WITHOUT A HOME
E. P. ROE
Just ten years ago I took my first hesitating and dubious steps toward authorship. My reception on the part of the public has been so much kinder than I expected, and the audience that has listened to my stories with each successive autumn has been so steadfast and loyal, that I can scarcely be blamed for entertaining a warm and growing regard for these unseen, unknown friends. Toward indifferent strangers we maintain a natural reticence, but as acquaintance ripens into friendship there is a mutual impulse toward an exchange of confidences. In the many kind letters received I have gratefully recognized this impulse in my readers, and am tempted by their interest to be a little garrulous concerning my literary life, the causes which led to it, and the methods of my work. Those who are indifferent can easily skip these preliminary pages, and those who are learning to care a little for the personality of him who has come to them so often with the kindling of the autumn fires may find some satisfaction in learning why he comes, and the motive, the spirit with which, in a sense, he ventures to be present at their hearths.
One of the advantages of authorship is criticism; and I have never had reason to complain of its absence. My only regret is that I have not been able to make better use of it. I admit that both the praise and blame have been rather bewildering, but this confusion is undoubtedly due to a lack of the critical faculty. With one acute gentleman, however, who remarked that it "was difficult to account for the popularity of Mr. Roe's books," I am in hearty accord. I fully share in his surprise and perplexity. It may be that we at last have an instance of an effect without a cause.
Ten years ago I had never written a line of a story, and had scarcely entertained the thought of constructing one. The burning of Chicago impressed me powerfully, and obedient to an impulse I spent several days among its smoking ruins. As a result, my first novel, "Barriers Burned Away," gradually took possession of my mind. I did not manufacture the story at all, for it grew as naturally as do the plants—weeds, some may suggest—on my farm. In the intervals of a busy and practical life, and also when I ought to have been sleeping, my imagination, unspurred, and almost undirected, spun the warp and woof of the tale, and wove them together. At first I supposed it would be but a brief story, which might speedily find its way into my own waste-basket, and I was on the point of burning it more than once. One wintry afternoon I read the few chapters then written to a friend in whose literary taste I had much confidence, and had her verdict been adverse they probably would have perished as surely as a callow germ exposed to the bitter storm then raging without. I am not sure, however, but that the impulse to write would have carried me forward, and that I would have found ample return for all the labor in the free play of my fancy, even though editors and publishers scoffed at the result.
On a subsequent winter afternoon the incipient story passed through another peril. In the office of "The New York Evangelist" I read the first eight chapters of my blotted manuscript to Dr. Field and his associate editor, Mr. J. H. Dey. This fragment was all that then existed, and as I stumbled through my rather blind chirography I often looked askance at the glowing grate, fearing lest my friends in kindness would suggest that I should drop the crude production on the coals, where it could do neither me nor any one else further harm, and then go out into the world once more clothed in my right mind. A heavy responsibility rests on the gentlemen named, for they asked me to leave the manuscript for serial issue. From that hour I suppose I should date the beginning of my life of authorship. The story grew from eight into fifty-two chapters, and ran just one year in the paper, my manuscript often being ready but a few pages in advance of publication. I wrote no outline for my guidance; I merely let the characters do as they pleased, and work out their own destiny. I had no preparation for my work beyond a careful study of the topography of Chicago and the incidents of the fire. For nearly a year my chief recreation was to dwell apart among the shadows created by my fancy, and I wrote when and where I could—on steamboats and railroad cars, as well as in my study. In spite of my fears the serial found readers, and at last I obtained a publisher. When the book appeared I suppose I looked upon it much as a young father looks upon his first child. His interest in it is intense, but he knows well that its future is very doubtful.
It appears to me, however, that the true impulse toward authorship does not arise from a desire to please any one, but rather from a strong consciousness of something definite to say, whether people will listen or not. I can honestly assert that I have never manufactured a novel, and should I do so I am sure it would be so wooden and lifeless that no one would read it. My stories have come with scarcely any volition on my part, and their characters control me. If I should move them about like images they would be but images. In every book they often acted in a manner just the opposite from that which I had planned. Moreover, there are unwritten stories in my mind, the characters of which are becoming almost as real as the people I meet daily. While composing narratives I forget everything and live in an ideal world, which nevertheless is real for the time. The fortunes of the characters affect me deeply, and I truly believe that only as I feel strongly will the reader be interested. A book, like a bullet, can go only as far as the projecting force carries it.
The final tests of all literary and art work are an intelligent public and time. We may hope, dream, and claim what we please, but these two tribunals will settle all values; therefore the only thing for an author or artist to do is to express his own individuality clearly and honestly, and submit patiently and deferentially to these tests. In nature the lichen has its place as truly as the oak.
I will say but a few words in regard to the story contained in this volume. It was announced two years ago, but I found that I could not complete it satisfactorily. In its present form it has been almost wholly recast, and much broadened in its scope. It touches upon several modern and very difficult problems. I have not in the remotest degree attempted to solve them, but rather have sought to direct attention to them. In our society public opinion is exceedingly powerful. It is the torrent that sweeps away obstructing evils. The cleansing tide is composed originally of many rills and streamlets, and it is my hope that this volume may add a little to that which at last is irresistible.
I can say with sincerity that I have made my studies carefully and patiently, and when dealing with practical phases of city life I have evolved very little from my own inner consciousness. I have visited scores of typical tenements; I have sat day after day on the bench with the police judges, and have visited the station-houses repeatedly. There are few large retail shops that I have not entered many times, and I have conversed with both the employers and employes. It is a shameful fact that, in the face of a plain statute forbidding the barbarous regulation, saleswomen are still compelled to stand continuously in many of the stores. On the intensely hot day when our murdered President was brought from Washington to the sea-side, I found many girls standing wearily and uselessly because of this inhuman rule. There was no provision for their occasional rest. Not for a thousand dollars would I have incurred the risk and torture of standing through that sultry day. There are plenty of shops in the city which are now managed on the principles of humanity, and such patronage should be given to these and withdrawn from the others as would teach the proprietors that women are entitled to a little of the consideration that is so justly associated with the work of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Mr. Bergh deserves praise for protecting even a cat from cruelty; but all the cats in the city unitedly could not suffer as much as the slight growing girl who must stand during a long hot day. I trust the reader will note carefully the Appendix at the close of this book.
It will soon be discovered that the modern opium or morphia habit has a large place in this volume. While I have tried to avoid the style of a medical treatise, which would be in poor taste in a work of fiction, I have carefully consulted the best medical works and authorities on the subject, and I have conversed with many opium slaves in all stages of the habit. I am sure I am right in fearing that in the morphia hunger and consumption one of the greatest evils of the future is looming darkly above the horizon of society. Warnings against this poison of body and soul cannot be too solemn or too strong.
So many have aided me in the collection of my material that any mention of names may appear almost invidious; but as the reader will naturally think that the varied phases of the opium habit are remote from my experience, I will say that I have been guided in my words by trustworthy physicians like Drs. E. P. Fowler, of New York; Louis Seaman, chief of staff at the Charity Hospital; Wm. H. Vail, and many others. I have also read such parts of my MS. as touched on this subject to Dr. H. K. Kane, the author of two works on the morphia habit.
This novel appeared as a serial in the "Congregationalist" of Boston, and my acknowledgments are due to the editors and publishers of this journal for their confidence in taking the story before it was written and for their uniform courtesy.
I can truly say that I have bestowed more labor on this book than upon any which have preceded it; for the favor accorded me by the public imposes the strongest obligation to be conscientious in my work.
I. ONE GIRL'S IDEAL OF LIFE
IV. "PITILESS WAVES"
V. THE RUDIMENTS OF A MAN
VI. ROGER DISCOVERS A NEW TYPE
IX. NEITHER BOY NOR MAN
X. A COUNCIL
XI. A SHADOW
XII. VIEWLESS FETTERS
XIII. A SCENE BENEATH THE HEMLOCKS
XIV. THE OLD MANSION
XV. "WELCOME HOME"
XVI. BELLE AND MILDRED
XVII. BELLE LAUNCHES HERSELF
XVIII. "I BELIEVE IN YOU"
XIX. BELLE JARS THE "SYSTEM"
XX. SEVERAL QUIET FORCES AT WORK
XXI. "HE'S A MAN"
XXII. SKILLED LABOR
XXIII. THE OLD ASTRONOMER
XXIV. ROGER REAPPEARS
XXV. THE DARK SHADOW OF COMING EVENTS
XXVI. WAXING AND WANING MANHOOD
XXVII. A SLAVE
XXVIII. NEW YORK'S HUMANITY
XXIX. THE BEATITUDES OF OPIUM
XXX. THE SECRET VICE REVEALED
XXXI. AN OPIUM MANIAC'S CHRISTMAS
XXXII. A BLACK CONSPIRACY
XXXIII. MILDRED IN A PRISON CELL
XXXIV. "A WISE JUDGE"
XXXV. "I AM SO PERPLEXED"
XXXVI. A WOMAN'S HEART
XXXVII. STRONG TEMPTATION
XXXVIII. NO "DARK CORNERS"
XXXIX. "HOME, SWEET HOME"
XLI. GLINTS OF SUNSHINE
XLII. HOPES GIVEN AND SLAIN
XLIII. WAS BELLE MURDERED
XLIV. THE FINAL CONSOLATIONS OF OPIUM
XLV. MOTHER AND SON
XLVI. A FATAL ERROR
XLVII. LIGHT AT EVENTIDE
XLVIII. "GOOD ANGEL OF GOD"
WITHOUT A HOME
ONE GIRL'S IDEAL OF LIFE
It was an attractive picture that Martin Jocelyn looked upon through the open doorway of his parlor. His lively daughter Belle had invited half a score of her schoolmates to spend the evening, and a few privileged brothers had been permitted to come also. The young people were naturally selecting those dances which had some of the characteristics of a romp, for they were at an age when motion means enjoyment.
