By ELLEN GLASGOW
GARDEN CITY NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY MCMXIII
Copyright, 1913, by Doubleday, Page & Company
All rights reserved, including that of translation into Foreign Languages, including the Scandinavian.
TO THE RADIANT SPIRIT WHO WAS MY SISTER CARY GLASGOW McCORMACK
BOOK FIRST—THE DREAM
I. The System
II. Her Inheritance
III. First Love
IV. The Treadwells
V. Oliver, the Romantic
VI. A Treadwell in Revolt
VII. The Artist in Philistia
VIII. White Magic
IX. The Great Man Moves
X. Oliver Surrenders
BOOK SECOND—THE REALITY
I. Virginia Prepares for the Future
II. Virginia's Letters
III. The Return
IV. Her Children
VI. The Shadow
VII. The Will to Live
VIII. The Pang of Motherhood
IX. The Problem of the South
BOOK THIRD—THE ADJUSTMENT
I. The Changing Order
II. The Price of Comfort
IV. Life's Cruelties
VI. The Future
Toward the close of a May afternoon in the year 1884, Miss Priscilla Batte, having learned by heart the lesson in physical geography she would teach her senior class on the morrow, stood feeding her canary on the little square porch of the Dinwiddie Academy for Young Ladies. The day had been hot, and the fitful wind, which had risen in the direction of the river, was just beginning to blow in soft gusts under the old mulberry trees in the street, and to scatter the loosened petals of syringa blossoms in a flowery snow over the grass. For a moment Miss Priscilla turned her flushed face to the scented air, while her eyes rested lovingly on the narrow walk, edged with pointed bricks and bordered by cowslips and wallflowers, which led through the short garden to the three stone steps and the tall iron gate. She was a shapeless yet majestic woman of some fifty years, with a large mottled face in which a steadfast expression of gentle obstinacy appeared to underly the more evanescent ripples of thought or of emotion. Her severe black silk gown, to which she had just changed from her morning dress of alpaca, was softened under her full double chin by a knot of lace and a cameo brooch bearing the helmeted profile of Pallas Athene. On her head she wore a three-cornered cap trimmed with a ruching of organdie, and beneath it her thin gray hair still showed a gleam of faded yellow in the sunlight. She had never been handsome, but her prodigious size had endowed her with an impressiveness which had passed in her youth, and among an indulgent people, for beauty. Only in the last few years had her fleshiness, due to rich food which she could not resist and to lack of exercise for which she had an instinctive aversion, begun seriously to inconvenience her.
Beyond the wire cage, in which the canary spent his involuntarily celibate life, an ancient microphylla rose-bush, with a single imperfect bud blooming ahead of summer amid its glossy foliage, clambered over a green lattice to the gabled pediment of the porch, while the delicate shadows of the leaves rippled like lace-work on the gravel below. In the miniature garden, where the small spring blossoms strayed from the prim beds into the long feathery grasses, there were syringa bushes, a little overblown; crape-myrtles not yet in bud; a holly tree veiled in bright green near the iron fence; a flowering almond shrub in late bloom against the shaded side of the house; and where a west wing put out on the left, a bower of red and white roses was steeped now in the faint sunshine. At the foot of the three steps ran the sunken moss-edged bricks of High Street, and across High Street there floated, like wind-blown flowers, the figures of Susan Treadwell and Virginia Pendleton.
Opening the rusty gate, the two girls tripped with carefully held flounces up the stone steps and between the cowslips and wallflowers that bordered the walk. Their white lawn dresses were made with the close-fitting sleeves and the narrow waists of the period, and their elaborately draped overskirts were looped on the left with graduated bows of light blue ottoman ribbon. They wore no hats, and Virginia, who was the shorter of the two, had fastened a Jacqueminot rose in the thick dark braid which was wound in a wreath about her head. Above her arched black eyebrows, which lent an expression of surprise and animation to her vivid oval face, her hair was parted, after an earlier fashion, under its plaited crown, and allowed to break in a mist of little curls over her temples. Even in repose there was a joyousness in her look which seemed less the effect of an inward gaiety of mind than of some happy outward accident of form and colour. Her eyes, very far apart and set in black lashes, were of a deep soft blue—the blue of wild hyacinths after rain. By her eyes, and by an old-world charm of personality which she exhaled like a perfume, it was easy to discern that she embodied the feminine ideal of the ages. To look at her was to think inevitably of love. For that end, obedient to the powers of Life, the centuries had formed and coloured her, as they had formed and coloured the wild rose with its whorl of delicate petals. The air of a spoiled beauty which rested not ungracefully upon her was sweetened by her expression of natural simplicity and goodness.
For an instant she stood listening in silence to the querulous pipes of the bird and the earnest exhortations of the teacher on the joys of cage life for both bird and lady. Then plucking the solitary early bud from the microphylla rose-bush, she tossed it over the railing of the porch on the large and placid bosom of Miss Priscilla.
"Do leave Dicky alone for a minute!" she called in a winning soprano voice.
At the sound, Miss Priscilla dropped the bit of cake she held, and turned to lean delightedly over the walk, while her face beamed like a beneficent moon through the shining cloud of rose-leaves.
"Why, Jinny, I hadn't any idea that you and Susan were there!"
Her smile included Virginia's companion, a tall, rather heavy girl, with intelligent grey eyes and fair hair cut in a straight fringe across her forehead. She was the daughter of Cyrus Treadwell, the wealthiest and therefore the most prominent citizen of the town, and she was also as intellectual as the early eighties and the twenty-one thousand inhabitants of Dinwiddie permitted a woman to be. Her friendship for Virginia had been one of those swift and absorbing emotions which come to women in their school-days. The stronger of the two, she dominated the other, as she dominated every person or situation in life, not by charm, but by the force of an energetic and capable mind. Though her dress matched Virginia's in every detail, from the soft folds of tulle at the neck to the fancy striped stockings under the bouffant draperies, the different shapes of the wearers gave to the one gown an air of decorous composure and to the other a quaint and appealing grace. Flushed, ardent, expectant, both girls stood now at the beginning of womanhood. Life was theirs; it belonged to them, this veiled, radiant thing that was approaching. Nothing wonderful had come as yet—but to-morrow, the day after, or next year, the miracle would happen, and everything would be different! Experience floated in a luminous mystery before them. The unknown, which had borrowed the sweetness and the colour of their illusions, possessed them like a secret ecstasy and shone, in spite of their shyness, in their startled and joyous look.
"Father asked me to take a message over to General Goode," explained Virginia, with a little laugh as gay as the song of a bird, "but I couldn't go by without thanking you for the cherry bounce. I made mother drink some of it before dinner, and it almost gave her an appetite."
"I knew it was what she needed," answered Miss Priscilla, showing her pleasure by an increasing beam. "It was made right here in the house, and there's nothing better in the world, my poor mother used to say, to keep you from running down in the spring. But why can't you and Susan come in and sit a while?"
"We'll be straight back in a minute," replied Susan before Virginia could answer. "I've got a piece of news I want to tell you before any one else does. Oliver came home last night."
"Oliver?" repeated Miss Priscilla, a little perplexed. "You don't mean the son of your uncle Henry, who went out to Australia? I thought your father had washed his hands of him because he had started play-acting or something?" Curiosity, that devouring passion of the middle-aged, worked in her breast, and her placid face grew almost intense in expression.
"Yes, that's the one," replied Susan. "They went to Australia when Oliver was ten years old, and he's now twenty-two. He lost both his parents about three years ago," she added.
"I know. His mother was my cousin," returned Miss Priscilla. "I lost sight of her after she left Dinwiddie, but somebody was telling me the other day that Henry's investments all turned out badly and they came down to real poverty. Sarah Jane was a pretty girl and I was always very fond of her, but she was one of the improvident sort that couldn't make two ends meet without tying them into a bow-knot."
"Then Oliver must be just like her. After his mother's death he went to Germany to study, and he gave away the little money he had to some student he found starving there in a garret."
"That was generous," commented Miss Priscilla thoughtfully, "but I should hardly call it sensible. I hope some day, Jinny, that your father will tell us in a sermon whether there is biblical sanction for immoderate generosity or not."
"But what does he say?" asked Virginia softly, meaning not the rector, but the immoderate young man.
"Oh, Oliver says that there wasn't enough for both and that the other student is worth more to the world than he is," answered Susan. "Then, of course, when he got so poor that he had to pawn his clothes or starve, he wrote father an almost condescending letter and said that as much as he hated business, he supposed he'd have to come back and go to work. 'Only,' he added, 'for God's sake, don't make it tobacco!' Wasn't that dreadful?"
"It was extremely impertinent," replied Miss Priscilla sternly, "and to Cyrus of all persons! I am surprised that he allowed him to come into the house."
"Oh, father doesn't take any of his talk seriously. He calls it 'starvation foolishness,' and says that Oliver will get over it as soon as he has a nice little bank account. Perhaps he will—he is only twenty-two, you know—but just now his head is full of all kinds of new ideas he picked up somewhere abroad. He's as clever as he can be, there's no doubt of that, and he'd be really good-looking, too, if he didn't have the crooked nose of the Treadwells. Virginia has seen him only once in the street, but she's more than half in love with him already."
"Do come, Susan!" remonstrated Virginia, blushing as red as the rose in her hair. "It's past six o'clock and the General will have gone if we don't hurry." And turning away from the porch, she ran between the flowering syringa bushes down the path to the gate.
