THE WALL BETWEEN
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By Sara Ware Bassett
The Taming Of Zenas Henry The Wayfarers at The Angel's The Harbor Road The Wall Between
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THE WALL BETWEEN
SARA WARE BASSETT
With Frontispiece by Norman Price
Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1920
Copyright, 1920, by Sara Ware Bassett. All rights reserved
Published August, 1920
"Such are the miracles men call lives." —Edward Rowland Sill.
CHAPTER PAGE I A Modern Richelieu 1 II The Howes 20 III Lucy 38 IV The Episode of the Eggs 50 V A Clash of Wills 70 VI Ellen Encounters an Enigma 82 VII The Unraveling of the Mystery 95 VIII When the Cat's Away 109 IX Jane Makes a Discovery 135 X A Temptation 147 XI The Crossing of the Rubicon 163 XII The Test 189 XIII Melviny Arrives 205 XIV A Piece of Diplomacy 234 XV Ellen's Vengeance 246 XVI Lucy Comes to a Decision 258 XVII The Great Alternative 270 XVIII Love Triumphant 290
THE WALL BETWEEN
A MODERN RICHELIEU
The Howe and Webster farms adjoined, lying on a sun-flooded, gently sloping New Hampshire hillside. Between them loomed The Wall. It was not a high wall. On the contrary, its formidableness was the result of tradition rather than of fact. For more than a century it had been an estranging barrier to neighborliness, to courtesy, to broad-mindedness; a barrier to friendship, to Christian charity, to peace.
The builder of the rambling line of gray stone had long since passed away, and had he not acquired a warped importance with the years, his memory would doubtless have perished with him. All unwittingly, alas, he had become a celebrity. His was the fame of omission, however, rather than of commission. Had he, like artist or sculptor, but affixed his signature to his handiwork, then might he have sunk serenely into oblivion, "unwept, unhonored, and unsung." But unfortunately he was a modest creature. Instead, he had stepped nameless into the silence of the Hereafter, leaving to those who came after him not only the sinister boundary his hands had reared, but also a feud that had seethed hotly for generations.
If within the narrow confines of his last resting place he had ever been conscious of the dissension for which he was responsible and had been haunted by a desire to utter the magic word he had neglected to speak in life, he at least gave no sign. His lips remained sealed in death, and his spirit was never seen to walk abroad. Possibly he retired into his shroud with this finality because he never found it imperative, as did Hamlet's ghost, to admonish posterity to remember him.
Only too well was he remembered!
The Howes and Websters who followed him hurled against the sounding board of heaven the repeated questions of who built the wall, and whose duty was it to repair it. Great-grandfather Jabez Howe quibbled with Great-grandfather Abiatha Webster for a lifetime, and both went down into the tomb still quibbling over the enigma. Afterward Grandfather Nathan Howe and Grandfather Ebenezer Webster took up the dispute, and they, too, were gathered into the Beyond without ever reaching a conclusion. Their children then wrangled and argued and slandered one another, and, like their forbears, retired from the field in impotent rage, leaving the combat a draw.
In the meantime the outlines of the ancient landmark became less clear-cut. Rocks toppled from its summit; yawning gaps marred its sharp edges; and at its base vines and growing things began to creep defiantly in and out the widening fissures that rent its foundation. Almost imperceptibly year by year dissolution went on, the crude structure melting into picturesqueness and taking on the gentle charm of a ruin until Martin Howe and Ellen Webster, its present-day guardians, beheld it an ignominious heap of stone that lay crumbling amid woodbine and clematis.
Far more beautiful was it in this half-concealed dilapidation than ever it had been in the pride of its perfection. Then it had stood boldly out against the landscape, naked and aggressive; to-day, clothed in Nature's soft greenery, it had become so dim a heritage that it might easily have receded into the past and been forgotten had not the discord of which it had become the symbol been wilfully fanned into flame.
As in a bygone age one runner passed a lighted torch on to another, so did one generation of Howes and Websters bequeath to the next the embers of a wrath that never died. Each faction disclaimed all responsibility for the wall, and each refused to lay hand to it.
Adamantine as was the lichen-covered heap of granite, it was of far more mutable a quality than were the dispositions of those who had so stubbornly let it fall into decay. Time's hand had softened the harsh stone into mellow beauty; but the flintlike characters of the Howes and Websters remained uncompromising as of yore.
And now that Martin Howe and Ellen Webster reigned in their respective homesteads, neither one of them was any more graciously inclined toward raising the fallen boundary to its pristine glory than had been their progenitors. But for their obstinacy they might have agreed to dispense with the wall altogether, since long ago it had become merely an empty emblem of restriction, and without recourse to it each knew beyond question where the dividing line between the estates ran; moreover, as both families shunned the other's land as if it were plague-ridden territory there was scant temptation for them to invade each other's domains. But the man and the woman had inherited too much of the blood of the original stock to consider entering into an armistice.
They had, it is true, bettered their predecessors to the extent of exchanging a stilted greeting when they met; but this perfunctory salutation was usually hurtled across the historic borderline and was seldom concluded without some reference to it. For Ellen Webster was an aggravating old woman dowered with just enough of the harpy never to be able to leave her antagonist in peace if she saw him at work in his garden.
"Mornin', Martin," she would call.
"Good mornin', Miss Webster."
"So you're plowin' up a new strip of land."
"I s'pose you know it would save you a deal of cartin' if you was to use the stones you're gettin' out to fix up your wall."
Then the hector would watch the brick-red color steal slowly from the man's cheek up to his forehead.
To pile the stones on the heap so near at hand would, he recognized, have saved both time and trouble; nevertheless, he would have worked until he dropped in his tracks rather than have yielded to the temptation.
His wall, indeed! The impudence of the vixen!
Angry in every fiber of his body, he would therefore wheel upon his tormentor and flash out:
"When you see me tinkerin' your tumbledown wall, Miss Ellen Webster, I'll be some older than I am now. I've work enough of my own to do without takin' in repairs for my neighbors."
At that he would hear a malicious chuckle.
For some such response Ellen always waited. She liked to see the fire of rage burn itself through Martin's tan and feel that she had the power to kindle it. He never disappointed her. Sometimes, to be sure, she had to prod him more than once, but eventually his retort, sharp as the sting of an insect, was certain to come. From it she derived a half-humorous, half-vindictive satisfaction, for she was a keen student of human nature, and no one knew better than she that after the cutting words had left his lips proud-spirited young Martin scorned himself for having been goaded into uttering them.
A tantalizing creature, Ellen Webster!
Silent, penurious, shrewd to the margin of dishonesty; unrelenting as the rock-fronted fastnesses of her native hills; good-humored at times and even possessed of swift moods of tenderness that disarmed and appealed—such she was. She stood straight as a spruce despite the burden of her years, and a suggestion of girlhood's bloom still colored her cheek; but the features of her crafty countenance were tightly drawn; the blue eyes glinted with metallic light; and the mouth was saved from cruelty only by its upward curve of humor.
She had been an only daughter who since her teens had nursed invalid parents until death had claimed them and left her mistress of the homestead where she now lived. There had, it is true, been a boy; but in his early youth he had shaken the New Hampshire dust from off his feet and gone West, from which Utopia he had for a time sent home to his sister occasional and peculiarly inappropriate gifts of Mexican saddles, sombreros, leggings, and Indian blankets. He had received but scant gratitude, however, for these well-intentioned offerings. It had always been against the traditions of the Websters to spend money freely and Ellen, a Webster to the core, resented his lack of prudence; furthermore the articles were useless and cluttered up the house. Possibly the more open-handed Thomas understood the implied rebuke in the meager thanks awarded him and was hurt by it; at any rate, he ceased sending home presents, and by and by Ellen lost trace of him altogether. Years of silence, unbroken by tidings of any sort, followed. Ellen had almost forgotten she had a brother when one day a letter arrived announcing his death.
The event brought to the sister no grief, for years ago Thomas had passed out of her life. Nevertheless the message left behind it an aftermath of grim realizations that stirred her to contemplate the future from quite a new angle. She had never before considered herself old. Now she suddenly paused and reflected upon her seventy-five years and the uncertainty of the stretch of days before her.
Through the window she could see her prosperous lands, her garden upon the southern slope of the hill where warm sun kissed into life its lushly growing things; her pasture pierced by jagged rocks, and cattle-trampled stretches of rough turf; her wood lot where straight young pines and oak saplings lifted their reaching crests toward the sky; her orchard, the index of her progenitor's foresight. All these had belonged to the Websters for six generations, and she could not picture them the property of any one bearing another name; nor could she endure the thought of the wall being sometime rebuilt by an outsider.
What was to be the fate of her possessions after she was gone? Suppose a stranger purchased the estate. Or, worse than all, suppose that after she was dead Martin Howe was to buy it in. The Howes had always wanted more land.
Imagine Martin Howe plowing up the rich loam of her fields, invading with his axe the dim silences of her wood lot, enjoying the fruit of her orchard, driving his herds into her pasture! Fancy his feet grating upon the threshold of her home, his tread vibrating on her stairways! The irony of it!
Martin was young. At least, he was not old. He could not be more than forty. He might marry sometime. Many a man more unapproachable even than Martin Howe did marry.
And if he should marry, what would be more likely than that he would give to his maiden sisters—Mary, Eliza, and Jane—the Howe farm and take for his own abode the more spacious homestead of the Websters?
Ellen's brows contracted fiercely; then her mouth twisted into a crooked smile.
