LIFE AND GABRIELLA
THE STORY OF A WOMAN'S COURAGE
BY ELLEN GLASGOW
FRONTISPIECE BY C. ALLAN GILBERT
GARDEN CITY NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1916
BOOK FIRST—THE AGE OF FAITH
CHAPTER PAGE I. Presents a Shameless Heroine 3 II. Poor Jane 30 III. A Start in Life 61 IV. Mirage 90 V. The New World 122 VI. The Old Serpent 148 VII. Motherhood 176
BOOK SECOND—THE AGE OF KNOWLEDGE
I. Disenchantment. 211 II. A Second Start in Life 241 III. Work 274 IV. The Dream and the Years 300 V. Success 331 VI. Discoveries 368 VII. Readjustments 406 VIII. The Test 444 IX. The Past 476 X. Dream and the Reality 501
THE AGE OF FAITH
PRESENTS A SHAMELESS HEROINE
After a day of rain the sun came out suddenly at five o'clock and threw a golden bar into the deep Victorian gloom of the front parlour. On the window-sill, midway between the white curtains, a pot of blue hyacinths stood in a cracked china plate, and as the sunlight shone into the room, the scent of the blossoms floated to the corner where Gabriella was patiently pulling basting threads out of the hem of a skirt. For a minute her capable hands stopped at their work, and raising her smooth dark head she looked compassionately at her sister Jane, who was sitting, like a frozen image of martyrdom, in the middle of the long horsehair sofa. Three times within the last twelve months Jane had fled from her husband's roof to the protection of her widowed mother, a weak person of excellent ancestry, who could hardly have protected a sparrow had one taken refuge beneath her skirt. Twice before Mrs. Carr had wept over her daughter's woes and returned her, a sullen saint, to the arms of the discreetly repentant Charley; but to-day, while the four older children were bribed to good behaviour with bread and damson preserves in the pantry, and the baby was contentedly playing with his rubber ring in his mother's arms, Gabriella had passionately declared that "Jane must never, never go back!" Nothing so dreadful as this had ever happened before, for the repentant Charley had been discovered making love to his wife's dressmaker, a pretty French girl whom Jane had engaged for her spring sewing because she had more "style" than had fallen to the austerely virtuous lot of the Carr's regular seamstress, Miss Folly Hatch. "I might have known she was too pretty to be good," moaned Jane, while Mrs. Carr, in her willow rocking-chair by the window, wiped her reddened eyelids on the strip of cambric ruffling she was hemming.
Unmoved among them the baby beat methodically on his mother's breast with his rubber ring, as indifferent to her sobs as to the intermittent tearful "coos" of his grandmother. He had a smooth bald head, fringed, like the head of a very old man, with pale silken hair that was almost white in the sunshine, and his eyes, as expressionless as marbles, stared over the pot of hyacinths at a sparrow perched against the deep blue sky on the red brick wall of the opposite house. From beneath his starched little skirt his feet, in pink crocheted shoes, protruded with a forlorn and helpless air as if they hardly belonged to him.
"Oh, my poor child, what are we going to do?" asked Mrs. Carr in a resigned voice as she returned to her hemming.
"There's nothing to do, mother," answered Jane, without lifting her eyes from the baby's head, without moving an inch out of the position she had dropped into when she entered the room. Then, after a sobbing pause, she defined in a classic formula her whole philosophy of life: "It wasn't my fault," she said.
"But one can always do something if it's only to scream," rejoined Gabriella with spirit.
"I wouldn't scream," replied Jane, while the pale cast of resolution hardened her small flat features, "not—not if he killed me. My one comfort," she added pathetically, "is that only you and mother know how he treats me."
Her pretty vacant face with its faded bloom resembled a pastel portrait in which the artist had forgotten to paint an expression. "Poor Jane Gracey," as she was generally called, had wasted the last ten years in a futile effort to hide the fact of an unfortunate marriage beneath an excessively cheerful manner. She talked continually because talking seemed to her the most successful way of "keeping up an appearance." Though everybody who knew her knew also that Charley Gracey neglected her shamefully, she spent twelve hours of the twenty-four pretending that she was perfectly happy. At nineteen she had been a belle and beauty of the willowy sort; but at thirty she had relapsed into one of the women whom men admire in theory and despise in reality. She had started with a natural tendency to clinging sweetness; as the years went on the sweetness, instead of growing fainter, had become almost cloying, while the clinging had hysterically tightened into a clutch. Charley Gracey, who had married her under the mistaken impression that her type was restful for a reforming rake, (not realizing that there is nothing so mentally disturbing as a fool) had been changed by marriage from a gay bird of the barnyard into a veritable hawk of the air. His behaviour was the scandal of the town, yet the greater his sins, the intenser grew Jane's sweetness, the more twining her hold. "Nobody will ever think of blaming you, darling," said Mrs. Carr consolingly. "You have behaved beautifully from the beginning. We all know what a perfect wife you have been."
"I've tried to do my duty even if Charley failed in his," replied the perfect wife, unfastening the hooks of her small heliotrope wrap trimmed with tarnished silver passementerie. Above her short flaxen "bang" she wore a crumpled purple hat ornamented with bunches of velvet pansies; and though it was two years old, and out of fashion at a period when fashions changed less rapidly, it lent an air of indecent festivity to her tearful face. Her youth was already gone, for her beauty had been of the fragile kind that breaks early, and her wan, aristocratic features had settled into the downward droop which comes to the faces of people who habitually "expect the worst."
"I know, Jane, I know," murmured Mrs. Carr, dropping her thimble as she nervously tried to hasten her sewing. "But don't you think it would be a comfort, dear, to have the advice of a man about Charley? Won't you let me send Marthy for your Cousin Jimmy Wrenn?"
"Oh, mother, I couldn't. It would kill me to have everybody know I'm unhappy!" wailed Jane, breaking down.
"But everybody knows anyway, Jane," said Gabriella, sticking the point of her scissors into a strip of buckram, for she was stiffening the bottom of the skirt after the fashion of the middle 'nineties.
"Of course I'm foolishly sensitive," returned Jane, while she lifted the baby from her lap and placed him in a pile of cushions by the deep arm of the sofa, where he sat imperturbably gazing at the blue sky and the red wall from which the sparrow had flown. "You can never understand my feelings because you are so different."
"Gabriella is not married," observed Mrs. Carr, with sentimental finality. "But I'm sure, Jane—I'm just as sure as I can be of anything that it wouldn't do a bit of harm to speak to Cousin Jimmy Wrenn. Men know so much more than women about such matters."
In her effort to recover her thimble she dropped her spool of thread, which rolled under the sofa on which Jane was sitting, and while she waited for Gabriella to find it, she gazed pensively into the almost deserted street where the slender shadows of poplar trees slanted over the wet cobblestones. Though Mrs. Carr worked every instant of her time, except the few hours when she lay in bed trying to sleep, and the few minutes when she sat at the table trying to eat, nothing that she began was ever finished until Gabriella took it out of her hands. She did her best, for she was as conscientious in her way as poor Jane, yet through some tragic perversity of fate her best seemed always to fall short of the simplest requirements of life. Her face, like Jane's, was long and thin, with a pathetic droop at the corners of the mouth, a small bony nose, always slightly reddened at the tip, and faded blue eyes beneath an even row of little flat round curls which looked as if they were plastered on her forehead.
Thirty-three years before, in the romantic and fiery 'sixties, she had married dashing young Gabriel Carr for no better reason apparently than that she was falling vaguely in love with love; and the marriage, which had been one of reckless passion on his side, had been for her scarcely more than the dreamer's hesitating compromise with reality. Passion, which she had been taught to regard as an unholy attribute implanted by the Creator, with inscrutable wisdom, in the nature of man, and left out of the nature of woman, had never troubled her gentle and affectionate soul; and not until the sudden death of her husband did she begin even remotely to fall in love with the man. But when he was once safely dead she worshipped his memory with an ardour which would have seemed to her indelicate had he been still alive. For sixteen years she had worn a crape veil on her bonnet, and she still went occasionally, after the morning service was over on Sunday, to place fresh flowers on his grave. Now that his "earthly nature," against which she had struggled so earnestly while he was living, was no longer in need of the pious exorcisms with which she had treated its frequent manifestations, she remembered only the dark beauty of his face, his robust and vigorous youth, the tenderness and gallantry of his passion. For her daughters she had drawn an imaginary portrait of him which combined the pagan beauty of Antinous with the militant purity of Saint Paul; and this romantic blending of the heathen and the Presbyterian virtues had passed through her young imagination into the awakening soul of Gabriella.
By the town at large Mrs. Carr's sorrow was alluded to as "a beautiful grief," yet so deeply rooted in her being was the instinct to twine, that for the first few years of her bereavement she had simply sat in her widow's weeds, with her rent paid by Cousin Jimmy Wrenn and her market bills settled monthly by Uncle Beverly Blair, and waited patiently for some man to come and support her.
When no man came, and Uncle Beverly died of a stroke of apoplexy with his will unsigned, she had turned, with the wasted energy of the unfit and the incompetent, to solve the inexplicable problem of indigent ladyhood. And it was at this crucial instant that Becky Bollingbroke had put her awful question: "Have you made up your mind, Fanny, what you are going to do?" That was twelve years ago, but deep down in some secret cave of Fanny's being the ghastly echo of the words still reverberated through the emptiness and the silence.
"Don't you think, darling," she pleaded now, as she had pleaded to Becky on that other dreadful occasion, "that we had better send immediately for Cousin Jimmy Wrenn?"
"I—I can't think," gasped Jane, "but you may if you want to, mother."
"Send, Gabriella," said Mrs. Carr quickly, and she added tenderly, while Gabriella dropped her work and ran to the outside kitchen for Marthy, the coloured drudge, "you will feel so much better, Jane, after you have had his advice."