Having lost his bit of cake, the bird began to pipe shrilly, while Miss Priscilla drew a straight wicker chair (she never used rockers) beside the cage, and, stretching out her feet in their large cloth shoes with elastic sides, counted the stitches in an afghan she was knitting in narrow blue and orange strips. In front of her, the street trailed between cool, dim houses which were filled with quiet, and from the hall at her back there came a whispering sound as the breeze moved like a ghostly footstep through an alcove window. With that strange power of reflecting the variable moods of humanity which one sometimes finds in inanimate objects, the face of the old house had borrowed from the face of its mistress the look of cheerful fortitude with which her generation had survived the agony of defeat and the humiliation of reconstruction. After nineteen years, the Academy still bore the scars of war on its battered front. Once it had watched the spectre of famine stalk over the grass-grown pavement, and had heard the rattle of musketry and the roar of cannon borne on the southern breeze that now wafted the sounds of the saw and the hammer from an adjacent street. Once it had seen the flight of refugees, the overflow of the wounded from hospitals and churches, the panic of liberated slaves, the steady conquering march of the army of invasion. And though it would never have occurred to Miss Priscilla that either she or her house had borne any relation to history (which she regarded strictly as a branch of study and visualized as a list of dates or as a king wearing his crown), she had, in fact, played a modest yet effective part in the rapidly changing civilization of her age. But events were powerless against the genial heroism in which she was armoured, and it was characteristic of her, as well as of her race, that, while she sat now in the midst of encircling battlefields, with her eyes on the walk over which she had seen the blood of the wounded drip when they were lifted into her door, she should be brooding not over the tremendous tragedies through which she had passed, but over the lesson in physical geography she must teach in the morning. Her lips moved gently, and a listener, had there been one, might have heard her murmur: "The four great alluvial plains of Asia—those of China and of the Amoo Daria in temperate regions; of the Euphrates and Tigris in the warm temperate; of the Indus and Ganges under the Tropic—with the Nile valley in Africa, were the theatres of the most ancient civilizations known to history or tradition——"
As she ended, a sigh escaped her, for the instruction of the young was for her a matter not of choice, but of necessity. With the majority of maiden ladies left destitute in Dinwiddie after the war, she had turned naturally to teaching as the only nice and respectable occupation which required neither preparation of mind nor considerable outlay of money. The fact that she was the single surviving child of a gallant Confederate general, who, having distinguished himself and his descendants, fell at last in the Battle of Gettysburg, was sufficient recommendation of her abilities in the eyes of her fellow citizens. Had she chosen to paint portraits or to write poems, they would have rallied quite as loyally to her support. Few, indeed, were the girls born in Dinwiddie since the war who had not learned reading, penmanship ("up to the right, down to the left, my dear"), geography, history, arithmetic, deportment, and the fine arts, in the Academy for Young Ladies. The brilliant military record of the General still shed a legendary lustre upon the school, and it was earnestly believed that no girl, after leaving there with a diploma for good conduct, could possibly go wrong or become eccentric in her later years. To be sure, she might remain a trifle weak in her spelling (Miss Priscilla having, as she confessed, a poor head for that branch of study), but, after all, as the rector had once remarked, good spelling was by no means a necessary accomplishment for a lady; and, for the rest, it was certain that the moral education of a pupil of the Academy would be firmly rooted in such fundamental verities as the superiority of man and the aristocratic supremacy of the Episcopal Church. From charming Sally Goode, now married to Tom Peachey, known familiarly as "honest Tom," the editor of the Dinwiddie Bee, to lovely Virginia Pendleton, the mark of Miss Priscilla was ineffaceably impressed upon the daughters of the leading families.
Remembering this now, as she was disposed to do whenever she was knitting without company, Miss Priscilla dropped her long wooden needles in her lap, and leaning forward in her chair, gazed out upon the town with an expression of child-like confidence, of touching innocence. This innocence, which belonged to the very essence of her soul, had survived both the fugitive joys and the brutal disillusionments of life. Experience could not shatter it, for it was the product of a courage that feared nothing except opinions. Just as the town had battled for a principle without understanding it, so she was capable of dying for an idea, but not of conceiving one. She had suffered everything from the war except the necessity of thinking independently about it, and, though in later years memory had become so sacred to her that she rarely indulged in it, she still clung passionately to the habits of her ancestors under the impression that she was clinging to their ideals. Little things filled her days—the trivial details of the classroom and of the market, the small domestic disturbances of her neighbours, the moral or mental delinquencies of her two coloured servants—and even her religious veneration for the Episcopal Church had crystallized at last into a worship of customs.
To-day, at the beginning of the industrial awakening of the South, she (who was but the embodied spirit of her race) stood firmly rooted in all that was static, in all that was obsolete and outgrown in the Virginia of the eighties. Though she felt as yet merely the vague uneasiness with which her mind recoiled from the first stirrings of change, she was beginning dimly to realize that the car of progress would move through the quiet streets before the decade was over. The smoke of factories was already succeeding the smoke of the battlefields, and out of the ashes of a vanquished idealism the spirit of commercial materialism was born. What was left of the old was fighting valiantly, but hopelessly, against what had come of the new. The two forces filled the streets of Dinwiddie. They were embodied in classes, in individuals, in articles of faith, in ideals of manners. The symbol of the one spirit was the memorial wreaths on the battlefields; of the other it was the prophetic smoke of the factories. From where she stood in High Street, she could see this incense to Mammon rising above the spires of the churches, above the houses and the hovels, above the charm and the provincialism which made the Dinwiddie of the eighties. And this charm, as well as this provincialism, appeared to her to be so inalienable a part of the old order, with its intrepid faith in itself, with its militant enthusiasm, with its courageous battle against industrial evolution, with its strength, its narrowness, its nobility, its blindness, that, looking ahead, she could discern only the arid stretch of a civilization from which the last remnant of beauty was banished forever. Already she felt the breaking of those bonds of sympathy which had held the twenty-one thousand inhabitants of Dinwiddie, as they had held the entire South, solidly knit together in a passive yet effectual resistance to the spirit of change. Of the world beyond the borders of Virginia, Dinwiddians knew merely that it was either Yankee or foreign, and therefore to be pitied or condemned according to the Evangelical or the Calvinistic convictions of the observer. Philosophy, they regarded with the distrust of a people whose notable achievements have not been in the direction of the contemplative virtues; and having lived comfortably and created a civilization without the aid of science, they could afford not unreasonably to despise it. It was a quarter of a century since "The Origin of Species" had changed the course of the world's thought, yet it had never reached them. To be sure, there was an old gentleman in Tabb Street whose title, "the professor," had been conferred in public recognition of peaceful pursuits; but since he never went to church, his learning was chiefly effective when used to point a moral from the pulpit. There was, also, a tradition that General Goode had been seen reading Plato before the Battle of Seven Pines; and this picturesque incident had contributed the distinction of the scholar to the more effulgent glory of the soldier. But for purely abstract thought—for the thought that did not construct an heroic attitude or a concrete image—there was as little room in the newer industrial system as there had been in the aristocratic society which preceded it. The world still clung to the belief that the business of humanity was confined to the preservation of the institutions which existed in the present moment of history—and Dinwiddie was only a quiet backwater into which opinions, like fashions, were borne on the current of some tributary stream of thought. Human nature in this town of twenty-one thousand inhabitants differed from human nature in London or in the Desert of Sahara mainly in the things that it ate and the manner in which it carried its clothes. The same passions stirred its heart, the same instincts moved its body, the same contentment with things as they are, and the same terror of things as they might be, warped its mind.
The canary fluted on, and from beyond the mulberry trees there floated the droning voice of an aged negress, in tatters and a red bandanna turban, who persuasively offered strawberries to the silent houses.
"I'se got sw-eet straw-ber'-ies! I'se got swe-e-t str-aw-ber'-ies! Yes'm, I'se got sw-e-et straw-ber'ies des f'om de coun-try!"
Then, suddenly, out of nothing, it seemed to Miss Priscilla, a miracle occurred! The immemorial calm of High Street was broken by the sound of rapidly moving wheels (not the jingling rattle of market wagons nor the comfortable roll of doctors' buggies), and a strange new vehicle, belonging to the Dinwiddie Livery Stables, and containing a young man with longish hair and a flowing tie, turned the corner by Saint James' Church, and passed over the earthen roadbed in front of the green lattice. As the young man went by, he looked up quickly, smiled with the engaging frankness of a genial nature, and lifting his hat with a charming bow, revealed to Miss Priscilla's eyes the fact that his hair was thick and dark as well as long and wavy. While he looked at her, she noticed, also, that he had a thin, high-coloured face, lighted by a pair of eager dark eyes which lent a glow of impetuous energy to his features. The Treadwell nose, she recognized, but beneath the Treadwell nose there was a clean-shaven, boyish mouth which belied the Treadwell nature in every sensitive curve and outline.
"I'd have known him anywhere from Susan's description," she thought, and added suspiciously, "I wonder why he peered so long around that corner? It wouldn't surprise me a bit if those girls were coming back that way."
Impelled by her mounting excitement, she leaned forward until the ball of orange-coloured yarn rolled from her short lap and over the polished floor of the porch. Before she could stoop to pick it up, she was arrested by the reappearance of the two girls at the corner beyond which Oliver had gazed so intently. Then, as they drew nearer, she saw that Virginia's face was pink and her eyes starry under their lowered lashes. An inward radiance shone in the girl's look, and appeared to shape her soul and body to its secret influence. Miss Priscilla, who had known her since the first day she came to school (with her lunch, from which she refused to be parted, tightly tied up in a red and white napkin), felt suddenly that she was a stranger. A quality which she had never realized her pupil possessed had risen supreme in an instant over the familiar attributes of her character. So quickly does emotion separate the individual from the inherent soul of the race.
Susan, who was a little in advance, came rapidly up the walk, and the older woman greeted her with the words:
"My dear, I have seen him!"
"Yes, he just passed us at the corner, and I wondered if you were looking. Do tell us what you think of him."
She sat down in a low chair by the teacher's side, while Virginia went over to the cage and stood gazing thoughtfully at the singing bird.
"Well, I don't think his nose spoils him," replied Miss Priscilla after a minute, "but there's something foreign looking about him, and I hope Cyrus isn't thinking seriously about putting him into the bank."