What a retribution if, after all, it should be Martin whose fate it was to rebuild the wall! Why, such a revenge would almost compensate for the property falling into his hands! Suppose it should become his lot to cut away the vines and underbrush; haul hither the great stones and hoist them into place! And if while he toiled at the hateful task and beads of sweat rolled from his forehead, a sympathetic and indulgent Providence would but permit her to come back to earth and, standing at his elbow, jeer at him while he did it! Ah, that would be revenge indeed!
Then the mocking light suddenly died from the old woman's eyes. Maybe Martin would not buy the farm, after all.
Or if he did, he might perhaps leave the wall to crumble into extinction, so that the rancor and bitterness of the Howes and Websters would come to an end, and the enmity of a hundred years be wasted!
Would not such an inglorious termination of the feud go down to history as a capitulation of the Websters? Why, the broil had become famous throughout the State. For decades it had been a topic of gossip and speculation until the Howe and Webster obstinacy had become a byword, almost an adage. To have the whole matter peter out now would be ignominious.
No. Though worms destroyed her mortal body, the hostility bred between the families should not cease. Nor should her ancestral home ever become the prey of her enemies, either.
Rising decisively, Ellen took from the mahogany secretary the letter she had received a few days before from Thomas's daughter and reread it meditatively.
Twice she scanned its pages. Then she let it drop into her lap. Again her eyes wandered to the stretch of land outside across which slanted the afternoon shadows.
The day was very still. Up from the tangle of brakes in the pasture came the lowing of cattle. A faint sweetness from budding apple trees filled the room. Radiating, narrowing away toward the sky line, row after row of low green shoots barred the brown earth of the hillside with the promise of coming harvest. It was a goodly sight,—that plowed land with its lines of upspringing seeds. A goodly sight, too, were the broad mowings stirring gently with the sweep of the western breeze.
Ellen regarded the panorama before her musingly. Then she seated herself at the old desk and with deliberation began to write a reply to her brother's child.
She was old, she wrote, and her health was failing; at any time she might find herself helpless and ill. There was no one to care for her or bear her company. If Lucy would come to Sefton Falls and live, her aunt would be glad to give her a home.
"As yet," concluded the diplomat, with a Machiavelian stroke of the pen, "I have made no will; but I suppose I shall not be able to take the Webster lands and money with me into the next world. You are my only relative. Think well before making your decision."
After she had signed and blotted the terse missive, Ellen perused its lines, and her sharp eyes twinkled. It was a good letter, a capital letter! Without actually promising anything, it was heavy with insidious bribery.
Be the girl of whatsoever type she might, some facet of the note could not fail to lure her hither. If a loyal Webster, family obligation would be the bait; if conscientious, plain duty stared her in the face; if mercenary, dreams of an inherited fortune would tempt her. The trap was inescapable.
In the meantime to grant a home to her orphan flesh and blood would appeal to the outside world as an act of Christian charity, and at the same time would save hiring the help she had for some time feared she would be driven to secure,—a fact that did not escape the woman's cunning mind.
She was not so strong as formerly, and of late the toil of the farm taxed her endurance. There was milking, sewing, the housework, and the care of the chickens; enough to keep ten pairs of hands busy, let alone one. Oh, Lucy should earn her board, never fear!
As nearly as the aunt could calculate, her niece must now be about twenty years old,—a fine, vigorous age! Doubtless, too, the girl was of buxom Western build, for although Thomas had not married until late in life, his wife had been a youthful woman of the mining country. This Lucy was probably a strapping lass, who in exchange for her three meals would turn off a generous day's work. Viewed from every standpoint the scheme was an inspiration.
Ellen hoped it would not fail. Now that she had made up her mind to carry through the plan, she could not brook the possibility of being thwarted.
Once more she took the letter from its envelope and read it. Yes, it was excellent. Were she to write it all over again she could not improve it. Therefore she affixed the stamp and address and, summoning Tony, the Portuguese lad who slaved for her, she sent him to the village to mail it.
For two weeks she awaited an answer, visiting the post office each day with a greater degree of interest than she had exhibited toward any outside event for a long stretch of years.
Her contact with the world was slight and infrequent. Now and then she was obliged to harness up and drive to the village for provisions; to have the horse shod; or to sell her garden truck; but she never went unless forced to do so. A hermit by nature, she had no friends and wanted none.
Her only neighbors were the Howes, and beyond the impish pleasure she derived from taunting Martin, they had no interest for her. The sisters were timid, inoffensive beings enough; but had they been three times as inoffensive they were nevertheless Howes; moreover, Ellen did not care for docile people. She was a fighter herself and loved a fighter. That was the reason she had always cherished a covert admiration for Martin. His temper appealed to her; so did his fearlessness and his mulish attitude toward the wall. Such qualities she understood. But with these cringing sisters of his who allowed him to tyrannize over them she had nothing in common. Had she not seen them times without number watch him out of sight and then leap to air his blankets, beat his coat, or perform some service they dared not enact in his presence? Bah! Thank Heaven she was afraid of nobody and was independent of her fellow men.
Save for the assistance of the hard-worked Tony whom she paid—paid sparingly she confessed, but nevertheless paid—she attended to her own plowing, planting, and harvesting, and was beholden to nobody. The world was her natural enemy. To outwit it; to beat it at a bargain; to conquer where it sought to oppress her; to keep its whining dogs of pain, poverty, and loneliness ever at bay; to live without obligation to it; and die undaunted at leaving it,—this was her ambition.
The note she had mailed to her niece was the first advance she had made toward any human being within her memory; and this was not the cry of a dependent but rather the first link in a plot to outgeneral circumstances and place the future within her own control. She prided herself that for half a century she had invariably got the better of whosoever and whatsoever she had come in contact with. What was death, then, but an incident, if after it she might still reign and project her will into the universe even from the estranging fastnesses of the grave?
Therefore the answer from Lucy was of greater import than was any ordinary letter. It would tell her whether the initial step in her conspiracy to triumph over Destiny was successful. What wonder that her aged fingers trembled as she tore open the envelope of the message and spread the snowy paper feverishly on the table?
Summit, Arizona, May 5, 1917. Dear Aunt Ellen:
I can't tell you what a surprise it was to hear from you, and how much greater a surprise it was to have you ask me to come and live with you.
I had decided to go abroad and do Red Cross work, and was about to accept a position that had been offered me when your letter arrived. ("Humph!" murmured Ellen.)
But you write that you are alone in the world and not very well, and this being the case, I feel my place is with you.
You are my only relative, and I should be a very poor-spirited Webster indeed did I not acknowledge that your claim comes before any other. Therefore I shall be glad to come to New Hampshire and avail myself of your hospitality. I presume you have found, as I have, that living entirely for one's self is not very satisfactory after all. Since my father's death I have had no one to look after and have felt lonely, useless, and selfish in consequence.
I am certain that in attempting to make you happy, I shall find happiness myself, and I assure you that I will do all I can to be helpful.
If all goes well I should arrive at Sefton Falls in about ten days. In the meantime, I send my warmest thanks for your kindness and the affectionate greetings of
Your niece, Lucy Harmon Webster. After she had finished reading the letter, Ellen sat tapping her foot impatiently upon the floor. She was nettled, angry.
She did not at all relish having this child turn the tables on her charity and make of it a favor. As for the girl's sentimental nonsense about its not being satisfactory to live alone, what was she talking about? Living alone was the most satisfactory thing in the world. Did it not banish all the friction of opposing wills and make of one a monarch? No, she did not like the letter, did not like it.
If this Lucy were sincere, she showed herself to be of that affectionate, conscientious, emotional type Ellen so cordially detested; besides, she held her head too high. If on the other hand, she were shamming, and were in reality endowed with a measure of the Howe shrewdness, that was another matter.
Her aunt laughed indulgently at the girl's youthful attempt at subterfuge. She hoped she was humbugging. Worldly wisdom was an admirable trait. Had not the Websters always been famed for their business sagacity? She would far rather find Thomas's daughter blessed with a head than with a heart.
But the letter proved that the child was still a novice at the wiles of the world, dissemble as she would.
Had she been older and more discerning, she would have realized she had not actually been promised anything, and she would not have been decoyed into journeying hundreds of miles from home to pursue the wraith of an ephemeral fortune.
Within the confines of his own home Martin Howe, as Ellen Webster asserted, was a czar. Born with the genius to rule, he would probably have fought his way to supremacy had struggle been necessary. As it was, however, no effort was demanded of him, for by the common consent of an adoring family, he had been voluntarily elevated to throne and scepter. He was the only boy, the coveted gift long denied parents blessed with three daughters and in despair of ever possessing a son.
What rejoicings heralded his advent! Had half the treasures an eager father and mother prayed Heaven to grant been bestowed upon the child, he would unquestionably have become an abnormality of health, wealth, and wisdom. But Destiny was too farseeing a goddess to allow her neophyte to be spoiled by prosperity. Both his parents died while Martin was still a pupil at the district school, and the lad, instead of going to the city and pursuing a profession, as had been his ambition, found himself hurried, all unequipped, uneducated and unprepared, into the responsibilities of managing the family household.
Farming was not the calling he would have chosen. He neither liked it, nor was he endowed with that intuitive sixth sense on which so many farmers rely for guidance amid the mazes of plowing and planting. By nature, he was a student. The help he had sporadically given his father had always been given rebelliously and been accompanied by the mental resolve that the first moment escape was possible, he would leave the country and its nagging round of drudgery and take up a broader and more satisfying career.
To quote Martin's own vernacular, farming was hard work,—damned hard work. It was not, however, the amount of toil it involved that daunted him, but its quality. He had always felt a hearty and only thinly veiled contempt for manual labor; moreover, he considered life in a small village an extremely provincial one.
