweet. And if you are the one to go first, and leave him, old and desolate and stricken, oh, Barbara, make him sure then—make him very sure."
[Sidenote: A String of Pearls]
The girl's hand closed tightly upon his. He leaned over to pat her cheek and stroke the heavy braids of silken hair. Then he felt the strand of beads around her neck.
"You have on your mother's pearls," he said. His fine old face illumined as he touched the tawdry trinket.
Barbara swallowed the hard lump in her throat. "Yes, Daddy." They had lived for years upon that single strand of large, perfectly matched pearls which Ambrose North had clasped around his young wife's neck upon their wedding day.
"Would you like more pearls, dear? A bracelet, or a ring?"
"No—these are all I want."
"I want to give you a diamond ring some day, Barbara. Your mother's was buried with her. It was her engagement ring."
"Perhaps somebody will give me an engagement ring," she suggested.
"I shouldn't wonder. I don't want to be selfish, dear. You are all I have, but, if you loved a man, I wouldn't try to keep you away from him."
"Prince Charming hasn't come yet, Daddy, so cheer up. I'll tell you when he does."
Thus she turned the talk into a happier vein. They were laughing together like two children when Miriam came in to say that supper was ready.
Afterward, he sat at the piano, improvising low, sweet chords that echoed back plaintively from the dingy walls. The music was full of questioning, of pleading, of longing so deep that it was almost prayer. Barbara finished her letters by the light of the lamp, while Miriam sat in the dining-room alone, asking herself the old, torturing questions, facing her temptation, and bearing the old, terrible hunger of the heart that hurt her like physical pain.
A little before nine o'clock, the blind man came to kiss Barbara good-night. Then he went upstairs. Miriam came in and talked a few minutes of quilts, pickles, and lingerie, then she, too, went up to begin her usual restless night.
Left alone, Barbara discovered that she did not care to read. It was too late to begin work upon the new stock of linen, lawn, and batiste which had come the day before, and she lacked the impulse, in the face of such discouraging prospects as Aunt Miriam had encountered at the hotel. Barbara steadily refused to admit, even to herself, that she was discouraged, but she found no pleasure in the thought of her work.
[Sidenote: A Light in the Window]
She unfastened the front door, lighted a candle, and set it upon the sill of the front window. Within twenty minutes Roger had come, entering the house so quietly that Barbara did not hear his step and was frightened when she saw him.
"Don't scream," he said, as he closed the door leading into the hall. "I'm not a burglar—only a struggling young law student with no prospects and even less hope."