Then at the sight of Jane's stricken face, which had turned blue as if from a sudden chill, she hurriedly opened the drawer of her sewing machine, and taking out a bottle of camphor she kept there, began tremulously rubbing her daughter's forehead. As she did so, she remembered, with the startling irrelevance of the intellectually untrained, the way Jane had looked in her veil and orange blossoms on the day of her wedding.
"I wonder what on earth we have done to deserve our troubles?" she found herself thinking while she put the stopper back into the bottle and returned to her sewing.
"Marthy has gone, mother," said Gabriella, with her cheerful air as she came back into the room, "and I shut the children in the laundry with Dolly who is doing the washing."
"I hope they won't make themselves sick with preserves," remarked Jane, with the first dart of energy she had shown. "Perhaps I'd better go and see. If Fanny eats too much we'll be up all night with her."
"I told Dolly not to let them stuff," answered Gabriella, as she sat down by the window and threaded her needle. She was a tall, dark girl, slender and straight as a young poplar, with a face that was frank and pleasant rather than pretty, and sparkling brown eyes which turned golden and grew bright as swords when she was angry. Seen by the strong light of the window, her face showed sallow in tone, with a certain nobility about the bony structure beneath the soft girlish flesh, and a look of almost stern decision in the square chin and in the full rich curve of the mouth. Her hair, which was too fine and soft to show its thickness, drooped from its parting at the side in a dark wing over her forehead, where it shadowed her arched black eyebrows and the clear sweet gravity of her eyes. As she bent over her sewing the thin pure lines of her body had a look of arrested energy, of relaxed but exuberant vitality.
"You won't go to the dance to-night, will you, Gabriella?" inquired Mrs. Carr nervously.
"No, I'm not going," answered the girl regretfully, for she loved dancing, and her white organdie dress, trimmed with quillings of blue ribbon, lay upstairs on the bed. "I'll never dance again if only Jane won't go back to Charley. I'll work my fingers to the bone to help her take care of the children."
"I'll never, never go back," chanted Jane with feverish passion.
"But I thought Arthur Peyton was coming for you," said Mrs. Carr. "He will be so disappointed."
"Oh, he'll understand—he'll have to," replied Gabriella carelessly.
The sunshine faded slowly from the hyacinths on the window-sill, and drawing her crocheted cape of purple wool closer about her, Mrs. Carr moved a little nearer the fireplace. Outside the March wind was blowing with a melancholy sound up the long straight street, and rocking the glossy boughs of an old magnolia tree in the yard From the shining leaves of the tree a few drops of water fell on the brick pavement, where several joyous sparrows were drinking, and farther off, as bright as silver in the clear wind, a solitary church spire rose above the huddled roofs of the town. When the wind lulled, as it did now and then, a warm breath seemed to stir in the sunshine, which grew suddenly brighter, while a promise of spring floated like a faint provocative scent on the air. And this scent, so vague, so roving, that it was like the ghostly perfume of flowers, stole at last into the memory, and made the old dream of youth and the young grow restless at the call of Life, which sang to the music of flutes in the brain. But the wind, rising afresh, drove the spirit of spring from the street, and swept the broken leaves of the magnolia tree over the drenched grass to the green-painted iron urns on either side of the steps.
The house, a small brick dwelling, set midway of an expressionless row and wearing on its front a look of desiccated gentility, stood in one of those forgotten streets where needy gentlewomen do "light housekeeping" in an obscure hinterland of respectability. Hill Street, which had once known fashion, and that only yesterday, as old ladies count, had sunk at last into a humble state of decay. Here and there the edges of porches had crumbled; grass was beginning to sprout by the curbstone; and the once comfortable homes had opened their doors to boarders or let their large, high-ceiled rooms to the impoverished relicts of Confederate soldiers. Only a few blocks away the stream of modern progress, sweeping along Broad Street, was rapidly changing the old Southern city into one of those bustling centres of activity which the press of the community agreed to describe as "a metropolis"; but this river of industrialism was spanned by no social bridge connecting Hill Street and its wistful relicts with the statelier dignities and the more ephemeral gaieties of the opposite side. To be really "in society" one must cross over, either for good and all, or in the dilapidated "hack" which carried Gabriella to the parties of her schoolmates in West Franklin Street.
For in the middle 'nineties, before social life in Richmond had become both complicated and expensive, it was still possible for a girl in Gabriella's position—provided, of course, she came of a "good family"—to sew all day over the plain sewing of her relatives, and in the evening to reign as the acknowledged belle of a ball. "Society," it is true, did not reach any longer, except in the historic sense, to Hill Street; but the inhabitants of Hill Street, if they were young and energetic, not infrequently made triumphant excursions into "society." Though Gabriella was poor and sewed for her living, she had been, from the moment she left school, one of the most popular girls in town. To be sure, she was neither so pretty as Florrie Spencer nor so clever as Julia Caperton, but in the words of Julia's brother Algernon, she was "the sort you could count on." Even in her childhood it had become the habit of those about her to count on Gabriella. Without Gabriella, her mother was fond of saying, it would have been impossible to keep a roof over their heads.
Twelve years before, when they had moved into the house in Hill Street, Mrs. Carr had accepted from Jimmy Wrenn the rent of the first floor and the outside kitchen, which was connected with the back porch by a winding brick walk, overgrown with wild violets, while the upper story was let to two elderly spinsters, bearing the lordly, though fallen, name of Peterborough. These spinsters, like Mrs. Carr, spent their lives in a beautiful and futile pretence—the pretence of keeping up an appearance. They also took in the plain sewing of their richer relatives, who lived in Franklin Street, and sent them little trays of sweet things as soon as the midday dinner was over on Sunday. Sometimes they would drop in to see Mrs. Carr just before supper was ready, and then they would pretend that they lived on tea and toast because they were naturally "light eaters," and that they sewed all day, not for the money, but because they liked to have "something to do with their hands" They were tall thin women in organdie caps and black alpaca dresses made with long basques which showed a greenish cast in the daylight. The walls of their rooms were covered with family portraits of the colonial period, and Mrs. Carr, who had parted with most of her treasures, often wondered how they had preserved so many proofs of a distinguished descent. Even her silver had gone—first the quaint old service with the Bolton crest, which had belonged to her mother; then, one by one, the forks and spoons; and, last of all, Gabriella's silver mug, which was carried, wrapped in a shawl, to the shop of old Mr. Camberwell. She was a woman who loved inanimate things with the passion which other women give only to children, and a thousand delicate fibres of sentiment knit her soul to the portraits on the wall, to the furniture with which she lived, to the silver and glass that had once belonged to her mother. When one after one these things went from her, she felt as if the very roots of her being were torn up from the warm familiar earth in which they had grown. "There's nothing left in the parlour that I shouldn't be ashamed to have your grandmother look at," she had once confessed to her daughters.
Seen by the light of history, this parlour, in which so much of Gabriella's childhood was spent, was not without interest as an archaic survival of the fundamental errors of the mid-Victorian mind. The walls were covered with bottle-green paper on which endless processions of dwarfed blue peacocks marched relentlessly toward an embossed border—the result of an artistic frenzy of the early 'eighties. Neither Mrs. Carr nor Jimmy Wrenn, who paid the rent, had chosen this paper, but having been left on the dealer's hands, it had come under the eye of the landlord, who, since he did not have to live with it had secured it at a bargain. Too unused to remonstrance to make it effective, Mrs. Carr had suffered the offending decoration in meekness, while Jimmy, having a taste for embossment, honestly regarded the peacocks as "handsome." From the centre of the ceiling a massive gilt chandelier, elaborately festooned with damaged garlands, shed, when it was lighted, a dim and troubled gloom down on the threadbare Axminster carpet. Above the white marble mantelpiece, the old French mirror, one of the few good things left over from a public sale of Mrs. Carr's possessions, reflected a pair of bronze candelabra with crystal pendants, and a mahogany clock, which had kept excellent time for half a century and then had stopped suddenly one day while Marthy was cleaning. In the corner, between the door and the window, there was a rosewood bookcase, with the bare shelves hidden behind plaited magenta silk, and directly above it hung an engraving of a group of amiable children feeding fish in a pond. Across the room, over the walnut whatnot, a companion picture represented the same group of children scattering crumbs before a polite brood of chickens in a barnyard. Between the windows a third engraving immortalized the "Burial of Latan" in the presence of several sad and resigned ladies in crinolines, while the sofa on which Jane sat was presided over by a Sully portrait of the beautiful Angelica Carr, wearing a white scarf on her head and holding a single rose in her hand. This portrait and a Saint Memin drawing of Mrs. Carr's grandfather, the Reverend Bartholomew Berkeley as a young man in a high stock, were the solitary existing relics of that consecrated past when Fanny Berkeley was "not brought up to do anything."
To Mrs. Carr, whose mind was so constituted that any change in her surroundings produced a sensation of shock, the room was hallowed by the simple fact that she had lived in it for a number of years. That an object or a custom had existed in the past appeared to her to be an incontestible reason why it should continue to exist in the present. It was distressing to her to be obliged to move a picture or to alter the position of a piece of furniture, and she had worn one shape of bonnet and one style of hairdressing, slightly modified to suit the changing fashions, for almost twenty years. Her long pale face, her pensive blue eyes, and her look of anxious sweetness, made a touching picture of feminine incompetence; and yet it was from this pallid warmth, this gentle inefficiency of soul, that the buoyant spirit of Gabriella had sprung.