It was just when he was balancing in his mind the relative advantages of becoming a doctor or a lawyer, and speculating as to which of these professions appealed the more keenly to his fancy, that Fate intervened and relieved him of the onerousness of choosing between them.
Martin could have viewed almost any other vocation than that of farmer through a mist of romance, for he was young, and for him, behind the tantalizingly veiled future, there still moved the shadowy forms of knights, dragons, and fair ladies; but with the grim eye of a realist, he saw farming as it was, stripped of every shred of poetry. Blossoming orchards and thriving crops he knew to be the ephemeral phantasms of the dreamer. Farming as he had experienced it was an eternal combat against adverse conditions; a battle against pests, frosts, soil, weather, and weariness. The conflict never ceased, nor was there hope of emerging from its sordidness into the high places where were breathing space and vision. One could never hope when night came to glance back over the day and see in retrospect a finished piece of work. There was no such thing as writing finis beneath any chapter of the ponderous tome of muscle-racking labor.
The farmer stopped work at twilight only because his strength was spent and daylight was gone. The aching back, the tired muscles, could do no more, and merciful darkness drew a curtain over the day, thereby cutting off further opportunity for toil until the rising of another sun.
But although night carried with it temporary relief from exertion, it brought with it little peace. As one sat at the fireside in the gathering dusk, it was only to see in imagination a sinister procession of specters file past. They were the things that had been left undone. On they swept, one unperformed task treading upon the heel of its predecessor. There still remained potatoes to spade, weeds to pull, corn to hoe. A menacing company of ghosts to harass a weary man as his eyes closed at night and confront him when he opened them in the morning!
And even when, with the zest the new day brought, he contrived to mow down the vanguard of the parade, other recruits were constantly reenforcing its rear ranks and swelling the foes arraigned against the baffled farmer. Struggle as he would, the line was sometimes longer at evening than it had been at dawn. What wonder that a conscientious fellow like Martin Howe felt farming less a business to be accomplished than a choice of alternatives? What rest was there in sleep, if all the time one's eyes were closed a man was subconsciously aware that cutworms were devouring his lettuce and that weeds were every instant gaining headway? Even the rhythm of the rain was a reminder that the pea vines were being battered down and that the barn roof was leaking.
Yet to flee from this uncongenial future and seek one more to his liking did not occur to Martin Howe. He had been born with an uncompromising sense of duty, and once convinced of an obligation, he would have scorned to shirk it. The death of his parents left him no choice but to take up his cross with New England Spartanism and bear it like a true disciple. All the Howe capital was invested in land, in stock, and in agricultural implements. To sell out, even were he so fortunate as to find a purchaser, would mean shrinkage. And the farm once disposed of, what then? Had he been alone in the world, he would not have paused to ask the question. But there were Mary, Eliza, and Jane,—three sisters older than himself with no resources for earning a living. Even he himself was unskilled, and should he migrate to the city, he would be forced to subsist more or less by his wits; and to add to his uncertain fortunes the burden of three dependent women would be madness. No, the management of the family homestead was his inevitable lot. That he recognized.
What the abandonment of his "Castles in Spain" cost Martin only those who knew him best appreciated; and they but dimly surmised. Resolutely he kept his face set before him, allowing himself no backward glances into the dolce-far-niente land left behind. As it was characteristic of him to approach any problem from the scholar's standpoint, he attacked his agricultural puzzles from a far more scientific angle than his father had done, bringing to them an intelligence that often compensated for experience and opened before him vistas of surprising interest. He subscribed to garden magazines; studied into crop rotation and the grafting of trees and vines; spent a few months at college experimenting with soils and chemicals. He investigated in up-to-date farming machinery and bought some of the devices he felt would economize labor.
Gradually the problem of wresting a living from the soil broadened and deepened until it assumed alluring proportions. Farming became a conundrum worthy of the best brain, and one at which the supercilious could ill afford to scoff. Martin found himself giving to it the full strength both of his body and mind.
By the end of the first year he had become resigned to his new career; by the end of the second interested in it; by the end of the third enthusiastic.
In the meantime, as season succeeded season, the soil he had so patiently tended began to give him thanks, returning ever increasing harvests. The trees in the old orchard bent under their weight of apples; the grapevines were lush with fruit. The Howe farm acquired fame in the neighborhood.
The boy was proud of his success and justly so. Not alone did it represent man's triumph over Nature, but it also meant the mastery of Martin's own will over his inclinations. And all the while that he was achieving this dual victory he was developing from a thin, over-grown lad into a muscular young giant,—keen-eyed, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, strong-armed. He was lithe as an Indian and almost as unwearying. If through the cross rifts of his daily routine there filtered occasional shadows of loneliness, he only vaguely acknowledged their existence, attributing his groping longing for sympathy to the lack of male companionship and the uncongeniality that existed between himself and his sisters.
He had, to be sure, a few masculine acquaintances in the village, but most of them were older and less progressive than he, and they offered him little aid in his difficulties. Having farmed all their lives and been content with the meager results they had obtained, they shrugged their shoulders at Martin's experiments with irrigation and fertilizer, regarding his attempts as the impractical theories of a fanatic. Of youth, Sefton Falls contained only a scattering, the more enterprising young men having gone either to the city or to the War.
Thus bereft of friends of his own sex, and turned back from a professional or a soldier's career by Duty's flaming sword, Martin reverted to his own home for comradeship. But here, alas, he was again disappointed.
Mary, Eliza, and Jane were not of a type to fill the void in his life that he sought to have filled. It would be unfair to say he had not a warm regard for his sisters, for he was a person of inherent loyalty, and ties of blood meant much to him. Had he not sacrificed his own dreams that his family might retain their old home? Nevertheless one may have a deep-rooted affection for one's kin and yet not find them congenial; and Martin was compelled to acknowledge that Mary, Eliza and Jane—estimable women as they were—had many fundamental characteristics that were quite out of harmony with his ideals of life. It was possible their faults were peculiar to the entire feminine race. He was not prepared to say, since his knowledge of the sex had never extended beyond the sill of his own doorway. But whether general or particular, the truth remained that the mental horizon of his sisters, bounded as it was by the four walls of the kitchen and such portion of the outside world as could be seen from its windows, was pitiably narrow.
Beyond the round of their daily duties none of the three women had an interest in life. Over and over again they performed their humdrum tasks in the same humdrum fashion, arguing over each petty detail of the time-worn theme until he marveled they could retain a particle of zest for routine they never varied from year to year.
Reading and experimenting brought a freshness to his work that stimulated detours into untraveled paths. But Mary, Eliza, and Jane never sought out the uncharted way. Evidently monotony suited their stolid temperaments; or if it did not, they never rebelled against it or tried to shake off its fetters. Matter-of-fact, timid, faithful, capable, middle-aged,—they were born to be plodders rather than explorers.
Martin admitted that to their undeviating system he owed a great measure of the comfort and tranquillity of his well-ordered house, and hence he struggled earnestly not to complain at the bondage that resulted from their cast-iron methods. Long since he had despaired of expecting adaptability from them. They must cling to their rut or all was lost. Once out of their customary channel, and they were like tossing ships, rudderless and without an anchor.
Their solicitude for him was another source of exasperation. There were days when the brute in him rose and clamored to strike Mary for tagging at his heels with coats and medicines, and Eliza for her lynxlike observation of every mouthful he ate. But he curbed the impulse, shamefacedly confessing himself to be ungrateful.
Had his tolerance been reenforced by insight, he would have understood that the very qualities which so exasperated him sprang from his sister's laudable desire to voice a gratitude they could not put into words by neglecting no act which would promote his welfare; but Martin, alas, was not a psychologist, and therefore was unable to translate his annoyances in these interpretative terms.
In truth, what Mary, Eliza, and Jane were as individuals concerned him very little. He always thought of them as a composite personality, a sort of female trinity.
Nevertheless Mary, Eliza, and Jane Howe were not a trinity. They were three very distinct beings.
Mary had had spinsterhood thrust upon her. At heart she was a mother, a woman created to nurse and comfort. Her greatest happiness was derived from fluttering about those she loved and waiting upon them. Had she dared, she would have babied Martin to an even greater extent than she did. As it was, when she was not at his elbow with warmer socks, heavier shoes, or a cup of hot coffee, she was worrying about Mary and Eliza, brewing tonics for them, or putting burning soapstones in their beds. It was a pity Life had cheated her of having a dozen babies to pilot through the mazes of measles and whooping cough, for then Mary would have been in her element. Yet nature is a thing of inconsistencies, and through some strange, unaccountable caprice, Mary's marital instincts stopped with this fostering instinct. In every other respect she was an old maid. Men she abhorred. Like Jennie Wren, she knew their tricks and their manners—or thought she did—which for all practical purposes amounted to the same thing. Had it been necessary for her to prove some of the theorems she advanced concerning the male sex, she would have been at a loss to do so, since the scope of her experience was very limited. Nevertheless, with genuine Howe tenacity, she clung to her tenets even though she was without data to back them up.
Eliza, on the other hand, had in her girlhood been the recipient of certain vague attentions from an up-State farmer, and these had bared to her virgin imagination a new world. True, the inconstant swain had betaken himself to the next county and there wed another. But although the affair had come to this ignominious end and its radiance had been dimmed by the realities of a quarter of a century of prosaic life, Eliza had never allowed time to obscure entirely the beauty of that early dream, nor the door thus opened into the fairy realms of romance to be wholly closed. Though she knew herself to be old, silver-haired, and worn, yet within the fastnesses of her soul she was still young and waited the coming of her lover. The illusion was only an illusion—a foolish, empty fantasy. However, it helped her to be content with the present and harmed no one. That Eliza had never quite "quit struggling" was borne out by the ripples into which she coaxed her hair and by the knot of bright ribbon she never failed to fasten beneath her ample chin.