Miss Belle, eager and mettlesome, stood waiting for music that could scarcely be lighter or more devoid of moral quality than her own immature heart. Life, at that time, had for her but one great desideratum—fun; and with her especial favorites about her, with a careful selection of "nice brothers," canvassed with many pros and cons over neglected French exercises, she had the promise of plenty of it for a long evening, and her dark eyes glowed and cheeks flamed at the prospect. Impatiently tapping the floor with her foot, she looked toward her sister, who was seated at the piano.
Mildred Jocelyn knew that all were waiting for her; she instinctively felt the impatience she did not see, and yet could not resist listening to some honeyed nonsense that her "friend" was saying. Ostensibly, Vinton Arnold was at her side to turn the leaves of the music, but in reality to feast his eyes on beauty which daily bound him in stronger chains of fascination. Her head drooped under his words, but only as the flowers bend under the dew and rain that give them life. His passing compliment was a trifle, but it seemed like the delicate touch to which the subtle electric current responds. From a credulous, joyous heart a crimson tide welled up into her face and neck; she could not repress a smile, though she bowed her head in girlish shame to hide it. Then, as if the light, gay music before her had become the natural expression of her mood, she struck into it with a brilliancy and life that gave even Belle content.
Arnold saw the pleasure his remark had given, and surmised the reason why the effect was so much greater than the apparent cause. For a moment an answering glow lighted up his pale face, and then, as if remembering something, he sighed deeply; but in the merry life which now filled the apartments a sigh stood little chance of recognition.
The sigh of the master of the house, however, was so deep and his face so clouded with care and anxiety as he turned from it all, that his wife, who at that moment met him, was compelled to note that something was amiss.
"Martin, what is it?" she asked.
He looked for a moment into her troubled blue eyes, and noted how fair, delicate, and girlish she still appeared in her evening dress. He knew also that the delicacy and refinement of feature were but the reflex of her nature, and, for the first time in his life, he wished that she were a strong, coarse woman.
"No matter, Fanny, to-night. See that the youngsters have a good time," and he passed hastily out.
"He's worrying about those stupid business matters again," she said, and the thought seemed to give much relief.
Business matters were masculine, and she was essentially feminine. Her world was as far removed from finance as her laces from the iron in which her husband dealt.
A little boy of four years of age and a little girl of six, whose tiny form was draped in such gossamer-like fabrics that she seemed more fairy-like than human, were pulling at her dress, eager to enter the mirth-resounding parlors, but afraid to leave her sheltering wing. Mrs. Jocelyn watched the scene from the doorway, where her husband had stood, without his sigh. Her motherly heart sympathized with Belle's abounding life and fun, and her maternal pride was assured by the budding promise of a beauty which would shine pre-eminent when the school-girl should become a belle in very truth.
But her eyes rested on Mildred with wistful tenderness. Her own experience enabled her to interpret her daughter's manner, and to understand the ebb and flow of feeling whose cause, as yet, was scarcely recognized by the young girl.
The geniality of Mrs. Jocelyn's smile might well assure Vinton Arnold that she welcomed his presence at her daughter's side, and yet, for some reason, the frank, cordial greeting in the lady's eyes and manner made him sigh again. He evidently harbored a memory or a thought that did not accord with the scene or the occasion. Whatever it was it did not prevent him from enjoying to the utmost the pleasure he ever found in the presence of Mildred. In contrast with Belle she had her mother's fairness and delicacy of feature, and her blue eyes were not designed to express the exultation and pride of one of society's flattered favorites. Indeed it was already evident that a glance from Arnold was worth more than the world's homage. And yet it was comically pathetic—as it ever is—to see how the girl tried to hide the "abundance of her heart."
"Millie is myself right over again," thought Mrs. Jocelyn; "hardly in society before in a fair way to be out of it. Beaux in general have few attractions for her. Belle, however, will lead the young men a chase. If I'm any judge, Mr. Arnold's symptoms are becoming serious. He's just the one of all the world for Millie, and could give her the home which her style of beauty requires—a home in which not a common or coarse thing would be visible, but all as dainty as herself. How I would like to furnish her house! But Martin always thinks he's so poor."
Mrs. Jocelyn soon left the parlor to complete her arrangements for an elegant little supper, and she complacently felt that, whatever might be the tribulations of the great iron firm down town, her small domain was serene with present happiness and bright with promise.
While the vigorous appetites of the growing boys and girls were disposing of the supper, Arnold and Mildred rather neglected their plates, finding ambrosia in each other's eyes, words, and even intonations. Now that they had the deserted parlor to themselves, Mildred seemed under less constraint.
"It was very nice of you," she said, "to come and help me entertain Belle's friends, especially when they are all so young."
"Yes," he replied. "I am a happy monument of self-sacrifice."
"But not a brazen one," she added quickly.
"No, nor a bronze one, either," he said, and a sudden gloom gathered in his large dark eyes.
She had always admired the pallor of his face. "It set off his superb brown eyes and heavy mustache so finely," she was accustomed to say. But this evening for some reason she wished that there was a little more bronze on his cheek and decision in his manner. His aristocratic pallor was a trifle too great, and he seemed a little frail to satisfy even her ideal of manhood.
She said, in gentle solicitude, "You do not look well this spring. I fear you are not very strong."
He glanced at her quickly, but in her kindly blue eyes and in every line of her lovely face he saw only friendly regard—perhaps more, for her features were not designed for disguises. After a moment he replied, with a quiet bitterness which both pained and mystified her:
"You are right. I am not strong."
"But summer is near," she resumed earnestly. "You will soon go to the country, and will bring back this fall bronze in plenty, and the strength of bronze. Mother says we shall go to Saratoga. That is one of your favorite haunts, I believe, so I shall have the pleasure, perhaps, of drinking 'your very good health' some bright morning before breakfast. Which is your favorite spring?"
"I do not know. I will decide after I have learned your choice."
"That's an amiable weakness. I think I shall like Saratoga. The great hotels contain all one wishes for amusement. Then everything about town is so nice, pretty, and sociable. The shops, also, are fine. Too often we have spent our summers in places that were a trifle dreary. Mountains oppress me with a sense of littleness, and their wildness frightens me. The ocean is worse still. The moment I am alone with it, such a lonely, desolate feeling creeps over me—oh, I can't tell you! I fear you think I am silly and frivolous. You think I ought to be inspired by the shaggy mountains and wild waves and all that. Well, you may think so—I won't tell fibs. I don't think mother is frivolous, and she feels as I do. We are from the South, and like things that are warm, bright, and sociable. The ocean always seemed to me so large and cold and pitiless—to care so little for those in its power."
"In that respect it's like the world, or rather the people in it—"
"Oh, no, no!" she interrupted eagerly; "it is to the world of people I am glad to escape from these solitudes of nature. As I said, the latter, with their vastness, power, and, worse than all, their indifference, oppress me, and make me shiver with a vague dread. I once saw a ship beaten to pieces by the waves in a storm. It was on the coast near where we were spending the summer. Some of the people on the vessel were drowned, and their cries ring in my ears to this day. Oh, it was piteous to see them reaching out their hands, but the great merciless waves would not stop a moment, even when a little time would have given the lifeboats a chance to save the poor creatures. The breakers just struck and pounded the ship until it broke into pieces, and then tossed the lifeless body and broken wood on the shore as if one were of no more value than the other. I can't think of it without shuddering, and I've hated the sea ever since, and never wish to go near it again."
"You have unconsciously described this Christian city," said Arnold, with a short laugh.
"What a cynic you are to-night! You condemn all the world, and find fault even with yourself—a rare thing in cynics, I imagine. As a rule they are right, and the universe wrong."
"I have not found any fault with you," he said, in a tone that caused her long eyelashes to veil the pleasure she could not wholly conceal.
"I hope the self-constraint imposed by your courtesy is not too severe for comfort. I also understand the little fiction of excepting present company. But I cannot help remembering that I am a wee bit of the world and very worldly; that is, I am very fond of the world and all its pretty follies. I like nice people much better than savage mountains and heartless waves."
"And yet you are not what I should call a society girl, Miss Millie."
"I'm glad you think so. I've no wish to win that character. Fashionable society seems to me like the sea, as restless and unreasoning, always on the go, and yet never going anywhere. I know lots of girls who go here and there and do this and that with the monotony with which the waves roll in and out. Half the time they act contrary to their wishes and feelings, but they imagine it the thing to do, and they do it till they are tired and bored half to death."
"What, then, is your ideal of life?"
Her head drooped a little lower, and the tell-tale color would come as she replied hesitatingly, and with a slight deprecatory laugh:
"Well, I can't say I've thought it out very definitely. Plenty of real friends seem to me better than the world's stare, even though there's a trace of admiration in it Then, again, you men so monopolize the world that there is not much left for us poor women to do; but I have imagined that to create a lovely home, and to gather in it all the beauty within one's reach, and just the people one best liked, would be a very congenial life-work for some women. That is what mother is doing for us, and she seems very happy and contented—much more so than those ladies who seek their pleasures beyond their homes. You see I use my eyes, Mr. Arnold, even if I am not antiquated enough to be wise."
His look had grown so wistful and intent that she could not meet it, but averted her face as she spoke. Suddenly he sprang up, and took her hand with a pressure all too strong for the "friend" she called him, as he said:
"Miss Millie, you are one of a thousand. Good-night."
For a few moments she sat where he left her. What did he mean? Had she revealed her heart too plainly? His manner surely had been unmistakable, and no woman could have doubted the language of his eyes.
"But some constraint," she sighed, "ties his tongue."
