By William Dean Howells
The Kentons were not rich, but they were certainly richer than the average in the pleasant county town of the Middle West, where they had spent nearly their whole married life. As their circumstances had grown easier, they had mellowed more and more in the keeping of their comfortable home, until they hated to leave it even for the short outings, which their children made them take, to Niagara or the Upper Lakes in the hot weather. They believed that they could not be so well anywhere as in the great square brick house which still kept its four acres about it, in the heart of the growing town, where the trees they had planted with their own hands topped it on three aides, and a spacious garden opened southward behind it to the summer wind. Kenton had his library, where he transacted by day such law business as he had retained in his own hands; but at night he liked to go to his wife's room and sit with her there. They left the parlors and piazzas to their girls, where they could hear them laughing with the young fellows who came to make the morning calls, long since disused in the centres of fashion, or the evening calls, scarcely more authorized by the great world. She sewed, and he read his paper in her satisfactory silence, or they played checkers together. She did not like him to win, and when she found herself unable to bear the prospect of defeat, she refused to let him make the move that threatened the safety of her men. Sometimes he laughed at her, and sometimes he scolded, but they were very good comrades, as elderly married people are apt to be. They had long ago quarrelled out their serious differences, which mostly arose from such differences of temperament as had first drawn them together; they criticised each other to their children from time to time, but they atoned for this defection by complaining of the children to each other, and they united in giving way to them on all points concerning their happiness, not to say their pleasure.
They had both been teachers in their youth before he went into the war, and they had not married until he had settled himself in the practice of the law after he left the army. He was then a man of thirty, and five years older than she; five children were born to them, but the second son died when he was yet a babe in his mother's arms, and there was an interval of six years between the first boy and the first girl. Their eldest son was already married, and settled next them in a house which was brick, like their own, but not square, and had grounds so much less ample that he got most of his vegetables from their garden. He had grown naturally into a share of his father's law practice, and he had taken it all over when Renton was elected to the bench. He made a show of giving it back after the judge retired, but by that time Kenton was well on in the fifties. The practice itself had changed, and had become mainly the legal business of a large corporation. In this form it was distasteful to him; he kept the affairs of some of his old clients in his hands, but he gave much of his time, which he saved his self-respect by calling his leisure, to a history of his regiment in-the war.
In his later life he had reverted to many of the preoccupations of his youth, and he believed that Tuskingum enjoyed the best climate, on the whole, in the union; that its people of mingled Virginian, Pennsylvanian, and Connecticut origin, with little recent admixture of foreign strains, were of the purest American stock, and spoke the best English in the world; they enjoyed obviously the greatest sum of happiness, and had incontestibly the lowest death rate and divorce rate in the State. The growth of the place was normal and healthy; it had increased only to five thousand during the time he had known it, which was almost an ideal figure for a county-town. There was a higher average of intelligence than in any other place of its size, and a wider and evener diffusion of prosperity. Its record in the civil war was less brilliant, perhaps, than that of some other localities, but it was fully up to the general Ohio level, which was the high-water mark of the national achievement in the greatest war of the greatest people under the sun. It, was Kenton's pride and glory that he had been a part of the finest army known in history. He believed that the men who made history ought to write it, and in his first Commemoration-Day oration he urged his companions in arms to set down everything they could remember of their soldiering, and to save the letters they had written home, so that they might each contribute to a collective autobiography of the regiment. It was only in this way, he held, that the intensely personal character of the struggle could be recorded. He had felt his way to the fact that every battle is essentially episodical, very campaign a sum of fortuities; and it was not strange that he should suppose, with his want of perspective, that this universal fact was purely national and American. His zeal made him the repository of a vast mass of material which he could not have refused to keep for the soldiers who brought it to him, more or less in a humorous indulgence of his whim. But he even offered to receive it, and in a community where everything took the complexion of a joke, he came to be affectionately regarded as a crank on that point; the shabbily aging veterans, whom he pursued to their workbenches and cornfields, for, the documents of the regimental history, liked to ask the colonel if he had brought his gun. They, always give him the title with which he had been breveted at the close of the war; but he was known to the, younger, generation of his fellow-citizens as the judge. His wife called him Mr. Kenton in the presence of strangers, and sometimes to himself, but to his children she called him Poppa, as they did.
The steady-going eldest son, who had succeeded to his father's affairs without giving him the sense of dispossession, loyally accepted the popular belief that he would never be the man his father was. He joined with his mother in a respect for Kenton's theory of the regimental history which was none the less sincere because it was unconsciously a little sceptical of the outcome; and the eldest daughter was of their party. The youngest said frankly that she had no use for any history, but she said the same of nearly everything which had not directly or indirectly to do with dancing. In this regulation she had use for parties and picnics, for buggy-rides and sleigh-rides, for calls from young men and visits to and from other girls, for concerts, for plays, for circuses and church sociables, for everything but lectures; and she devoted herself to her pleasures without the shadow of chaperonage, which was, indeed, a thing still unheard of in Tuskingum.
In the expansion which no one else ventured, or, perhaps, wished to set bounds to, she came under the criticism of her younger brother, who, upon the rare occasions when he deigned to mingle in the family affairs, drew their mother's notice to his sister's excesses in carrying-on, and required some action that should keep her from bringing the name, of Kenton to disgrace. From being himself a boy of very slovenly and lawless life he had suddenly, at the age of fourteen, caught himself up from the street, reformed his dress and conduct, and confined himself in his large room at the top of the house, where, on the pursuits to which he gave his spare time, the friends who frequented his society, and the literature which nourished his darkling spirit, might fitly have been written Mystery. The sister whom he reprobated was only two years his elder, but since that difference in a girl accounts for a great deal, it apparently authorized her to take him more lightly than he was able to take himself. She said that he was in love, and she achieved an importance with him through his speechless rage and scorn which none of the rest of his family enjoyed. With his father and mother he had a bearing of repressed superiority which a strenuous conscience kept from unmasking itself in open contempt when they failed to make his sister promise to behave herself. Sometimes he had lapses from his dignified gloom with his mother, when, for no reason that could be given, he fell from his habitual majesty to the tender dependence of a little boy, just as his voice broke from its nascent base to its earlier treble at moments when he least expected or wished such a thing to happen. His stately but vague ideal of himself was supported by a stature beyond his years, but this rendered it the more difficult for him to bear the humiliation of his sudden collapses, and made him at other times the easier prey of Lottie's ridicule. He got on best, or at least most evenly, with his eldest sister. She took him seriously, perhaps because she took all life so; and she was able to interpret him to his father when his intolerable dignity forbade a common understanding between them. When he got so far beyond his depth that he did not know what he meant himself, as sometimes happened, she gently found him a safe footing nearer shore.
Kenton's theory was that he did not distinguish among his children. He said that he did not suppose they were the best children in the world, but they suited him; and he would not have known how to change them for the better. He saw no harm in the behavior of Lottie when it most shocked her brother; he liked her to have a good time; but it flattered his nerves to have Ellen about him. Lottie was a great deal more accomplished, he allowed that; she could play and sing, and she had social gifts far beyond her sister; but he easily proved to his wife that Nelly knew ten times as much.
Nelly read a great deal; she kept up with all the magazines, and knew all the books in his library. He believed that she was a fine German scholar, and in fact she had taken up that language after leaving school, when, if she had been better advised than she could have been in Tuskingum, she would have kept on with her French. She started the first book club in the place; and she helped her father do the intellectual honors of the house to the Eastern lecturers, who always stayed with the judge when they came to Tuskingum. She was faithfully present at the moments, which her sister shunned in derision, when her father explained to them respectively his theory of regimental history, and would just, as he said, show them a few of the documents he had collected. He made Ellen show them; she knew where to put her hand on the most characteristic and illustrative; and Lottie offered to bet what one dared that Ellen would marry some of those lecturers yet; she was literary enough.
She boasted that she was not literary herself, and had no use for any one who was; and it could not have been her culture that drew the most cultivated young man in Tuskingum to her. Ellen was really more beautiful; Lottie was merely very pretty; but she had charm for them, and Ellen, who had their honor and friendship, had no charm for them. No one seemed drawn to her as they were drawn to her sister till a man came who was not one of the most cultivated in Tuskingum; and then it was doubtful whether she was not first drawn to him. She was too transparent to hide her feeling from her father and mother, who saw with even more grief than shame that she could not hide it from the man himself, whom they thought so unworthy of it.
He had suddenly arrived in Tuskingum from one of the villages of the county, where he had been teaching school, and had found something to do as reporter on the Tuskingum 'Intelligencer', which he was instinctively characterizing with the spirit of the new journalism, and was pushing as hardily forward on the lines of personality as if he had dropped down to it from the height of a New York or Chicago Sunday edition. The judge said, with something less than his habitual honesty, that he did not mind his being a reporter, but he minded his being light and shallow; he minded his being flippant and mocking; he minded his bringing his cigarettes and banjo into the house at his second visit. He did not mind his push; the fellow had his way to make and he had to push; but he did mind his being all push; and his having come out of the country with as little simplicity as if he had passed his whole life in the city. He had no modesty, and he had no reverence; he had no reverence for Ellen herself, and the poor girl seemed to like him for that.
He was all the more offensive to the judge because he was himself to blame for their acquaintance, which began when one day the fellow had called after him in the street, and then followed down the shady sidewalk beside him to his hour, wanting to know what this was he had heard about his history, and pleading for more light upon his plan in it. At the gate he made a flourish of opening and shutting it for the judge, and walking up the path to his door he kept his hand on the judge's shoulder most offensively; but in spite of this Kenton had the weakness to ask him in, and to call Ellen to get him the most illustrative documents of the history.
