LIFE AT HIGH TIDE
William Dean Howells and Henry Mills Alden
THE IMMEDIATE JEWEL ........ MARGARET DELAND
"AND ANGELS CAME ........... ANNE O'HAGAN
KEEPERS OF A CHARGE ........ GRACE ELLERY CHANNING
A WORKING BASIS ............ ABBY MEGUIRE ROACH
THE GLASS DOOR ............. MARY TRACY EARLE
ELIZABETH AND DAVIE ........ MURIEL CAMPBELL DYAR
BARNEY DOON, BRAGGART ...... PHILIP VERRILL MIGHELS
THE REPARATION ............. EMERY POTTLE
THE YEARLY TRIBUTE ......... ROSINA HUBLEY EMMET
A MATTER OF RIVALRY ........ OCTAVE THANET
There is a tide in the affairs of men Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Thus the poet—and poetry, of the old order at least, always waiting upon great events, has found in the high-tide flotations of masterful heroes to fortune themes most flatteringly responsive to its own high tension.
The writer of fiction has no such afflatus, no such high pitch of life, as to outward circumstance, in his representation of it, as the poet has; and therefore his may seem to the academic critic the lesser art—but it is nearer to the realities of common human existence. He deals with plain men and women, and the un-majestic moments of their lives.
"Life at High Tide"—the title selected for this little volume of short stories, and having a real significance for each of them, which the reader may find out for himself—does not reflect the poet's meaning, and, least of all, its easy optimism. In every one of these stories is presented a critical moment in one individual life— sometimes, as in "The Glass Door" and in "Elizabeth and Davie," in two lives; but it leads not to or away from fortune—it simply discloses character; also, in situations like those so vividly depicted in "Keepers of a Charge" and "A Yearly Tribute," the tense strain of modern circumstance. In all these real instances there are luminous points of idealism—of an idealism implicit but translucent.
The authors here represented have won exceptional distinction as short-story writers, and the examples given of their work not only are typical of the best periodical fiction of a very recent period—all of them having been published within five years—but illustrate the distinctive features, as unprecedented in quality as they are diversified in character, which mark the extreme advance in this field of literature.
H. M. A.
THE IMMEDIATE JEWEL
BY MARGARET DELAND
"Good name, in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls." —Othello.
When James Graham, carpenter, enlisted, it was with the assurance that if he lost his life his grateful country would provide for his widow. He did lose it, and Mrs. Graham received, in exchange for a husband and his small earnings, the sum of $12 a month. But when you own your own very little house, with a dooryard for chickens (and such stray dogs and cats as quarter themselves upon you), and enough grass for a cow, and a friendly neighbor to remember your potato-barrel, why, you can get along—somehow. In Lizzie Graham's case nobody knew just how, because she was not one of the confidential kind. But certainly there were days in winter when the house was chilly, and months when fresh meat was unknown, and years when a new dress was not thought of. This state of things is not remarkable, taken in connection with an income of $144 a year, and a New England village where people all do their own work, so that a woman has no chance to hire out.
All the same, Mrs. Graham was not an object of charity. Had she been that, she would have been promptly sent to the Poor Farm. No sentimental consideration of a grateful country would have moved Jonesville to philanthropy; it sent its paupers to the Poor Farm with prompt common sense.
When Jonesville's old school-teacher, Mr. Nathaniel May, came wandering back from the great world, quite penniless, almost blind, and with a faint mist across his pleasant mind, Jonesville saw nothing for him but the Poor Farm.... Nathaniel had been away from home for many years; rumors came back, occasionally, that he was going to make his fortune by some patent, and Jonesville said that if he did it would be a good thing for the town, for Nathaniel wasn't one to forget his friends. "He'll give us a library," said Jonesville, grinning; "Nat was a great un for books." However, Jonesville was still without its library, when, one August day, the stage dropped a gentle, forlorn figure at the door of Dyer's Hotel.
"I'm Nat May," he said; "well, it's good to get home!"
He brought with him, as the sum of his possessions, a dilapidated leather hand-bag full of strange wheels and little reflectors, and small, scratched lenses; the poor clothes upon his back; and twenty-four cents in his pocket. He walked hesitatingly, with one hand outstretched to feel his way, for he was nearly blind; but he recognized old friends by their voices, and was full of simple joy at meeting them.
"I have a very wonderful invention," he said, in his eager voice, his blind eyes wide and luminous; "and very valuable. But I have not been financially successful, so far. I shall be, of course. But in the city no one seemed willing to wait for payment for my board, so the authorities advised me to come home; and, in fact, assisted me to do so. But when I finish my invention, I shall have ample means."
Jonesville, lounging on the porch of Dyer's Hotel, grinned, and said, "That's all right, Nat; you'll be a rich man one of these days!" And then it tapped its forehead significantly, and whispered, "Too bad!" and added (with ill-concealed pleasure at finding new misfortune to talk about) that the Selectmen had told Mr. Dean, the superintendent, that he could call at Dyer's Hotel—to which Nathaniel, peacefully and pennilessly, had drifted—and take him out to the Farm.
"Sam Dyer says he'll keep him till next week," Mrs. Butterfield told Lizzie Graham; "but, course, he can't just let him set down at the hotel for the rest of his natural life. And Nat May would do it, you know."
"I believe he would," Lizzie Graham admitted; "he was always kind of simple that way, willin' to take and willin' to give. Don't you mind how he used to be always sharin' anything he had? James used to say Nat never knowed his own things belonged to him."
"Folks like that don't never get rich," Mrs. Butterfield said; "but there! you like 'em."
The two women were walking down a stony hillside, each with a lard-pail full of blueberries. It was a hot August afternoon; a northwest wind, harsh and dry, tore fiercely across the scrub-pines and twinkling birches of the sun-baked pastures. Lizzie Graham held on to her sun-bonnet, and stopped in a scrap of shade under a meagre oak to get breath.
"My! I don't like wind," she said, laughing.
"Let's set down a while," Mrs. Butterfield suggested.
"I'd just as leaves," Lizzie said, and took off her blue sunbonnet and fanned herself. She was a pretty woman still, though she was nearly fifty; her hair was russet red, and blew about her forehead in little curls; her eyes, brown like a brook in shady places, and kind. It was a mild face, but not weak. Below them the valley shimmered in the heat; the grass was hot and brittle underfoot; popples bent and twisted in a scorching wind, and a soft, dark glitter of movement ran through the pines on the opposite hillside.
"The Farm ain't got a mite of shade round it," Lizzie said; "just sets there at the crossroads and bakes."
"You was always great for trees," Mrs. Butterfield said; "your house is too dark for my taste. If I was you, I'd cut down that biggest ellum."
"Cut it down! Well, I suppose you'll laugh, but them trees are real kind o' friends. There! I knowed you'd laugh; but I wouldn't cut down a tree any more 'an I'd—I don't know what!"
"They do darken."
"Some. But only in summer; and then you want 'em to. And the Poor Farm ain't got a scrap of shade!—I wonder if he feels it, bein' sent there?"
"I ain't seen, him, but Josh, told me he was terrible broke up over it. Told me he just set and wrung his hands when Hiram Wells told him he'd got to go. Josh said it was real pitiful. But what can you do? He's 'bout blind; and he ain't just right, either."
"How ain't he just right?"
"Well, you know, Nathaniel was always one of the dreamin' kind; a real good man, but he wa'n't like folks."
"And if you remember, he was all the time inventin' things. Well, now he's got set that he can invent a machine so as you can see the dead. I mean spirits. Well, of course he's crazy. Josh says he's crazy as a bluefish. But what's troublin' him now is that he can't finish his machine. He says that if he goes to the Farm, what with him bein' blindish and not able to do for himself, that his glasses and wheels—and dear knows what all that he's got for ghost-seein'—will get all smashed up. An' I guess he's 'bout right. They're terrible crowded, Mis' Dean says. Nat allows that if he could stay at Dyer's, or some place, a couple of months, where he could work, quiet, he'd make so much money that he'd pay his board ten times over. Crazy. But then, I can't help bein' sorry for him. Some folks don't mind the troubles of crazy folks, but I don't know why they ain't as hard to bear as sensible folks' troubles."
"Harder maybe," Lizzie said.
"Josh said he just set and wrung his hands together, and he says to Hiram Wells, he says, 'Gimme a month—and I'll finish it. For the sake,' he says, 'of the blessed dead.' Gave you goose-flesh, Josh said."
"You can see that he believes in his machine."
"Oh, he's just as sure as he's alive!"
"But why can't he finish it at the Farm? I guess Mis' Dean would give him a closet to keep it in."
"Closet? Mercy! He's got it all spread out on a table in his room at the hotel. Them loafers go up and look at it, and bust right out laughin'. Josh says it's all little wheels and lookin'-glasses, and they got to be balanced just so. Mis' Dean ain't got a spot he could have for ten minutes at a time."
They were silent for a few minutes, and then Lizzie Graham said: "Does he feel bad at bein' a pauper? The Mays was always respectable. Old Mis' May was real proud."
Mrs. Butterfield ruminated: "Well, he don't like it, course. But he said (you know he's crazy)—'I am nothin',' he says, 'and my pride is less than nothin'. But for the sake of the poor Dead, grant me time,' he says. Ain't it pitiful? Almost makes you feel like lettin' him wait. But what's the use?"
Lizzie Graham nodded. "But there's people would pay money for one of them machines—if it worked."
"That's what he said; he said he'd make a pile of money. But he didn't care about that, except then he could pay board to Dyer, if Dyer'd let him stay."
"An' won't he?"
"No; and I don't see as he has any call to, any more 'an you or me."
Lizzie Graham plucked at the dry grass at her side. "That's so. 'Tain't one person's chore more 'an another's. But—there! If this wa'n't Jonesville, I believe I'd let him stay with me till he finishes up his machine."
