The Shoulders of Atlas
By Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Author of "By the Light of the Soul" "The Debtor" "Jerome" "A New England Nun" etc.
New York and London Harper & Brothers Publishers MCMVIII
Copyright, 1908, by the New York Herald Co. All rights reserved. Published June, 1908.
Henry Whitman was walking home from the shop in the April afternoon. The spring was very early that year. The meadows were quite green, and in the damp hollows the green assumed a violet tinge—sometimes from violets themselves, sometimes from the shadows. The trees already showed shadows as of a multitude of bird wings; the peach-trees stood aloof in rosy nimbuses, and the cherry-trees were faintly a-flutter with white through an intense gloss of gold-green.
Henry realized all the glory of it, but it filled him with a renewal of the sad and bitter resentment, which was his usual mood, instead of joy. He was past middle-age. He worked in a shoe-shop. He had worked in a shoe-shop since he was a young man. There was nothing else in store for him until he was turned out because of old age. Then the future looked like a lurid sunset of misery. He earned reasonably good wages for a man of his years, but prices were so high that he was not able to save a cent. There had been unusual expenses during the past ten years, too. His wife Sylvia had not been well, and once he himself had been laid up six weeks with rheumatism. The doctor charged two dollars for every visit, and the bill was not quite settled yet.
Then the little house which had come to him from his father, encumbered with a mortgage as is usual, had all at once seemed to need repairs at every point. The roof had leaked like a sieve, two windows had been blown in, the paint had turned a gray-black, the gutters had been out of order. He had not quite settled the bill for these repairs. He realized it always as an actual physical incubus upon his slender, bowed shoulders. He came of a race who were impatient of debt, and who regarded with proud disdain all gratuitous benefits from their fellow-men. Henry always walked a long route from the shop in order to avoid passing the houses of the doctor and the carpenter whom he owed.
Once he had saved a little money; that was twenty-odd years before; but he had invested it foolishly, and lost every cent. That transaction he regarded with hatred, both of himself and of the people who had advised him to risk and lose his hard-earned dollars. The small sum which he had lost had come to assume colossal proportions in his mind. He used, in his bitterest moments, to reckon up on a scrap of paper what it might have amounted to, if it had been put out at interest, by this time. He always came out a rich man, by his calculations, if it had not been for that unwise investment. He often told his wife Sylvia that they might have been rich people if it had not been for that; that he would not have been tied to a shoe-shop, nor she have been obliged to work so hard.
Sylvia took a boarder—the high-school principal, Horace Allen—and she also made jellies and cakes, and baked bread for those in East Westland who could afford to pay for such instead of doing the work themselves. She was a delicate woman, and Henry knew that she worked beyond her strength, and the knowledge filled him with impotent fury. Since the union had come into play he did not have to work so many hours in the shop, and he got the same pay, but he worked as hard, because he himself cultivated his bit of land. He raised vegetables for the table. He also made the place gay with flowers to please Sylvia and himself. He had a stunted thirst for beauty.
In the winter he found plenty to do in the extra hours. He sawed wood in his shed by the light of a lantern hung on a peg. He also did what odd jobs he could for neighbors. He picked up a little extra money in that way, but he worked very hard. Sometimes he told Sylvia that he didn't know but he worked harder than he had done when the shop time was longer. However, he had been one of the first to go, heart and soul, with the union, and he had paid his dues ungrudgingly, even with a fierce satisfaction, as if in some way the transaction made him even with his millionaire employers. There were two of them, and they owned houses which appeared like palaces in the eyes of Henry and his kind. They owned automobiles, and Henry was aware of a cursing sentiment when one whirred past him, trudging along, and covered him with dust.
Sometimes it seemed to Henry as if an automobile was the last straw for the poor man's back: those enormous cars, representing fortunes, tyrannizing over the whole highway, frightening the poor old country horses, and endangering the lives of all before them. Henry read with delight every account of an automobile accident. "Served them right; served them just right," he would say, with fairly a smack of his lips.
Sylvia, who had caught a little of his rebellion, but was gentler, would regard him with horror. "Why, Henry Whitman, that is a dreadful wicked spirit!" she would say, and he would retort stubbornly that he didn't care; that he had to pay a road tax for these people who would just as soon run him down as not, if it wouldn't tip their old machines over; for these maniacs who had gone speed-mad, and were appropriating even the highways of the common people.
Henry had missed the high-school principal, who was away on his spring vacation. He liked to talk with him, because he always had a feeling that he had the best of the argument. Horace would take the other side for a while, then leave the field, and light another cigar, and let Henry have the last word, which, although it had a bitter taste in his mouth, filled him with the satisfaction of triumph. He loved Horace like a son, although he realized that the young man properly belonged to the class which he hated, and that, too, although he was manifestly poor and obliged to work for his living. Henry was, in his heart of hearts, convinced that Horace Allen, had he been rich, would have owned automobiles and spent hours in the profitless work-play of the golf links. As it was, he played a little after school-hours. How Henry hated golf! "I wish they had to work," he would say, savagely, to Horace.
Horace would laugh, and say that he did work. "I know you do," Henry would say, grudgingly, "and I suppose maybe a little exercise is good for you; but those fellers from Alford who come over here don't have to work, and as for Guy Lawson, the boss's son, he's a fool! He couldn't earn his bread and butter to save his life, except on the road digging like a common laborer. Playing golf! Playing! H'm!" Then was the time for Horace's fresh cigar.
When Henry came in sight of the cottage where he lived he thought with regret that Horace was not there. Being in a more pessimistic mood than usual, he wished ardently for somebody to whom he could pour out his heart. Sylvia was no satisfaction at such a time. If she echoed him for a while, when she was more than usually worn with her own work, she finally became alarmed, and took refuge in Scripture quotations, and Henry was convinced that she offered up prayer for him afterward, and that enraged him.
He struck into the narrow foot-path leading to the side door, the foot-path which his unwilling and weary feet had helped to trace more definitely for nearly forty years. The house was a small cottage of the humblest New England type. It had a little cobbler's-shop, or what had formerly been a cobbler's-shop, for an ell. Besides that, there were three rooms on the ground-floor—the kitchen, the sitting-room, and a little bedroom which Henry and Sylvia occupied. Sylvia had cooking-stoves in both the old shop and the kitchen. The kitchen stove was kept well polished, and seldom used for cooking, except in cold weather. In warm weather the old shop served as kitchen, and Sylvia, in deference to the high-school teacher, used to set the table in the house.
When Henry neared the house he smelled cooking in the shop. He also had a glimpse of a snowy table-cloth in the kitchen. He wondered, with a throb of joy, if possibly Horace might have returned before his vacation was over and Sylvia were setting the table in the other room in his honor. He opened the door which led directly into the shop. Sylvia, a pathetic, slim, elderly figure in rusty black, was bending over the stove, frying flapjacks. "Has he come home?" whispered Henry.
"No, it's Mr. Meeks. I asked him to stay to supper. I told him I would make some flapjacks, and he acted tickled to death. He doesn't get a decent thing to eat once in a dog's age. Hurry and get washed. The flapjacks are about done, and I don't want them to get cold."
Henry's face, which had fallen a little when he learned that Horace had not returned, still looked brighter than before. While Sidney Meeks never let him have the last word, yet he was much better than Sylvia as a safety-valve for pessimism. Meeks was as pessimistic in his way as Henry, although he handled his pessimism, as he did everything else, with diplomacy, and the other man had a secret conviction that when he seemed to be on the opposite side yet he was in reality pulling with the lawyer.
Sidney Meeks was older than Henry, and as unsuccessful as a country lawyer can well be. He lived by himself; he had never married; and the world, although he smiled at it facetiously, was not a pleasant place in his eyes.
Henry, after he had washed himself at the sink in the shop, entered the kitchen, where the table was set, and passed through to the sitting-room, where the lawyer was. Sidney Meeks did not rise. He extended one large, white hand affably. "How are you Henry?" said he, giving the other man's lean, brown fingers a hard shake. "I dropped in here on my way home from the post-office, and your wife tempted me with flapjacks in a lordly dish, and I am about to eat."
"Glad to see you," returned Henry.
"You get home early, or it seems early, now the days are getting so long," said Meeks, as Henry sat down opposite.
"Yes, it's early enough, but I don't get any more pay."
Meeks laughed. "Henry, you are the direct outcome of your day and generation," said he. "Less time, and more pay for less time, is our slogan."
"Well, why not?" returned Henry, surlily, still with a dawn of delighted opposition in his thin, intelligent face. "Why not? Look at the money that's spent all around us on other things that correspond. What's an automobile but less time and more money, eh?"
Meeks laughed. "Give it up until after supper, Henry," he said, as Sylvia's thin, sweet voice was heard from the next room.
"If you men don't stop talking and come right out, these flapjacks will be spoiled!" she cried. The men arose and obeyed her call. "There are compensations for everything," said Meeks, laughing, as he settled down heavily into his chair. He was a large man. "Flapjacks are compensations. Let us eat our compensations and be thankful. That's my way of saying grace. You ought always to say grace, Henry, when you have such a good cook as your wife is to get meals for you. If you had to shift for yourself, the way I do, you'd feel that it was a simple act of decency."
"I don't see much to say grace for," said Henry, with a disagreeable sneer.
"Oh, Henry!" said Sylvia.
"For compensations in the form of flapjacks, with plenty of butter and sugar and nutmeg," said Meeks. "These are fine, Mrs. Whitman."
"A good thick beefsteak at twenty-eight cents a pound, regulated by the beef trust, would be more to my liking after a hard day's work," said Henry.