The interview that resulted in the 'Intelligencer' was the least evil that came of this error. Kenton was amazed, and then consoled, and then afflicted that Ellen was not disgusted with it; and in his conferences with his wife he fumed and fretted at his own culpable folly, and tried to get back of the time he had committed it, in that illusion which people have with trouble that it could somehow be got rid of if it could fairly be got back of; till the time came when his wife could no longer share his unrest in this futile endeavor.
She said, one night when they had talked late and long, "That can't be helped now; and the question is what are we going to do to stop it."
The judge evaded the point in saying, "The devil of it is that all the nice fellows are afraid of her; they respect her too much, and the very thing which ought to disgust her with this chap is what gives him his power over her. I don't know what we are going to do, but we must break it off, somehow."
"We might take her with us somewhere," Mrs. Kenton suggested.
"Run away from the fellow? I think I see myself! No, we have got to stay and face the thing right here. But I won't have him about the house any more, understand that. He's not to be let in, and Ellen mustn't see him; you tell her I said so. Or no! I will speak to her myself." His wife said that he was welcome to do that; but he did not quite do it. He certainly spoke to his daughter about her, lover, and he satisfied himself that there was yet nothing explicit between them. But she was so much less frank and open with him than she had always been before that he was wounded as well as baffled by her reserve. He could not get her to own that she really cared for the fellow; but man as he was, and old man as he was, he could not help perceiving that she lived in a fond dream of him.
He went from her to her mother. "If he was only one-half the man she thinks he is!"—he ended his report in a hopeless sigh.
"You want to give in to her!" his wife pitilessly interpreted. "Well, perhaps that would be the best thing, after all."
"No, no, it wouldn't, Sarah; it would be the easiest for both of us, I admit, but it would be the worst thing for her. We've got to let it run along for a while yet. If we give him rope enough he may hang himself; there's that chance. We can't go away, and we can't shut her up, and we can't turn him out of the house. We must trust her to find him out for herself."
"She'll never do that," said the mother. "Lottie says Ellen thinks he's just perfect. He cheers her up, and takes her out of herself. We've always acted with her as if we thought she was different from other girls, and he behaves to her as if she was just like all of them, just as silly, and just as weak, and it pleases her, and flatters her; she likes it."
"Oh, Lord!" groaned the father. "I suppose she does."
This was bad enough; it was a blow to his pride in Ellen; but there was something that hurt him still worse. When the fellow had made sure of her, he apparently felt himself so safe in her fondness that he did not urge his suit with her. His content with her tacit acceptance gave the bitterness of shame to the promise Kenton and his wife had made each other never to cross any of their children in love. They were ready now to keep that promise for Ellen, if he asked it of them, rather than answer for her lifelong disappointment, if they denied him. But, whatever he meant finally to do, he did not ask it; he used his footing in their house chiefly as a basis for flirtations beyond it. He began to share his devotions to Ellen with her girl friends, and not with her girl friends alone. It did not come to scandal, but it certainly came to gossip about him and a silly young wife; and Kenton heard of it with a torment of doubt whether Ellen knew of it, and what she would do; he would wait for her to do herself whatever was to be done. He was never certain how much she had heard of the gossip when she came to her mother, and said with the gentle eagerness she had, "Didn't poppa talk once of going South this winter?"
"He talked of going to New York," the mother answered, with a throb of hope.
"Well," the girl returned, patiently, and Mrs. Kenton read in her passivity an eagerness to be gone from sorrow that she would not suffer to be seen, and interpreted her to her father in such wise that he could not hesitate.
If such a thing could be mercifully ordered, the order of this event had certainly been merciful; but it was a cruel wrench that tore Kenton from the home where he had struck such deep root. When he actually came to leave the place his going had a ghastly unreality, which was heightened by his sense of the common reluctance. No one wanted to go, so far as he could make out, not even Ellen herself, when he tried to make her say she wished it. Lottie was in open revolt, and animated her young men to a share in the insurrection. Her older brother was kindly and helpfully acquiescent, but he was so far from advising the move that Kenton had regularly to convince himself that Richard approved it, by making him say that it was only for the winter and that it was the best way of helping Ellen get rid of that fellow. All this did not enable Kenton to meet the problems of his younger son, who required him to tell what he was to do with his dog and his pigeons, and to declare at once how he was to dispose of the cocoons he had amassed so as not to endanger the future of the moths and butterflies involved in them. The boy was so fertile in difficulties and so importunate for their solution, that he had to be crushed into silence by his father, who ached in a helpless sympathy with his reluctance.
Kenton came heavily upon the courage of his wife, who was urging forward their departure with so much energy that he obscurely accused her of being the cause of it, and could only be convinced of her innocence when she offered to give the whole thing up if he said so. When he would not say so, she carried the affair through to the bitter end, and she did not spare him some, pangs which she perhaps need not have shared with him. But people are seldom man and wife for half their lives without wishing to impart their sufferings as well as their pleasures to each other; and Mrs. Kenton, if she was no worse, was no better than other wives in pressing to her husband's lips the cup that was not altogether sweet to her own. She went about the house the night before closing it, to see that everything was in a state to be left, and then she came to Kenton in his library, where he had been burning some papers and getting others ready to give in charge to his son, and sat down by his cold hearth with him, and wrung his soul with the tale of the last things she had been doing. When she had made him bear it all, she began to turn the bright side of the affair to him. She praised the sense and strength of Ellen, in the course the girl had taken with herself, and asked him if he, really thought they could have done less for her than they were doing. She reminded him that they were not running away from the fellow, as she had once thought they must, but Ellen was renouncing him, and putting him out of her sight till she could put him out of her mind. She did not pretend that the girl had done this yet; but it was everything that she wished to do it, and saw that it was best. Then she kissed him on his gray head, and left him alone to the first ecstasy of his homesickness.
It was better when they once got to New York, and were settled in an apartment of an old-fashioned down-town hotel. They thought themselves very cramped in it, and they were but little easier when they found that the apartments over and under them were apparently thought spacious for families of twice their numbers. It was the very quietest place in the whole city, but Kenton was used to the stillness of Tuskingum, where, since people no longer kept hens, the nights were stiller than in the country itself; and for a week he slept badly. Otherwise, as soon as they got used to living in six rooms instead of seventeen, they were really very comfortable.
He could see that his wife was glad of the release from housekeeping, and she was growing gayer and seemed to be growing younger in the inspiration of the great, good-natured town. They had first come to New York on their wedding journey, but since that visit she had always let him go alone on his business errands to the East; these had grown less and less frequent, and he had not seen New York for ten or twelve years. He could have waited as much longer, but he liked her pleasure in the place, and with the homesickness always lurking at his heart he went about with her to the amusements which she frequented, as she said, to help Ellen take her mind off herself. At the play and the opera he sat thinking of the silent, lonely house at Tuakingum, dark among its leafless maples, and the life that was no more in it than if they had all died out of it; and he could not keep down a certain resentment, senseless and cruel, as if the poor girl were somehow to blame for their exile. When he betrayed this feeling to his wife, as he sometimes must, she scolded him for it, and then offered, if he really thought anything like that, to go back to Tuskingum at once; and it ended in his having to own himself wrong, and humbly promise that he never would let the child dream how he felt, unless he really wished to kill her. He was obliged to carry his self- punishment so far as to take Lottie very sharply to task when she broke out in hot rebellion, and declared that it was all Ellen's fault; she was not afraid of killing her sister; and though she did not say it to her, she said it of her, that anybody else could have got rid of that fellow without turning the whole family out of house and home.
Lottie, in fact, was not having a bit good time in New York, which she did not find equal in any way to Tuskingum for fun. She hated the dull propriety of the hotel, where nobody got acquainted, and every one was as afraid as death of every one else; and in her desolation she was thrown back upon the society of her brother Boyne. They became friends in their common dislike of New York; and pending some chance of bringing each other under condemnation they lamented their banishment from Tuskingum together. But even Boyne contrived to make the heavy time pass more lightly than she in the lessons he had with a tutor, and the studies of the city which he carried on. When the skating was not good in Central Park he spent most of his afternoons and evenings at the vaudeville theatres. None of the dime museums escaped his research, and he conversed with freaks and monsters of all sorts upon terms of friendly confidence. He reported their different theories of themselves to his family with the same simple-hearted interest that he criticised the song and dance artists of the vaudeville theatres. He became an innocent but by no means uncritical connoisseur of their attractions, and he surprised with the constancy and variety of his experience in them a gentleman who sat next him one night. Boyne thought him a person of cultivation, and consulted him upon the opinion he had formed that there was not so much harm in such places as people said. The gentleman distinguished in saying that he thought you would not find more harm in them, if you did not bring it with you, than you would in the legitimate theatres; and in the hope of further wisdom from him, Boyne followed him out of the theatre and helped him on with his overcoat. The gentleman walked home to his hotel with him, and professed a pleasure in his acquaintance which he said he trusted they might sometime renew.
All at once the Kentons began to be acquainted in the hotel, as often happens with people after they have long ridden up and down in the elevator together in bonds of apparently perpetual strangeness. From one friendly family their acquaintance spread to others until they were, almost without knowing it, suddenly and simultaneously on smiling and then on speaking terms with the people of every permanent table in the dining-room. Lottie and Boyne burst the chains of the unnatural kindness which bound them, and resumed their old relations of reciprocal censure. He found a fellow of his own age in the apartment below, who had the same country traditions and was engaged in a like inspection of the city; and she discovered two girls on another floor, who said they received on Saturdays and wanted her to receive with them. They made a tea for her, and asked some real New Yorkers; and such a round of pleasant little events began for her that Boyne was forced to call his mother's attention to the way Charlotte was going on with the young men whom she met and frankly asked to call upon her without knowing anything about them; you could not do that in New York, he said.