"Why, Lizzie Graham!" cried Mrs. Butterfield, "what you talkin' about? You couldn't do it—you. You ain't got to spare, in the first place. And anyway, him an unmarried man, and you a widow woman! Besides, he'll never finish it."
Lizzie's face reddened angrily. "Guess I could have a visitor as well as anybody."
"Oh, I didn't mean you wouldn't be a good provider," Mrs. Butterfield said, turning red herself. "I meant folks would talk."
"Folks could find something better to talk about," Lizzie said; "Jonesville is just nothin' but a nest o' real mean, lyin' gossip!"
"Well, that's so," Mrs. Butterfield agreed, placidly.
Lizzie Graham put on her sunbonnet. "Better be gettin' along," she said.
Mrs. Butterfield rose ponderously. "And they'd say you was a spiritualist, too; they'd say you took him to get his ghost-machine made."
"That's just what I would do," the other answered, sharply. "I ain't a mite of a spiritualist, and I don't believe in ghosts; but I believe in bein' kind."
"I believe in keepin' a good name," Mrs. Butterfield said, dryly.
They went on down the windy pasture slope in silence; the mullein candles blossomed shoulder-high, and from underfoot came the warm, aromatic scent of sweet-fern. Once they stopped for some more blueberries, with a desultory word about the heat; then they picked their way around juniper-bushes, and over great knees of granite, hot and slippery, and through low, sweet thickets of bay. At the foot of the hill the shadows were stretching across the road, and the wind was flagging.
"My, ain't the shade good?" Lizzie said, when they stopped under her great elm; "I couldn't bear to live where there wa'n't trees."
"There's always shade on one side or another of the Poor Farm, anyway," Mrs. Butterfield said, "'cept at noon. And then he could set indoors. It won't be anything so bad, Lizzie. Now don't you get to worryin' 'bout him;—I know you, Lizzie Graham!" she ended, her eyes twinkling.
Lizzie took off her sunbonnet again and fanned herself; she looked at her old neighbor anxiously.
"Say, now, Mis' Butterfield, honest: do you think folks would talk?"
"If you took Nat in and kep' him? Course they would! You know they would; you know this here town. And no wonder they'd talk. You're a nice-appearin' woman, Lizzie, yet. No; I ain't one to flatter; you be. And ain't he a man? and a likely man, too, for all he's crazy. Course they'd talk! Now, Lizzie, don't you get to figgerin' on this. It's just like you! How many cats have you got on your hands now? I bet you're feedin' that lame dog yet."
Mrs. Graham laughed, but would not say.
"Nat will get along at the Farm real good, after he gets used to it," Mrs. Butterfield went on, coaxingly; "Dean ain't hard. And Mis' Dean's many a time told me what a good table they set."
"'Tain't the victuals that would trouble Nat May."
"Well, Lizzie, now you promise me you won't think anything more about him visitin' you?" Mrs. Butterfield looked at her anxiously.
"I guess Jonesville knows me, after I've lived here all my life!" Lizzie said, evasively.
"Knows you?" Mrs. Butterfield said; "what's that got to do with it? You know Jonesville; that's more to the point."
"It's a mean place!" Lizzie said, angrily.
"I'm not sayin' it ain't," Mrs. Butterfield agreed. "Well, Lizzie, you're good, but you ain't real sensible," she ended, affectionately.
Lizzie laughed, and swung her gate shut. She stood leaning on it a minute, looking after Mrs. Butterfield laboriously climbing the hill, until the road between its walls of rusty hazel-bushes and its fringe of joepye-weed and goldenrod turned to the left and the stout, kindly figure disappeared. The great elm moved softly overhead, and Lizzie glanced up through its branches, all hung with feathery twigs, at the deep August sky.
"Jonesville's never talked about me!" she said to herself, proudly. "I mayn't be wealthy, but I got a good name. Course it wouldn't do to take Nat; but my! ain't it a poor planet where you can't do a kind act?"
Nathaniel May sat in his darkness, brooding over his machine. Since it had been definitely arranged that he was to go to the Poor Farm, he did not care how soon he went; there was no need, he told Dyer, to keep him for the few days which had been promised.
"I had thought," he said, patiently, "that some one would take me in and help me finish my machine—for the certain profit that I could promise them. But nobody seems to believe in me," he ended.
"Oh, folks believe in you, all right, Mr. May," Dyer told him; "but they don't believe in your machine. See?"
Nathaniel's face darkened. "Blind—blind!" he said.
"How did it come on you?" Dyer asked, sympathetically.
"I was not speaking of myself," Nathaniel told him, hopelessly.
There was really no doubt that the poor, gentle mind had staggered under the weight of hope; but it was hardly more than a deepening of old vagueness, an intensity of absorbed thought upon unpractical things. The line between sanity and insanity is sometimes a very faint one; no one can quite dare to say just when it has been crossed. But this mild creature had crossed it somewhere in the beginning of his certainty that he was going to give the world the means of seeing the unseen. That this great gift should be flung into oblivion, all for the want, as he believed, of a little time, broke his poor heart. When Lizzie Graham came to see him, she found him sitting in his twilight, his elbows on his knees, his head in his long, thin hands. On one hollow cheek there was a glistening wet streak. He put up a forlornly trembling hand and wiped it away when he heard her voice.
"Yes; yes, I do recognize it, ma'am," he said; "I can tell voices better than I used to be able to tell faces. You are Jim Graham's wife? Yes; yes, Lizzie Graham. Have you heard about me, Lizzie? I am not going to finish my machine. I am to be sent to the Farm."
"Yes, I heard," she said.
They were in the big, bare office of the hotel. The August sunshine lay dim upon the dingy window-panes; the walls, stained by years of smoke and grime, were hidden by yellowing advertisements of reapers and horse liniments; in the centre was a dirty iron stove. A poor, gaunt room, but a haven to Nathaniel May, awaiting the end of hope.
"I heard," Lizzie Graham said; she leaned forward and stroked his hand. "But maybe you can finish it at the Farm, Nathaniel?"
"No," he said, sadly; "no; I know what it's like at the Farm. There is no room there for anything but bodies. No time for anything but Death."
"How long would it take you to put it together?" she asked; and Dyer, who was lounging across his counter, shook his head at her, warningly.
"There ain't nothin' to it, Mrs. Graham," he said, under his breath; "he's—" He tapped his forehead significantly.
"Oh, man!" Nathaniel cried out, passionately, "you don't know what you say! Are the souls of the departed 'nothing'? I have it in my hand—right here in my hand, Lizzie Graham—to give the world the gift of sight. And they won't give me a crust of bread and a roof over my head till I can offer it to them!"
"Couldn't somebody put it together for you?" she asked, the tears in her eyes. "I would try, Nathaniel;—you could explain it to me; I could come and see you every day, and you could tell me."
His face brightened into a smile. "No, kind woman. Only I can do it. I can't see very clearly, but there is a glimmer of light, enough to get it together. But it would take at least two months; at least two months. The doctor said the light would last, perhaps, three months. Then I shall be blind. But if I could give eyes to the blind world before I go into the dark, what matter? What matter, I say?" he cried, brokenly.
Lizzie was silent. Dyer shook his head, and tapped his forehead again; then he lounged out from behind his counter, and settled himself in one of the armchairs outside the office door.
Nathaniel dropped his head upon his breast, and sunk back into his dreams. The office was very still, except for two bluebottle flies butting against the ceiling and buzzing up and down the window-panes. A hot wind wandered in and flapped a mowing-machine poster on the wall; then dropped, and the room was still again, except that leaf shadows moved across the square of sunshine on the bare boards by the open door. When Lizzie got up to go, he did not hear her kind good-by until she repeated it, touching his shoulder with her friendly hand. Then he said, hastily, with a faint frown: "Good-by. Good-by." And sank again into his daze of disappointment.
Lizzie wiped her eyes furtively before she went out upon the hotel porch; there Dyer, balancing comfortably on two legs of his chair, detained her with drawling gossip until Hiram Wells came up, and, lounging against a zinc-sheathed bar between two hitching-posts, added his opinion upon Nathaniel May's affairs.
"Well, Lizzie, seen any ghosts?" he began.
"I seen somebody that'll be a ghost pretty soon if you send him off to the Farm," Lizzie said, sharply.
"Well," Hiram said, "I don't see what's to be done—'less some nice, likely woman comes along and marries him."
Dyer snickered. Lizzie turned very red, and started home down the elm-shaded street. When she reached her little gray house under its big tree, she went first into the cow-barn—a crumbling lean-to with a sagging roof—to see if a sick dog which had found shelter there was comfortable. It seemed to Lizzie that his bleared eyes should be washed; and she did this before she went through her kitchen into a shed-room where she slept. There she sat down in hurried and frowning preoccupation, resting her elbows on her knees and staring blankly at the braided mat on the floor. As she sat there her face reddened; and once she laughed, nervously. "An' me 'most fifty!" she said to herself....
The next morning she went to see Nathaniel again.
He was up-stairs in a little hot room under the sloping eaves. He was bending over, straining his poor eyes close to some small wheels and bands and reflectors arranged on a shaky table. He welcomed her eagerly, and with all the excitement of conviction plunged at once into an explanation of his principle. Then suddenly conviction broke into despair: "I am not to be allowed to finish it!" He gave a quick sob, like a child. He had forgotten Lizzie's presence.
"Nathaniel," she said, and paused; then began again: "Nathaniel—"
"Who is here? Oh yes: Lizzie Graham. Kind woman; kind woman."
"Nathaniel, you know I ain't got means; I'm real poor,—"
"Are you?" he said, with instant concern. "I am sorry. If I could help you—if I had anything of my own—or if they will let me finish my machine; then I shall have all the money I want, and I will help you; I will give you all you need. I will give to all who ask!" he said, joyfully; then again, abruptly: "But no; but no; I am not allowed to finish it."