Sylvia exclaimed again, but she was not in reality disturbed. She was quite well aware that her husband was enjoying himself after his own peculiar fashion, and that, if he spoke the truth, the flapjacks were more to his New England taste for supper than thick beefsteak.
"Well, wait until after supper, and maybe you will change your mind about having something to say grace for," Meeks said, mysteriously.
The husband and wife stared at him. "What do you mean, Mr. Meeks?" asked Sylvia, a little nervously. Something in the lawyer's manner agitated her. She was not accustomed to mysteries. Life had not held many for her, especially of late years.
Henry took another mouthful of flapjacks. "Well, if you can give me any good reason for saying grace you will do more than the parson ever has," he said.
"Oh, Henry!" said Sylvia.
"It's the truth," said Henry. "I've gone to meeting and heard how thankful I ought to be for things I haven't got, and things I have got that other folks haven't, and for forgiveness for breaking commandments, when, so far as I can tell, commandments are about the only things I've been able to keep without taxes—till I'm tired of it."
"Wait till after supper," repeated the lawyer again, with smiling mystery. He had a large, smooth face, with gray hair on the sides of his head and none on top. He had good, placid features, and an easy expression. He ate two platefuls of the flapjacks, then two pieces of cake, and a large slice of custard pie! He was very fond of sweets.
After supper was over Henry and Meeks returned to the sitting-room, and sat down beside the two front windows. It was a small, square room furnished with Sylvia's chief household treasures. There was a hair-cloth sofa, which she and Henry had always regarded as an extravagance and had always viewed with awe. There were two rockers, besides one easy-chair, covered with old-gold plush—also an extravagance. There was a really beautiful old mahogany table with carved base, of which neither Henry nor Sylvia thought much. Sylvia meditated selling enough Calkin's soap to buy a new one, and stow that away in Mr. Allen's room. Mr. Allen professed great admiration for it, to her wonderment. There was also a fine, old, gold-framed mirror, and some china vases on the mantel-shelf. Sylvia was rather ashamed of them. Mrs. Jim Jones had a mirror which she had earned by selling Calkin's soap, which Sylvia considered much handsomer. She would have had ambitions in that direction also, but Henry was firm in his resolve not to have the mirror displaced, nor the vases, although Sylvia descanted upon the superior merits of some vases with gilded pedestals which Mrs. Sam Elliot had in her parlor.
Meeks regarded the superb old table with appreciation as he sat in the sitting-room after supper. "Fine old piece," he said.
Henry looked at it doubtfully. It had been in a woodshed of his grandfather's house, when he was a boy, and he was not as confident about that as he was about the mirror and vases, which had always maintained their parlor estate.
"Sylvia don't think much of it," he said. "She's crazy to have one of carved oak like one Mrs. Jim Jones has."
"Carved oak fiddlestick!" said Sidney Meeks. "It's a queer thing that so much virtue and real fineness of character can exist in a woman without the slightest trace of taste for art."
Henry looked resentful. "Sylvia has taste, as much taste as most women," he said. "She simply doesn't like to see the same old things around all the time, and I don't know as I blame her. The world has grown since that table was made, there's no doubt about that. It stands to reason furniture has improved, too."
"Glad there's something you see in a bright light, Henry."
"I must say that I like this new mission furniture, myself, pretty well," said Henry, somewhat importantly.
"That's as old as the everlasting hills; but the old that's new is the newest thing in all creation," said Meeks. "Sylvia is a foolish woman if she parts with this magnificent old piece for any reproduction made in job lots."
"Oh, she isn't going to part with it. Mr. Allen will like it in his room. He thinks as much of it as you do."
"He's right, too," said Meeks. "There's carving for you; there's a fine grain of wood."
"It's very hard to keep clean," said Sylvia, as she came in rubbing her moist hands. "Now, that new Flemish oak is nothing at all to take care of, Mrs. Jones says."
"This is worth taking care of," said Meeks. "Now, Sylvia, sit down. I have something to tell you and Henry."
Sylvia sat down. Something in the lawyer's manner aroused hers and her husband's keenest attention. They looked at him and waited. Both were slightly pale. Sylvia was a delicate little woman, and Henry was large-framed and tall, but a similar experience had worn similar lines in both faces. They looked singularly alike.
Sidney Meeks had the dramatic instinct. He waited for the silence to gather to its utmost intensity before he spoke. "I had something to tell you when I came in," he said, "but I thought I had better wait till after supper."
He paused. There was another silence. Henry's and Sylvia's eyes seemed to wax luminous.
Sidney Meeks spoke again. He was enjoying himself immensely. "What relation is Abrahama White to you?" he said.
"She is second cousin to Sylvia. Her mother was Sylvia's mother's cousin," said Henry. "What of it?"
"Nothing, except—" Meeks waited again. He wished to make a coup. He had an instinct for climaxes. "Abrahama had a shock this morning," he said, suddenly.
"A shock?" said Henry.
Sylvia echoed him. "A shock!" she gasped.
"Yes, I thought you hadn't heard of it."
"I've been in the house all day," said Sylvia. "I hadn't seen a soul before you came in." She rose. "Who's taking care of her?" she asked. "She ain't all alone?"
"Sit down," said Sidney. "She's well cared for. Miss Babcock is there. She happened to be out of a place, and Dr. Wallace got her right away."
"Is she going to get over it?" asked Sylvia, anxiously. "I must go over there, anyway, this evening. I always thought a good deal of Abrahama."
"You might as well go over there," said the lawyer. "It isn't quite the thing for me to tell you, but I'm going to. If Henry here can eat flapjacks like those you make, Sylvia, and not say grace, his state of mind is dangerous. I am going to tell you. Dr. Wallace says Abrahama can't live more than a day or two, and—she has made a will and left you all her property."
There was another silence. The husband and wife were pale, with mouths agape like fishes. So little prosperity had come into their lives that they were rendered almost idiotic by its approach.
"Us?" said Sylvia, at length, with a gasp.
"Us?" said Henry.
"Yes, you," said Sidney Meeks.
"What about Rose Fletcher, Abrahama's sister Susy's daughter?" asked Sylvia, presently. "She is her own niece."
"You know Abrahama never had anything to do with Susy after she married John Fletcher," replied the lawyer. "She made her will soon afterward, and cut her off."
"I remember what they said at the time," returned Sylvia. "They all thought John Fletcher was going to marry Abrahama instead of Susy. She was enough sight more suitable age for him. He was too old for Susy, and Abrahama, even if she wasn't young, was a beautiful woman, and smarter than Susy ever thought of being."
"Susy had the kind of smartness that catches men," said the lawyer, with a slight laugh.
"I always wondered if John Fletcher hadn't really done a good deal to make Abrahama think he did want her," said Sylvia. "He was just that kind of man. I never did think much of him. He was handsome and glib, but he was all surface. I guess poor Abrahama had some reason to cut off Susy. I guess there was some double-dealing. I thought so at the time, and now this will makes me think so even more."
Again there was a silence, and again that expression of bewilderment, almost amounting to idiocy, reigned in the faces of the husband and wife.
"I never thought old Abraham White should have made the will he did," said Henry, articulating with difficulty. "Susy had just as much right to the property, and there she was cut off with five hundred dollars, to be paid when she came of age."
"I guess she spent that five hundred on her wedding fix," said Sylvia.
"It was a queer will," stammered Henry.
"I think the old man always looked at Abrahama as his son and heir," said the lawyer. "She was named for him, and his father before him, you know. I always thought the poor old girl deserved the lion's share for being saddled with such a name, anyhow."
"It was a dreadful name, and she was such a beautiful girl and woman," said Sylvia. She already spoke of Abrahama in the past tense. "I wonder where the niece is," she added.
"The last I heard of her she was living with some rich people in New York," replied Meeks. "I think they took her in some capacity after her father and mother died."
"I hope she didn't go out to work as hired girl," said Sylvia. "It would have been awful for a granddaughter of Abraham White's to do that. I wonder if Abrahama never wrote to her, nor did anything for her."
"I don't think she ever had the slightest communication with Susy after she married, or her husband, or the daughter," replied Meeks. "In fact, I practically know she did not."
"If the poor girl didn't do well, Abrahama had a good deal to answer for," said Sylvia, thoughtfully. She looked worried. Then again that expression of almost idiotic joy overspread her face. "That old White homestead is beautiful—the best house in town," she said.
"There's fifty acres of land with it, too," said Meeks.
Sylvia and Henry looked at each other. Both hesitated. Then Henry spoke, stammeringly:
"I—never knew—just how much of an income Abrahama had," he said.
"Well," replied the lawyer, "I must say not much—not as much as I wish, for your sakes. You see, old Abraham had a lot of that railroad stock that went to smash ten years ago, and Abrahama lost a good deal. She was a smart woman; she could work and save; but she didn't know any more about business than other women. There's an income of about—well, about six hundred dollars and some odd cents after the taxes and insurance are paid. And she has enough extra in the Alford Bank to pay for her last expenses without touching the principal. And the house is in good repair. She has kept it up well. There won't be any need to spend a cent on repairs for some years."
"Six hundred a year after the taxes and insurance are paid!" said Sylvia. She gaped horribly. Her expression of delight was at once mean and infantile.
"Six hundred a year after the taxes and insurance are paid, and all that land, and that great house!" repeated Henry, with precisely the same expression.
"Not much, but enough to keep things going if you're careful," said Meeks. He spoke deprecatingly, but in reality the sum seemed large to him also. "You know there's an income besides from that fine grass-land," said he. "There's more than enough hay for a cow and horse, if you keep one. You can count on something besides in good hay-years."
Henry looked reflective. Then his face seemed to expand with an enormous idea. "I wonder—" he began.
