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A Modern Instance by William Dean Howells

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A MODERN INSTANCE

BY

WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS

INTRODUCTION.

Mr. Howells has written a long series of poems, novels, sketches, stories,
and essays, and has been perhaps the most continuous worker in the literary
art among American writers. He was born at Martin's Perry, Belmont County,
Ohio, March 1, 1837, and the experiences of his early life have been
delightfully told by himself in _A Boy's Town_, _My Year in a Log Cabin_,
and _My Literary Passions_. These books, which seem like pastimes in the
midst of Howells's serious work, are likely to live long, not only as
playful autobiographic records, but as vivid pictures of life in the middle
west in the middle of the nineteenth century. The boy lived in a home where
frugality was the law of economy, but where high ideals of noble living
were cheerfully maintained, and the very occupations of the household
tended to stimulate literary activity. He read voraciously and with an
instinctive scent for what was great and permanent in literature, and
in his father's printing-office learned to set type, and soon to make
contributions to the local journals. He went to the state Capitol to report
the proceedings of the legislature, and before he was twenty-two had become
news editor of the _State Journal_ of Columbus, Ohio.

But at the same time he had given clear intimations of his literary
skill, and had contributed several poems to the _Atlantic Monthly_. His
introduction to literature was in the stirring days just before the war for
the Union, and he had a generous enthusiasm for the great principles which
were then at stake. Yet the political leaven chiefly caused the bread
he was baking to rise, and his native genius was distinctly for work in
creative literature. His contribution to the political writing of the day,
besides his newspaper work, was a small campaign life of Lincoln; and
shortly after the incoming of the first Republican administration he
received the appointment of consul at Venice.

At Venice he remained from 1861 to 1865, and these years may fairly be
taken as standing for his university training. He carried with him to
Europe some conversance with French, German, Spanish, and Italian, and an
insatiable thirst for literature in these, languages. Naturally now he
concentrated his attention on the Italian language and literature, but
after all he was not made for a microscopic or encyclopaedic scholar, least
of all for a pedant. What he was looking for in literature, though he
scarcely so stated it to himself at the time, was human life, and it
was this first-hand acquaintance he was acquiring with life in another
circumstance that constituted his real training in literature. To pass from
Ohio straight to Italy, with the merest alighting by the way in New York
and Boston, was to be transported from one world to another; but he carried
with him a mind which had already become naturalized in the large world of
history and men through the literature in which he had steeped his mind. No
one can read the record of the books he had revelled in, and observe the
agility with which he was absorbed, successively, in books of greatly
varying character, without perceiving how wide open were the windows of his
mind; and as the light streamed in from all these heavens, so the inmate
looked out with unaffected interest on the views spread before him.

Thus it was that Italy and Venice in particular afforded him at once the
greatest delight and also the surest test of his growing power. The swift
observation he had shown in literature became an equally rapid survey of
all these novel forms before him. The old life embedded in this historic
country became the book whose leaves he turned, but he looked with the
greatest interest and most sympathetic scrutiny on that which passed
before his eyes. It was novel, it was quaint, it was filled with curious,
unexpected betrayals of human nature, but it was above all real, actual,
a thing to be touched and as it were fondled by hands that were deft by
nature and were quickly becoming more skilful by use. Mr. Howells began to
write letters home which were printed in the _Boston Daily Advertiser_, and
grew easily into a book which still remains in the minds of many of his
readers the freshest of all his writings, _Venetian Life_. This was
followed shortly by _Italian Journeys_, in which Mr. Howells gathered his
observations made in going from place to place in Italy. A good many years
later, after returning to the country of his affection, he wrote a third
book of a similar character under the title of _Tuscan Cities_. But his use
of Italy in literature was not confined to books of travels; he made and
published studies of Italian literature, and he wove the life of the
country into fiction in a charming manner. Illustrations may be found in
_A Foregone Conclusion_, one of the happiest of his novels, whose scene
is laid in Venice, in _The Lady of the Aroostook_, and in many slight
sketches.

When Mr. Howells returned to America at the close of his term as consul, he
found warm friends whom he had made through his writings. He served for a
short time on the staff of _The Nation_, of New York, and then was invited
to Boston to take the position of assistant editor of the _Atlantic
Monthly_ under Mr. Fields. This was in 1866, and five years later, on the
retirement of Mr. Fields, he became editor, and remained in the position
until 1881, living during this period in Cambridge. He was not only editor
of the magazine; he was really its chief contributor. Any one who takes the
trouble to examine the pages of the _Atlantic Index_ will see how far his
work outnumbers in titles that of all other contributors, and the range of
his work was great.

He wrote a large proportion of the reviews of books, which in those
days constituted a marked feature of the magazine. These reviews were
conscientiously written, and showed penetration and justice, but they had
besides a felicitous and playful touch which rendered them delightful
reading, even though one knew little or cared little for the book reviewed.
Sometimes, though not often, he wrote poems, but readers soon learned
to look with eagerness for a kind of writing which seemed almost more
individual with him than any other form of writing. We mean the humorous
sketches of every-day life, in which he took scenes of the commonest
sort and drew from them an inherent life which most never suspected, yet
confessed the moment he disclosed it. He would do such a common-place
thing as take an excursion down the harbor, or even a ride to town in a
horse-car, and come back to turn his experience into a piece of genuine
literature. A number of these pieces were collected into a volume entitled
_Suburban Sketches_.

It is interesting to observe how slowly yet surely Mr. Howells drew
near the great field of novel-writing, and how deliberately he laid the
foundations of his art. First, the graceful sketch which was hardly
more than a leaf out of his note-book; then the blending of travel with
character-drawing, as in _A Chance Acquaintance_ and _Their Wedding
Journey_, and later stories of people who moved about and thus found the
incidents which the author had not to invent, as in _The Lady of the
Aroostook_. Meanwhile, the eye which had taken note of surface effects was
beginning to look deeper into the springs of being, and the hand which had
described was beginning to model figures also which stood alone.

So there followed a number of little dramatic sketches, where the persons
of the drama carried on their little play; and since they were not on a
stage before the spectator, the author constructed a sort of literary stage
for the reader; that is to say, he supplied by paragraphs what in a regular
play would be stage directions. This is seen in such little comedies as _A
Counterfeit Presentment_, which, indeed, was put on the stage. But instead
of pushing forward on this line into the field of great drama, Mr. Howells
contented himself with dexterous strokes with a fine pen, so to speak, and
created a number of sparkling farces like _The Parlor Car_.

The real issue of all this practice in the dramatic art was to disengage
the characters he created from too close dependence on the kind of
circumstance, as of travel, which the author did not invent, and to give
them substantial life in the working out of the drama of their spiritual
evolution. Thus by the time he was released from editorial work, Mr.
Howells was ready for the thorough-going novel, and he gave to readers such
examples of art as _A Modern Instance_, _The Rise of Silas Lapham_, and
that most important of all his novels, _A Hazard of New Fortunes_. By the
time this last novel was written, he had become thoroughly interested, not
merely in the men, women, and children about him, but in that mysterious,
complex order named by us society, with its roots matted together as in a
swamp, and seeming to many to be sucking up maleficent, miasmatic vapors
from the soil in which it was rooted. Like many another lover of his kind,
he has sought to trace the evils of individual life to their source in this
composite order, and to guess at the mode by which society shall right
itself and drink up healthy and life-giving virtues from the soil.

But it must not be inferred that his novels and other literary work have
been by any means exclusively concerned with the reconstruction of the
social order. He has indeed experimented with this theme, but he has always
had a sane interest in life as he sees it, and with the increasing scope
of his observation he has drawn his figures from a larger world, which
includes indeed the world in which he first began to find his characters
and their action.

Not long after retiring from the _Atlantic_ he went to live in New York,
and varied his American experience with frequent travels and continued
residence in Europe. For a while he maintained a department in _Harper's
Magazine_, where he gave expression to his views on literature and the
dramatic art, and for a short period returned to the editorial life
in conducting _The Cosmopolitan_; later he entered also the field of
lecturing, and thus further extended the range of his observation. For many
years, Mr. Howells was the writer of "Editor's Easy Chair" in Harper's
Magazine. In 1909 he was made president of the American Academy of Arts and
Letters. Mr. Howells's death occurred May 11, 1920.

This in fine is the most summary statement of his career in
literature,--that he has been a keen and sympathetic observer of life, and
has caught its character, not like a reporter going about with a kodak and
snapping it aimlessly at any conspicuous object, but like an alert artist
who goes back to his studio after a walk and sets down his comments on what
he has seen in quick, accurate sketches, now and then resolving numberless
undrawn sketches into some one comprehensive and beautiful picture.

THE SEQUENCE OF MR. HOWELLS'S BOOKS.

Mr. Howells is the author of nearly seventy books, from which the following
are selected as best representing his work in various fields and at various
periods.

Venetian Life. Travel and description. 1867.

Their Wedding Journey. Novel. 1871.

Italian Journeys. Travel and description. 1872.

Suburban Sketches. 1872.

Poems. 1873 and 1895.

A Chance Acquaintance. Novel. 1873.

A Foregone Conclusion. Novel. 1874.

A Counterfeit Presentment. Comedy. 1877.

The Lady of the Aroostook. Novel. 1879.

The Undiscovered Country. Novel. 1880.

A Fearful Responsibility, and Other Stories. 1881.

A Modern Instance. Novel. 1881.

The Rise of Silas Lapham. Novel. 1884.

Tuscan Cities. Travel and description. 1885.

April Hopes. Novel. 1887.

A Hazard of New Fortunes. Novel. 1889.

The Sleeping Car, and Other Farces. 1889.

A Boy's Town. Reminiscences. 1890.

Criticism and Fiction. Essays. 1891.

My Literary Passions. Essays. 1895.

Stops of Various Quills. Poems. 1895.

Literary Friends and Acquaintances. Reminiscences, 1900.

Heroines of Fiction. Criticism. 1901.

The Kentons. Novel. 1902.

Literature and Life. Criticism. 1902.

London Films. Travel and Description. 1905.

A MODERN INSTANCE.

I.

The village stood on a wide plain, and around it rose the mountains. They
were green to their tops in summer, and in winter white through their
serried pines and drifting mists, but at every season serious and
beautiful, furrowed with hollow shadows, and taking the light on masses
and stretches of iron-gray crag. The river swam through the plain in long
curves, and slipped away at last through an unseen pass to the southward,
tracing a score of miles in its course over a space that measured but three
or four. The plain was very fertile, and its features, if few and of purely
utilitarian beauty, had a rich luxuriance, and there was a tropical riot of
vegetation when the sun of July beat on those northern fields. They waved
with corn and oats to the feet of the mountains, and the potatoes covered
a vast acreage with the lines of their intense, coarse green; the meadows
were deep with English grass to the banks of the river, that, doubling and
returning upon itself, still marked its way with a dense fringe of alders
and white birches.