For Gabriella was the incarnation of energy. From the moment of her birth when, in the words of her negro "mammy" she had looked "as peart as life," she had begun her battle against the enveloping twin powers of decay and inertia. To the intense secret mortification of her mother, who had prayed for a second waxlike infant after the fashion of poor Jane, she had been a notoriously ugly baby (almost as ugly as her Aunt Becky Bollingbroke who had never married), and as she grew up, this ugliness was barely redeemed by what Jane, in her vague way, described as "the something else in her face." According to Cousin Jimmy, who never recognized charm unless its manifestations were soft and purring, this "something else" was merely "a sunny temper"; and one of the constant afflictions of Gabriella's childhood was overhearing her mother remark to visitors: "No, she isn't so pretty as poor Jane, but, as Cousin Jimmy tells us, she is blessed with a sunny temper."
"Give me that ruffle, mother, and I'll whip the lace on while we're waiting," she said now, laying aside the skirt of her Easter dress, and stretching out her hand for the strip of cambric in her mother's lap. But Mrs. Carr did not hear, for she was gazing, with the concentrated stare of Jane's baby, at a beautiful old lady who was walking slowly through the faint sunshine on the opposite pavement.
"I wonder where Mrs. Peyton can be coming from in her best dress?" she remarked, forgetting Jane for an instant while her sense of tragedy yielded to the keener impulse of curiosity.
"She never goes anywhere but to church or to the Old Ladies' home," replied Gabriella. "Arthur says she hasn't paid a call since her husband's death."
"Well, I haven't made one, except of course to my relatives, for fifteen years," rejoined Mrs. Carr a trifle tartly. Then her manner lost its unusual asperity, and she added excitedly, "They're coming now, Jane. There's Cousin Jimmy and he's bringing Cousin Pussy and Uncle Meriweather!"
"Oh, mother, I can't possibly see them! I feel as if it would kill me!" cried Jane in desperation.
"Give her the camphor, mother," said Gabriella with grim humour as she went to open the door.
"Brace yourself, my darling. They are coming," pleaded Mrs. Carr, as she slipped her arm under Jane's head. At the first hint of any excitement she invariably lost her presence of mind and became distracted; and Jane's hysterical outbursts never failed to convince her, though they usually left the more skeptical Gabriella unmoved. "Don't you think you would feel better if you lay back on the pillows?" she urged.
Then the bell rang, and before Jane could swallow her sobs, her sister ushered in Jimmy and Pussy Wrenn, who were closely followed by the ponderous figure of Uncle Meriweather, a gouty but benign old gentleman, whose jet-black eyebrows and white imperial gave him a misleading military air.
"Well, well, my dear, what's this I hear about Charley?" demanded Cousin Jimmy, whose sprightly manner was never sprightlier than in the hour of tragedy or the house of mourning. "What does he mean by letting you run away from him?"
"I've done my duty by Charley. I've never, never failed in my duty!" wept Jane, breaking down on Pussy's tender bosom, and waking the sleeping baby.
"We know, darling, we know," said Pussy, patting Jane's shoulder, while Jimmy drew a white silk handkerchief from his pocket, and hid his face under the pretence of blowing his nose.
To see a woman cry never failed to wring a sympathetic tear from Jimmy. Though he was a man of hard common sense, possessed of an inflexible determination to make money, there was a soft spot inside of him which was reached only by the distress of one of the opposite sex. The suffering—particularly the financial suffering—of men left him unmoved. He could foreclose a mortgage or press a debt (as long as the debtor's wife or daughter did not appeal to him) as well as another; but the instant a skirt fluttered on the horizon that soft something inside of him appeared, as he expressed it, "to give way." Apart from their afflictions, he had an eye, he used to boast, for but one woman in the world, and she, thank God, was his wife. Handsome, portly, full-blooded, and slightly overfed, he had let Pussy twine him about her little finger ever since the afternoon when he had first seen her, small, trim, and with "a way with her," at the age of six.
"Poor, poor child," said Pussy, cuddling Jane and the baby together against her sympathetic bosom. "Something must be done, Cousin Fanny. Something must be done, as Mr. Wrenn said on the way down, if it's only for the satisfaction of letting Charley know what we think of him."
"We've got to put down our pride and take some step," declared Jimmy, wondering vaguely how he could have forgotten the spirited utterance his wife attributed to him. "I'm all for the authority of the husband, of course, and the sanctity of the home, and everything according to the Bible and all that—but, bless my soul, there's got to be a limit to what a woman is expected to stand. There're some things, and I know Uncle Meriweather will agree with me, that it isn't in human nature to put up with."
"If I were forty years younger I'd call him out and give him a whipping he wouldn't forget in a jiffy," blustered Uncle Meriweather, feebly violent. "There's no way of defending a lady in these Godforsaken days. Why, I remember when I was a boy, my poor father—God bless him!—you recollect him, don't you Fanny?—never used a walking stick in his life and could read print without glasses at ninety—"
"Making love to the dressmaker," pursued Jimmy, whose righteous anger refused to be turned aside from its end.
"Don't you think, Cousin Fanny," whispered Pussy, "that Gabriella had better leave the room?"
"Gabriella? Why, how on earth can we spare her?" Mrs. Carr whispered back rather nervously. Then, beneath Pussy's compelling glance, she added timidly: "Hadn't you better go, darling, and see what the children are doing?"
"They are playing in the laundry," replied Gabriella reassuringly. "I told Dolly not to let them go out of her sight."
"She knows so much already for her age," murmured Mrs. Carr apologetically to Pussy.
"I don't know what Mr. Wrenn will think of your staying, dear," said Pussy, smiling archly at the girl. "Mr. Wrenn, I was just saying that I didn't know what you would think of Gabriella's staying in the room."
Jimmy's large handsome face, with its look of perpetual innocence—the incorruptible innocence of a man who has never imagined anything—turned helplessly in the direction of his wife. All things relating to propriety came, he felt instinctively, within the natural sphere of woman, and to be forced, on the spur of the moment, to decide a delicate question of manners, awoke in him the dismay of one who sees his accustomed prop of authority beginning to crumble. Surely Pussy knew best about things like that! He would as soon have thought of interfering with her housekeeping as of instructing her in the details of ladylike conduct. And, indeed, he had not observed that Gabriella was in the room until his wife, for her own purpose, had adroitly presented the fact to his notice.
"Gabriella in the room?" he repeated in perplexity. "Why, you'd better go, hadn't you, Gabriella? Oughtn't she to go, Pussy?"
"Just as you think best, dear, but it seems to me—"
"Certainly she ought to go," said Uncle Meriweather decisively. "The less women and girls know about such matters, the better. I don't understand, Fanny, how you could possibly have consented to Gabriella's being present."
"I didn't consent, Uncle Meriweather," protested poor Mrs. Carr, who could not bear the mildest rebuke without tears; "I only said to Pussy that Gabriella knew a great deal more already than she ought to, and I'm sure I'm not to blame for it. If I'd had my way she would have been just as sheltered as other girls."
"Don't cry, mother, it isn't your fault," said Gabriella. "Uncle Meriweather, if you make mother cry I'll never forgive you. How can she help all these dreadful things going on?"
She was sensible, she was composed, she was perfectly sweet about it; but, and this fact made Pussy gasp with dismay, she did not budge an inch from her position. With her clear grave eyes, which lost their sparkle when she grew serious, and her manner of eager sympathy, she appeared, indeed, to be the only one in the room who was capable of facing the situation with frankness. That she meant to face it to the end, Pussy could not doubt while she looked at her.
"Oh, it doesn't matter about Gabriella. She knows everything," said Jane, with the prickly sweetness of suffering virtue.
"But she's a young girl—young girls oughtn't to hear such things," argued Uncle Meriweather, feeling helplessly that something was wrong with the universe, and that, since it was different from anything he had ever known in the past, he was unable to cope with it. Into his eyes, gentle and bloodshot above his fierce white moustache—the eyes of one who has never suffered the painful process of thinking things out, but has accepted his opinions as unquestioningly as he has accepted his religion or the cut of his clothes—there came the troubled look of one who is struggling against forces that he does not understand. For Gabriella was serious. There was not the slightest hope in the disturbed mind of Uncle Meriweather that she was anything but perfectly serious. Caprice, being a womanly quality, was not without a certain charm for him. He was quite used to it; he knew how to take it; he had been taught to recognize it from his childhood up. It was pretty, it was playful; and his mind, if so ponderous a vehicle could indulge in such activity, was fond of play. But after the first perplexed minute or two he had relinquished forever the hope that Gabriella was merely capricious. Clearly the girl knew what she was talking about; and this knowledge, so surprising in one of her age and sex, gave him a strange dreamy sense of having just awakened from sleep.
"I must say I like girls to be girls, Fanny," he pursued testily; "I reckon I'm only an old fogy, but I like girls to be girls. When a woman loses her innocence, she loses her greatest charm in the eyes of a man—of the right sort of a man. Pluck the peach with the bloom on it, my poor father used to say. He didn't believe in all this new-fangled nonsense about the higher education of women—none of his daughters could do more I than read and write and spell after a fashion, and yet look what wives and mothers they made! Pokey married three times, and was the mother of fourteen children, nine of them sons. And are we any better off now than then, I ask? Whoever heard of a woman running away from her husband before the war, and now here is poor Jane—"
"But it isn't my fault, Uncle Meriweather!" cried Jane, in desperation at his obtuseness. "I've tried to be the best wife I could—ask Charley if I haven't. He neglected me long before I let any one know—even mother. I forgave him again and again, and I'd go on forgiving him forever if he would let me. I've told him over and over that I was going to be a faithful wife to him if he killed me."
"Of course, my dear, I'm not meaning to reproach you," said Uncle Meriweather, overcome by the effect of his words. "We all know that you've stood as much as any woman could and keep her self-respect. It isn't possible, I suppose, for you to go on living with Charley?"