"You wonder what?" asked Sylvia.
"I wonder—if it wouldn't be cheaper in the end to keep an—automobile and sell all the hay."
Sylvia gasped, and Meeks burst into a roar of laughter.
"I rather guess you don't get me into one of those things, butting into stone walls, and running over children, and scaring horses, with you underneath most of the time, either getting blown up with gasolene or covering your clothes with mud and grease for me to clean off," said Sylvia.
"I thought automobiles were against your principles," said Meeks, still chuckling.
"So they be, the way other folks run 'em," said Henry; "but not the way I'd run 'em."
"We'll have a good, steady horse that won't shy at one, if we have anything," said Sylvia, and her voice had weight.
"There's a good buggy in Abrahama's barn," said Meeks.
Sylvia made an unexpected start. "I think we are wicked as we can be!" she declared, violently. "Here we are talking about that poor woman's things before she's done with them. I'm going right over there to see if I can't be of some use."
"Sit down, Sylvia," said Henry, soothingly, but he, too, looked both angry and ashamed.
"You had better keep still where you are to-night," said Meeks. "Miss Babcock is doing all that anybody can. There isn't much to be done, Dr. Wallace says. To-morrow you can go over there and sit with her, and let Miss Babcock take a nap." Meeks rose as he spoke. "I must be going," he said. "I needn't charge you again not to let anybody know what I've told you before the will is read. It is irregular, but I thought I'd cheer up Henry here a bit."
"No, we won't speak of it," declared the husband and wife, almost in unison.
After Meeks had gone they looked at each other. Both looked disagreeable to the other. Both felt an unworthy suspicion of the other.
"I hope she will get well," Sylvia said, defiantly. "Maybe she will. This is her first shock."
"God knows I hope she will," returned Henry, with equal defiance.
Each of the two was perfectly good and ungrasping, but each accused themselves and each other unjustly because of the possibilities of wrong feeling which they realized. Sylvia did not understand how, in the face of such prosperity, she could wish Abrahama to get well, and she did not understand how her husband could, and Henry's mental attitude was the same.
Sylvia sat down and took some mending. Henry seated himself opposite, and stared at her with gloomy eyes, which yet held latent sparks of joy. "I wish Meeks hadn't told us," he said, angrily.
"So do I," said Sylvia. "I keep telling myself I don't want that poor old woman to die, and I keep telling myself that you don't; but I'm dreadful suspicious of us both. It means so much."
"Just the way I feel," said Henry. "I wish he'd kept his news to himself. It wasn't legal, anyhow."
"You don't suppose it will make the will not stand!" cried Sylvia, with involuntary eagerness. Then she quailed before her husband's stern gaze. "Of course I know it won't make any difference," she said, feebly, and drew her darning-needle through the sock she was mending.
Henry took up a copy of the East Westland Gazette. The first thing he saw was the list of deaths, and he seemed to see, quite plainly, Abrahama White's among them, although she was still quick, and he loathed himself. He turned the paper with a rattling jerk to an account of a crime in New York, and the difficulty the police had experienced in taking the guilty man in safety to the police station. He read the account aloud.
"Seems to me the principal thing the New York police protect is the criminals," he said, bitterly. "If they would turn a little of their attention to protecting the helpless women and children, seems to me it would be more to the purpose. They're awful careful of the criminals."
Sylvia did not hear. She assented absently. She thought, in spite of herself, of the good-fortune which was to befall them. She imagined herself mistress of the old White homestead. They would, of course, rent their own little cottage and go to live in the big house. She imagined herself looking through the treasures which Abrahama would leave behind her—then a monstrous loathing of herself seized her. She resolved that the very next morning she would go over and help Miss Babcock, that she would put all consideration of material benefits from her mind. She brought her thoughts with an effort to the article which Henry had just read. She could recall his last words.
"Yes, I think you are right," said she. "I think criminals ought not to be protected. You are right, Henry. I think myself we ought to have a doctor called from Alford to-morrow, if she is no better, and have a consultation. Dr. Wallace is good, but he is only one, and sometimes another doctor has different ideas, and she may get help."
"Yes, I think there ought to be a consultation," said Henry. "I will see about it to-morrow. I will go over there with you myself to-morrow morning. I think the police ought not to protect the criminals, but the people who are injured by them."
"Then there would be no criminals. They would have no chance," said Sylvia, sagely. "Yes, I agree with you, Henry, there ought to be a consultation."
She looked at Henry and he at her, and each saw in the other's face that same ignoble joy, and that same resentment and denial of it.
Neither slept that night. They were up early the next morning. Sylvia was getting breakfast and Henry was splitting wood out in the yard. Presently he came stumbling in. "Come out here," he said. Sylvia followed him to the door. They stepped out in the dewy yard and stood listening. Beneath their feet was soft, green grass strewn with tiny spheres which reflected rainbows. Over their heads was a wonderful sky of the clearest angelic blue. This sky seemed to sing with bell-notes.
"The bell is tolling," whispered Henry. They counted from that instant. When the bell stopped they looked at each other.
"That's her age," said Sylvia.
"Yes," said Henry.
The weather was wonderful on Abrahama White's funeral day. The air had at once the keen zest of winter and the languor of summer. One moment one perceived warm breaths of softly undulating pines, the next it was as if the wind blew over snow. The air at once stimulated and soothed. One breathing it realized youth and an endless vista of dreams ahead, and also the peace of age, and of work well done and deserving the reward of rest. There was something in this air which gave the inhaler the certainty of victory, the courage of battle and of unassailable youth. Even old people, pausing to notice the streamer of crape on Abrahama White's door, felt triumphant and undaunted. It did not seem conceivable, upon such a day, that that streamer would soon flaunt for them.
The streamer was rusty. It had served for many such occasions, and suns and rains had damaged it. People said that Martin Barnes, the undertaker, ought to buy some new crape. Martin was a very old man himself, but he had no imagination for his own funeral. It seemed to him grotesque and impossible that an undertaker should ever be in need of his own ministrations. His solemn wagon stood before the door of the great colonial house, and he and his son-in-law and his daughter, who were his assistants, were engaged at their solemn tasks within.
The daughter, Flora Barnes, was arraying the dead woman in her last robe of state, while her father and brother-in-law waited in the south room across the wide hall. When her task was performed she entered the south room with a gentle pride evident in her thin, florid face.
"She makes a beautiful corpse," she said, in a hissing whisper.
Henry Whitman and his wife were in the room, with Martin Barnes and Simeon Capen, his son-in-law. Barnes and Capen rose at once with pleased interest, Henry and Sylvia more slowly; yet they also had expressions of pleasure, albeit restrained. Both strove to draw their faces down, yet that expression of pleasure reigned triumphant, overcoming the play of the facial muscles. They glanced at each other, and each saw an angry shame in the other's eyes because of this joy.
But when they followed Martin Barnes and his assistants into the parlor, where Abrahama White was laid in state, all the shameful joy passed from their faces. The old woman in her last bed was majestic. The dead face was grand, compelling to other than earthly considerations. Henry and Sylvia forgot the dead woman's little store which she had left behind her. Sylvia leaned over her and wept; Henry's face worked. Nobody except himself had ever known it, but he, although much younger, had had his dreams about the beautiful Abrahama White. He remembered them as he looked at her, old and dead and majestic, with something like the light of her lost beauty in her still face. It was like a rose which has fallen in such a windless atmosphere that its petals retain the places which they have held around its heart.
Henry loved his wife, but this before him was associated with something beyond love, which tended to increase rather than diminish it. When at last they left the room he did what was very unusual with him. He was reticent, like the ordinary middle-aged New-Englander. He took his wife's little, thin, veinous hand and clasped it tenderly. Her bony fingers clung gratefully to his.
When they were all out in the south room Flora Barnes spoke again. "I have never seen a more beautiful corpse," said she, in exactly the same voice which she had used before. She began taking off her large, white apron. Something peculiar in her motion arrested Sylvia's attention. She made a wiry spring at her.
"Let me see that apron," said she, in a voice which corresponded with her action.
Flora recoiled. She turned pale, then she flushed. "What for?"
"Because I want to."
"It's just my apron. I—"
But Sylvia had the apron. Out of its folds dropped a thin roll of black silk. Flora stood before Sylvia. Beads of sweat showed on her flat forehead. She twitched like one about to have convulsions. She was very tall, but Sylvia seemed to fairly loom over her. She held the black silk out stiffly, like a bayonet.
"What is this?" she demanded, in her tense voice.
"What is it? I want to know."
"The back breadth," replied Flora in a small, scared voice, like the squeak of a mouse.
"Whose back breadth?"
"Her back breadth."
"Her back breadth?"
"Robbing the dead!" said Sylvia, pitilessly. Her tense voice was terrible.
Flora tried to make a stand. "She hadn't any use for it," she squeaked, plaintively.
"Robbing the dead! Its bad enough to rob the living."
"She couldn't have worn that dress without any back breadth while she was living," argued Flora, "but now it don't make any odds. It don't show."
"What were you going to do with it?"
Flora was scared into a storm of injured confession. "You 'ain't any call to talk to me so, Mrs. Whitman," she said. "I've worked hard, and I 'ain't had a decent black silk dress for ten years."
"How can you have a dress made out of a back breadth, I'd like to know?"
"It's just the same quality that Mrs. Hiram Adams's was, and—" Flora hesitated.
"Flora Barnes, you don't mean to say that you're robbing the dead of back breadths till you get enough to make you a whole dress?"
Flora whimpered. "Business has been awful poor lately," she said. "It's been so healthy here we've hardly been able to earn the salt to our porridge. Father won't join the trust, either, and lots of times the undertaker from Alford has got our jobs."