"That was the first thing that occurred to father," answered Susan, "but Oliver told me last night while we were unpacking his books—he has a quantity of books and he kept them even when he had to sell his clothes—that he didn't see to save his life how he was going to stand it."
"Stand what?" inquired Miss Priscilla, a trifle tartly, for after the vicissitudes of her life it was but natural that she should hesitate to regard so stable an institution as the Dinwiddie Bank as something to be "stood." "Why, I thought a young man couldn't do better than get a place in the bank. Jinny's father was telling me in the market last Saturday that he wanted his nephew John Henry to start right in there if they could find room for him."
"Oh, of course, it's just what John Henry would like," said Virginia, speaking for the first time.
"Then if it's good enough for John Henry, it's good enough for Oliver, I reckon," rejoined Miss Priscilla. "Anybody who has mixed with beggars oughtn't to turn up his nose at a respectable bank."
"But he says it's because the bank is so respectable that he doesn't think he could stand it," answered Susan.
Virginia, who had been looking with her rapt gaze down the deserted street, quivered at the words as if they had stabbed her.
"But he wants to be a writer, Susan," she protested. "A great many very nice people are writers."
"Then why doesn't he go about it in a proper way, if he isn't ashamed of it?" asked the teacher, and she added reflectively after a pause, "I wish he'd write a good history of the war—one that doesn't deal so much with the North. I've almost had to stop teaching United States history because there is hardly one written now that I would let come inside my doors."
"He doesn't want to write histories," replied Susan. "Father suggested to him at supper last night that if he would try his hand at a history of Virginia, and be careful not to put in anything that might offend anybody, he could get it taught in every private school in the State. But he said he'd be shot first."
"Perhaps he's a genius," said Virginia in a startled voice. "Geniuses are always different from other people, aren't they?"
"I don't know," answered Susan doubtfully. "He talks of things I never heard of before, and he seems to think that they are the most important things in the world."
"What things?" asked Virginia breathlessly.
"Oh, I can't tell you because they are so new, but he seems on fire when he talks of them. He talks for hours about art and its service to humanity and about going down to the people and uplifting the masses."
"I hope he doesn't mean the negroes," commented Miss Priscilla suspiciously.
"He means the whole world, I believe," responded Susan. "He quotes all the time from writers I've never heard of, and he laughs at every book he sees in the house. Yesterday he picked up one of Mrs. Southworth's novels on mother's bureau and asked her how she could allow such immoral stuff in her room. She had got it out of the bookcase to lend to Miss Willy Whitlow, who was there making my dress, but he scolded her so about it that at last Miss Willy went off with Mill's 'Essay on Liberty,' and mother burned all of Mrs. Southworth's that she had in the house. Oliver has been so nice to mother that I believe she would make a bonfire of her furniture if he asked her to do it."
"Is he really trying to unsettle Miss Willy's mind?" questioned the teacher anxiously. "How on earth could she go out sewing by the day if she didn't have her religious convictions?"
"That's just what I asked him," returned Susan, who, besides being dangerously clever, had a remarkably level head to keep her balanced. "But he answered that until people got unsettled they would never move, and when I wanted to find out where he thought poor little Miss Willy could possibly move to, he only got impatient and said that I was trying to bury the principle under the facts. We very nearly quarrelled over Miss Willy, but of course she took the book to please Oliver and couldn't worry through a line of it to save her soul."
"Did he say anything about his work? What he wants to do, I mean?" asked Virginia, and her voice was so charged with feeling that it gave an emotional quality to the question.
"He wants to write," replied Susan. "His whole heart is in it, and when he isn't talking about reaching the people, he talks about what he calls 'technique.'"
"Are you sure it isn't poetry?" inquired Miss Priscilla, humming back like a bee to the tempting sweets of conjecture. "I've always heard that poetry was the ruination of Poe."
"No, it isn't poetry—not exactly at least—it's plays," answered Susan. "He talked to me till twelve o'clock last night while we were arranging his books, and he told me that he meant to write really great dramas, but that America wasn't ready for them yet and that was why he had had to sell his clothes. He looked positively starved, but he says he doesn't mind starving a while if he can only live up to his ideal."
"Well, I wonder what his ideal is?" remarked Miss Priscilla grimly.
"It has something to do with his belief that art can grow only out of sacrifice," said Susan. "I never heard anybody—not even Jinny's father in church—talk so much about sacrifice."
"But the rector doesn't talk about sacrifice for the theatre," retorted the teacher, and she added with crushing finality, "I don't believe there is a particle of sense in it. If he is going to write, why on earth doesn't he sit straight down and do it? Why, when little Miss Amanda Sheppard was left at sixty without a roof over her head, she began at once, without saying a word to anybody, to write historical novels."
"It does seem funny until you talk with him," admitted Susan. "But he is so much in earnest that when you listen to him, you can't help believing in him. He is so full of convictions that he convinces you in spite of yourself."
"Convictions about what?" demanded Miss Priscilla. "I don't see how a young man who refuses to be confirmed can have any convictions."
"Well, he has, and he feels just as strongly about them as we do about ours."
"But how can he possibly feel as strongly about a wrong conviction as we do about a right one?" insisted the older woman stubbornly, for she realized vaguely that they were approaching dangerous ground and set out to check their advance in true Dinwiddie fashion, which was strictly prohibitive.
"I like a man who has opinions of his own and isn't ashamed to stand up for them," said Virginia with a resolution that made her appear suddenly taller.
"Not false opinions, Jinny!" rejoined Miss Priscilla, and her manner carried them with a bound back to the schoolroom, for her mental vision saw in a flash the beribboned diploma for good conduct which her favourite pupil had borne away from the Academy on Commencement day two years ago, and a shudder seized her lest she should have left a single unprotected breach in the girl's mind through which an unauthorized idea might enter. Had she trusted too confidently to the fact that Virginia's father was a clergyman, and therefore spiritually armed for the defence and guidance of his daughter? Virginia, in spite of her gaiety, had been what Miss Priscilla called "a docile pupil," meaning one who deferentially submitted her opinions to her superiors, and to go through life perpetually submitting her opinions was, in the eyes of her parents and her teacher, the divinely appointed task of woman. Her education was founded upon the simple theory that the less a girl knew about life, the better prepared she would be to contend with it. Knowledge of any sort (except the rudiments of reading and writing, the geography of countries she would never visit, and the dates of battles she would never mention) was kept from her as rigorously as if it contained the germs of a contagious disease. And this ignorance of anything that could possibly be useful to her was supposed in some mysterious way to add to her value as a woman and to make her a more desirable companion to a man who, either by experience or by instinct, was expected "to know his world." Unlike Susan (who, in a community which offered few opportunities to women outside of the nursery or the kitchen, had been born with the inquiring spirit and would ask questions), Virginia had until to-day accepted with humility the doctrine that a natural curiosity about the universe is the beginning of infidelity. The chief object of her upbringing, which differed in no essential particular from that of every other well-born and well-bred Southern woman of her day, was to paralyze her reasoning faculties so completely that all danger of mental "unsettling" or even movement was eliminated from her future. To solidify the forces of mind into the inherited mould of fixed beliefs was, in the opinion of the age, to achieve the definite end of all education. When the child ceased to wonder before the veil of appearances, the battle of orthodoxy with speculation was over, and Miss Priscilla felt that she could rest on her victory. With Susan she had failed, because the daughter of Cyrus Treadwell was one of those inexplicable variations from ancestral stock over which the naturalists were still waging their merry war; but Virginia, with a line of earnest theologians and of saintly self-effacing women at her back, offered as little resistance as some exquisite plastic material in the teacher's hands.
Now, as if the same lightning flash which had illuminated the beribboned diploma in Miss Priscilla's mind had passed to Virginia also, the girl bit back a retort that was trembling on her lips. "I wonder if she can be getting to know things?" thought the older woman as she watched her, and she added half resentfully, "I've sometimes suspected that Gabriel Pendleton was almost too mild and easy going for a clergyman. If the Lord hadn't made him a saint, Heaven knows what would have become of him!"
"Don't try to put notions into Jinny's head, Susan," she said after a thoughtful pause. "If Oliver were the right kind of young man, he'd give up this nonsense and settle down to some sober work. The first time I get a chance I'm going to tell him so."
"I don't believe it will be any use," responded Susan. "Father tried to reason with him last night, and they almost quarrelled."
"Quarrelled with Cyrus!" gasped the teacher.
"At one time I thought he'd walk out of the house and never come back," pursued Susan. "He told father that his sordid commercialism would end by destroying all that was charming in Dinwiddie. Afterward he apologized for his rudeness, but when he did so, he said, 'I meant every word of it.'"
"Well, I never!" was Miss Priscilla's feeble rejoinder. "The idea of his daring to talk that way when Cyrus had to pay his fare down from New York."
"Of course father brought it on," returned Susan judicially. "You know he doesn't like anybody to disagree with him, and when Oliver began to argue about its being unscrupulous to write history the way people wanted it, he lost his temper and said some angry things about the theatre and actors."
"I suppose a great man like your father may expect his family to bow to his opinions," replied the teacher, for so obscure was her mental connection between the construction of the future and the destruction of the past, that she could honestly admire Cyrus Treadwell for possessing the qualities her soul abhorred. The simple awe of financial success, which occupies in the American mind the vacant space of the monarchical cult, had begun already to generate the myth of greatness around Cyrus, and, like all other myths, this owed its origin less to the wilful conspiracy of the few than it did to the confiding superstition of the many.
"I hope Oliver won't do anything rash," said Susan, ignoring Miss Priscilla's tribute. "He is so impulsive and headstrong that I don't see how he can get on with father."
At this Virginia broke her quivering silence. "Can't you make him careful, Susan?" she asked, and without waiting for an answer, bent over and kissed Miss Priscilla on the cheek. "I must be going now or mother will worry," she added before she tripped ahead of Susan down the steps and along the palely shining path to the gate.