"Oh, I couldn't bear a separation, not a legal one at any rate," groaned Mrs. Carr. "Of course she must come away for a time, but nobody must hear of it or it would kill me. They are one in the sight of God, and my dear old father had such a horror of separations."
"Well, I'd kick him out—I'd kick him out so quickly he wouldn't know it," declared Jimmy. "If a daughter of mine were married to that scamp, she'd never lay eyes on him except over my dead body. I reckon God would enjoy the sight of his getting his deserts."
Deep down in Cousin Jimmy, deeper than sentiment, deeper than tradition, deeper even than the solid bedrock of common sense, there was the romantic essence of his soul, which hated baseness with a fiery hatred. His ruddy face, still boyish in spite of his fifty years, blanched slowly, and there came into his soft dark eyes the look he had worn at Malvern Hill under the fire of the enemy.
At the sight Gabriella thrilled as she did when drums were beating and armies were marching. "Oh, Cousin Jimmy, don't let her go back!" she cried.
"I can't go back to him now! I can never, never go back to him again!" intoned Jane with passionate energy.
"No, God bless her, she shan't go back," declared Jimmy, as profoundly stirred as Gabriella.
"But the children? What will become of the children?" demanded Mrs. Carr, not of Jimmy, but of the universe. Her helpless gaze, roving wildly from face to face, and resting nowhere, was like the gaze of a small animal caught in a trap. "If Jane separates the children from their father what will people think of her?" she asked, still vainly addressing Heaven.
"As long as she is right it doesn't matter what people think," retorted Gabriella; but her protest, unlike her mother's, was directed to the visible rather than to the invisible powers. The thought of Jane's children—of the innocent souls so unaware of the awful predicament in which they were placed that their bodies could be devouring bread and damson preserves in the laundry. The poignant thought of these children moved her more deeply than she had ever been moved before in her twenty years. A passion for self-sacrifice rushed through her with the piercing sweetness of religious ecstasy. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before—not when she was confirmed, not when she had stood at the head of her class, not when she had engaged herself to Arthur Peyton two years before. It was the pure flame of experience at its highest point that burned in her.
"I will take care of the children," she said breathlessly. "I will give up my whole life to them. I will get a place in a store and work my fingers to the bone, if only Jane will never go back."
For a moment there was silence; but while Gabriella waited for somebody to answer, she felt that it was a silence which had become vocal with inexpressible things. The traditions of Uncle Meriweather, the conventions of Mrs. Carr, the prejudices of Jimmy, and the weak impulses of Jane, all these filled the dusk through which the blank faces of her family stared back at her. Then, while she stood white and trembling with her resolve—with the passionate desire to give herself, body and soul, to Jane and to Jane's children—the voice of Experience spoke pleasantly, but firmly, through Cousin Pussy's lips, and it dealt with Gabriella's outburst as Experience usually deals with Youth.
"You are a dear child, Gabriella," it said; "but how in the world could you help Jane by going into a store?"
In the midst of the emotional scene, Cousin Pussy alone remained sweetly matter-of-fact. Though she was not without orderly sentiments, her character had long ago been swept of heroics, and from her arched gray hair, worn la Pompadour, to her pretty foot in its small neat boot, she was a practical soul who had as little use for religious ecstasy as she had for downright infidelity. There seemed to her something positively unnatural in Gabriella's manner—a hint of that "sudden conversion" she associated with the lower classes or with the negroes.
"You are a dear child," she repeated, biting her fresh lips; "but how will you help Jane by going into a store?"
"I can trim hats," returned Gabriella stubbornly. "Mr. Brandywine will take me into his new millinery department, I know, for I said something to him about it the other day."
"Oh, Gabriella, not in a store! It would kill mother!" cried Jane, with the prophetic wail of Cassandra.
"Not in a store!" echoed Mrs. Carr; "you couldn't work in a store. If you want to work," she concluded feebly, "why can't you work just as well in your home?"
"But it isn't the same thing, mother," explained Gabriella, with angelic patience. "Nobody will get me to make hats at home, and, besides, I've got to learn how to do it. I've got to learn business methods."
"But not in a shop, my dear," protested Uncle Meriweather in the precise English of his youth.
"Bless my heart!" chuckled Cousin Jimmy. "Business methods! You're as good as a show, Gabriella, and, by George! you've plenty of pluck. I like pluck in man or woman."
"I shouldn't encourage her if I were you, Mr. Wrenn," said Cousin Pussy, almost forgetting to be indirect.
"Well, of course, I don't approve of that store business," replied Jimmy, deprecatingly, "but I can't help liking pluck when I see it. Look here, Gabriella, if you're bent on working, why don't you turn in and teach?"
"Yes, let her teach by all means," agreed Uncle Meriweather, with genuine enthusiasm for the idea. "I've always regarded teaching as an occupation that ought to be restricted by law to needy ladies."
"But I can't teach, I don't know enough, and, besides, I'd hate it," protested Gabriella.
"I'm sure you might start a school for very little children," said Mrs. Carr. "You don't have to know much, to teach them, and you write a very good hand."
"What about plain sewing?" asked Pussy in her ready way. "Couldn't you learn to make those new waists all the girls are wearing?"
"I haven't the patience to sew well. Look how hard mother works, making buttonholes with stitches so fine you can hardly see them, and yet she doesn't get enough to put bread into her mouth, and but for her relatives she'd have been in the poorhouse long ago. I'm tired of being on charity just because we are women. Now that Jane has come home for good I am simply obliged to find something to do."
"I don't mind your wanting to work, dear, I think it's splendid of you," returned Pussy, "but I do feel that you ought to work in a ladylike way—a way that wouldn't interfere with your social position and your going to germans and having attention from young men and all that."
"Why don't you make lampshades, Gabriella?" demanded Jane in an emphatic burst of inspiration. "Sophy Madison earns enough from lampshades to send her sister and herself to the White Sulphur Springs every summer."
"Sophy makes all the lampshades that anybody wants, and, besides, she gets orders from the North—she told me so yesterday."
"Gabriella crochets beautifully," remarked Mrs. Carr a little nervously because of the failure of her first suggestion. "The last time I went to see Miss Matoaca Chambers in the Old Ladies' Home, she told me she made quite a nice little sum for her church by crocheting mats."
"And Gabriella can cook, too," rejoined Pussy, with exaggerated sprightliness, for she felt that Mrs. Carr's solution of the problem had not been entirely felicitous. "Why doesn't she try sending some of her angel food to the Woman's Exchange?"
Jimmy, who had listened to this advice with the expression of tolerant amusement he always wore when women began to talk about the more serious affairs of life in his presence, made an honest, if vulgar, attempt to lighten the solemnity of the situation with a joke.
"Gabriella isn't trying to earn church money. You're out gunning for a living, aren't you, Ella?" he inquired.
"I'm sick of being dependent," repeated Gabriella, while her face grew stern. "Do you think if Jane had had enough money to live on that she would ever have stood Charley so long?"
"Oh, yes, I should, Gabriella. Marriage is sacred to me!" exclaimed Jane, whose perfect wifeliness atoned, even in the opinion of Jimmy, for any discrepancies in logic. "Nothing on earth could have induced me to leave him until—until this happened."
The conviction that she had never at any moment since her marriage "failed in her duty to Charley" lent a touching sanctity to her expression, while the bitter lines around her mouth faded in the wan glow that flooded her face. Whatever her affliction, however intense her humiliation, Jane was supported always by the most comforting of beliefs—the belief that she had been absolutely right and Charley absolutely wrong through the ten disillusioning years of their married life. Never for an instant—never even in a nightmare—had she been visited by the disquieting suspicion that she was not entirely blameless.
"Well, you've left him now anyway," said Gabriella, with the disarming candour which delighted Jimmy and perplexed Uncle Meriweather, "so somebody has got to help you take care of the children."
"She shall never come to want as long as Pussy and I have a cent left," declared Cousin Jimmy, and his voice expressed what Mrs. Carr described afterward as "proper feeling."
"And we'd really rather that you'd earn less and keep in your own station of life," said Pussy decisively.
"If you mean that you'd rather I'd work buttonholes or crochet mats than go into a store and earn a salary, then I can't do it," answered Gabriella, as resolute, though not so right-minded, as poor Jane. "I'd rather die than be dependent all my life, and I'm going to earn my living if I have to break rocks to do it."
Supper was over, and Gabriella, still in the dress she had worn all day, was picking up the children's clothes from the floor of her room. According to Mrs. Carr's hereditary habit in sorrow or sickness, Jane had been served in bed with tea and toast, while several small hard cots had been brought down from the attic and arranged in the available space in the two bedrooms. As Gabriella looked at the sleeping children, who had kicked the covering away, and lay with round rosy limbs gleaming in the lamplight, she remembered that Arthur Peyton was coming at nine o'clock to take her to Florrie's party, and she told herself with grim determination that she would never go to a party again. The Berkeley conscience, that vein of iron which lay beneath the outward softness and incompetence of her mother and sister, held her, in spite of her tempting youth, to the resolution she had made. She had told Jimmy that she meant to earn her living if she had to break rocks to do it, and Gabriella, like Pussy, came of a race that "did not easily change its mind."
Turning to the bureau, she smoothed out the children's hair ribbons and pinned them, in two tight little blue and pink rolls, to the pincushion. Then taking up a broken comb, she ran it through the soft lock of hair that fell like a brown wing over her forehead. Her bright dark eyes, fringed in short thick lashes and set wide apart under arched eyebrows, gazed questioningly back at her from a row of german favours with which she had decorated the glass; and it was as if the face of youth, flickering with a flamelike glow and intensity, swam there for an instant in the dim greenish pool of the mirror. Beneath the charm of the face there was the character which one associates, not with youth, but with age and experience. Beneath the fine, clear lines of her head and limbs, the tall slenderness of her figure, the look of swiftness and of energy, which was almost birdlike in its grace and poise, there was a strength and vigour which suggested a gallant boy rather than the slighter and softer frame of a girl.