"Nathaniel, what I was going to say was—I am real poor. I got James's pension, and our house out on the upper road;—do you mind it—a mite of a house, with a big elm right by the gate? And woods on the other side of the road? Real shady and pleasant. And I got eight hens and a cow;—well, she'll come in in September, and I'll have real good milk all winter. Maybe this time I could raise the calf, if it's a heifer. Generally I sell it; but if you—well, it might pay to raise it, if—we—" Lizzie stammered with embarrassment.
Nathaniel had forgotten her again; his head had fallen forward on his breast, and he sighed heavily.
"You see, I am poor," Lizzie said; "you wouldn't have comforts."
Nathaniel was silent.
Lizzie laughed, nervously. "Well? Seems queer; but—will you?"
Nathaniel, waking from his troubled dream, said, patiently: "What did you say? I ask your pardon; I was not listening."
"Why," Lizzie said, her face very red, "I was just saying—if—if you didn't mind getting married, Nathaniel, you could come and live with me?"
"Married?" he said, vacantly. "To whom?"
"Me," she said.
Nathaniel turned toward her in astonishment. "Married!" he repeated.
"If you lived with me, you could finish the machine; there's an attic over my house; I guess it's big enough. Only, we'd have to be married, I'm afraid. Jonesville is a mean place, Nathaniel. We'd have to be married. But you could finish the machine."
He stood up, trembling, the tears suddenly running down his face. "Finish it?" he said, in a whisper. "Oh, you are not deceiving me? You would not deceive me?"
"I don't see why you couldn't finish it," she told him, kindly. "But, Nathaniel, mind, I am poor. You wouldn't get as good victuals even as you would at the Farm. And you'd have to marry me, or folks would talk about me. But you could finish your machine."
Nathaniel lifted his dim eyes to heaven.
"Well," said Mrs. Butterfield, "I suppose you know your own business. But my goodness sakes alive!"
"I just thought I'd tell you," Lizzie said.
"But, Lizzie Graham! you ain't got the means."
"I can feed him."
"There's his clothes; why, my land—"
"I told Hiram Wells that if the town would see to his clothes, I'd do the rest. They'd have to clothe him if he went to the Farm."
"Well," said Mrs. Butterfield, "I never in all my born days—Lizzie, now don't. My goodness,—I—I ain't got no words! Why, his victuals—"
"He ain't hearty. Sam Dyer told me he wa'n't hearty."
"Well, then, Sam Dyer had better feed him, 'stid o' puttin' it onto you!"
Lizzie was silent. Then she said, with a short sigh, "Course if I could 'a' just taken him in an' kep' him—but you said folks would talk—"
"Well, I guess so. Course they'd talk—you know this place. You've always been well thought of in Jonesville, but that would 'a' been the end of you, far as bein' respectable goes."
"Well, you can't say this ain't respectable."
"No; I can't say it ain't respectable; but I can say it's the foolishest thing I ever heard of. An' wrong too; 'cause anything foolish is wrong."
"Anything cruel is wrong," Lizzie said, stubbornly.
"Well, you was crazy to think of havin' him visit you. But it don't follow, 'cause he can't be visitin' you, that you got to go marry him."
"I got to do something," Lizzie said, desperately; "I'd never have a minute's peace if he had to go to the Farm."
"He'd be more comfortable there."
"His stomach might be," Lizzie admitted.
"Well, then!" Mrs. Butterfield declared, triumphantly. "Now you just let him go, Lizzie. You just be sensible."
"I'm goin' to marry him. I'm goin' to take him round to Rev. Niles day after to-morrow; he said he'd marry us."
Mrs. Butterfield gasped. "Well, if Rev. Niles does that!—There! You know he was a 'Piscopal; they'll do anything. What did he say when you told him?"
"Oh, nothin' much; I asked him about him visitin' me, an' he said it wa'n't just customary. Said it was better to get married. Said we must avoid the appearance of evil."
"Well, I ain't sayin' he ain't right; but—" Then, in despair, she turned to ridicule: "Folks'll say you're marryin' him 'cause you expect he'll make money on his ghost-machine!"
"Well, you tell 'em I don't believe in ghosts. That'll settle that."
"If folks knew you didn't believe in any hereafter, they'd say you was a wicked woman!" cried Mrs. Butterfield, angrily;—"an' that fool machine—"
"I never said I didn't believe in a hereafter. Course his machine ain't sense. That's what makes it so pitiful."
"He'll never finish it."
"Course he won't. That's why I'm takin' him."
"Well, my sakes!" said Mrs. Butterfield, helplessly. And then, angrily again, "Course if you set out to go your own way, I suppose you don't expect no help from them as thinks you are all wrong?"
"I do not," Lizzie said, steadily; and then a spark glinted in her leaf-brown eye: "Folks that have means, and yet would let that poor unfortunate be taken to the Farm—I wouldn't expect no help from 'em."
"Well, Mis' Graham, you can't say I ain't warned you."
"No, Mis' Butterfield, I can't," Lizzie responded; and the two old friends parted stiffly.
The word that Lizzie Graham—"poor as Job's turkey!"—was going to marry Nathaniel May spread like grass fire through Jonesville. Mrs. Butterfield preserved a cold silence, for her distress was great. To hear people snicker and say that Lizzie Graham must be "dyin' anxious to get married"; that she must be "lottin' considerable on a good ghost-market"; that she "took a new way o' gettin' a hired man without payin' no wages,"—these things stung her sore heart into actual anger at the friend she loved. But she did not show it.
"Mis' Graham probably knows her own business," she said, stiffly, to any one who spoke to her of the matter. Even to her own husband she was non-committal. Josh sat out by the kitchen door, tilting back against the gray-shingled side of the house, his hands in his pockets, his feet tucked under him on the rung of his chair. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and he had unbuttoned his baggy old waistcoat, for it was a hot night. Mrs. Butterfield was on the kitchen door-step. They could look across a patch of grass at the great barn, connected with the little house by a shed. Its doors were still open, and Josh could see the hay, put in that afternoon. The rick in the yard stood like a skeleton against the fading yellow of the sky; some fowls were roosting comfortably on the tongue. It was very peaceful; but Mrs. Butterfield's face was puckered with anxiety. "Yet I don't know as I can do anything about it," she said, her foot tapping the stone step nervously; "she ain't got no call to be so foolish."
"Well," Josh said, removing his pipe from his lips and spitting thoughtfully, "seems Mis' Graham's bound to get some kind of a husband!" Then he chuckled, and thrust his pipe back under his long, shaven upper lip.
"Now look a-here, Josh Butterfield; you don't want to be talkin' that way," his wife said, bitterly. "Bad enough to have folks that don't know no better pokin' fun at her; but I ain't a-goin' to have you do it."
"Well, I was only just sayin'—"
"Well, don't you say it; that's all."
Josh poked a gnarled thumb down into the bowl of his pipe, reflectively. "You ain't got a match about you, have you, Emmy?" he said, coaxingly.
Mrs. Butterfield rose and went into the kitchen to get the match; when she handed it to him, she said, sighing, "I'm just 'most sick over it."
"You do seem consid'able shuck up," Josh said, kindly.
"Well,—I know Lizzie's just doin' it out of pure goodness; but she'll 'most starve."
"I don't see myself how she's calculatin' to run things," Josh ruminated; "course Jim's pension wa'n't much, but it was somethin'. And without it—"
"Without it?—land! Is the government goin' to stop pensions? There! I never did like the President!"
"No; the government ain't goin' to stop it. Lizzie Graham's goin' to stop it."
"What on airth you talkin' about?"
"Why, Emmy woman, don't ye know the United States government ain't no such fool as to go on payin' a woman for havin' a dead husband when she catches holt of a livin' one? Don't you know that?"
"Josh Butterfield!—you don't mean—"
"Why, that's true. Didn't you know that? Well, well! Why, a smart widow woman could get consid'able of a income by sendin' husbands to wars, if it wa'n't for that. Well, well; to think you didn't know that! Wonder if Lizzie does?"
"She don't!" Mrs. Butterfield said, excitedly; "course she don't. She's calculatin' on havin' that pension same as ever. Why, she can't marry Nat. Goodness! I guess I'll just step down and tell her. Lucky you told me to-night; to-morrow it would 'a' been too late!"
Lizzie Graham was sitting in the dark on her door-step; a cat had curled up comfortably in her lap; her elm was faintly murmurous with a constant soft rustling and whispering of the lace of leaves around its great boughs. Now and then a tree-toad spoke, or from the pasture pond behind the house came the metallic twang of a bullfrog. But nothing else broke the deep stillness of the summer night. Lizzie's elbow was on her knee, her chin in her hand; she was listening to the peace, and thinking—not anxiously, but seriously. After all, it was a great undertaking: Nathaniel wasn't "hearty," perhaps,—but when you don't average four eggs a day (for in November and December the hens do act like they are possessed!); when sometimes your cow will be dry; when your neighbor is mad and won't remember the potato-barrel—the outlook for one is not simple; for two it is sobering.
"But I can do it," Lizzie said to herself, and set her lips hard together.
The gate clicked shut, and Mrs. Butterfield came in, running almost. "Look here, Lizzie Graham,—oh my! wait till I get my breath;—Lizzie, you can't do it. Because—" And then, panting, she explained. "So, you see, you just can't," she repeated.
Lizzie said something under her breath, and stared with blank bewilderment at her informant.
"Maybe Josh don't know?"
"Maybe he does know," retorted Mrs. Butterfield. "Goodness! makes me tremble to think if he hadn't told me to-night! Supposin' he hadn't let on about it till this time to-morrow?"
Lizzie put her hands over her face with an exclamation of dismay.