Rising from her chair, Miss Priscilla leaned over the railing of the porch, and gazed wistfully after the girls' vanishing figures.
"If there was ever a girl who looked as if she were cut out for happiness, it is Jinny Pendleton," she said aloud after a minute. A tear welled in her eye, and rolling over her cheek, dropped on her bosom. From some obscure corner of her memory, undevastated by war or by ruin, her own youth appeared to take the place of Virginia's. She saw herself, as she had seen the other an instant before, standing flushed and expectant before the untrodden road of the future. She heard again the wings of happiness rustling unseen about her, and she felt again the great hope which is the challenge that youth flings to destiny. Life rose before her, not as she had found it, but as she had once believed it to be. The days when little things had not filled her thoughts returned in the fugitive glow of her memory—for she, also, middle-aged, obese, cumbered with trivial cares, had had her dream of a love that would change and glorify the reality. The heritage of woman was hers as well as Virginia's. And for the first time, standing there, she grew dimly conscious of the portion of suffering which Nature had allotted to them both from the beginning. Was it all waiting—waiting, as it had been while battles were fought and armies were marching? Did the future hold this for Virginia also? Would life yield nothing more to that radiant girl than it had yielded to her or to the other women whom she had known? Strange how the terrible innocence of youth had moved her placid middle-age as if it were sadness!
A block away, near the head of High Street, stood the old church of Saint James, and at its back, separated by a white paling fence from the squat pinkish tower and the solitary grave in the churchyard (which was that of a Southern soldier who had fallen in the Battle of Dinwiddie), was the oblong wooden rectory in which Gabriel Pendleton had lived since he had exchanged his sword for a prayer-book and his worn Confederate uniform for a surplice. The church, which was redeemed from architectural damnation by its sacred cruciform and its low ivied buttresses where innumerable sparrows nested, cast its shadow, on clear days, over the beds of bleeding hearts and lilies-of-the-valley in the neglected garden, to the quaint old house, with its spreading wings, its outside chimneys, and its sloping shingled roof, from which five dormer-windows stared in a row over the slender columns of the porch. The garden had been planned in the days when it was easy to put a dozen slaves to uprooting weeds or trimming flower beds, and had passed in later years to the breathless ministrations of negro infants, whose experience varied from the doubtful innocence of the crawling age to the complete sophistication of six or seven years. Dandelion and wire-grass rioted, in spite of their earnest efforts, over the crooked path from the porch, and periwinkle, once an intruder from the churchyard, spread now in rank disorder down the terraced hillside on the left, where a steep flight of steps fell clear to the narrow cross street descending gradually into the crowded quarters of the town. Directly in front of the porch on either side of the path grew two giant paulownia trees, royal at this season in a mantle of violet blossoms, and it was under their arching boughs that the girls stopped when they had entered the garden. Ever since Virginia could remember, she had heard threats of cutting down the paulownias because of the litter the falling petals made in the spring, and ever since she could lisp at all she had begged her father to spare them for the sake of the enormous roots, into which she had loved to cuddle and hide.
"If I were ever to go away, I believe they would cut down these trees," she said now a little wistfully, but she was not thinking of the paulownias.
"Why should they when they give such splendid shade? And, besides, they wouldn't do anything you didn't like for worlds."
"Oh, of course they wouldn't, but as soon as I was out of sight they might persuade themselves that I liked it," answered Virginia, with a tender laugh. Though she was not by nature discerning, there were moments when she surprised Susan by her penetrating insight into the character of her parents, and this insight, which was emotional rather than intellectual, had enabled her to dominate them almost from infancy.
Silence fell between them, while they gazed through the veil of twilight at the marble shaft above the grave of the Confederate soldier. Then suddenly Susan spoke in a constrained voice, without turning her head.
"Jinny, Oliver isn't one bit of a hero—not the kind of hero we used to talk about." It was with difficulty, urged by a vigorous and uncompromising conscience, that she had uttered the words.
"And besides," retorted Virginia merrily, "he is in love with Abby Goode."
"I don't believe that. They stayed in the same boarding-house once, and you know how Abby is about men."
"Yes, I know, and it's just the way men are about Abby."
"Well, Oliver isn't, I'm sure. I don't believe he's ever given her more than a thought, and he told me last night that he couldn't abide a bouncing woman."
"Does Abby bounce?"
"You know she does—dreadfully. But it wasn't because of Abby that I said what I did."
Something quivered softly between them, and a petal from the Jacqueminot rose in Virginia's hair fluttered like a crimson moth out into the twilight. "Was it because of him, then?" she asked in a whisper.
For a moment Susan did not answer. Her gaze was on the flight of steps, and drawing Virginia with her, she began to walk slowly toward the terraced side of the garden. An old lamplighter, carrying his ladder to a lamp-post at the corner, smiled up at them with his sunken toothless mouth as he went by.
"Partly, darling," said Susan. "He is so—I don't know how to make you understand—so unsettled. No, that isn't exactly what I mean."
Her fine, serious face showed clear and pale in the twilight. From the high forehead, under the girlish fringe of fair hair, to the thin, firm lips, which were too straight and colourless for beauty, it was the face of a woman who could feel strongly, but whose affections would never blur the definite forms or outlines of life. She looked out upon the world with level, dispassionate eyes in which there was none of Virginia's uncritical, emotional softness. Temperamentally she was uncompromisingly honest in her attitude toward the universe, which appeared to her, not as it did to Virginia, in mere formless masses of colour out of which people and objects emerged like figures painted on air, but as distinct, impersonal, and final as a geometrical problem. She was one of those women who are called "sensible" by their acquaintances—meaning that they are born already disciplined and confirmed in the quieter and more orderly processes of life. Her natural intelligence having overcome the defects of her education, she thought not vaguely, but with clearness and precision, and something of this clearness and precision was revealed in her manner and in her appearance, as if she had escaped at twenty years from the impulsive judgments and the troublous solicitudes of youth. At forty, she would probably begin to grow young again, and at fifty, it is not unlikely that she would turn her back upon old age forever. Just now she was too tremendously earnest about life, which she treated quite in the large manner, to take a serious interest in living.
"Promise me, Jinny, that you'll never let anybody take my place," she said, turning when they had reached the head of the steps.
"You silly Susan! Why, of course, they shan't," replied Virginia, and they kissed ecstatically.
"Nobody will ever love you as I do."
"And I you, darling."
With arms interlaced they stood gazing down into the street, where the shadow of the old lamplighter glided like a ghost under the row of pale flickering lights. From a honeysuckle-trellis on the other side of the porch, a penetrating sweetness came in breaths, now rising, now dying away. In Virginia's heart, Love stirred suddenly, and blind, wingless, imprisoned, struggled for freedom.
"It is late, I must be going," said Susan. "I wish we lived nearer each other."
"Isn't it too dark for you to go alone? John Henry will stop on his way from work, and he'll take you—if you really won't stay to supper."
"No, I don't mind in the least going by myself. It isn't night, anyway, and people are sitting out on their porches."
A minute afterwards they parted, Susan going swiftly down High Street, while Virginia went back along the path to the porch, and passing under the paulownias, stopped beside the honeysuckle-trellis, which extended to the ruined kitchen garden at the rear of the house. Once vegetables were grown here, but except for a square bed of mint which spread hardily beneath the back windows of the dining-room, the place was left now a prey to such barbarian invaders as burdock and moth mullein. On the brow of the hill, where the garden ended, there was a gnarled and twisted ailanthus tree, and from its roots the ground fell sharply to a distant view of rear enclosures and grim smoking factories. Some clothes fluttered on a line that stretched from a bough of the tree, and turning away as if they offended her, Virginia closed her eyes and breathed in the sweetness of the honeysuckle, which mingled deliciously with the strange new sense of approaching happiness in her heart. The awakening of her imagination—an event more tumultuous in its effects than the mere awakening of emotion—had changed not only her inner life, but the ordinary details of the world in which she lived. Because a young man, who differed in no appreciable manner from dozens of other young men, had gazed into her eyes for an instant, the whole universe was altered. What had been until to-day a vague, wind-driven longing for happiness, the reaching out of the dream toward the reality, had assumed suddenly a fixed and definite purpose. Her bright girlish visions had wrapped themselves in a garment of flesh. A miracle more wonderful than any she had read of had occurred in the streets of Dinwiddie—in the very spot where she had walked, with blind eyes and deaf ears, every day since she could remember. Her soul blossomed in the twilight, as a flower blossoms, and shed its virginal sweetness. For the first time in her twenty years she felt that an unexplored region of happiness surrounded her. Life appeared so beautiful that she wanted to grasp and hold each fugitive sensation before it escaped her. "This is different from anything I've ever known. I never imagined it would be like this," she thought, and the next minute: "I wonder why no one has ever told me that it would happen? I wonder if it has ever really happened before, just like this, since the world began? Of all the ways I've dreamed of his coming, I never thought of this way—no, not for an instant. That I should see him first in the street like any stranger—that he should be Susan's cousin—that we should not have spoken a word before I knew it was he!" Everything about him, his smile, his clothes, the way he held his head and brushed his hair straight back from his forehead, his manner of reclining with a slight slouch on the seat of the cart, the picturesque blue dotted tie he wore, his hands, his way of bowing, the red-brown of his face, and above all the eager, impetuous look in his dark eyes—these things possessed a glowing quality of interest which irradiated a delicious excitement over the bare round of living. It was enough merely to be alive and conscious that some day—to-morrow, next week, or the next hour, perhaps, she might meet again the look that had caused this mixture of ecstasy and terror in her heart. The knowledge that he was in the same town with her, watching the same lights, thinking the same thoughts, breathing the same fragrance of honeysuckle—this knowledge was a fact of such tremendous importance that it dwarfed to insignificance all the proud historic past of Dinwiddie. Her imagination, seizing upon this bit of actuality, spun around it the iridescent gossamer web of her fancy. She felt that it was sufficient happiness just to stand motionless for hours and let this thought take possession of her. Nothing else mattered as long as this one thing was blissfully true.