"Business!" cried Sylvia, in horror.
"I can't help it if you do look at it that way," Flora replied, and now she was almost defiant. "Our business is to get our living out of folks' dying. There's no use mincing matters. It's our business, just as working in a shoe-shop is your husband's business. Folks have to have shoes and walk when they're alive, and be laid out nice and buried when they're dead. Our business has been poor. Either Dr. Wallace gives awful strong medicine or East Westland is too healthy. We haven't earned but precious little lately, and I need a whole black silk dress and they don't."
Sylvia eyed her in withering scorn. "Need or not," said she, "the one that owns this back breadth is going to have it. I rather think she ain't going to be laid away without a back breadth to her dress."
With that Sylvia crossed the room and the hall, and entered the parlor. She closed the door behind her. When she came out a few minutes later she was pale but triumphant. "There," said she, "it's back with her, and I've got just this much to say, and no more, Flora Barnes. When you get home you gather up all the back breadths you've got, and you do them up in a bundle, and you put them in that barrel the Ladies' Sewing Society is going to send to the missionaries next week, and don't you ever touch a back breadth again, or I'll tell it right and left, and you'll see how much business you'll have left here, I don't care how sickly it gets."
"If father would—only have joined the trust I never would have thought of such a thing, anyway," muttered Flora. She was vanquished.
"You do it, Flora Barnes."
"Yes, I will. Don't speak so, Mrs. Whitman."
"You had better."
The undertaker and his son-in-law and Henry had remained quite silent. Now they moved toward the door, and Flora followed, red and perspiring. Sylvia heard her say something to her father about the trust on the way to the gate, between the tall borders of box, and heard Martin's surly growl in response.
"Laying it onto the trust," Sylvia said to Henry—"such an awful thing as that!"
Henry assented. He looked aghast at the whole affair. He seemed to catch a glimpse of dreadful depths of feminity which daunted his masculine mind. "To think of women caring enough about dress to do such a thing as that!" he said to himself. He glanced at Sylvia, and she, as a woman, seemed entirely beyond his comprehension.
The whole great house was sweet with flowers. Neighbors had sent the early spring flowers from their door-yards, and Henry and Sylvia had bought a magnificent wreath of white roses and carnations and smilax. They had ordered it from a florist in Alford, and it seemed to them something stupendous—as if in some way it must please even the dead woman herself to have her casket so graced.
"When folks know, they won't think we didn't do all we could," Sylvia whispered to Henry, significantly. He nodded. Both were very busy, even with assistance from the neighbors, and a woman who worked out by the day, in preparing the house for the funeral. Everything had to be swept and cleaned and dusted.
When the hour came, and the people began to gather, the house was veritably set in order and burnished. Sylvia, in the parlor with the chief mourners, glanced about, and eyed the smooth lap of her new black gown with a certain complacency which she could not control. After the funeral was over, and the distant relatives and neighbors who had assisted had eaten a cold supper and departed, and she and Henry were alone in the great house, she said, and he agreed, that everything had gone off beautifully. "Just as she would have wished it if she could have been here and ordered it herself," said Sylvia.
They were both hesitating whether to remain in the house that night or go home. Finally they went home. There was an awe and strangeness over them; besides, they began to wonder if people might not think it odd for them to stay there before the will was read, since they could not be supposed to know it all belonged to them.
It was about two weeks before they were regularly established in the great house, and Horace Allen, the high-school teacher, was expected the next day but one. Henry had pottered about the place, and attended to some ploughing on the famous White grass-land, which was supposed to produce more hay than any piece of land of its size in the county. Henry had been fired with ambition to produce more than ever before, but that day his spirit had seemed to fail him. He sat about gloomily all the afternoon; then he went down for the evening mail, and brought home no letters, but the local paper. Sylvia was preparing supper in the large, clean kitchen. She had been looking over her new treasures all day, and she was radiant. She chattered to her husband like a school-girl.
"Oh, Henry," said she, "you don't know what we've got! I never dreamed poor Abrahama had such beautiful things. I have been up in the garret looking over things, and there's one chest up there packed with the most elegant clothes. I never saw such dresses in my life."
Henry looked at his wife with eyes which loved her face, yet saw it as it was, elderly and plain, with all its youthful bloom faded.
"I don't suppose there is anything that will suit you to have made over," he said. "I suppose they are dresses she had when she was young."
Sylvia colored. She tossed her head and threw back her round shoulders. Feminine vanity dies hard; perhaps it never dies at all.
"I don't know," she said, defiantly. "Three are colors I used to wear. I have had to wear black of late years, because it was more economical, but you know how much I used to wear pink. It was real becoming to me."
Henry continued to regard his wife's face with perfect love and a perfect cognizance of facts. "You couldn't wear it now," he said.
"I don't know," retorted Sylvia. "I dare say I don't look now as if I could. I have been working hard all day, and my hair is all out of crimp. I ain't so sure but if I did up my hair nice, and wasn't all tuckered out, that I couldn't wear a pink silk dress that's there if I tone it down with black."
"I don't believe you would feel that you could go to meeting dressed in pink silk at your time of life," said Henry.
"Lots of women older than I be wear bright colors," retorted Sylvia, "in places where they are dressy. You don't know anything about dress, Henry."
"I suppose I don't," replied Henry, indifferently.
"I think that pink silk would be perfectly suitable and real becoming if I crimped my hair and had a black lace bonnet to wear with it."
"I dare say."
Henry took his place at the supper-table. It was set in the kitchen. Sylvia was saving herself all the steps possible until Horace Allen returned.
Henry did not seem to have much appetite that night. His face was overcast. Along with his scarcely confessed exultation over his good-fortune he was conscious of an odd indignation. For years he had cherished a sense of injury at his treatment at the hands of Providence; now he felt like a child who, pushing hard against opposition to his desires, has that opposition suddenly removed, and tumbles over backward. Henry had an odd sensation of having ignominiously tumbled over backward, and he missed, with ridiculous rancor, his sense of injury which he had cherished for so many years. After kicking against the pricks for so long, he had come to feel a certain self-righteous pleasure in it which he was now forced to forego.
Sylvia regarded her husband uneasily. Her state of mind had formerly been the female complement of his, but the sense of possession swerved her more easily. "What on earth ails you, Henry Whitman?" she said. "You look awful down-in-the-mouth. Only to think of our having enough to be comfortable for life. I should think you'd be real thankful and pleased."
"I don't know whether I'm thankful and pleased or not," rejoined Henry, morosely.
"Why, Henry Whitman!"
"If it had only come earlier, when we had time and strength to enjoy it," said Henry, with sudden relish. He felt that he had discovered a new and legitimate ground of injury which might console him for the loss of the old.
"We may live a good many years to enjoy it now," said Sylvia.
"I sha'n't; maybe you will," returned Henry, with malignant joy.
Sylvia regarded him with swift anxiety. "Why, Henry, don't you feel well?" she gasped.
"No, I don't, and I haven't for some time."
"Oh, Henry, and you never told me! What is the matter? Hadn't you better see the doctor?"
"Doctor!" retorted Henry, scornfully.
"Maybe he could give you something to help you. Whereabouts do you feel bad, Henry?"
"All over," replied Henry, comprehensively, and he smiled like a satirical martyr.
"Yes, all over—body and soul and spirit. I know just as well as any doctor can tell me that I haven't many years to enjoy anything. When a man has worked as long as I have in a shoe-shop, and worried as much and as long as I have, good-luck finds him with his earthworks about worn out and his wings hitched on."
"Oh, Henry, maybe Dr. Wallace—"
"Maybe he can unhitch the wings?" inquired Henry, with grotesque irony. "No, Sylvia, no doctor living can give medicine strong enough to cure a man of a lifetime of worry."
"But the worry's all over now, Henry."
"What the worry's done ain't over."
Sylvia began whimpering softly. "Oh, Henry, if you talk that way it will take away all my comfort! What do you suppose the property would mean to me without you?"
Then Henry felt ashamed. "Lord, don't worry," he said, roughly. "A man can't say anything to you without upsetting you. I can't tell how long I'll live. Sometimes a man lives through everything. All I meant was, sometimes when good-luck comes to a man it comes so darned late it might just as well not come at all."
"Henry, you don't mean to be wicked and ungrateful?"
"If I am I can't help it. I ain't a hypocrite, anyway. We've got some good-fortune, and I'm glad of it, but I'd been enough sight gladder if it had come sooner, before bad fortune had taken away my rightful taste for it."
"You won't have to work in the shop any longer, Henry."
"I don't know whether I shall or not. What in creation do you suppose I'm going to do all day—sit still and suck my thumbs?"
"You can work around the place."
"Of course I can; but there'll be lots of time when there won't be any work to be done—then what? To tell you the truth of it, Sylvia, I've had my nose held to the grindstone so long I don't know as it's in me to keep away from it and live, now."
Henry had not been at work since Abrahama White's death. He had been often in Sidney Meeks's office; only Sidney Meeks saw through Henry Whitman. One day he laughed in his face, as the two men sat in his office, and Henry had been complaining of the lateness of his good-fortune.
"If your property has come too late, Henry," said he, "what's the use in keeping it? What's the sense of keeping property that only aggravates you because it didn't come in your time instead of the Lord's? I'll draw up a deed of gift on the spot, and Sylvia can sign it when you go home, and you can give the whole biling thing to foreign missions. The Lord knows there's no need for any mortal man to keep anything he doesn't want—unless it's taxes, or a quick consumption, or a wife and children. And as for those last, there doesn't seem to be much need of that lately. I have never seen the time since I came into the world when it was quite so hard to get things, or quite so easy to get rid of them, as it is now. Say the word, Henry, and I'll draw up the deed of gift."