Of the trio, Jane was the best balanced. Although the youngest of the sisters, it was to her judgment they were wont to appeal in times of stress. She was more fearless, more outspoken; and any mission she undertook was more certain of success. Therefore, when it became necessary to present some cause to Martin, it always fell to Jane's lot to act as spokesman. Once when a controversy concerning Ellen Webster had arisen, Jane had actually had the temerity to denounce her brother's attitude to his face, declaring that should the old woman fall ill she would certainly go and take care of her. Martin had met her defiance with rage. The Websters and all their kindred might die before he would cross their threshold or allow any of his family to do so. Before the violence of his wrath, Mary and Eliza, who within their souls agreed with Jane, quailed in terror; but Jane was undaunted.
This lack of what Martin termed proper pride in his sisters was a source of great disgust to him. He was quite conscious that although they did not openly combat his opinions, they did not agree with him, and not only regretted being at odds with their neighbors but also condemned his perpetuation of the old feud as unchristian. Hence it was a cause for much rejoicing to his mind to reflect that one male Howe at least survived to bolster up a spineless, spiritless, and decadent generation. To love one's enemies was a weak creed. Martin neither loved them nor pretended to. Never, never, would he forgive the insults the Websters had heaped upon his family. He wished no positive harm to Ellen Webster; but he certainly wished her no good.
Mary, Eliza, and Jane had too much timidity and too great a craving for peace not to conform outwardly at least to their brother's wishes. Accordingly they bent their necks to his will; for did not Martin rule the house?
Had you inquired of any of the sisters the Howes' breakfast hour, you would have been told that breakfast was served when Martin pleased. It was the sound of his step upon the stair that set preparations for the morning meal in motion. So it was with every other detail of the home. When he appeared in the doorway his handmaidens sprang to serve him, and so long as he lingered beneath the roof they stayed their impatient hands from any task that would create noise or confusion, and disturb his tranquillity. It was not until the ban of his presence was removed that they ventured to resume the mopping, dusting, or cooking in which they had been engaged before his entrance.
It would have been interesting to know how Martin explained to himself the lack of machinery in his household, and how he reconciled the spotlessness of his home with the apparent idleness of his sisters. His hearth was always swept; the dishes noiselessly washed; the beds made as if by magic; and the cleaning done without shadow of inconvenience to him. So long as these processes were not forced upon his consciousness and were faultlessly performed, he accepted the results without comment. But let one cog of the wheel slip, setting the mechanism of his comfort awry, and he was sure to mention it.
Possibly it was because he himself performed his out-of-door duties well that he demanded, and felt he had the right to demand a similar perfection within doors. In fact, he drew the lines of demarkation between the masculine and feminine spheres of service so sharply that his sisters would have died before they would have asked his aid in any domestic difficulty. Faithfully he met every obligation he considered to be within a man's province,—bringing wood, coal, and kindlings with the courtesy of a courtier; but the fowl browning in the oven might have burned to ebony before Martin would have lifted a finger to rescue it. To oversee the cooking was not his duty. No autocrat ever reigned with more absolute power than did Martin Howe; and no monarch ever maintained a more sincere faith in his divine right to rule. He simply set the crown of sovereignty upon his own brows because he believed it to belong there. And had his faith in his destiny wavered, there were always his slaves Mary, Eliza, and Jane to bow their foreheads in the dust at his feet and murmur with true Oriental submissiveness:
Oh, King, Live Forever!
His lordship being thus acknowledged, was it any wonder that Martin cast about himself a mantle of aloofness and dignity and rated as trivial the household routine and petty gossip of his sisters? When he listened to their chatter at all it was with the tolerance of a superior being toward a less intelligent rabble.
Hence when he returned from the field one night and was greeted by the breathless announcement that a strange young woman with her trunk had just arrived at the Websters', it was characteristic of him to quiet the excited outburst of his sisters with the chilling and stately reply:
"What does it matter to us who she is, or what she's come for? Ellen Webster's visitors are no concern of ours."
In the meantime the being whom Martin had dismissed with this majestic wave of his hand stood in the middle of the Webster kitchen, confronting the critical eyes of its mistress.
"Yes, Aunt Ellen," the girl was saying, catching the elder woman's stiff fingers in hers, "I'm Lucy. Do you think I look like Dad? And am I at all what you expected?"
Ellen drew her hands uncomfortably from the impulsive grasp but did not reply immediately. She was far too bewildered to do so.
Lucy was not in the least what she had expected,—that was certain. In the delicate oval face there was no trace of Thomas's heavily modeled features; nor was Lucy indebted to the Websters for her aureole of golden hair, the purity of her blond skin, or her grave brown eyes. Thomas had been a massively formed, kindly, plain-featured man; but his daughter was beautiful. Even Ellen, who habitually scoffed at all that was fair and banished the aesthetic world as far from her horizon as possible, was forced to acknowledge this.
In the proudly poised head, the small, swiftly moving hands, and the tiny feet there was a birdlike alertness which was the epitome of action. The supple body, however, lacked the bird's fluttering uncertainty; rather the figure bespoke a control that had its birth in an absence of all self-consciousness and the obedience of perfectly trained muscles to a compelling will.
Without a shadow of embarrassment Lucy endured her aunt's inspection.
"Anybody'd think," commented Ellen to herself in a mixture of indignation and amusement, "that she was a princess comin' a-visitin' instead of bein' a charity orphan."
Yet although she fumed inwardly at the girl's attitude, she did not really dislike it. Spirit flashed in the youthful face, and Ellen admired spirit. She would have scorned a cringing, apologetic Webster. Unquestionably in her niece's calm assurance there was no hint of the dependent.
As she stood serenely in the center of the room, Lucy's gaze wandered over her aunt's shoulder and composedly scanned every detail of the kitchen, traveling from ceiling to floor, examining the spotless shelves, the primly arranged pots and pans, the gleaming tin dipper above the sink. Then the roving eyes came back to the older woman and settled with unconcealed curiosity upon her lined and sharply cut features.
Beneath the intentness of the scrutiny Ellen colored uneasily.
"Well?" she demanded tartly.
"You seem to have made up your mind about me," went on the rasping voice. "Am I what you expected?"
The monosyllable came quietly.
"What sort of an aunt were you lookin' for?"
Lucy waited a moment and then replied with childlike directness:
"I thought you'd be more like Dad. And you don't look in the least like an invalid."
"You're disappointed I ain't sicker, eh?" commented Ellen grimly.
"No, indeed," answered Lucy. "I'm glad to find you so strong. But it makes me feel you do not need me as much as I thought you did. You are perfectly able to take care of yourself without my help."
"Oh, I can take care of myself all right, young woman," Ellen returned with an acid smile. "I don't require a nurse—at least not yet."
Lucy maintained a thoughtful silence.
"I don't quite understand why you sent for me," she presently remarked.
"Didn't I write you I was lonesome?"
"Yes. But you're not."
Ellen laughed in spite of herself.
"What makes you so sure of that?"
"You don't look lonesome."
Again the elder woman chuckled.
"Mebbe I do, an' mebbe I don't," she responded. "Anyhow, you can't always judge of how folks feel by the way they look."
"I suppose not."
The reply was spoken politely but without conviction.
"An' besides, I had other reasons for gettin' you here," her aunt went on. "I mentioned 'em in my letter."
"I don't remember the other reasons."
Ellen stared, aghast.
"Why—why—the property," she managed to stammer.
The words were uttered with an indifference too genuine to be questioned.
"Yes, the property," repeated Ellen with cutting sarcasm. "Ain't you interested in money; or have you got so much already that you couldn't find a use for any more?"
The thrust told. Into the girl's cheek surged a flame of crimson.
"I haven't any money," she returned with dignity. "Dad left me almost penniless. His illness used up all we had. Nevertheless, I was glad to spend it for his comfort, and I can earn more when I need it."
"Yes," went on Lucy, raising her chin a trifle higher, "I am perfectly capable of supporting myself any time I wish to do so."
"Mebbe you'd rather do that than stay here with me," her aunt suggested derisively.
"Maybe," was the simple retort. "I shall see."
Ellen bit her lip and then for the second time her sense of humor overcame her.
"I guess there's no doubtin' you're a genuine Webster," she replied good-humoredly. "I begin to think we shall get on together nicely."
"I hope so."
There was a reservation in the words that nettled Ellen.
"Why shouldn't we?" she persisted.
"I don't know."
"Don't you like your aunt?"
The audacity of the reply appealed to the older woman, and her eyes twinkled. "Not altogether, eh?" she echoed. "Now I'm sorry to hear that because I like you very much."
Lucy smiled. It was a radiant smile, disclosing prettily formed white teeth and a lurking dimple.
"But you ain't a-goin' to return the compliment?"
It was long since Ellen had been so highly entertained.
"Well," she observed with undiminished amusement, "I've evidently got to be on my good behavior if I want to keep such an independent young lady as you in the house."
"Why shouldn't I be independent?"
A few moments before Ellen would have met the challenge with derision; but now something caused her to restrain the retort that trembled on her tongue and say instead:
"Of course you've got a right to be independent. The folks that ain't ought to be made way with."
Her affirmation surprised her. She would not have confessed it, but a strange sense of respect for the girl before her had driven her to utter them.
Lucy greeted the remark graciously.
"That's what I think," she replied.