Lights came out softly like stars in the houses beyond the church-tower, and in the parlour of the rectory a lamp flared up and then burned dimly under a red shade. Looking through the low window, she could see the prim set of mahogany and horsehair furniture, with its deep, heavily carved sofa midway of the opposite wall and the twelve chairs which custom demanded arranged stiffly at equal distances on the faded Axminster carpet.
For a moment her gaze rested on the claw-footed mahogany table, bearing a family Bible and a photograph album bound in morocco; on the engraving of the "Burial of Latane" between the long windows at the back of the room; on the cloudy, gilt-framed mirror above the mantel, with the two standing candelabra reflected in its surface—and all these familiar objects appeared to her as vividly as if she had not lived with them from her infancy. A new light had fallen over them, and it seemed to her that this light released an inner meaning, a hidden soul, even in the claw-footed table and the threadbare Axminster carpet. Then the door into the hall opened and her mother entered, wearing the patched black silk dress which she had bought before the war and had turned and darned ever since with untiring fingers. Shrinking back into the dusk, Virginia watched the thin, slightly stooping figure as it stood arrested there in the subdued glow of the lamplight. She saw the pale oval face, so transparent that it was like the face of a ghost, the fine brown hair parted smoothly under the small net cap, the soft faded eyes in their hollowed and faintly bluish sockets, and the sweet, patient lips, with their expression of anxious sympathy, as of one who had lived not in her own joys and sorrows, but in those of others. Vaguely, the girl realized that her mother had had what is called "a hard life," but this knowledge brought no tremor of apprehension for herself, no shadow of disbelief in her own unquestionable right to happiness. A glorious certainty possessed her that her own life would be different from anything that had ever been in the past.
The front door opened and shut; there was a step on the soft grass under the honeysuckle-trellis, and her father came towards her, with his long black coat flapping about him. He always wore clothes several sizes too large for him under the impression that it was a point of economy and that they would last longer if there was no "strain" put upon them. He was a small, wiry man, with an amazing amount of strength for his build, and a keen, humorous face, ornamented by a pointed chin beard which he called his "goatee." His eyes were light grey with a twinkle which rarely left them except at the altar, and the skin of his cheeks had never lost the drawn and parchment-like look acquired during the last years of the war. One of the many martial Christians of the Confederacy, he had laid aside his surplice at the first call for troops to defend the borders, and had resumed it immediately after the surrender at Appomattox. It was still an open question in Dinwiddie whether Gabriel Pendleton, who was admitted to have been born a saint, had achieved greater distinction as a fighter or a clergyman; though he himself had accepted the opposite vocations with equal humility. Only in the dead of sweltering summer nights did he sometimes arouse his wife with a groan and the halting words, "Lucy, I can't sleep for thinking of those men I killed in the war." But with the earliest breeze of dawn, his remorse usually left him, and he would rise and go about his parochial duties with the serene and child-like trust in Providence that had once carried him into battle. A militant idealism had ennobled his fighting as it now exalted his preaching. He had never in his life seen things as they are because he had seen them always by the white flame of a soul on fire with righteousness. To reach his mind, impressions of persons or objects had first to pass through a refining atmosphere in which all baser substances were eliminated, and no fact had ever penetrated this medium except in the flattering disguise of a sentiment. Having married at twenty an idealist only less ignorant of the world than himself, he had, inspired by her example, immediately directed his energies towards the whitewashing of the actuality. Both cherished the naive conviction that to acknowledge an evil is in a manner to countenance its existence, and both clung fervently to the belief that a pretty sham has a more intimate relation to morality than has an ugly truth. Yet so unconscious were they of weaving this elaborate tissue of illusion around the world they inhabited that they called the mental process by which they distorted the reality, "taking a true view of life." To "take a true view" was to believe what was pleasant against what was painful in spite of evidence: to grant honesty to all men (with the possible exception of the Yankee army and a few local scalawags known as Readjusters); to deny virtue to no woman, not even to the New England Abolitionist; to regard the period before the war in Virginia as attained perfection, and the present as falling short of that perfection only inasmuch as it had occurred since the surrender. As life in a small place, among a simple and guileless class of gentlefolk, all passionately cherishing the same opinions, had never shaken these illusions, it was but natural that they should have done their best to hand them down as sacred heirlooms to their only child. Even Gabriel's four years of hard fighting and scant rations were enkindled by so much of the disinterested idealism that had sent his State into the Confederacy, that he had emerged from them with an impoverished body, but an enriched spirit. Combined with his inherent inability to face the facts of life, there was an almost superhuman capacity for cheerful recovery from the shocks of adversity. Since he had married by accident the one woman who was made for him, he had managed to preserve untarnished his innocent assumption that marriages were arranged in Heaven—for the domestic infelicities of many of his parishioners were powerless to affect a belief that was founded upon a solitary personal experience. Unhappy marriages, like all other misfortunes of society, he was inclined to regard as entirely modern and due mainly to the decay of antebellum institutions. "I don't remember that I ever heard of a discontented servant or an unhappy marriage in my boyhood," he would say when he was forced against his will to consider either of these disturbing problems. Not progress, but a return to the "ideals of our ancestors," was his sole hope for the future; and in Virginia's childhood she had grown to regard this phrase as second in reverence only to that other familiar invocation: "If it be the will of God."
As he stood now in the square of lamplight that streamed from the drawing-room window, she looked into his thin, humorous face, so spiritualized by poverty and self-sacrifice that it had become merely the veil for his soul, and the thought came to her that she had never really seen him as he was until to-day.
"You're out late, daughter. Isn't it time for supper?" he asked, putting his arm about her. Beneath the simple words she felt the profound affection which he rarely expressed, but of which she was conscious whenever he looked at her or spoke to her. Two days ago this affection, of which she never thought because it belonged to her by right like the air she breathed, had been sufficient to fill her life to overflowing; and now, in less than a moment, the simplest accident had pushed it into the background. In the place where it had been there was a restless longing which seemed at one instant a part of the universal stirring of the spring, and became the next an importunate desire for the coming of the lover to whom she had been taught to look as to the fulfilment of her womanhood. At times this lover appeared to have no connection with Oliver Treadwell; then the memory of his eager and searching look would flush the world with a magic enchantment. "He might pass here at any minute," she thought, and immediately every simple detail of her life was illuminated as if a quivering rosy light had fallen aslant it. His drive down High Street in the afternoon had left a trail of glory over the earthen roadbed.
"Yes, I was just going in," she replied to the rector's question, and added: "How sweet the honeysuckle smells! I never knew it to be so fragrant."
"The end of the trellis needs propping up. I noticed it this morning," he returned, keeping his arm around her as they passed over the short grassy walk and up the steps to the porch. Then the door of the rectory opened, and the silhouette of Mrs. Pendleton, in her threadbare black silk dress with her cameo-like profile softened by the dark bands of her hair, showed motionless against the lighted space of the hall.
"We're here, Lucy," said the rector, kissing her; and a minute later they entered the dining-room, which was on the right of the staircase. The old mahogany table, scarred by a century of service, was laid with a simple supper of bread, tea, and sliced ham on a willow dish. At one end there was a bowl of freshly gathered strawberries, with the dew still on them, and Mrs. Pendleton hastened to explain that they were a present from Tom Peachey, who had driven out into the country in order to get them. "Well, I hope his wife has some, also," commented the rector. "Tom's a good fellow, but he could never keep a closed fist, there's no use denying it."
Mrs. Pendleton, who had never denied anything in her life, except the biblical sanction for the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, shook her head gently and began to talk in the inattentive and anxious manner she had acquired at scantily furnished tables. Ever since the war, with the exception of the Reconstruction period, when she had lived practically on charity, she had managed to exist with serenity, and numerous negro dependents, on the rector's salary of a thousand dollars a year. Simple and wholesome food she had supplied to her family and her followers, and for their desserts, as she called the sweet things of life, she had relied with touching confidence upon her neighbours. What they would be for the day, she did not know, but since poverty, not prosperity, breeds the generous heart, she was perfectly assured that when Miss Priscilla was putting up raspberries, or Mrs. Goode was making lemon pie, she should not be forgotten. During the terrible war years, it had become the custom of Dinwiddie housekeepers to remember the wife of the rector who had plucked off his surplice for the Confederacy, and among the older generation the habit still persisted, like all other links that bound them to a past which they cherished the more passionately because it guarded a defeated cause. Like the soft apologetic murmur of Mrs. Pendleton's voice, which was meant to distract attention rather than to impart information, this impassioned memory of the thing that was dead sweetened the less romantic fact of the things that were living. The young were ignorant of it, but the old knew. Mrs. Pendleton, who was born a great lady, remained one when the props and the background of a great lady had crumbled around her; and though the part she filled was a narrow part—a mere niche in the world's history—she filled it superbly. From the dignity of possessions she had passed to the finer dignity of a poverty that can do without. All the intellect in her (for she was not clever) had been transmuted into character by this fiery passage from romance into reality, and though life had done its worst with her, some fine invincible blade in the depths of her being she had never surrendered. She would have gone to the stake for a principle as cheerfully as she had descended from her aristocratic niche into unceasing poverty and self-denial, but she would have gone wearing garlands on her head and with her faint, grave smile, in which there was almost every quality except that of humour, touching her lips. Her hands, which were once lovely, were now knotted and worn; for she had toiled when it was necessary, though she had toiled always with the manner of a lady. Even to-day it was a part of her triumph that this dignity was so vital a factor in her life that there was none of her husband's laughter at circumstances to lighten her burden. To her the daily struggle of keeping an open house on starvation fare was not a pathetic comedy, as with Gabriel, but a desperately smiling tragedy. What to Gabriel had been merely the discomfort of being poor when everybody you respected was poor with you, had been to his wife the slow agony of crucifixion. It was she, not he, who had lain awake to wonder where to-morrow's dinner could be got without begging; it was she, also, who had feared to doze at dawn lest she should oversleep herself and not be downstairs in time to scrub the floors and the furniture before the neighbours were stirring. Uncle Isam, whose knees were crippled with rheumatism, and Docia, who had a "stitch" in her side whenever she stooped, were the only servants that remained with her, and the nursing of these was usually added to the pitiless drudgery of her winter. But the bitter edge to all her suffering was the feeling which her husband spoke of in the pulpit as "false pride"—the feeling she prayed over fervently yet without avail in church every Sunday—and this was the ignoble terror of being seen on her knees in her old black calico dress before she had gone upstairs again, washed her hands with cornmeal, powdered her face with her pink flannel starchbag, and descended in her breakfast gown of black cashmere or lawn, with a net scarf tied daintily around her thin throat, and a pair of exquisitely darned lace ruffles hiding her wrists.