While she stood there, Gabriella thought regretfully of all that it would mean to give up her half-dependent and wholly ladylike existence and go to work in a shop. Necessity not choice was driving her; and in spirit she looked back almost wistfully to the securely circumscribed lot of her grandmother. For there was little of the rebel in her temperament; and had she been free to choose, she would have instinctively selected, guided by generations of gregarious ancestors, the festive girlhood which Cousin Pussy had so ardently described. She wanted passionately all the things that other girls had, and her only quarrel, indeed, with the sheltered life was that she couldn't afford it. In the expressive phrase of Cousin Jimmy, the sheltered life "cost money," and to cost money was to be beyond the eager grasp of Gabriella.
The door opened as if yielding under protest, and Marthy entered, still hurriedly tying the strings of the clean apron she had slipped on over her soiled one before answering the door-bell.
"Yo' beau done come, Miss Ella. Ain't you gwine?"
"No, I'm not going to the party, Marthy, but ask him to wait just a minute."
"He's settin' over yonder in de parlour wid his overcoat on."
"Well, ask him to take it off; I'll be there in a moment." She spoke as gravely as Marthy had done, yet in her face there was a light play of humour.
Two years ago she would have thrilled with joy at the thought that Arthur was waiting for her; but in those two years since her engagement she had grown to look upon her first love as the gossamer, fairylike romance of a child. For months she had known that the engagement must be broken sooner or later; and she knew now, while she listened to Marthy's shuffling feet hastening to deliver her message, that she must break it to-night. In the dim pool of her mirror a face looked back at her that was not the face of Arthur Peyton; she saw it take form there as one sees a face grow gradually into life from the dimness of dreams. It was, she told herself to-night, the very face of her dream that she saw.
"Well, I must get it over," she said with a sternness which gave her a passing resemblance to the Saint Memin portrait of the Reverend Bartholomew Berkeley; "I've got to get it over to-night, and whatever happens I've got to be honest." Then, with a last glance at the sleeping children, she lowered the gas, and went across the darkened hail, which smelt of pickles and bacon because one end of it was used as a storeroom.
The parlour had been swept since the family council had deliberated there over Jane's destiny. The scraps of cambric had been gathered up from the threadbare arabesques in the carpet; the chairs had been placed at respectable distances apart; the gas-jets in the chandelier were flaming extravagantly under the damaged garlands; and the sewing machine had been wheeled into the obscurity of the hail, for it would have humiliated Gabriella's mother to think that her daughter received young men in a room which looked as if somebody had worked there.
When Gabriella entered, Arthur Peyton was standing in front of the fireplace, gazing abstractedly at his reflection in the French mirror. Though his chestnut hair was carefully brushed, he had instinctively lifted his hand to smooth down an imaginary lock, and while he did this, he frowned slightly as if at a recollection that had ruffled his temper. His features were straight and very narrow, with the look of sensitiveness one associates with the thoroughbred, and the delicate texture of his skin emphasized this quality of high-breeding, which was the only thing that one remembered about him. In his light-gray eyes there was a sympathetic expression which invariably won the hearts of old ladies, and these old ladies were certain to say of him afterward, "such a gentleman, my dear—almost of the old school, you know, and we haven't many of them left in this hurrying age."
He had done well, though not brilliantly, at college, for his mind, if unoriginal, had never given anybody, not even his mother, the least bit of trouble. For three years he had worked with admirable regularity in the office of his uncle, Carter Peyton, one of the most distinguished lawyers in the Virginia of his period, and it was generally felt that young Arthur Peyton would have "a brilliant future." For the present, however, he lived an uneventful life with his widowed mother in a charming old house, surrounded by a walled garden, in Franklin Street. Like the house, he was always in perfect order; and everything about him, from his loosely fitting clothes and his immaculate linen to his inherited conceptions of life, was arranged with such exquisite precision that it was impossible to improve it in any way. He knew exactly what he thought, and he knew also his reason, which was usually a precedent in law or custom, for thinking as he did. His opinions, which were both active and abundant, were all perfectly legitimate descendants of tradition, and the phrase "nobody ever heard of such a thing," was quite as convincing to him as to Mrs. Carr or to Cousin Jimmy Wrenn.
"Gabriella, aren't you going?" he asked reproachfully as the girl entered.
"Oh, Arthur, we've had such a dreadful day! Poor Jane has left Charley for good and has come home, with all the children. We've been busy dividing them among us, and we're going to turn the dining-room into a nursery.
"Left Charley? That's bad, isn't it?" asked Arthur doubtfully.
"I feel so sorry for her, Arthur. It must be terrible to have love end like that."
"But she isn't to blame. Everybody knows that she has forgiven him again and again."
"Yes, everybody knows it," repeated Gabriella, as if she drew bitter comfort from the knowledge, "and she says now that she will never, never go back to him."
For the first time a shadow appeared in Arthur's clear eyes.
"Do you think she ought to make up her mind, darling, until she sees whether or not he will reform? After all, she is his wife."
"That's what mother says, and yet I believe Charley is the only person on earth mother really hates. Now Cousin Jimmy and I will do everything we can to keep her away from him."
"I think I shouldn't meddle if I were you, dearest. She'll probably go back to him in the end because of the children.
"But I am going to help her take care of the children," replied Gabriella stanchly. "Of course, my life will be entirely different now, Arthur," she added gently. "Everything is altered for me, too, since yesterday. I have thought it all over for hours, and I am going to try to get a place in Brandywine's store."
"In a store?" repeated Arthur slowly, and she saw the muscles of his mouth tighten and grow rigid.
"Mother doesn't like the idea any more than you do, but what are we to come to if we go on in the old aimless way? One can't make a living out of plain sewing, and though, of course, Charley will be supposed to provide for his children, he isn't exactly the sort one can count on. Brandywine's, you see, is only a beginning. What I mean is that I am obliged to learn how to support myself."
"But couldn't you work just as well in your home, darling?
"People don't pay anything for home work. You must see what I mean, Arthur."
"Yes, I see," he replied tenderly; but after a moment's thought, he went on again with the gentle obstinacy of a man whose thinking had all been done for him before he was born. "I wish, though, that you would try to hold out a little longer, working at home with your mother. In a year or two we shall be able to marry."
"I couldn't," said Gabriella, shaking her head. "Don't urge me, Arthur."
"If you would only consent to live with mother, we might marry now," he pursued, after a minute, as if he had not heard her.
"But it wouldn't be fair to her, and how could I ask her to take mother and Jane and the children? No, I've thought it all out, dear, and I must go to work."
"But I'll work for them, Gabriella. I'll do anything on earth rather than see you ordered about by old Brandywine."
"He won't order me about," answered Gabriella cheerfully; "but mother feels just as you do. She says I am going out of my class because I won't stay at home and work buttonholes."
"You couldn't go out of your class," replied Arthur, with an instinctive gallantry which even his distress could not overcome; "but I can't get used to the thought of it, darling—I simply can't. You're so sacred to me. There's something about the woman a man loves that's different from every other woman, and the bare idea of your working in a shop sickens me. I always think of you as apart from the workaday world. I always think of you as a star shining serenely above the sordid struggle—" Overwhelmed by the glowing train of his rhetoric, he broke down suddenly and caught passionately at the cool hand of Gabriella.
As he looked at her slender finger, on which he had placed her engagement ring two years before, it seemed to him that the situation was becoming intolerable—that it was an affront not only to his ideal of Gabriella, as something essentially starlike and remote, but to that peculiar veneration for women which he always spoke and thought of as "Southern." His ideal woman was gentle, clinging, so perfectly a "lady" that she would have perished had she been put into a shop; and, though he was aware that Gabriella was a girl of much character and determination, his mind was so constructed that he was able, without difficulty, to think of her as corresponding to this exalted type of her sex. By the simple act of falling in love with her he had endowed her with every virtue except the ones that she actually possessed.
"I know, I know," said Gabriella tenderly, for she saw that he suffered. Her training had been a hard one, though she had got it at home, and in a violent reaction from the sentimentality of her mother and Jane she had become suspicious of any language that sounded "flowery" to her sensitive ears. With her clear-sighted judgment, she knew perfectly well that by no stretch of mind or metaphor could she be supposed to resemble a star—that she was not shining, not remote, not even "ideal" in Arthur's delicate sense of the word. She had known the horrors of poverty, of that bitter genteel poverty which must keep up an appearance at any cost; and she could never forget the grim days, after the death of Uncle Beverly Blair, when they had shivered in fireless rooms and gone for weeks without butter on their bread. For the one strong quality in Mrs. Carr's character was the feeling she spoke of complacently, though modestly, as "proper pride"; and this proper pride, which was now resisting Gabriella's struggle for independence, had in the past resisted quite as stubbornly the thought of an appeal to the ready charity of her masculine relatives. To seek a man's advice had been from her girlhood the primal impulse of Mrs. Carr's nature; but, until Fate had starved her into sincerity, she had kept alive the ladylike fiction that she was in need of moral, not material, assistance.
"Of course, if there were any other way, Arthur," said Gabriella, remembering the earlier battles with her mother, and eager to compromise when she could do so with dignity; "but how can I go on being dependent on Cousin Jimmy and Uncle Meriweather. Neither of them is rich, and Cousin Jimmy has a large family."
Of course she was reasonable. The most disagreeable thing about Gabriella, Jane had once said, was her inveterate habit of being reasonable. But then Jane, who was of an exquisite sensibility, felt that Gabriella's reasonableness belonged to a distinctly lower order of intelligence. When all was said, Gabriella saw clearly because she had a practical mind, and a practical mind is usually engrossed with material matters.