But by this time New York had gone to Mrs. Kenton's head, too, and she was less fitted to deal with Lottie than at home. Whether she had succeeded or not in helping Ellen take her mind off herself, she had certainly freed her own from introspection in a dream of things which had seemed impossible before. She was in that moment of a woman's life which has a certain pathos for the intelligent witness, when, having reared her children and outgrown the more incessant cares of her motherhood, she sometimes reverts to her girlish impulses and ideals, and confronts the remaining opportunities of life with a joyful hope unknown to our heavier and sullener sex in its later years. It is this peculiar power of rejuvenescence which perhaps makes so many women outlive their husbands, who at the same age regard this world as an accomplished fact. Mrs. Kenton had kept up their reading long after Kenton found himself too busy or too tired for it; and when he came from his office at night and fell asleep over the book she wished him to hear, she continued it herself, and told him about it. When Ellen began to show the same taste, they read together, and the mother was not jealous when the father betrayed that he was much prouder of his daughter's culture than his wife's. She had her own misgivings that she was not so modern as Ellen, and she accepted her judgment in the case of some authors whom she did not like so well.
She now went about not only to all the places where she could make Ellen's amusement serve as an excuse, but to others when she could not coax or compel the melancholy girl. She was as constant at matinees of one kind as Boyne at another sort; she went to the exhibitions of pictures, and got herself up in schools of painting; she frequented galleries, public and private, and got asked to studio teas; she went to meetings and conferences of aesthetic interest, and she paid an easy way to parlor lectures expressive of the vague but profound ferment in women's souls; from these her presence in intellectual clubs was a simple and natural transition. She met and talked with interesting people, and now and then she got introduced to literary people. Once, in a book- store, she stood next to a gentleman leaning over the same counter, whom a salesman addressed by the name of a popular author, and she remained staring at him breathless till he left the place. When she bragged of the prodigious experience at home, her husband defied her to say how it differed from meeting the lecturers who had been their guests in Tuskingum, and she answered that none of them compared with this author; and, besides, a lion in his own haunts was very different from a lion going round the country on exhibition. Kenton thought that was pretty good, and owned that she had got him there.
He laughed at her, to the children, but all the same she believed that she was living in an atmosphere of culture, and with every breath she was sensible of an intellectual expansion. She found herself in the enjoyment of so wide and varied a sympathy with interests hitherto strange to her experience that she could not easily make people believe she had never been to Europe. Nearly every one she met had been several times, and took it for granted that she knew the Continent as well as they themselves.
She denied it with increasing shame; she tried to make Kenton understand how she felt, and she might have gone further if she had not seen how homesick he was for Tuskingum. She did her best to coax him and scold him into a share of the pleasure they were all beginning to have in New York. She made him own that Ellen herself was beginning to be gayer; she convinced him that his business was not suffering in his absence and that he was the better from the complete rest he was having. She defied him, to say, then, what was the matter with him, and she bitterly reproached herself, in the event, for not having known that it was not homesickness alone that was the trouble. When he was not going about with her, or doing something to amuse the children, he went upon long, lonely walks, and came home silent and fagged. He had given up smoking, and he did not care to sit about in the office of the hotel where other old fellows passed the time over their papers and cigars, in the heat of the glowing grates. They looked too much like himself, with their air of unrecognized consequence, and of personal loss in an alien environment. He knew from their dress and bearing that they were country people, and it wounded him in a tender place to realize that they had each left behind him in his own town an authority and a respect which they could not enjoy in New York. Nobody called them judge, or general, or doctor, or squire; nobody cared who they were, or what they thought; Kenton did not care himself; but when he missed one of them he envied him, for then he knew that he had gone back to the soft, warm keeping of his own neighborhood, and resumed the intelligent regard of a community he had grown up with. There were men in New York whom Kenton had met in former years, and whom he had sometimes fancied looking up; but he did not let them know he was in town, and then he was hurt that they ignored him. He kept away from places where he was likely to meet them; he thought that it must have come to them that he was spending the winter in New York, and as bitterly as his nature would suffer he resented the indifference of the Ohio Society to the presence of an Ohio man of his local distinction. He had not the habit of clubs, and when one of the pleasant younger fellows whom he met in the hotel offered to put him up at one, he shrank from the courtesy shyly and almost dryly. He had outlived the period of active curiosity, and he did not explore the city as he world once have done. He had no resorts out of the hotel, except the basements of the secondhand book-dealers. He haunted these, and picked up copies of war histories and biographies, which, as fast as he read them, he sent off to his son at Tuskingum, and had him put them away with the documents for the life of his regiment. His wife could see, with compassion if not sympathy, that he was fondly strengthening by these means the ties that bound him to his home, and she silently proposed to go back to it with him whenever he should say the word.
He had a mechanical fidelity, however, to their agreement that they should stay till spring, and he made no sign of going, as the winter wore away to its end, except to write out to Tuskingum minute instructions for getting the garden ready. He varied his visits to the book-stalls by conferences with seedsmen at their stores; and his wife could see that he had as keen a satisfaction in despatching a rare find from one as from the other.
She forbore to make him realize that the situation had not changed, and that they would be taking their daughter back to the trouble the girl herself had wished to escape. She was trusting, with no definite hope, for some chance of making him feel this, while Kenton was waiting with a kind of passionate patience for the term of his exile, when he came in one day in April from one of his long walks, and said he had been up to the Park to see the blackbirds. But he complained of being tired, and he lay down on his bed. He did not get up for dinner, and then it was six weeks before he left his room.
He could not remember that he had ever been sick so long before, and he was so awed by his suffering, which was severe but not serious, that when his doctor said he thought a voyage to Europe would be good for him he submitted too meekly for Mrs. Kenton. Her heart smote her for her guilty joy in his sentence, and she punished herself by asking if it would not do him more good to get back to the comfort and quiet of their own house. She went to the length of saying that she believed his attack had been brought on more by homesickness than anything else. But the doctor agreed rather with her wish than her word, and held out that his melancholy was not the cause but the effect of his disorder. Then she took courage and began getting ready to go. She did not flag even in the dark hours when Kenton got back his courage with his returning strength, and scoffed at the notion of Europe, and insisted that as soon as they were in Tuskingum he should be all right again.
She felt the ingratitude, not to say the perfidy, of his behavior, and she fortified herself indignantly against it; but it was not her constant purpose, or the doctor's inflexible opinion, that prevailed with Kenton at last a letter came one day for Ellen which she showed to her mother, and which her mother, with her distress obscurely relieved by a sense of its powerful instrumentality, brought to the girl's father. It was from that fellow, as they always called him, and it asked of the girl a hearing upon a certain point in which, it had just come to his knowledge, she had misjudged him. He made no claim upon her, and only urged his wish to right himself with her because she was the one person in the whole world, after his mother, for whose good opinion he cared. With some tawdriness of sentiment, the letter was well worded; it was professedly written for the sole purpose of knowing whether, when she came back to Tuskingum, she would see him, and let him prove to her that he was not wholly unworthy of the kindness she had shown him when he was without other friends.
"What does she say?" the judge demanded.
"What do you suppose?" his wife retorted. "She thinks she ought to see him."
"Very well, then. We will go to Europe."
"Not on my account!" Mrs. Kenton consciously protested.
"No; not on your account, or mine, either. On Nelly's account. Where is she? I want to talk with her."
"And I want to talk with you. She's out, with Lottie; and when she comes back I will tell her what you say. But I want to know what you think, first."
It was some time before they arrived at a common agreement as to what Kenton thought, and when they reached it they decided that they must leave the matter altogether to Ellen, as they had done before. They would never force her to anything, and if, after all that her mother could say, she still wished to see the fellow, they would not deny her.
When it came to this, Ellen was a long time silent, so long a time that her mother was beginning restively to doubt whether she was going to speak at all. Then she drew a long, silent breath. "I suppose I ought to despise myself, momma, for caring for him, when he's never really said that he cared for me."
"No, no," her mother faltered.
"But I do, I do!" she gave way piteously. "I can't help it! He doesn't say so, even now."
"No, he doesn't." It hurt her mother to own the fact that alone gave her hope.
The girl was a long time silent again before she asked, "Has poppa got the tickets?"
"Why, he wouldn't, Ellen, child, till he knew how you felt," her mother tenderly reproached her.
"He'd better not wait!" The tears ran silently down Ellen's cheeks, and her lips twitched a little between these words and the next; she spoke as if it were still of her father, but her mother understood. "If he ever does say so, don't you speak a word to me, momma; and don't you let poppa."
"No; indeed I won't," her mother promised. "Have we ever interfered, Ellen? Have we ever tried to control you?"
"He WOULD have said so, if he hadn't seen that everybody was against him." The mother bore without reply the ingratitude and injustice that she knew were from the child's pain and not from her will. "Where is his letter? Give me his letter!" She nervously twitched it from her mother's hand and ran it into her pocket. She turned away to go and put off her hat, which she still wore from coming in with Lottie; but she stopped and looked over her shoulder at her mother. "I'm going to answer it, and I don't want you ever to ask me what I've said. Will you?"
"No, I won't, Nelly."