The more she thought it over, however—and what young girl does not live over such interviews a hundred times—the more convinced she became that her favorite among the many who sought her favor gave as much to her as she to him; and she was shrewd enough to understand that the nearer two people exchange evenly in these matters the better it is for both. Her last thought that night was, "To make a home for him would be happiness indeed. How much life promises me!"
Vinton Arnold's walk down Fifth Avenue was so rapid as to indicate strong perturbation. At last he entered a large house of square, heavy architecture, a creation evidently of solid wealth in the earlier days of the thoroughfare's history. There was something in his step as he crossed the marble hall to the hat-rack and then went up the stairway that caused his mother to pass quickly from her sitting-room that she might intercept him. After a moment's scrutiny she said, in a low, hard tone:
"You have spent the evening with Miss Jocelyn again."
He made no reply.
"Are you a man of honor?"
His pallid face crimsoned instantly, and his hands clenched with repressed feeling, but he still remained silent. Neither did he appear to have the power to meet his mother's cold, penetrating glance.
"It would seem," she resumed, in the same quiet, incisive tone, "that my former suggestions have been unheeded. I fear that I must speak more plainly. You will please come with me for a few moments."
With evident reluctance he followed her to a small apartment, furnished richly, but with the taste and elegance of a past generation. He had become very pale again, but his face wore the impress of pain and irresolution rather than of sullen defiance or of manly independence. The hardness of the gold that had been accumulating in the family for generations had seemingly permeated the mother's heart, for the expression of her son's face softened neither her tone nor manner. And yet not for a moment could she be made to think of herself as cruel, or even stern. She was simply firm and sensible in the performance of her duty. She was but maintaining the traditional policy of the family, and was conscious that society would thoroughly approve of her course. Chief of all, she sincerely believed that she was promoting her son's welfare, but she had not Mrs. Jocelyn's gentle ways of manifesting solicitude.
After a moment of oppressive silence, she began:
"Perhaps I can best present this issue in its true light by again asking, Are you a man of honor?"
"Is it dishonorable," answered her son irritably, "to love a pure, good girl?"
"No," said his mother, in the same quiet, measured voice; "but it may be very great folly and a useless waste. It is dishonorable, however, to inspire false hopes in a girl's heart, no matter who she is. It is weak and dishonorable to hover around a pretty face like a poor moth that singes its wings."
In sudden, passionate appeal, he exclaimed, "If I can win Miss Jocelyn, why cannot I marry her? She is as good as she is beautiful. If you knew her as I do you would be proud to call her your daughter. They live very prettily, even elegantly—"
By a simple, deprecatory gesture Mrs. Arnold made her son feel that it was useless to add another word.
"Vinton," she said, "a little reason in these matters is better than an indefinite amount of sentimental nonsense. You are now old enough to be swayed by reason, and not to fume and fret after the impossible like a child. Neither your father nor I have acted hastily in this matter. It was a great trial to discover that you had allowed your fancy to become entangled below the circle in which it is your privilege to move, and I am thankful that my other children have been more considerate. In a quiet, unobtrusive way we have taken pains to learn all about the Jocelyns. They are comparative strangers in the city. Mr. Jocelyn is merely a junior partner in a large iron firm, and from all your father says I fear he has lived too elegantly for his means. That matter will soon be tested, however, for his firm is in trouble and will probably have to suspend. With your health, and in the face of the fierce competition in this city, are you able to marry and support a penniless girl? If, on the contrary, you propose to support a wife on the property that now belongs to your father and myself, our wishes should have some weight. I tell you frankly that our means, though large, are not sufficient to make you all independent and maintain the style to which you have been accustomed. With your frail health and need of exemption from care and toil, you must marry wealth. Your father is well satisfied that whoever allies himself to this Jocelyn family may soon have them all on his hands to support. We decline the risk of burdening ourselves with these unknown, uncongenial people. Is there anything unreasonable in that? Because you are fascinated by a pretty face, of which there are thousands in this city, must we be forced into intimate associations with people that are wholly distasteful to us? This would be a poor return for having shielded you so carefully through years of ill health and feebleness."
The young man's head drooped lower and lower as his mother spoke, and his whole air was one of utter despondency. She waited for his reply, but for a few moments he did not speak. Suddenly he looked up, with a reckless, characteristic laugh, and said:
"The Spartans were right in destroying the feeble children. Since I am under such obligations, I cannot resist your logic, and I admit that it would be poor taste on my part to ask you to support for me a wife not of your choosing."
"'Good taste' at least should have prevented such a remark. You can choose for yourself from a score of fine girls of your own station in rank and wealth."
"Pardon me, but I would rather not inflict my weakness on any of the score."
"But you would inflict it on one weak in social position and without any means of support."
"She is the one girl that I have met with who seemed both gentle and strong, and whose tastes harmonize with my own. But you don't know her, and never will. You have only learned external facts about the Jocelyns, and out of your prejudices have created a family of underbred people that does not exist. Their crime of comparative poverty I cannot dispute. I have not made the prudential inquiries which you and father have gone into so carefully. But your logic is inexorable. As you suggest, I could not earn enough myself to provide a wife with hairpins. The slight considerations of happiness, and the fact that Miss Jocelyn might aid me in becoming something more than a shadow among men, are not to be urged against the solid reasons you have named."
"Young people always give a tragic aspect to these crude passing fancies. I have known 'blighted happiness' to bud and blossom again so often that you must pardon me if I act rather on the ground of experience and good sense. An unsuitable alliance may bring brief gratification and pleasure, but never happiness, never lasting and solid content."
"Well, mother, I am not strong enough to argue with you, either in the abstract or as to these 'wise saws' which so mangle my wretched self," and with the air of one exhausted and defeated he languidly went to his room.
Mrs. Arnold frowned as she muttered, "He makes no promise to cease visiting the girl." After a moment she added, even more bitterly, "I doubt whether he could keep such a promise; therefore my will must supply his lack of decision;" and she certainly appeared capable of making good this deficiency in several human atoms.
If she could have imparted some of her firmness and resolution to Martin Jocelyn, they would have been among the most useful gifts a man ever received. As the stanchness of a ship is tested by the storm, so a crisis in his experience was approaching which would test his courage, his fortitude, and the general soundness of his manhood. Alas! the test would find him wanting. That night, for the first time in his life, he came home with a step a trifle unsteady. Innocent Mrs. Jocelyn did not note that anything was amiss. She was busy putting her home into its usual pretty order after the breezy, gusty evening always occasioned by one of Belle's informal companies. She observed that her husband had recovered more than his wonted cheerfulness, and seemed indeed as gay as Belle herself. Lounging on a sofa, he laughed at his wife and petted her more than usual, assuring her that her step was as light, and that she still looked as young and pretty as any of the girls who had tripped through the parlors that evening.
The trusting, happy wife grew so rosy with pleasure, and her tread was so elastic from maternal pride and exultation at the prospects of her daughters, that his compliments seemed scarcely exaggerated.
"Never fear, Nan," he said, in a gush of feeling; "I'll take care of you whatever happens," and the glad smile she turned upon him proved that she doubted his words no more than her own existence.
They were eminently proper words for a husband to address to his wife, but the circumstances under which they were uttered made them maudlin sentiment rather than a manly pledge. As spoken, they were so ominous that the loving woman might well have trembled and lost her girlish flush. But even through the lurid hopes and vague prospects created by dangerous stimulants, Mr. Jocelyn saw, dimly, the spectre of coming trouble, and he added:
"But, Nan, we must economize—we really must."
"Foolish man!" laughed his wife; "always preaching economy, but never practicing it."
"Would to God I had millions to lavish on you!" he exclaimed, with tears of mawkish feeling and honest affection mingled as they never should in a true man's eyes.
"Lavish your love, Martin," replied the wife, "and I'll be content."
That night she laid her head upon her pillow without misgiving.
Mrs. Jocelyn was the daughter of a Southern planter, and in her early home had been accustomed to a condition of chronic financial embarrassment and easy-going, careless abundance. The war had swept away her father and brothers with the last remnant of the mortgaged property.
Young Jocelyn's antecedents had been somewhat similar, and they had married much as the birds pair, without knowing very definitely where or how the home nest would be constructed. He, however, had secured a good education, and was endowed with fair business capacities. He was thus enabled for a brief time before the war to provide a comfortable support in a Southern city for his wife and little daughter Mildred, and the fact that he was a gentleman by birth and breeding gave him better social advantages than mere wealth could have obtained. At the beginning of the struggle he was given a commission in the Confederate army, but with the exception of a few slight scratches and many hardships escaped unharmed. After the conflict was over, the ex-officer came to the North, against which he had so bravely and zealously fought, and was pleased to find that there was no prejudice worth naming against him on this account. His good record enabled him to obtain a position in a large iron warehouse, and in consideration of his ability to control a certain amount of Southern trade he was eventually given an interest in the business. This apparent advancement induced him to believe that he might safely rent, in one of the many cross-streets up town, the pretty home in which we find him. The fact that their expenses had always a little more than kept pace with their income did not trouble Mrs. Jocelyn, for she had been accustomed to an annual deficit from childhood. Some way had always been provided, and she had a sort of blind faith that some way always would be. Mr. Jocelyn also had fallen into rather soldier-like ways, and after being so free with Confederate scrip, with difficulty learned the value of paper money of a different color.
Moreover, in addition to a certain lack of foresight and frugal prudence, bred by army life and Southern open-heartedness, he cherished a secret habit which rendered a wise, steadily maintained policy of thrift wellnigh impossible. About two years before the opening of our story he had been the victim of a painful disease, the evil effects of which did not speedily pass away. For several weeks of this period, to quiet the pain, he was given morphia powders; their effects were so agreeable that they were not discontinued after the physician ceased to prescribe them. The subtle stimulant not only banished the lingering traces of suffering, but enabled him to resume the routine of business with comparative ease much sooner than he had expected. Thus he gradually drifted into the habitual use of morphia, taking it as a panacea for every ill. Had he a toothache, a rheumatic or neuralgic twinge, the drug quieted the pain. Was he despondent from any cause, or annoyed by some untoward event, a small white powder soon brought hopefulness and serenity. When emergencies occurred which promised to tax his mental and physical powers, opium appeared to give a clearness and elasticity of mind and a bodily vigor that was almost magical, and he availed himself of the deceptive potency more and more often.