"I understand exactly how you feel, dear, but if only you could go on just as you are for a few years longer," said Arthur, sticking to his original idea with a tenacity which made it possible for him to argue for hours and yet remain exactly where he had started. Though they talked all night, though she convinced him according to all the laws and principles of logic, she knew that he would still think precisely what he had thought in the beginning, for his conviction was rooted, deeper than reason, in the unconquerable prejudices which had passed from the brain into the very blood of his race. He would probably say at the end: "I admit all that you tell me, Gabriella, but my sentiment is against it;" and this sentiment, overruling sense, would insist, with sublime obstinacy, that Gabriella must not work in a shop. It would ignore, after the exalted habit of sentiment, such merely sordid facts as poverty and starvation (who ever heard of a woman of good family starving in Virginia?), and, at last, if Gabriella were really in love with Arthur, it would triumph over her finer judgment and reduce her to submission. But while she watched him, in the very minute when, failing for words, he caught her in his arms, she said to herself, suddenly chilled and determined: "I must get it over to-night, and I've got to be honest." The scent of the hyacinths floated to her again, but it seemed to bring a cold wind, as if a draught had blown in through the closed slats of the shutters.
"Everything has changed, Arthur," she said, "and I don't think I ought to go on being engaged." Then because her words sounded insincere, she added sternly: "Even if we could be married—and of course we can't be—I—I don't feel that I should want to marry. I am not sure that I love you enough to marry you."
It was all so unromantic, so unemotional, so utterly different from the scene she had pictured when she imagined what "breaking her engagement" would be like. Then she had always thought of herself as dissolving in tears on the horsehair sofa, which had become sacred to the tragedy of poor Jane; but, to her surprise, she did not feel now the faintest inclination to cry. It ought to have been theatrical, but it wasn't—not even when she took off her engagement ring, as she had read in novels that girls did at the decisive instant, and laid it down on the table. When she remembered this afterwards, it appeared rather foolish, but Arthur seemed not to notice it, and when Marthy came in to light the fire in the morning, she found the ring lying on a copy of Gray's Elegy and brought it back to Gabriella.
"I'll never give you up," said Arthur stubbornly, and knowing his character, she felt that he had spoken the truth. He could not give her up even had he wished it, for, like a belief, she had passed from his brain into the fibre of his being. She had become a habit to him, and not love, but the inability to change, to cease thinking what he had always thought, to break a fixed manner of life, would keep him faithful to her in his heart.
"I'm sorry—oh, I'm sorry," she murmured, longing to have it over and to return to Jane and the children. It occurred to her almost resentfully that love was not always an unmixed delight.
"Is there any one else, Gabriella?" he asked with a sudden choking sound in his voice. "I have sometimes thought—in the last four or five months—that there might be—that you had changed—that—" He stopped abruptly, and she answered him with a beautiful frankness which would have horrified the imperishable, if desiccated, coquetry of her mother.
"There is some one else and there isn't," she replied simply. "I mean I think of some one else very often—of some one who isn't in my life at all—from whom I never hear—"
"Is it George Fowler?"
She bowed her head, and, though she did not blush, her eyes grew radiant.
"And you have known him less than a year?"
Again she bowed her head without speaking. What was there, after all, that she could say in justification of her behaviour?
A groan escaped him, smothered into a gentle murmur of protest. "And I thought women were more constant than men!" he exclaimed with something of the baffled and helpless feeling which had overtaken Uncle Meriweather while he regarded Gabriella.
The generalization was not without interest for Gabriella.
"I thought so, too," she observed dispassionately. "I thought so, too, and that is why it was such a dreadful surprise to me when it happened. You yourself aren't more shocked and surprised than I was in the beginning," she added.
"But you've got used to the thought, I suppose?"
"Well, one has to, you see. What else is there to do? I always understood from mother"—she went on with the same eager interest, as if she were stumbling upon new and important intellectual discoveries—"I always understood that women never fell in love with men first—I mean until they had had positive proof that their love would be returned. But in this case that didn't seem to matter at all. Nothing mattered, and the more I fought against it and tried to be true to my engagement, the more I found myself being false. It's all very strange," she concluded, "but that is just how it happened."
"And he knows nothing about it?"
"Oh, no. I told him I was engaged to you, and then he went away."
For an instant he was silent, and watching his face, so carefully guarded and controlled by habit that it had the curious blank look of a statue's, Gabriella could form no idea of the suppressed inarticulate suffering in his heart.
"And if he came back would you marry him?" he asked.
Before replying she sat for a minute gazing down on her folded hands and weighing each separate word of her answer.
"I should try not to, Arthur," she said at last, "but—but I am not sure that I should be able to help it."
When at last he had said "good-bye" rather grimly, and gone out of the door without looking back, she was conscious of an immense relief, of a feeling that she could breathe freely again after an age of oppression. There was a curious sense of unreality about the hour she had just passed through, as if it belonged not to actual life, but to a play she had been rehearsing. She had felt nothing. The breaking of her engagement had failed utterly to move her.
After bolting the front door, she turned out the gas in the parlour, pushed back the lump of coal in the grate in the hope of saving it for the morrow, and went cautiously down the hall to her room. As she passed her mother's door, a glimmer of light along the threshold made her pause for a minute, and while she hesitated, an anxious voice floated out to her:
"Gabriella, is that you?"
"Yes, Mother, do you want anything?"
"Jane has one of her heart attacks. I put her to bed in my room because it is more comfortable than the dining-room. Don't you think you had better go back and wake Marthy?"
"Is she ill? Let me come in," answered Gabriella, pushing open the door and brushing by Mrs. Carr, who stood, shrunken and shivering, in a gray flannel wrapper and felt slippers.
Though Jane's attacks were familiar occurrences, they never failed to produce an immediate panic in the household. As a child of nine, Gabriella remembered being aroused in the middle of a bitter night, hastily wrapped in her mother's shawl and a blanket, and hurried up the staircase to Jane, who had broken her engagement to Charley the evening before. Jane, pale, angelic, palpitating, appeared to draw her last breath as they entered, while the old doctor supported her in his arms, and Marthy, in a frenzy of service, rattled the dead embers in the grate. It had all been horribly vivid, and when Jane had murmured Charley's name in a dying voice, they had stood, trembling and blue with cold, around her bed, waiting for the end. But the end had not come, and three months later Jane was married to Charley Gracey.
After that scene, Gabriella had associated Jane's attacks with a freezing January night and a fireless grate (though the last but one had occurred in mid-August), and she was relieved now to find a fire burning in her mother's room and a kettle singing merrily on the fender. The elder children, with their flannel petticoats pinned over their thin little shoulders, were sitting straight and stiff on a box couch which had been turned into a bed, and their strange little faces looked wan and peaked in the firelight.
Jane was really ill, Gabriella decided, after a glance at her sister. Nothing except acute suffering could have given her that ghastly pallor or made her eyes sink so far back in her head. She lay quite motionless on the far side of the big tester bed, staring straight up at the ceiling with an expression which terrified Gabriella, though she had seen it on her sister's face at least a dozen times before to-night.
"Has Arthur gone?" asked Mrs. Carr in a voice that sounded as if she were running.
"Yes. Did you want him, mother?"
"I thought we might send him for the doctor and for Charley. Don't you think Charley ought to be told of her condition? She has asked for the children."
"Have you given her the digitalis?"
"I can't make her swallow it. There are the drops on the table by the bed. My hands tremble so I had to measure them three times."
Taking the glass from the table, Gabriella bent over her sister and implored her to swallow the drops, but, without appearing to hear her voice, Jane still stared blankly upward, with the rigid, convulsed look of a woman who has been stricken with dumbness. Her flaxen hair, damp with camphor, which Mrs. Carr had wildly splashed on her forehead, clung flat and close to her head, while the only pulse in her body seemed to beat in irregular, spasmodic throbs in her throat.
"Don't go, mother. I'll wake Marthy," cried Gabriella, for Mrs. Carr, inspired by the spirit of panic, was darting out of the door in her felt slippers. Then, while the children, crying distractedly, rushed to Jane's bedside, the girl ran out of the house and along the brick walk to the kitchen and the room above it where Marthy lived the little life she had apart from her work. In answer to Gabriella's call she emerged entirely dressed from the darkness; and at the news of Jane's illness she was seized with the spurious energy which visits her race in the moment of tragedy. She offered at once to run for the doctor, and suggested, without a hint from Gabriella, that she had better leave word, on her way home, for Marse Charley.
"I knowed 'twuz comin' jez ez soon ez I lay eyes on 'er," she muttered, for she was an old family servant. "Dar ain' no use 'n tryin' ter come betweenst dem de good Lawd is done jine tergedder fur worse. A baid husban'! Hi! Dar ain't un 'oman erlive, I reckon, dat 'ouldn't ruther own a baid husban' den no husban' at all. You all is got to teck 'em de way dey's made, en dar's moughty few un um dat is made right."
Still muttering, she stumbled down the walk and out of the gate, while Gabriella returned to her mother's room and hurried the weeping children into their shoes and stockings. Mrs. Carr, still in her flannel wrapper, with her little flat gray curls screwed up on pins for the night, and her thin ankles showing pathetically above her felt slippers, ran nervously to and fro with mustard plasters and bottles of hot water which she continually refilled from the kettle on the fender. Occasionally she paused long enough to hold the camphor to Jane's nose or to lift the quilt from the bottom of the bed and then put it carefully back in the very spot where it had lain before she had touched it. And because she was born to take two steps to every one that was necessary, because she could not accomplish the simplest act without a prodigious waste of energy and emotion, because she died twenty deaths over the slightest anxiety, and, most of all, because she was the last person on earth who ought to have been burdened with poverty and hard work and an unhappily married daughter—because of all these things Mrs. Carr wore herself to a shadow in the quarter of an hour they spent waiting for the doctor and Charley Gracey.