But winter was full half the year. The snow began at Thanksgiving, and
fell snow upon snow till Fast Day, thawing between the storms, and packing
harder and harder against the break-up in the spring, when it covered the
ground in solid levels three feet high, and lay heaped in drifts, that
defied the sun far into May. When it did not snow, the weather was
keenly clear, and commonly very still. Then the landscape at noon had a
stereoscopic glister under the high sun that burned in a heaven without a
cloud, and at setting stained the sky and the white waste with freezing
pink and violet. On such days the farmers and lumbermen came in to the
village stores, and made a stiff and feeble stir about their doorways, and
the school children gave the street a little life and color, as they went
to and from the Academy in their red and blue woollens. Four times a day
the mill, the shrill wheeze of whose saws had become part of the habitual
silence, blew its whistle for the hands to begin and leave off work,
in blasts that seemed to shatter themselves against the thin air. But
otherwise an arctic quiet prevailed.

Behind the black boles of the elms that swept the vista of the street with
the fine gray tracery of their boughs, stood the houses, deep-sunken in the
accumulating drifts, through which each householder kept a path cut from
his doorway to the road, white and clean as if hewn out of marble. Some
cross streets straggled away east and west with the poorer dwellings; but
this, that followed the northward and southward reach of the plain, was the
main thoroughfare, and had its own impressiveness, with those square white
houses which they build so large in Northern New England. They were all
kept in scrupulous repair, though here and there the frost and thaw of many
winters had heaved a fence out of plumb, and threatened the poise of the
monumental urns of painted pine on the gate-posts. They had dark-green
blinds, of a color harmonious with that of the funereal evergreens in their
dooryards; and they themselves had taken the tone of the snowy landscape,
as if by the operation of some such law as blanches the fur-bearing animals
of the North. They seemed proper to its desolation, while some houses of
more modern taste, painted to a warmer tone, looked, with their mansard
roofs and jig-sawed piazzas and balconies, intrusive and alien.

At one end of the street stood the Academy, with its classic facade and its
belfry; midway was the hotel, with the stores, the printing-office, and the
churches; and at the other extreme, one of the square white mansions stood
advanced from the rank of the rest, at the top of a deep-plunging valley,
defining itself against the mountain beyond so sharply that it seemed as if
cut out of its dark, wooded side. It was from the gate before this house,
distinct in the pink light which the sunset had left, that, on a Saturday
evening in February, a cutter, gay with red-lined robes, dashed away, and
came musically clashing down the street under the naked elms. For the
women who sat with their work at the windows on either side of the way,
hesitating whether to light their lamps, and drawing nearer and nearer to
the dead-line of the outer cold for the latest glimmer of the day, the
passage of this ill-timed vehicle was a vexation little short of grievous.
Every movement on the street was precious to them, and, with all the
keenness of their starved curiosity, these captives of the winter could not
make out the people in the cutter. Afterward it was a mortification to them
that they should not have thought at once of Bartley Hubbard and Marcia
Gaylord. They had seen him go up toward Squire Gaylord's house half an hour
before, and they now blamed themselves for not reflecting that of course he
was going to take Marcia over to the church sociable at Lower Equity.
Their identity being established, other little proofs of it reproached the
inquirers; but these perturbed spirits were at peace, and the lamps were
out in the houses (where the smell of rats in the wainscot and of potatoes
in the cellar strengthened with the growing night), when Bartley and Marcia
drove back through the moonlit silence to her father's door. Here, too, the
windows were all dark, except for the light that sparely glimmered through
the parlor blinds; and the young man slackened the pace of his horse, as if
to still the bells, some distance away from the gate.

The girl took the hand he offered her when he dismounted at the gate, and,
as she jumped from the cutter, "Won't you come in?" she asked.

"I guess I can blanket my horse and stand him under the wood-shed,"
answered the young man, going around to the animal's head and leading him
away.

When he returned to the door the girl opened it, as if she had been
listening for his step; and she now stood holding it ajar for him to enter,
and throwing the light upon the threshold from the lamp, which she lifted
high in the other hand. The action brought her figure in relief, and
revealed the outline of her bust and shoulders, while the lamp flooded with
light the face she turned to him, and again averted for a moment, as if
startled at some noise behind her. She thus showed a smooth, low forehead,
lips and cheeks deeply red, a softly rounded chin touched with a faint
dimple, and in turn a nose short and aquiline; her eyes were dark, and her
dusky hair flowed crinkling above her fine black brows, and vanished down
the curve of a lovely neck. There was a peculiar charm in the form of her
upper lip: it was exquisitely arched, and at the corners it projected
a little over the lower lip, so that when she smiled it gave a piquant
sweetness to her mouth, with a certain demure innocence that qualified the
Roman pride of her profile. For the rest, her beauty was of the kind that
coming years would only ripen and enrich; at thirty she would be even
handsomer than at twenty, and be all the more southern in her type for the
paling of that northern, color in her cheeks. The young man who looked up
at her from the doorstep had a yellow mustache, shadowing either side of
his lip with a broad sweep, like a bird's wing; his chin, deep-cut below
his mouth, failed to come strenuously forward; his cheeks were filled to
an oval contour, and his face had otherwise the regularity common to
Americans; his eyes, a clouded gray, heavy-lidded and long-lashed, were his
most striking feature, and he gave her beauty a deliberate look from them
as he lightly stamped the snow from his feet, and pulled the seal-skin
gloves from his long hands.

"Come in," she whispered, coloring with pleasure under his gaze; and she
made haste to shut the door after him, with a luxurious impatience of the
cold. She led the way into the room from which she had come, and set down
the lamp on the corner of the piano, while he slipped off his overcoat and
swung it over the end of the sofa. They drew up chairs to the stove,
in which the smouldering fire, revived by the opened draft, roared and
snapped. It was midnight, as the sharp strokes of a wooden clock declared
from the kitchen, and they were alone together, and all the other inmates
of the house were asleep. The situation, scarcely conceivable to another
civilization, is so common in ours, where youth commands its fate and
trusts solely to itself, that it may be said to be characteristic of the
New England civilization wherever it keeps its simplicity. It was not
stolen or clandestine; it would have interested every one, but would have
shocked no one in the village if the whole village had known it; all that a
girl's parents ordinarily exacted was that they should not be waked up.

"Ugh!" said the girl. "It seems as if I never should get warm." She leaned
forward, and stretched her hands toward the stove, and he presently rose
from the rocking-chair in which he sat, somewhat lower than she, and lifted
her sack to throw it over her shoulders. But he put it down and took up his
overcoat.

"Allow my coat the pleasure," he said, with the ease of a man who is not
too far lost to be really flattering.

"Much obliged to the coat," she replied, shrugging herself into it and
pulling the collar close about her throat. "I wonder you didn't put it on
the sorrel. You could have tied the sleeves around her neck."

"Shall I tie them around yours?" He leaned forward from the low
rocking-chair into which he had sunk again, and made a feint at what he had
proposed.

But she drew back with a gay "No!" and added: "Some day, father says, that
sorrel will be the death of us. He says it's a bad color for a horse.
They're always ugly, and when they get heated they're crazy."

"You never seem to be very much frightened when you're riding after the
sorrel," said Bartley.

"Oh, I've great faith in your driving."

"Thanks. But I don't believe in this notion about a horse being vicious
because he's of a certain color. If your father didn't believe in it, I
should call it a superstition; but the Squire has no superstitions."

"I don't know about that," said the girl. "I don't think he likes to see
the new moon over his left shoulder."

"I beg his pardon, then," returned Bartley. "I ought to have said
religions: the Squire has no religions." The young fellow had a rich,
caressing voice, and a securely winning manner which comes from the habit
of easily pleasing; in this charming tone, and with this delightful
insinuation, he often said things that hurt; but with such a humorous
glance from his softly shaded eyes that people felt in some sort flattered
at being taken into the joke, even while they winced under it. The girl
seemed to wince, as if, in spite of her familiarity with the fact, it
wounded her to have her father's scepticism recognized just then. She said
nothing, and he added, "I remember we used to think that a redheaded
boy was worse-tempered on account of his hair. But I don't believe the
sorrel-tops, as we called them, were any more fiery than the rest of us."

Marcia did not answer at once, and then she said, with the vagueness of one
not greatly interested by the subject, "You've got a sorrel-top in your
office that's fiery enough, if she's anything like what she used to be when
she went to school."

"Hannah Morrison?"

"Yes."

"Oh, she isn't so bad. She's pretty lively, but she's very eager to learn
the business, and I guess we shall get along. I think she wants to please
me."

"_Does_ she! But she must be going on seventeen now."

"I dare say," answered the young man, carelessly, but with perfect
intelligence. "She's good-looking in her way, too."

"Oh! Then you admire red hair?"

He perceived the anxiety that the girl's pride could not keep out of her
tone, but he answered indifferently, "I'm a little too near that color
myself. I hear that red hair's coming into fashion, but I guess it's
natural I should prefer black."

She leaned back in her chair, and crushed the velvet collar of his coat
under her neck in lifting her head to stare at the high-hung mezzotints and
family photographs on the walls, while a flattered smile parted her lips,
and there was a little thrill of joy in her voice. "I presume we must be a
good deal behind the age in everything at Equity."

"Well, you know my opinion of Equity," returned the young man. "If I didn't
have you here to free my mind to once in a while, I don't know what I
should do."

She was so proud to be in the secret of his discontent with the narrow
world of Equity that she tempted him to disparage it further by pretending
to identify herself with it. "I don't see why you abuse Equity to me. I Ve
never been anywhere else, except those two winters at school. You'd better
look out: I might expose you," she threatened, fondly.

"I'm not afraid. Those two winters make a great difference. You saw girls
from other places,--from Augusta, and Bangor, and Bath."

"Well, I couldn't see how they were so very different from Equity girls."

"I dare say they couldn't, either, if they judged from you."

She leaned forward again, and begged for more flattery from him with her
happy eyes. "Why, what _does_ make me so different from all the rest? I
should really like to know."

"Oh, you don't expect me to tell you to your face!"

"Yes, to my face! I don't believe it's anything complimentary."

"No, it's nothing that you deserve any credit for."

"Pshaw!" cried the girl. "I know you're only talking to make fun of me. How
do I know but you make fun of me to other girls, just as you do of them to
me? Everybody says you're sarcastic."

"Have I ever been sarcastic with you?"

"You know I wouldn't stand it."

He made no reply, but she admired the ease with which he now turned from
her, and took one book after another from the table at his elbow, saying
some words of ridicule about each. It gave her a still deeper sense of his
intellectual command when he finally discriminated, and began to read out a
poem with studied elocutionary effects. He read in a low tone, but at last
some responsive noises came from the room overhead; he closed the book, and
threw himself into an attitude of deprecation, with his eyes cast up to the
ceiling.

"Chicago," he said, laying the book on the table and taking his knee
between his hands, while he dazzled her by speaking from the abstraction
of one who has carried on a train of thought quite different from that on
which he seemed to be intent,--"Chicago is the place for me. I don't think
I can stand Equity much longer. You know that chum of mine I told you
about; he's written to me to come out there and go into the law with him at
once."

"Why don't you go?" the girl forced herself to ask.

"Oh, I'm not ready yet. Should you write to me if I went to Chicago?"

"I don't think you'd find my letters very interesting. You wouldn't want
any news from Equity."

"Your letters wouldn't be interesting if you gave me the Equity news; but
they would if you left it out. Then you'd have to write about yourself."

"Oh, I don't think that would interest anybody."

"Well, I feel almost like going out to Chicago to see."

"But I haven't promised to write yet," said the girl, laughing for joy in
his humor.

"I shall have to stay in Equity till you do, then. Better promise at once."