"Oh, well, there!" Mrs. Butterfield said, comfortably; "I don't believe Nat'll mind after he's been at the Farm a bit. Honest, I don't, Lizzie. How comes it you didn't know yourself?"
"I'm sure I don't know; it ain't on my certificate, anyhow. Maybe it's on the voucher; but I ain't read that since I first went to sign it. I just go every three months and draw my money, and think no more about it. Maybe—if they knew at Washington—"
"Sho! they couldn't make a difference for one; and it's just what Josh says—they ain't goin' to pay you for havin' a dead husband if you got a live one. Well, it wouldn't be sense, Lizzie."
Lizzie shook her head. "Wait till I look at my paper—"
Mrs. Butterfield followed her into the house, and waited while she lighted a lamp and lifted a blue china vase off the shelf above the stove. "I keep it in here," Lizzie said, shaking the paper out. Then, unfolding it on the kitchen table, the two women, the lamplight shining upon their excited faces, read the certificate together, aloud, with agitated voices:
"BUREAU OF PENSIONS
"It is hereby certified that in conformity with the laws of the United States—" and on through to the end.
"It don't say a word about not marryin' again," Lizzie declared.
"Well, all the same, it's the law. Josh knows."
Lizzie blew out the lamp, and they went back to the door-step. Mrs. Butterfield's hard feelings were all gone; her heart warmed to Nathaniel; warmed even to the mangy dog that limped out from the barn and curled up on Lizzie's skirt. But when she went away, "comfortable in her mind," as she told her husband, Lizzie Graham still sat in the dark under her elm, trying to get her wits together.
"I know Josh is right," she told herself; "he's a careful talker. I can't do it!" But she winced, and drew in her breath; poor Nathaniel!
She had seen him that afternoon, and had told him, this time with no embarrassment (for he was as simple as a child about it), that she had arranged with Mr. Niles to marry them. "An' you fetch your bag along, Nathaniel, and we'll put the machine together, evenin's," she said.
"Yes, kind woman," he answered, joyously. "Oh, what a weight you have taken from my soul!"
His half-blind eyes were luminous with belief. Lizzie had smiled, and shaken her head slightly, looking at the battered rubbish in the bag—the little, tarnished mirrors, one of them cracked; the two small lenses, scratched and dim; the handful of rusty cogs and wheels. With what passion he had dreamed that he would see that which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive! He began to talk, eagerly, of his invention; but reasonably, it seemed to Lizzie. Indeed, except for the idea itself, there was nothing that betrayed the unbalanced mind. His gratitude, too, was sane enough; he had been planning how he could he useful to her, how he was to do this or that sort of work for her—at least until his eyes gave out, he said, cheerfully. "But by that time, kind woman, my invention will be perfected, and you shall have no need to consider ways and means."
Lizzie, smiling, had left him to his joy, and gone back to sit under her elm in the twilight, and think soberly of the economies which a husband—such a husband—would necessitate.
And then Mrs. Butterfield had come panting up to the gate; and now—
"I don't see as I can tell him!" she thought, desperately. To go and say to Nathaniel, all eager and happy and full of hope as he was, "You must go to the Farm,"—would be like striking in the face some child that is holding out its arms to you. Lizzie twisted her hands together. "I just can't!" But, of course, she would have to. That was all there was to it. If she married him, why, there would be two to go to the Farm instead of one. Oh, why wouldn't they give her her pension if she married again! Her eyes smarted with tears; Nathaniel's pain seemed to her unendurable.
But all the same, the next morning, heavily, she set out to tell him.
At Dyer's, Jonesville had gathered to see the sight; and as she came up to the porch, there were nudgings and whisperings, and Hiram Wells, bolder than the rest, said, "Well, Mis' Graham, this is a fine day for a weddin'—"
Lizzie Graham, without turning her head, said, coldly, "There ain't goin' to be no weddin'." Then she went on upstairs to Nathaniel's room.
The idlers on the porch looked at each other and guffawed. "I knowed Sam was foolin' us," somebody said.
But Sam defended himself. "I tell you I wa'n't foolin'. You ask Rev. Niles; she told me only yesterday he said he'd tie the knot. I ain't foolin'. She's changed her mind, that's all."
"Lookin' for a handsomer man," Hiram suggested;—"chance for yourself, Sam!"
Lizzie, hot-cheeked, heard the laughter, and went on up-stairs. Nathaniel was sitting on the edge of his bed, his hat on, his poor coat buttoned to his chin; he was holding his precious bag, gripped in two nervous hands, on his knee. When he heard her step, he drew a deep breath.
"Oh, kind woman!" he said; "I'd begun to fear you were not coming."
"I am—a little late," Lizzie said. "I—I was detained."
"It does not matter," he said, cheerfully; "I have had much food for thought while awaiting you. I have been thinking that this wonderful invention will be really your gift to humanity, not mine. Had I gone to the Farm, it would never have been. Now—!" His voice broke for joy.
"Oh, well, I don't know 'bout that," Lizzie said, nervously; "I guess you could 'a' done it anywheres."
"No, no; it would have been impossible. And think, Lizzie Graham, what it will mean to the sorrowful world! See," he explained, solemnly; "we poor creatures have not been able to conceive that of which we have had no experience; the unborn child cannot know the meaning of life. If the babe in the womb questioned, What is birth? what is living? could even its own mother tell it? Nay! So we, questioning: 'God, what is death? what is immortality?' Not even God can tell us. The unborn soul, carried in the womb of Time, has waited death to know the things of Eternity, just as the unborn babe waits birth to know the things of life. But now, now, is coming to the world the gift of sight!"
There was a pause; Lizzie Graham swallowed once, and set her lips; then she said, "I am afraid, Nathaniel, that I—I can't marry you—because—"
"Marry me?" he said, with a confused look.
"We were to get married to-day, you know, Nathaniel?"
"Oh yes," he said.
"Yes; but—but I can't, Nathaniel."
"Never mind," he said. "Shall we go now, kind woman?" He rose, smiling, and stretched out one groping hand. Involuntarily she took it; then stood still, and tried to speak. He turned patiently towards her. "Must we wait longer?" he asked, gently.
"Oh, Nathaniel, I—I don't know what to say, but—"
A startled look came into his face. "Is anything the matter?"
"Oh!" Lizzie said. "It just breaks my heart!"
His face turned suddenly gray; he sat down, trembling; the contents of his bag rattled, and something snapped—perhaps another mirror broke. He put one hand up to his head.
"It's that pension," Lizzie said, brokenly; "if I get married, I lose it. An' we wouldn't have a cent to live on. You—you see how it is, Nathaniel?"
He began to whisper to himself, not listening to her. There was a long pause, broken by his strange whispering.
Lizzie Graham looked at him, and turned her eyes away, wincing with pain;—the tears were rolling slowly down his cheeks. She put her hand on his shoulder in a passion of pity; then, suddenly, fiercely, she gathered the poor bowed head against her soft breast. "I don't care! My name ain't worth as much as that! Let 'em talk. Nathaniel, are you willin' not to get married?"
But she had to speak twice before he heard her. Then he said, looking up at her out of his despair: "What? What did you say?"
"Nathaniel," she explained, kneeling beside him and holding his hand against her bosom, "if you were to come and live with me, and we were not married—"
But he was not listening. A door opened down-stairs, and there was a noisy burst of laughter; then it closed, and the hot room was still.
"Emily Butterfield will stand my friend," she said, her lips tightening. Then, gently: "We won't get married; Nathaniel. You will just come and visit me until—until the machine is finished."
"You will let me come?" he said, with a gasp; "you will let me finish my invention?" He got up, trembling, clutching his bag, and holding out one hand to clasp hers.
Lizzie Graham took it, and stood stock-still for one hard moment....
Then she led him down-stairs, out upon the porch, past the loafers gaping and nudging each other.
"Goin' to be married, after all, Mis' Graham?" some one said.
And Lizzie Graham turned and faced them. "No," she said, calmly.
Then they went out into the sunshine together.
"AND ANGELS CAME—"
BY ANNE O'HAGAN
The full effulgence of cloudless midsummer enveloped the place. The lawns, bright and soft, sloped for half a mile to the sweetbrier hedge. Among them wound the drive, now and again crossing the stone bridges of the small, curving lake which gave the estate its affected name—Lakeholm. To the left of the house a coppice of bronze beeches shone with dark lustre; clumps of rhododendrons enlivened the green with splashes of color. Lombardy poplars, with their gibbetlike erectness, bordered the roads and intersected them with mathematical shadows; here and there rose a feathery elm or a maple of wide-branched beauty. To the right, a shallow fall of terraces led to the Italian garden, Mrs. Dinsmore's chief pride, now a glory of matched and patterned color and a dazzle of spray from marble basins. Beyond all the careful, exotic beauty of the place, the wide valley dipped away, alternate meadow and grove, until it met the silvery shiver of willows marking the course of the river. Beyond that again, the hills, solemn in unbroken green, rose to cloud-touched heights.
Before the house Brockton's new automobile waited. He himself leaned against a stone pillar of the piazza, facing his hostess, who sat on the edge of a chair in the tense attitude of protest against delay. She had scarcely recovered from her waking crossness yet, and found herself more irritated than amused at the eccentricities of her guest. She was wondering with unusual asperity why a man with such lack-lustre blue eyes dared to wear a tie of such brilliant contrast. He interrupted her musings.
"Miss Harned seems mighty stand-offish these days."
"Millicent is a little difficult," admitted Millicent's cousin.
"What do you suppose it is? She seemed all smooth enough in New York last winter, and even in the spring after—But now—" He paused again without finishing his sentence. "And I had counted on your influence to make her more approachable."