As she sat now, smiling and calm, at the head of her table, there was no hint in her face of the gnawing anxiety behind the delicate blue-veined hollows in her forehead. "I thought John Henry would come to supper," she observed, while her hands worked lovingly among the old white and gold teacups which had belonged to her mother, "so I gathered a few flowers."
In the centre of the table there was a handful of garden flowers arranged, with a generous disregard of colour, in a cut-glass bowl, as though all blossoms were intended by their Creator to go peaceably together. Only on formal occasions was such a decoration used on the table of the rectory, since the happiest adornment for a meal was supposed to be a bountiful supply of visible viands; but the hopelessly mended mats had pierced Mrs. Pendleton's heart, and the cut-glass bowl, like her endless prattle, was but a pitiful subterfuge.
"Oh, I like them!" Virginia had started to answer, when a hearty voice called, "May I come in?" from the darkness, and a large, carelessly dressed young man, with an amiable and rather heavy countenance, entered the hall and passed on into the dining-room. In reply to Mrs. Pendleton's offer of tea, he answered that he had stopped at the Treadwells' on his way up from work. "I could hardly break away from Oliver," he added, "but I remembered that I'd promised Aunt Lucy to take her down to Tin Pot Alley after supper, so I made a bolt while he was convincing me that it's better to be poor with an idea, as he calls it, than rich without one." Then turning to Virginia, he asked suddenly: "What's the matter, little cousin? Been about too much in the sun?"
"Oh, it's only the rose in my hair," responded Virginia, and she felt that there was a fierce joy in blushing like this even while she told herself that she would give everything she possessed if she could only stop it.
"If you aren't well, you'd better not go with us, Jinny," said Mrs. Pendleton. "It was so sweet of John Henry to remember that I'd promised to take Aunt Ailsey some of the bitters we used to make before the war." Everything was "so sweet" to her, the weather, her husband's sermons, the little trays that came continually from her neighbours, and she lived in a perpetual state of thankfulness for favours so insignificant that a less impressionable soul would have accepted them as undeserving of more than the barest acknowledgment.
"I am perfectly well," insisted Virginia, a little angry with John Henry because he had been the first to notice her blushes.
Rising hurriedly from the table, she went to the door and stood looking out into the spangled dusk under the paulownias, while her mother wrapped the bottle in a piece of white tissue paper and remarked with an animation which served to hide her fatigue from the unobservant eyes of her husband, that a walk would do her good on such a "perfectly lovely night."
Gabriel, who loved her as much as a man can love a wife who has sacrificed herself to him wisely and unwisely for nearly thirty years, had grown so used to seeing her suffer with a smile that he had drifted at last into the belief that it was the only form of activity she really enjoyed. From the day of his marriage he had never been able to deny her anything she had set her heart upon—not even the privilege of working herself to death for his sake when the opportunity offered.
"Well, well, if you feel like it, of course you must go, my dear," he replied. "I'll step over and sit a minute with Miss Priscilla while you are away. Never could bear the house without you, Lucy."
While this protest was still on his lips, he followed her from the house, and turned with Virginia and John Henry in the direction of the Young Ladies' Academy. From the darkness beyond the iron gate there came the soothing flow of Miss Priscilla's voice entertaining an evening caller, and when the rector left them, as if irresistibly drawn toward the honeyed sound of gossip, Virginia walked on in silence between John Henry and her mother. At each corner a flickering street lamp burned with a thin yellow flame, and in the midst of the narrow orbit of its light several shining moths circled swiftly like white moons revolving about a sun. In the centre of the blocks, where the darkness was broken only by small flower-like flakes of light that fell in clusters through boughs of mulberry or linden trees, there was the sound of whispering voices and of rustling palm-leaf fans on the crowded porches behind screens of roses or honeysuckle. Mrs. Pendleton, whose instinct prompted her to efface herself whenever she made a third at the meeting of maid and man (even though the man was only her nephew John Henry), began to talk at last after waiting modestly for her daughter to begin the conversation. The story of Aunt Ailsey, of her great age, and her dictatorial temper, which made living with other servants impossible to her, started valiantly on its familiar road, and tripped but little when the poor lady realized that neither John Henry nor Virginia was listening. She was so used to talking for the sake of the sound she made rather than the impression she produced that her silvery ripple had become almost as lacking in self-consciousness as the song of a canary.
But Virginia, walking so quietly at her side, was inhabiting at the moment a separate universe—a universe smelling of honeysuckle and filled with starry pathways to happiness. In this universe Aunt Ailsey and her peculiarities, her mother's innocent prattle, and the solid body of John Henry touching her arm, were all as remote and trivial as the night moths circling around the lamps. Looking at John Henry from under her lowered lashes, she felt a sudden pity for him because he was so far—so very far indeed from being the right man. She saw him too clearly as he was—he stood before her in all the hard brightness of the reality, and first love, like beauty, depends less upon the truth of an outline than it does upon the softening quality of an atmosphere. There was no mystery for her in the simple fact of his being. There was nothing left to discover about his great stature, his excellent heart, and his safe, slow mind that had been compelled to forego even the sort of education she had derived from Miss Priscilla. She knew that he had left school at the age of eight in order to become the support of a widowed mother, and she was pitifully aware of the tireless efforts he had made after reaching manhood to remedy his ignorance of the elementary studies he had missed. Never had she heard a complaint from him, never a regret for the sacrifice, never so much as an idle wonder why it should have been necessary. If the texture of his soul was not finely wrought, the proportions of it were heroic. In him the Pendleton idealism had left the skies and been transmuted into the common substance of clay. He was of a practical bent of mind and had developed a talent for his branch of business, which, to the bitter humiliation of his mother, was that of hardware, with a successful specialty in bathtubs. Until to-day Virginia had always believed that John Henry interested her, but now she wondered how she had ever spent so many hours listening to his talk about business. And with the thought her whole existence appeared to her as dull and commonplace as those hours. A single instant of experience seemed longer to her than all the years she had lived, and this instant had drained the colour and the sweetness from the rest of life. The shape of her universe had trembled suddenly and altered. Dimly she was beginning to realize that sensation, not time, is the true measure of life. Nothing and everything had happened to her since yesterday.
As they turned into Short Market Street, Mrs. Pendleton's voice trailed off at last into silence, and she did not speak again while they passed hurriedly between the crumbling houses and the dilapidated shops which rose darkly on either side of the narrow cinder-strewn walks. The scent of honeysuckle did not reach here, and when they stopped presently at the beginning of Tin Pot Alley, there floated out to them the sharp acrid odour of huddled negroes. In these squalid alleys, where the lamps burned at longer distances, the more primitive forms of life appeared to swarm like distorted images under the transparent civilization of the town. The sound of banjo strumming came faintly from the dimness beyond, while at their feet the Problem of the South sprawled innocently amid tomato cans and rotting cabbage leaves.
"Wait here just a minute and I'll run up and speak to Aunt Ailsey," remarked Mrs. Pendleton with the dignity of a soul that is superior to smells; and without noticing her daughter's reproachful nod of acquiescence, she entered the alley and disappeared through the doorway of the nearest hovel. A minute later her serene face looked down at them over a patchwork quilt which hung airing at half length from the window above. "But this is not life—it has nothing to do with life," thought Virginia, while the Pendleton blood in her rose in a fierce rebellion against all that was ugly and sordid in existence. Then her mother's tread was heard descending the short flight of steps, and the sensation vanished as quickly and as inexplicably as it had come.
"I tried not to keep you waiting, dear," said Mrs. Pendleton, hastening toward them while she fanned herself rapidly with the small black fan she carried. Her face looked tired and worn, and before moving on, she paused a moment and held her hand to her thin fluttering breast, while deep bluish circles appeared to start out under the expression of pathetic cheerfulness in her eyes. This pathetic cheerfulness, so characteristic of the women of her generation, was the first thing, perhaps, that a stranger would have noticed about her face; yet it was a trait which neither her husband nor her child had ever observed. There was a fine moisture on her forehead, and this added so greatly to the natural transparency of her features that, standing there in the wan light, she might have been mistaken for the phantom of her daughter's vivid flesh and blood beauty. "I wonder if you would mind going on to Bolingbroke Street, so I may speak to Belinda Treadwell a minute?" she asked, as soon as she had recovered her breath. "I want to find out if she has engaged Miss Willy Whitlow for the whole week, or if there is any use my sending a message to her over in Botetourt. If she doesn't begin at once, Jinny, you won't have a dress to wear to Abby Goode's party."
Virginia's heart gave a single bound of joy and lay quiet. Not for worlds would she have asked to go to the Treadwells', yet ever since they had started, she had longed unceasingly to have her mother suggest it. The very stars, she felt, had worked together to bring about her desire.
"But aren't you tired, mother? It really doesn't matter about my dress," she murmured, for it was not in vain that she had wrested a diploma for deportment from Miss Priscilla.