The next night she went with Boyne and Lottie to the apartment overhead to spend their last evening with the young people there, who were going into the country the next day. She came back without the others, who wished to stay a little longer, as she said, with a look of gay excitement in her eyes, which her mother knew was not happiness. Mrs. Kenton had an impulse to sweep into her lap the lithograph plans of the steamer, and the passage ticket which lay open on the table before herself and her husband. But it was too late to hide them from Ellen. She saw them, and caught up the ticket, and read it, and flung it down again. "Oh, I didn't think you would do it!" she burst out; and she ran away to her room, where they could hear her sobbing, as they sat haggardly facing each other.
"Well, that settles it," said Benton at last, with a hard gulp.
"Oh, I suppose so," his wife assented.
On his part, now, he had a genuine regret for her disappointment from the sad safety of the trouble that would keep them at home; and on her part she could be glad of it if any sort of comfort could come out of it to him.
"Till she says go," he added, "we've got to stay."
"Oh yes," his wife responded. "The worst of it is, we can't even go back to Tuskingum:' He looked up suddenly at her, and she saw that be had not thought of this. She made "Tchk!" in sheer amaze at him.
"We won't cross that river till we come to it," he said, sullenly, but half-ashamed. The next morning the situation had not changed overnight, as they somehow both crazily hoped it might, and at breakfast, which they had at a table grown more remote from others with the thinning out of the winter guests of the hotel, the father and mother sat down alone in silence which was scarcely broken till Lottie and Boyne joined them.
"Where's Ellen?" the boy demanded.
"She's having her breakfast in her room," Mrs. Kenton answered.
"She says she don't want to eat anything," Lottie reported. "She made the man take it away again."
The gloom deepened in the faces of the father and mother, but neither spoke, and Boyne resumed the word again in a tone of philosophic speculation. "I don't see how I'm going to get along, with those European breakfasts. They say you can't get anything but cold meat or eggs; and generally they don't expect to give you anything but bread and butter with your coffee. I don't think that's the way to start the day, do you, poppa?"
Kenton seemed not to have heard, for he went on silently eating, and the mother, who had not been appealed to, merely looked distractedly across the table at her children.
"Mr. Plumpton says he's coming down to see us off," said Lottie, smoothing her napkin in her lap. "Do you know the time of day when the boat sails, momma?"
"Yes," her brother broke in, "and if I had been momma I'd have boxed your ears for the way you went on with him. You fairly teased him to come. The way Lottie goes on with men is a shame, momma."
"What time does the boat sail, momma!" Lottie blandly persisted. "I promised to let Mr. Plumpton know."
"Yes, so as to get a chance to write to him," said Boyne. "I guess when he sees your spelling!"
"Momma! Do wake up! What time does our steamer sail?"
A light of consciousness came into Mrs. Renton's eyes at last, and she sighed gently. "We're not going, Lottie."
"Not going! Why, but we've got the tickets, and I've told—"
"Your father has decided not to go, for the present. We may go later in the summer, or perhaps in the fall."
Boyne looked at his father's troubled face, and said nothing, but Lottie was not stayed from the expression of her feelings by any ill-timed consideration for what her father's might be. "I just know," she fired, "it's something to do with that nasty Bittridge. He's been a bitter dose to this family! As soon as I saw Ellen have a letter I was sure it was from him; and she ought to be ashamed. If I had played the simpleton with such a fellow I guess you wouldn't have let me keep you from going to Europe very much. What is she going to do now? Marry him? Or doesn't he want her to?"
"Lottie!" said her mother, and her father glanced up at her with a face that silenced her.
"When you've been half as good a girl as Ellen has been, in this whole matter," he said, darkly, "it will be time for you to complain of the way you've been treated."
"Oh yes, I know you like Ellen the best," said the girl, defiantly.
"Don't say such a thing, Lottie!" said her mother. "Your father loves all his children alike, and I won't have you talking so to him. Ellen has had a great deal to bear, and she has behaved beautifully. If we are not going to Europe it is because we have decided that it is best not to go, and I wish to hear nothing more from you about it."
"Oh yes! And a nice position it leaves me in, when I've been taking good-bye of everybody! Well, I hope to goodness you won't say anything about it till the Plumptons get away. I couldn't have the face to meet them if you did."
"It won't be necessary to say anything; or you can say that we've merely postponed our sailing. People are always doing that."
"It's not to be a postponement," said Kenton, so sternly that no one ventured to dispute him, the children because they were afraid of him, and their mother because she was suffering for him.
At the steamship office, however, the authorities represented that it was now so near the date of his sailing that they could not allow him to relinquish his passages except at his own risk. They would try to sell his ticket for him, but they could not take it back, and they could not promise to sell it. There was reason in what they said, but if there had been none, they had the four hundred dollars which Kenton had paid for his five berths and they had at least the advantage of him in the argument by that means. He put the ticket back in his pocket-book without attempting to answer them, and deferred his decision till he could advise with his wife, who, after he left the breakfast-table upon his errand to the steamship office, had abandoned her children to their own devices, and gone to scold Ellen for not eating.
She had not the heart to scold her when she found the girl lying face downward in the pillow, with her thin arms thrown up through the coils and heaps of her loose-flung hair. She was so alight that her figure scarcely defined itself under the bedclothes; the dark hair, and the white, outstretched arms seemed all there was of her. She did not stir, but her mother knew she was not sleeping. "Ellen," she said, gently, "you needn't be troubled about our going to Europe. Your father has gone down to the steamship office to give back his ticket."
The girl flashed her face round with nervous quickness. "Gone to give back his ticket!"
"Yes, we decided it last night. He's never really wanted to go, and—"
"But I don't wish poppa to give up his ticket!" said Ellen. "He must get it again. I shall die if I stay here, momma. We have got to go. Can't you understand that?"
Mrs. Kenton did not know what to answer. She had a strong superficial desire to shake her daughter as a naughty child which has vexed its mother, but under this was a stir stronger pity for her as a woman, which easily, prevailed. "Why, but, Ellen dear! We thought from what you said last night—"
"But couldn't you SEE," the girl reproached her, and she began to cry, and turned her face into the pillow again and lay sobbing.
"Well," said her mother, after she had given her a little time, "you needn't be troubled. Your father can easily get the ticket again; he can telephone down for it. Nothing has been done yet. But didn't you really want to stay, then?"
"It isn't whether I want to stay or not," Ellen spoke into her pillow. "You know that. You know that I have got to go. You know that if I saw him—Oh, why do you make me talk?"
"Yes, I understand, child." Then, in the imperious necessity of blaming some one, Mrs. Kenton added: "You know how it is with your father. He is always so precipitate; and when he heard what you said, last night, it cut him to the heart. He felt as if he were dragging you away, and this morning he could hardly wait to get through his breakfast before he rushed down to the steamship office. But now it's all right again, and if you want to go, we'll go, and your father will only be too glad."
"I don't want father to go against his will. You said he never wanted to go to Europe." The girl had turned her face upon her mother again; and fixed her with her tearful, accusing eyes.
"The doctors say he ought to go. He needs the change, and I think we should all be the better far getting away."
"I shall not," said Ellen. "But if I don't—"
"Yes," said her mother, soothingly.
"You know that nothing has changed. He hasn't changed and I haven't. If he was bad, he's as bad as ever, and I'm just as silly. Oh, it's like a drunkard! I suppose they know it's killing them, but they can't give it up! Don't you think it's very strange, momma? I don't see why I should be so. It seems as if I had no character at all, and I despise myself so! Do you believe I shall ever get over it? Sometimes I think the best thing for me would be to go into an asylum."
"Oh yes, dear; you'll get over it, and forget it all. As soon as you see others—other scenes—and get interested—"
"And you don't you don't think I'd better let him come, and—"
Ellen began to sob again, and toss her head upon the pillow. "What shall I do? What shall I do?" she wailed. "He hasn't ever done anything bad to me, and if I can overlook his—his flirting—with that horrid thing, I don't know what the rest of you have got to say. And he says he can explain everything. Why shouldn't I give him the chance, momma? I do think it is acting very cruel not to let him even say a word."
"You can see him if you wish, Ellen," said her mother, gravely. "Your father and I have always said that. And perhaps it would be the best thing, after all."
"Oh, you say that because you think that if I did see him, I should be so disgusted with him that I'd never want to speak to him again. But what if I shouldn't?"
"Then we should wish you to do whatever you thought was for your happiness, Ellen. We can't believe it would be for your good; but if it would be for your happiness, we are willing. Or, if you don't think it's for your happiness, but only for his, and you wish to do it, still we shall be willing, and you know that as far as your father and I are concerned, there will never be a word of reproach—not a whisper."
"Lottie would despise me; and what would Richard say?"
"Richard would never say anything to wound you, dear, and if you don't despise yourself, you needn't mind Lottie."
"But I should, momma; that's the worst of it! I should despise myself, and he would despise me too. No, if I see him, I am going to do it because I am selfish and wicked, and wish to have my own way, no matter who is harmed by it, or—anything; and I'm not going to have it put on any other ground. I could see him," she said, as if to herself, "just once more—only once more—and then if I didn't believe in him, I could start right off to Europe."
Her mother made no answer to this, and Ellen lay awhile apparently forgetful of her presence, inwardly dramatizing a passionate scene of dismissal between herself and her false lover. She roused herself from the reverie with a long sigh, and her mother said, "Won't you have some breakfast, now; Ellen?"
"Yes; and I will get up. You needn't be troubled any more about me, momma. I will write to him not to come, and poppa must go back and get his ticket again."
"Not unless you are doing this of your own free will, child. I can't have you feeling that we are putting any pressure upon you."