Henry looked confused. His eyes fell before the lawyer's sarcastic glance. "You are talking tomfool nonsense," he said, scowling. "The property isn't mine; it's my wife's."
"Sylvia never crossed you in anything. She'd give it up fast enough if she got it through her head how downright miserable it was making you," returned the lawyer, maliciously. Then Sidney relented. There was something pathetic, even tragic, about Henry Whitman's sheer inability to enjoy as he might once have done the good things of life, and his desperate clutch of them in flat contradiction to his words. "Let's drop it," said the lawyer. "I'm glad you have the property and can have a little ease, even if it doesn't mean to you what it once would. Let's have a glass of that grape wine."
Sidney Meeks had his own small amusement in the world. He was one of those who cannot exist without one, and in lieu of anything else he had turned early in life toward making wines from many things which his native soil produced. He had become reasonably sure, at an early age, that he should achieve no great success in his profession. Indeed, he was lazily conscious that he had no fierce ambition to do so. Sidney Meeks was not an ambitious man in large matters. But he had taken immense comfort in toiling in a little vineyard behind his house, and also in making curious wines and cordials from many unusual ingredients. Sidney had stored in his cellar wines from elder flowers, from elderberries, from daisies, from rhubarb, from clover, and currants, and many other fruits and flowers, besides grapes. He was wont to dispense these curious brews to his callers with great pride. But he took especial pride in a grape wine which he had made from selected grapes thirty years ago. This wine had a peculiar bouquet due to something which Sidney had added to the grape-juice, the secret of which he would never divulge.
It was some of this golden wine which Sidney now produced. Henry drank two glasses, and the tense muscles around his mouth relaxed. Sidney smiled. "Don't know what gives it that scent and taste, do you?" asked Sidney. "Well, I know. It's simple enough, but nobody except Sidney Meeks has ever found it out. I tell you, Henry, if a man hasn't set the river on fire, realized his youthful dreams, and all that, it is something to have found out something that nobody else has, no matter how little it is, if you have got nerve enough to keep it to yourself."
Henry fairly laughed. His long, hollow cheeks were slightly flushed. When he got home that night he looked pleasantly at Sylvia, preparing supper. But Sylvia did not look as radiant as she had done since her good-fortune. She said nothing ailed her, in response to his inquiry as to whether she felt well or not, but she continued gloomy and taciturn, which was most unusual with her, especially of late.
"What in the world is the matter with you, Sylvia?" Henry asked. The influence of Sidney Meeks's wine had not yet departed from him. His cheeks were still flushed, his eyes brilliant.
Then Sylvia roused herself. "Nothing is the matter," she replied, irritably, and immediately she became so gay that had Henry himself been in his usual mood he would have been as much astonished as by her depression. Sylvia began talking and laughing, relating long stories of new discoveries which she had made in the house, planning for Horace Allen's return.
"He's going to have that big southwest room and the little one out of it," Sylvia said. "To-morrow you must get the bed moved into the little one, and I'll get the big room fixed up for a study. He'll be tickled to pieces. There's beautiful furniture in the room now. I suppose he'll think it's beautiful. It's terrible old-fashioned. I'd rather have a nice new set of bird's-eye maple to my taste, and a brass bedstead, but I know he'll like this better. It's solid old mahogany."
"Yes, he'll be sure to like it," assented Henry.
After supper, although Sylvia did not relapse into her taciturn mood, Henry went and sat by himself on the square colonial porch on the west side of the house. He sat gazing at the sky and the broad acres of grass-land. Presently he heard feminine voices in the house, and knew that two of the neighbors, Mrs. Jim Jones and Mrs. Sam Elliot, had called to see Sylvia. He resolved that he would stay where he was until they were gone. He loved Sylvia, but women in the aggregate disturbed and irritated him; and for him three women were sufficient to constitute an aggregate.
Henry sat on the fine old porch with its symmetrical pillars. He had an arm-chair which he tilted back against the house wall, and he was exceedingly comfortable. The air was neither warm nor cold. There was a clear red in the west and only one rose-tinged cloud the shape of a bird's wing. He could hear the sunset calls of birds and the laughter of children. Once a cow lowed. A moist sense of growing things, the breath of spring, came into his nostrils. Henry realized that he was very happy. He realized for the first time, with peaceful content, not with joy so turbulent that it was painful and rebellious, that he and his wife owned this grand old house and all those fair acres. He was filled with that great peace of possession which causes a man to feel that he is safe from the ills of life. Henry felt fenced in and guarded. Then suddenly the sense of possession upon earth filled his whole soul with the hope of possession after death. Henry felt, for the first time in his life, as if he had a firm standing-ground for faith. For the first time he looked at the sunset sky, he listened to the birds and children, he smelled the perfume of the earth, and there was no bitterness in his soul. He smiled a smile of utter peace which harmonized with it all, and the conviction of endless happiness and a hereafter seemed to expand all his consciousness.
The dining-room in the White homestead was a large, low room whose southward windows were shaded at this season with a cloud of gold-green young grape leaves. The paper was a nondescript pattern, a large satin scroll on white. The room was wainscoted in white, and the panel-work around the great chimney was beautiful. A Franklin stove with a pattern of grape-vines was built into the chimney under the high mantel. Sylvia regarded this dubiously.
"I don't think much of that old-fashioned Franklin stove," she told Henry. "Why Abrahama had it left in, after she had her nice furnace, beats me. Seems to me we had better have it taken out, and have a nice board, covered with paper to match this on the room, put there instead. There's a big roll of the paper up garret, and it ain't faded a mite."
"Mr. Allen will like it just the way it is," said Henry, regarding the old stove with a sneaking admiration of which he was ashamed. It had always seemed to him that Sylvia's taste must be better than his. He had always thought vaguely of women as creatures of taste.
"I think maybe he'll like a fire in it sometimes," he said, timidly.
"A fire, when there's a furnace?"
"I mean chilly days in the fall, before we start the furnace."
"Then we could have that nice air-tight that we had in the other house put up. If we had a fire in this old thing the heat would all go up chimney."
"But it would look kind of pretty."
"I was brought up to think a fire was for warmth, not for looks," said Sylvia, tartly. She had lost the odd expression which Henry had dimly perceived several days before, or she was able to successfully keep it in abeyance; still, there was no doubt that a strange and subtle change had occurred within the woman. Henry was constantly looking at her when she spoke, because he vaguely detected unwonted tones in her familiar voice; that voice which had come to seem almost as his own. He was constantly surprised at a look in the familiar eyes, which had seemed heretofore to gaze at life in entire unison with his own.
He often turned upon Sylvia and asked her abruptly if she did not feel well, and what was the matter; and when she replied, as she always did, that nothing whatever was the matter, continued to regard her with a frown of perplexity, from which she turned with a switch of her skirts and a hitch of her slender shoulders. Sylvia, while she still evinced exultation over her new possessions, seemed to do so fiercely and defiantly.
When Horace Allen arrived she greeted him, and ushered him into her new domain with a pride which had in it something almost repellent. At supper-time she led him into the dining-room and glanced around, then at him.
"Well," said she, "don't you think it was about time we had something nice like this, after we had pulled and tugged for nothing all our lives? Don't you think we deserve it if anybody does?"
"I certainly do," replied Horace Allen, warmly; yet he regarded her with somewhat the same look of astonishment as Henry. It did not seem to him that it could be Sylvia Whitman who was speaking. The thought crossed his mind, as he took his place at the table, that possibly coming late in life, after so many deprivations, good-fortune had disturbed temporarily the even balance of her good New England sense.
Then he looked about him with delight. "I say, this is great!" he cried, boyishly. There was something incurably boyish about Horace Allen, although he was long past thirty. "By George, that Chippendale sideboard is a beauty," he said, gazing across at a fine old piece full of dull high lights across its graceful surfaces.
Sylvia colored with pleasure, but she had been brought up to disclaim her possessions to others than her own family. "Mrs. Jim Jones has got a beautiful one she bought selling Calkin's soap," she said. "She thinks it's prettier than this, and I must say it's real handsome. It's solid oak and has a looking-glass on it. This hasn't got any glass."
Horace laughed. He gazed at a corner-closet with diamond-paned doors.
"That is a perfectly jolly closet, too," he said; "and those are perfect treasures of old dishes."
"I think they are rather pretty," said Henry. He was conscious of an admiration for the old blue-and-white ware with its graceful shapes and quaint decorations savoring of mystery and the Far East, but he realized that his view was directly opposed to his wife's. This time Sylvia spoke quite in earnest. As far as the Indian china was concerned, she had her convictions. She was a cheap realist to the bone.
She sniffed. "I suppose there's those that likes it," said she, "but as for me, I can't see how anybody with eyes in their heads can look twice at old, cloudy, blue stuff like that when they can have nice, clear, white ware, with flowers on it that are flowers, like this Calkin's soap set. There ain't a thing on the china in that closet that's natural. Whoever saw a prospect all in blue, the trees and plants, and heathen houses, and the heathen, all blue? I like things to be natural, myself."
Horace laughed, and extended his plate for another piece of pie.
"It's an acquired taste," he said.
"I never had any time to acquire tastes. I kept what the Lord gave me," said Sylvia, but she smiled. She was delighted because Horace had taken a second piece of pie.
"I didn't know as you'd relish our fare after living in a Boston hotel all your vacation," said she.
"People can talk about hotel tables all they want to," declared Horace. "Give me home cooking like yours every time. I haven't eaten a blessed thing that tasted good since I went away."