The morbid craving which the drug inevitably engenders at last demanded a daily supply. For months he employed it in moderate quantities, using it as thousands do quinine, wine, or other stimulants, without giving much thought to the matter, sincerely intending, however, to shake off the habit as soon as he felt a little stronger and was more free from business cares. Still, as the employment of the stimulant grew into a habit, he became somewhat ashamed of it, and maintained his indulgence with increasing secrecy—a characteristic rarely absent from this vice.
Thus it can be understood that his mind had ceased to possess the natural poise which would enable him to manage his affairs in accordance with some wisely matured system of expenditure. In times of depression he would demand the most rigid economy, and again he would seem careless and indifferent and preoccupied. This financial vacillation was precisely what his wife had been accustomed to in her early home, and she thoughtlessly took her way without much regard to it. He also had little power of saying No to his gentle wife, and an appealing look from her blue eyes would settle every question of economy the wrong way. Next year they would be more prudent; at present, however, there were some things that it would be very nice to have or to do.
But, alas, Mrs. Jocelyn had decided that, for Mildred's sake, the coming summer must be spent at Saratoga. In vain her husband had told her that he did not see how it was possible. She would reply,
"Now, Martin, be reasonable. You know Mr. Arnold spends his summers there. Would you spoil Millie's chances of making one of the best matches in the city?"
He would shrug his shoulders and wonder where the money was to come from. Meanwhile he knew that his partners were anxious. They had been strong, and had endured the evil times for years without wavering, but now were compelled to obtain a credit more and more extended, in the hope of tiding themselves over the long period of depression.
This increasing business stagnation occasioned a deepening anxiety to her husband and a larger resort to his sustaining stimulant. While he had no sense of danger worth naming, he grew somewhat worried by his dependence on the drug, and it was his honest purpose to gradually abandon it as soon as the financial pressure lifted and he could breathe freely in the safety of renewed commercial prosperity. Thus the weeks and months slipped by, finding him more completely involved in the films of an evil web, and more intent than ever upon hiding the fact from every one, especially his wife and children.
He had returned on the evening of Belle's company, with fears for the worst. The scene in his pretty and happy home, in contrast with the bitter experiences that might be near at hand, so oppressed him with foreboding and trouble that he went out and weakly sought temporary respite and courage in a larger amount of morphia than he had ever yet taken.
While off his guard from the resulting exaltation, he met a business acquaintance and was led by him to indulge in wine also, with the results already narrated.
Martin Jocelyn awoke with a shiver. He did not remember that he had been dreaming, but a dull pain in his head and a foreboding of heart had at last so asserted themselves as to banish the unconsciousness of sleep. His prospects had even a more sombre hue than the cold gray of the morning. All the false prismatic colors of the previous evening had faded, and no serene, steady light had taken their place. The forced elation was followed—as is ever the case—by a deeper despondency. The face of his sleeping wife was so peaceful, so expressive of her utter unconsciousness of impending disaster, that he could not endure its sight. He felt himself to be in no condition to meet her waking eyes and explain the cause of his fears. A sense of shame that he had been so weak the evening before also oppressed him, and he yielded to the impulse to gain a day before meeting her trusting or questioning gaze. Something might occur which would give a better aspect to his affairs, and at any rate, if the worst must come, he could explain with better grace in the evening than in his present wretched mood, that would prove too sharp a contrast with his recent gayety.
He therefore dressed silently and hastily, and left a note saying that a business engagement required his early departure. "She will have at least one more serene day before the storm," he muttered.
"Now wasn't that kind and thoughtful of papa to let us all sleep late after the company!" said Mrs. Jocelyn to Mildred. "He went away, too, without his breakfast," and in her gentle solicitude she scarcely ate any herself.
But weakly hiding trouble for a day was not kindness. The wife and daughter, who should have helped to take in sail in preparation for the threatened storm, were left unconscious of its approach. They might have noticed that Mr. Jocelyn had been more than usually anxious throughout the spring, but they knew so little of business and its risks, that they did not realize their danger. "Men always worry about their affairs," said Mrs. Jocelyn. "It's a way they have."
Mr. Arnold's visits and manner were much more congenial topics, and as a result of the entire confidence existing between mother and daughter, they dwelt at length on these subjects.
"Mamma," said Mildred, "you must not breathe of it to a soul—not even to papa yet. It would hurt me cruelly to have it known that I think so much of one who has not spoken plainly—that is, in words. I should be blind indeed if I did not understand the language of his eyes, his tones, and manner. And yet, and yet—mamma, it isn't wrong for me to love—to think so much of him before he speaks, is it? Dearly as I—well, not for the world would I seem or even be more forward than a girl should. I fear his people are too proud and rich to recognize us; and—and—he says so little about them. I can never talk to him or any one without making many references to you and papa. I have thought that he even avoided speaking of his family."
"We have not yet been made acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Arnold," said Mrs. Jocelyn meditatively. "It is true we attend the same church, and it was there that Vinton saw you, and was led to seek an introduction. I'm sure we have not angled for him in any indelicate way. You met him in the mission school and in other ways, as did the other young ladies of the church. He seemed to single you out, and asked permission to call. He has been very gentlemanly, but you equally have been the self-respecting lady. I do not think you have once overstepped the line of a proper reserve. It isn't your nature to do such a thing, if I do say it. She is a silly girl who ever does, for men don't like it, and I don't blame them. Your father was a great hunter in the South, Millie, and he has often said since that I was the shyest game he ever followed. But," she added, with a low, sweet laugh, "how I did want to be caught! I can see now," she continued, with a dreamy look back into the past," that it was just the way to be caught, for if I had turned in pursuit of him he would have run away in good earnest. There are some girls who have set their caps for your handsome Mr. Arnold who don't know this. I am glad to say, however, that you take the course you do, not because you know better, but because you ARE better—because you have not lost in city life the shy, pure nature of the wild flowers that were your early playmates. Vinton Arnold is the man to discover and appreciate this truth, and you have lost nothing by compelling him to seek you in your own home, or by being so reserved when abroad."
While her mother's words greatly reassured Mildred, her fair face still retained its look of anxious perplexity.
"I have rarely met Mrs. Arnold and her daughters," she said; "but even in a passing moment, it seemed as if they tried to inform me by their manner that I did not belong to their world. Perhaps they were only oblivious—I don't know."
"I think that is all," said Mrs. Jocelyn musingly. "We have attended their church only since we came up town. They sit on the further side, in a very expensive pew, while papa thinks we can afford only a side seat near the door. It is evident that they are proud people, but in the matter of birth and good breeding, my dear, I am sure we are their equals. Even when poorer than we are now we were welcomed to the best society of the South. Have no fears, darling. When they come to know YOU they will be as proud of you as I am."
"Oh, mother, what a sweet prophetess you are! The life you suggest is so beautiful, and I do not think I could live without beauty. He is so handsome and refined, and his taste is so perfect that every association he awakens is refined and high-toned. It seems as if my—as if he might take out of my future all that is hard and coarse—all that I shrink from even in thought. But, mamma, I wish he were a wee bit stronger. His hands are almost as white and small as mine; and then sometimes he is so very pale."
"Well, Millie, we can't have everything. City life and luxury are hard on young men. It would be better for them if they tramped the woods more with a gun, as your father did. There was a time when papa could walk his thirty miles a day and ride fifty. But manly qualities may be those of the mind as well as of muscle. I gather from what Mr. Arnold says that his health never has been very good; but you are the one of all the world to pet him. and take care of him. Most of the fashionable girls of his set would want to go here and there all the time, and would wear him out with their restlessness. You would be happier at home."
"Indeed I would, mamma. Home, and heaven, are words that to me are near akin."
"I'm glad you are in such a fair way to win the home, but not heaven I trust for a long time yet. Let us think of the home first. While I would not for the world wish you to do a thing which the strictest womanly delicacy did not permit, there are some things which we can do that are very proper indeed. Mr. Arnold has an eye for beauty as well as yourself, and he is accustomed to see ladies well dressed. He noticed your toilet last night as well as your face, and his big brown eyes informed me that he thought it very pretty. I intend that you shall appear as well as the best of them at Saratoga, and what we cannot afford in expensive fabrics we must make up in skill and taste. Luckily, men don't know much about the cost of material. They see the general effect only. A lady is to them a finished picture, and they never think of inventorying the frame, canvas, and colors as a woman does. For quarter of the money I'll make you appear better than his sisters. So get your things, and we'll begin shopping at once, for such nice work requires time."
They were soon in the temples of fashion on Broadway, bent upon carrying out their guileless conspiracy. Nevertheless their seemingly innocent and harmless action was wretched folly. They did not know that it raised one more barrier between them and all they sought and hoped, for they were spending the little money that might save them from sudden and utter poverty.
A deeper shadow than that of the night fell upon Mildred Jocelyn's home after the return of her father. Feeling that there should be no more blind drifting toward he knew not what, he had employed all the means within his power to inform himself of the firm's prospects, and learned that there was almost a certainty of speedy failure. He was so depressed and gloomy when he sat down to dinner that his wife had not the heart to tell him of her schemes to secure his daughter's happiness, or of the gossamer-like fabrics she had bought, out of which she hoped to construct a web that would more surely entangle Mr. Arnold. Even her sanguine spirit was chilled and filled with misgivings by her husband's manner. Mildred, too, was speedily made to feel that only a very serious cause could banish her father's wonted good-humor and render him so silent. Belle and the little ones maintained the light talk which usually enlivened the meal, but a sad constraint rested on the others. At last Mr. Jocelyn said, abruptly, "Fanny, I wish to see you alone," and she followed him to their room with a face that grew pale with a vague dread. What could have happened?