"Then at least we agree on somethin'," returned Ellen dryly, "an' mebbe before I put my foot in it an' lose this bit of your good opinion, I'd better take you up to your room."
She caught up the heavy satchel from the floor.
"Oh, don't," Lucy protested. "Please let me take it. I'm used to carrying heavy things. I am very strong."
"Strong, are you?" questioned Ellen, without, however, turning her head or offering to surrender the large leather holdall. "An' how, pray, did you get so strong?" She passed into the hall and up the stairs as she spoke, Lucy following.
"Oh, driving horses, doing housework, cooking, cleaning, and shooting," the girl replied. Then as if a forgotten activity had come to her mind as an afterthought, she added gaily: "And sawing wood, I guess."
"You can do things like that?"
"Yes, indeed. I had to after Mother died and we moved to Bald Mountain where Dad's mine was. I did all the work for my father and ten Mexicans."
"You? Why didn't your father get a woman in?"
Lucy broke into a merry laugh.
"A woman! Why, Aunt Ellen, there wasn't a woman within twenty miles. It was only a mining camp, you see; just Dad and his men."
"An' you mean to tell me you were the sole woman in a place like that?"
Lucy's silvery laughter floated upward.
"The ten Mexicans who boarded with us were engineers and bosses," she explained. "There were over fifty miners in the camp besides."
Stopping midway up the staircase Ellen wheeled and said indignantly:
"An' Thomas kep' you in a settlement like that?"
"'Twarn't no place for a girl."
"It was the place for me."
"Because Dad was there."
Something in the reply left Ellen wordless and made her continue her way upstairs without answering. When she did speak, it was to say in a gentler tone:
"Mebbe you'll like the room I'm going to give you. It used to belong to your Dad when he was a little boy."
She lifted the latch of a paneled door and stood looking into a large bedroom. The sun slanted across a bare, painted floor, which was covered by a few braided rugs, old and worn; there was a great four-poster about which were draped chintz curtains, yellowed by age, and between the windows stood a mahogany bureau whose brasses were tarnished by years of service; two stiff ladder-back chairs, a three-cornered washstand, and a few faded photographs in pale gilt frames completed the furnishings.
With swift step Lucy crossed the room and gazed up at one of the pictures.
"I'd no idea he was ever such a chubby little fellow. Look at his baby hands and his drum!"
She paused, looking intently at the picture. Then in a far-away tone she added:
"And his eyes were just the same."
For several minutes she lingered, earnest and reminiscent.
"And is this you, Aunt Ellen?" she asked, motioning toward another time-dimmed likeness hanging over the bed.
A silence fell upon the room. Ellen fidgeted.
"I've changed a good deal since then," she observed, after waiting nervously for some comment.
"You've changed much more than Dad."
Curiosity impelled her to cross to Lucy's side and examine the photograph.
"Your eyes—your mouth."
"What about 'em?"
"I—I—don't believe I could explain it," responded Lucy slowly.
"Mebbe you'd have liked me better as a little girl," grinned her aunt whimsically.
"I—yes. I'm sure I should have liked you as a little girl."
The reply piqued Ellen. She bent forward and scrutinized the likeness more critically. The picture was of a child in a low-cut print dress and pantalettes,—a resolute figure, all self-assurance and self-will.
It was easy to trace in the face the features of the woman who confronted it: the brows of each were high, broad, and still bordered by smoothly parted hair; the well-formed noses, too, were identical; but the eyes of the little maiden in the old-fashioned gown sparkled with an unmalicious merriment and frankness the woman's had lost, and the curving mouth of the child was unmarred by bitter lines. Ellen stirred uncomfortably.
As she looked she suddenly became conscious of a desire to turn her glance away from the calm gaze of her youthful self. Yes, the years had indeed left their mark upon her, she inwardly confessed. She did not look like that now. Lucy was right. Her eyes had changed, and her mouth, too.
"Folks grow old," she murmured peevishly. "Nobody can expect to keep on looking as they did when they were ten years old."
Abruptly she moved toward the door.
"There's water in the pitcher, an' there's soap and towels here, I guess," she remarked. "When you get fixed up, come downstairs; supper'll be on the table."
The door banged and she was gone. But as she moved alone about the kitchen she was still haunted by the clear, questioning eyes of the child in the photograph upstairs. They seemed to follow her accusingly, reproachfully.
"Drat old pictures!" she at last burst out angrily. "They'd ought to be burnt up—the whole lot of them! They always set you thinkin'."
THE EPISODE OF THE EGGS
The next morning while Ellen stood at the kitchen table slicing bread for breakfast, Lucy, her figure girlish in a blue and white pinafore, appeared in the doorway.
"Good morning, Aunt Ellen," she said. "You will have to forgive me this once for being late. Everything was so still I didn't wake up. Your nice feather bed was too comfortable, I'm afraid. But it shan't happen again. After this I mean to be prompt as the sun, for I'm going to be the one to get the breakfast. You must promise to let me do it. I'd love to. I am quite accustomed to getting up early, and after serving breakfast for twelve, breakfast for two looks like nothing at all." As she spoke she moved with buoyant step across the room to the table.
"Shan't I toast the bread?" she inquired.
"I ain't a-goin' to toast it," returned Ellen in a curt tone. "Hot bread an' melted butter's bad for folks, 'specially in the mornin'."
Lucy smiled. "It never hurts me," she replied.
"Nor me," put in her aunt quickly. "I don't give it a chance to. But whether or no, I don't have it. When you melt butter all up, you use twice as much, an' there ain't no use wastin' food."
"I never thought about the butter."
"Them as has the least in the world is the ones that generally toss the most money away," the elder woman observed.
The transient kindliness of the night before had vanished, giving place to her customary sharpness of tone. Lucy paid no heed to the innuendo.
"I might make an omelet while I'm waiting," she suggested pleasantly. "Dad used to think I made quite a nice one."
"I don't have eggs in the mornin', either," replied Ellen.
"Don't you like eggs?"
"I don't eat 'em."
"How funny! I always have an egg for breakfast."
"You won't here," came crisply from her aunt.
Lucy failed to catch the gist of the remark.
"Why, I thought you kept hens," she said innocently.
"Oh, I see. They're not laying."
"Yes, they are. I get about four dozen eggs every day," retorted Ellen. "But I sell 'em instead of eatin' 'em."
As comprehension dawned upon Lucy, she was silent.
"Folks don't need eggs in the mornin' anyway," continued Ellen, still on the defensive. "This stuffin' yourself with food is all habit. Anybody can get into the way of eatin' more 'n' more, an' not know where to stop. Bread an' coffee an' oatmeal is all anybody needs for breakfast."
If she expected a reply from her niece, she was disappointed, for Lucy did not speak.
"When you can get sixty-six cents a dozen for eggs, it's no time to be eatin' 'em," Ellen continued irritably. "You ain't come to live with a Rockefeller, Miss."
Receiving no answer to the quip, she drew a chair to the table and sat down.
"You'd better come an' get your coffee while it's hot," she called to Lucy.
Slowly the girl approached the table and seated herself opposite her aunt.
The window confronting her framed a scene of rare beauty. The Webster farm stood high on a plateau, and beneath it lay a broad sweep of valley, now half-shrouded in the silver mists of early morning. The near-at-hand field and pasture that sloped toward it were gemmed with dew. Every blade of tall grass of the mowing sparkled. Even the long rows of green shoots striping the chocolate earth of the garden flashed emerald in the morning sunlight; beyond the plowed land, through an orchard whose apple boughs were studded with ruby buds, Lucy caught a glimpse of a square brick chimney.
"Who lives in the next house?" she inquired, in an attempt to turn the unpleasant tide of the conversation. If she had felt resentment at her aunt's remarks, she at least did not show it.
"I was wondering who lived in the next house."
"I did not realize last night that you had neighbors so near at hand," continued the girl brightly. "Tell me about them."
"There's nothin' to tell."
"I mean who is in the family?"
"There's Martin Howe an' his three sisters, if that's what you want to know," snapped Ellen.
Lucy, however, was not to be rebuffed. She attributed her aunt's ungraciousness to her irritation about the breakfast and, determining to remain unruffled, she went on patiently:
"It's nice for you to have them so near, isn't it?"
"It don't make no difference to me, their bein' there. I don't know 'em." For some reason that Lucy could not fathom, the woman's temper seemed to be rising, and being a person of tact she promptly shifted the subject.
"No matter about the Howes any more, Aunt Ellen," she said, smiling into the other's frowning face. "Tell me instead what you want me to do to help you to-day? Now that I'm here you must divide the work with me so I may have my share."
Although Ellen did not return the smile, the scowl on her forehead relaxed.
"You'll find plenty to keep you busy, I guess," she returned. "There's all the housework to be done—dishes, beds, an' sweepin'; an' then there's milk to set an' skim; eggs to collect an' pack for market; hens to feed; an'——"
"You ain't so keen on dividin' up, eh?"
"Oh, it isn't that," returned Lucy quickly. "I was only thinking what a lot you had to do. No wonder you sent for me."
It was a random remark, but it struck Ellen's conscience with such aplomb that she flushed, dismayed.
"What do you mean?" she faltered.
As Lucy looked at her aunt, she observed the shifting glance, the crafty smile, the nervous interlacing of the fingers.
"Mean?" she returned innocently. "Why, nothing, Aunt Ellen. We must all work for a living one way or another, I suppose. If I prefer to stay here with you and earn my board there is no disgrace in it, is there?"
Nevertheless Ellen was obviously disconcerted. There was an uncanny quality in Lucy that left her with a sense that every hiding place in her heart was laid bare. Were the girl's ingenuous observations as ingenuous as they seemed? Or were they the result of an abnormal intuition, a superhuman power for fathoming the souls of others?