"Wouldn't that be too much like marrying a man to get rid of him?"

"I don't think that's always such a bad plan--for the man." He waited for
her to speak; but she had gone the length of her tether in this direction.
"Byron says,--

'Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,--
'Tis woman's whole existence.'

Do you believe that?" He dwelt upon her with his tree look, in the happy
embarrassment with which she let her head droop.

"I don't know," she murmured. "I don't know anything about a man's life."

"It was the woman's I was asking about."

"I don't think I'm competent to answer."

"Well, I'll tell you, then. I think Byron was mistaken. My experience is,
that, when a man is in love, there's nothing else of him. That's the reason
I've kept out of it altogether of late years. My advice is, don't fall
in love: it takes too much time." They both laughed at this. "But about
corresponding, now; you haven't said whether you would write to me, or not.
Will you?"

"Can't you wait and see?" she asked, slanting a look at him, which she
could not keep from being fond.

"No, no. Unless you wrote to me I couldn't go to Chicago."

"Perhaps I ought to promise, then, at once."

"You mean that you wish me to go."

"You said that you were going. You oughtn't to let anything stand in the
way of your doing the best you can for yourself."

"But you would miss me a little, wouldn't you? You would try to miss me,
now and then?"

"Oh, you are here pretty often. I don't think I should have much difficulty
in missing you."

"Thanks, thanks! I can go with a light heart, now. Good by." He made a
pretence of rising.

"What! Are you going at once?"

"Yes, this very night,--or to-morrow. Or no, I can't go to-morrow. There's
something I was going to do to-morrow."

"Perhaps go to church."

"Oh, that of course. But it was in the afternoon. Stop! I have it! I want
you to go sleigh-riding with me in the afternoon."

"I don't know about that," Marcia began.

"But I do," said the young man. "Hold on: I'll put my request in writing."
He opened her portfolio, which lay on the table. "What elegant stationery!
May I use some of this elegant stationery? The letter is to a lady,--to
open a correspondence. May I?" She laughed her assent. "How ought I to
begin? Dearest Miss Marcia, or just Dear Marcia: which is better?"

"You had better not put either--"

"But I must. You're one or the other, you know. You're dear--to your
family,--and you're Marcia: you can't deny it. The only question is whether
you're the dearest of all the Miss Marcias. I may be mistaken, you know.
We'll err on the safe side: Dear Marcia:" He wrote it down. "That looks
well, and it reads well. It looks very natural, and it reads like
poetry,--blank verse; there's no rhyme for it that I can remember. Dear
Marcia: Will you go sleigh-riding with me to-morrow afternoon, at two
o'clock sharp? Yours--yours? sincerely, or cordially, or affectionately, or
what? The 'dear Marcia' seems to call for something out of the common.
I think it had better be affectionately." He suggested it with ironical
gravity.

"And _I_ think it had better be 'truly,'" protested the girl.

"'Truly' it shall be, then. Your word is law,--statute in such case made
and provided." He wrote, "With unutterable devotion, yours truly, Bartley
J. Hubbard," and read it aloud.

She leaned forward, and lightly caught it away from him, and made a feint
of tearing it. He seized her hands. "Mr. Hubbard!" she cried, in undertone.
"Let me go, please."

"On two conditions,--promise not to tear up my letter, and promise to
answer it in writing."

She hesitated long, letting him hold her wrists. At last she said, "Well,"
and he released her wrists, on whose whiteness his clasp left red circles.
She wrote a single word on the paper, and pushed it across the table to
him. He rose with it, and went around to her side.

"This is very nice. But you haven't spelled it correctly. Anybody would say
this was No, to look at it; and you meant to write Yes. Take the pencil in
your hand, Miss Gaylord, and I will steady your trembling nerves, so that
you can form the characters. Stop! At the slightest resistance on your
part, I will call out and alarm the house; or I will--." He put the pencil
into her fingers, and took her soft fist into his, and changed the word,
while she submitted, helpless with her smothered laughter. "Now the
address. Dear--"

"No, no!" she protested.

"Yes, yes! Dear Mr. Hubbard. There, that will do. Now the signature.
Yours--"

"I _won't_ write that. I won't, indeed!"

"Oh, yes, you will. You only think you won't. Yours gratefully, Marcia
Gaylord. That's right. The Gaylord is not very legible, on account of a
slight tremor in the writer's arm, resulting from a constrained posture,
perhaps. Thanks, Miss Gaylord. I will be here promptly at the hour
indicated--"

The noises renewed themselves overhead,--some one seemed to be moving
about. Hubbard laid his hand on that of the girl, still resting on the
table, and grasped it in burlesque alarm; she could scarcely stifle her
mirth. He released her hand, and, reaching his chair with a theatrical
stride, sat there cowering till the noises ceased. Then he began to speak
soberly, in a low voice. He spoke of himself; but in application of a
lecture which they had lately heard, so that he seemed to be speaking of
the lecture. It was on the formation of character, and he told of the
processes by which he had formed his own character. They appeared very
wonderful to her, and she marvelled at the ease with which he dismissed the
frivolity of his recent mood, and was now all seriousness. When he came to
speak of the influence of others upon him, she almost trembled with the
intensity of her interest. "But of all the women I have known, Marcia," he
said, "I believe you have had the strongest influence upon me. I believe
you could make me do anything; but you have always influenced me for good;
your influence upon me has been ennobling and elevating."

She wished to refuse his praise; but her heart throbbed for bliss and pride
in it; her voice dissolved on her lips. They sat in silence; and he took in
his the hand that she let hang over the side of her chair. The lamp began
to burn low, and she found words to say, "I had better get another," but
she did not move.

"No, don't," he said; "I must be going, too. Look at the wick, there,
Marcia; it scarcely reaches the oil. In a little while it will not reach
it, and the flame will die out. That is the way the ambition to be good and
great will die out of me, when my life no longer draws its inspiration from
your influence."

This figure took her imagination; it seemed to her very beautiful; and his
praise humbled her more and more.

"Good night," he said, in a low, sad voice. He gave her hand a last
pressure, and rose to put on his coat. Her admiration of his words, her
happiness in his flattery, filled her brain like wine. She moved dizzily as
she took up the lamp to light him to the door. "I have tired you," he said,
tenderly, and he passed his hand around her to sustain the elbow of the arm
with which she held the lamp; she wished to resist, but she could not try.

At the door he bent down his head and kissed her. "Good night,
dear--friend."

"Good night," she panted; and after the door had closed upon him, she
stooped and kissed the knob on which his hand had rested.

As she turned, she started to see her father coming down the stairs with a
candle in his hand. He had his black cravat tied around his throat, but no
collar; otherwise, he had on the rusty black clothes in which he ordinarily
went about his affairs,--the cassimere pantaloons, the satin vest, and the
dress-coat which old-fashioned country lawyers still wore ten years ago, in
preference to a frock or sack. He stopped on one of the lower steps, and
looked sharply down into her uplifted face, and, as they stood confronted,
their consanguinity came out in vivid resemblances and contrasts; his high,
hawk-like profile was translated into the fine aquiline outline of hers;
the harsh rings of black hair, now grizzled with age, which clustered
tightly over his head, except where they had retreated from his deeply
seamed and wrinkled forehead, were the crinkled flow above her smooth white
brow; and the line of the bristly tufts that overhung his eyes was the same
as that of the low arches above hers. Her complexion was from her mother;
his skin was dusky yellow; but they had the same mouth, and hers showed how
sweet his mouth must have been in his youth. His eyes, deep sunk in their
cavernous sockets, had rekindled their dark fires in hers; his whole
visage, softened to her sex and girlish years, looked up at him in his
daughter's face.

"Why, father! Did we wake you?"

"No. I hadn't been asleep at all. I was coming down to read. But it's time
you were in bed, Marcia."

"Yes, I'm going, now. There's a good fire in the parlor stove."

The old man descended the remaining steps, but turned at the parlor door,
and looked again at his daughter with a glance that arrested her, with her
foot on the lowest stair.

"Marcia," he asked, grimly, "are you engaged to Bartley Hubbard?"

The blood flashed up from her heart into her face like fire, and then, as
suddenly, fell back again, and left her white. She let her head droop and
turn, till her eyes were wholly averted from him, and she did not speak. He
closed the door behind him, and she went upstairs to her own room; in her
shame, she seemed to herself to crawl thither, with her father's glance
burning upon her.

II.

Bartley Hubbard drove his sorrel colt back to the hotel stable through the
moonlight, and woke up the hostler, asleep behind the counter, on a bunk
covered with buffalo-robes. The half-grown boy did not wake easily; he
conceived of the affair as a joke, and bade Bartley quit his fooling, till
the young man took him by his collar, and stood him on his feet. Then he
fumbled about the button of the lamp, turned low and smelling rankly, and
lit his lantern, which contributed a rival stench to the choking air. He
kicked together the embers that smouldered on the hearth of the Franklin
stove, sitting down before it for his greater convenience, and, having put
a fresh pine-root on the fire, fell into a doze, with his lantern in his
hand. "Look here, young man!" said Bartley, shaking him by the shoulder,
"you had better go out and put that colt up, and leave this sleeping before
the fire to me."

"Guess the colt can wait awhile," grumbled the boy; but he went out,
all the same, and Bartley, looking through the window, saw his lantern
wavering, a yellow blot in the white moonshine, toward the stable. He sat
down in the hostler's chair, and, in his turn, kicked the pine-root with
the heel of his shoe, and looked about the room. He had had, as he would
have said, a grand good time; but it had left him hungry, and the table in
the middle of the room, with the chairs huddled around it, was suggestive,
though he knew that it had been barrenly put there for the convenience of
the landlord's friends, who came every night to play whist with him, and
that nothing to eat or drink had ever been set out on it to interrupt the
austere interest of the game. It was long since there had been anything
on the shelves behind the counter more cheerful than corn-balls and fancy
crackers for the children of the summer boarders; these dainties being out
of season, the jars now stood there empty. The young man waited in a hungry
reverie, in which it appeared to him that he was undergoing unmerited
suffering, till the stable-boy came back, now wide awake, and disposed to
let the house share his vigils, as he stamped over the floor in his heavy
boots.

"Andy," said Bartley, in a pathetic tone of injury, "can't you scare me up
something to eat?"

"There aint anything in the buttery but meat-pie," said the boy.

He meant mince-pie, as Hubbard knew, and not a pasty of meat; and the
hungry man hesitated. "Well, fetch it," he said, finally. "I guess we can
warm it up a little by the coals here."

He had not been so long out of college but the idea of this irregular
supper, when he had once formed it, began to have its fascination. He took
up the broad fire-shovel, and, by the time the boy had shuffled to and from
the pantry beyond the dining-room, Bartley had cleaned the shovel with a
piece of newspaper and was already heating it by the embers which he had
raked out from under the pine-root. The boy silently transferred the
half-pie he had brought from its plate to the shovel. He pulled up a chair
and sat down to watch it. The pie began to steam and send out a savory
odor; he himself, in thawing, emitted a stronger and stronger smell of
stable. He was not without his disdain for the palate which must have its
mince-pie warm at midnight,--nor without his respect for it, either. This
fastidious taste must be part of the splendor which showed itself in Mr.
Hubbard's city-cut clothes, and in his neck-scarfs and the perfection of
his finger-nails and mustache. The boy had felt the original impression of
these facts deepened rather than effaced by custom; they were for every
day, and not, as he had at first conjectured, for some great occasion only.