"Fanny," he said sadly, "our firm is in trouble. I have hoped and have tried to believe that we should pull through, but now that I have looked at the matter squarely I see no chance for us, and from the words and bearing of my partners I imagine they have about given up hope themselves."
"Oh, come, Martin, look on the bright side. You always take such gloomy views of things. They'll pull through, never fear; and if they don't, you will soon obtain a better position. A man of your ability should be at the head of a firm. YOU would make money, no matter what the times were."
"Unfortunately, Fanny, your sanguine hopes and absurd opinion of my abilities do not change in the least the hard facts in the case. If the firm fails, I am out of employment, and hundreds of as good—yes, better men than I, are looking vainly for almost any kind of work. The thought that we have laid up nothing in all these years cuts me to the very quick. One thing is now certain. Not a dollar must be spent, hereafter, except for food, and that of the least costly kind, until I see our way more clearly."
"Can't we go to Saratoga?" faltered Mrs. Jocelyn.
"Certainly not. If all were well I should have had to borrow money and anticipate my income in order to spend even a few weeks there, unless you went to a cheap boarding-house. If things turn out as I fear, I could not borrow a dollar. I scarcely see how we are to live anywhere, much less at a Saratoga hotel. Fanny, can't you understand my situation? Suppose my income stops, how much ahead have we to live upon?" Mrs. Jocelyn sank into a chair and sobbed, "Oh that I had known this before! See there!"
The bed was covered with dress goods and the airy nothings that enhance a girl's beauty. The husband understood their meaning too well, and he muttered something like an oath. At last he said, in a hard tone, "Well, after buying all this frippery, how much money have you left?"
"Oh, Martin," sobbed his wife, "don't speak to me in that tone. Indeed I did not know we were in real danger. You seemed in such good spirits last evening, and Mr. Arnold showed so much feeling for Millie, that my heart has been as light as a feather all day. I wouldn't have bought these things if I had only known—if I had realized it all."
Mr. Jocelyn now uttered an unmistakable anathema on his folly.
"The money you had this morning is gone, then?"
"How much has been charged?"
"Don't ask me."
He was so angry—with himself more than his wife—and so cast down that he could not trust himself to speak again. With a gesture, more expressive than any words, he turned on his heel and left the room and the house. For hours he walked the streets in the wretched turmoil of a sensitive, yet weak nature. He was not one who could calmly meet an emergency and manfully do his best, suffering patiently meanwhile the ills that could not be averted. He could lead a cavalry charge into any kind of danger, but he could not stand still under fire. The temptation to repeat his folly of the previous evening was very strong, but it had cost him so dearly that he swore a great oath that at least he would not touch liquor again; but he could not refrain from lifting himself in some degree out of his deep dejection, by a recourse to the stimulant upon which he had so long been dependent. At last, jaded and sober indeed, he returned to a home whose very beauty and comfort now became the chief means of his torture.
In the meantime Mildred and her mother sat by the pretty fabrics that had the bright hues of their morning hopes, and they looked at each other with tears and dismay. If the silk and lawn should turn into crape, it would seem so in accordance with their feelings as scarcely to excite surprise. Each queried vainly, "What now will be the future?" The golden prospect of the day had become dark and chaotic, and in strong reaction a vague sense of impending disaster so oppressed them that they scarcely spoke. Deep in Mildred's heart, however, born of woman's trust, was the sustaining hope that her friend, Vinton Arnold, would be true to her whatever might happen. Poor Mrs. Jocelyn's best hope was, that the financial storm would blow over without fulfilling their fears. She had often known her father to be half desperate, and then there was patched up some kind of arrangement which enabled them to go on again in their old way. Still, even with her unbusiness-like habits of thought and meagre knowledge of the world, she could not see how they could maintain themselves if her husband's income should suddenly cease, and he be unable to find a like position.
She longed for his return, but when he came he gave her no comfort.
"Don't speak to me," he said; "I can tell you nothing that you do not already know. The events of the next few weeks will make all plain enough."
The logic of events did convince even Mrs. Jocelyn that making no provision for a "rainy day" is sad policy. The storm did not blow over, although it blew steadily and strongly. The firm soon failed, but Mr. Jocelyn received a small sum out of the assets, which prevented immediate want. Mildred's course promised to justify Arnold's belief that she could be strong as well as gentle, for she insisted that every article obtained on credit should be taken back to the shops. Her mother shrank from the task, so she went herself and plainly stated their circumstances. It was a bitter experience for the poor child—far more painful than she had anticipated. She could not believe that the affable people who waited on her so smilingly a few days before would appear so different; but even those who were most inclined to be harsh, and to feel aggrieved at their small loss in cutting the material returned, were softened as she said, gently and almost humbly:
"Since we could not pay for it we felt that it would be more honorable to bring it back in as good condition as when received." In every instance, however, in which the goods had been paid for, she found that she could effect no exchange for the money, except at such reduced rates that she might as well give them away.
Even Mrs. Jocelyn saw the need of immediate changes. One of their two servants was dismissed. Belle pouted over the rigid economy, now enforced all too late. Mildred cried over it in secret, but made heroic efforts to be cheerful in the presence of her father and mother; but each day, with a deeper chill at heart, she asked herself a thousand times, "Why does not Mr. Arnold come to see me?"
Vinton Arnold was in even greater distress. He had to endure not only the pain of a repressed affection, but also a galling and humiliating sense of unmanly weakness. He, of course, learned of the failure, and his father soon after took pains to say significantly that one of the members of the iron firm had told him that Mr. Jocelyn had nothing to fall back upon. Therefore Arnold knew that the girl he loved must be in sore trouble. And yet, how could he go to her? What could he say or do that would not make him appear contemptible in her eyes? But to remain away in her hour of misfortune seemed such a manifestation of heartless indifference, such a mean example of the world's tendency to pass by on the other side, that he grew haggard and ghost-like in his self-reproach and self-contempt. At last his parents began to insist that his health required a change of air, and suggested a mountain resort or a trip abroad, and he was conscious of no power to resist the quiet will with which any plan decided upon would be carried out. He felt that he must see Mildred once more, although what he would say to her he could not tell. While there had been no conscious and definite purpose on the part of his parents, they nevertheless had trained him to helplessness in mind and body. His will was as relaxed as his muscles. Instead of wise, patient effort to develop a feeble constitution and to educate his mind by systematic courses of study, he had been treated as an exotic all his days. And yet it had been care without tenderness, or much manifestation of affection. Hot a thing had been done to develop self-respect or self-reliance. Even more than most girls, he was made to feel himself dependent on his parents. He had studied but little; he had read much, but in a desultory way. Of business and of men's prompt, keen ways he was lamentably ignorant for one of his years, and the consciousness of this made him shrink from the companionship of his own sex, and begat a reticence whose chief cause was timidity. His parents' wealth had been nothing but a curse, and they would learn eventually that while they could shield his person from the roughnesses of the world they could not protect his mind and heart from those experiences which ever demand manly strength and principle. As a result of their costly system, there were few more pitiable objects in the city than Vinton Arnold as he stole under the cover of night to visit the girl who was hoping—though more faintly after every day of waiting—that she might find in him sustaining strength and love in her misfortunes.
But when she saw his white, haggard face and nervous, timid manner, she was almost shocked, and exclaimed, with impulsive sympathy, "Mr. Arnold, you have been ill. I have done you wrong."
He did not quite understand her, and was indiscreet enough to repeat, "You have done me wrong, Miss Millie?"
"Pardon me. Perhaps you do not know that we are in deep trouble. My father's firm has failed, and we shall have to give up our home. Indeed, I hardly know what we shall do. When in trouble, one's thoughts naturally turn to one's friends. I thought perhaps you would come to see me," and two tears that she could not repress in her eyes.
"Oh, that I were a man!" groaned Arnold, mentally, and never had human cruelty inflicted a keener pang than did Mildred's sorrowful face and the gentle reproach implied in her words.
"I—I have been ill," he said hesitatingly. "Miss Millie," he added impulsively, "you can never know how deeply I feel for you."
She lifted her eyes questioningly to his face, and its expression was again unmistakable. For a moment she lost control of her overburdened heart, and bowing her face in her hands gave way to the strong tide of her feelings. "Oh!" she sobbed, "I have been so anxious and fearful about the future. People have come here out of curiosity, and others have acted as if they did not care what became of us, if they only obtained the money we owed them. I did not think that those who were so smiling and friendly a short time since could be so harsh and indifferent. A thousand times I have thought of that poor ship that I saw the waves beat to pieces, and it has seemed as if it might be our fate. I suppose I am morbid, and that some way will be provided, but SOME way is not A way."
Instead of coming to her side and promising all that his heart prompted, the miserable constraint of his position led him to turn from grief that he was no longer able to witness. He went to the window, and, bowing his head against the sash, looked out into the darkness.
She regarded him with wonder as she slowly wiped her eyes.
"Mr. Arnold," she faltered, "I hope you will forgive me for my weakness, and also for inflicting our troubles on you."
He turned and came slowly toward her. She saw that he trembled and almost tottered as he walked, and that his face had become ashen. The hand he gave her seemed like ice to her warm, throbbing palm. But never could she forget his expression—the blending of self-contempt, pitiable weakness, and dejection.