"Oh, Millicent is having a struggle with her better nature, that is all," laughed Mrs. Dinsmore. "It's hard living with her during the process, but she's adorable once her noble impulses have been vanquished and she's comfortably like the rest of the world again."
"I don't know what you mean," said the downright Mr. Brockton.
"No?" Mrs. Dinsmore was sure that the impertinence of her monosyllable would be lost upon her elderly protege. "I'll make it clear to you, if I can. Millicent, you know, has nothing—"
"With that figure and that face?" interrupted Brockton, with gallant enthusiasm.
"I was speaking in your terms, Mr. Brockton," said the lady, with suave hauteur. "Of course all of us count my cousin's charm and accomplishments, though we do not inventory them as possessions far above rubies. But in the valuation of the 'change she has nothing. Oh, she may manage to extract five or six hundred a year from some investments of my uncle, and she has the old Harned place in New Hampshire. That might bring in as much as seven hundred dollars if the abandoned farm-fever were still on—"
"By ginger!" boasted Brockton, whose expletives lacked ton, "it's more than I had when I started."
"So I remember your saying before. But I fear that my cousin is not a financial genius. What I meant by her struggles with her better nature is that she sometimes tries to thwart us when we want to make things easy for her. Her better nature had a fearful tussle with her common sense about five years ago, when Aunt Jessie asked her to go abroad; and it nearly overcame her frivolity and her vanity last winter when I met her at the dock and insisted upon having her spend the winter with me, and our second cousin, Alicia Broome, offered to be responsible for her wardrobe. But, thanks be," she added, laughing, "the world, the flesh, and the devil won. So cheer up, Mr. Brockton. It may happen again."
"Oh, I'm not hopeless by any manner of means. I want her pretty badly, and I'm used to getting what I want. I told her, out and out, when she turned me down, back there in May, that if she were a young girl I wouldn't urge her any more, after what she said about her feelings. But she wasn't, and I thought she could look at a proposition from a plain business point of view."
"You told her that? You mentioned to her that she was no longer a young girl?" Mrs. Dinsmore's laugh rippled delightedly on the air.
"I did. Oh, I'm used to bargaining," he rejoined, proudly. "I always could make the other fellow see what he'd lose by refusing my offers. And I got her to take the matter under consideration. I heard somewhere that she was interested in some philanthropy. Well, money comes in handy in charity." He grinned broadly at Mrs. Dinsmore.
At that moment her protege was extremely distasteful to the lady. But she was a philosopher where marriage was concerned, and she whole-heartedly hoped that her cousin Millicent would not dally too long with her opportunity and allow the matrimonial prize to escape. She was sincerely fond of Millicent, and desired for her the best things in the world. She sometimes said so with touching earnestness.
"She told me"—Mr. Brockton stumbled slightly—"that there wasn't any one else."
"There isn't. She has her train—she's enormously admired—but there is no one in whom she is sentimentally interested. And Aunt Jessie says it was so all the time they were in Europe."
"Wasn't there ever?" he demanded.
"My dear Mr. Brockton, Millicent is twenty-nine, as you reminded her, and she's a normal woman! Of course there have been some ones—her music-master at fourteen, I dare say, and an actor at sixteen, and a young curate at eighteen—oh, of course I'm jesting. But I suppose she was somewhat like other girls. She was engaged at nineteen—and he must have been quite twenty-three! No, I should dismiss all jealousy of her past if I were you."
Mrs. Dinsmore wondered suddenly if she had been wise, after all, to admit that widely known fact.
"Oh yes, a bread-and-butter engagement. My uncle was notoriously inadequate in all practical affairs; he was a scholar and something of a recluse and the most charming gentleman I ever saw, but a child in worldly matters,—a child! It ended, you see."
"How did it end?"
"Oh, poor Will Hayter died."
"Five or six years."
"Well, I'm not afraid of dead men." Brockton laughed in relief. Mrs. Dinsmore did not point out to him from her more subtle knowledge that constancy to the unchanging dead is sometimes easier than constancy to the variable living. She was only too glad to have the inevitable disclosure made lightly and the truth dismissed without frightening off the desirable suitor. "And certainly Miss Harned don't look as if, as if—"
"Any irremediable grief were gnawing at her damask cheeks?—"
"What's this about damask cheeks?" The question came along with a swirl of skirts from the great hall. "Cousin Anna, don't hate me for keeping you so long. Mr. Brockton, I owe you a thousand apologies."
Some of those who admitted Millicent Harned's charm declared that it lay in her voice. Always there sounded through its music the note of eagerness, with eagerness's underlying hint of pathos. Her tones were like her face, her motions, herself. Impulse, merriment, yearning, and the shadow of melancholy dwelt in her eyes and shaped her lips to sensitive curves. She was tall, and her motions were of a spontaneous grace, swifter and more changeful than most women's.
"You have been a disgracefully long time, Millicent," her cousin answered her apology. "But"—she looked at the beautifully gowned figure, the lovely, imaginative face, thereby, like a good showman, calling Mr. Brockton's attention to them—"we'll forgive you."
"Oh, it wasn't primping that kept me. I stopped for a few minutes at the schoolroom door. Poor Lena! She seemed to be feeling the responsibilities of erudition terribly this morning. She showed me her botany slides with such an air! Do you know what genus has the rostellum, Anna?"
"No, I don't," said Anna, shortly. "And Lena's growing up a perfect young prig. I'll have to change governesses. Heaven knows what I'll draw next time! The last one had charm, but no learning, and mighty little intelligence. This one has no manner at all, and is of encyclopaedic information. A daughter's a terrible responsibility."
"Isn't she?" Millicent's tone was one of affectionate raillery as she gathered her draperies about her in the automobile. The notion of Anna's responsibilities amused her; Anna was so untouched by them—as smooth-skinned, as slim and vivacious, as the forty-year-old mother of two boys entering college, a girl in the schoolroom and another in the nursery, as she had been as a debutante.
"Oh, you may make fun," said Anna, snapping open the frothy thing she called a sunshade, "but you don't know how I lie awake nights, shuddering lest Lena grow up a near-sighted girl with no color and serious views."
Millicent only smiled as the great machine moved off. The sunshine, the rare and ordered beauty of the place, the fragrance of the soft winds, all lapped her in indolence. As they neared the gate that gave upon the open road, a turn brought them in sight of the front of the house. It was very beautiful. She breathed deeply in the content of the sight—the delicate lines, the soft color, the perfection of detail. In the gardens were stained, mellow columns and balustrades which Anna had brought from the dismantled palace in the Italian hills where she had found them. Everywhere wealth made its subtlest, most delicate appeal to her eyes.
"My house," thought Millicent, as they shot out of the grounds, "shall be different, but as beautiful. The Tudor style, I think, and for my out-of-door glory a vast rose-garden,—acres, if I please!" Then she called sternly to her straying imagination. She was picturing what she might have as the wife of the man before her—the man whose first proposal she had unhesitatingly refused, whose appearance at Lakeholm she had regarded as proof of disloyalty on Anna's part—the man who at the best represented to her only the artistic possibilities of riches. She dismissed her reverie with a frown and joined in the talk.
"Do you know," she confessed, "I forget where it is that we are going?"
"We're coming back to the Monroes' for luncheon," Mrs. Dinsmore reminded her. "But Mr. Brockton is going to skim over most of the Berkshires first. I think you said you hadn't been in this part of the country before, Mr. Brockton?"
"No," said Brockton, "I haven't had much chance to get acquainted with the playgrounds of the country. I've been too busy earning a holiday. But I've earned it all right." He turned to emphasize his boast with a nod toward Millicent. She blushed. His very chauffeur must redden at his braggart air, she thought. The Tudor castle grew dim in her vision.
"What do you think of the bubble, Miss Harned?" he went on. "Goes like a bird, don't she?"
"Indeed she does," answered Millicent, characteristically making immediate atonement in voice and look for the mental criticism of the moment before. "It's really going like a bird. I don't suppose we shall ever have a sensation more like flying."
"Not until our celestial pinions are adjusted," said Anna. Brockton laughed, but Millicent went on:
"Seriously, the loveliest belief I ever lost was the one in the wings with which my virtues should be at last rewarded. To breast the ether among the whirling stars,—didn't you ever lie awake and think of the possibility of that, Anna?"
"Never! I'm no poet in a state of suffocation, as I sometimes suspect you of being."
"As for heaven," declared Brockton, "I don't take much stock in all that. We're here—we know that—and we'd better make the most of it. For all we know, it's our last chance to have a good time. Better take all that's coming to you here and now, Miss Harned, and not count much on those wings of yours."
Millicent smiled mechanically. Could any Elizabethan garden of delight compensate for the misery of having each butterfly of fancy crushed between Lemuel Brockton's big hands in this fashion?
They were entering a village. Before them was the triangular green with the soldier's monument upon it. About it were the post-office, the stores, the small neat houses of the place. A white church, tall-steepled, green-shuttered, rose behind the monument, and with it dominated the square. A wagon or two toiled lazily along the road; before the stores a few dusty buggies were tied. The place seemed drowsy to stagnation in the summer heat. Why, Millicent wondered, were towns so crude and unlovely in the midst of a country so beautiful?
There was a sudden explosive sound, and, with a crunch and a jerk which almost threw them from their seats, the machine came to a standstill. Brockton and his chauffeur were out in an instant, the one peering beneath, the other examining more closely. He emerged in a moment, and there was a jargon of explanation, unintelligible to the two women. All that Anna and Millicent understood was that the accident was not serious; that they would be delayed only a few minutes, and that Brockton was very angry with some one for the mishap. The two men worked together. Anna looked at her cousin.
"I'm dead sleepy," she half whispered. "The wind in my face and the sun are too soporific for me. Let us not say a word to each other."
"You read last night," Millicent accused her. "But I don't feel particularly conversational myself."