"You're not. I'm doing it of my own will. If it isn't my free will, that isn't your fault. I wonder whose fault it is? Mine, or what made me so silly and weak?"
"You are not silly and weak," said her mother, fondly, and she bent over the girl and would have kissed her, but Ellen averted her face with a piteous "Don't!" and Mrs. Kenton went out and ordered her breakfast brought back.
She did not go in to make her eat it, as she would have done in the beginning of the girl's trouble; they had all learned how much better she was for being left to fight her battles with herself singlehanded. Mrs. Kenton waited in the parlor till her husband same in, looking gloomy and tired. He put his hat down and sank into a chair without speaking. "Well?" she said.
"We have got to lose the price of the ticket, if we give it back. I thought I had better talk with you first," said Kenton, and he explained the situation.
"Then you had better simply have it put off till the next steamer. I have been talking with Ellen, and she doesn't want to stay. She wants to go." His wife took advantage of Kenton's mute amaze (in the nervous vagaries even of the women nearest him a man learns nothing from experience) to put her own interpretation on the case, which, as it was creditable to the girl's sense and principle, he found acceptable if not imaginable. "And if you will take my advice," she ended, "you will go quietly back to the steamship office and exchange your ticket for the next steamer, or the one after that, if you can't get good rooms, and give Ellen time to get over this before she leaves. It will be much better for her to conquer herself than to run away, for that would always give her a feeling of shame, and if she decides before she goes, it will strengthen her pride and self-respect, and there will be less danger— when we come back."
"Do you think he's going to keep after her!"
"How can I tell? He will if he thinks it's to his interest, or he can make anybody miserable by it."
Kenton said nothing to this, but after a while he suggested, rather timorously, as if it were something he could not expect her to approve, and was himself half ashamed of, "I believe if I do put it off, I'll run out to Tuskingum before we sail, and look after a little matter of business that I don't think Dick can attend to so well."
His wife knew why he wanted to go, and in her own mind she had already decided that if he should ever propose to go, she should not gainsay him. She had, in fact, been rather surprised that he had not proposed it before this, and now she assented, without taxing him with his real motive, and bringing him to open disgrace before her. She even went further in saying: "Very well, then you had better go. I can get on very well here, and I think it will leave Ellen freer to act for herself if you are away. And there are some things in the house that I want, and that Richard would be sure to send his wife to get if I asked him, and I won't have her rummaging around in my closets. I suppose you will want to go into the house?"
"I suppose so," said Renton, who had not let a day pass, since he left his house, without spending half his homesick time in it. His wife suffered his affected indifference to go without exposure, and trumped up a commission for him, which would take him intimately into the house.
The piety of his son Richard had maintained the place at Tuskingum in perfect order outwardly, and Kenton's heart ached with tender pain as he passed up the neatly kept walk from the gate, between the blooming ranks of syringas and snowballs, to his door, and witnessed the faithful care that Richard's hired man had bestowed upon every detail. The grass between the banks of roses and rhododendrons had been as scrupulously lawn-mowered and as sedulously garden-hosed as if Kenton himself had been there to look after its welfare, or had tended the shrubbery as he used to do in earlier days with his own hand. The oaks which he had planted shook out their glossy green in the morning gale, and in the tulip-trees, which had snowed their petals on the ground in wide circles defined by the reach of their branches, he heard the squirrels barking; a red-bird from the woody depths behind the house mocked the cat-birds in the quince-trees. The June rose was red along the trellis of the veranda, where Lottie ought to be sitting to receive the morning calls of the young men who were sometimes quite as early as Kenton's present visit in their devotions, and the sound of Ellen's piano, played fitfully and absently in her fashion, ought to be coming out irrespective of the hour. It seemed to him that his wife must open the door as his steps and his son's made themselves heard on the walk between the box borders in their upper orchard, and he faltered a little.
"Look here, father," said his son, detecting his hesitation. "Why don't you let Mary come in with you, and help you find those things?"
"No, no," said Kenton, sinking into one of the wooden seats that flanked the door-way. "I promised your mother that I would get them myself. You know women don't like to have other women going through their houses."
"Yes, but Mary!" his son urged.
"Ah! It's just Mary, with her perfect housekeeping, that your mother wouldn't like to have see the way she left things," said Kenton, and he smiled at the notion of any one being housekeeper enough to find a flaw in his wife's. "My, but this is pleasant!" he added. He took off his hat and let the breeze play through the lank, thin hair which was still black on his fine, high forehead. He was a very handsome old man, with a delicate aquiline profile, of the perfect Roman type which is perhaps oftener found in America than ever it was in Rome. "You've kept it very nice, Dick," he said, with a generalizing wave of his hat.
"Well, I couldn't tell whether you would be coming back or not, and I thought I had better be ready for you."
"I wish we were," said the old man, "and we shall be, in the fall, or the latter part of the summer. But it's better now that we should go—on Ellen's account."
"Oh, you'll enjoy it," his son evaded him.
"You haven't seen anything of him lately?" Kenton suggested.
"He wasn't likely to let me see anything of him," returned the son.
"No," said the father. "Well!" He rose to put the key into the door, and his son stepped down from the little porch to the brick walk.
"Mary will have dinner early, father; and when you've got through here, you'd better come over and lie down a while beforehand."
Kenton had been dropped at eight o'clock from a sleeper on the Great Three, and had refused breakfast at his son's house, upon the plea that the porter had given him a Southern cantaloupe and a cup of coffee on the train, and he was no longer hungry.
"All right," he said. "I won't be longer than I can help." He had got the door open and was going to close it again.
His son laughed. "Better not shut it, father. It will let the fresh air in."
"Oh, all right," said the old man.
The son lingered about, giving some orders to the hired man in the vegetable garden, for an excuse, in the hope that his father might change his mind and ask him to come into the house with him; he felt it so forlorn for him to be going through those lifeless rooms alone. When he looked round, and saw his father holding the door ajar, as if impatiently waiting for him to be gone, he laughed and waved his hand to him. "All right, father? I'm going now." But though he treated the matter so lightly with his father, he said grimly to his wife, as he passed her on their own porch, on his way to his once, "I don't like to think of father being driven out of house and home this way."
"Neither do I, Dick. But it can't be helped, can it?"
"I think I could help it, if I got my hands on that fellow once."
"No, you couldn't, Dick. It's not he that's doing it. It's Ellen; you know that well enough; and you've just got to stand it."
"Yes, I suppose so," said Richard Kenton.
"Of course, my heart aches for your poor old father, but so it would if Ellen had some kind of awful sickness. It is a kind of sickness, and you can't fight it any more than if she really was sick."
"No," said the husband, dejectedly. "You just slip over there, after a while, Mary, if father's gone too long, will you? I don't like to have him there alone."
"'Deed and 'deed I won't, Dick. He wouldn't like it at all, my spying round. Nothing can happen to him, and I believe your mother's just made an excuse to send him after something, so that he can be in there alone, and realize that the house isn't home any more. It will be easier for him to go to Europe when he finds that out. I believe in my heart that was her idea in not wanting me to find the things for him, and I'm not going to meddle myself."
With the fatuity of a man in such things, and with the fatuity of age regarding all the things of the past, Kenton had thought in his homesickness of his house as he used to be in it, and had never been able to picture it without the family life. As he now walked through the empty rooms, and up and down the stairs, his pulse beat low as if in the presence of death. Everything was as they had left it, when they went out of the house, and it appeared to Kenton that nothing had been touched there since, though when he afterwards reported to his wife that there was not a speck of dust anywhere she knew that Mary had been going through the house, in their absence, not once only, but often, and she felt a pang of grateful jealousy. He got together the things that Mrs. Kenton had pretended to want, and after glancing in at the different rooms, which seemed to be lying stealthily in wait for him, with their emptiness and silence, he went down-stairs with the bundle he had made, and turned into his library. He had some thought of looking at the collections for his history, but, after pulling open one of the drawers in which they were stored, he pushed it to again, and sank listlessly into his leather-covered swivel-chair, which stood in its place before the wide writing-table, and seemed to have had him in it before he sat down. The table was bare, except for the books and documents which he had sent home from time to time during the winter, and which Richard or his wife had neatly arranged there without breaking their wraps. He let fall his bundle at his feet, and sat staring at the ranks of books against the wall, mechanically relating them to the different epochs of the past in which he or his wife or his children had been interested in them, and aching with tender pain. He had always supposed himself a happy and strong and successful man, but what a dreary ruin his life had fallen into! Was it to be finally so helpless and powerless (for with all the defences about him that a man can have, he felt himself fatally vulnerable) that he had fought so many years? Why, at his age, should he be going into exile, away from everything that could make his days bright and sweet? Why could not he come back there, where he was now more solitary than he could be anywhere else on earth, and reanimate the dead body of his home with his old life? He knew why, in an immediate sort, but his quest was for the cause behind the cause. What had he done, or left undone? He had tried to be a just man, and fulfil all his duties both to his family and to his neighbors; he had wished to be kind, and not to harm any one; he reflected how, as he had grown older, the dread of doing any unkindness had grown upon him, and how he had tried not to be proud, but to walk meekly and humbly. Why should he be punished as he was, stricken in a place so sacred that the effort to defend himself had seemed a kind of sacrilege? He could not make it out, and he was not aware of the tears of self-pity that stole slowly down his face, though from time to time he wiped them away.
He heard steps in the hall without, advancing and pausing, which must be those of his son coming back for him, and with these advances and pauses giving him notice of his approach; but he did not move, and at first he did not look up when the steps arrived at the threshold of the room where he sat. When he lifted his eyes at last he saw Bittridge lounging in the door-way, with one shoulder supported against the door-jamb, his hands in his pockets and his hat pushed well back on his forehead. In an instant all Kenton's humility and soft repining were gone. "Well, what is it?" he called.