"Miss Mildred," he said slowly, "there is no use in disguises. We had better both recognize the truth at once. At least it will be better for you, for then you may find a friend more worthy of the name. Can you not see what I am—a broken reed? The vine could better sustain a falling tree than I the one I loved, even though, like the vine, my heart clung to that one as its sole support. You suffer; I am in torment. You are sad; I despair. You associate strength and help with manhood, and you are right. You do not know that the weakest thing in the world is a weak, helpless man. I am only strong to suffer. I can do nothing; I am nothing. It would be impossible for me to explain how helpless and dependent I am—you could not understand it. My whole heart went out to you, for you seemed both gentle and strong. The hope would grow in my soul that you might be merciful to me when you came to know me as I am. Good-by, Millie Jocelyn. You will find a friend strong and helpful as well as kind. As for me, my best hope is to die." He bowed his head upon the hand he did not venture to kiss, and then almost fled from the house.
Mildred was too much overcome by surprise and feeling to make any attempt to detain him. He had virtually acknowledged his love for her, but never in her wildest fancy had she imagined so dreary and sad a revelation.
Mrs. Jocelyn, perplexed by Mr. Arnold's abrupt departure, came in hastily, and Mildred told her, with many tears, all that had been said. Even her mother's gentle nature could not prevent harsh condemnation of the young man.
"So he could do nothing better than get up this little melodrama, and then hasten back to his elegant home," she said, with a darkening frown.
Mildred shook her head and said, musingly, "I understand him better than you do, mamma, and I pity him from the depths of my heart."
"I think it's all plain enough," said Mrs. Jocelyn, in a tone that was hard and unnatural in her. "His rich parents tell him that he must not think of marrying a poor girl, and he is the most dutiful of sons."
"You did not hear his words, mamma—you did not see him. Oh, if he should die! He looked like death itself," and she gave way to such an agony of grief that her mother was alarmed on her behalf, and wept, entreated, and soothed by turns until at last the poor child crept away with throbbing temples to a long night of pain and sleeplessness. The wound was one that she must hide in her own heart; her pallor and languor for several days proved how deep it had been.
But the truth that he loved her—the belief that he could never give to another what he had given to her—had a secret and sustaining power. Hope is a hardy plant in the hearts of the young. Though the future was dark, it still had its possibilities of good. Womanlike, she thought more of his trouble than of her own, and that which most depressed her was the fear that his health might give way utterly. "I can bear anything better than his death," she said to herself a thousand times.
She made no tragic promises of constancy, nor did she indulge in very much sentimental dreaming. She simply recognized the truth that she loved him—that her whole woman's heart yearned in tenderness over him as one that was crippled and helpless. She saw that he was unable to stand alone and act for himself, and with a sensitive pride all her own she shrank from even the thought of forcing herself on the proud, rich family that had forbidden the alliance. Moreover, she was a good-hearted, Christian girl, and perceived clearly that it was no time for her to mope of droop. Even on the miserable day which followed the interview that so sorely wounded her, she made pathetic attempts to be cheerful and helpful, and as time passed she rallied slowly into strength and patience.
The father's apparent efforts to keep up under his misfortune were also a great incentive to earnest effort on her part. More than once she said in substance to her mother, "Papa is so often hopeful, serene, and even cheerful, that we ought to try and show a like spirit. Even when despondency does master him, and he becomes sad and irritable, he makes so brave an effort that he soon overcomes his wretched mood and quietly looks on the brighter side. We ought to follow his example." It would have been infinitely better had he followed theirs, and found in prayer, faith, and manly courage the serenity and fortitude that were but the brief, deceptive, and dangerous effects of a fatal poison.
It was decided that the family should spend the summer at some quiet farmhouse where the board would be very inexpensive, and that Mr. Jocelyn, in the meantime, should remain in the city in order to avail himself of any opening that he might discover.
After a day or two of search in the country, he found a place that he thought would answer, and the family prepared as quickly as possible for what seemed to them like a journey to Siberia.
Mildred's farewell to her own private apartment was full of touching pathos. This room was the outward expression not merely of a refined taste, but of some of the deepest feelings and characteristics of her nature. In its furniture and adornment it was as dainty as her own delicate beauty. She had been allowed to fit it up as she wished, and had lavished upon it the greater part of her spending money. She had also bestowed upon it much thought, and the skilful work of her own hands had eked out to a marvellous extent the limited sums that her father had been able to give her. The result was a prettiness and light, airy grace which did not suggest the resting-place of an ordinary flesh-and-blood girl, but of one in whom the spiritual and the love of the beautiful were the ruling forces of life.
It is surprising how character impresses itself on one's surroundings. Mrs. Arnold's elegant home was a correct expression of herself. Stately, formal, slightly rigid, decidedly cold, it suggested to the visitor that he would receive the courtesy to which his social position entitled him, and nothing more. It was the result of an exact and logical mind, and could no more unbend into a little comfortable disorder than the lady herself. She bestowed upon its costly appointments the scrupulous care which she gave to her children, and her manner was much the same in each instance. She was justly called a strong character, but she made herself felt after the fashion of an artist with his hammer and chisel. Carved work is cold and rigid at best.
Mildred had not as yet impressed people as a strong character. On the contrary, she had seemed peculiarly gentle and yielding. Vinton Arnold, however, in his deep need had instinctively half guessed the truth, for her influence was like that of a warm day in spring, undemonstrative, not self-asserting, but most powerful. The tongue-tied could speak in her presence; the diffident found in her a kindly sympathy which gave confidence; men were peculiarly drawn toward her because she was so essentially womanly without being silly. Although as sprightly and fond of fun as most young girls of her age, they recognized that she was perfectly truthful and loyal to all that men—even bad men—most honor in a woman. They always had a good time in her society, and yet felt the better and purer for it. Life blossomed and grew bright about her from some innate influence that she exerted unconsciously. After all there was no mystery about it. She had her faults like others, but at heart she was genuinely good and unselfish. The gentle mother had taught her woman's best graces of speech and manner; nature had endowed her with beauty, and to that the world always renders homage.
There are thousands of very pretty girls who have no love for beauty save their own, which they do their best to spoil by self-homage. To Mildred, on the contrary, the beautiful was as essential as her daily food, and she excelled in all the dainty handicrafts by which women can make a home attractive. Therefore her own little sanctum had developed like an exquisite flower, and had become, as we have said, an expression of herself. An auctioneer, in dismantling her apartment, would not have found much more to sell than if he had pulled a rose to pieces, but left intact it was as full of beauty and fragrance as the flower itself. And yet her own hands must destroy it, and in a brief time she must exchange its airy loveliness for a bare room in a farmhouse. After that the future was as vague as it was clouded. The pretty trifles were taken down and packed away, with tears, as if she were laying them in graves.
THE RUDIMENTS OF A MAN
"Mother, I hain't no unison with it at all," said Farmer Atwood, leaning on the breakfast table and holding aloft a knife and fork—formidable implements in his hands, but now unemployed through perturbation of mind. "I hain't no unison with it—this havin' fine city folk right in the family. 'Twill be pretty nigh as bad as visiting one's rich relations. I had a week of that once, but, thank the Lord, I hain't been so afflicted since. I've seen 'em up at the hotel and riding by too often not to know 'em. They are half conceit and half fine feathers, and that doesn't leave many qualities as are suited to a farmhouse. Roger and me will have to be—what was it that lecturin' professor called it—'deodorized' every mornin' after feedin' and cleanin' the critters. We'll have to put on our go-to-meetin's, instead of sittin' down in our shirt-sleeves comfortable like. I hain't no unison with it, and it's been a-growing on me ever since that city chap persuaded you into being cook and chambermaid for his family." And Farmer Atwood's knife and fork came down into the dish of ham with an onslaught that would have appalled a Jew.
"The governor is right, mother," said the young man referred to as Roger. "We shall all be in strait-jackets for the summer."
The speaker could not have been much more than twenty years old, although in form he appeared a full-grown man. As he stood wiping his hands on a towel that hung in a corner of the large kitchen, which, except on state occasions, also served as dining and sitting-room, it might be noted that he was above medium height, broad-shouldered, and strongly built. When he crossed the room his coarse working dress could not disguise the fact that he had a fine figure and an easy bearing of the rustic, rough-and-ready style. He had been out in the tall, dew-drenched grass, and therefore had tucked the lower part of his trousers in his boot tops, and, like his father, dispensed with his coat in the warm June morning. As he drew a chair noisily across the floor and sat down at the table, it was evident that he had a good though undeveloped face. His upper lip was deeply shadowed by a coming event, to which he looked forward with no little pride, and his well-tanned cheeks could not hide a faint glow of youthful color. One felt at a glance that his varying expressions could scarcely fail to reveal all that the young man was now or could ever become, for his face suggested a nature peculiarly frank and rather matter-of-fact, or at least unawakened. The traits of careless good-nature and self-confidence were now most apparent. He had always been regarded as a clever boy at home, and his rustic gallantry was well received by the farmers' daughters in the neighborhood. What better proofs that he was about right could a young fellow ask? He was on such good terms with himself and the world that even the event which his father so deprecated did not much disturb his easy-going assurance. He doubted, in his thoughts, whether the city girls would "turn up their noses" at him, and if they did, they might, for all that he cared, for there were plenty of rural beauties with whom he could console himself. But, like his father, he felt that the careless undress and freedom of their farm life would be criticised by the new-comers. He proposed, however, to make as little change as possible in his habits and dress, and to teach the Jocelyns that country people had "as good a right to their ways as city people to theirs." Therefore the threatened invasion did not in the least prevent him from making havoc in the substantial breakfast that Mrs. Atwood and her daughter Susan put on the table in a haphazard manner, taking it from the adjacent stove as fast as it was ready. A stolid-looking hired man sat opposite to Roger, and shovelled in his food with his knife, with a monotonous assiduity that suggested a laborer filling a coal-bin. He seemed oblivious to everything save the breakfast, and with the exception of heaping his plate from time to time he was ignored by the family.