She leaned back and surveyed the scene again. She could read the words graved on the granite block beneath the bronze soldier:
"To the men of Warren who fought that their country might be whole and their fellows free this tribute of love is erected."
And there followed the honor-roll of Warren's fallen.
Millicent's sensitive lips quivered a little. Her ready imagination pictured them coming to this very square, perhaps,—the men of Warren. Boys from the hill farms, men from the village shops, the blacksmith who had worked in the light of yonder old forge, the carpenter who was father to the one now leisurely hammering a yellow L upon that weather-stained house,—she saw them all. What had led them? What call had sounded in their ears that they should leave their ploughshares in the furrows, their tills, their anvils, and their benches? What better thing had stirred with the primeval instinct for fight, with the unquenchable, restless longing for adventure, to send them forth? She read the words again—"that their country might be whole and their fellows free."
She moved impatiently. For now an old shadowy theory of hers—an inheritance from the theories of the recluse, her father—stirred from a long-drugged quiet: a theory that there was a disintegrating unpatriotism in the untouched, charmed life of riches she and her fellows sought. She felt the disturbing conviction that those common men—she could almost hear their blundering speech, see their uncouth yawns at the sights and sounds of beauty on which she fed her soul—that those men had wells of life within them purer, sweeter, than she. She averted her eyes from the monument.
"Honey!" called a voice, full-throated and loving—"honey, where are you?"
There was a play-tent on the little patch of yard before the brown cottage to the left. The voice had come from the narrow piazza. Millicent shivered as she looked at it, with its gingerbread decorations already succumbing to the strain of the seasons. The answer came from the tent:
"Here I am, muvver. Did you want me?"
She came out—a child of five or six years. The round-eyed solemnity of babyhood had not left her yet. She brought her small doll family with her, and a benevolent collie ambled beside her. Her mother watched, tenderness beautifying her brown eyes: she was a young woman, no older than Millicent, but her face was more lined than Anna's; a strand of dark hair was blown across her cheek; there were fruit stains on her apron. All the marks of a busy household life were about her, all the bounteous restfulness of a woman well beloved, and the anxieties of a loving woman. She gave the automobile a passing glance, but it had no interest for her. Her eyes came back to caress the young thing which toiled up the steps to her, babbling of a morning's events in the tent.
"Yes, sweetheart, that was very nice," she said, in answer to some breathless demand for sympathy. "And mother has brought you the bread and jam she promised you this morning. Will you eat it here, or in the tent?"
"Couldn't I come into the kitchen to eat it, where you are?"
"Why, yes, honey, if you want to."
The door closed upon the vision of intimate love. Millicent saw Lena walking sedately with the governess of no charm and encyclopaedic information.
"Now we're all right," called Brockton, loudly. "Upon my word, Mrs. Dinsmore, I think you were asleep! Miss Harned, you can't be as entertaining as I thought if your cousin falls asleep with you."
"But think how soothing I must be; that's even better than to be entertaining."
"By ginger! I never found that out—that you were soothing, I mean." It was evident that Mr. Brockton intended a compliment. Anna Dinsmore saw the annoyed red whip out upon Millicent's cheeks. She interposed a few ready, irrelevant questions before the tide of Brockton's flattery.
They made their swift way through the hills, sometimes overlooking the winding course of the river, sometimes skirting the great estates of the region, again whizzing noisily through an old village. Anna and Brockton sustained the weight of conversation. Millicent smiled in vague sympathy with their laughter and Joined at random in the talk. Obstinately her mind had stayed behind her—with the men of Warren, with the round-faced child, and the woman to whose life love and not art gave all its beauty.
They approached one of the larger old towns of the country—a place with a bustling main street and elm-shaded thoroughfares branching from it. Here were ample, well-kept lawns and houses of prosperous dignity. It seemed charming to Millicent with its air of unhurried activity or undrowsy repose.
"What is this, Anna?" she asked.
Anna told her.
"Riverfield?" Millicent repeated the name, but in a strange voice. Anna stared a little.
"Yes. Why? Do you know any one here?"
"No." The word trickled slowly, unwillingly, from Millicent.
"Lovely town, and there are some good places outside," said Anna. "The Ostranders have one, and Jimson, the artist. But the native city, or whatever you call it, is adorable. It has that air of rewarded virtue which makes one ashamed of one's life—"
"I wish"—Millicent still spoke remotely, as if out of a sleep—"I wish, Mr. Brockton, that we might find a little library and museum they have here."
"Why, of course!"
"Are you going to compare it with the Vatican, Millicent?" asked Anna, flippantly. Millicent turned a distant, starry gaze upon her cousin.
"No," she said; and then, in a flash of sympathy and fright, Anna remembered that it had been for some little Berkshire town that Will Hayter had built a library and museum just before his death, six years before—the town from which his family had originally come. Her memory worked rapidly, constructing the story. The blood dyed her face at the thought of her obtuseness. Then she set her lips firmly. She had done her best; if a wanton fate chose to interfere now and make Millicent slave to the phantom of her early, radiant love, she, Anna, could do no more!
"Here we are, I guess," called Brockton. The machine shot into a broad street. A promenade between a double row of elms down its centre gave it a spacious dignity. The modest courthouse stood on one side, as green-bowered as if Justice were a smiling goddess; a few churches broke the stretch of houses. And on the other side the library and museum stood.
"Pretty little building, but plain," commented Brockton, making disparaging note of its graceful severity.
"It's exactly suited to the place; it epitomizes its spirit," said Anna, glibly. "It's austere without being forbidding—perfect Colonial adaptation of the Greek."
Millicent made no architectural observation. Instead she said: "If you don't mind, I should like to go in for a while. You could pick me up later, perhaps on your way back to—Where is it we are lunching?"
Consternation looked out of Anna's eyes, bewilderment out of Brockton's. But Millicent turned to them with such gentle command in her gaze that they could offer no protest.
"Come back in half an hour, if you are ready," she said. Upon Anna, whose baffled look followed her up the flagging between the close-clipt lawns, there came the feeling that she was leaving her cousin alone with the beloved dead.
"Now what—" began Brockton, in full-toned protest,—"what the—"
"That was the last thing Will Hayter did,"—Anna interrupted his question. "And the first, so to speak. It was a fairly important commission. Jessup, the Trya Drop liniment man, came from Riverfield—he has a mammoth place outside now. When he began to coin money faster than the mint, he gave lots of things to his birthplace—which has always blushed for him. It's prouder that Whittier once spent Sunday with one of its citizens than that Alonzo Jessup is its son. Well, he gave the library and museum, and the commission went to Will Hayter. The Hayters came from here two or three generations ago. It was just before his death, and Millicent has been abroad almost ever since. So she had never seen it."
Brockton gave a look of speechless chagrin at his hostess, which she answered haughtily:
"My dear Mr. Brockton, after all, I never undertook to be a marriage-broker!" Then she glanced at the chauffeur and forbore.
Meantime Millicent sat in one of the square exhibition-halls. The sweet air, with the scent of hay from the farther country faintly impregnating it, blew through the quiet. No one else shared the room with her. The even light soothed her eyes, the stillness calmed the fluttering apprehension in her breast which had presaged she knew not what fresh anguish of loss. There were pictures on the walls—one or two not despicable originals which Trya Drop Jessup had given, many copies, and a few specimens of Riverfield's native talent. But she saw none of them, any more than one sees the windows and the paintings in a great cathedral in the first fulness of reverence. To her this was a sacred place. That grief had lost its poignancy, that youth and health with cruel insistence had reasserted their sway over her life, did not mean forgetfulness, unfaith.
"Truly, truly,"—she almost breathed the words aloud,—"there has been no other one. That was my love, young as we were. But I must fill up the days—I must fill up the days."
* * * * *
Her eyes were fixed unseeingly upon a great canvas at the other end of the hall. Some Riverfield hand had portrayed a Riverfield imagination's conception of the moment in the life of Christ when, the temptations of Satan withstood, angels came to Him upon the mountain. In the lower distance the kingdoms of the world grew dim beneath the shadow that fell from the vanquished and retreating tempter, and from the opening heavens a dazzling cloud of angels streamed toward the solitary Figure on the height. By and by Millicent's eyes took note of it. She half smiled. There was daring at least!
Then the picture faded, and again the persistent figure of the child which had so filled her imagination came before her. But this time it was toward herself that the rosy face was turned and limpid eyes lifted in unquestioning dependence. She was the mother; she stood on the piazza, and by her side he stood, who had been so dear in himself, so infinitely dearer in the thought of all that should be; toward them the child came; they were enveloped by breathless love for each other and for that being, innocent, trusting, which their love had called into life. So, dimly, she had dreamed in the radiant days of old. Almost she could feel his hand upon her shoulder, hear his voice full of tenderness that expressed itself only in tone, not in word, taking refuge from too great feeling in jest. She closed her eyes against the vision that made her faint with anguish.
Some one entered the room with a brisk little trot; Millicent opened her eyes and turned her head. A small woman, "old maid" from the top of her neat gray head to the toe of her list shoes, came forward. She held a pad and pencil and wore the badge of authority in her manner. At sight of Millicent she paused, blinking behind her glasses. Millicent came slowly out of her trance; recognition dawned upon her. She rose.
"Miss Hayter—Aunt Harriet!" she cried, advancing.
"It is you, then!" chirped the elder lady. "My dear, who could have expected this?"
"Not I, for one!" She held both Miss Hayter's hands. "I had no idea you were here. Surely you haven't given up your beloved Boston school?"
"Oh no. Only in the summer I come here for a month and substitute for the regular curator while she is on her vacation. It"—she struggled against a constitutional distaste for self-revelation—"it seems like a little visit with Will, somehow."