"Why can't I take the message for you, Aunt Lucy? You look tired to death," urged John Henry.
"Oh, I shan't mind the walk as soon as we get out into the breeze," replied Mrs. Pendleton. "It's a lovely night, only a little close in this alley." And as she spoke she looked gently down on the Problem of the South as the Southern woman had looked down on it for generations and would continue to look down on it for generations still to come—without seeing that it was a problem.
"Well, it's good to get a breath of air, anyway!" exclaimed John Henry with fervour, when they had passed out of the alley into the lighted street. Around them the town seemed to beat with a single heart, as if it waited, like Virginia, in breathless suspense for some secret that must come out of the darkness. Sometimes the sidewalks over which they passed were of flag-stones, sometimes they were of gravel or of strewn cinders. Now and then an old stone house, which had once sheltered crinoline and lace ruffles, or had served as a trading station with the Indians before Dinwiddie had become a city, would loom between two small shops where the owners, coatless and covered with sweat, were selling flat beer to jaded and miserable customers. Up Bolingbroke Street a faint breeze blew, lifting the moist satin-like hair on Mrs. Pendleton's forehead. Already its ancient dignity had deserted the quarter in which the Treadwells lived, and it had begun to wear a forsaken and injured look, as though it resented the degradation of commerce into which it had descended.
"I can't understand why Cyrus Treadwell doesn't move over to Sycamore Street," remarked John Henry after a moment of reflection in which he had appeared to weigh this simple sentence with scrupulous exactness. "He's rich enough, I suppose, to buy anything he wants."
"I've heard Susan say that it was her mother's old home and she didn't care to leave it," said Mrs. Pendleton.
"I don't believe it's that a bit," broke in Virginia with characteristic impulsiveness. "The only reason is that Mr. Treadwell is stingy. With all his money, I know Mrs. Treadwell and Susan hardly ever have a dollar they can spend on themselves."
Though she spoke with her accustomed energy, she was conscious all the time that the words she uttered were not the ones in her thoughts. What did Cyrus Treadwell's stinginess matter when his only relation to life consisted in his being the uncle of Oliver? It was as if a single shape moved alive through a universe peopled with shadows. Only a borrowed radiance attached itself now to the persons and objects that had illumined the world for her yesterday. Yet she approached the crisis of her life so silently that those around her did not recognize it beneath the cover of ordinary circumstances. Like most great moments it had come unheralded; and though the rustling of its wings filled her soul, neither her mother nor John Henry heard a stir in the quiet air that surrounded them. Walking between the two who loved her, she felt that she was separated from them both by an eternity of experience.
There were several blocks of Bolingbroke Street to walk before the Treadwells' house was reached, and as they sauntered slowly past decayed dwellings, Virginia's imagination ran joyously ahead of her to the meeting. Would it happen this time as it had happened before when he looked at her that something would pass between them which would make her feel that she belonged to him? So little resistance did she offer to the purpose of Life that she seemed to have existed from the beginning merely as an exquisite medium for a single emotion. It was as if the dreams of all the dead women of her race, who had lived only in loving, were concentrated into a single shining centre of bliss—for the accumulated vibrations of centuries were in her soul when she trembled for the first time beneath the eyes of a lover. And yet all this blissful violence was powerless to change the most insignificant external fact in the universe. Though it was the greatest thing that could ever happen to her, it was nothing to the other twenty-one thousand human beings among whom she lived; it left no mark upon that procession of unimportant details which they called life.
They were in sight of the small old-fashioned brick house of the Treadwells, with its narrow windows set discreetly between outside shutters, and she saw that the little marble porch was deserted except for the two pink oleander trees, which stood in green tubs on either side of the curved iron railings. A minute later John Henry's imperative ring brought a young coloured maid to the door, and Virginia, who had lingered on the pavement, heard almost immediately an effusive duet from her mother and Mrs. Treadwell.
"Oh, do come in, Lucy, just for a minute!"
"I can't possibly, my dear; I only wanted to ask you if you have engaged Miss Willy Whitlow for the entire week or if you could let me have her for Friday and Saturday? Jinny hasn't a rag to wear to Abby Goode's lawn party and I don't know anybody who does quite so well for her as poor Miss Willy. Oh, that's so sweet of you! I can't thank you enough! And you'll tell her without my sending all the way over to Botetourt!"
By this time Susan had joined Virginia on the sidewalk, and the liquid honey of Mrs. Pendleton's voice dropped softly into indistinctness.
"Oh, Jinny, if I'd only known you were coming!" said Susan. "Oliver wanted me to take him to see you, and when I couldn't, he went over to call on Abby."
So this was the end of her walk winged with expectancy! A disappointment as sharp as her joy had been pierced her through as she stood there smiling into Susan's discomfited face. With the tragic power of youth to create its own torment, she told herself that life could never be the same after this first taste of its bitterness.
The next morning, so indestructible is the happiness of youth, she awoke with her hope as fresh as if it had not been blighted the evening before. As she lay in bed, with her loosened hair making a cloud over the pillows, and her eyes shining like blue flowers in the band of sunlight that fell through the dormer-window, she quivered to the early sweetness of honeysuckle as though it were the charmed sweetness of love of which she had dreamed in the night. She was only one of the many millions of women who were awaking at the same hour to the same miracle of Nature, yet she might have been the first woman seeking the first man through the vastness and the mystery of an uninhabited earth. Impossible to believe that an experience so wonderful was as common as the bursting of the spring buds or the humming of the thirsty bees around the honeysuckle arbour!
Slipping out of bed, she threw her dressing-gown over her shoulders, and kneeling beside the window, drank in the flower-scented air of the May morning. During the night, the paulownia trees had shed a rain of violet blossoms over the wet grass, where little wings of sunshine, like golden moths, hovered above them. Beyond the border of lilies-of-the-valley she saw the squat pinkish tower of the church, and beneath it, in the narrow churchyard, rose the gleaming shaft above the grave of the Confederate soldier. On her right, in the centre of the crooked path, three negro infants were prodding earnestly at roots of wire-grass and dandelion; and brushing carelessly their huddled figures, her gaze descended the twelve steps of the almost obliterated terrace, and followed the steep street down which a mulatto vegetable vendor was urging his slow-footed mule.
A wave of joy rose in her breast, and she felt that her heart melted in gratitude for the divine beauty of life. The world showed to her as a place filled with shining vistas of happiness, and at the end of each of these vistas there awaited the unknown enchanting thing which she called in her thoughts "the future." The fact that it was the same world in which Miss Priscilla and her mother lived their narrow and prosaic lives did not alter by a breath her unshakable conviction that she herself was predestined for something more wonderful than they had ever dreamed of. "He may come this evening!" she thought, and immediately the light of magic suffused the room, the street outside, and every scarred roof in Dinwiddie.
At the head of her bed, wedged in between the candle stand and the window, there was a cheap little bookcase of walnut which contained the only volumes she had ever been permitted to own—the poems of Mrs. Hemans and of Adelaide Anne Procter, a carefully expurgated edition of Shakespeare, with an inscription in the rector's handwriting on the flyleaf; Miss Strickland's "Lives of the Queens of England"; and several works of fiction belonging to the class which Mrs. Pendleton vaguely characterized as "sweet stories." Among the more prominent of these were "Thaddeus of Warsaw," a complete set of Miss Yonge's novels, with a conspicuously tear-stained volume of "The Heir of Redclyffe," and a romance or two by obscure but innocuous authors. That any book which told, however mildly, the truth about life should have entered their daughter's bedroom would have seemed little short of profanation to both the rector and Mrs. Pendleton. The sacred shelves of that bookcase (which had been ceremoniously presented to her on her fourteenth birthday) had never suffered the contaminating presence of realism. The solitary purpose of art was, in Mrs. Pendleton's eyes, to be "sweet," and she scrupulously judged all literature by its success or failure in this particular quality. It seemed to her as wholesome to feed her daughter's growing fancy on an imaginary line of pious heroes, as it appeared to her moral to screen her from all suspicion of the existence of immorality. She did not honestly believe that any living man resembled the "Heir of Redclyffe," any more than she believed that the path of self-sacrifice leads inevitably to happiness; but there was no doubt in her mind that she advanced the cause of righteousness when she taught these sanctified fallacies to Virginia.
As she rose from her knees, Virginia glanced at her white dress, which was too crumpled for her to wear again before it was smoothed, and thought regretfully of Aunt Docia's heart, which invariably gave warning whenever there was extra work to be done. "I shall have to wear either my blue lawn or my green organdie this evening," she thought. "I wish I could have the sleeves changed. I wonder if mother could run a tuck in them?"
It did not occur to her that she might smooth the dress herself, because she knew that the iron would be wrested from her by her mother's hands, which were so knotted and worn that tears came to Virginia's eyes when she looked at them. She let her mother slave over her because she had been born into a world where the slaving of mothers was a part of the natural order, and she had not as yet become independent enough to question the morality of the commonplace. At any minute she would gladly have worked, too, but the phrase "spare Virginia" had been uttered so often in her hearing that it had acquired at last almost a religious significance. To have been forced to train her daughter in any profitable occupation which might have lifted her out of the class of unskilled labour in which indigent gentlewomen by right belonged, would have been the final dregs of humiliation in Mrs. Pendleton's cup. On one of Aunt Docia's bad days, when Jinny had begged to be allowed to do part of the washing, she had met an almost passionate refusal from her mother. "It will be time enough to spoil your hands after you are married, darling!" And again, "Don't do that rough sewing, Jinny. Give it to me." From the cradle she had borne her part in this racial custom of the sacrifice of generation to generation—of the perpetual immolation of age on the flowery altars of youth. Like most customs in which we are nurtured, it had seemed natural and pleasant enough until she had watched the hollows deepen in her mother's temples and the tireless knotted hands stumble at their work. Then a pang had seized her and she had pleaded earnestly to be permitted to help.