The men-folk were quite well along with their meal before Mrs. Atwood and Susan, flushed with their labors about the stove, were ready to sit down. They were accustomed to hear the farmer grumble, and, having carried their point, were in no haste to reply or to fight over a battle that had been won already. Roger led to a slight resumption of hostilities, however, by a disposition—well-nigh universal in brothers—to tease.
"Sue," he said, "will soon be wanting to get some feathers like those of the fine birds that will light in our door-yard this evening."
"That's it," snarled the farmer; "what little you make will soon be on your backs or streamin' away in ribbons."
"Well," said Mrs. Atwood, a little sharply, "it's quite proper that we should have something on our backs, and if we earn the money to put it there ourselves, I don't see why you should complain; as for ribbons, Sue has as good right to 'em as Roger to a span-new buggy that ain't good for anything but taking girls out in."
"What made you have the seat so narrow, Roger?" asked Sue; "you couldn't squeeze three people in to save your life."
"I'm content with one girl at a time," replied Roger, with a complacent shrug.
"And the same girl only one time, too, from what I hear. You've taken out all there are in Forestville haven't you?"
"Haven't got quite around yet. And then some prudent mothers do think the seat a trifle narrow, and the ones I'd like to take out most can't go. But there's plenty that can."
"And one is as good as another," added his sister, maliciously, "If she will only talk nonsense, and let you hold her from falling out when you whisk over the thank-e-ma'ams."
"I didn't have to go from home to learn that most girls talk nonsense," laughed Roger. "By the way, how did you learn about the thank-e-ma'ams? I didn't teach you."
"No, indeed! Sisters may fall out for all that brothers care."
"That depends on whose sisters they are," said Roger, rising. "I now perceive that mine has been well taken care of."
"You think other young men have your pert ways," retorted Sue, reddening. "My friends have manners."
"Oh, I see. They let you fall out, and then politely pick you up."
"Come, you are both in danger of falling out now," said the mother reprovingly.
Roger went off whistling to his work, and the hired man lumbered after him.
"Father," said Mrs. Atwood, "who'll go down to the river for the trunks?"
"Well, I s'pose I'll have to," grumbled Mr. Atwood. "Roger don't want to, and Jotham can do more work in the cornfield than me."
"I'm glad you're so sensible. Riding down to the river and back will be a good bit easier than hoeing corn all day. The stage will be along about five, I guess, and I'll get supper for 'em in the sittin'-room, so you can eat in your shirt-sleeves, if that'll quiet your mind."
With the aspect of a November day Mr. Atwood got out the great farm-wagon and jogged down to the landing on the Hudson, which was so distant as to insure his absence for several hours.
It was a busy day for Mrs. Atwood and Susan. Fresh bread and cake were to be baked, and the rooms "tidied up" once more. A pitcher that had lost its handle was filled with old-fashioned roses that persisted in blooming in a grass-choked flower-bed. This was placed in the room designed for Mrs. Jocelyn and the children, while the one flower vase, left unbroken from the days of Roger's boyish carelessness, adorned the smaller apartment that Mildred and Belle were to occupy, and this was about the only element of elegance or beauty that Susan was able to impart part to the bare little room. Even to the country girl, to whom the term "decorative art" was but a vague phrase, the place seemed meagre and hard in its outlines, and she instinctively felt that it would appear far more so to its occupants.
"But it's the best we can afford," she sighed; "and at the prices they'll pay us they shouldn't complain."
Still the day was full of pleasurable excitement and anticipation to the young girl. She was aware that her mother's tasks and her own would be greatly increased, but on the other hand the monotony of the farm-house life would be broken, and in the more distant future she saw a vista of new gowns, a jaunty winter hat with a feather, and other like conditions of unalloyed happiness. Susan had dwelt thus far in one of life's secluded valleys, and if she lost much because her horizon was narrow she was shielded from far more. Her fresh, full face had a certain pleasant, wholesome aspect, like the fields about her home in June, as she bustled about, preparing for the "city folks" whom her father so dreaded.
Roger's buggy was not yet paid for. It was the one great extravagance that Mr. Atwood had permitted for many a year. As usual, his wife had led him into it, he growling and protesting, but unable to resist her peculiar persistency. Roger was approaching man's estate, and something must be done to signalize so momentous an event. A light buggy was the goal of ambition to the young men in the vicinity, and Roger felt that he could never be a man without one. He also recognized it as the best means of securing a wife to his mind, for courting on a moonlit, shadowy road was far more satisfactory than in the bosom of the young woman's family. Not that he was bent on matrimony, but rather on several years of agreeable preparation for it, proposing to make tentative acquaintances, both numerous and miscellaneous.
In his impatience to secure this four-wheeled compendium of happiness he had mortgaged his future, and had promised his father to plant and cultivate larger areas. The shrewd farmer therefore had no prospect of being out of pocket, for the young man was keeping his word. The acres of the cornfield were nearly double those of the previous year, and on them Roger spent the long hot day in vigorous labor in preference to the easy task of going to the river for the luggage. Dusty and weary, but in excellent spirits over the large space that he and the hired man had "hilled up," he went whistling home through the long shadows of the June evening. The farm wagon stood in the door-yard piled with trunks. The front entrance of the house—rarely used by the family—was open, and as he came up the lane a young girl emerged from it, and leaned for a few moments against the outer pillar of the little porch, unconscious of the picture she made. A climbing rose was in bloom just over her head, and her cheeks, flushed with heat and fatigue, vied with them in color. She had exchanged her travelling-dress for one of light muslin, and entwined in her hair a few buds from the bush that covered the porch. If Roger was not gifted with a vivid imagination he nevertheless saw things very accurately, and before he reached the head of the lane admitted to himself that the old "front steps" had never been so graced before. He had seen many a rustic beauty standing there when his sister had company, but the city girl impressed him with a difference which he then could not understand. He was inclined to resent this undefined superiority, and he muttered, "Father's right. They are birds of too fine a feather for our nest."
He had to pass near her in order to reach the kitchen door, or else make a detour which his pride would not permit. Indeed, the youth plodded leisurely along with his hoe on his shoulder, and scrupled not to scrutinize the vision on the porch with the most matter-of-fact minuteness.
"What makes her so 'down in the mouth'?" he queried. "She doesn't fancy us barbarians, I suppose, and Forestville to her is a howling wilderness. Like enough she'll take me for an Indian."
Mildred's eyes were fixed on a great shaggy mountain in the west, that was all the more dark and forbidding in its own deep shadow. She did not see it, however, for her mind was dwelling on gloomier shadows than the mountain cast.
As he passed he caught her attention, and stepping toward him a little impatiently, she said,
"I suppose you belong to the premises?"
He made an awkward attempt at a bow, and said stiffly, "I'm one of the Atwood chattels."
The answer was not such as she expected, and she gave him a scrutinizing glance. "Surely, if I have ever seen a laborer, he's one," she thought, as with woman's quickness she inventoried his coarse, weather-stained straw hat, blue cotton shirt crossed by suspenders mended with strings, shapeless trousers, once black, but now of the color of the dusty cornfield, and shoes such as she had never seen on the avenue. Even if Roger's face had not been discolored by perspiration and browned by exposure, its contrast with the visage that memory kept before her but too constantly would not have been pleasing. Nothing in his appearance deterred her from saying briefly, "I wish you would bring those trunks to our rooms. We have already waited for them some little time, and Mr. Atwood said that his man would attend to them when he came home from his work."
"That's all right, but I'm not his man, and with another stiff bow he passed on.
"Roger," called Mrs. Atwood from the kitchen door, "where's Jotham?"
"Bringing home the cows."
"The ladies want their trunks," continued his mother, in a sharp, worried tone. "I wish you men-folks would see to 'em right away. Why couldn't you quit work a little earlier to-night?"
Roger made no reply, but proceeded deliberately to help himself to a wash-basin and water.
"Look here, Roger," said his mother, in a tone she seldom used, "if those trunks are not where they belong in ten minutes, Susan and I'll take 'em up ourselves."
"That would be a pretty story to go out," added his sister. "Little use your buggy would be to you then, for no nice girl would ride with you."
"Come, come, what's the use of such a bother!" said the young man irritably. "Mother knows that I'd carry the trunks up on Bald-Top before I'd let her touch them. That's the way it will always be with these city people, I suppose. Everybody must jump and run the moment they speak. Father's right, and we'll have to give up our old free-and-easy life and become porters and waiting-maids."
"I've heard enough of that talk," said Mrs. Atwood emphatically. "Your father's been like a drizzling northeaster all day. Now I give you men-folks fair warning. If you want any supper you must wake up and give me something better than grumbling. I'm too hot and tired now to argue over something that's been settled once for all."
The "warning" had the desired effect, for Mrs. Atwood was the recognized head of the commissary department, and, as such, could touch the secret springs of motives that are rarely resisted.
The open kitchen windows were so near that Mildred could not help overhearing this family jar, and it added greatly to her depression. She felt that they had not only lost their own home, but were also banishing the home feeling from another family. She did but scant justice to Mrs. Atwood's abundant supper, and went to her room at last with that most disagreeable of all impressions—the sense of being an intruder.
The tired children were soon at rest, for their time of sleepless trouble was far distant. Belle's pretty head drooped also with the roses over the porch as the late twilight deepened. To her and the little people the day had been rich in novelty, and the country was a wonderland of many and varied delights. In the eyes of children the Garden of Eden survives from age to age. Alas! the tendency to leave it survives also, and to those who remain, regions of beauty and mystery too often become angular farms and acres.