Though she had brought Jane through at least a dozen "attacks," she still lost her presence of mind as completely as on that January night when, utterly distraught, she had hurried Gabriella to the first death-bed scene of her sister; she still grew as forgetful of herself and her own feelings, and, in obedience to some profound law of her nature, she still as confidently "expected the worst." For Mrs. Carr's philosophy, like Jane's, was of that active but dreary sort that thrives best upon misery. Just as Jane, who had lost every illusion about Charley, went on loving him in spite of it, so Mrs. Carr, having lost her illusions about life, retained a kind of wistful fondness for the thing that had wounded her.
The door-bell rang sharply, and Gabriella went to let in the doctor, a brisk, authoritative young man of the new school, who had learned everything there was to be known about medicine except the way to behave in a sickroom, and who abhorred a bedside manner as heartily as if it were calomel or castor oil. His name was Darrow, and he was the assistant of old Dr. Walker, Mrs. Carr's family physician, who never went out at night since he had passed his seventieth birthday. Gabriella, who liked him because he was not anecdotal and gave small doses of medicine, hastily led the way to her mother's room before she ran back to meet Charley Gracey at the door of the dark parlour.
"You can't see her now. The doctor is with her," she whispered. "I'll make a light in here and you can wait."
"Let me," said Charley, quite as pleasantly as if he were not a bad husband, while he found a match and struck it on the sole of his foot. Then, as the gas flared up, he exclaimed, with a low whistle, "By Jove, you're a sight, Gabriella!"
"Well, it's your fault," replied Gabriella sharply, letting him see, as she told herself, exactly what she thought of him. "You've made Jane so ill we thought she was dying."
"I'm sorry for that," he said, suddenly smitten with gravity. "Is she really so bad?"
His charming freckled face, with its irrepressible humour, grew almost grotesquely solemn, while the habitual merriment faded slowly from his light-gray eyes, leaving them empty of expression. He was a short, rather thick-set man, not particularly good-looking, not particularly clever, but possessing a singular, if unaccountable, charm. Everybody liked Charley, though nobody respected him. He was a scamp, but a lovable scamp, while Jane, with the best intentions in the world, had managed to make every virtue unattractive. When people condemned him, they said that he was "utterly unprincipled"; when they softened in their judgment, they admitted that he had "the best heart in the world."
"I suppose it isn't any worse than other attacks," answered Gabriella, "but you know what they are like."
"Yes, I know," replied Charley. "Oh, Lord, don't I?"
"She asked mother to send for you," continued Gabriella. "She wants you to know that she has forgiven you."
"Has she?" said Charley, without elation. Turning away, he stared for a minute or two at the engraving of the children feeding fish in a pond; then, with his eyes still glued to the picture, he burst out passionately: "Gabriella, I'd hoped she wouldn't this time!"
"If I were she," retorted Gabriella crushingly, "I would never speak to you again until the day of my death."
"If she were you," rejoined Charley, with barefaced audacity, "I'd have been a good husband. Why, I was simply starving to be a good husband when I married Jane. It's my ideal in life. I'm all for the domestic thing by nature. I was tired—positively dog-tired of the other kind. I wanted a wife. I adored—I've always adored babies—"
"If that is true," returned Gabriella sternly, for she was not disposed to soften to Charley, and in her heart she deeply resented what she called Jane's "weakness," "if that is true why do you behave so outrageously to Jane and the children? Why can't you be decent?"
"I could," answered Charley, with engaging lucidity, "if she were less so. It's her infernal virtue I can't stand, Gabriella. No man could stand it without taking to drink."
"But you knew she was that way. She was always trying to make people better. It is her mission. Why, I remember one winter night before you were married mother got me out of bed in the cold to come and hear Jane forgive you beautifully about something."
"That was the first time, and it was very touching. I suppose the first time always is touching. Of course, I didn't know she meant to keep it up. No man could possibly have kept it up," said Charley, with bitterness, "but she married me to reform me, and it is the only thing she has really enjoyed about her marriage. She's a born reformer. I haven't eaten a thing I cared about, nor drank a drop I wanted, nor used a bad word I was fond of, since I married, without being nagged at about it. She loved me for my vices, and yet she hasn't let me keep a single one—not even the smallest—not even cigarettes. Nag! Good God! She's nagged me to perfection ever since the day of our wedding when she made me sign the pledge before she let me kiss her!"
"Well, that doesn't make it any easier for us or for the children," replied Gabriella, without sympathy; "and if you don't think of Jane, you might at least think of your children."
"Of course it's hard on the kids," admitted Charley ruefully. "But as for Jane—now, will you tell me what would become of Jane after she had reformed me? Why, she'd be bored to death. She'd be a martyr without any martyrdom. When she made me give up tobacco, she lost interest in everything for a week. She was like your Uncle Meriweather after the surrender. There wasn't anything left to fight about, and fighting was all he could do—"
"I believe—I really believe you have been drinking," interrupted Gabriella with cold disgust. "Suppose Jane were to die?"
"She won't die. She'll be all right as soon as she has forgiven me."
He was not only bad, she told herself, he was perfectly shameless. He appeared to have been born without the faintest sense of responsibility. And yet, while Gabriella listened to him, she realized that, in some ways, he might be a less trying companion than poor Jane. His candour was as simple, as unaffected, as the serene artlessness of a child. It was impossible not to believe in his sincerity. Though she "despised him," as she told herself, still she was obliged to admit that there was something to be said on his side. The harsh judgment of youth—of youth that never tries to understand, that never makes allowances—softened under the influence of Charley's reprehensible charm. Even badness, Gabriella conceded grudgingly, might be easier to live with in some circumstances than a too exalted self-righteousness.
"If you'll bring Jane to that way of thinking," retorted Charley, with vulgar frankness, "I'll give you five hundred dollars down. If you'll thoroughly corrupt her mind and persuade her to neglect her duty to me, I'll make it a thousand."
He was jesting! It was monstrous, with Jane lying ill in her mother's room; it was indecent; it was grossly immoral; but he was actually jesting! Not even scandal, not even the doctor's presence in the house, could suppress his incorrigible spirit of levity. "If I were Jane, I'd never speak to him," thought Gabriella, and the question flashed through her mind, "how in the world could she ever have loved him?" It was impossible for her to conceive of any situation when Charley could have made a girl fall in love with him. Though she had heard stories of his early conquests, she had never believed them. There were times when she almost liked him, but it was the kind of liking one gave to an inferior, not to an equal. She admitted his charm, but it was the charm of an irresponsible creature—the capricious attraction of a child or an animal. Her common sense, she told herself, would keep her from making a mistake such as Jane had made with her life; and, besides, she was utterly devoid of the missionary instinct which had lured Jane to destruction. "If I ever marry, it will be different from that," she thought passionately. "It will be utterly different!"
The door of Mrs. Carr's room opened suddenly, Marthy's name was called in a high voice, and the doctor was heard saying reassuringly: "She is over the worst. There is no need to worry."
"Don't send me in there alone, Gabriella," begged Charley piteously. "I'd rather face bullets than Jane in an attack." His bravado had deserted him, and he appeared positively craven. The stiffness seemed to have gone not only out of his character, but out of his clothes also. Even his collar had become limp with emotion.
"Well, I don't care," answered Gabriella, "you've got to stand it. There's no use squirming when you've only yourself to blame." With a malicious pleasure, she watched the consternation in Charley's face, while the doctor's footsteps came rapidly down the hall and stopped at the threshold of the parlour.
"You may go in, Mr. Gracey—your wife is asking for you; but be very careful not to say anything that might disturb her. Just keep her as quiet as you can for a few hours."
Then the door in the distance opened again, and Mrs. Carr, in the hollow tones of destiny, called: "Gabriella, Jane is waiting to speak to her husband."
"Come, Charley," ordered Gabriella, grimly, and a moment later she pushed him across her mother's threshold and turned back into the hall. "I hope she'll make him squirm," she said to herself, with relish. Nothing, she felt, except the certainty of Charley's squirming, could make up to her for the half-hour she had just spent with him.
She was still standing there when Jane's medicine came from the druggist at the corner, and for a while she waited outside the door, fearing to lighten Charley's punishment by her entrance. The medicine had to be measured in drops, and she went into the dining-room, where the children were huddled together in an improvised bed, and diluted the mixture with water before she could persuade herself to go into her mother's room. Even then she hesitated until she remembered that the doctor had said Jane must take the first dose immediately. Not by her, if she could help it, should the divine wrath of the furies be appeased.
But with the first touch of her hand on the knob, Charley's flippant voice greeted her with, "Won't you come in, Gabriella?" and swallowing her angry retort, she entered stiffly, with the glass held out straight before her. Charley, on his knees beside the bed, with his arm under his wife's pillow, stared up at his sister-in-law with the guilty look of a whipped terrier, while Jane, pallid, suffering, saintly, rested one thin blue-veined hand on his shoulder. Her face was the colour of the sheet, her eyes were unnaturally large and surrounded by violet circles; and her hair, drenched with camphor, spread over the pillow like the hair of a drowned woman. Never had she appeared so broken, so resigned, so ineffably spiritual; and Gabriella's solitary comfort was the thought that Jane's attack had conquered Charley as completely as it had conquered the rest of them.
"Gabriella, I've forgiven him," said Jane, with fainting sweetness, "and he wants you and mother to do so. He has promised to be good in the future."