"You don't suppose, Andy, there is such a thing as cold tea or coffee
anywhere, that we could warm up?" asked Bartley, gazing thoughtfully at the
pie.

The boy shook his head. "Get you some milk," he said; and, after he had let
the dispiriting suggestion sink into the other's mind, he added, "or some
water."

"Oh, bring on the milk," groaned Bartley, but with the relief that a choice
of evils affords. The boy stumped away for it, and when he came back the
young man had got his pie on the plate again, and had drawn his chair up to
the table. "Thanks," he said, with his mouth full, as the boy set down the
goblet of milk. Andy pulled his chair round so as to get an unrestricted
view of a man who ate his pie with his fork as easily as another would
with a knife. "That sister of yours is a smart girl," the young man added,
making deliberate progress with the pie.

The boy made an inarticulate sound of satisfaction, and resolved in his
heart to tell her what Mr. Hubbard had said.

"She's as smart as time," continued Bartley.

This was something concrete. The boy knew he should remember that
comparison. "Bring you anything else?" he asked, admiring the young man's
skill in getting the last flakes of the crust on his fork. The pie had now
vanished.

"Why, there isn't anything else, is there?" Bartley demanded, with the
plaintive dismay of a man who fears he has flung away his hunger upon one
dish when he might have had something better.

"Cheese," replied the boy.

"Oh!" said Bartley. He reflected awhile. "I suppose I could toast a piece
on this fork. But there isn't any more milk."

The boy took away the plate and goblet, and brought them again replenished.

Bartley contrived to get the cheese on his fork and rest it against one of
the andirons so that it would not fall into the ashes. When it was done, he
ate it as he had eaten the pie, without offering to share his feast with
the boy. "There'" he said. "Yes, Andy, if she keeps on as she's been doing,
she won't have any trouble. She's a bright girl." He stretched his legs
before the fire again, and presently yawned.

"Want your lamp, Mr. Hubbard?" asked the boy.

"Well, yes, Andy," the young man consented. "I suppose I may as well go to
bed."

But when the boy brought his lamp, he still remained with outstretched legs
in front of the fire. Speaking of Hannah Morrison made him think of Marcia
again, and of the way in which she had spoken of the girl. He lolled his
head on one side in such comfort as a young man finds in the conviction
that a pretty girl is not only fond of him, but is instantly jealous of any
other girl whose name is mentioned. He smiled at the flame in his reverie,
and the boy examined, with clandestine minuteness, the set and pattern of
his trousers, with glances of reference and comparison to his own.

There were many things about his relations with Marcia Gaylord which were
calculated to give Bartley satisfaction. She was, without question, the
prettiest girl in the place, and she had more style than any other girl
began to have. He liked to go into a room with Marcia Gaylord; it was some
pleasure. Marcia was a lady; she had a good education; she had been away
two years at school; and, when she came back at the end of the second
winter, he knew that she had fallen in love with him at sight. He believed
that he could time it to a second. He remembered how he had looked up at
her as he passed, and she had reddened, and tried to turn away from the
window as if she had not seen him. Bartley was still free as air; but if he
could once make up his mind to settle down in a hole like Equity, he
could have her by turning his hand. Of course she had her drawbacks, like
everybody. She was proud, and she would be jealous; but, with all her pride
and her distance, she had let him see that she liked him; and with not a
word on his part that any one could hold him to.

"Hollo!" he cried, with a suddenness that startled the boy, who had
finished his meditation upon Bartley's trousers, and was now deeply
dwelling on his boots. "Do you like 'em? See what sort of a shine you can
give 'em for Sunday-go-to-meeting to-morrow morning." He put out his hand
and laid hold of the boy's head, passing his fingers through the thick red
hair. "Sorrel-top!" he said, with a grin of agreeable reminiscence. "They
emptied all the freckles they had left into your face,--didn't they, Andy?"

This free, joking way of Bartley's was one of the things that made him
popular; he passed the time of day, and was give and take right along,
as his admirers expressed it, from the first, in a community where his
smartness had that honor which gives us more smart men to the square mile
than any other country in the world. The fact of his smartness had been
affirmed and established in the strongest manner by the authorities of the
college at which he was graduated, in answer to the reference he made to
them when negotiating with the committee in charge for the place he now
held as editor of the Equity Free Press. The faculty spoke of the solidity
and variety of his acquirements, and the distinction with which he had
acquitted himself in every branch of study' he had undertaken. They added
that he deserved the greater credit because his early disadvantages as an
orphan, dependent on his own exertions for a livelihood, had been so great
that he had entered college with difficulty, and with heavy conditions.
This turned the scale with a committee who had all been poor boys
themselves, and justly feared the encroachments of hereditary aristocracy.
They perhaps had their misgivings when the young man, in his well-blacked
boots, his gray trousers neatly fitting over them, and his diagonal coat
buttoned high with one button, stood before them with his thumbs in his
waistcoat pockets, and looked down over his mustache at the floor with
sentiments concerning their wisdom which they could not explore; they must
have resented the fashionable keeping of everything about him, for Bartley
wore his one suit as if it were but one of many; but when they understood
that he had come by everything through his own unaided smartness, they
could no longer hesitate: One, indeed, still felt it a duty to call
attention to the fact that the college authorities said nothing of the
young man's moral characteristics in a letter dwelling so largely upon his
intellectual qualifications. The others referred this point by a silent
look to Squire Gaylord.

"I don't know;" said the Squire, "as I ever heard that a great deal of
morality was required by a newspaper editor." The rest laughed at the joke,
and the Squire continued: "But I guess if he worked his own way through
college, as they say, that he haint had time to be up to a great deal of
mischief. You know it's for idle hands that the Devil provides, doctor."

"That's true, as far as it goes," said the doctor.

"But it isn't the whole truth. The Devil provides for some busy hands,
too."

"There's a good deal of sense in that," the Squire admitted. "The worst
scamps I ever knew were active fellows. Still, industry is in a man's
favor. If the faculty knew anything against this young man they would
have given us a hint of it. I guess we had better take him; we sha'n't do
better. Is it a vote?"

The good opinion of Bartley's smartness which Squire Gaylord had formed was
confirmed some months later by the development of the fact that the young
man did not regard his management of the Equity Free Press as a final
vocation. The story went that he lounged into the lawyer's office one
Saturday afternoon in October, and asked him to let him take his Blackstone
into the woods with him. He came back with it a few hours later.

"Well, sir," said the attorney, sardonically, "how much Blackstone have you
read?"

"About forty pages," answered the young man, dropping into one of the empty
chairs, and hanging his leg over the arm.

The lawyer smiled, and, opening the book, asked half a dozen questions at
random. Bartley answered without changing his indifferent countenance, or
the careless posture he had fallen into. A sharper and longer examination
followed; the very language seemed to have been unbrokenly transferred to
his mind, and he often gave the author's words as well as his ideas.

"Ever looked at this before?" asked the lawyer, with a keen glance at him
over his spectacles.

"No," said Bartley, gaping as if bored, and further relieving his weariness
by stretching. He was without deference for any presence; and the old
lawyer did not dislike him for this: he had no deference himself.

"You think of studying law?" he asked, after a pause.

"That's what I came to ask you about," said Bartley, swinging his leg.

The elder recurred to his book, and put some more questions. Then he said,
"Do you want to study with me?"

"That's about the size of it."

He shut the book, and pushed it on the table toward the young man. "Go
ahead. You'll get along--if you don't get along too easily."

It was in the spring after this that Marcia returned home from her last
term at boarding-school, and first saw him.

III.

Bartley woke on Sunday morning with the regrets that a supper of mince-pie
and toasted cheese is apt to bring. He woke from a bad dream, and found
that he had a dull headache. A cup of coffee relieved his pain, but it left
him listless, and with a longing for sympathy which he experienced in any
mental or physical discomfort. The frankness with which he then appealed
for compassion was one of the things that made people like him; he flung
himself upon the pity of the first he met. It might be some one to whom he
had said a cutting or mortifying thing at their last encounter, but Bartley
did not mind that; what he desired was commiseration, and he confidingly
ignored the past in a trust that had rarely been abused. If his sarcasm
proved that he was quick and smart, his recourse to those who had suffered
from it proved that he did not mean anything by what he said; it showed
that he was a man of warm feelings, and that his heart was in the right
place.

Bartley deplored his disagreeable sensations to the other boarders at
breakfast, and affectionately excused himself to them for not going to
church, when they turned into the office, and gathered there before the
Franklin stove, sensible of the day in freshly shaven chins and newly
blacked boots. The habit of church-going was so strong and universal in
Equity that even strangers stopping at the hotel found themselves the
object of a sort of hospitable competition with the members of the
different denominations, who took it for granted that they would wish to
go somewhere, and only suffered them a choice between sects. There was no
intolerance in their offer of pews, but merely a profound expectation, and
one might continue to choose his place of worship Sabbath after Sabbath
without offence. This was Bartley's custom, and it had worked to his favor
rather than his disadvantage: for in the rather chaotic liberality into
which religious sentiment had fallen in Equity, it was tacitly conceded
that the editor of a paper devoted to the interests of the whole town ought
not to be of fixed theological opinions.

Religion there had largely ceased to be a fact of spiritual experience,
and the visible church flourished on condition of providing for the social
needs of the community. It was practically held that the salvation of
one's soul must not be made too depressing, or the young people would have
nothing to do with it. Professors of the sternest creeds temporized with
sinners, and did what might be done to win them to heaven by helping them
to have a good time here. The church embraced and included the world. It no
longer frowned even upon social dancing,--a transgression once so heinous
in its eyes; it opened its doors to popular lectures, and encouraged
secular music in its basements, where, during the winter, oyster suppers
were given in aid of good objects. The Sunday school was made particularly
attractive, both to the children and the young men and girls who taught
them. Not only at Thanksgiving, but at Christmas, and latterly even at
Easter, there were special observances, which the enterprising spirits
having the welfare of the church at heart tried to make significant and
agreeable to all, and promotive of good feeling. Christenings and marriages
in the church were encouraged, and elaborately celebrated; death alone,
though treated with cut-flowers in emblematic devices, refused to lend
itself to the cheerful intentions of those who were struggling to render
the idea of another and a better world less repulsive. In contrast with
the relaxation and uncertainty of their doctrinal aim, the rude and bold
infidelity of old Squire Gaylord had the greater affinity with the mood of
the Puritanism they had outgrown. But Bartley Hubbard liked the religious
situation well enough. He took a leading part in the entertainments, and
did something to impart to them a literary cast, as in the series of
readings from the poets which he gave, the first winter, for the benefit of
each church in turn. At these lectures he commended himself to the sober
elders, who were troubled by the levity of his behavior with young people
on other occasions, by asking one of the ministers to open the exercises
with prayer, and another, at the close, to invoke the Divine blessing;
there was no especial relevancy in this, but it pleased. He kept himself,
from the beginning, pretty constantly in the popular eye. He was a speaker
at all public meetings, where his declamation was admired; and at private
parties, where the congealed particles of village society were united in
a frozen mass, he was the first to break the ice, and set the angular
fragments grating and grinding upon one another.