Mrs. Jocelyn and Mildred still more clearly illustrated the truth that the same world wears a different aspect as the conditions of life vary. They were going out into the wilderness. The river was a shining pathway, whose beauty was a mockery, for it led away from all that they loved best. The farmhouse was a place of exile, and its occupants a strange, uncouth people with whom they felt that they would have nothing in common. Mrs. Jocelyn merely looked forward to weeks of weary waiting until she could again join her husband, to whom in his despondency her heart clung with a remorseful tenderness. She now almost wished that they had lived on bread and water, and so had provided against this evil day of long separation and dreary uncertainty. Now that she could no longer rest in her old belief that there would be "some way" of tiding over every financial crisis, she became a prey to forebodings equally vague that there might be no way. That HER HUSBAND could spend day after day seeking employment, offering, too, to take positions far inferior to the one he had lost, was a truth that at first bewildered and then disheartened her beyond measure. She felt that they must, indeed, have fallen on evil times when his services went a-begging.
To Mildred the present was dark, and the future most unpromising; but deep in her heart nestled the sustaining thought that she was not unloved, not forgotten. The will of others, not his own, kept her lover from her side. His weaknesses were of a nature that awakened her pity rather than contempt. If he had been a Hercules physically and a Bacon intellectually, but conceited, domineering, untruthful, and of the male flirt genus—from such weaknesses she would have shrunk with intense repugnance. Her friends thought her peculiarly gentle in disposition. They did not know—and she herself might rarely recognize the truth—that she was also very strong; her strength on its human side consisted in a simple, unswerving fidelity to her womanly nature and sense of right; on the Divine side, God's word was to her a verity. She daily said "Our Father" as a little child. Has the world yet discovered a purer or loftier philosophy?
ROGER DISCOVERS A NEW TYPE
Young Atwood rose with a very definite purpose on the following morning. For his mother's sake he would be civil to their boarders, but nothing more. He would learn just what they had a right to expect in view of their business relations, and having performed all that was "nominated in the bond," would treat them with such an off-hand independence that they would soon become aware that he, Roger Atwood, was an entity that could exist without their admiring approval. He meant that they should learn that the country was quite as large as the city, and that the rural peculiarities of Forestville were as legitimate as those which he associated with them, and especially with the young lady who had mistaken him for the hired man. Therefore after his morning work in the barnyard he stalked to the house with the same manner and toilet as on the previous day.
But there were no haughty citizens to be toned down. They were all sleeping late from the fatigues of their journey, and Mrs. Atwood said she would give the "men-folks their breakfast at the usual hour, because a hungry man and a cross bear were nigh of kin."
The meal at first was a comparatively silent one, but Roger noted with a contemptuous glance that his sister's hair was arranged more neatly than he had seen it since the previous Sunday, and that her calico dress, collar, and cuffs were scrupulously clean.
"Expecting company?" he asked maliciously.
She understood him and flushed resentfully. "If you wish to go around looking like a scarecrow, that's no reason why I should," she said. "The corn is too large for the crows to pull now, so if I were you I would touch myself up a little. I don't wonder that Miss Jocelyn mistook you for Jotham."
"It's well," retorted Roger, with some irritation, "that your Miss Jocelyn has no grown brothers here, or you would come down to breakfast in kid gloves. I suppose, however, that they have insisted on a tidy and respectful waitress. Will you please inform me, mother, what my regulation costume must be when my services are required? Jotham and I should have a suit of livery, with two more brass buttons on my coat to show that I belong to the family."
"I think that a little more of the manner and appearance of a gentleman would show your relationship better than any amount of brass," remarked his mother quietly.
Roger was almost through his breakfast, and so, at no great loss, could assume the injured part. Therefore with a dignity that was somewhat in marked contrast with his rather unkempt appearance he rose and stalked off to the cornfield again.
"Umph," remarked Mr. Atwood sententiously, as he rose and followed his son. This apparently vague utterance had for his wife a definite and extended meaning. She looked annoyed and flurried, and was in no mood for the labors of preparing a second breakfast.
"The men-folks had better not roil me up too much," she said to her daughter. "If your father had said No! out and out, I wouldn't have brought strangers into his home. But he kinder wanted me to have their money without the bother of having them around. Now one thing is settled—he must either help me make it pleasant for these people, or else tell them to leave this very day."
"And how about Roger?" asked Susan, still under the influence of pique.
"Oh, Roger is young and foolish. He's a-growing yet," and the mother's severe aspect relaxed. He was her only boy.
Mr. Atwood, brought face to face with the alternative presented by his practical wife, succumbed with tolerable grace. In truth, having had his grumble out, he was not so very averse to the arrangement. He was much like old Gruff, their watch-dog, that was a redoubtable growler, but had never been known to bite any one. He therefore installed himself as his wife's out-of-door ally and assistant commissary, proposing also to take the boarders out to drive if they would pay enough to make it worth the while. As for Roger, he resolved to remain a farmer and revolve in his old orbit.
Mrs. Jocelyn and Mildred were listless and depressed, and time hung heavily on their hands. They were in that condition of waiting and uncertainty which renders cheerful or systematic occupation wellnigh impossible. They daily hoped that a letter would come assuring them that Mr. Jocelyn had secured a position that would change all their future for the better, but the letters received recorded futile efforts only, and often despondency; but occasionally there would come a letter full of vague, sanguine hopes that first produced elation and then perplexity that nothing came of them. His wife found his dejection contagious. If she had been with him she would have made strenuous efforts to cheer and inspirit, but without an unselfish woman's strongest motive for action she brooded and drooped. Belle's irrepressible vivacity and the children's wild delight over the wonders of the fields and farmyard jarred upon her sore heart painfully. She patiently tried to take care of them, but in thought and feeling she could not enter into their life as had been her custom. Belle was too young and giddy for responsibility, and Mildred had many a weary chase after the little explorers. In spite of his clearly defined policy of indifference, Roger found himself watching her on such occasions with a growing interest. It was evident to him that she did not in the slightest degree resent his daily declaration of independence; indeed, he saw that she scarcely gave him any thoughts whatever—that he was to her no more than heavy-footed Jotham.
"She does not even consider me worth snubbing," he thought, with much dissatisfaction, about a week subsequent to their arrival.
In vain, after the labors of the day, he dressed in his best suit and sported a flaming necktie; in vain he dashed away in his buggy, and, a little later, dashed by again with a rural belle at his side. He found himself unable to impress the city girl as he desired, or to awaken in her a sense of his importance. And yet he already began to feel, in a vague way, that she was not so distant TO him, as distant FROM him.
Belle soon formed his acquaintance, asking innumerable questions and not a few favors, and she found him more good-natured than she had been led to expect. At last, to her great delight, he took her with him in his wagon to the post-office. The lively girl interested and amused him, but he felt himself immeasurably older than she. With a tendency common to very young men, he was more interested in the elder sister, who in character and the maturity that comes from experience was certainly far beyond him. Belle he understood, but Mildred was a mystery, and she had also the advantage of being a very beautiful one.
As time passed and no definite assurances came from her father, the young girl was conscious of a growing dissatisfaction with the idle, weary waiting to which she and her mother were condemned. She felt that it might have been better for them all to have remained in the city, in spite of the summer heat, than thus to be separated. She believed that she might have found something to do which would have aided in their support, and she understood more clearly than her mother that their slender means were diminishing fast. That she could do anything at a country farmhouse to assist her father seemed very doubtful, but she felt the necessity of employment more strongly each day, not only for the sake of the money it might bring, but also as an antidote to a growing tendency to brood over her deep disappointment. She soon began to recognize that such self-indulgence would unfit her for a struggle that might be extended and severe, and was not long in coming to the conclusion that she must make the best of her life as it was and would be. Days and weeks had slipped by and had seen her looking regretfully back at the past, which was receding like the shores of a loved country to an exile. Since the prospect of returning to it was so slight, it would be best to turn her thoughts and such faint hope as she could cherish toward the vague and unpromising future. At any rate she must so occupy herself as to have no time for morbid self-communings.
Her first resource was the homely life and interests of those with whom she dwelt. Thus far she had regarded them as uncongenial strangers, and had contented herself with mere politeness toward them. In her sad preoccupation she had taken little note of their characters or domestic life, and her mother had kept herself even more secluded. Indeed the poor lady felt that it was hardly right to smile in view of her husband's absence and misfortune, and she often chided Belle for her levity; but Belle's life was like an over-full fountain in spring-time, and could not be repressed.
In her deep abstraction Mildred had seen, but had scarcely noted, certain changes in the farmhouse that would have interested and pleased her had her mind been at rest. Almost unconsciously she had revealed her love of that which is pretty and inviting; therefore Susan, not content with being neat, was inclined to brighten her costume by an occasional ribbon, and to suggest comparisons between her fresh and youthful bloom and an opening flower that she would fasten in her hair as the summer day declined. So far from resenting this imitation of her own habits and tastes, Mildred at last recognized the young girl's awakening perceptions of womanly grace with much satisfaction. Even poor Mrs. Atwood exhibited a tendency to emerge from her chronic and rather forlorn condition of household drudge. For years she had known and thought of little else save sordid work, early and late. The income from the small farm permitted no extra help except on rare occasions, and then was obtained under protest from her husband, who parted with a dollar as he would with a refractory tooth. His strong and persistent will had impressed itself on his family, and their home life had been meagre and uninviting; the freedom and ease that he and Roger were so loath to lose, consisting chiefly in careless dress and a disregard of the little refinements and courtesies of life.
It was with some self-reproach that Mildred admitted that for nearly a month she had practically ignored these people, and that she was becoming selfish in her trouble; and yet, not so much from a sense of duty, as from a kindling zest in life, she began to take an interest in them and their ways. She was still far too young for her spirit to lose its spring, even under a continuous weight of misfortune. Her nature was not morbid, but sunny and wholesome, and when with the children and Belle unexpected smiles would brighten her face like glints of sunshine here and there on a cloudy day. Deep as had been her wounds, she found that there were moments when she half forgot their pain, and an instinct of self-preservation taught her that it would be best to forget them as far as possible.