Henry and Sylvia looked lovingly at Horace. He was a large man, blond, with a thick shock of fair hair, and he wore gray tweeds rather loose for him, which had always distressed Sylvia. She had often told Henry that it seemed to her if he would wear a nice suit of black broadcloth it would be more in keeping with his position as high-school principal. He wore a red tie, too, and Sylvia had an inborn conviction that red was not to be worn by fair people, male or female.
However, she loved and admired Horace in spite of these minor drawbacks, and had a fiercely maternal impulse of protection towards him. She was convinced that every mother in East Westland, with a marriageable daughter, and every daughter, had matrimonial designs upon him; and she considered that none of them were good enough for him. She did not wish him to marry in any case. She had suspicions about young women whom he might have met while on his vacation.
After supper, when the dishes had been cleared away, and they sat in the large south room, and Horace had admired that and its furnishings, Sylvia led up to the subject.
"I suppose you know a good many people in Boston," she remarked.
"Yes," replied Horace. "You know, I was born and brought up and educated there, and lived there until my people died."
"I suppose you know a good many young ladies."
"Thousands," said Horace; "but none of them will look at me."
"You didn't ask them?"
"Not all, only a few, but they wouldn't."
"I'd like to know why not?"
Then Henry spoke. "Sylvia," he said, "Mr. Allen is only joking."
"I hope he is," Sylvia said, severely. "He's too young to think of getting married. It makes me sick, though, to see the way girls chase any man, and their mothers, too, for that matter. Mrs. Jim Jones and Mrs. Sam Elliot both came while you were gone, Mr. Allen. They said they thought maybe we wouldn't take a boarder now we have come into property, and maybe you would like to go there, and I knew just as well as if they had spoken what they had in their minds. There's Minnie Jones as homely as a broom, and there's Carrie Elliot getting older, and—"
"Sylvia!" said Henry.
"I don't care. Mr. Allen knows what's going on just as well as I do. Neither of those women can cook fit for a cat to eat, let alone anything else. Lucy Ayres came here twice on errands, too, and—"
But Horace colored, and spoke suddenly. "I didn't know that you would take me back," he said. "I was afraid—"
"We don't need to, as far as money goes," said Sylvia, "but Mr. Whitman and I like to have the company, and you never make a mite of trouble. That's what I told Mrs. Jim Jones and Mrs. Sam Elliot."
"I'm glad he's got back," Henry said, after Horace had gone up-stairs for the night and the couple were in their own room, a large one out of the sitting-room.
"So am I," assented Sylvia. "It seems real good to have him here again, and he's dreadful tickled with his new rooms. I guess he's glad he wasn't shoved off onto Mrs. Jim Jones or Mrs. Sam Elliot. I don't believe he has an idea of getting married to any girl alive. He ain't a mite silly over the girls, if they are all setting their caps at him. I'm sort of sorry for Lucy Ayres. She's a pretty girl, and real ladylike, and I believe she'd give all her old shoes to get him."
"Look out, he'll hear you," charged Henry. Their room was directly under the one occupied by Horace.
Presently the odor of a cigar floated into their open window.
"I should know he'd got home. Smoking is an awful habit," Sylvia said, with a happy chuckle.
"He'd do better if he smoked a pipe," said Henry. Henry smoked a pipe.
"If a man is going to smoke at all, I think he had better smoke something besides a smelly old pipe," said Sylvia. "It seems to me, with all our means, you might smoke cigars now, Henry. I saw real nice ones advertised two for five cents the other day, and you needn't smoke more than two a day."
Henry sniffed slightly.
"I suppose you think women don't know anything about cigars," said Sylvia; "but I can smell, anyhow, and I know Mr. Allen is smoking a real good cigar."
"Yes, he is," assented Henry.
"And I don't believe he pays more than a cent apiece. His cigars have gilt papers around them, and I know as well as I want to they're cheap; I know a cent apiece is a much as he pays. He smokes so many he can't pay more than that."
Henry sniffed again, but Sylvia did not hear. She had one deaf ear, and she was lying on her sound one. Then they fell asleep, and it was some time before both woke suddenly. A sound had wakened Henry, an odor Sylvia. Henry had heard a door open, forcing him into wakefulness; Sylvia had smelled the cigar again. She nudged her husband. Just then the tall clock in the sitting-room struck ten deliberately.
"It's late, and he's awake, smoking, now," whispered Sylvia.
Henry said nothing. He only grunted.
"Don't you think it's queer?"
"Oh no. I guess he's only reading," replied Henry. He had a strong masculine loyalty towards Horace, as another man. He waited until he heard Sylvia's heavy, regular breathing again. Then he slipped out of bed and stole to the window. It was a strange night, very foggy, but the fog was shot through with shafts of full moonlight. The air was heavy and damp and sweet. Henry listened a moment at the bedroom window, then he tiptoed out into the sitting-room. He stole across the hall into the best parlor. He raised a window in there noiselessly, looked out, and listened. There was a grove of pines and spruces on that side of the house. There was a bench under a pine. Upon this bench Henry gradually perceived a whiteness more opaque than that of the fog. He heard a voice, then a responsive murmur. Then the fragrant smoke of a cigar came directly in his face. Henry shook his head. He remained motionless a moment. Then he left the room, and going into the hall stole up-stairs. The door of the southwest chamber stood wide open. Henry entered. He was trembling like a woman. He loved the young man, and suspicions, like dreadful, misshapen monsters, filled his fancy. He peeped into the little room which he and Sylvia had fitted up as a bedroom for Horace, and it was vacant.
Henry went noiselessly back down-stairs and into his own room. He lay down without disturbing his wife, but he did not fall asleep. After what seemed to him a long time he heard a stealthy footstep on the stair, and again smelled the aroma of a cigar which floated down from overhead.
That awoke Sylvia. "I declare, he's smoking again," she murmured, sleepily. "It's a dreadful habit."
Henry made no reply. He breathed evenly, pretending to be asleep.
Although it was easy for a man, especially for a young marriageable man, to obtain board in East Westland, it was not so easy for a woman; and the facts of her youth and good looks, and presumably marriageable estate, rendered it still more difficult. There was in the little village a hotel, so-called, which had formerly been the tavern. It was now the East Westland House. Once it had been the Sign of the Horse. The old sign-board upon which a steed in flaming red, rampant upon a crude green field against a crude blue sky, had been painted by some local artist, all unknown to fame, and long since at rest in the village graveyard, still remained in the hotel attic, tilted under the dusty eaves.
The Sign of the Horse had been in former days a flourishing hostelry, before which, twice a day, the Boston and the Alford stages had drawn up with mighty flourishes of horns and gallant rearings of jaded steeds. Scarcely a night but it had been crowded by travellers who stayed overnight for the sake of the good beds and the good table and good bar. Now there was no bar. East Westland was a strictly temperance village, and all the liquor to be obtained was exceedingly bad, and some declared diluted by the waters of the village pond.
There was a very small stock of rum, gin, and whiskey, and very young and morbid California wines, kept at the village drug store, and dispensed by Albion Bennet. Albion required a deal of red-tape before he would sell even these doubtful beverages for strictly medicinal purposes. He was in mortal terror of being arrested and taken to the county-seat at Newholm for violation of the liquor law. Albion, although a young and sturdy man not past his youth, was exceedingly afraid of everything. He was unmarried, and boarded at the hotel. There he was divided between fear of burglars, if he slept on the first floor, and of fire if he slept on the second. He compromised by sleeping on the second, with a sufficient length of stout, knotted muslin stowed away in his trunk, to be attached to the bed-post and reach the ground in case of a conflagration.
There was no bank in East Westland, none nearer than Alford, six miles away, and poor Albion was at his wit's end to keep his daily receipts with safety to them and himself. He had finally hit upon the expedient of leaving them every night with Sidney Meeks, who was afraid of nothing. "If anything happens to your money, Albion," said Sidney, "I'll make it good, even if I have to sell my wine-cellar." Albion was afraid even to keep a revolver. His state of terror was pitiable, and the more so because he had a fear of betraying it, which was to some extent the most cruel fear of all. Sidney Meeks was probably the only person in East Westland who understood how it was with him, and he kept his knowledge to himself. Sidney was astute on a diagnosis of his fellow-men's mentalities, and he had an almost womanly compassion even for those weaknesses of which he himself was incapable.
"Good; I'll keep what you have in your till every night for you, and welcome, Albion," he had said. "I understand how you feel, living in the hotel the way you do."
"Nobody knows who is coming and going," said Albion, blinking violently.
"Of course one doesn't, and nobody would dream of coming to my house. Everybody knows I am as poor as Job's off ox. You might get a revolver, but I wouldn't recommend it. You look to me as if you might sleep too sound to make it altogether safe."
"I do sleep pretty sound," admitted Albion, although he did not quite see the force of the other man's argument.
"Just so. Any man who sleeps very sound has no right to keep a loaded revolver by him. He seldom, if ever, wakes up thoroughly if he hears a noise, and he's mighty apt to blaze away at the first one he sees, even if it's his best friend. No, it is not safe."
"I don't think it's very safe myself," said Albion, in a relieved tone. "Miss Hart is always prowling around the house. She doesn't sleep very well, and she's always smelling smoke or hearing burglars. She's timid, like most women. I might shoot her if I was only half awake and she came opposite my door."
"Exactly," said Sidney Meeks. When Albion went away he stared after his bulky, retreating back with a puzzled expression. He shook his head. Fear was the hardest thing in the world for him to understand. "That great, able-bodied man must feel mighty queer," he muttered, as he stowed away the pile of greasy bank-notes and the nickels collected at the soda-fountain in a pile of disordered linen in a bureau drawer. He chuckled to himself at the eagerness with which Albion had seized upon the fancy of his shooting Miss Hart.