"Oh," said Bittridge, coming forward. He laughed and explained, "Didn't know if you recognized me."
"I recognized you," said Kenton, fiercely. "What is it you want?"
"Well, I happened to be passing, and I saw the door open, and I thought maybe Dick was here."
It was on Kenton's tongue to say that it was a good thing for him Dick was not there. But partly the sense that this would be unbecoming bluster, and partly the suffocating resentment of the fellow's impudence, limited his response to a formless gasp, and Bittridge went on: "But I'm glad to find you here, judge. I didn't know that you were in town. Family all well in New York?" He was not quelled by the silence of the judge on this point, but, as if he had not expected any definite reply to what might well pass for formal civility, he now looked aslant into his breast-pocket from which he drew a folded paper. "I just got hold of a document this morning that I think will interest you. I was bringing it round to Dick's wife for you." The intolerable familiarity of all this was fast working Kenton to a violent explosion, but he contained himself, and Bittridge stepped forward to lay the paper on the table before him. "It's the original roster of Company C, in your regiment, and—"
"Take it away!" shouted Kenton, "and take yourself away with it!" and he grasped the stick that shook in his hand.
A wicked light came into Bittridge's eye as he drawled, in lazy scorn, "Oh, I don't know." Then his truculence broke in a malicious amusement. "Why, judge, what's the matter?" He put on a face of mock gravity, and Kenton knew with helpless fury that he was enjoying his vantage. He could fall upon him and beat him with his stick, leaving the situation otherwise undefined, but a moment's reflection convinced Kenton that this would not do. It made him sick to think of striking the fellow, as if in that act he should be striking Ellen, too. It did not occur to him that he could be physically worsted, or that his vehement age would be no match for the other's vigorous youth. All he thought was that it would not avail, except to make known to every one what none but her dearest could now conjecture. Bittridge could then publicly say, and doubtless would say, that he had never made love to Ellen; that if there had been any love-making it was all on her side; and that he had only paid her the attentions which any young man might blamelessly pay a pretty girl. This would be true to the facts in the case, though it was true also that he had used every tacit art to make her believe him in love with her. But how could this truth be urged, and to whom? So far the affair had been quite in the hands of Ellen's family, and they had all acted for the best, up to the present time. They had given Bittridge no grievance in making him feel that he was unwelcome in their house, and they were quite within their rights in going away, and making it impossible for him to see her again anywhere in Tuskingum. As for his seeing her in New York, Ellen had but to say that she did not wish it, and that would end it. Now, however, by treating him rudely, Kenton was aware that he had bound himself to render Bittridge some account of his behavior throughout, if the fellow insisted upon it.
"I want nothing to do with you, sir," he said, less violently, but, as he felt, not more effectually. "You are in my house without my invitation, and against my wish!"
"I didn't expect to find you here. I came in because I saw the door open, and I thought I might see Dick or his wife and give them, this paper for you. But I'm glad I found you, and if you won't give me any reason for not wanting me here, I can give it myself, and I think I can make out a very good case for you." Kenton quivered in anticipation of some mention of Ellen, and Bittridge smiled as if he understood. But he went on to say: "I know that there were things happened after you first gave me the run of your house that might make you want to put up the bars again—if they were true. But they were not true. And I can prove that by the best of all possible witnesses—by Uphill himself. He stands shoulder to shoulder with me, to make it hot for any one who couples his wife's name with mine."
"Humph!" Kenton could not help making this comment, and Bittridge, being what he was, could not help laughing.
"What's the use?" he asked, recovering himself. "I don't pretend that I did right, but you know there wasn't any harm in it. And if there had been I should have got the worst of it. Honestly, judge, I couldn't tell you how much I prized being admitted to your house on the terms I was. Don't you think I could appreciate the kindness you all showed me? Before you took me up, I was alone in Tuskingum, but you opened every door in the place for me. You made it home to me; and you won't believe it, of course, because you're prejudiced; but I felt like a son and brother to you all. I felt towards Mrs. Kenton just as I do towards my own mother. I lost the best friends I ever had when you turned against me. Don't you suppose I've seen the difference here in Tuskingum? Of course, the men pass the time of day with me when we meet, but they don't look me up, and there are more near-sighted girls in this town!" Kenton could not keep the remote dawn of a smile out of his eyes, and Bittridge caught the far-off gleam. "And everybody's been away the whole winter. Not a soul at home, anywhere, and I had to take my chance of surprising Mrs. Dick Kenton when I saw your door open here." He laughed forlornly, as the gleam faded out of Kenton's eye again. "And the worst of it is that my own mother isn't at home to me, figuratively speaking, when I go over to see her at Ballardsville. She got wind of my misfortune, somehow, and when I made a clean breast of it to her, she said she could never feel the same to me till I had made it all right with the Kentons. And when a man's own mother is down on him, judge!"
Bittridge left Kenton to imagine the desperate case, and in spite of his disbelief in the man and all he said, Kenton could not keep his hardness of heart towards him. "I don't know what you're after, young man," he began. "But if you expect me to receive you under my roof again—"
"Oh, I don't, judge, I don't!" Bittridge interposed. "All I want is to be able to tell my mother—I don't care for anybody else—that I saw you, and you allowed me to say that I was truly sorry for the pain—if it was pain; or annoyance, anyway—that I had caused you, and to go back to her with the hope of atoning for it sometime or somehow. That's all."
"Look here!" cried Renton. "What have you written to my daughter for?"
"Wasn't that natural? I prized her esteem more than I do yours even; but did I ask her anything more than I've asked you? I didn't expect her to answer me; all I wanted was to have her believe that I wasn't as black as I was painted—not inside, anyway. You know well enough—anybody knows— that I would rather have her think well of me than any one else in this world, except my mother. I haven't got the gift of showing out what's good in me, if there is any good, but I believe Miss Ellen would want to think well of me if I gave her a chance. If ever there was an angel on earth, she's one. I don't deny that I was hopeful of mercy from her, because she can't think evil, but I can lay my hand on my heart and say that I wasn't selfish in my hopes. It seemed to me that it was her due to understand that a man whom she had allowed to be her friend wasn't altogether unworthy. That's as near as I can come to putting into words the motive I had in writing to her. I can't even begin to put into words the feeling I have towards her. It's as if she was something sacred."
This was the feeling Renton himself had towards his daughter, and for the first time he found himself on common ground with the scapegrace who professed it, and whose light, mocking face so little enforced his profession. If Bittridge could have spoken in the dark, his words might have carried a conviction of his sincerity, but there, in plain day, confronting the father of Ellen, who had every wish to believe him true, the effect was different. Deep within his wish to think the man honest, Kenton recoiled from him. He vaguely perceived that it was because she could not think evil that this wretch had power upon her, and he was sensible, as he had not been before, that she had no safety from him except in absence. He did not know what to answer; he could not repel him in open terms, and still less could he meet him with any words that would allow him to resume his former relations with his family. He said, finally: "We will let matters stand. We are going to Europe in a week, and I shall not see you again. I will tell Mrs. Kenton what you say."
"Thank you, judge. And tell her that I appreciate your kindness more than I can say!" The judge rose from his chair and went towards the window, which he had thrown open. "Going to shut up? Let me help you with that window; it seems to stick. Everything fast up-stairs?"
"I—I think so," Kenton hesitated.
"I'll just run up and look," said Bittridge, and he took the stairs two at a time, before Kenton could protest, when they came out into the hall together. "It's all right," he reported on his quick return. "I'll just look round below here," and he explored the ground-floor rooms in turn. "No, you hadn't opened any other window," he said, glancing finally into the library. "Shall I leave this paper on your table?"
"Yes, leave it there," said Kenton, helplessly, and he let Bittridge close the front door after him, and lock it.
"I hope Miss Lottie is well," he suggested in handing the key to Kenton. "And Boyne" he added, with the cordiality of an old family friend. "I hope Boyne has got reconciled to New York a little. He was rather anxious about his pigeons when he left, I understand. But I guess Dick's man has looked after them. I'd have offered to take charge of the cocoons myself if I'd had a chance." He walked, gayly chatting, across the intervening lawn with Kenton to his son's door, where at sight of him bra. Richard Kenton evanesced into the interior so obviously that Bittridge could not offer to come in. "Well, I shall see you all when you come back in the fall, judge, and I hope you'll have a pleasant voyage and a good time in Europe."
"Thank you," said Kenton, briefly.
"Remember me to the ladies!" and Bittridge took off his hat with his left hand, while he offered the judge his right. "Well, good-bye!"
Kenton made what response he could, and escaped in-doors, where his daughter-in-law appeared from the obscurity into which she had retired from Bittridge. "Well, that follow does beat all! How, in the world did he find you, father?"
"He came into the house," said the judge, much abashed at his failure to deal adequately with Bittridge. He felt it the more in the presence of his son's wife. "I couldn't, seem to get rid of him in any way short of kicking him out."
"No, there's nothing equal to his impudence. I do believe he would have come in here, if he hadn't seen me first. Did you tell him when you were going back, father? Because he'd be at the train to see you off, just as sure!"
"No, I didn't tell him," said Kenton, feeling move shaken now from the interview with Bittridge than he had realized before. He was ashamed to let Mary know that he had listened to Bittridge's justification, which he now perceived was none, and he would have liked to pretend that he had not silently condoned his offences, but Mary did not drive him to these deceptions by any further allusions to Bittridge.