He now went to his room, and opened his desk with some vague purpose
of bringing up the arrears of his correspondence. Formerly, before his
interest in the newspaper had lapsed at all, he used to give his Sunday
leisure to making selections and writing paragraphs for it; but he now
let the pile of exchanges lie unopened on his desk, and began to rummage
through the letters scattered about in it. They were mostly from young
ladies with whom he had corresponded, and some of them enclosed the
photographs of the writers, doing their best to look as they hoped he might
think they looked. They were not love-letters, but were of that sort
which the laxness of our social life invites young people, who have met
pleasantly, to exchange as long as they like, without explicit intentions
on either side; they commit the writers to nothing; they are commonly
without result, except in wasting time which is hardly worth saving. Every
one who has lived the American life must have produced them in great
numbers. While youth lasts, they afford an excitement whose charm is hard
to realize afterward.

Bartley's correspondents were young ladies of his college town, where
he had first begun to see something of social life in days which he now
recognized as those of his green youth. They were not so very far removed
in point of time; but the experience of a larger world in the vacation he
had spent with a Boston student had relegated them to a moral remoteness
that could not readily be measured. His friend was the son of a family who
had diverted him from the natural destiny of a Boston man at Harvard, and
sent him elsewhere for sectarian reasons. They were rich people, devout
in their way, and benevolent, after a fashion of their own; and their son
always brought home with him, for the holidays and other short vacations,
some fellow-student accounted worthy of their hospitality through his
religious intentions or his intellectual promise. These guests were
indicated to the young man by one of the faculty, and he accepted their
companionship for the time with what perfunctory civility he could muster.
He and Bartley had amused themselves very well during that vacation. The
Hallecks were not fashionable people, but they lived wealthily: they had
a coachman and an inside man (whom Bartley at first treated with a
consideration, which it afterward mortified him to think of); their house
was richly furnished with cushioned seats, dense carpets, and heavy
curtains; and they were visited by other people of their denomination,
and of a like abundance. Some of these were infected with the prevailing
culture of the city, and the young ladies especially dressed in a style and
let fall ideas that filled the soul of the country student with wonder and
worship. He heard a great deal of talk that he did not understand; but
he eagerly treasured every impression, and pieced it out, by question
or furtive observation, into an image often shrewdly true, and often
grotesquely untrue, to the conditions into which he had been dropped. He
civilized himself as rapidly as his light permitted. There was a great
deal of church-going; but he and young Halleck went also to lectures and
concerts; they even went to the opera, and Bartley, with the privity of his
friend, went to the theatre. Halleck said that he did not think there was
much harm in a play; but that his people stayed away for the sake of the
example,--a reason that certainly need not hold with Bartley.

At the end of the vacation he returned to college, leaving his measure with
Halleck's tailor, and his heart with all the splendors and elegances of the
town. He found the ceilings very low and the fashions much belated in the
village; but he reconciled himself as well as he could. The real stress
came when he left college and the question of doing something for himself
pressed upon him. He intended to study law, but he must meantime earn his
living. It had been his fortune to be left, when very young, not only an
orphan, but an extremely pretty child, with an exceptional aptness for
study; and he had been better cared for than if his father and mother had
lived. He had been not only well housed and fed, and very well dressed, but
pitied as an orphan, and petted for his beauty and talent, while he was
always taught to think of himself as a poor boy, who was winning his own
way through the world. But when his benefactor proposed to educate him for
the ministry, with a view to his final use in missionary work, he revolted.
He apprenticed himself to the printer of his village, and rapidly picked up
a knowledge of the business, so that at nineteen he had laid by some money,
and was able to think of going to college. There was a fund in aid of
indigent students in the institution to which he turned, and the faculty
favored him. He finished his course with great credit to himself and the
college, and he was naturally inclined to look upon what had been done for
him earlier as an advantage taken of his youthful inexperience. He rebelled
against the memory of that tutelage, in spite of which he had accomplished
such great things. If he had not squandered his time or fallen into vicious
courses in circumstances of so much discouragement, if he had come out of
it all self-reliant and independent, he knew whom he had to thank for it.
The worst of the matter was that there was some truth in all this.

The ardor of his satisfaction cooled in the two years following his
graduation, when in intervals of teaching country schools he was actually
reduced to work at his trade on a village newspaper. But it was as a
practical printer, through the freemasonry of the craft, that Bartley heard
of the wish of the Equity committee to place the Free Press in new hands,
and he had to be grateful to his trade for a primary consideration from
them which his collegiate honors would not have won him. There had not
yet begun to be that talk of journalism as a profession which has since
prevailed with our collegians, and if Bartley had thought, as other
collegians think, of devoting himself to newspaper life, he would have
turned his face toward the city where its prizes are won,--the ten and
fifteen dollar reporterships for which a font years' course of the classics
is not too costly a preparation. But, to tell the truth, he had never
regarded his newspaper as anything but a make-shift, by which he was to be
carried over a difficult and anxious period of his life, and enabled to
attempt something worthier his powers. He had no illusions concerning it;
if he had ever thought of journalism as a grand and ennobling profession,
these ideas had perished, in his experience in a village printing-office.
He came to his work in Equity with practical and immediate purposes which
pleased the committee better. The paper had been established some time
before, in one of those flurries of ambition which from time to time seized
Equity, when its citizens reflected that it was the central town in the
county, and yet not the shire-town. The question of the removal of the
county-seat had periodically arisen before; but it had never been so hotly
agitated as now. The paper had been a happy thought of a local politician,
whose conception of its management was that it might be easily edited by
a committee, if a printer could be found to publish it; but a few months'
experience had made the Free Press a terrible burden to its founders; it
could not be sustained, and it could not be let die without final disaster
to the interests of the town; and the committee began to cast about for a
publisher who could also be editor. Bartley, to whom it fell, could not be
said to have thrown his heart and soul into the work, but he threw all his
energy, and he made it more than its friends could have hoped. He
espoused the cause of Equity in the pending question with the zeal of a
_condottiere_, and did service no less faithful because of the cynical
quality latent in it. When the legislative decision against Equity put an
end to its ambitious hopes for the time being, he continued in control of
the paper, with a fair prospect of getting the property into his own hands
at last, and with some growing question in his mind whether, after all, it
might not be as easy for him to go into politics from the newspaper as from
the law. He managed the office very economically, and by having the
work done by girl apprentices, with the help of one boy, he made it
self-supporting. He modelled the newspaper upon the modern conception,
through which the country press must cease to have any influence in
public affairs, and each paper become little more than an open letter of
neighborhood gossip. But while he filled his sheet with minute chronicles
of the goings and comings of unimportant persons, and with all attainable
particulars of the ordinary life of the different localities, he continued
to make spicy hits at the enemies of Equity in the late struggle, and kept
the public spirit of the town alive. He had lately undertaken to make known
its advantages as a summer resort, and had published a series of encomiums
upon the beauty of its scenery and the healthfulness of its air and water,
which it was believed would put it in a position of rivalry with some of
the famous White Mountain places. He invited the enterprise of outside
capital, and advocated a narrow-gauge road up the valley of the river
through the Notch, so as to develop the picturesque advantages of that
region. In all this, the color of mockery let the wise perceive that
Bartley saw the joke and enjoyed it, and it deepened the popular impression
of his smartness.

This vein of cynicism was not characteristic, as it would have been in
an older man; it might have been part of that spiritual and intellectual
unruliness of youth, which people laugh at and forgive, and which one
generally regards in after life as something almost alien to one's self.
He wrote long, bragging articles about Equity, in a tone bordering on
burlesque, and he had a department in his paper where he printed humorous
squibs of his own and of other people; these were sometimes copied, and in
the daily papers of the State he had been mentioned as "the funny man of
the Equity Free Press." He also sent letters to one of the Boston journals,
which he reproduced in his own sheet, and which gave him an importance that
the best endeavor as a country editor would never have won him with the
villagers. He would naturally, as the local printer, have ranked a little
above the foreman of the saw-mill in the social scale, and decidedly below
the master of the Academy; but his personal qualities elevated him over the
head even of the latter. But above all, the fact that he was studying law
was a guaranty of his superiority that nothing else could have given; that
science is the fountain of the highest distinction in a country town.
Bartley's whole course implied that he was above editing the Free Press,
but that he did it because it served his turn. That was admirable.

He sat a long time with these girls' letters before him, and lost himself
in a pensive reverie over their photographs, and over the good times he
used to have with them. He mused in that formless way in which a young
man thinks about young girls; his soul is suffused with a sense of their
sweetness and brightness, and unless he is distinctly in love there is no
intention in his thoughts of them; even then there is often no intention.
Bartley might very well have a good conscience about them; he had broken no
hearts among them, and had only met them half-way in flirtation. What he
really regretted, as he held their letters in his hand, was that he had
never got up a correspondence with two or three of the girls whom he had
met in Boston. Though he had been cowed by their magnificence in the
beginning, he had never had any reverence for them; he believed that they
would have liked very well to continue his acquaintance; but he had not
known how to open a correspondence, and the point was one on which he was
ashamed to consult Halleck. These college belles, compared with them, were
amusingly inferior; by a natural turn of thought, he realized that they
were inferior to Marcia Gaylord, too, in looks and style, no less than
in an impassioned preference for himself. A distaste for their somewhat
veteran ways in flirtation grew upon him as he thought of her; he
philosophized against them to her advantage; he could not blame her if she
did not know how to hide her feelings for him. Yet he knew that Marcia
would rather have died than let him suppose that she cared for him, if she
had known that she was doing it. The fun of it was, that she should not
know; this charmed him, it touched him, even; he did not think of it
exultingly, as the night before, but sweetly, fondly, and with a final
curiosity to see her again, and enjoy the fact in her presence. The acrid
little jets of smoke which escaped from the joints of his stove from time
to time annoyed him; he shut his portfolio at last, and went out to walk.

IV.

The forenoon sunshine, beating strong upon the thin snow along the edges of
the porch floor, tattered them with a little thaw here and there; but it
had no effect upon the hard-packed levels of the street, up the middle of
which Bartley walked in a silence intensified by the muffled voices of
exhortation that came to him out of the churches. It was in the very heart
of sermon-time, and he had the whole street to himself on his way up to
Squire Gaylord's house. As he drew near, he saw smoke ascending from the
chimney of the lawyer's office,--a little white building that stood apart
from the dwelling on the left of the gate, and he knew that the old man was
within, reading there, with his hat on and his long legs flung out toward
the stove, unshaven and unkempt, in a grim protest against the prevalent
Christian superstition. He might be reading Hume or Gibbon, or he might be
reading the Bible,--a book in which he was deeply versed, and from which
he was furnished with texts for the demolition of its friends, his
adversaries. He professed himself a great admirer of its literature, and,
in the heat of controversy, he often found himself a defender of its
doctrines when he had occasion to expose the fallacy of latitudinarian
interpretations. For liberal Christianity he had nothing but contempt, and
refuted it with a scorn which spared none of the worldly tendencies of the
church in Equity. The idea that souls were to be saved by church sociables
filled him with inappeasable rancor; and he maintained the superiority of
the old Puritanic discipline against them with a fervor which nothing but
its re-establishment could have abated. It was said that Squire Gaylord's
influence had largely helped to keep in place the last of the rigidly
orthodox ministers, under whom his liberalizing congregation chafed for
years of discontent; but this was probably an exaggeration of the native
humor. Mrs. Gaylord had belonged to this church, and had never formally
withdrawn from it, and the lawyer always contributed to pay the minister's
salary. He also managed a little property for him so well as to make him
independent when he was at last asked to resign by his deacons.