Lucinda Hart kept the hotel. She had succeeded to its proprietorship when her father died. She was a middle-aged woman who had been pretty in a tense, nervous fashion. Now the prettiness had disappeared under the strain of her daily life. It was a hard struggle to keep the East Westland House and make both ends meet. She had very few regular boarders, and transients were not as numerous as they had been in the days of the stage-coaches. Now commercial travellers and business men went to Alford overnight instead of remaining at East Westland. Miss Hart used the same feather-beds which had once been esteemed so luxurious. She kept them clean, well aired, and shaken, and she would not have a spring-bed or a hair mattress in the house. She was conservatism itself. She could no more change and be correct to her own understanding than the multiplication table.
"Feather-beds are good enough for anybody who stays in this hotel, I don't care who it is," she said. She would not make an exception, even for Miss Eliza Farrel, the assistant teacher in the high school, although she had, with a distrust of the teacher's personality, a great respect for her position. She was inexorable even when the teacher proposed furnishing a spring-bed and mattress at her own expense. "I'd be willing to accommodate, and buy them myself, but it is a bad example," she said, firmly. "Things that were good enough for our fathers and mothers are good enough for us. Good land! people ain't any different from what they used to be. We haven't any different flesh nor any different bones."
Miss Hart had a theory that many of the modern diseases might be traced directly to the eschewing of feather-beds. "Never heard of appendicitis in my father's time, when folks slept on good, soft feather-beds, and got their bones and in'ards rested," she said.
Miss Hart was as timid in her way as Albion Bennet. She never got enough control of her nervous fears to secure many hours of sound sleep. She never was able to wholly rid herself of the conviction that her own wakefulness and watchfulness was essential to the right running of all the wheels of the universe, although she would have been shocked had she fairly known her own attitude. She patrolled the house by night, moving about the low, uneven corridors with a flickering candle—for she was afraid to carry a kerosene lamp—like a wandering spirit.
She was suspicious, too. She never lodged a stranger overnight but she had grave doubts of his moral status. She imagined him a murderer escaped from justice, and compared his face with the pictures of criminals in the newspapers, or she was reasonably sure that he was dishonest, although she had little to tempt him. She employed one chambermaid and a stable-boy, and did the cooking herself. Miss Hart was not a good cook. She used her thin, tense hands too quickly. She was prone to over-measures of saleratus, to under-measures of sugar and coffee. She erred both from economy and from the haste which makes waste. Miss Eliza Farrel often turned from the scanty, poorly cooked food which was place before her with disgust, but she never seemed to lose an ounce of her firm, fair flesh, nor a shade of her sweet color.
Miss Eliza Farrel was an anomaly. She was so beautiful that her beauty detracted from her charm for both sexes. It was so perfect as to awaken suspicion in a world where nothing is perfect from the hand of nature. Then, too, she was manifestly, in spite of her beauty, not in the first flush of youth, and had, it seemed, no right to such perfection of body. Also her beauty was of a type which people invariably associate with things which are undesirable to the rigidly particular, and East Westland was largely inhabited by the rigidly particular.
East Westland was not ignorant. It read of the crimes and follies of the times, but it read of them with a distinct and complacent sense of superiority. It was as if East Westland said: "It is desirable to read of these things, of these doings among the vicious and the worldly, that we may understand what we are." East Westland looked upon itself in its day and generation as a lot among the cities of the plain.
It seemed inconceivable that East Westland people should have recognized the fact that Miss Farrel's beauty was of a suspicious type, but they must have had an instinctive knowledge of it. From the moment that Miss Farrel appeared in the village, although she had the best of references, not a woman would admit her into her house as a boarder, and the hotel, with its feather-beds and poor table, was her only resource. Women said of her that she was made up, that no woman of her age ever looked as she did and had a perfectly irreproachable moral character.
As for the men, they admired her timidly, sheepishly, and also a trifle contemptuously. They did not admit openly the same opinion as the women with regard to the legitimacy of her charms, but they did maintain it secretly. It did not seem possible to many of them that a woman could look just as Eliza Farrel did and be altogether natural. As for her character, they also agreed with the feminine element secretly, although they openly declared the women were jealous of such beauty. It did not seem that such a type could be anything except a dangerous one.
Miss Eliza Farrel was a pure blonde, as blond as a baby. There was not a line nor blemish in her pure, fine skin. The flush on her rounded cheeks and her full lips was like a baby's. Her dimples were like a baby's. Her blond hair was thick and soft with a pristine softness and thickness which is always associated with the hair of a child. Her eyebrows were pencilled by nature, as if nature had been art. Her smile was as fixedly radiant as a painted cherub's. Her figure had that exuberance and slenderness at various portions which no woman really believes in. She looked like a beautiful doll, with an unvarying loveliness of manner and disposition under all vicissitudes of life, but she was undoubtedly something more than a doll.
Even the women listened dubiously and incredulously when she talked. They had never heard a woman talk about such things in the way she did. She had a fine education, being a graduate of one of the women's colleges. She was an accomplished musician and a very successful teacher. Her pupils undoubtedly progressed, although they did not have the blind love and admiration which pupils usually have for a beautiful teacher. To this there was one exception.
Miss Farrel always smiled, never frowned or reprimanded. It was said that Miss Farrel had better government than Miss Florence Dean, the other assistant. Miss Dean was plain and saturnine, and had no difficulty in obtaining a good boarding-place, even with the mother of a marriageable daughter, who had taken her in with far-sighted alacrity. She dreamed of business calls concerning school matters, which Mr. Horace Allen, the principal, might be obliged to make, and she planned to have her daughter, who was a very pretty girl, in evidence. But poor Miss Farrel was thrown back upon the mercies of Miss Hart and the feather-beds and the hotel.
There were other considerations besides the feather-beds and the poor fare which conspired to render the hotel an undesirable boarding-place. Miss Farrel might as well have been under the espionage of a private detective as with Miss Hart. If Miss Hart was suspicious of dire mischief in the cases of her other boarders, she was certain in the case of Eliza Farrel. She would not have admitted her under her roof at all had she not been forced thereto by the necessity for money. Miss Hart herself took care of Miss Farrel's room sometimes. She had no hesitation whatever in looking through her bureau drawers; indeed, she considered it a duty which she owed herself and the character of her house. She had taken away the keys on purpose, and had told miss Farrel, without the slightest compunction, that they were lost. The trunks were locked, and she had never been able to possess herself of the keys, but she felt sure that they contained, if not entire skeletons, at least scattered bones.
She discovered once, quite in open evidence on Miss Farrel's wash-stand, a little porcelain box of pink-tinted salve, and she did not hesitate about telling Hannah, her chambermaid, the daughter of a farmer in the vicinity, and a girl who was quite in her confidence. She called Hannah into the room and displayed the box. "This is what she uses," she said, solemnly.
Hannah, who was young, but had a thick, colorless skin, nodded with an inscrutable expression.
"I have always thought she used something on her face," said Miss Hart. "You can't cheat me."
Hannah took up a little, ivory-backed nail-polisher which was also on the wash-stand. "What do you suppose this is?" she asked, timidly, in an awed whisper.
"How do I know? I never use such things myself, and I never knew women who did before," said Miss Hart, severely. "I dare say, after she puts the paint on, she has to use something to smooth it down where the natural color of the skin begins. How do I know?"
Hannah laid the nail-polisher beside the box of salve. She was very much in love with the son of the farmer who lived next to her father's. The next Thursday afternoon was her afternoon off. She watched her chance, and stole into Miss Farrel's room, applied with trembling fingers a little of the nail-salve to her cheeks, then carefully rubbed it all off with the polisher. She then went to her own room, put on a hat and thick veil, and succeeded in getting out of the hotel without meeting Miss Hart. She was firmly convinced that she was painted, and that her cheeks had the lovely peach-bloom of Miss Farrel's.
It seems sometimes as if one's own conviction concerning one's self goes a long way towards establishing that of other people. Hannah, that evening, when she met the young man whom she loved, felt that she was a beauty like Miss Eliza Farrel, and before she went home he had told her how pretty she was and asked her to marry him, and Hannah had consented, reserving the right to work enough longer to earn a little more money. She wished to be married in a white lace gown like one in Miss Farrel's closet. Miss Hart had called Hannah in to look at it one morning when Miss Farrel was at school.
"What do you suppose a school-teacher can want of a dress like this here in East Westland?" Miss Hart had asked, severely. "She can't wear it to meeting, or a Sunday-school picnic, or a church sociable, or even to a wedding in this place. Look at it. It's cut low-neck."
Hannah had looked. That night she had, in the secrecy of her own room, examined her own shoulders, and decided that although they might not be as white as Miss Farrel's, they were presumably as well shaped. She had resolved then and there to be married in a dress like that. Along with her love-raptures came the fairy dream of the lace gown. For once in her life she would be dressed like a princess.
When she told Miss Hart she was going to be married, her mistress sniffed. "You can do just as you like, and you will do just as you like, whether or no," she said; "but you are a poor fool. Here you are getting good wages, and having it all to spend on yourself; and you ain't overworked, and you'll find out you'll be overworked and have a whole raft of young ones, and not a cent of wages, except enough to keep soul and body together, and just enough to wear so you won't be took up for going round indecent. I've seen enough of such kind of work."
"Amos will make a real good husband; everybody says he's the best match anywhere around," replied Hannah, crimson with blushes and half crying.
Miss Hart sniffed again. "Jump into the fire if you want to," said she. "I hope you ain't going before fall, and leave me in the lurch in hot weather, and preserves to be put up."