Eager to escape the youthful seer, the woman pushed back her chair and rose.
"I must go out an' see what that boy Tony's up to," she said. "While I'm gone you might tidy up round here a bit. There's the dishes an' the beds; an' in the pantry you'll find the eggs with the cases to pack 'em in. An' if you get round to it you might sweep up the sittin' room."
Drawing on a worn coat Ellen moved toward the door; when, however, her hand was on the knob, she turned and called over her shoulder:
"The washin's soakin' in the tubs in the shed. You can hang it out if you like."
Lucy waited until she saw the angular figure wend its way to the barn. Then she broke into a laugh.
"The old fox! She did get me here to work for her," she murmured aloud. "Anyway, I don't have to stay unless I like; and I shan't, either. So, Aunt Ellen Webster, you'd better be careful how you treat me."
With a defiant shake of her miniature fist in the direction her aunt had taken, Lucy turned to attack the duties before her. She washed the dishes and put them away; tripped upstairs and kneaded the billowy feather beds into smoothness; and humming happily, she swept and polished the house until it shone. She did such things well and delighted in the miracles her small hands wrought.
"Now for the eggs!" she exclaimed, opening the pantry door.
Yes, there were the empty cases, and there on the shelf were the eggs that waited to be packed,—dozens of them. It seemed at first glance as if there must be thousands.
"And she wouldn't let me have one!" ejaculated the girl. "Well, I don't want them. But I'm going to have an egg for breakfast whether she likes it or not. I'll buy some. Then I can eat them without thanks to her. I have a little money, and I may as well spend part of it that way as not. I suppose it will annoy her; but I can't help it. I'm not going to starve to death."
During this half-humorous, half-angry soliloquy, Lucy was packing the eggs for market, packing them with extreme care.
"I'd love to smash them all," she declared, dimpling. "Wouldn't it be fun! But I won't. I'll not break one if I can help it."
The deft fingers successfully carried out this resolution. When Ellen returned from the garden at noontime, not only was the housework done, but the eggs were in the cases; the clothes swaying on the line; and the dinner steaming on the table. She was in high good humor.
"I forgot to ask you what you had planned for us to have this noon," explained Lucy. "So I had to rummage through the refrigerator and use my own judgment."
"Your judgment seems to have been pretty good."
"I'm glad you think so."
"The Websters always had good judgment," the woman observed, as she dropped wearily into a chair. "Yes, you've got together a very good meal. It's most too good, though. Next time you needn't get so much."
Lucy regarded her aunt mischievously.
"Probably if I'd been all Webster I shouldn't have," she remarked demurely. "But half of me, you see, is Duquesne, and the Duquesnes were generous providers."
If Ellen sensed this jocose rebuke, she at least neither resented it nor paid the slightest heed to its innuendo.
"The Duquesnes?" she questioned.
"My mother was a Duquesne."
"Oh, she was?"
"Didn't you know that?"
"Yes, I reckon I did at the time your father married, but I'd forgot about it. Thomas an' I didn't write much to one another, an' latterly I didn't hear from him at all."
"It was a pity."
"I dunno as it made much difference," Ellen said. "Likely he didn't remember much about his home an' his relations."
"Yes, indeed he did," cried Lucy eagerly. "He used to speak often of my grandparents and the old house, and he hoped I'd come East sometime and see the place where he had lived as a boy. As he grew older and was sick, I think his early home came to mean more to him than any other spot on earth."
"Queer how it often takes folks to their dyin' day to get any sense," declared Ellen caustically. "Where'd your father pick up your mother, anyway?"
Lucy did not answer.
"I mean where did he get acquainted with her?" amended Ellen hastily.
"You never heard the story?"
"Oh, it was the sweetest thing," began Lucy enthusiastically. "You see, Grandfather Duquesne owned a coal mine up in the mountains, and Dad worked for him. One day one of the cages used in going down into the mine got out of order, and Grandfather gave orders that it was to be fixed right away lest some accident occur and the men be injured. But through a misunderstanding the work was not done, and the next day the cage dropped and killed nine of the miners. Of course the men blamed poor Grandfather for the tragedy, and they marched to his house, intending to drag him out and lynch him. Dad knew the truth, however, and he rushed to the place and held the mob back with his pistol until he could tell them the real facts. At first they were so angry they refused to listen, but by and by they did, and instead of killing Grandfather they went and found the engineers who were to blame."
"What did they do to them?" she demanded at last.
"Oh, they hung them instead of Grandfather," answered Lucy simply.
"How many of them?"
"I don't know. Three or four, I guess."
It was evident that Lucy was quite indifferent to the fate of the unlucky engineers.
"Mercy on us!" Ellen gasped.
"But their carelessness caused the death of the other men. It was only fair."
"So that's the way you settle things in the West?"
"Yes. At least, they did then."
The mountain-bred girl obviously saw nothing amiss in this swift-footed justice.
"And where did your mother come in?" asked her aunt.
"Why, you see, Grandfather Duquesne afterward made Dad the boss of the mine, and when Mother, a girl of sixteen, came home from the California convent, where she had been at school, she saw him and fell in love with him. Grandfather Duquesne made an awful fuss, but he let her marry him."
Lucy threw back her head with one of her rippling laughs.
"He had to," she added merrily. "Mother'd have married Dad anyway."
Ellen studied the tea grounds in the bottom of her cup thoughtfully.
How strange it was to picture Thomas the hero of a romance like this! She had heard that once in his life every man became a poet; probably this was Thomas's era of transformation.
Her reverie was broken by the gentle voice of Lucy, who observed:
"And that's what I'd do, too."
"What?" inquired Ellen vaguely. In her reverie about Thomas she had lost the connection.
"Marry the man I loved no matter what anybody said. Wouldn't you?"
"I—I—don't know," stammered Ellen, getting to her feet with embarrassment at having a love affair thrust so intimately upon her. "Mebbe. I must go back now to Tony an' the weedin'. When you get cleared up round here, there's plenty of mendin' to be done. You'll find that hamper full of stockin's to be darned."
After Ellen had gone out, Lucy did not rise immediately from the table, but sat watching the clouds that foamed up behind the maples on the crest of the nearby hill. A glory of sunshine bathed the earth, and she could see the coral of the apple buds sway against the sky. It was no day to sit within doors and darn socks. All Nature beckoned, and to Lucy, used from birth to being in the open, the alluring gesture was irresistible.
With sudden resolve she sprang up, cleared away the confused remnants of the meal before her, dashed to her room for a scarlet sweater, and fled into the radiant world outside.
She followed the driveway until it joined the road, and then, after hesitating an instant, turned in the direction of the Howe farm. A mischievous light danced in her brown eyes, and a smile curved her lips.
The road along which she passed was bordered on either side by walls of gray stone covered with shiny-leaved ivy and flanked by a checkerboard of pastures roughly dotted with clumps of hardback and boles of protruding rock. Great brakes grew in the shady hollows, and from the woods beyond came the cool, moist perfume of moss and ferns.
The girl looked about her with delight. Then she began to sing softly to herself and jingle rhythmically the coins in her pocket.
It was nearly a quarter of a mile to the Howes' gate, and by the time she reached it, her swinging step had given to her cheek a color that even the apple orchard could not rival.
A quick tap on the knocker brought Mary Howe to the door. She was tall, angular, and short-sighted, and she stood regarding her visitor inquisitively, her forehead lined by a network of wrinkles.
"Could you let me have a dozen eggs?" asked Lucy.
Mary looked at the girl in waiting silence.
"I am Miss Webster's niece," explained Lucy, with an appealing smile. "We live next door, you know. Aunt Ellen didn't seem to have any eggs to spare, so——" she stopped, arrested by Mary's expression.
"Maybe you don't sell eggs," she ventured.
"Yes, we do," Mary contrived to articulate, "but I don't know—I'm afraid——" She broke off helplessly in the midst of the disjointed sentence and, raising her voice, called: "Eliza, is Jane there?"
"She's upstairs. I'll fetch her down," responded Eliza, coming to the door. "What is it?"
"It's Miss Webster's niece askin' for eggs."
"Miss Webster's niece! Ellen Webster's?"
The explanation had in it an intonation of terror.
"My land, Mary! What shall we do? Martin will never——" the awed whisper ceased. "I'll call Jane," broke off Eliza hurriedly.
Lucy heard the messenger speed across the floor and run up the stairs.
"I'm afraid I'm making you a great deal of trouble," she remarked apologetically.
"Perhaps you haven't any eggs to spare."
Mary did not reply to the words; instead she continued to look with bewilderment at the girl on the doorstep.
"Did Miss Webster send you?" she at last inquired.
"No, indeed," she answered. "She didn't even know I was coming. You see, I only arrived from Arizona last night. I've come to live with my aunt. We didn't seem to agree very well about breakfast this morning so I——"
The explanation was pregnant with understanding.
"I just thought I'd feel more independent if I——"
A swish of skirts cut short the sentence, and in another moment all three of the Howe sisters were framed in the doorway.
Although a certain family resemblance was characteristic of them, they looked little alike. Eliza, it was true, was less angular than Mary and lacked her firmness of mouth and chin; but nevertheless the Howe stamp was upon her black hair, heavy, bushy brows, and noble cast of forehead. It was Jane's face, touched by a humor the others could not boast, that instantly arrested Lucy's attention. It was a fine, almost classic countenance which bespoke high thinking and a respect for its own soul. The eyes were gray and kindly, and in contrast to the undisguised dismay of her sisters, Jane's attitude was one of unruffled composure.