Millicent's throat throbbed with a strangled sob. No one had spoken his name in so long! Her people had had no interest but to banish the memory of him from her heart; this quaint little aunt of his, who had adored him and lived for him, was the first who had spoken of him in—she did not know how many years. She held tight to the old hands, her eyes clung to the withering face. "Say it again," she whispered; "say his name."
"Why, my dear," cried the older woman, "is it still as hard as this? Come, sit down here with me. Of course I knew that you were not one of the changing kind,"—Millicent winced,—"but I'm sorry to think you should suffer now as keenly as you do."
"It is not just that," said Millicent, shamefacedly. "Only, seeing you unexpectedly gave me a pang. And then, being in the place he built—"
The older woman patted her hand soothingly. "I understand," she said. "I've always understood. When—when you didn't write after the very first, I knew it was because you couldn't, not because you forgot. You were really made for each other, you two. I think I never saw two such radiant, happy creatures in the world. Ah, well!" she wiped a sudden dew from her glasses, "waiting's hard, my dear, but it ends,—it ends."
Millicent was hurt by the unbroken faith in her, by the unquestioning belief she could not share. She looked wistfully upon the shining, tearful eyes.
"It is very beautiful to think that," she said, "but, dear Aunt Harriet, you are mistaken about me. I am going to tell you everything. I—I loved your nephew. I shall not love any one else. It happened to come to me in perfectness when I was young—love. But I live, I am well, I am alive to pleasure and pain. How shall I fill up my life but with the things that still matter to me?"
"You think of marrying, you mean?" Aunt Harriet's voice was dry and harsh. "Well—I am sure Will would wish your happiness, and I—it would not be for me to object. Every day it is done, and very often rightly, I suppose; for money, for companionship, for the chance of self-development, women marry without love. I—I could only wish you happiness."
"You—do not understand."
"My dear,"—her voice softened again; something in the pallor and the quivering pain of the girl touched her,—"I do not mean to speak hardly to you. It seems to me like this: when it comes to piecing out a life that has been broken, as yours was—as mine was, my dear, as mine was—there are two ways of doing it. Either you keep your ideal of perfect love, and lead your poor every-day life of odds and ends, like mine, filling your days with the best scraps of pleasure or usefulness you may, or you give up your ideal of perfect love and marry, and have your home and your children and your rounded outward life. There is, maybe, no question of higher or lower. Each one of us does what her nature bids her. I had always thought of you as one who—But it is not for me to judge."
Her voice was gentle, and she did not look at Millicent. Her eyes seemed to pierce the canvas on the opposite wall and the hangings and the stones behind it, and to see a far image of souls in the struggle of choice. The woman beside her sat silent, her thoughts with the idealists—the men who gave up the comfort of their firesides, the gain of their occupations, and followed whither the vision led; the woman whose home was built upon love and who would see only infamy in houses founded otherwise; the poor soul beside her, stronger in courage, more aspiring in thought, than she, with all her delicacies, her refinements of taste. The ideal had led them all—the ideal, as it had once shone for her and for him whose spirit had informed and beautified the spot where she sat and made her choice.
"Aunt Harriet," she said, and her face was like the sudden flashing of stars between torn clouds,—"Aunt Harriet—" She could not utter the decision in words. "May I come to see you—and learn something from you?"
Miss Hayter looked. There was no need to question. No knight ever rose from his accolade with a face more glorified than Millicent's when she silently dedicated herself to the shining company of those who keep unsullied the early vision.
As she passed out of the hall, her eyes fell again upon the painting of the Temptation. She read the black and gilt legend below it—"And Angels Came and Ministered Unto Him." Then she laughed down upon the old-fashioned figure trotting by her side. "And angels came," she said.
Her rapt look frightened Anna when the automobile returned for her. Then the heart of that frivolous woman was stricken for a moment with wistfulness.
"You seem very happy," she faltered, "and—amused, is it? What are you smiling over?"
"I am still thinking of angels. Would you ever have dreamed, Anna, that they sometimes wore list shoes, and sometimes ate bread and jam, and occasionally spoke with granite lips? They do."
Brockton stirred uneasily, foreboding failure. And Anna sighed, mourning two lost visions.
KEEPERS OF A CHARGE
BY GRACE ELLERY CHANNING
The Doctor's brougham stood at the door; the Doctor's liveried servants waited at the foot of the stairs; the Doctor himself in his study was gathering together his paraphernalia for the day, and the Doctor's face was a study.
He was tired; he was cross; he was feeling ill. His nervous hands were unsteady; his movements were by jerks; his face was a knitted tangle of lines. He had rheumatism in both shoulders, and a headache, and a pain in his chest. He had slept but little, and one of his patients had had the happy idea of despatching a messenger for him in the dead hour of the night. The Doctor never went out nights, and she ought to have known this, but her only son was ill and she was persuaded he could not survive a dozen hours together without the Doctor's personal attendance.
It never seemed to occur to any of his patients that his own life was of the smallest consequence in the balance with theirs or that of any member of their families. Occasionally, when his rheumatism was exceptionally severe or his cough racking, this reflection embittered the Doctor. At other times—and this was generally—he accepted with philosophy this integral selfishness of clients as a part of their inevitable constitution. They were a set of people necessarily immersed and absorbed in their own woes, or in that extension of their woes which was still more passionately their own, and even more unmercifully insisted upon in proportion to the decent veneer of altruism it possessed.
Without being strictly a handsome man, the Doctor produced the effect of one. Nothing gives distinction like character, and this he had and to spare. He was not a popular physician, but a famous one; the day was long past when his professional success depended upon anything so personal as appearance or manner. He could afford to be—and he frequently was—as disagreeable as he felt; desperate sufferers could not afford to resent it, and their relatives, in the grim struggle for a precious life, swallowed without a protest the brusqueries and rebuffs of the man who held in, the hollow of his potent hand their jewel of existence.
He had his passionate detractors and his personal devotees, and these last afflicted him far more than the first. Like the priest, the physician cannot escape taking on superhuman proportions in the eyes of those to whom he has rendered back life, their own or a dearer, and the Doctor (having long outlived the time when it flattered him) was often exasperated to the limits of endurance by the blind faith which asked miracles of him as simply as cups of tea. The strain these women—they were mostly women, of course—put upon him was beyond belief, and he got but a mild pleasure out of the reflection that, being in their nature foolish, they could not help it.
It was quite in keeping, therefore, that one of them should have broken up his night's sleep. He knew those attacks of the boy's by heart; there was exactly one chance in one hundred that his presence should be necessary. He had sent a safe remedy, telephoned a severe but soothing message, and mentally prayed now for patience to meet the irrational, angered eyes of maternity, and to administer a reproof equally gentle and deterrent—gentle, for of course the woman's nerves had to be allowed for; she had been nursing this boy for months. The Doctor slipped into his long, fur-trimmed overcoat and reached for his tall hat.
"You may as well send those Symphony tickets to somebody," he said, impatiently, to his wife; "I sha'n't be able to go. Ten to one I shall be late to dinner, and I doubt if I get home to lunch at all."
His wife, who was patiently holding his gloves and cigar-case, looked at him with a sweet maternal anxiety as he tumbled together the papers on the table, but she only said, "Very well." As he turned to take the gloves and cigar-case, she added, quickly, with a second anxious glance:
"Do try to get a few minutes' rest somewhere. Any of our friends will be so glad to give you a cup of tea—or a little music—and it always rests you so."
The Doctor took the things from her hands; he looked abstractedly at his wife, then stooped hurriedly and kissed her.
"Don't worry about me; I shall be all right," he said, as he hastened from the room. It was characteristic of him that he forgot his clinical thermometer, and was never known to have a prescription-pad or pencil.
One servant opened the house door for him, and another the carriage door; the Doctor stepped in quickly, growling out a direction and ignoring the bows of his retainers. He kept his own for the benefit of his clients, he was wont cynically to say. He settled himself in the seat, and before the door was fairly closed had lighted a cigar and unfurled a medical journal.
As the carriage whirled recklessly down the street and around corners, several feminine patients looked longingly after, as if virtue went out from it, and several masculine ones raised their hats, but the Doctor, his eyes glued to the paper, saw none of them.
Perhaps his most restful moments were these spent in his brougham. It was almost his only time for reading; he had found, moreover, that this served to keep his mind fresh from case to case, detaching it from one train of thought and bringing it with new concentration to the next. These brief intervals belonged wholly to himself. His home was never safe from invasion, and little time and less strength remained to him for domestic joys.
Life had not brought to him all that he was conscious might have been within its gift. Professionally, indeed, he had reached great heights, but these only enabled a measure of the territory beyond, and if to his patients he appeared as a species of demigod, to himself he was merely a "lucky" physician—his peculiar luck consisting in that sixth sense which put him so easily into his patients' skins and pierced through obscure maladies to possible sources. How he knew a great many things puzzled them, but puzzled him still more. Simply at certain crises he was aware that mysteries were momentarily revealed to him. Back of that he possessed, of course, the usual outfit of medical knowledge, open to any one, but which had never yet made a great physician since the world with all its aches and pains began. For that other things were needed: a coloring of the artistic temperament, a dash of the gambler's, a touch of femininity, as well as the solid stratum of cool common sense at the bottom of all; these eked out the modicum of scientific knowledge which is all mankind has yet wrested from secretive nature. The Doctor sometimes described himself as a "good guesser." Surgery might be an exact science; few things in medicine were exact, and what was never exact was the material upon which medicine must work. The great bulk of his fraternity went through their studious, conscientious, hard-working, and not infrequently heroic lives under the contented conviction of having to deal with two principal facts—disease and medicine—both accessible through study. To them the imponderable factor of the patient represented such or such an aggregation of material—muscle, nerve, blood, brawn, bone, and tissue—which might be counted upon to respond to such and such a treatment in such and such a manner, with very slight variation. The Doctor envied them their simplicity of faith. To him, on the contrary, the patient was a factor which could not be counted on, at all—a force about which he knew virtually nothing, acting upon a mechanism about which he knew little more, and capable of interactions, reactions, and counteractions innumerable, reversing and nullifying all past experience at a moment's notice—an unforeseen moment always.