"Well, now, you must go into the sitting-room and lie down on the lounge; I promised Dick to make you. Or would you rather go up-stairs to your room?"
"I think I'll go to my room," said Kenton.
He was asleep there on the bed when Richard came home to dinner and looked softly in. He decided not to wake him, and Mary said the sleep would do him more good than the dinner. At table they talked him over, and she told her husband what she knew of the morning's adventure.
"That was pretty tough for father," said Richard. "I wouldn't go into the house with him, because I knew he wanted to have it to himself; and then to think of that dirty hound skulking in! Well, perhaps it's for the best. It will make it easier, for father to go and leave the place, and they've got to go. They've got to put the Atlantic Ocean between Ellen and that fellow."
"It does seem as if something might be done," his wife rebelled.
"They've done the best that could be done," said Richard. "And if that skunk hasn't got some sort of new hold upon father, I shall be satisfied. The worst of it is that it will be all over town in an hour that Bittridge has made up with us. I don't blame father; he couldn't help it; he never could be rude to anybody."
"I think I'll try if I can't be rude to Mr. Bittridge, if he ever undertakes to show in my pretence that he has made it up with us," said Mary.
Richard tenderly found out from his father's shamefaced reluctance, later, that no great mischief had been done. But no precaution on his part availed to keep Bittridge from demonstrating the good feeling between himself and the Kentons when the judge started for New York the next afternoon. He was there waiting to see him off, and he all but took the adieus out of Richard's hands. He got possession of the judge's valise, and pressed past the porter into the sleeping-car with it, and remained lounging on the arm of the judge's seat, making conversation with him and Richard till the train began to move. Then he ran outside, and waved his hand to the judge's window in farewell, before all that leisure of Tuskingum which haunted the arrival and departure of the trains.
Mary Kenton was furious when her husband came home and reported the fact to her.
"How in the world did he find out when father was going?"
"He must have come to all the through trains since he say him yesterday. But I think even you would have been suited, Mary, if you had seen his failure to walk off from the depot arm-in-arm with me:
"I wouldn't have been suited with anything short of your knocking, him down, Dick."
"Oh, that wouldn't have done," said Richard. After a while he added, patiently, "Ellen is making a good deal of trouble for us."
This was what Mary was thinking herself, and it was what she might have said, but since Dick had said it she was obliged to protest. "She isn't to blame for it."
"Oh, I know she isn't to blame."
The father of the unhappy girl was of the same mixed mind as he rode sleeplessly back to New York in his berth, and heard the noises of slumber all round him. From time to time he groaned softly, and turned from one cheek to the other. Every half-hour or so he let his window- curtain fly up, and lay watching the landscape fleeting past; and then he pulled the curtain down again and tried to sleep. After passing Albany he dozed, but at Poughkeepsie a zealous porter called him by mistake, and the rest of the way to New York he sat up in the smoking-room. It seemed a long while since he had drowsed; the thin nap had not rested him, and the old face that showed itself in the glass, with the frost of a two days' beard on it, was dry-eyed and limply squared by the fall of the muscles at the corners of the chin.
He wondered how he should justify to his wife the thing which he felt as accountable for having happened to him as if he could have prevented it. It would not have happened, of course, if he had not gone to Tuskingum, and she could say that to him; now it seemed to him that his going, which had been so imperative before he went, was altogether needless. Nothing but harm had come of it, and it had been a selfish indulgence of a culpable weakness.
It was a little better for Kenton when he found himself with his family, and they went down together to the breakfast which the mother had engaged the younger children to make as pleasant as they could for their father, and not worry him with talk about Tuskingum. They had, in fact, got over their first season of homesickness, and were postponing their longing for Tuskingum till their return from Europe, when they would all go straight out there. Kenton ran the gauntlet of welcome from the black elevator- boys and bell-boys and the head-waiter, who went before him to pull out the judge's chair, with commanding frowns to his underlings to do the like for the rest of the family; and as his own clumsy Irish waiter stood behind his chair, breathing heavily upon the judge's head, he gave his order for breakfast, with a curious sense of having got home again from some strange place. He satisfied Boyne that his pigeons and poultry had been well cared for through the winter, and he told Lottie that he had not met much of anybody except Dick's family, before he recollected seeing half a dozen of her young men at differed times. She was not very exacting about them and her mind seemed set upon Europe, or at least she talked of nothing else. Ellen was quiet as she always was, but she smiled gently on her father, and Mrs. Kenton told him of the girl's preparations for going, and congratulated herself on their wisdom in having postponed their sailing, in view of all they had to do; and she made Kenton feel that everything was in the best possible shape. As soon as she got him alone in their own room, she said, "Well, what is it, poppa?"
Then he had to tell her, and she listened with ominous gravity. She did not say that now he could see how much better it would have been if he had not gone, but she made him say it for her; and she would not let him take comfort in the notion of keeping the fact of his interview with Bittridge from Ellen. "It would be worse than useless. He will write to her about it, and then she will know that we have been, concealing it."
Kenton was astonished at himself for not having thought of that. "And what are you going to do, Sarah?"
"I am going to tell her," said Mrs. Kenton.
"Why didn't poppa tell me before?" the girl perversely demanded, as soon as her another had done so.
"Ellen, you are a naughty child! I have a great mind not to have a word more to say to you. Your father hasn't been in the house an hour. Did you want him to speak before Lottie and Boyne!"
"I don't see why he didn't tell me himself. I know there is something you are keeping back. I know there is some word—"
"Oh, yon poor girl!" said her mother, melting into pity against all sense of duty. "Have we ever tried to deceive you?"
"No," Ellen sobbed, with her face in her hands. "Now I will tell you every word that passed," said Mrs. Kenton, and she told, as well as she could remember, all that the judge had repeated from Bittridge. "I don't say he isn't ashamed of himself," she commented at the end. "He ought to be, and, of course, he would be glad to be in with us again when we go back; but that doesn't alter his character, Ellen. Still, if you can't see that yourself, I don't want to make you, and if you would rather go home to Tuskingum, we will give up the trip to Europe."
"It's too late to do that now," said the girl, in cruel reproach.
Her mother closed her lips resolutely till she could say, "Or you can write to him if you want to."
"I don't want to," said Ellen, and she dragged herself up out of her chair, and trailed slowly out of the room without looking at her mother.
"Well?" the judge asked, impatiently, when he came in as soon after this as he decently could. They observed forms with regard to talking about Ellen which, after all, were rather for themselves than for her; Mrs. Kenton, at least, knew that the girl knew when they were talking about her.
"She took it as well as I expected."
"What is she going to do?"
"She didn't say. But I don't believe she will do anything."
"I wish I had taken our tickets for next Saturday," said Kenton.
"Well, we must wait now," said his wife. "If he doesn't write to her, she won't write to him."
"Has she ever answered that letter of his?"
"No, and I don't believe she will now."
That night Ellen came to her mother and said she need not be afraid of her writing to Bittridge. "He hasn't changed, if he was wrong, by coming and saying those things to poppa, and nothing has changed."
"That is the way I hoped you would see it; Ellen." Her mother looked wistfully at her, but the girl left her without letting her satisfy the longing in the mother's heart to put her arms round her child, and pull her head down upon her breast for a cry.
Kenton slept better that night than his wife, who was kept awake by a formless foreboding. For the week that followed she had the sense of literally pushing the hours away, so that at times she found herself breathless, as if from some heavy physical exertion. At such times she was frantic with the wish to have the days gone, and the day of their sailing come, but she kept her impatience from her husband and children, and especially from Ellen. The girl was passive enough; she was almost willing, and in the preparation for their voyage she did her share of the shopping, and discussed the difficult points of this business with her mother and sister as if she had really been thinking about it all. But her mother doubted if she had, and made more of Ellen's sunken eyes and thin face than of her intelligent and attentive words. It was these that she reported to her husband, whom she kept from talking with Ellen, and otherwise quelled.
"Let her alone," she insisted, one morning of the last week. "What can you do by speaking to her about it? Don't you see that she is making the best fight she can? You will weaken her if you interfere. It's less than a week now, and if you can only hold out, I know she can."
Kenton groaned. "Well, I suppose you're right, Sarah. But I don't like the idea of forcing her to go, unless—"
"Then you had better write to that fellow, and ask him to come and get her."
This shut Kenton's mouth, and he kept on with his shaving. When he had finished he felt fresher, if not stronger, and he went down to breakfast, which he had alone, not only with reference to his own family, but all the other guests of the hotel. He was always so early that sometimes the dining-room was not open; when this happened, he used to go and buy a newspaper at the clerk's desk, for it was too early then for the news- stand to be open. It happened so that morning, and he got his paper without noticing the young man who was writing his name in the hotel register, but who looked briskly up when the clerk bade Kenton good- morning by name.
"Why, judge!" he said, and he put out a hand which Kenton took with trembling reluctance and a dazed stare. "I thought you sailed last Saturday!"
"We sail next Saturday," said Kenton.
"Well, well! Then I misunderstood," said Bittridge, and he added: "Why, this is money found in the road! How are all the family? I've got my mother here with me; brought her on for a kind of a little outing. She'll be the most surprised woman in New York when I tell her you're here yet. We came to this hotel because we knew you had been here, but we didn't suppose you were here! Well! This is too good! I saw Dick, Friday, but he didn't say anything about your sailing; I suppose he thought I knew. Didn't you tell me you were going in a week, that day in your house?"
"Perhaps I did," Kenton faltered out, his eyes fixed on Bittridge's with a helpless fascination.