"If you only knew how unhappy it makes me to see you ruining your pretty fingers, Jinny. My child, the one comfort I have is the thought that I am sparing you."
Sparing her! Always that from the first! Even Gabriel chimed in when it became a matter of Jinny. "Let me wash the dishes, Lucy," he would implore. "What? Will you trust me with other people's souls, but not with your china?"
"It's not a man's work, Mr. Pendleton. What would the neighbours think?"
"They would think, I hope, my dear, that I was doing my duty."
"But it would not be dignified for a clergyman. No, I cannot bear the sight of you with a dishcloth."
In the end she invariably had her way with them, for she was the strongest. Jinny must be spared, and Gabriel must do nothing undignified. About herself it made no difference unless the neighbours were looking; she had not thought of herself, except in the indomitable failing of her "false pride," since her marriage, which had taken place in her twentieth year. A clergyman's wife might do menial tasks in secret, and nobody minded, but they were not for a clergyman.
For a minute, while she was dressing, Virginia thought of these things—of how hard life had been to her mother, of how pretty she must have been in her youth. What she did not think of was that her mother, like herself, was but one of the endless procession of women who pass perpetually from the sphere of pleasure into the sphere of service. It was as impossible for her to picture her mother as a girl of twenty as it was for her to imagine herself ever becoming a woman of fifty.
When she had finished dressing she closed the door softly after her as if she were afraid of disturbing the silence, and ran downstairs to the dining-room, where the rector and Mrs. Pendleton greeted her with subdued murmurs of joy.
"I was afraid I'd miss you, daughter," from the rector, as he drew her chair nearer.
"I was just going to carry up your tray, Jinny," from her mother. "I kept a nice breast of chicken for you which one of the neighbours sent me."
"I'd so much rather you'd eat it, mother," protested Jinny, on the point of tears.
"But I couldn't, darling, I really couldn't manage it. A cup of coffee and a bit of toast is all I can possibly stand in the morning. I was up early, for Docia was threatened with one of her heart attacks, and it always gives me a little headache to miss my morning nap."
"Then you can't go to market, Lucy; it is out of the question," insisted the rector. "After thirty years you might as well make up your mind to trust me, my dear."
"But the last time you went you gave away our shoulder of lamb to a beggar," replied his wife, and she hastened to add tenderly, lest he should accept the remark as a reproof, "it's sweet of you, dearest, but a little walk will be good for my head if I am careful to keep on the shady side of the street. I can easily find a boy to bring home the things, and I am sure it won't hurt me a bit."
"Why can't I go, mother?" implored Virginia. "Susan always markets for Mrs. Treadwell." And she felt that even the task of marketing was irradiated by this inner glow which had changed the common aspect of life.
"Oh, Jinny, you know how you hate to feel the chickens, and one can never tell how plump they are by the feathers."
"Well, I'll feel them, mother, if you'll let me try."
"No, darling, but you may go with me and carry my sunshade. I'm so sorry Docia can't smooth your dress. Was it much crumpled?"
"Oh, dreadfully! And I did so want to wear it this evening. Do you think Aunt Docia could show me how to iron?"
Docia, who stood like an ebony image of Bellona behind her mistress's chair, waving a variegated tissue paper fly screen over the coffee-urn, was heard to think aloud that "dish yer stitch ain' helt up er blessed minute sence befo' daylight." Not unnaturally, perhaps, since she was the most prominent figure in her own vision of the universe, she had come at last to regard her recurrent "stitch" as an event of greater consequence than Virginia's appearance in immaculate white muslin. An uncertain heart combined with a certain temper had elevated her from a servile position to one of absolute autocracy in the household. Everybody feared her, so nobody had ever dared ask her to leave. As she had rebelled long ago against the badge of a cap and an apron, she appeared in the dining-room clad in garments of various hues, and her dress on this particular morning was a purple calico crowned majestically by a pink cotton turban. There was a tradition still afloat that Docia had been an excellent servant before the war; but this amiable superstition had, perhaps, as much reason to support it as had Gabriel's innocent conviction that there were no faithless husbands when there were no divorces.
"I'm afraid Docia can't do it," sighed Mrs. Pendleton, for her ears had caught the faint thunder of the war goddess behind her chair, and her soul, which feared neither armies nor adversities, trembled before her former slaves. "But it won't take me a minute if you'll have it ready right after dinner."
"Oh, mother, of course I couldn't let you for anything. I only thought Aunt Docia might be able to teach me how to iron."
At this, Docia muttered audibly that she "ain' got no time ter be sho'in' nobody nuttin'."
"There, now, Docia, you mustn't lose your temper," observed Gabriel as he rose from his chair. It was at such moments that the remembered joys of slavery left a bitter after taste on his lips. Clearly it was impossible to turn into the streets a servant who had once belonged to you!
When they were in the hall together, Mrs. Pendleton whispered nervously to her husband that it must be "poor Docia's heart that made her so disagreeable and that she would feel better to-morrow."
"Wouldn't it be possible, my dear?" inquired the rector in his pulpit manner, to which his wife's only answer was a startled "Sh-sh-ush."
An hour later the door of Gabriel's study opened softly, and Mrs. Pendleton entered with the humble and apologetic manner in which she always intruded upon her husband's pursuits. There was an accepted theory in the family, shared even by Uncle Isam and Aunt Docia, that whenever Gabriel was left alone for an instant, his thoughts naturally deflected into spiritual paths. In the early days of his marriage he had tried honestly to live up to this exalted idea of his character; then finding the effort beyond him, and being a man with an innate detestation of hypocrisy, he had earnestly endeavoured to disabuse his wife's imagination of the mistaken belief in his divinity. But a notion once firmly fixed in Mrs. Pendleton's mind might as well have been embedded in rock. By virtue of that gentle obstinacy which enabled her to believe in an illusion the more intensely because it had vanished, she had triumphed not only over circumstances, but over truth itself. By virtue of this quality, she had created the world in which she moved and had wrought beauty out of chaos.
"Are you busy with your sermon, dear?" she asked, pausing in the doorway, and gazing reverently at her husband over the small black silk bag she carried. Like the other women of Dinwiddie who had lost relatives by the war, she had never laid aside her mourning since the surrender; and the frame of crape to her face gave her the pensive look of one who has stepped out of the pageant of life into the sacred shadows of memory.
"No, no, Lucy, I'm ready to start out with you," replied the rector apologetically, putting a box of fishing tackle he had been sorting back into the drawer of his desk. He was as fond as a child of a day's sport, and never quite so happy as when he set out with his rod and an old tomato can filled with worms, which he had dug out of the back garden, in his hands; but owing to the many calls upon him and his wife's conception of his clerical dignity, he was seldom able to gratify his natural tastes.
"Oh, father, please hurry!" called Virginia from the porch, and rising obediently, he followed Mrs. Pendleton through the hall and out into the May sunshine, where the little negroes stopped an excited chase of a black and orange butterfly to return doggedly to their weeding.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather I'd go to market, Lucy?"
"Quite sure, dear," replied his wife, sniffing the scent of lilies-of-the-valley with her delicate, slightly pinched nostrils. "I thought you were going to see Mr. Treadwell about putting John Henry into the bank," she added. "It is such a pity to keep the poor boy selling bathtubs. His mother felt it so terribly."
"Ah, so I was—so I was," reflected Gabriel, who, though both of them would have been indignant at the suggestion, was as putty in the hands of his wife. "Well, I'll look into the bank on Cyrus after I've paid my sick calls."
With that they parted, Gabriel going on to visit a bedridden widow in the Old Ladies' Home, while Mrs. Pendleton and Virginia turned down a cross street that led toward the market. At every corner, it seemed to Virginia, middle-aged ladies, stout or thin, wearing crape veils and holding small black silk bags in their hands, sprang out of the shadows of mulberry trees, and barred their leisurely progress. And though nothing had happened in Dinwiddie since the war, and Mrs. Pendleton had seen many of these ladies the day before, she stopped for a sympathetic chat with each one of them, while Virginia, standing a little apart, patiently prodded the cinders of the walk with the end of her sunshade. All her life the girl had been taught to regard time as the thing of least importance in the universe; but occasionally, while she listened in silence to the liquid murmur of her mother's voice, she wondered vaguely how the day's work was ever finished in Dinwiddie. The story of Docia's impertinence was told and retold a dozen times before they reached the market. "And you really mean that you can't get rid of her? Why, my dear Lucy, I wouldn't stand it a day! Now, there was my Mandy. Such an excellent servant until she got her head turned——" This from Mrs. Tom Peachey, an energetic little woman, with a rosy face and a straight gray "bang" cut short over her eyebrows. "But, Lucy, my child, are you doing right to submit to impertinence? In the old days, I remember, before the war——" This from Mrs. William Goode, who had been Sally Peterson, the beauty of Dinwiddie, and who was still superbly handsome in a tragic fashion, with a haunted look in her eyes and masses of snow-white hair under her mourning bonnet. Years ago Virginia had imagined her as dwelling perpetually with the memory of her young husband, who had fallen in his twenty-fifth year in the Battle of Cold Harbor, but she knew now that the haunted eyes, like all things human, were under the despotism of trifles. To the girl, who saw in this universal acquiescence in littleness merely the pitiful surrender of feeble souls, there was a passionate triumph in the thought that her own dreams were larger than the actuality that surrounded her. Youth's scorn of the narrow details of life left no room in her mind for an understanding of the compromise which middle-age makes with necessity. The pathos of resignation—of that inevitable submission to the petty powers which the years bring—was lost upon the wistful ignorance of inexperience. While she waited dutifully, with her absent gaze fixed on the old mulberry trees, which whitened as the wind blew over them and then slowly darkened again, she wondered if servants and gossip were the only things that Oliver had heard of in his travels? Then she remembered that even in Dinwiddie men were less interested in such matters than they were in the industries of peanuts and tobacco. Was it only women, after all, who were in subjection to particulars?