He eyed this mystery, accordingly, with respect, lying in wait for hints from it, and frequently reversing in his turn patiently prepared plans of action, with a prompt speed impossible to a less supple mind,—impossible at all, quite often, to any process of conscious thought. To have these intuitions—that was his touch of femininity; to risk largely upon them was the gambler in him; his swift appropriation of the subject's temperament betrayed the artist in his own; while the hard common sense which drew the rein on all these was a legitimate inheritance—both national and personal. So was his manner—not often extremely courteous and quite often extremely rude. In this latter case his adorers called it "abstracted," while his enemies qualified it as "ill-bred." But his voice, ordinarily abrupt and harsh, could pass to exquisite intonations in the sick-room, and there were moments when to anxious watchers therein, the man seemed more than a man.
The affinity between physician and artist is one of the most curious and suggestive. Every one will recall the famous surgeon-etcher, and the distinguished specialist in nerves and novels. The Doctor's artistic passion was for music. Unfortunately, it was not materially portable, like a writing-pad, and there would have been something unseemly in the spectacle of a physician fiddling in his carriage, so he nursed this love in seclusion. His violin was his one indulgence, and when he permitted himself to dream, it was of a life with music in it. Sometimes he wished his wife were musical; more often he congratulated himself that she was not. He was sincerely attached to her, owing—and, what was more significant, realizing that he owed—her much besides the promising twins; most of all, perhaps, that she consented to be his wife on his own terms. But she was distinctly not musical.
The Doctor laid down his paper and took up his mail, and a disagreeable expression came into his face. It was one of the pleasant features of his professional career that his brother physicians occasionally vented their jealousy of him upon one of their joint patients—stabbing him, so to speak, through their lungs or heart, wherein he was most vulnerable. Just as he expected! They had deliberately neglected his prescriptions, after calling him a winter-journey north to deliver them, and as deliberately allowed the victim to die according to their treatment rather than permit him to live according to the Doctor's.
The look upon his face was ugly to behold; he flung open the door with unnecessary violence before the carriage had stopped, and his foot was on the pavement before the footman could descend. Then he braced his rheumatic shoulders for the four steep flights of stairs; he could not justly complain of the number, since he himself had sent the patient there to be high and dry and quiet. On the way up he had one of his nameless seizures of intuition, and in the dark upper hall his hand fell sharply away from the knocker and his face set whitely. There had been just one chance in a hundred that his presence was necessary; before the door opened he knew this had been the hundredth chance.
The ghastly woman's face which met him added nothing to that certitude, yet he winced before it in every nerve.
"You have come too late," she articulated only.
"No!" thundered the Doctor. He put her aside like a piece of furniture and strode into the darkened room beyond.
It was more than an hour later when he emerged. The woman stood exactly where he had left her. It was another, tall and young, who turned from the window and looked at him with eyes that hurt. But he did not wince this time.
"It's all right!" he said, cheerfully. His voice quite sang with sweetness. He came and stood a moment by the window, breathing hard. His face was gray, but his eyes smiled, and there was something boyish in his aspect. He looked from one woman to the other sunnily.
"Bless me—you ought never to let yourselves go like that! He'll pull through all right."
The younger woman continued to look at him silently, but the elder, with a long quivering sigh, fainted.
"Best thing she could possibly do," said the Doctor, his fingers on her pulse. "Get her to bed as soon as you can,—and have these prescriptions sent out. I'll come back later. He'll sleep hours now."
He ran down-stairs, consulting his visiting-list as he ran, and jumped into the brougham, calling an address as he pulled the door to with a slam. This time, however, he did not take out his papers, but sat with an unlighted cigar between his lips, gazing intently at nothing.
In the course of the next few hours he looked over an assortment of ailing babies, soothed as many distracted mothers, ordered to a gay watering-place one young girl whom he was obliged to treat for chronic headache—chronic heartache not being professionally recognizable,— administered the pathetically limited alleviations of his art to a failing cancer-patient (she happened to be a rich woman, going with the fortitude of the poor down the road to the great Darkness), and so, looking in on various pneumonias and fevers, broken souls and bruised bodies, by the way, brought up at last at the hospital to see how yesterday's operation was going on. It was going on in so very mixed a manner that he telephoned he should not return to lunch—prophesying long after the event.
It was turning dusk when he started on his second round of visits homeward, stopping on the outskirts to rebandage, in one of the tenements, a child's broken arm. He had not returned his footman's salutation that morning, but had carried in his subconsciousness all day this visit to the footman's child. In one manner or another that inconvenient locality had been compassed in his circuit for the past three weeks. From it he passed to his daily ordeal, another rich patient, a nervous wreck, whose primary ailment—the lack of anything to do—had passed into the advanced stages of an inability to do anything, with its sad Nemesis of melancholia—the registered protest of the dying soul. It was a case which took more out of the Doctor than all his day's practice put together; he always came from it in a misery of doubts.
The dusk was becoming the dark when he set his foot wearily on the carriage step once more, and with his hand on the carriage door paused suddenly. He was sick of sickness, mortally tired of mortality! For the first time in the whole day he hesitated; an odd, irresolute look came into his face; he pulled out his watch, glanced, and changing his first-given address for another, threw himself back on the cushions with closed eyes. He did not open them again until the carriage, rolling through many streets, came to a halt under some quiet trees, before an apartment-house. There were yellow daffodils between white curtains—very white and high up. As he stepped out, the Doctor glanced involuntarily towards them, and a half-breath of relief escaped him, instantly quenched in a nervous frown and jump as his arm was seized by a firm gloved hand.
"Doctor,—this is really providential! You are the very person I wished to see!"
It was the younger of two heavily upholstered and matronly ladies who spoke, in a voice of many underscorings. The Doctor, who had removed his hat with a purely mechanical motion, knew himself a prey, identified his captor, and eyed her with restrained bitterness.
"Doctor,—it is about my Elsie;—she hasn't a particle of color, and she complains of feeling languid all the time—"
"No wonder!—What do you expect?"—it was the Doctor's harshest tone. "She is loaded up with flesh,—she doesn't exercise,—you stuff her. Send her out with her hoop,—make her drink water,—stop stuffing her. What she, wants is thinning out."
"Elsie!—Why, Doctor, the child eats nothing,—I have to tempt her all the time;—and when she goes out she complains of feeling tired."
"Let her complain,—and let her get tired;—it will do her good. Don't feed her in betweentimes,—and when you do feed her, give her meat—something that will make red blood,—not slops, nor sweets, nor dough. There's nothing in the world the matter with her." He lifted his hat and strode on up the stairs.
Maternity, grieved and outraged, stared after him, speechless, then turned for sympathy in the nearest feminine eye.
"Really, dear,—I think that was almost vulgar,—as well as unkind," murmured the other mother at her side.
"Vulgar! Unkind! Well, it is the last time he will have the opportunity to insult me! The idea! Elsie!—But it's not the first time I have thought of changing physicians!" (This was true,—but she never did; the solid Elsie was her only one.) "And such desperate haste;—he must have a most critical case!" She cast an indignant glance at the building, as if to make it an accessory to the fact, and turning a kindling and interrogative glance upon her companion, encountered one of profound and scintillating significance. For a moment they contemplated their discovery breathlessly in each other's eyes.
"Did you ever!" exclaimed number one at last. "Oh, of course I had heard things,—but I will do myself the justice to say I never believed a word of it before! This, of course, makes it plain enough;—this explains all!"
The two—good women, but wounded withal—coruscated subtle knowledge all down the street.
Meantime the Doctor climbed the stairs. He was perfectly conscious that he had been, in fact, both unkind and rude, even though his mood did not incline him to take measure of the extent of his delinquency. He knew equally that he should presently have to write a note of apology—and that it would not do an atom of good, Tant pis. He rang at the door of the daffodil-room, and it was opened by the tall girl whose eyes had hurt him that morning. They did not hurt him now, but enveloped him with a keen and soft regard that left no question unanswered. In another moment she had put out a firm hand and drawn him over the threshold in its clasp.
"Don't speak,—don't try to say a word! There!" She had taken from him his hat and gloves and pushed forward a low chair in front of the fire, all in one capable movement. "What is it? Tea? Coffee? A glass of wine?"
"Music!" answered the Doctor, raising two haggard eyes, with the exhausted air of an animal taking shelter.
The girl turned away her own and walked towards the piano, stopping on the way, however, to push forward a little table set forth with a steaming tea-urn and cups, matches and a tray, and to lift to its farther edge a bowl of heavy-scented violets. Her every motion was full of ministry, as devoid of fuss.
The room was low, broad, and large, and full of books, flowers, low seats, and leaping firelight. A grand-piano, piled with music, dominated the whole. The girl seated herself before it and began to play, with the beautiful, powerful touch of control. After the first bars, the Doctor's head sank back upon the cushions of the chair and the Doctor's hand stole mechanically to the matches. He smoked and she played—quiet, large music, tranquilly filling the room: Bach fugues, German Lieder, fragments of weird northern harmonies, fragments of Beethoven and Schubert, the Largo of Handel,—and all the time she played she looked at the man who lay back in the chair, half turned from her, the cigar drooping from his fingers. There was no sound in the room but the music and light leaping of little flames in the fireplace,—no motion but theirs and the pulsing fingers on the keys. The girl played on and on, till the fire began to die, and with a sudden sigh the Doctor held up his hand. Then she rose at once, and going forward, stood as simply at the side of the fireplace opposite him. She was not beautiful, but, oh, she was beautiful with health and calm vigor.