"You want some eggs?" she began with directness.
"If you can spare a dozen."
"I reckon we can."
"Now, Jane——" interrupted Mary nervously.
"Do be careful, Jane," chimed in Eliza.
"I have a right to——" but the resolute Jane was not permitted to finish her declaration.
"Martin won't——" interpolated Mary.
"You know Martin will be dretful put out," protested Eliza at the same instant.
"I can't help it if he is," asserted Jane impatiently. "I ain't obliged to think as he does, am I?"
"He'll be—oh, Jane!" Eliza implored.
"I'll take all the blame."
"I don't know what he'll say," pleaded Mary.
"Well, I'm going to get the eggs, anyhow," announced Jane, cutting short further argument by moving away.
During this enigmatic dialogue, Lucy's mystified gaze traveled from the face of one woman to that of another. What was it all about? And who was this Martin that he should inspire such terror?
"I'm afraid," she called to the retreating Jane, "you'd rather not——"
"It's all right, my dear," replied Jane cordially. "We're glad to let you have the eggs. I'll get them right away. It won't take me a second."
She disappeared behind the paneled door at the end of the hall, and presently Mary and Eliza, who had loitered irresolutely, uncertain whether to go or stay, followed her.
Left to herself, Lucy looked idly across the sunny landscape. Against the sky line at the top of the hill she could see a tall, masculine figure delving in the garden.
"That must be Martin-the-Terrible," she observed. "He doesn't look like such an ogre."
The banging of the door heralded Jane's approach. She held in her hand a neatly tied package, and over her shoulders peered Mary and Eliza.
"The eggs will be sixty-seven cents," Jane said in a businesslike tone. "That is the regular market price. I'd carry the box this side up if I were you."
Lucy counted the change into the woman's palm.
"You have such a pretty home," she murmured as she did so.
"We like it," replied Jane pleasantly.
"I don't wonder. The view from this porch is beautiful. Sometime I hope you'll let me come over and see you."
Lucy heard two faint simultaneous gasps.
"I'd be glad to have you," came steadily from Jane.
"And I'd like you to come over and see me some day, too—all of you," went on the girl.
"We don't have much time for goin' out," returned Jane. "There's such a lot to do that——" she stopped, appearing for the first time to be confused.
"I know there is," Lucy assented serenely. "I am afraid I have kept you too long from your work as it is. You must forgive me. Thank you very much for the eggs."
She extended a slender hand, which Jane grasped warmly. A smile passed between the two.
But as Lucy turned down the driveway and the door of the Howe homestead closed, a tragic babel of voices reached her ear, piping in shrill staccato the single word:
A CLASH OF WILLS
When Lucy reached home she found her aunt in the sitting room bending disapprovingly over the basket of undarned stockings.
"I see you haven't touched these," she observed, in a chiding tone. "Where've you been?"
"I went to get some eggs."
"Eggs! What for?"
"For my breakfast to-morrow. You said you couldn't spare any, so I've bought some."
The word expressed mingled wrath and wonder.
The woman looked puzzled. She thought a moment.
"Where'd you say?" she asked after a pause.
"Next door—at the Howes'."
"The Howes'!" Ellen fairly hissed the name. "You went to the Howes' for eggs?"
With a swift motion her aunt strode forward and snatched the box from Lucy's light grasp.
"You went to the Howes—to the Howes—an' told 'em I didn't give you enough to eat?"
Livid, the woman crowded nearer, clutching the girl's arm in a fierce, merciless grip; her blue eyes flashed, and her lips trembled with anger.
"I didn't say you didn't give me enough to eat," explained Lucy, trying unsuccessfully to draw away from the cruel fingers that held her.
"What did you tell 'em?"
"I just said you couldn't spare any eggs for us to use."
"Spare eggs! I can spare all the eggs I like," Ellen retorted. "I ain't a pauper. If I chose I could eat every egg there is in that pantry." She shook her niece viciously. "I only sell my eggs 'cause I'd rather," she went on.
"I thought you said we couldn't afford to have eggs when they where so high," explained Lucy. "You said they were sixty-six cents a dozen."
"I could afford to eat 'em if they was a dollar," interrupted Ellen, her voice rising. "If they were two dollars!"
"I didn't understand."
"'Tain't your business to understand," snapped her aunt. "Your business is to do as I say. Think of your goin' to the Howes—to the Howes of all people—an' askin' for eggs! It'll be nuts for them. The Howes." The circling fingers loosened weakly.
"I wonder," she continued, "the Howes sold you any eggs. They wouldn't 'a' done it, you may be sure, but to spite me. I reckon they were only too glad to take the chance you offered 'em."
"They weren't glad," protested Lucy indignantly. "They didn't want to sell the eggs at all, at least two of them didn't; but the one called Jane insisted on letting me have them."
"What'd they say?"
"I couldn't understand," Lucy replied. "They seemed to be afraid of displeasing somebody called Martin. They said he wouldn't like it."
"Martin wouldn't, eh?" Ellen gave a disagreeable chuckle. "They're right there. Martin won't like it. They'll be lucky if he doesn't flay them alive for' doin' it."
"But why, Aunt Ellen? Why?" inquired Lucy.
"Because the Howes hate us, root an' branch; because they've injured an' insulted us for generations, an' are keepin' right on injurin' an' insultin' us. That's why!" Ellen's wrath, which had waned a little, again rose to a white heat. "Because they'd go any length to do us harm—every one of 'em." Again the grip on Lucy's arm tightened painfully.
Dragging the girl to the window the old woman cried:
"Do you see that pile of stones over there? That's the wall the Howes built years an' years ago—built because of the grudge they bore the Websters, likely. Did you ever look on such an eyesore?"
"Why don't they fix it?" asked Lucy naively.
"Yes, why don't they? You may well ask that!" returned Ellen with scathing bitterness. "Why don't they? Because they're too mean an' stingy—that's why. Because they think that by lettin' it go to ruin an' makin' my place look like a dump heap, they can drive me to spend my money to do it, so'st they can save theirs. Because they're such lyin', deceitful critters they actually pretend the wall don't belong to 'em anyhow—that it's mine! Mine! That's why. So they leave it there, lookin' like the devil's own playground, hopin' that some day I'll get so sick of seem' it that way that I'll build it up."
She choked for breath.
"But I shan't," she went on. "I never shall, long's I live. If I was to be drawn an' quartered I wouldn't do it. No. If Martin Howe thinks he's the only person in the world who can hold out for a principle, he's mistaken. I've got a will that can match his, match his an' beat it, too, an' he'll learn it sometime. I can put up with seein' that wall just as long as he can."
A light of understanding began to break in on Lucy's bewilderment.
"I don't see——" she began, then halted before her aunt's stern gaze.
"You don't see what? Out with it."
"I don't see why you couldn't build it up together."
"You don't!" sneered Ellen contemptuously, "You'd help those Howes fix their wall, I s'pose, same's you'd go an' buy their eggs."
The withering intonation of the words echoed through the room.
"I'm goin' to tell you right now, Lucy Webster, that if you have a spark of pride, an atom of regard for your father, your grandfather, or your great-grandfather, you'll put all such notions as that plumb out of your head. You'll have no dealin's with the Howes. You'll just hate 'em as your folks have always hated 'em; an' you'll vow from now on that if Heaven ever gives you the chance you'll get even with 'em." The tense voice ceased.
Through the stillness the whispers of the great elm on the lawn could be heard blending with the song of a vesper sparrow. Already twilight had folded the valley in mystery until only the peaks of the hills were tipped with light.
Contrasted with the peace of the night, man's strivings seemed peculiarly out of harmony. But to Ellen's heart the scene brought no tranquillity.
"Now you know what your duty is," she concluded, with a final vindictive outburst.
"If it is my duty," the girl answered, her eyes still upon the distant landscape.
"Of course it's your duty. There ain't no question about that."
"Each of us must settle with his own conscience what his duty is," Lucy observed slowly.
"Not if it's been handed down to him," put in Ellen quickly. "I guess your duty's chalked out for you pretty plain; an' I reckon if you're any sort of a Webster you'll do it an' not go branchin' off followin' notions of your own—not after all these years."
"I don't believe in keeping up traditions unless they are good ones."
The older woman's lips tightened.
"You mean you'd break off from what your folks thought?"
"If I felt it to be right, yes."
Ellen drew a quick, impatient breath.
"You mean to say you'd set yourself up as knowin' mor'n your people before you did?"
"I believe each generation grows wiser, or ought to—wiser and kinder."
"Kindness has nothin' to do with it."
"Yes, it has," persisted Lucy softly. "Unless we become more kind, how is the world ever to become better?"
"Pish!" ejaculated Ellen. "Now see here. You ain't comin' into my house to preach to me. I'm older'n you, an' I know without bein' told what I want to do. So long's you stay under this roof you'll behave like a Webster—that's all I've got to say. If you ain't a-goin' to be a Webster an' prefer to disgrace your kin, the sooner you get out the better."
"Very well. I can go."
There was no bravado in the assertion. Had there been, Ellen would not have felt so much alarmed. It was the fearless sincerity of the remark that frightened her. She had not intended to force a crisis. She had calculated that her bullying tone would cow rather than antagonize her niece. The last result on which she had reckoned was defiance. Instantly her crafty mind recognized that she must conciliate unless she would lose this valuable helper whose toil could be secured without expense.
"Of course I don't mean—I wouldn't want you should go away," she hastened to declare. "I'm just anxious for you to do—well—what's right," she concluded lamely.
Lucy saw her advantage.