"Well, it don't matter so long as you're here. Mother's in the parlor waiting for me; I won't risk taking you to her now, judge—right off the train, you know. But I want to bring her to call on Mrs. Kenton as soon after breakfast as you'll let me. She just idolizes Mrs. Kenton, from what I've told her about her. Our rooms ready?" He turned to the clerk, and the clerk called "Front!" to a bellboy, who ran up and took Bittridge's hand-baggage, and stood waiting to follow him into the parlor. "Well, you must excuse me now, judge. So long!" he said, gayly, and Kenton crept feebly away to the dining-room.
He must have eaten breakfast, but he was not aware of doing so; and the events of his leaving the table and going up in the elevator and finding himself in his wife's presence did not present themselves consecutively, though they must all have successively occurred. It did not seem to him that he could tell what he knew, but he found himself doing it, and her hearing it with strange quiet.
"Very well," she said. "I must tell Ellen, and, if she wishes, we must stay in and wait for their call."
"Yes," the judge mechanically consented.
It was painful for Mrs. Kenton to see how the girl flushed when she announced the fact of Bittridge's presence, for she knew what a strife of hope and shame and pride there was in Ellen's heart. At first she said that she did not wish to see him, and then when Mrs. Kenton would not say whether she had better see him or not, she added, vaguely, "If he has brought his mother—"
"I think we must see them, Ellen. You wouldn't wish to think you had been unkind; and he might be hurt on his mother's account. He seems really fond of her, and perhaps—"
"No, there isn't any perhaps, momma," said the girl, gratefully. "But I think we had better see them, too. I think we had better ALL see them."
"Just as you please, Ellen. If you prefer to meet them alone—"
"I don't prefer that. I want poppa to be there, and Lottie and Boyne even."
Boyne objected when he was told that his presence was requested at this family rite, and he would have excused himself if the invitation had been of the form that one might decline. "What do I want to see him for?" he puffed. "He never cared anything about me in Tuskingum. What's he want here, anyway?"
"I wish you to come in, my son," said his mother, and that ended it.
Lottie was not so tractable. "Very well, momma," she said. "But don't expect me to speak to him. I have some little self-respect, if the rest of you haven't. Am I going to shake hands with him! I never took the least notice of him at home, and I'm not going to here."
Bittridge decided the question of hand-shaking for her when they met. He greeted her glooming brother with a jolly "Hello, Boyne!" and without waiting for the boy's tardy response he said "Hello, Lottie!" to the girl, and took her hand and kept it in his while he made an elaborate compliment to her good looks and her gain in weight. She had come tardily as a proof that she would not have come in at all if she had not chosen to do so, and Mrs. Bittridge was already seated beside Ellen on the sofa, holding her hand, and trying to keep her mobile, inattentive eyes upon Ellen's face. She was a little woman, youthfully dressed, but not dressed youthfully enough for the dry, yellow hair which curled tightly in small rings on her skull, like the wig of a rag-doll. Her restless eyes were round and deep-set, with the lids flung up out of sight; she had a lax, formless mouth, and an anxious smile, with which she constantly watched her son for his initiative, while she recollected herself from time to time, long enough to smooth Ellen's hand between her own, and say, "Oh, I just think the world of Clarence; and I guess he thinks his mother is about right, too," and then did not heed what Ellen answered.
The girl said very little, and it was Bittridge who talked for all, dominating the room with a large, satisfied presence, in which the judge sat withdrawn, his forehead supported on his hand, and his elbow on the table. Mrs. Kenton held herself upright, with her hands crossed before her, stealing a look now and then at her daughter's averted face, but keeping her eyes from Mrs. Bittridge, who, whenever she caught Mrs. Kenton's glance, said something to her about her Clarence, and how he used to write home to her at Ballardsville about the Kentons, so that she felt acquainted with all of them. Her reminiscences were perfunctory; Mrs. Bittridge had voluntarily but one topic, and that was herself, either as she was included in the interest her son must inspire, or as she included him in the interest she must inspire. She said that, now they had met at last, she was not going to rest till the Kentons had been over to Ballardsville, and made her a good, long visit; her son had some difficulty in making her realize that the Kentons were going to Europe. Then she laughed, and said she kept forgetting; and she did wish they were all coming back to Tuskingum.
If it is a merit to treat a fatuous mother with deference, Bittridge had that merit. His deference was of the caressing and laughing sort, which took the spectator into the joke of her peculiarities as something they would appreciate and enjoy with him. She had been a kittenish and petted person in her youth, perhaps, and now she petted herself, after she had long ceased to be a kitten. What was respectable and what was pathetic in her was her wish to promote her son's fortunes with the Kentons, but she tried to do this from not a very clear understanding of her part, apparently, and little sense of the means. For Ellen's sake, rather than hers, the father and mother received her overtures to their liking kindly; they answered her patiently, and Mrs. Kenton even tried to lead the way for her to show herself at her best, by talking of her journey on to New York, and of the city, and what she would see there to interest her. Lottie and Boyne, sternly aloof together in one of their momentary alliances, listened to her replies with a silent contempt that almost included their mother; Kenton bore with the woman humbly and sadly.
He was, in fact, rather bewildered with the situation, for which he felt himself remotely if not immediately responsible. Bittridge was there among them not only on good terms, but apparently in the character of a more than tolerated pretendant to Ellen's favor. There were passages of time is which the father was not sure that the fellow was not engaged to his daughter, though when these instants were gone he was aware that there had been no overt love-making between them and Bittridge had never offered himself. What was he doing there, then? The judge asked himself that, without being able to answer himself. So far as he could make out, his wife and he were letting him see Ellen, and show her off to his mother, mainly to disgust her with them both, and because they were afraid that if they denied her to him, it would be the worse for them through her suffering. The judge was not accustomed to apply the tests by which people are found vulgar or not; these were not of his simple world; all that he felt about Mrs. Bittridge was that she was a very foolish, false person, who was true in nothing but her admiration of her rascal of a son; he did not think of Bittridge as a rascal violently, but helplessly, and with a heart that melted in pity for Ellen.
He longed to have these people gone, not so much because he was so unhappy in their presence as because he wished to learn Ellen's feeling about them from his wife. She would know, whether Allen said anything to her or not. But perhaps if Mrs. Kenton had been asked to deliver her mind on this point at once she would have been a little puled. All that she could see, and she saw it with a sinking of the heart, was that Ellen looked more at peace than she had been since Bittridge was last in their house at Tuskingum. Her eyes covertly followed him as he sat talking, or went about the room, making himself at home among them, as if he were welcome with every one. He joked her more than the rest, and accused her of having become a regular New-Yorker; he said he supposed that when she came back from Europe she would not know anybody in Tuskingum; and his mother, playing with Ellen's fingers, as if they had been the fringe of a tassel, declared that she must not mind him, for he carried on just so with everybody; at the same time she ordered him to stop, or she would go right out of the room.
She gave no other sign of going, and it was her son who had to make the movement for her at last; she apparently did not know that it was her part to make it. She said that now the Kentons must come and return her call, and be real neighborly, just the same as if they were all at home together. When her son shook hands with every one she did so too, and she said to each, "Well, I wish you good-morning," and let him push her before him, in high delight with the joke, out of the room.
When they were gone the Kentons sat silent, Ellen with a rapt smile on her thin, flushed face, till Lottie said, "You forgot to ask him if we might BREATHE, poppa," and paced out of the room in stately scorn, followed by Boyne, who had apparently no words at the command of his dumb rage. Kenton wished to remain, and he looked at his wife for instruction. She frowned, and he took this for a sign that he had better go, and he went with a light sigh.
He did not know what else to do with himself, and he went down to the reading-room. He found Bittridge there, smoking a cigar, and the young man companionably offered to bestow one upon him; but the judge stiffly refused, saying he did not wish to smoke just then. He noted that Bittridge was still in his character of family favorite, and his hand trembled as he passed it over the smooth knob of his stick, while he sat waiting for the fellow to take himself away. But Bittridge had apparently no thought of going. He was looking at the amusements for the evening in a paper he had bought, and he wished to consult the judge as to which was the best theatre to go to that night; he said he wanted to take his mother. Kenton professed not to know much about the New York theatres, and then Bittridge guessed he must get the clerk to tell him. But still he did not part with the judge. He sat down beside him, and told him how glad he was to see his family looking so well, especially Miss Ellen; he could not remember ever seeing her so strong-looking. He said that girl had captured his mother, who was in love with pretty much the whole Kenton family, though.
"And by-the-way," he added, "I want to thank you and Mrs. Kenton, judge, for the way you received my mother. You made her feel that she was among friends. She can't talk about anything else, and I guess I sha'n't have much trouble in making her stay in New York as long as you're here. She was inclined to be homesick. The fact is, though I don't care to have it talked about yet, and I wish you wouldn't say anything to Dick about it when you write home, I think of settling in New York. I've been offered a show in the advertising department of one of the big dailies—I'm not at liberty to say which—and it's a toss-up whether I stay here or go to Washington; I've got a chance there, too, but it's on the staff of a new enterprise, and I'm not sure about it. I've brought my mother along to let her have a look at both places, though she doesn't know it, and I'd rather you wouldn't speak of it before her; I'm going to take her on to Washington before we go back. I want to have my mother with me, judge. It's better for a fellow to have that home-feeling in a large place from the start; it keeps him out of a lot of things, and I don't pretend to be better than other people, or not more superhuman. If I've been able to keep out of scrapes, it's more because I've had my mother near me, and I don't intend ever to be separated from her, after this, till I have a home of my own. She's been the guiding-star of my life."