"Well, I shan't forgive him for keeping me up all night," answered Gabriella resentfully, and she felt that even if it killed Jane, she could not keep back her reply. "I can't answer for mother, but I haven't forgiven him and I never shall." She felt her anger hardened to a rock inside of her, and it hurt her so that she put the glass hurriedly down on the table and ran out of the room. As she closed the door behind her she heard Jane saying gently: "Yes, I forgive you, Charley, but I can't help feeling that you don't love me as you ought to."
An old cape of her mother's was lying on a chair in the hall, and, throwing it over her shoulders, Gabriella went out on the porch and stood breathing quickly in the cold air, with her hand pressed on her bosom, which rose and fell as if she had been running. She was not only furious, she was grossly affronted, though she had known from the beginning, she said to herself, exactly how it would end. She had never trusted Jane—no, not a minute; she had never really trusted her mother. Something had told her that Jane had never meant in her heart to leave Charley, that she was only making a scene, after the immemorial habit of women, before going back to him. And yet, though she had suspected this all along, she was as indignant as if she had been deceived by a conspiracy of the three of them. Her sense of decency was outraged. She despised Jane because she had no strength of character; but even while this thought was still in her mind, she admitted that Jane had had sufficient strength of character to upset the household, bring Charley to repentance, and emerge, faint but victorious, from the wreck of their peace. Yes, she despised Jane, though it was impossible to deny that Jane's methods were successful, since she had got what she wanted.
The street was very quiet, for it was in the small gray hours between midnight and dawn, and a solitary policeman, strolling by on his beat, appeared as wan and spectral as the bare boughs of the poplar trees beneath which he moved. The wind was still blowing over the brow of the hill, and now and then it tossed a wisp of straw or a handful of dust on the porch where Gabriella was standing. As it swept onward it drove a flock of shadows, like black birds, up the open street into the clear space under the old-fashioned gas lamp at the corner. All the lights were out in the neighbouring houses, but from a boarding-house down the block there floated suddenly the gay snatch of a waltz played on a banjo with a broken string. Then the music stopped, the policeman passed, and Gabriella and the wind were alone in the street. Overhead the stars shone dimly through a web of mist; and it seemed to her that the sadness of the sky and the sadness of the earth had mingled there in the long straight street where the wind blew with a melancholy sound between rows of silent and darkened houses.
A noise in the hall made her turn, and, looking up, she saw the gaunt figure of Miss Amelia Peterborough standing in the bend of the staircase. In her hand the old maid held a twisted candlestick of greenish brass, and the yellow flame of the candle cast a trembling, fantastic shadow on the wall at her back. Her head, shorn of the false "front" she wore in the day, appeared to have become all forehead and beaked nose; her eyes had dwindled to mere points of blackness; her mouth, sunken and drawn over toothless gums, was like the mouth of a witch. The wind, blowing in gusts through the open door, inflated her gray shawl and the skirt of her dressing-gown, while, with each flutter of her garments, the grotesque shadow on the white wall danced and gibbered behind her. And, as she gazed down on the girl, it was as if the end of life, with its pathos, its cruelties, its bitterness and its disillusionment, had stopped for a fleeting instant to look back at life in the pride and ignorance of its beginning.
"There was so much moving about, I thought something might have happened," said Miss Amelia apologetically, while Gabriella, closing the door, shut the draught from the staircase.
"Jane had one of her heart attacks," answered the girl. "I'm so sorry we waked you."
But she was thinking while she spoke, "So that is old age—so that is what it means to be old?" There is a vague compassion in the thought, but it held no terror, for the decay of Miss Amelia seemed as utterly remote and detached from her own life as one of the past ages in history. The youth in her brain created a radiant illusion of immortality. By no stretch of imagination could she picture herself like the infirm and loveless creature before her. Yet she knew, without realizing it, that Miss Amelia had once been young, that she had once even been beautiful. There was a legend, fading now into tradition, that her lover had been killed in a duel, fought for her while she was still a girl, and that she had worn only white or black since that day—she who was now well over eighty. She had known love; a man had died for her; it was said that she had been a famous coquette in the 'thirties; and now she stood there, grotesque and sexless, with her eyes empty of dreams and of memories, and her face as gray and sinister as the face of her shadow.
"I hope she is better, poor child," she said, for, like the rest of Richmond, she believed Jane to be all saint and Charley all sinner. "If I can be of any help, be sure to let me know."
"Yes, I'll let you know, thank you. I hope we didn't disturb Miss Jemima."
The younger Miss Peterborough—called "the happy one" by Gabriella and Mrs. Carr because she was always cheerful, though, as far as any one could tell, she had nothing and had never had anything to be cheerful about—was named Jemima. A chronic invalid, from some obscure trouble which had not left her for twenty years, she was seldom free from pain, and yet Gabriella had never seen her (except at funerals, for which she entertained a perfectly healthy fondness as diversions free to the poor) without a smile on her face.
"Sister Jemima doesn't wake easily. She is a sound sleeper and she's getting a little hard of hearing"; and lifting the candlestick to light her way, Miss Amelia turned back up the stairs, while the flame flitted like a golden moth into the dimness.
"Poor old thing," thought Gabriella, imagining in her ignorance that she could understand the tragedy of Miss Amelia's life; "poor old thing, she must have had a terrible time."
As she approached her mother's door, Charley came out, glanced at her sheepishly, and hurried to where his hat hung on the walnut hatrack in the front hall. Then, as if overcoming his first impulse to avoid her, he beckoned to her furtively, and said in a sepulchral whisper: "Gabriella, be very careful what you say to her."
The audacity of it! This from Charley, the abandoned, the depraved, the unutterably abhorrent in her sight. Without replying, she turned indignantly away and opened her mother's door.
Lying in the middle of the bed now, and slightly propped with pillows, Jane was sipping a second dose of medicine from a glass Mrs. Carr held to her lips.
"I know you don't understand my forgiving him, Gabriella," she said very gently, "but some day, after you are married, you will realize that I do it from a sacred duty—from a sacred duty," she repeated firmly, while the shining light of martyrdom illumined her features.
"Well, it's none of my business," answered Gabriella crossly, "but the sooner you do it, I suppose the sooner you will have to do it again." If only for once Jane would be direct, if only she would be natural, if only she would speak the truth and not fiction.
"Oh, no, dear, you don't understand him any better than you do me," said Jane as sweetly as ever in spite of Gabriella's deplorable loss of temper. "He is really dreadfully penitent, and he sees that he hasn't always treated me as he ought to have done. But you'll know what I mean when you marry, Gabriella. She'll understand me then, won't she, mother?"
"I'm sometimes tempted to hope that Gabriella will never marry," replied Mrs. Carr with the uncompromising bitterness of abject despair; "the Carrs all seem to marry so badly."
In her normal mood she would never have uttered this heresy, for she belonged to a generation that regarded even a bad marriage as better for a woman than no marriage at all; but the night had worn her out, and one of her spells of neuralgia, which followed fatigue, was already beginning in her face. The purple crocheted "fascinator" she had caught up at the doctor's entrance was still on her head, and her long pale face, beneath the airy scallops, appeared frozen in an expression of incurable melancholy. For the rest she had been too frightened, too forgetful of herself and her own comfort even to put on her stockings, though Gabriella had begged her to do so. "Don't think about me. Attend to poor Jane," she had repeated over and over.
"Mother, go into my room and get into bed," commanded Gabriella, whose patience, never abundant, was ebbing low. "If you don't get some sleep your neuralgia won't be any better."
"It isn't any better. I don't expect it to be any better."
"Well, you must go to bed or it will get worse. I'll heat you a cup of milk and wrap you up in warm blankets."
"Don't worry about me, dear. Think of poor Jane."
"We've been thinking of Jane all night, and you need it now more than she does. I can tell by your eyes how you are suffering."
In the first streak of dawn, which was beginning to glimmer faintly on the window-panes, Mrs. Carr looked as if she had withered overnight.
"It's only my left temple," she said dully, "otherwise I am quite well. No, dear, I must rub Jane's forehead until she falls asleep. The doctor said it was important that we should keep her soothed."
But it was a law of Gabriella's nature that she never knew when she was beaten. Failure aroused the sleeping forces within her, and when these forces were once liberated, the spasmodic efforts of Mrs. Carr and the indirect methods of Jane were alike powerless to oppose them. At such times a faint flush rose to her pale cheeks, her eyes shone with a burning darkness, while her mouth lost its fresh young red and grew hard in outline.
"You must go to bed, mother," she repeated in a voice which Mrs. Carr would have obeyed had it issued from the wall or a piece of furniture.
Fifteen minutes later Gabriella stood authoritatively beside the bed, while her mother, with a mustard plaster at the back of her neck, obediently sipped hot milk from a teacup. Mrs. Carr had surrendered to the conquering spirit of her daughter, but her surrender, which was unwilling and weakly defiant, gave out presently a last feeble flicker of resistance.
"Don't you think, Gabriella, we might arrange to live with Jane?" she asked. "It would be a saving of expense for us both, and we might be so helpful about the children."
"And about Charley, too, I suppose," suggested Gabriella maliciously.
Mrs. Carr, having been born without a sense of humour, never understood the broadest joke unless it was illustrated; but even to her it became evident, after a moment's anxious thought, that Gabriella was teasing her.
"You seem to forget that he is her husband," she replied, with a pathetic clutch at her dignity, which, owing perhaps to the purple "fascinator" and the mustard plaster, she failed completely to recapture. Then, as she finished the milk and handed back the empty cup to her daughter, she added wearily, for life, as she often said to herself of late, was becoming almost too much for her, and she was feeling worn out and old:
"My one comfort, Gabriella, is the thought that Arthur Peyton loves you. There couldn't be anybody more unlike Charley."
"There couldn't be," agreed Gabriella mildly, for she felt that another blow would prostrate her mother.