"Now, Aunt Ellen, we may as well settle this right now," she asserted. "I am quite willing to go back to Arizona any time you say the word. I have no desire to remain where I am not wanted. But so long as I do stay here, I must be the one to decide what it is right for me to do. Remember, I am not a child. I have a conscience as well as you, and I am old enough to use it."
Ellen did not speak. She realized that Greek had met Greek and in the combat of wills she was vanquished. Nevertheless, she was not generous enough to own defeat.
"S'pose we don't talk about it any more," she replied diplomatically.
She was retreating toward the door, still smarting under the knowledge of having been vanquished, when her eye fell upon the box of eggs, which, in her excitement, she had forgotten was in her hand. A malicious gleam lighted her face. A second afterward there was a violent crash in the kitchen.
"The eggs!" Lucy heard her cry. "I've dropped 'em."
The eggs had indeed been dropped,—dropped with such a force that even the cooperation of all the king's horses and all the king's men would have been useless.
When Lucy reached her side Ellen was bending over the wreck on the floor, a sly smile on her lips.
"They're gone, every one of 'em," she announced with feigned regret. "But it ain't any matter. You can have all, the eggs you want anytime you want 'em. I ain't so poverty-stricken that we can't have eggs—even if they are sixty-six cents a dozen."
She got a cloth and began to wipe up the unsightly mass at her feet.
"I paid sixty-seven cents for those," Lucy said.
"Sixty-seven cents! How long have the Howes been gettin' sixty-seven cents for their eggs, I'd like to know?" Ellen demanded, springing into an upright position.
"I couldn't say. Jane told me that was the regular market price."
"Why didn't I know it?" her aunt burst out. "They must 'a' gone up a cent, an' I sellin' mine at the store for sixty-six! Ain't it just like that meachin' Elias Barnes to do me out of a penny a dozen, the skinflint."
In the face of the present issue, the battle between Howe and Webster was forgotten.
To be cheated out of a cent by Elias Barnes and at the same time to have her business ability surpassed by that of Martin Howe! No indignity could have equaled it.
"Well, I'll get even with Elias," she blustered. "I'm fattening some hogs for him, an' I'll tuck what I've lost on the eggs right on to 'em. He shall pay that cent one way or 'nother 'fore he gets through. He needs to think to beat me. Sixty-seven cents, and I never knowin' it!"
Then the words brought still another bitter possibility to the woman's mind.
"You didn't mention to the Howes I was gettin' only sixty-six cents a dozen for eggs, did you?" she asked, wheeling on Lucy.
"No, I didn't speak of price."
"That's good," said her aunt, slightly mollified. "At least Martin Howe can't go crowin' over me—that is, unless Elias Barnes tells him. 'Twould be exactly like Elias to do it. He is just that mean."
Although Ellen did not own it, Lucy knew that had the case been reversed, she would have been the first to crow unhesitatingly not only over Elias but over Martin. Pityingly she looked at the old woman.
"If you ever get the chance to speak to those Howe women again," her aunt concluded, with affected nonchalance, "you might tell 'em we never used their eggs. You could say I smashed 'em. I'd like Martin Howe to know it."
ELLEN ENCOUNTERS AN ENIGMA
Nevertheless, in spite of this bellicose admonition, Lucy had no opportunity during the next few weeks to deliver to the Howes her aunt's message, for Ellen, feeling that she was now blessed with an able assistant whose time must not be wasted, seized upon the mild May weather to deluge her home from top to bottom with soapsuds, sapolio, and fresh paint. From morning until night Lucy worked, scrubbing and scouring, brushing and beating.
As she toiled up the stairs, carrying pails of steaming water, she caught through the windows glimpses of the valley, its verdant depths threaded by the river's silvery windings. The heavens had never been bluer. Everywhere gladness was in the air, and the thrill of it filled the girl with longing to be in the heart of its magic.
Ellen, however, was entirely oblivious to the miracle taking place in the universe about her. The glory of the awakening season, with its hosts of unfurling leaves and opening buds, was nothing to her. Had she not been dependent on the sun to make her garden grow, she would probably never have lifted her face to its golden rays. Only as nature furthered her projects did she acknowledge its presence.
The Howes seemed, to some extent at least, to share this disregard for the out-of-door world, for like Ellen they, too, surrendered themselves to a household upheaval quite as merciless as that of the Websters. No sooner would Martin disappear with horse and plow in the direction of the garden than the three sisters could be seen feverishly dragging mattresses on to the piazza roof for a sunning; shaking blankets; and beating rugs.
Now and then, when the sound of their measured blows reached Ellen's ears, she would leap to close the windows on the side of the house where there was danger of the Howe germs drifting in and polluting the Webster Lares and Penates.
It was one day after being thus impelled that Lucy was surprised to see her linger and stare intently.
"What are them women a-doin'?" she exclaimed at last. "Do come here, Lucy."
Discarding her mop, the girl crossed the room.
Through the gaps in the trees Mary, Eliza, and Jane Howe were plainly visible. They had shovels in their hands and were struggling with the turf at the foot of the big linden tree beside the house.
"They seem to be digging a hole," Lucy said, after watching a moment.
"What for, do you suppose?"
Ellen fidgeted at the casement for a short time and then disappeared, only to return with an old pair of field glasses. Adjusting them to her eyes, she stared at her neighbors with unconcealed curiosity.
"They are diggin' a hole," she declared presently. "A good deep one; whatever can they be settin' out to do?"
For an interval she looked on with interest. Then suddenly she exclaimed in an excited voice:
"They're goin' to bury somethin'! My land! What do you s'pose it is? Somethin' all done up in a bag!" She forced the binoculars into Lucy's hand. "You look and see if you can't make out."
Lucy scanned the scene with mild inquisitiveness.
"They have a canvas sack," she said, "and evidently they are trying to bury it."
She handed the glass back to Ellen.
"They act as if they were in an almighty hurry," observed Ellen, as she looked. "They keep watchin' to see if anybody's comin'. Likely they're afraid Martin will catch 'em. I wish he would. What do you reckon is in that bag? I'd give worlds to know."
"I can't imagine."
Lucy had returned to her cleaning and was busy wringing out the mop. The doings of the women next door failed to interest her. But not so Ellen who, tense with speculation, hovered at the casement.
"They've got the hole dug," she announced triumphantly, "an' they're lowerin' the bag into it. It must be heavy 'cause they seem to be havin' a hard time lettin' it down in. They act as if they were afraid to touch the thing. What can it be?" she repeated for the twentieth time.
"I don't know," Lucy replied wearily.
She was tired and hungry and wished Ellen would abandon spying on her neighbors and give her a helping hand.
"Yes," commented Ellen from the window, "those women handle that bag as if they had a chiny image in it. I can't for the life of me figger out what can be in it."
For an interval there was silence. Lucy set the mop and pail out in the hall and began to clean the paint.
"They've started to cover it up," chronicled Ellen, after a pause. "They're shovelin' in the dirt—at least Mary and Jane are; Eliza's stopped helpin' 'em an' gone to see if anybody's comin'. There's somethin' dretful queer about it all. Don't you think so?"
"I don't know," answered Lucy a trifle impatiently.
Again Ellen studied the distance.
"Look!" she cried an instant later. "Look! 'Liza's callin' an' motionin' to 'em. They're droppin' their shovels and runnin' for the house like a lot of scared sheep. Probably Martin's comin', an' they don't want him to catch 'em. There! What did I tell you? It is Martin. I can see him drivin' over the hill. Watch 'em skitter!"
Lured more by the desire to see Martin than to observe his panic-stricken sisters, Lucy went to the window. It was even as Ellen had said. There were the retreating forms of the three female Howes disappearing in at the side door; and there was Martin, his tall figure looming in sight at the heels of his bay mare.
"He's a fine looking man, isn't he?" Lucy remarked with thoughtless impulsiveness.
"I say he is fine looking," repeated the girl. "What broad shoulders he has, and how magnificently he carries his head!"
"You call that fine looking, do you?" sniffed her aunt.
"Yes. Don't you?"
"Martin Howe ain't my style of man."
"But he's so strong and splendid!"
"I never saw a splendid Howe yet," was Ellen's icy retort.
She turned from the window, took up a cloth, and went to scrubbing the paint viciously.
Lucy, realizing the tactlessness of her observation, tried by light, good-humored chatter to efface its memory; but all attempts to blot it from her aunt's mind were useless, and the relations between the two women remained strained for the rest of the day. So strained and uncomfortable were they that Lucy, wearied out by her hard work, was only too glad to bid Ellen good night and seek her own room early.
Through its windows long shafts of moonlight fell across the floor, flecking it with jagged, grotesque images of the trees outside. Once alone, she did not immediately start to undress, but lingered thoughtfully looking out into the night. Every muscle in her body ached, and in her heart was a sinking loneliness. For the first time since her arrival at Sefton Falls she surrendered herself to the distaste she felt toward her aunt and her surroundings. Could she stay, she asked herself. The narrowness of the environment raised an issue vital enough; nevertheless, grave as it was, it sank into insignificance when weighed against the vastly more potent factor of Ellen's personality. The girl had come east with the intention of nursing and caring for her father's sister. She felt he would have wished her to come; and casting every other inclination aside, she had obeyed what seemed to her the voice of duty. But she had been misled, disappointed. None of her father's kindliness lurked in this embittered, malicious-matured woman, toward whom, although bound by ties of blood, she felt neither respect nor affection. Nor did her aunt need her. After all, was it her duty to remain and waste her youth to no purpose? Could she face the horror of a stretch of years that held in them no human sympathy? What should she do? What ought she to do? Should she go or stay?