In another mood, Bartley might have stepped aside to look in on the Squire,
before asking at the house door for Marcia. They relished each other's
company, as people of contrary opinions and of no opinions are apt to do.
Bartley loved to hear the Squire get going, as he said, and the old man
felt a fascination in the youngster. Bartley was smart; he took a point as
quick as lightning; and the Squire did not mind his making friends with
the Mammon of Righteousness, as he called the visible church in Equity. It
amused him to see Bartley lending the church the zealous support of the
press, with an impartial patronage of the different creeds. There had been
times in his own career when the silence of his opinions would have greatly
advanced him, but he had not chosen to pay this price for success; he liked
his freedom, or he liked the bitter tang of his own tongue too well, and he
had remained a leading lawyer in Equity, when he might have ended a judge,
or even a Congressman. Of late years, however, since people whom he could
have joined in their agnosticism so heartily, up to a certain point, had
begun to make such fools of themselves about Darwinism and the brotherhood
of all men in the monkey, he had grown much more tolerant. He still clung
to his old-fashioned deistical opinions; but be thought no worse of a man
for not holding them; he did not deny that a man might be a Christian, and
still be a very good man.

The audacious humor of his position sufficed with a people who liked a
joke rather better than anything else; in his old age, his infidelity was
something that would hardly have been changed, if possible, by a popular
vote. Even his wife, to whom it had once been a heavy cross, borne with
secret prayer and tears, had long ceased to gainsay it in any wise. Her
family had opposed her yoking with an unbeliever when she married him,
but she had some such hopes of converting him as women cherish who give
themselves to men confirmed in drunkenness. She learned, as other women do,
that she could hardly change her husband in the least of his habits, and
that, in this great matter of his unbelief, her love was powerless. It
became easier at last for her to add self-sacrifice to self-sacrifice than
to vex him with her anxieties about his soul, and to act upon the feeling
that, if he must be lost, then she did not care to be saved. He had never
interfered with her church-going; he had rather promoted it, for he liked
to have women go; but the time came when she no longer cared to go without
him; she lapsed from her membership, and it was now many years since she
had worshipped with the people of her faith, if, indeed, she were still of
any faith. Her life was silenced in every way, and, as often happens with
aging wives in country towns, she seldom went out of her own door, and
never appeared at the social or public solemnities of the village. Her
husband and her daughter composed and bounded her world,--she always talked
of them, or of other things as related to them. She had grown an elderly
woman, without losing the color of her yellow hair; and the bloom of
girlhood had been stayed in her cheeks as if by the young habit of
blushing, which she had kept. She was still what her neighbors called very
pretty-appearing, and she must have been a beautiful girl. The silence of
her inward life subdued her manner, till now she seemed always to have come
from some place on which a deep hush had newly fallen.

She answered the door when Bartley turned the crank that snapped the
gong-bell in its centre; and the young man, who was looking at the street
while waiting for some one to come, confronted her with a start. "Oh!" he
said, "I thought it was Marcia. Good morning, Mrs. Gaylord. Isn't Marcia at
home?"

"She went to church, this morning," replied her mother. "Won't you walk
in?"

"Why, yes, I guess I will, thank you," faltered Bartley, in the
irresolution of his disappointment. "I hope I sha'n't disturb you."

"Come right into the sitting-room. She won't be gone a great while, now,"
said Mrs. Gaylord, leading the way to the large square room into which
a door at the end of the narrow hall opened. A slumberous heat from a
sheet-iron wood-stove pervaded the place, and a clock ticked monotonously
on a shelf in the corner. Mrs. Gaylord said, "Won't you take a chair?" and
herself sank into the rocker, with a deep feather cushion in the seat, and
a thinner feather cushion tied half-way up the back. After the more active
duties of her housekeeping were done, she sat every day in this chair with
her knitting or sewing, and let the clock tick the long hours of her life
away, with no more apparent impatience of them, or sense of their dulness,
than the cat on the braided rug at her feet, or the geraniums in the pots
at the sunny window. "Are you pretty well to-day?" she asked.

"Well, no, Mrs. Gaylord, I'm not," answered Bartley. "I'm all out of sorts.
I haven't felt so dyspeptic for I don't know how long."

Mrs. Gaylord smoothed the silk dress across her lap,--the thin old black
silk which she still instinctively put on for Sabbath observance, though it
was so long since she had worn it to church. "Mr. Gaylord used to have it
when we were first married, though he aint been troubled with it of late
years. He seemed to think then it was worse Sundays."

"I don't believe Sunday has much to do with it, in my case. I ate some
mince-pie and some toasted cheese last night, and I guess they didn't agree
with me very well," said Bartley, who did not spare himself the confession
of his sins when seeking sympathy: it was this candor that went so far to
convince people of his good-heartedness.

"I don't know as I ever heard that meat-pie was bad," said Mrs. Gaylord,
thoughtfully. "Mr. Gaylord used to eat it right along all through his
dyspepsia, and he never complained of it. And the cheese ought to have made
it digest."

"Well, I don't know what it was," replied Bartley, plaintively submitting
to be exonerated, "but I feel perfectly used up. Oh, I suppose I shall get
over it, or forget all about it, by to-morrow," he added, with strenuous
cheerfulness. "It isn't anything worth minding."

Mrs. Gaylord seemed to differ with him on this point. "Head ache any?" she
asked.

"It did this morning, when I first woke up," Bartley assented.

"I don't believe but what a cup of tea would be the best thing for you,"
she said, critically.

Bartley had instinctively practised a social art which ingratiated him with
people at Equity as much as his demands for sympathy endeared him: he gave
trouble in little unusual ways. He now said, "Oh, I wish you would give me
a cup, Mrs. Gaylord."

"Why, yes, indeed! That's just what I was going to," she replied. She went
to the kitchen, which lay beyond another room, and reappeared with the
tea directly, proud of her promptness, but having it on her conscience
to explain it. "I 'most always keep the pot on the stove hearth, Sunday
morning, so's to have it ready if Mr. Gaylord ever wants a cup. He's a
master hand for tea, and always was. There: _I_ guess you better take it
without milk. I put some sugar in the saucer, if you want any." She dropped
noiselessly upon her feather cushion again, and Bartley, who had risen to
receive the tea from her, remained standing while he drank it.

"That does seem to go to the spot," he said, as he sipped it, thoughtfully
observant of its effect upon his disagreeable feelings. "I wish I had
you to take care of me, Mrs. Gaylord, and keep me from making a fool of
myself," he added, when he had drained the cup. "No, no!" he cried, at her
offering to take it from him. "I'll set it down. I know it will fret you to
have it in here, and I'll carry it out into the kitchen." He did so before
she could prevent him, and came back, touching his mustache with his
handkerchief. "I declare, Mrs. Gaylord, I should love to live in a kitchen
like that."

"I guess you wouldn't if you had to," said Mrs. Gaylord, flattered into a
smile. "Marcia, she likes to sit out there, she says, better than anywheres
in the house. But I always tell her it's because she was there so much when
she was little. I don't see as she seems over-anxious to do anything there
_but_ sit, I tell her. Not but what she knows how well enough. Mr. Gaylord,
too, he's great for being round in the kitchen. If he gets up in the night,
when he has his waking spells, he had rather take his lamp out there, if
there's a fire left, and read, any time, than what he would in the parlor.
Well, we used to sit there together a good deal when we were young, and he
got the habit of it. There's everything in habit," she added, thoughtfully.
"Marcia, she's got quite in the way, lately, of going to the Methodist
church."

"Yes, I've seen her there. You know I board round at the different
churches, as the schoolmaster used to at the houses in the old times."

Mi's. Gaylord looked up at the clock, and gave a little nervous laugh.
"I don't know what Marcia will say to my letting her company stay in the
sitting-room. She's pretty late to-day. But I guess you won't have much
longer to wait, now."

She spoke with that awe of her daughter and her judgments which is one of
the pathetic idiosyncrasies of a certain class of American mothers. They
feel themselves to be not so well educated as their daughters, whose
fancied knowledge of the world they let outweigh their own experience of
life; they are used to deferring to them, and they shrink willingly into
household drudges before them, and leave them to order the social affairs
of the family. Mrs. Gaylord was not much afraid of Bartley for himself, but
as Marcia's company he made her more and more uneasy toward the end of the
quarter of an hour in which she tried to entertain him with her simple
talk, varying from Mr. Gaylord to Marcia, and from Marcia to Mr. Gaylord
again. When she recognized the girl's quick touch in the closing of the
front door, and her elastic step approached through the hall, the mother
made a little deprecating noise in her throat, and fidgeted in her chair.
As soon as Marcia opened the sitting-room door, Mrs. Gaylord modestly rose
and went out into the kitchen: the mother who remained in the room when her
daughter had company was an oddity almost unknown in Equity.

Marcia's face flashed all into a light of joy at sight of Bartley, who
scarcely waited for her mother to be gone before he drew her toward him
by the hand she had given. She mechanically yielded; and then, as if the
recollection of some new resolution forced itself through her pleasure at
sight of him, she freed her hand, and, retreating a step or two, confronted
him.

"Why, Marcia," he said, "what's the matter?"

"Nothing," she answered.

It might have amused Bartley, if he had felt quite well, to see the girl
so defiant of him, when she was really so much in love with him, but it
certainly did not amuse him now: it disappointed him in his expectation of
finding her femininely soft and comforting, and he did not know just what
to do. He stood staring at her in discomfiture, while she gained in outward
composure, though her cheeks were of the Jacqueminot red of the ribbon at
her throat. "What have I done, Marcia?" he faltered.

"Oh, you haven't done anything."

"Some one has been talking to you against me."

"No one has said a word to me about you."

"Then why are you so cold--so strange--so--so--different?"

"Different?"

"Yes, from what you were last night," he answered, with an aggrieved air.

"Oh, we see some things differently by daylight," she lightly explained.
"Won't you sit down?"

"No, thank you," Bartley replied, sadly but unresentfully. "I think I had
better be going. I see there is something wrong--"

"I don't see why you say there is anything wrong," she retorted. "What have
_I_ done?"

"Oh, you have not _done_ anything; I take it back. It is all right. But
when I came here this morning--encouraged--hoping--that you had the same
feeling as myself, and you seem to forget everything but a ceremonious
acquaintanceship--why, it is all right, of course. I have no reason to
complain; but I must say that I can't help being surprised." He saw her
lips quiver and her bosom heave. "Marcia, do you blame me for feeling hurt
at your coldness when I came here to tell you--to tell you I--I love you?"
With his nerves all unstrung, and his hunger for sympathy, he really
believed that he had come to tell her this. "Yes," he added, bitterly, I
_will_ tell you, though it seems to be the last word I shall speak to you.
I'll go, now."

"Bartley! You shall _never_ go!" she cried, throwing herself in his way.
"Do you think I don't care for you, too? You may kiss me,--you may _kill_
me, now!"