Hannah said she would not think of getting married before November. She did not say a word about the white lace gown, but that evening the desire to look at it again waxed so strong within her that she could not resist it. She was sitting in her own room, after lighting the kerosene lamp in the corridor opposite Miss Farrel's room, which was No. 20, and she was thinking hard about the lace gown, and wondering how much it cost, when she started suddenly. As she sat beside her window, her own lamp not yet lit, she had seen a figure flit past in the misty moonlight, and she was sure it was Miss Farrel. She reflected quickly that it was Thursday evening, when Miss Hart always went to prayer-meeting. Hannah had a cold and had stayed at home, although it was her day off. Miss Hart cherished the belief that her voice was necessary to sustain the singing at any church meeting. She had, in her youth, possessed a fine contralto voice. She possessed only the remnant of one now, but she still sang in the choir, because nobody had the strength of mind to request her to resign. Sunday after Sunday she stood in her place and raised her voice, which was horribly hoarse and hollow, in the sacred tunes, and people shivered and endured. Miss Hart never missed a Sunday service, a choir rehearsal, or a Thursday prayer-meeting, and she did not on that Thursday evening.
Hannah went to her door and listened. She heard laughter down in the room which had been the bar but was now the office. A cloud of tobacco smoke floated from there through the corridor. Hannah drew it in with a sense of delicious peace. Her lover smoked, and somehow the odor seemed to typify to her domestic happiness and mystery. She listened long, looking often at the clock on the wall. "She must be gone," she thought, meaning Miss Hart. She was almost sure that the figure which she had seen flitting under her window in the moonlight was that of the school-teacher. Finally she could not resist the temptation any longer. She hurried down the corridor until she reached No. 20. She tapped and waited, then she tapped and waited again. There was no response. Hannah tried the door. It was locked. She took her chambermaid's key and unlocked the door, looking around her fearfully. Then she opened the door and slid in. She locked the door behind her. Then straight to the closet she went, and that beautiful lace robe seemed to float out towards her. Hannah slipped off her own gown, and in a few moments she stood before the looking-glass, transformed.
She was so radiant, so pleased, that a flush came out on her thick skin; her eyes gleamed blue. The lace gown fitted her very well. She turned this way and that. After all, her neck was not bad, not as white, perhaps, as Miss Farrel's, but quite lovely in shape. She walked glidingly across the room, looking over her shoulder at the trail of lace. She was unspeakably happy. She had a lover, and she was a woman in a fine gown for the first time in her life. The gown was not her own, but she would have one like it. She did not realize that this gown was not hers. She was fairly radiant with the possession of her woman's birthright, this poor farmer's daughter, in whom the instincts of her kind were strong. She glided across the room many times. She surveyed herself in the glass. Every time she looked she seemed to herself more beautiful, and there was something good and touching in this estimation of herself, for she seemed to see herself with her lover's eyes as well as her own.
Finally she sat down in Miss Farrel's rocker; she crossed her knees and viewed with delight the fleecy fall of lace to the floor. Then she fell to dreaming, and her dreams were good. In that gown of fashion she dreamed the dreams of the life to which the women of her race were born. She dreamed of her good housewifery; she dreamed of the butter she would make; she dreamed of her husband coming home to meals all ready and well cooked. She dreamed, underneath the other dreams, of children coming home. She had no realization of the time she sat there. At last she started and turned white. She had heard a key turn in the lock. Then Miss Farrel entered the room—Miss Eliza Farrel, magnificent in pale gray, with a hat trimmed with roses crowning her blond head. Hannah cowered. She tried to speak, but only succeeded in making a sound as if she were deaf and dumb.
Then Miss Farrel spoke. There was a weary astonishment and amusement in her tone, but nothing whatever disturbed or harsh. "Oh, is it you, Hannah?" she said.
Hannah murmured something unintelligible.
Miss Farrel went on, sweetly: "So you thought you would try on my lace gown, Hannah?" she said. "It fits you very well. I see your hands are clean. I am glad of that. Now please take it off and put on your own dress."
Hannah stood up. She was abject.
"There is nothing for you to be afraid of," said Miss Farrel. "Only take off the gown and put on your own, or I am afraid Miss Hart—"
Miss Hart's name acted like a terrible stimulus. Hannah unfastened the lace gown with fingers trembling with haste. She stepped out of the shimmering circle which it made; she was in her own costume in an incredibly short space of time, and the lace gown was in its accustomed place in the closet. Then suddenly Miss Hart opened the door.
"I thought I saw a light," said she. She looked from one to the other. "It is after eleven o'clock," she said, further.
"Yes," said Miss Farrel, sweetly. "I have been working. I had to look over some exercises. I think I am not quite well. Have you any digitalis in the house, Miss Hart? Hannah here does not know. I was sorry to disturb her, and she does not know. I have an irritable heart, and digitalis helps it."
"No, I have not got any digitalis," replied Miss Hart, shortly. She gave the hard sound to the g, and she looked suspiciously at both women. However, Miss Farrel was undoubtedly pale, and Miss Hart's face relaxed.
"Go back to your room," she said to Hannah. "You won't be fit for a thing to-morrow." Then she said to Miss Farrel: "I don't know what you mean by digitalis. I haven't got any, but I'll mix you up some hot essence of peppermint, and that's the best thing I know of for anything."
"Thank you," said Miss Farrel. She had sank into a chair, and had her hand over her heart.
"I'll have it here in a minute," said Miss Hart. She went out, and Hannah followed her, but not before she and Miss Eliza Farrel had exchanged looks which meant that each had a secret of the other to keep as a precious stolen jewel.
The next morning Henry was very quiet at the breakfast-table. He said good-morning to Horace in almost a surly manner, and Sylvia glanced from one to the other of the two men. After Horace had gone to school she went out in the front yard to interview Henry, who was pottering about the shrubs which grew on either side of the gravel walk.
"What on earth ailed you and Mr. Allen this morning?" she began, abruptly.
Henry continued digging around the roots of a peony. "I don't know as anything ailed us. I don't know what you are driving at," he replied, lying unhesitatingly.
"Something did ail you. You can't cheat me."
"I don't know what you are driving at."
"Something did ail you. You'll spoil that peony. You've got all the weeds out. What on earth are you digging round it that way for? What ailed you?"
"I don't know what you are driving at."
"You can't cheat me. Something is to pay. For the land's sake, leave that peony alone, and get the weeds out from around that syringa bush. You act as if you were possessed. What ailed you and Mr. Allen this morning? I want to know."
"I don't know what you are driving at," Henry said again, but he obediently turned his attention to the syringa bush. He always obeyed a woman in small matters, and reserved his masculine prerogatives for large ones.
Sylvia returned to the house. Her mouth was set hard. Nobody knew how on occasions Sylvia longed for another woman to whom to speak her mind. She loved her husband, but no man was capable of entirely satisfying all her moods. She started to go to the attic on another exploring expedition; then she stopped suddenly, reflecting. The end of her reflection was that she took off her gingham apron, tied on a nice white one trimmed with knitted lace, and went down the street to Mrs. Thomas P. Ayres's. Thomas P. Ayres had been dead for the last ten years, but everybody called his widow Mrs. T. P. Ayres. Mrs. Ayres kept no maid. She had barely enough income to support herself and her daughter. She came to the door herself. She was a small, delicate, pretty woman, and her little thin hands were red with dish-water.
"Good-morning," she said, in a weary, gentle fashion. "Come in, Mrs. Whitman, won't you?" As she spoke she wrinkled her forehead between her curves of gray hair. She had always wrinkled her forehead, but in some inscrutable fashion the wrinkles had always smoothed out. Her forehead was smooth as a girl's. She smiled, and the smile was exactly in accord with her voice; it was weary and gentle. There was not the slightest joy in it, only a submission and patience which might evince a slight hope of joy to come.
"I've got so much to do I ought not to stop long," said Sylvia, "but I thought I'd run in a minute."
"Walk right in," said Mrs. Ayres, and Sylvia followed her into the sitting-room, which was quite charming, with a delicate flowered paper and a net-work of green vines growing in bracket-pots, which stood all about. There were also palms and ferns. The small room looked like a bower, although it was very humbly furnished. Sylvia sat down.
"You always look so cool in here," she said, "and it's a warm morning for so early in the season."
"It's the plants and vines, I guess," replied Mrs. Ayres, sitting down opposite Mrs. Whitman. "Lucy has real good luck with them."
"How is Lucy this morning?"
Mrs. Ayres wrinkled her forehead again. "She's in bed with a sick headache," she said. "She has an awful lot of them lately. I'm afraid she's kind of run down."
"Why don't you get a tonic?"
"Well, I have been thinking of it, but Dr. Wallace gives such dreadful strong medicines, and Lucy is so delicate, that I have hesitated. I don't know but I ought to take her to Alford to Dr. Gilbert, but she doesn't want to go. She says it is too expensive, and she says there's nothing the matter with her; but she has these terrible headaches almost every other day, and she doesn't eat enough to keep a sparrow alive, and I can't help being worried about her."
"It doesn't seem right," agreed Mrs. Whitman. "Last time I was here I thought she didn't look real well. She's got color, a real pretty color, but it isn't the right kind."
"That's just it," said Mrs. Ayres, wrinkling her forehead. "The color's pretty, but you can see too plain where the red leaves off and where the white begins."
"Speaking about color," said Mrs. Whitman, "I am going to ask you something."
"Do you really think Miss Farrel's color is natural?"
"I don't know. It looks so."
"I know it does, but I had it real straight that she keeps some pink stuff that she uses in a box as bold as can be, right in sight on her wash-stand."