The passionate tears sprang to her eyes, without the sound of sobs or the
contortion of weeping, and she did not wait for his embrace. She flung her
arms around his neck and held him fast, crying, "I wouldn't let you, for
your own sake, darling; and if I had died for it--I thought I should
die last night--I was never going to let you kiss me again till you
said--till--till--now! Don't you see?" She caught him tighter, and hid
her face in his neck, and cried and laughed for joy and shame, while he
suffered her caresses with a certain bewilderment. "I want to tell you
now--I want to explain," she said, lifting her face and letting him from
her as far as her arms, caught around his neck, would reach, and fervidly
searching his eyes, lest some ray of what he would think should escape
her. "Don't speak a word first! Father saw us at the door last night,--he
happened to be coming downstairs, because he couldn't sleep,--just when
you--Oh, Bartley, don't!" she implored, at the little smile that made his
mustache quiver. "And he asked me whether we were engaged; and when I
couldn't tell him we were, I know what he thought. I knew how he despised
me, and I determined that, if you didn't tell me that you cared for me--And
that's the reason, Bartley, and not--not because I didn't care more for you
than I do for the whole world. And--and--you don't mind it, now, do you? It
was for your sake, dearest."

Whether Bartley perfectly divined or not all the feeling at which her words
hinted, it was delicious to be clung about by such a pretty girl as
Marcia Gaylord, to have her now darting her face into his neck-scarf with
intolerable consciousness, and now boldly confronting him with all-defying
fondness while she lightly pushed him and pulled him here and there in the
vehemence of her appeal. Perhaps such a man, in those fastnesses of his
nature which psychology has not yet explored, never loses, even in the
tenderest transports, the sense of prey as to the girl whose love he has
won; but if this is certain, it is also certain that he has transports
which are tender, and Bartley now felt his soul melted with affection that
was very novel and sweet.

"Why, Marcia!" he said, "what a strange girl you are!" He sunk into his
chair again, and, putting his arms around her waist, drew her upon his
knee, like a child.

She held herself apart from him at her arm's length, and said, "Wait! Let
me say it before it seems as if we had always been engaged, and everything
was as right then as it is now. Did you despise me for letting you kiss me
before we were engaged?"

"No," he laughed again. "I liked you for it."

"But if you thought I would let any one else, you wouldn't have liked it?"

This diverted him still more. "I shouldn't have liked that more than half
as well."

"No," she said thoughtfully. She dropped her face awhile on his shoulder,
and seemed to be struggling with herself. Then she lifted it, and "Did you
ever--did you--" she gasped.

"If you want me to say that all the other girls in the world are not worth
a hair of your head, I'll say that, Marcia. Now, let's talk business!"

This made her laugh, and "I shall want a little lock of yours," she said,
as if they had hitherto been talking of nothing but each other's hair.

"And I shall want all of yours," he answered.

"No. Don't be silly." She critically explored his face. "How funny to have
a mole in your eyebrow!" She put her finger on it. "I never saw it before."

"You never looked so closely. There's a scar at the corner of your upper
lip that I hadn't noticed."

"Can you see that?" she demanded, radiantly. "Well, you _have_ got good
eyes! The cat did it when I was a little girl."

The door opened, and Mrs. Gaylord surprised them in the celebration of
these discoveries,--or, rather, she surprised herself, for she stood
holding the door and helpless to move, though in her heart she had an
apologetic impulse to retire, and she even believed that she made some
murmurs of excuse for her intrusion. Bartley was equally abashed, but
Marcia rose with the coolness of her sex in the intimate emergencies which
confound a man. "Oh, mother, it's you! I forgot about you. Come in! Or I'll
set the table, if that's what you want." As Mrs. Gaylord continued to look
from her to Bartley in her daze, Marcia added, simply, "We're engaged,
mother. You may as well know it first as last, and I guess you better know
it first."

Her mother appeared not to think it safe to relax her hold upon the door,
and Bartley went filially to her rescue--if it was rescue to salute her
blushing defencelessness as he did. A confused sense of the extraordinary
nature and possible impropriety of the proceeding may have suggested her
husband to her mind; or it may have been a feeling that some remark was
expected of her, even in the mental destitution to which she was reduced.

"Have you told Mr. Gaylord about it?" she asked of either, or neither, or
both, as they chose to take it.

Bartley left the word to Marcia, who answered, "Well, no, mother. We
haven't yet. We've only just found it out ourselves. I guess father can
wait till he comes in to dinner. I intend to keep Bartley here to prove
it."

"He said," remarked Mrs. Gaylord, whom Bartley had led to her chair and
placed on her cushion, "'t he had a headache when he first came in," and
she appealed to him for corroboration, while she vainly endeavored to
gather force to grapple again with the larger fact that he and Marcia were
just engaged to be married.

Marcia stopped down, and pulled her mother up out of her chair with a hug.
"Oh, come now, mother: You mustn't let it take your breath away," she said,
with patronizing fondness. "I'm not afraid of what father will say. You
know what he thinks of Bartley,--or Mr. Hubbard, as I presume you'll want
me to call him! Now, mother, you just run up stairs, and put on your best
cap, and leave me to set the table and get up the dinner. I guess I can get
Bartley to help me. Mother, mother, mother!" she cried, in happiness that
was otherwise unutterable, and clasping her mother closer in her strong
young arms, she kissed her with a fervor that made her blush again before
the young man.

"Marcia, Marcia! You hadn't ought to! It's ridiculous!" she protested. But
she suffered herself to be thrust out of the room, grateful for exile, in
which she could collect her scattered wits and set herself to realize the
fact that had dispersed them. It was decorous, also, for her to leave
Marcia alone with Mr. Hubbard, far more so now than when he was merely
company; she felt that, and she fumbled over the dressing she was sent
about, and once she looked out of her chamber window at the office where
Mr. Gaylord sat, and wondered what Mr. Gaylord (she thought of him, and
even dreamt of him, as Mr. Gaylord, and had never, in the most familiar
moments, addressed him otherwise) _would_ say! But she left the solution
of the problem to him and Marcia; she was used to leaving them to the
settlement of their own difficulties.

"Now, Bartley," said Marcia, in the business-like way that women assume in
such matters, as soon as the great fact is no longer in doubt, "you must
help me to set the table. Put up that leaf and I'll put up this. I'm going
to do more for mother than I used to," she said, repentant in her bliss.
"It's a shame how much I've left to her." The domestic instinct was already
astir in her heart.

Bartley pulled the table-cloth straight from her, and vied with her in the
rapidity and exactness with which he arranged the knives and forks at right
angles beside the plates. When it came to some heavier dishes, they agreed
to carry them turn about; but when it was her turn, he put out his hand
to support her elbow: "As I did last night, and saved you from dropping a
lamp."

This made her laugh, and she dropped the first dish with a crash. "Poor
mother!" she exclaimed. "I know she heard that, and she'll be in agony to
know which one it is."

Mrs. Gaylord did indeed hear it, far off in her chamber, and quaked with an
anxiety which became intolerable at last.

"Marcia! Marcia!" she quavered, down the stairs, "what _have_ you broken?"

Marcia opened the door long enough to call back, "Oh, only the old
blue-edged platter, mother!" and then she flew at Bartley, crying, "For
shame! For shame!" and pressing her hand over his mouth to stifle his
laughter. "She'll hear you, Bartley, and think you're laughing at her." But
she laughed herself at his struggles, and ended by taking him by the hand
and pulling him out into, the kitchen, where neither of them could be
heard. She abandoned herself to the ecstasy of her soul, and he thought she
had never been so charming as in this wild gayety.

"Why, Marsh! I never saw you carry on so before!"

"You never saw me engaged before! That's the way all girls act--if they get
the chance. Don't you like me to be so?" she asked, with quick anxiety.

"Rather!" he replied.

"Oh, Bartley!" she exclaimed, "I feel like a child. I surprise myself as
much as I do you; for I thought I had got very old, and I didn't suppose I
should ever let myself go in this way. But there is something about this
that lets me be as silly as I like. It's somehow as if I were a great deal
more alone when I'm with you than when I'm by myself! How does it make you
feel?"

"Good!" he answered, and that satisfied her better than if he had entered
into those subtleties which she had tried to express: it was more like a
man. He had his arm about her again, and she put down her hand on his to
press it closer against her heart.

"Of course," she explained, recurring to his surprise at her frolic mood,
"I don't expect you to be silly because I am."

"No," he assented; "but how can I help it?"

"Oh, I don't mean for the time being; I mean generally speaking. I mean
that I care for you because I know you know a great deal more than I
do, and because I respect you. I know that everybody expects you to be
something great, and I do, too."

Bartley did not deny the justness of her opinions concerning himself, or
the reasonableness of the general expectation, though he probably could
not see the relation of these cold abstractions to the pleasure of sitting
there with a pretty girl in that way. But he said nothing.

"Do you know," she went on, turning her face prettily around toward him,
but holding it a little way off, to secure attention as impersonal as might
be under the circumstances, "what pleased me more than anything else you
ever said to me?"

"No," answered Bartley. "Something you got out of me when you were trying
to make me tell you the difference between you and the other Equity girls?"

She laughed, in glad defiance of her own consciousness. "Well, I _was_
trying to make you compliment me; I'm not going to deny it. But I must say
I got my come-uppance: you didn't say a thing I cared for. But you did
afterward. Don't you remember?"

"No. When?"

She hesitated a moment. "When you told me that my influence had--had--made
you better, you know--"

"Oh!" said Bartley. "That! Well," he added, carelessly, "it's every word
true. Didn't you believe it?"

"I was just as glad as if I did; and it made me resolve never to do or say
a thing that could lower your opinion of me; and then, you know, there at
the door--it all seemed part of our trying to make each other better. But
when father looked at me in that way, and asked me if we were engaged, I
went down into the dust with shame. And it seemed to me that you had just
been laughing at me, and amusing yourself with me, and I was so furious I
didn't know what to do. Do you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to run
downstairs to father, and tell him what you had said, and ask him if he
believed you had ever liked any other girl." She paused a little, but he
did not answer, and she continued. "But now I'm glad I didn't. And I shall
never ask you that, and I shall not care for anything that you--that's
happened before to-day. It's all right. And you _do_ think I shall always
_try_ to make you good and happy, don't you?"

"I don't think you can make me much happier than I am at present, and I
don't believe anybody could make me feel better," answered Bartley.

She gave a little laugh at his refusal to be serious, and let her head, for
fondness, fall upon his shoulder, while he turned round and round a ring he
found on her finger.

"Ah, ha!" he said, after a while. "Who gave you this ring, Miss Gaylord?"

"Father, Christmas before last," she promptly answered, without moving.
"I'm glad you asked," she murmured, in a lower voice, full of pride in the
maiden love she could give him. "There's never been any one but you, or the
thought of any one." She suddenly started away.

"Now, let's play we're getting dinner." It was quite time; in the next
moment the coffee boiled up, and if she had not caught the lid off and
stirred it down with her spoon, it would have been spoiled. The steam
ascended to the ceiling, and filled the kitchen with the fragrant smell of
the berry.

"I'm glad we're going to have coffee," she said. "You'll have to put up
with a cold dinner, except potatoes. But the coffee will make up, and I
shall need a cup to keep me awake. I don't believe I slept last night till
nearly morning. Do you like coffee?"

"I'd have given all I ever expect to be worth for a cup of it, last night,"
he said. "I was awfully hungry when I got back to the hotel, and I couldn't
find anything but a piece of mince-pie and some old cheese, and I had to be
content with cold milk. I felt as if I had lost all my friends this morning
when I woke up."

A sense of remembered grievance trembled in his voice, and made her drop
her head on his arm, in pity and derision of him. "Poor Bartley!" she
cried. "And you came up here for a little petting from me, didn't you? I've
noticed that in you! Well, you didn't get it, did you?"

"Well, not at first," he said.

"Yes, you can't complain of any want of petting at last," she returned,
delighted at his indirect recognition of the difference. Then the daring,
the archness, and caprice that make coquetry in some women, and lurk a
divine possibility in all, came out in her; the sweetness, kept back by the
whole strength of her pride, overflowed that broken barrier now, and she
seemed to lavish this revelation of herself upon him with a sort of tender
joy in his bewilderment. She was not hurt when he crudely expressed the
elusive sense which has been in other men's minds at such times: they
cannot believe that this fascination is inspired, and not practised.

"Well," he said, "I'm glad you told me that I was the first. I should have
thought you'd had a good deal of experience in flirtation."

"You wouldn't have thought so if you hadn't been a great flirt yourself,"
she answered, audaciously. "Perhaps I have been engaged before!"

Their talk was for the most part frivolous, and their thoughts ephemeral;
but again they were, with her at least, suddenly and deeply serious. Till
then all things seemed to have been held in arrest, and impressions, ideas,
feelings, fears, desires, released themselves simultaneously, and sought
expression with a rush that defied coherence. "Oh, why do we try to talk?"
she asked, at last. "The more we say, the more we leave unsaid. Let us keep
still awhile!" But she could not. "Bartley! When did you first think you
cared about me?"

"I don't know," said Bartley, "I guess it must have been the first time I
saw you."

"Yes, that is when I first knew that I cared for you. But it seems to me
that I must have always cared for you, and that I only found it out when I
saw you going by the house that day." She mused a little time before she
asked again, "Bartley!"

"Well?"

"Did you ever use to be afraid--Or, no! Wait! I'll _tell_ you first, and
then I'll _ask_ you. I'm not ashamed of it now, though once I thought I
couldn't bear to have any one find it out. I used to be awfully afraid you
didn't care for me! I would try to make out, from things you did and said,
whether you did or not; but I never could be certain. I believe I used to
find the most comfort in discouraging myself. I used to say to myself,
'Why, of course he doesn't! How can he? He's been everywhere, and he's seen
so many girls. He corresponds with lots of them. Altogether likely he's
engaged to some of the young ladies he's met in Boston; and he just goes
with me here for a blind.' And then when you would praise me, sometimes,
I would just say, 'Oh, he's complimented plenty of girls. I know he's
thinking this instant of the young lady he's engaged to in Boston.' And it
would almost kill me; and when you did some little thing to show that you
liked me, I would think, 'He doesn't like me! He hates, he despises me. He
does, he does, he does!' And I would go on that way, with my teeth shut,
and my breath held, I don't know _how_ long." Bartley broke out into a
broad laugh at this image of desperation, but she added, tenderly, "I hope
I never made you suffer in that way?"

"What way?" he asked.

"That's what I wanted you to tell me. Did you ever--did you use to be
afraid sometimes that I--that you--did you put off telling me that you
cared for me so long because you thought, you dreaded--Oh, I don't see what
I can ever do to make it up to you if you did! Were you afraid I didn't
care for you?"

"No!" shouted Bartley. She had risen and stood before him in the fervor
of her entreaty, and he seized her arms, pinioning them to her side, and
holding her helpless, while he laughed, and laughed again. "I knew you were
dead in love with me from the first moment."

"Bartley! Bartley Hubbard!" she exclaimed; "let me go,--let me go, this
instant! I never heard of such a shameless thing!"

But she really made no effort to escape.

V.

The house seemed too little for Marcia's happiness, and after dinner she
did not let Bartley forget his last night's engagement. She sent him off to
get his horse at the hotel, and ran up to her room to put on her wraps for
the drive. Her mother cleared away the dinner things; she pushed the table
to the side of the room, and then sat down in her feather-cushioned chair
and waited her husband's pleasure to speak. He ordinarily rose from the
Sunday dinner and went back to his office; to-day he had taken a chair
before the stove. But he had mechanically put his hat on, and he wore it
pushed off his forehead as he tilted his chair back on its hind legs, and
braced himself against the hearth of the stove with his feet.

A man is master in his own house generally through the exercise of a
certain degree of brutality, but Squire Gaylord maintained his predominance
by an enlightened absenteeism. No man living always at home was ever so
little under his own roof. While he was in more active business life, he
had kept an office in the heart of the village, where he spent all his
days, and a great part of every night; but after he had become rich enough
to risk whatever loss of business the change might involve, he bought this
large old square house on the border of the village, and thenceforth made
his home in the little detached office.

If Mrs. Gaylord had dimly imagined that she should see something more of
him, having him so near at hand, she really saw less: there was no weather,
by day or night, in which he could not go to his office, now. He went no
more than his wife into the village society; she might have been glad now
and then of a little glimpse of the world, but she never said so, and her
social life had ceased, like her religious life. Their house was richly
furnished according to the local taste of the time; the parlor had a
Brussels carpet, and heavy chairs of mahogany and hair-cloth; Marcia had a
piano there, and since she had come home from school they had made company,
as Mrs. Gaylord called it, two or three times for her; but they had held
aloof from the festivity, the Squire in his office, and Mrs. Gaylord in the
family room where they now sat in unwonted companionship.

"Well, Mr. Gaylord," said his wife, "I don't know as you can say but what
_Marcia_'s suited well enough."

This was the first allusion they had made to the subject, but she let it
take the argumentative form of her cogitations.

"M-yes," sighed the Squire, in long, nasal assent, "most too well, if
anything." He rasped first one unshaven cheek and then the other, with his
thin, quivering hand.

"He's smart enough," said Mrs. Gaylord, as before.

"M-yes, most too smart," replied her husband, a little more quickly than
before. "He's smart enough, even if she wasn't, to see from the start that
she was crazy to have him, and that isn't the best way to begin life for a
married couple, if I'm a judge."

"It would killed her if she hadn't got him. I could see 't was wearin' on
her every day, more and more. She used to fairly jump, every knock she'd
hear at the door; and I know sometimes, when she was afraid he wa' n't
coming, she used to go out, in hopes 't she sh'd meet him: I don't suppose
she allowed to herself that she did it for that--Marcia's proud."

"M-yes," said the Squire, "she's proud. And when a proud girl makes a fool
of herself about a fellow, it's a matter of life and death with her. She
can't help herself. She lets go everything."

"I declare," Mrs. Gaylord went on, "it worked me up considerable to have
her come in some those times, and see by her face 't she'd seen him with
some the other girls. She used to _look_ so! And then I'd hear her up in
her room, cryin' and cryin'. I shouldn't cared so much, if Marcia'd been
like any other girl, kind of flirty, like, about it. But she wa' n't. She
was just bowed down before her idol."

A final assent came from the Squire, as if wrung out of his heart, and he
rose from his chair, and then sat down again. Marcia was his child, and he
loved her with his whole soul. "M-well!" he deeply sighed, "all that part's
over, anyway," but he tingled in an anguish of sympathy with what she had
suffered. "You see, Miranda, how she looked at me when she first came in
with him,--so proud and independent, poor girl! and yet as if she was
afraid I _mightn't_ like it?"

"Yes, I see it."

He pulled his hat far down over his cavernous eyes, and worked his thin,
rusty old jaws.

"I hope 't she'll be able to school herself, so 's t' not show out her
feelings so much," said Mrs. Gaylord.

"I wish she could school herself so as to not have 'em so much; but I guess
she'll have 'em, and I guess she'll show 'em out." They were both silent;
after a while he added, throwing at the stove a minute fragment of the cane
he had pulled off the seat of his chair: "Miranda, I've expected something
of this sort a good while, and I've thought over what Bartley had better
do."

Mrs. Gaylord stooped forward and picked up the bit of wood which her
husband had thrown down; her vigilance was rewarded by finding a thread on
the oil-cloth near where it lay; she whipped this round her finger, and her
husband continued: "He'd better give up his paper and go into the law. He
's done well in the paper, and he's a smart writer; but editing a newspaper
aint any work for a _man_. It's all well enough as long as he's single,
but when he's got a wife to look after, he'd better get down to _work_. My
business is in just such a shape now that I could hand it over to him in a
lump; but come to wait a year or two longer, and this young man and that
one 'll eat into it, and it won't be the same thing at all. I shall want
Bartley to push right along, and get admitted at once. He can do it, fast
enough. He's bright enough," added the old man, with a certain grimness.
"M-well!" he broke out, with a quick sigh, after a moment of musing; "it
hasn't happened at any very bad time. I was just thinking, this morning,
that I should like to have my whole time, pretty soon, to look after my
property. I sha'n't want Bartley to do _that_ for me. I'll give him a good
start in money and in business; but I'll look after my property myself.
I'll speak to him, the first chance I get."

A light step sounded on the stairs, and Marcia burst into the room,
ready for her drive. "I wanted to get a good warm before I started," she
explained, stooping before the stove, and supporting herself with one hand
on her father's knee. There had been no formal congratulations upon her
engagement from either of her parents; but this was not requisite, and
would have been a little affected; they were perhaps now ashamed to mention
it outright before her alone. The Squire, however, went so far as to put
his hand over the hand she had laid upon his knee, and to smooth it twice
or thrice.

"You going to ride after that sorrel colt of Bartley's?" he asked.

"Of course!" she answered, with playful pertness. "I guess Bartley can
manage the sorrel colt! He's never had any trouble yet."

"He's always been able to give his whole mind to him before," said the
Squire. He gave Marcia's hand a significant squeeze, and let it go.

She would not confess her consciousness of his meaning at once. She looked
up at the clock, and then turned and pulled her father's watch out of his
waistcoat pocket, and compared the time. "Why, you're both fast!"

"Perhaps Bartley's slow," said the Squire; and having gone as far as he
intended in this direction, he permitted himself a low chuckle.

The sleigh-bells jingled without, and she sprang lightly to her feet. "I
guess you don't think Bartley's slow," she exclaimed, and hung over her
father long enough to rub her lips against his bristly cheek. "By, mother,"
she said, over her shoulder, and went out of the room. She let her muff
hang as far down in front of her as her arms would reach, in a stylish way,
and moved with a little rhythmical tilt, as if to some inner music. Even in
her furs she was elegantly slender in shape.

The old people remained silent and motionless till the clash of the bells
died away. Then the Squire rose, and went to the wood-shed beyond the
kitchen, whence he reappeared with an armful of wood. His wife started at
the sight. "Mr. Gaylord, what _be_ you doin'?"

"Oh, I'm going to make 'em up a little fire in the parlor stove. I guess
they won't want us round a great deal, when they come back."

Mrs. Gaylord said, "Well, I never did!" When her husband returned from the
parlor, she added, "I suppose some folks'd say it was rather of a strange
way of spendin' the Sabbath."

"It's a very good way of spending the Sabbath. You don't suppose that

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